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Saturday, July 15, 2017

[spectrum] lgbt short play festival



Playwrights:  David-Matthew Barnes (CO), John Bavoso (DC), Will Driscol/Billie Allor (CO), Donna Hoke (NY), Lezlie Revelle (KS), George Smart (MA), Jeffrey Strausser (TX), Jonathon Ward (NY), Nico Wilkinson (CO).


Venue:  Funky Little Theater, 2109 Templeton Gap, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Running time:  2 hours, 30 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).

Date of Performance:  Friday, July 14, 2017.

It’s like catching lightning in a bottle.  Funky Little Theater did its first [spectrum] short play festival (hereafter [spectrum]) in March 2016, and was inundated with scripts.  The second annual version is running through July 29, bringing the total number of scripts submitted in two years to more than 400.  Funky is now bringing the thunder with the lightning to its stage with the best of the latest [spectrum] submissions.

Scripts are limited to (approximately)10 minutes.  Funky provides directors, actors, and set pieces for (in their considered judgment) the best of the submissions.  This year, [spectrum] delivers nine thought provoking and entertaining bursts of new theater:

1.  Chaos Magic, by Nico Wilkinson (directed by Idris Goodwin/Lucy Houlihan, with Erica Erickson, Sophie Javna, Conner McCaslin & Sasha Nader).  

Wilkinson’s piece pits witches against parents who have secrets, with disturbing results for the newborn baby.

2.  Boxcar, by David-Matthew Barnes (directed by Chris Medina, featuring Alex Abundis & Pedro G. Leos).  

Boxcar is a dark (“Do you think we’ll be dead by morning?”  “No. By midnight.”) story of forbidden young love.  Spending a night in a boxcar with the love of your life is one way to avoid confronting your peers at a homecoming dance.

3.  What If Cliff, by Jonathon Ward (directed by Sallie Walker, with Megan Edwards and Josh Boehnke).  

Ward’s focus is a sexual sibling rivalry; a brother and a sister both love the same woman.  Can this complicated dilemma end well, or is it doomed from the start?

4.  My True Self, by Will Driscoll and Billie Allor (directed by Chris Medina, with Driscoll playing himself).

Driscoll’s story is his own.  My True Self is far and away the most personal and intimate entry in this year’s [spectrum].   Driscoll’s True Self is a compelling transgender story of truth and courage.

5.  Shel & Luce by Jeffrey Strausser (directed by Chris Medina, with Sophie Javna and Ambrosia Feess-Armstrong).  

Strausser’s love story doesn’t have a happy ending.  Not everyone has the courage to be true to his or her own feelings.

6.  Brokendown, by Lezlie Revelle (directed by Billie Allor, with Teri McClintock, Joanne Koehler, and Ambrosia Feess-Armstrong).

Revelle’s entry uses comedy to tell the touching story of a sensitive mother and her closeted daughter.  

7.  It Doesn’t, by George Smart (directed by Chris Medina, featuring Will Sobolik & Chris Medina).

If you’re familiar with the “It Gets Better” project, you need to also consider that maybe “It Doesn’t.”  If you’re 15 years old and your dick pic just went viral at school, it’s difficult to see how it will ever “get better.”

8.  Write This Way, by Donna Hoke (directed by Chris Medina, with Helena Hyde, Meghan Lastrella & Pedro G. Leos).

Hoke plays with gender roles as her “writer” tries to concoct a story about a female construction worker.  

9.  Kylie & Janet & Robyn & Cher, by John Bavoso (directed by Chris Medina, featuring Medina, Josh Boehnke & Nolan Lydolph).

Bavoso puts sexual stereotypes to the test; Medina is a straight guy reaching out for gay friends.  It’s all very funny, but also poignant.  Sometimes we need to escape from our straight and gay tribes and mingle with each other.

[spectrum] is a full plate, teasing with appetizers (What If Cliff, Write This Way), followed by hearty main courses (Brokendown, Shel & Luce, It Doesn’t), and a delicious dessert (Kylie & Janet & Robyn & Cher).  Throw in a personal story of gender transition (My True Self) and you literally have something for everyone at the second annual [spectrum] fest.

Funky includes a ballot with each program; the audience is encouraged to identify their favorite 10 minute entry as well as the best actor and actress.  Since I’ve already done the exercise, here are my favorites:

Best play(s):

Brokendown.  

The ensemble has chemistry, the script is funny, and the message is hopeful.

