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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Crucible




Playwright: Arthur Miller



Running time:  3 hours (includes 15 minute intermission).

Date of Performance:  Friday, March 17, 2017.

The most common definition of “crucible” is “a container of metal or refractory material employed for heating substances to high temperatures.”  Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is based on a somewhat less common definition:  “a severe, searching test or trial.”

Miller’s masterpiece of American drama is a severe test for the characters of the Salem Witch Trials (1692-93).  While Miller takes some artistic liberties with the witch trials, he has carefully reconstructed the cruelty of the persecution of those suspected of witchcraft.  In the space of a mere 15 months, 20 were executed, most by hanging.  The executions included 14 women.  Five others, including two children, died in custody.

The Salem Witch Trials were a mockery of justice; convictions were based on the slimmest of evidence.  Miller uses this perversion of justice as a metaphor for his own "crucible."  He was questioned by the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in June, 1956.  Like many others questioned by HUAC, he was suspected of being a Communist.  When asked, Miller refused to name other suspected Communists and subsequently was charged and convicted of contempt of Congress.  Like his character John Proctor, when put under extreme pressure to provide names of the innocent to authorities, Miller resisted, persisted, and refused to cooperate.  He wrote The Crucible after his conviction, to remind us that the lesson of Salem is one that we haven't yet fully learned.

Millibo Art Theatre’s current production of The Crucible is a powerful cautionary tale of the abuse of power that results from a disinterest in truth.  Millibo's small venue puts Miller’s tale of fear, frustration, and injustice mere feet from our seats.  The close connection between actors and audience is exactly what Miller intended:  his unthinkable tragedy becomes disturbingly real.

Set Design by Roy Ballard.
This  is a large cast,18 by my count.  Director Kelly Walters manages the entries and exits gracefully; there’s not a missed cue in the entire 3 hours of the show.  The performances are uniformly excellent.  Scenic Designer Roy Ballard has given the cast a functional and striking 3 level set to work on.  Amy Haines’ costume designs are detailed period pieces, recreating the drab but practical style of the late 17th century.  Though the sound design is not credited in the program, the ambient background sounds add the proper environmental setting.  Walters has thoroughly thought through every detail of this production.  

Taylor Geiman has the lead role as John Proctor, and he’s unquestionably the star of the show.  Proctor is the guy in the “crucible,” being tested because he defended his wife against the charge of witchcraft.  Geiman’s performance builds through the first act to an explosive climax in the second act.  

That climax is stunning.  Questioning the evidence and the process, Proctor struggles with questions of his own destiny.  As the crucible heats up, he realizes that although he cannot save his wife, he can save himself by posting a false confession on the church door.  He refuses.  He will not slander himself with a false confession.  He knows that doing so means certain death, but he refuses to lie to save his own life.  Miller wrote the words; Geiman delivers them with all the power and intense pain he can muster.  Enthusiastic applause greeted the entire cast at the final curtain, but it was only when Geiman took his bow that the audience stood for the standing ovation he so clearly deserved.

Amanda Faye Hunter plays Abigail, Proctor’s servant until she provides too much personal service to her married boss.  Hunter makes a difficult transition credible; she gives up her hope for a future with Proctor and then turns against him to save herself from the noose.  She disintegrates as it becomes clear that Proctor can’t be manipulated.  Hunter pulls it all off without a hitch.

Christian O’Shaunessey is a veteran actor with an impressive résumé.  Here, he’s Reverend John Hale, the local “expert” on witchcraft.  O’Shaunessey is convincing as the “expert,” but even more so when he realizes the consequences of his expertise.  Whether he’s delivering his own lines or reacting in horror to the excesses of Judges Danforth (Christopher Lowell) & Hathorne (Mark Cannon), one can’t look away from O’Shaunessey’s Hale.

In his program notes, Director Kelly Walters understates the obvious:  

“I chose to look at this work not from the distant view of the Puritans, but through the prism of an undetermined time and place, where mankind may be tested in a different, or similar, crucible yet again.  It will be, perhaps a time when hysteria again determines perception, when divisiveness creates opportunity, when power fills a vacuum, when truth may be inconvenient, and questionable facts may reign over moral reason.”

That "undetermined" time is now, and that "undetermined" place is right here.  We are asked daily to “believe” what we hear from our “leadership,” even when it’s demonstrably false.  Whether the lie is the size of the inauguration crowd, the size of an electoral college victory, whether millions of fraudulent votes were cast, or whether a predecessor wiretapped his home, the truth has indeed become inconvenient.

Millibo Art Theatre’s timing for The Crucible is a coincidence; the show was put on the calendar well before the November, 2016 election.  It was serendipity that brought usThe Crucible at the precise time we need to hear Miller’s message.  Whether we will have the courage of John Proctor or Arthur Miller is yet to be seen, but the results so far are not encouraging.



NOTES:

This show closes on April 2, 2017. 

