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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Oddville: Happiness Comes in a Cardboard Box



Playwrights:  Dave Shirley & Robert Dubac


Venue:  Millibo Art Theater, 1626 S. Tejon Street, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Running time:  1 hour, 40 minutes (no intermission).

Date of Performance:  Friday, September 23, 2016. 

Oddville:  Happiness Comes in a Cardboard Box (Oddville), wastes no time delivering on the title.  Actor Dave Shirley takes the stage and mimes his opening lines.  The audience gets it.  Immediately.  This show is different.  It’s an "odd," touching, and brilliant love story told with video projections, pantomime, improvisation, shadow puppets, magic, juggling and a soundtrack.  From the opening scene to the final curtain, Oddville is a unique theater experience.

Writer/performer Dave Shirley was formerly the artistic director of Denver’s legendary but now defunct Rattlebrain Theatre Company.  In 2013, Shirley appeared on America’s Got Talent (AGT), and Oddville incorporates some of the same techniques he used there.  Shirley’s resume is impressive, and Oddville’s modern love story adds a new dimension to his many accomplishments.

The plot is straightforward.  If you’re lonely and online, there are numerous dating sites to help you find your soulmate.  Shirley’s online choice is ehappiness.com, a fictitious website that will deliver a solution to your front door in a large cardboard box labeled “HAPPINESS” (if only that were possible).  Thus begins “Lonely 1’s” search for his tinsel haired true love.

Shirley mimes about 80% of the show.  We discover, late in the performance, that “the cat’s got his tongue.”  Whatever the reason, Shirley is a brilliant mime, and the best parts of Oddville are the ones he does without words.  Even so, pantomime is far from Shirley’s only talent.  He’s a comedian with a story to tell.  It’s a very funny trip from lonely to odd and finally to true love.  Along the way, Shirley plays some hilarious video games, juggles lemons and sabres, plays his guitar, and gets several sets of transplanted hands.

Shirley’s new hands are one of the many clever and creative moments in the show.  He gets a second cardboard box delivery from ehappiness.com.  This one is labeled “HANDS.”  He puts his hands into the box, prompting some loud construction noise (the drill is particularly effective).  Shirley pulls his hands back out. 

His new hands reveal sequined black gloves, and his “talent” becomes heavy metal guitar. A second trip to the box brings him white gloves for creating (and I do mean creating) some fabulous shadow puppets.  It’s all exquisitely performed, as Shirley lets his hands do the talking for several minutes.

As Shirley bounces around Oddville, he falls in love with “Lonely 2,” a woman both real and digital.  Lonely 2 is a sparkling video vision of the woman Lonely 1 is seeking.  He can only hang out with Lonely 2 in a video format, which makes for some interesting and inventive video projections.  The videos rely on precise timing and poses, and there are a few lapses in both (lightning bolts prove to be Shirley’s biggest challenge).  Even so, the videos work exceedingly well to merge Lonely 1’s fantasy and reality. 

Dave Shirley’s Oddville blurs the line between reality and our online alter egos.  Our reality may be dull, but the digital world has become a place of fantasy, promise and escape.  Lonely 1 finds true love online, as have many others.  Even so, Shirley’s story reflects a cold reality:  the digital world can be an odd, strange place that is difficult to navigate.  We should be skeptical of those who would sell us happiness in a cardboard box.

This script could use some tweaking to tighten up the climax, and the saber juggling scene, which is great fun, seems unrelated to the rest of the story.  Walking out of the theater after the show, the audience will remember how Lonely 1’s love conquered all obstacles.  Juggling sabers was not a talent he needed to win our hearts.

Oddville is an extraordinary theater experience.  Dave Shirley and Director/co-author Robert Dubac have joined forces to create an unusually entertaining story we all know well.  This is a different love story, one that grabs you with a silent charm and engages you with an incisive sense of humor.  We have all been “Lonely1” at some point, struggling to find the person we need in our lives.  Oddville takes an old story and puts it in a new cardboard box.  That box says “HAPPINESS” on the outside, but we all know that it’s what’s inside that really matters.


NOTES:

This show contains adult language and humor.  This show uses audience participation.  You may be asked to appear on the stage.  

This show is closes on October 1, 2016.