Kylie & Janet & Robyn & Cher

Chris Medina is spot on as the straight guy with a queer eye.  He also follows direction well (directing himself).

Boxcar.

Alex Abundis and Pedro G. Leos shine as lost lovers in a well written script.


Best Actor(s)

Chris Medina in Kylie & Janet & Robyn & Cher.

Alex Abundis in Boxcar.


Best Actress(es):

Ambrosia Feess-Armstrong in Brokendown.

Joanne Koehler in Brokendown.

Meg Edwards in What If Cliff (her Funky debut).


NOTES:

[spectrum] lgbt short play festival is a striking success story.  Funky Little Theater is a chronic overachiever in bringing new works to Colorado Springs.  Chris Medina is the head overachiever, directing 6 of the 9 episodes.  If that’s not enough, he also appears onstage in two shows.  Medina’s commitment to Funky, to theater, and to the Colorado Springs arts community is remarkable.  With relatively few resources, he has put Funky and Colorado Springs on the theater map.  [spectrum] is ample proof that Medina/Funky have become a creative force for southern Colorado.

[spectrum] lgbt short play festival deals with mature subject matter.  Recommended for older teens and open minded adults. 

While most of the works submitted for [spectrum] are new, some (including Boxcar) have been performed elsewhere or have been published in some form.  If not already the case, Funky may want to make sure that new, unpublished playwrights are aware that they will compete with published and produced writers when submitting work to [spectrum].

Funky has partnered with Colorado Springs Pride and Club Q for the [spectrum] production.

This show closes on July 29, 2017. 

Photo Credit:  Funky Little Theater

Tickets HERE.  

CREATIVE TEAM:

Artistic Director:  Chris Medina

Sound Design:  Will Sobolik

Stage Management:  Sophie Javna & Casey Petty

Monday, June 5, 2017

Man of La Mancha





Written by: Dale Wasserman

Music by:  Mitch Leigh

Lyrics by:  Joe Darion


Venue:  SaGaJi Theatre, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs.

Running time:  2 hours (no intermission).

Date of Performance:  Friday, June 2, 2017.

I’ll get straight to the point.  Man of La Mancha at the Fine Arts Center is a crackerjack production, a visual and audio feast that mows down all windmills in its path.  This is a high energy show that rocks, rolls, and rules the Fine Arts Center stage.

Man of La Mancha is a play within a play based loosely on Miguel de Cervante’s 1605 novel Don Quixote.  Cervante’s classic portrayed Don Quixote (from whom the adjective “quixotic” is derived) as an aspiring knight totally devoted to the code of chivalry.  Dale Wasserman’s musical adaption won five Tony Awards in 1966, including Best Musical.  

Quixote’s quest is to fight evil everywhere and to promote his cause of virtue, manners, and honor.  Despite the lofty ideals, Cervantes and Wasserman both portray Quixote as untethered to reality.  Quixote has imaginary enemies, resulting in “tilting at windmills” when he mistakes one for a giant.

The Fine Arts Center production grabs your attention as soon as you enter the SaGaJi theatre and see the set.  Christopher Sheley’s designs never disappoint, and his Man of La Mancha work is splendid.  Anchored by huge classical columns, the set includes a reverse drawbridge stairway that descends on cue from the ceiling.  It provides a grand entrance for Cervantes (Stephen Day) and his sidekick Sancho (Sammie Joe Kinnett).  Benjamin Heston’s sound design is spectacular throughout, but never more so than when he makes Sheley’s stairs creak, clank and rumble onto the stage.  Costume designer Sydney Gallas has dressed the cast in an array of period perfect costumes, from a belly dancer to sexy wenches and especially to men in blousy pants.  Gallas’ attention to detail is notable; she emblazoned Cervantes’ knee high boots with gold crosses.  

Stephen Day (Cervantes/Don Quixote).
Stephen Day might well be a descendant of Cervantes and Quixote.  He’s that good.  There’s no daylight between Day and his 400 year old fictional character.  Day brings Cervantes/Quixote to life with the look, the sound, and the moral commitment of his sincere but confused character.  His acting is dazzling, but it is his stunning singing voice that defines his performance.  When he sang The Impossible Dream (The Quest), it’s as if I was really hearing the standard for the very first time.  Day’s performance, from curtain to curtain, is flawless.