The Crucible is arguably suitable for the entire family.  The most offensive language may be the terms “whore” and “lecher,” and there’s no adult content that would trouble small children.  The witchcraft references are innocuous, no doubt because there were no actual witches in Salem at the time.  My recommendation would be that The Crucible is best for teens and up.

I had forgotten that Arthur Miller was married to Marilyn Monroe.  While researching Miller for this post, I stumbled on this bit of interesting information:

“Miller stood by his convictions when subpoenaed to appear before The House  Un-American Activities Committee. He had been called to testify and was offered a chance for this to ‘go away’ if he would arrange for a photo call between Marilyn and the Head of the Committee. He point blank refused.”

It’s safe to say that Congressional ethics are still as flexible today as they were in 1956.



Tickets HERE.  


CREATIVE TEAM:

Director:  Kelly Walters

Assistant Director:  Susan Dawn Carson

Scenic Designer:  Roy Ballard

Lighting Design:  Kitty Robbins

Costume Design:  Amy Haines

Video Design:  Lauren Duggin

ASL Interpreters (Colorado School for the Deaf & Blind):  Cory McCormick, Juli Novak, Desi Petz

Choreography:  Jan Johnson, Ormao Dance Company

Stage Manager:  Kristen Wickersheim

Assistant Stage Manager:  Molly Gillard


CAST:

John Proctor:  Taylor Geiman

Elizabeth Proctor:  Erica Erickson

Parris:  Mike Lee

Abigail:  Anna Faye Hunter

Hale:  Christian O’Shaunessy

Cheever:  Micah Spiers

Giles Cory:  Michael Augenstein

Hathorn  Mark Cannon

Mercy:  Kayla Kuemmerle

Ann Putnam:  Hannah Rockey

Sarah Good:  Barbara Summerville

Tituba:  Marisa Hebert

Mr. Putnam:  David Hastings

Herrick:  Jonathan Andujar

Mary:  Abby Gaydos and Priscilla Needs

Betty:  Miranda McCauley

Suzanna:  Lisbet Jackson

Francis Nurse:  Charlie Ammen

Monday, March 13, 2017

Dearly Beloved





Playwrights: Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, Jamie Wooten

CompanyFirst Company

Venue:  First United Methodist Church Theater, 420 North Nevada, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Running time:  2 hours, 20 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).

Date of Performance:  Saturday, March 11, 2017.

I wish I could sum up the plot of Dearly Beloved in a few sentences, but that would definitely be a fool's errand.  I could just say “it’s complicated,” which is true but unhelpful.  So here’s my best “brief” and fairly descriptive summary of the plot.

The show takes place in the small town of Fayro, TX, home to 3,003 authentically funny souls.   There’s going to be a wedding; but the happy couple (Madalyn Rilling as Tina Jo & the mysterious Parker Price) turns up missing.  

That’s a big problem, as the Gone With the Wind themed extravaganza is a very large event in Fayro.  Tina Jo’s mother Frankie (Kitty Robbins) is on overload, trying to put on a wedding and keep sisters Twink (played by Alicia Franks), and Honey Rae (played by Cheerish Martin) from scratching each other’s eyes out.  

Jones/Hope/Wooten cleverly mix some interesting ingredients into their story: 
  • Tina Jo’s mother’s curious health issues, 
  • Tina Jo’s Dad’s (Jon Reimer) alleged fling with a local tart, 
  • and some soulful Gospel music for good measure. 
The result is a sure fire recipe for frivolity, fun, and surprises.

There’s a LOT to like about First Company’s production, from the flexible and functional set by Marty Fennewald to Katie Harmon’s eye catching costume design.  First among the strengths of Director Daniel S. Robbins’ cast, however, is the Sermonettes (Kitty Robbins, Cheerish Martin, and Alicia Franks), the Fayro gospel trio with fabulous harmonies.  The Sermonettes stole the show with their soulful, sweet renditions of traditional hymns.  

The Sermonettes.  L-R:  Kitty Robbin, Alicia Franks, Cheerish Martin.
When not singing as the Sermonettes, Robbins, Martin, and Franks anchor the cast with their solid performances as the dysfunctional ladies of Fayro.  Ms. Robbins shocked the audience when she revealed her secret, eliciting a collective audible gasp.  Ms. Martin struts her stuff in a gold lamé trimmed dress with matching spiked heels, making Honey Raye’s hot flashes and five failed marriages a comedic flashpoint.  Ms. Franks is the zany wedding planner, cooking 300 pounds of meat while putting the pot luck together.  

Franks is not just in charge of the BBQ.  She also has a field day with her love interest, Wiley Hicks (Justin Anderson), drugging him into oblivion.  Anderson’s physical comedy, including a tumble off a table, is precisely staged and timed for maximum effect.  In a relatively small role, Anderson makes a big splash as Twink’s boyfriend.