Photo Credit:  Millibo Art Theatre and robertdubac.com.

TICKETS HERE:


CREATIVE TEAM:

Producer:  Dave Shirley

Directed by:  Robert Dubac


CAST:

Lonely 1:  Dave Shirley

Lonely 2:  Jane Shirley.  (Confirmed by Director Robert Dubac, but not credited in the program.)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

CC/FAC MERGER: New "Listening Session" ADDED.

SaGaJi Theater, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.  Photo Credit:  Fine Arts Center.

Please note that this post has been updated to show the correct meeting room.

HEADS UP, COLORADO SPRINGS THEATER COMMUNITY...

The FAC Theater Company subcommittee has begun work on the strategic plan for the Fine Arts Center at Colorado College.  As part of their work, the subcommittee has scheduled a "Listening Session" to get input from the community in general and the local theater community in particular.

Please NOTE:  This Listening Session is dedicated solely to the Theater Company merger with Colorado College.  It will not address issues of the museum or the Bemis School. 

Put this on your calendar:


Monday, October 10th at 6:00 PM in the SaGaJi Theatre Music Room, Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street.

This is YOUR chance to have input on the future of the Theater Company at the Fine Arts Center.  Members of the subcommittee will be available at this meeting to listen to your priorities and vision for the future of the largest professional theater in southern Colorado.

I will post any additional details as they come available.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Scott RC Levy on the merger of the Fine Arts Center Theater Company with Colorado College.


Scott RC Levy.  Used with permission.
The ink is dry on the paper; the merger of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center (FAC) and Colorado College (CC) is a done deal.  There are changes coming, although it’s too early in the process to know precisely what those changes will be.  The only thing that is certain is that the merger will result in changes to the Fine Arts Center and to its theatre company.

I sat down with Scott RC Levy on Tuesday, September 20, to discuss the future of the the FAC theatre company.  Mr. Levy has been the Producing Artistic Director at the FAC since 2011, and has an extensive background as a Producer/Director/Actor.  Levy has a M.A. degree in Educational Theater (a very appropriate subject under the circumstances) and a BFA in acting, both from New York University.  He has no crystal ball, but Levy does have some pertinent thoughts on how the merger may (or may not) impact the shows at the FAC SaGaJi Theatre.

Levy is on the theater program subcommittee for the new organization, which will be renamed “The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College" (CSFAC@CC) on July 1, 2017.  That subcommittee must have a strategic plan for the theater program ready by June, 2017.  Once the three transition plans (one for the museum, one for the Bemis School, and one for the theatre company) are finalized, the FAC organizations will be incorporated into Colorado College over a period of three years (the theater program is scheduled to transition in the 2019-20 season).

As Levy described it, the FAC and its theatre company will still have its own identity, just as it does today.  He compared it to being a stand alone unit of CC.   Much like KRCC, a CC radio station with it’s own identity in the Colorado Springs radio market, the FAC theater company will be a unique part of CC.  

There are already local models for the arts/academics collaboration, and Levy mentioned two of them.  Theatreworks is a program of the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.  The Colorado Shakespeare Festival is operated by the University of Colorado in Boulder.  Both of those performing arts programs are very successful, demonstrating the value of an academic partner.  Nationally, the collaboration between academic institutions and performing arts organizations is relatively common.

The relationship between the FAC and CC has always been cordial, and at times, very strong.  According to Levy, there was a period in the 1940s and 1950s during which the FAC and CC collaborated on some productions.  The merger makes future collaboration on CC student productions a very real possibility.

While the long term impact on the FAC theatre company budget is far from clear, Levy pointed out that CC has transferred $20,000,000.00 to the FAC endowment.  That additional endowment may benefit the FAC and the theater company in the future, as financial risks have made some programming out of reach in the past.  Levy does not expect any increase to ticket prices at this time, and one price has already gone down.  The FAC has implemented “a Student Rush ticket policy for Colorado College students (with proper ID), giving them free admission on the same day for unsold seats.”  

Unfortunately for those Colorado College students, the rush program may still be a tough ticket to get.  The FAC theater program is very successful.  There are nearly 2,000 season subscribers for the 400 seat theater, and about 25% of the shows sell out.  With total ticket sales nearing 40,000 per season, unsold seats could be difficult to find. 