Gina Naomi Baez (Aldonza/Dulcinea).
Gina Naomi Baez gets the plum female lead role as Aldonza/Dulcinea.  The role is a big stretch; Baez must transform from a sassy, saucy sexy wench to a true believer in Quixote’s purity of heart.  She is, without question, up to the task.  Her Aldonza takes no prisoners; she enchants and then dominates her male suitors.  She’s a modern woman in that she knows how to use her femininity to get what she wants.  When Baez  becomes Dulcinea, she lets her inner beauty outshine her demons.  Quixote makes Dulcinea a better person, and Baez does the same for all of us.  Baez distinguishes herself with her gorgeous voice; her reprise of “Dulcinea” near the end of the show is at once delicate and powerful.

It’s a large and very capable cast, but two stood out for me.  I’ve seen both Sammie Joe Kinnett and Michael Augenstein in other productions.  None of those productions involved any singing.  Kinnett and Augustein handled the music admirably here.  Kinnett’s “I Really Like Him” made me sit up and take notice.  Augenstein nailed his solo“The Psalm,” putting his heart and soul into the latin lyrics.

Director Scott RC Levy sets a quick pace; there’s not a wasted moment in the entire two hour production.  Although Man of La Mancha was originally written as a one act musical, the other productions I have seen were done in two acts.  Levy wisely uses the original one act script, making for a brisk, uninterrupted experience.  Casting Sammie Joe Kinnett as Sancho was brilliant; he’s the finest comedic actor working in Colorado Springs.  Levy’s Sancho is part Cervantes and part Kinnett, and it’s a marvelous combination.

There’s only one thing I would have changed in this Fine Arts Center production.  The gypsy dance scene is done with a lighted white sheet backdrop.  Setting it up was a little clunky, and the backdrop did little to enhance the dance.  If anything, it distracted somewhat from the otherwise spectacular set.

Wasserman’s interpretation of Don Quixote is, in his own words, “continuous collisions of illusion and reality” (from the program notes).  Man of La Mancha deems illusion as the more powerful force.  That’s a debatable concept…in fact, it’s arguably an “Impossible Dream:”

This is my quest, to follow that star
No matter how hopeless,
No matter how far
To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into hell
For a heavenly cause

Quixote runs headlong into his illusion, crashing into the reality of the Spanish Inquisition.  There’s a lesson here.  A righteous quest is noble, but reality requires one to temper the nobility of purpose with achievable goals.  It is unwise to “march into hell for a heavenly cause” without some understanding of the consequences.  Man of La Mancha celebrates the goodness that is sometimes buried in our souls, but it does not change the reality that evil is a very real and very powerful force.  Man of La Mancha is inspiring, but we need to recognize that there's a fine line between illusion and madness.



NOTES:

Man of La Mancha is suitable for teens and up, with parental discretion regarding violence and sexual situations.  It it were a movie, Man of La Mancha would likely be rated PG 13.

Even if you’ve never seen Man of La Mancha, you’ve probably heard some of the magnificent music.  “The Impossible Dream (The Quest)” has been recorded by nearly everyone: Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Glen Campbell, Andy Williams, Cher, Roberta Flack, The Temptations, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, among many others, have released versions of the song.  “Dulcinea” is a beautiful ballad, while “Man of La Mancha (I, Don Quixote)” is a stirring, toe tapping anthem.

This show closes on June 18, 2017. 

Photo Credit:  Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center

Tickets HERE.  

CREATIVE TEAM:


Director:  Scott RC Levy

Musical Direction:  Sharon Skidgel

Scenic Design:  Christopher L. Sheley

Lighting Design:  Holly Anne Rawls

Sound Design:  Benjamin Heston

Choreography:  Mary Ripper Baker

Properties Design:  Emma Dean

Hair & Makeup Design:  Jonathan Eberhardt

Costume Design:  Sydney Gallas

Production Stage Manager:  Kaetlyn Springs


ORCHESTRA:

Conductor:  Sharon Skidgel

Guitar:  Mike Frederick

Bass:  Jay McGuffin

French Horn:  Lisa Smith

Flute & Piccolo:  Allison Gioiscia

Oboe: Joyce Hanagan

Trombone:  Rick Crafts

Trumpet:  Chris Walters

Bass Clarinet:  Ed Hureau

Percussion:  Richard Clark & Brian Hobson



CAST:

Cervantes/Don Quixote:  Stephen Day*

Sancho:  Sammie Joe Kinnett*

Aldonza/Dulcinea:  Gina Naomi Baez*

Governor/Innkeeper:  David Hastings

Duke/Carrasco/Gypsy:  Kyle Dean Steffen*

Pedro/Gypsy:  Michael Lee

Anselmo/Gypsy:  Drew Horwitz

Tenorio/Barber:  Randy Chronister

Paco/The Horse:  Alex Wood

Jose/Guitarist:  Joshua Owen

Padre:  Michael Augenstein

Antonia/The Mule:  Carmen Vreeman Shedd

Housekeeper:  Andra Burch

Innkeeper’s Wife:  Elizabeth Snyder

Fermina/Gypsy Dancer:  Joy Thea

Captain of The Inquisition:  Jonathan Eberhardt

*Member of Actor’s Equity Association

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Rapture, Blister, Burn





Playwright: Gina Gionfriddo

CompanySprings Ensemble Theatre (SET)

Venue:  Springs Ensemble Theatre, 1903 E. Cache La Poudre Street, Colorado Springs.

Running time:  2 hours, 55 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).

Date of Performance:  Thursday, May 25, 2017.

Rapture, Blister, Burn is a feminist history lesson at its core, but that’s just the starting point for playwright Gina Gionfriddo.  The script begins as a thoughtful analysis of the women’s movement, but evolves into a criticism of both feminism and academia.  

A fair portion of the first act plays out like a college sociology course on feminism.  Catherine has only two students:  Avery and Gwen.  The academic scenes (complete with a PowerPoint presentation) run the risk of turning into boring lectures.  Instead, her script is uncommonly witty; the classes feature clever, intelligent conversation about very important ideas. Covering topics including slasher films, pornography, and philosophy (from Betty Friedan to Phyllis Schlafly to Dr. Phil), Catherine challenges her students (and the audience) to consider women’s life options.  The central question: Is it more important to have a successful, rewarding career or to raise a family in a loving home?  

To make her point, Gionfriddo introduces the “literal and latent” ambiguity of lost opportunities. Gwen finds value in her role as a stay at home mother who wonders what career opportunities she has squandered.  Catherine is a single, childless and financially successful writer/lecturer who still longs for a male partner.  So they swap Don, giving Catherine the partner she seeks and giving Gwen her lost career opportunities.  (This is an interesting twist; the only male character is reduced to chattel.)

If you think this is a doomed plot twist, you are correct.  It does not go well.

I’ve probably already given away too much here, but that’s because there’s a LOT going on in Rapture, Blister, Burn.  It’s a heavy lift of ideas, made entertaining by Gionfriddo’s witty dialog and this ensemble’s ability to punch up the comedy on demand.  That’s right.  This is a drama and a comedy, or if you prefer, a “dramedy.”  Gionfriddo’s weighty philosophical themes are tempered by poking fun at those same ideas along the way.

Gionfriddo’s story is told by her ensemble characters, all of whom deliver sparkling performances at Springs Ensemble.  Don (Matt Radcliffe) is a pot smoking, beer drinking slacker who has risen to his dream job as the Dean of Discipline at a small college.  His wife Gwen (Kara Carroll) is a college dropout, reformed drinker, and mother who regrets her life choices.  Catherine (Holly Haverkorn) is a successful author, professor, and feminist whose former lover (Don) became Gwen’s husband.  Avery (Haley King) is a college student, babysitter, and full time free spirit.  Catherine’s mother, Alice (Karen Anderson), is a mischievous but charming mom whose wisdom comes not from books but from 70 years of life experience. 

This is a strong ensemble; the performers feed off each other’s energy as they tackle profound philosophical topics and dreary daily details of family life.  Haley King is the young, immature but whip smart student Avery.  King gets some of the best zingers in the script as she discounts and dismisses the hypocrisy of her elders.  Karen Anderson  (Catherine’s mother) mixes her 1950s morals (she’s repelled by the pornography discussion) with her shameless endorsement of stealing another woman’s husband. 

The stars of this SET production are Holly Haverkorn and Kara Carroll as the yin and yang of feminism.  Both stars shine brightly on the SET stage, delivering strong, credible and compelling performances.  Haverkorn’s Catherine is intelligent and successful, but also insecure, delicate, and conflicted.  She is especially poignant in the second act, as Don breaks up with her.  Carroll’s frustration with Don is palpable; she oozes an understated anger with her emotionally absent husband.