As for benefits, Levy believes that the merger will produce some opportunities for innovative programming, as well as opportunities for a higher profile in the Pikes Peak region.  As an example, Levy envisions the possibility of bringing in an “A list actor,” who could combine a role in an FAC production with a Master Class presentation at Colorado College.  Could Meryl Streep or Denzel Washington appear on the SaGaJi stage some day?  It’s not as crazy as it sounds.

For Colorado College, the benefits are also significant.  Students working on a major or minor in theater could get work experience in a professional theater on campus (OK...a block away).  The FAC addition may help CC recruit talented theater students nationwide, thus expanding that part of the CC curriculum.  The addition of the FAC theatre company will unquestionably enhance the CC reputation in the national theater community.

If there is concern in the local theater community, and I think there is, Levy says it’s “justified.”  The anxiety that accompanies any major change is expected, but Levy thinks the theater community will be happy with the results.  The FAC theatre company will stay committed to developing local talent, presenting a vibrant children’s program, and staging the high quality productions that keep people coming back to the SaGaJi theater.  

As Levy sees it, “the potential for excellence is strong, and the potential for failure is small.”  The promise is for a better and stronger community presence for both institutions, along with additional value for students, artists, and all residents of Colorado Springs.  That’s a big promise, but one that is backed up with a big commitment from both institutions.  

You can still have input on the future plans for the FAC theatre company (and on the future plans for the museum and the Bemis School).  You can provide your thoughts to the leadership online here (see the red box on the right labeled “Questions and Comments”), or you can attend one of the two remaining “Listening Sessions” here:  

1.  Monday, Sept. 26, 7:00-8:30 PM, in the Fine Arts Center Music Room.


2.  Monday, October 3, 5:00-6:30 PM, at Colorado College's Gaylord Hall, 902 N. Cascade Avenue.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Constellations

 Playwright:  Nick Payne

CompanyTheatreworks

Venue:  Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Regent Circle, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Running time:  1 hour, 25 minutes (no intermission).

Date of Performance:  Sunday, September 11, 2016. 

Constellations (astronomy):  “a recognizable pattern of stars whose appearance is associated with characters, animals or objects.”  

Constellations is also the title for playwright Nick Payne’s story about recognizable patterns in an otherwise dark sky.  It’s a love story with a beginning a middle and an end, just not in the usual order.  If that sounds like a chick flick, I can assure you that it’s not.  Payne’s story appeals to all of us who have ever stood on the brink of a life changing moment and wondered how it will turn out.  

Carley Cornelius (Marianne) and Patrick Toon (Roland).
Marianne (Carley Cornelius) and Roland (Patrick Toon) meet, fall in lust (and love), and live their lives together.  The twist is that Marianne is a cosmologist, and the story is told in a theatrical version of “string theory.”  I can’t explain string theory; what I know about it wouldn’t fill a thimble.  Even so, it helps to know (thanks, Google) that string theory supports an infinite number of other potential universes where we exist in a similar but alternate reality.  

I know; it’s weird.  Every scene has an alternate version.  Time is not linear; the story goes back and forth in time.  If you’re a theoretical physicist, this is pretty interesting stuff.  Oddly, though, even without knowing string theory, it’s intriguing.  

And it works.  I was surprised to find that Payne tells a coherent love story using such a wildly unconventional device.  Five minutes into the fractured narrative, I was hooked on the characters and the chemistry.

One particular scene stands out for me.  After doing several alternate interpretations, it was replayed one last time in American Sign Language (ASL).  It was extraordinary.  For 3-4 minutes, the actors signed the scene in total silence.  Why couldn’t the characters be deaf in alternate universe?  Although I have not had any ASL training, I have no doubt that Cornelius and Toon were well prepared for this scene.  I recognized enough signs to know that they were not faking it.  

Both actors have a huge challenge; doing multiple versions of a scene with slight variations each time is difficult.  Cornelius and Toon are equal to that challenge.  Their chemistry is palpable; one never doubts that they belong together despite the cosmic variations of their relationship.  

Joye Cook-Levy’s direction is subtle; she has embedded a thousand tiny variations of intonation, facial expression, and pacing into each of the repetitive scenes.  Lex Liang’s scenic design is also subtle; he puts the actors inside a honeycomb, each cell of which represents a similar but slightly different reality.  Mike Woods lights up the stage and the honeycomb, with subtle shifts in light to bracket each scene.  

Constellations is an engaging, compelling, and very different theater experience.  It’s a love story, told in a strangely beautiful way.  You will find yourself emotionally drained at the final curtain; Constellations ends as many love stories do.  I can’t say more without giving away too much, but in my personal universe, Constellations has a ring of truth that will reverberate in my mind for a long time.


NOTES:

Constellations has adult language and adult situations.  That said, however, I think a PG-13 rating would be appropriate.  Theatreworks does not permit children under 5 at any show.

This show closes on September 25, 2016.

Photo Credit:  Theatreworks & Isaiah J. Downing, photographer.

TICKETS HERE:  

CREATIVE TEAM:

Director:  Joye Cook Levy

Scenic Designer:  Lex Liang

Costume Designer:  Stephanie Bradley

Lighting Designer:  Mike Wood

Assistant Lighting Designer:  Ryan Finzelber

Sound Designer:  Jason Ducat

Master Electrician:  Eric Grossenbach

Stage Manager:  Alexandra Pingrey

Production Crew:  Will Blocker, John Cooke, Jennifer Gebhart, Ruth Geiger, Jonathan Smith.

Production Shop:  Benton Gray, Natalie Keil, Charles Redding

ASL Assistance:  Julie Novak & Cory McCormick, Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, and James Gardner at Air Rhymes Interpreting.


CAST:

Marianne:  Carley Cornelius

Roland:  Patrick Toon

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Book of Moron

Playwright:  Robert Dubac



Running time:  1 hour, 30 minutes (no intermission).

Date of Performance:  Saturday, September 10, 2016. 

Mr. Dubac’s show is called The Book of Moron, and that's also the first joke you will hear. It's actually in the prerecorded curtain speech.  “If you came to see the Book of Mormon, the title of this show applies to you.”  It’s a funny line; we all laugh because we all knew we weren’t seeing the Broadway hit.  Right?  We all knew that?

Having cleared up the confusion, Dubac embarks on his 90 minute one man show full of wit, wisdom, zingers, and political points.  The show is a comedic search for the “truth,” whatever that may be.  His only set pieces are a blank chalk board where he can track his progress towards the "truth," and a wooden box.  

Dubac begins as if awakening from a coma; he has lost his memory.  He's not sure what the “truth” is or how to find it.  The search for the "truth" requires Dubac to consult the various voices in his head:  

Voice of Reason:  holds the key to the door of truth.

Common Sense:  Engages in critical thought but banished from politics.

Inner Moron:  Ignorance is bliss.

Inner Child:  Hungry for the truth at all 4 levels, the first of which is "bullshit."

Inner Asshole:  He says what we only say when we’re drunk.

Scruples:  Ethics, morals and principles; helpful for questioning the taboos of sex, race, religion, politics and the media. 

These characters are all distinct and separate versions of Dubac, each with seemingly endless comedic possibilities.  Dubac’s delivery is relentless; it seems like every phrase is a zinger.  He says something to offend nearly everyone in the room, but he is especially hard on the political right wing.  It’s all funny, and he take shots at both sides.  

As I said above, the set includes the wooden box.  It’s probably about 18-24” tall, and big enough for Dubac to stand in.  He uses it to demonstrate a current cliché: sometimes he thinks about things inside the box.  Other times, he thinks outside of the box.  It’s a simple but brilliant device to visualize our thought processes. 

The journey to the truth is hilarious, but when Dubac finally arrives at his destination, he’s both poignant and sobering.  The jokes are over.  The truth is made clear.  I won’t spoil the ending, but I can say that it gives everyone in the room a chance to reflect on Dubac’s point.

Comedy isn’t just a fun diversion.  Sometimes it’s a means to help us better understand ourselves.  The Book of Moron is one of those rare shows that can make us laugh as we learn important lessons.


NOTES:

This show contains adult language and humor.  