Matt Radcliffe, Holly Haverkorn.
If there’s any flaw in this story, it’s Don, the only male character.  He’s a hapless, porn addicted boozing slacker.  Matt Radcliffe is unapologetic  and marvelous in the role, but Don is a pathetic representative of his gender.  Radcliffe takes one for the team here, making the female characters look sharper, smarter, and more appealing in comparison.  He slouches and charms his way through his role, creating a lovable but pathetic foil for the women of Rapture, Blister, Burn.

Director Joye Cook-Levy seats the audience on three sides of the room, bringing patrons so close to the stage that one almost feels part of the philosophical discourse.    She uses a range of sound levels for actor’s lines, from very loud to very soft, and even the softest spoken lines are clearly audible.  Gionfriddo’s script calls for a fair amount of onstage alcohol; Cook-Levy’s attention to detail includes craft beer bottles and a twist of citrus in the martinis.  There's no question that Cook-Levy knows how to tell a complicated story about complicated relationships, and she hits the mark again with Rapture, Blister, Burn.

Kitty Robbins sound design makes full use of the SET surround system, bringing the ambient sounds to life.  Jack Salesses has put together an impressive and detailed set that includes children’s shoes/boots outside the exterior door.  It’s a great touch; we know there are children in the family but they never appear on stage.  The shoes make the kids real even though unseen.

Gionfriddo takes some shots here at the pompous and self-centered academic versions of feminism.  The discussions are at once stimulating, predictable and impractical.  No problems are solved by a discussion of torture porn.  For Gionfriddo, women are not defined by academics or philosophers, but by exercising the freedoms they have won in long battles with sexist institutions.  It’s the successful career women and the devoted mothers who are on the front lines of feminism.

The playwright's ultimate point is that differing views of feminism are more complementary than contradictory.  For Gionfriddo, even the anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly inadvertently supported women making their own decisions; she just believed motherhood is the only rational decision.

In Gionfriddo’s ultimate irony, Karen Anderson’s mature, matronly, and mischievous character delivers a shocking toast for Gwen and Avery:

To Phyllis Schlafly:
She said you girls would pay for your independence and your whoring.  She said men wouldn't stay with you and she was right. 
You're free.

The surprising tribute to Shlafly is the climax of Rapture, Blister, Burn.  It’s a fitting climax indeed.  Whether you’re Phyllis Schlafly or Jane Doe, you’re free to live the life you choose.  Even bad decisions demonstrate that you have the right as a woman to determine your own destiny.  

L-R:  Haley King (Avery), Kara Carroll (Gwen), Matt Radcliffe (Don),
Holly Haverkorn (Catherine) and Karen Anderson (Alice).


NOTES:

Despite the playwright’s embrace of Phyllis Schlafly’s least offensive position, there is little question that she was a vocal and incessant enemy of equality for women.  

If you’re wondering about the title of this play, here’s some information.  The inspiration comes from a song lyric.  I’m not familiar with the band “Hole” or their song “Use Once and Destroy.”  I have to get out more.

Rapture, Blister, Burn is suitable for mature teens and adults.  

Springs Ensemble is mixing a special cocktail for Rapture, Blister, Burn.  It’s called “Summer Rapture.”  It’s a delicious mix of vodka, grenadine and a few other ingredients.  They’re not serving it premixed from a pitcher, but hand made before your very eyes.  Donations gladly accepted.  It’s available before the show and during intermission.

This show closes on June 4, 2017. 

Photo Credit:  Springs Ensemble Theatre, John Zincone

Tickets HERE.  

CREATIVE TEAM:

Executive Producer:  Holly Haverkorn

Producers:  Jenny Maloney & Emory John Collinson

Director:  Joye Cook-Levy

Scenic Design (Build Coordinator):  Jack Salesses

Scenic Painting:  Marie Verdu, Jodi Papproth

Lighting Design:  Sean Verdu

Sound Design:  Kitty Robbins

Dramaturg:  Crystal Carter

Stage Manager:  Gabriel Espinoza-Lira

Costume Design:  Sarah S. Shaver

Light Board:  Angelina Gallagher

Sound Board:  Katarina Ivancik

Props:  Micah Spiers


CAST:

Catherin Croll:  Holly Haverkorn

Alice Croll:  Karen Anderson

Avery Willard:  Haley King

Gwen Harper:  Kara Carroll

Don Harper:  Matt Radcliffe