I recently overheard a discussion between two young fathers discussing F bombs and their kids.  One was telling the other that he let his kid know he would use the F word whenever and wherever he pleased.  That’s just how he talks.  The other father didn’t disagree or argue.  If this is the current parenting approach, the time is coming when we won’t need to separate the kids from adults at shows.  I’m no prude, but the line between vulgarity and civility seems like something children should understand.

MAT is one local theater that has no fear of taking chances on new work and edgy theater.  Hosting Robert Dubac for two nights of comedy is a rare opportunity for local fans to see a nationally recognized performer in such an intimate venue.  It’s also expensive; I doubt ticket sales can cover the costs.  In October, MAT will host Rembrandt Room on tour, a production of Denver’s award winning and highly original Buntport Theater Company.  Fans of original and edgy new shows don’t have to go to Denver.  MAT is bringing Buntport here. 

There’s a LOT going on at the MAT.  I just thought you’d want to know that.
This show is closed.

Photo Credit:  Millibo Art Theatre and robertdubac.com.

TICKETS HERE:  This show is closed.


CREATIVE TEAM:

Written and Performed by:  Robert Dubac

Executive Producer:  William I. Franzblau

Sunday, September 11, 2016

God of Carnage




God of Carnage

Playwright:  Yasmina Reza

Company:  Miner’s Alley Playhouse

Venue:  Miner’s Alley Playhouse, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, Colorado.

Running time:  1 hour, 20 minutes (no intermission).

Date of Performance:  Friday, September 9, 2016. 

Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage won three Tony Awards in 2009, including the prize for Best Play.  It’s no wonder, as the script is a delicious mix of fun and disorder.  The story begins with a relatively minor conflict between two couples dealing with a schoolyard fight between their eleven year old sons.  They try to politely resolve the issues of blame and consequences, but the situation quickly descends into a witty, angry free for all. 

God of Carnage is a dark comedy, and it requires analysis of both the laughs and the darkness of Reza’s larger message.  The title character is a reference to one of Alan’s  (Augustus Truhn) lines in the script:  “I believe in the God of Carnage.  He has ruled uninterruptedly since the dawn of time.”  

As Director Len Matheo notes in the program, the god of carnage rules in the belief that “it is in our nature to destroy, to put our own wants first, before what is right.”  That’s a fair assessment of Reza’s message, and it’s also a very dark view of human nature.  Reza tries, with limited success, to transfer that darkness from a school yard fight to a generalization about all of us.

L-R:  Augustus Truhn (Alan), Emily Paton Davies (Annette),
Lisa DeCaro (Veronica) & Mark Collins (Michael).
As for the comedy of carnage, the script is unquestionably witty.  Matheo’s stellar cast has the audience in stitches early on.  Good comedy is a combination of both writing and timing, and that combination here is a marvel to watch.  There are three totally unexpected events in the script, and all three require precise timing.  The ensemble delivered three laser guided direct hits to the funny bone, with enthusiastic reactions from the audience.  

Lisa DeCaro (Veronica) & Mark Collins (Michael).
Mark Collins (playing Michael Novak) has a gift for understatement, but he doesn’t need it in God of Carnage.  Collins explodes out of his character’s shell, jumping on furniture and declaring “I am not a liberal!”  His transition from loyal husband and father into angry racist loon is the very essence of the term “scary funny.”

Lisa DeCaro’s Veronica suffers the hardest fall in the show, going from "feel good" literary witness to the carnage known as Darfur to an angry woman ready to commit her own atrocities in defense of her son.  DeCaro’s performance crackles with credibility as her sincerely held values are abandoned in virtual hand to hand combat.

Emily Paton Davies (Annette) & Lisa DeCaro (Veronica).
If one character is central early on, it is Annette, played with gusto by Emily Paton Davies.  Paton Davies has a crucial scene; the conflict makes her nauseous.  To say that she makes the audience uncomfortable is an understatement.  It’s a pivotal moment, and Paton Davies delivers it in spectacular fashion.  

Augustus Truhn anchors the ensemble as Alan, the only person in the room who doesn’t let etiquette get in the way of his true nature.  Alan is an ego driven attorney who can’t detach his phone from his ear.  Truhn is an accomplished actor, and his role here plays to his strengths.  Asked to explain his son’s behavior, Truhn says it both simply and convincingly:  “He’s a savage.”  Truhn’s delivery is factual, not judgmental.  When Reza needs a heavyweight with no conscience, Truhn delivers.  Alan Raleigh is a soulless attorney without a moral compass, and Truhn perfectly fits the description in his suit and tie.
Augustus Truhn (Alan).

It’s easy to walk away from God of Carnage entertained by the comedy, but that would be missing the larger point.  Reza cleverly inserts our dark side into the chaos, making a highly debatable point about human nature.  

Reza’s characters have a thin gloss of respectability that cracks and reveals a deeper savagery as the story develops.  Reza questions our nature by asking whether causing the death a pet hamster is the moral equivalent of tolerating genocideIt is a very pointed question, and the answer is not as simple as it may seem.  Even the most evil purveyors of atrocities (as with those who are indifferent to rodent mishaps) believe their cause is just.  

As Reza’s story unfolds, we see how “normal” people can justify hostile, uncivilized behavior under stressful circumstances.  It’s not a coincidence that her characters never resolve the issues raised by their sons.  They barely communicate as they resort to insults, threats, and a constant shifting of positions.  The incessant interruption of phone calls is as disturbing as it is realistic.

The question Reza is raising is who among us is incapable of inflicting pain and suffering on others?  Even Veronica’s humanitarian exposure of genocide in Darfur cannot prevent her from losing her own self control.  Reza’s despondent answer seems to be that we are all capable of inflicting great pain and suffering.

Matheo mentions in the program that he is skeptical of Reza’s understanding of human nature, but he boldly gives her an unfiltered platform to make her point.  Matheo’s direction is a counterpoint to Reza’s message.  Despite his reservations, he has no fear of letting her message loose in his theater.  In doing so, he demonstrates that human nature is not nearly as dark as Reza would have us believe.  If Reza’s point is that “it is in our nature to destroy, to put our own wants first,” Matheo’s production disproves it.  He doesn’t destroy her message.  He gives it a full and heartfelt hearing, letting the chips fall where they may.

Whether we are inherently good or evil is a very old philosophical argument.  I’m not sure where I come down on the question.  That said, though, I am personally at a loss to explain how genocide and assorted atrocities (see here, here, here, and here) can occur repeatedly if we are inherently good.  The Holocaust prompted the phrase “never again.”  The sad reality is that the more apt phrase would be “again and again.”  

The immediate and extended standing ovation at the end of the performance seemed more a result of the entertainment value of the show than the philosophical content.  Reza’s story is scant proof for declaring anything definitive about human nature, but I can’t deny that she may still have a point.  Under the right circumstances, we may all revert to defending our personal interests without regard to the collateral damage.  That said, however, there is a substantial difference between making a point and proving it.


NOTES:

My focus is on local theaters in Colorado Springs, and when a company invites me to review a show, I get complimentary tickets.  Other times, however, I may travel out of Colorado Springs if a production interests me.  When I do so, I don’t attend as a reviewer, but as a customer.  That is, I buy my tickets.  As a result, I’m not obligated to do a review.  That doesn’t prevent me, however, from writing a post if I have something I want to say.  That is the case with God of Carnage.  

God of Carnage is for mature audiences due to adult language.  However, there are doubtless many teens who would enjoy Reza’s brilliant display of adults behaving badly.

This show closes on October 16, 2016.

Photo Credit:  Miner’s Alley Playhouse, photography by Sarah Roshan.

TICKETS HERE:  


CREATIVE TEAM:

Director:  Len Matheo

Scenic Designer:  Jonathan Scott-McKean

Scenic Carpentry/Painting:  Andy Claus, Bernie Gannon, Jonathan Scott-McKean, Elizabeth Scott McKean

Costume Designer:  Ann Piano

Lighting Designer:  Vance McKenzie

Sound Designer:  Len Matheo

Prop Master:  Elizabeth Scott-McKean

Stage Manager:  Bryanna Scott

Production Assistant:  Brandon Brown


CAST:

Alan Raleigh:  Augustus Truhn

Annette Raleigh:  Emily Paton Davies

Michael Novak:  Mark Collins

Veronica Novak:  Lisa DeCaro