Director Daniel Robbins keeps the comedy pace quick, starting in act one, scene one.  Megan Rieger (playing florist Geneva Musgrave) opens the show alone on stage.  She is short on the flowers she needs for the imminent wedding.  Constantly interrupted by phone calls she hasn’t the time to take, Rieger answers each one as if she’s an automated voice mail machine.  When it comes time to leave a message, she beeps and hangs up on the callers.  Rieger gets the laughs started with her poise and personality, and Robbins capitalizes on Rieger’s opener.  He keeps the characters as fun and as funny as possible as they endure the zany complications threatening the so called wedding.

The script is a collaborative effort of three playwrights, and I suspect that each of them contributed characters from their personal experiences.  Dearly Beloved’s “family” issues result in some great comedy based on painful realities.  For better or worse, you may recognize some of your own family members in Dearly Beloved.  I know I did.

My issues with the script are of the nit picking type.  The jokes (and at times the characters) seem corny and juvenile.  The characters are definitely small town stereotypes.  In my experience, small town characters have as much individuality and as diversity as those in any other town.  

With one exception, the script is also unflattering to the males of Fayro.  That one exception is Dub, the patriarch of the Dubberly clan, played by Jon Reimer.  Reimer turns in the only male performance that requires grace, dignity, and class.  In Reimer’s case, I’m sure those qualities are not just an act.

Dearly Beloved is a solid production with a capable cast that delivers an entertaining evening of comedy.  This is live theater in an unusual venue done well by the cast and crew. You will leave the building with a smile on your face.  I guarantee it.

NOTES:

This show closes on March 19, 2017.  This show is suitable for the entire family.

Heads up.  Do NOT head for the exits at the final curtain.  Stay for the curtain call.  It’s a hand clapping gospel medley of sing along favorites.

If you’re a fan of other Texas comedies like Greater Tuna or A Tuna Christmas, Dearly Beloved should be on your “must see list.

If you haven’t seen a First Company show before, access is very easy (no stairs to climb).  There are two off street parking lots:  a small one on the north side of the building, and a larger one across the street.  You can enter both lots from E. Saint Vrain Street.

This is a short run (just two weekends), so don’t delay if you need tickets.  Intermission at First Company shows usually features root beer floats in the lobby.  It’s a fundraiser for the youth singers, with a suggested donation of $2.00.

Dearly Beloved satirizes rural Texans.  If you’re sensitive and from Texas, you may be offended by some of the humor.  

Photo Credit:  First Company.

Tickets HERE.  


CREATIVE TEAM:

Co-Producers:  Martin Fennewald & Megan Rieger

Director:  Daniel S. Robbins

Set Designer:  Marty Fennewald

Art Design/Painting:  Alex Robbins, Kitty Robbins, Kiffin Irwin, Katie Harmon, Samuel Suksiri

Set Construction:  Terry Phillips

Lighting Design:  Kitty Robbins

Sound Design/Light Board:  Alex Robbins

Lighting Assistant:  Kari Kiser

Stage Manager:  Candi Martynes

Costume Design:  Katie Harmon

Properties:  Miranda Wright

Sound Board Operator:  Allison Singmaster

Makeup & Hair Design:  Trudy Fennewald


CAST:

Frankie Furtrelle Dubberly:  Kitty Robbins

Honey Raye Futrelle:  Cheerish Martin

Twink Futrelle:  Alicia Franks

Tina Jo & Gina Jo Dubberly:  Madalyn Rilling

Nelda Lightfoot:  Katie Harmon

Geneva Musgrave:  Megan Rieger

Dub Dubberly:  Jon Reimer

Justin Waverly:  Samuel Suksiri

John Curtis Buntner:  Kiffin Irwin

Wiley Hicks:  Justin Anderson


MUSICIANS:

Piano:  Jeannie Robbins

Bass:  Norm Hetzel

Drums:  Evan Danforth

Piano (rehearsal):  Laura Gearhart

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Heir Apparent





Playwright: Jean-Francois Regnard, adapted by David Ives


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

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

Date of Performance:  Friday, February 17, 2017.


If it’s humor you seek,
it’s from the bathroom it leaks.
When of diarrhea he speaks 
The wealthy miser reeks and peaks.

Sorry.  I couldn’t resist writing some scatalogical poetry inspired by David Ives’ adaptation of Regnard’s classic comedy.  My hat is off to Ives; his poetry is much better than mine.  In fact, one might say that Ives is a rock star among writers of toilet verse.  

Le Légatalre Universal (The Heir Apparent) was first performed at the Comédie Francaise (the French national theater) in 1705.  It’s a commedia dell’arte farce of the first order.  Regnard’s script, arguably his best work, is a bawdy, funny, irreverent, and satirical romp.  David Ives has translated and adapted it, preserving the plot and the poetry but adding current cultural reference points.  

Adam Sterling-Blancas (Crispin) &
Sarah S. Shaver (Lisette).
Current cultural quips aside, though, The Heir Apparent doesn’t need a lot of detailed political or cultural analysis.  It’s best enjoyed for what it is:  a bawdy, naughty comedy about love, lust and greed.  The characters are from central casting. There’s the old fool Geronte (Steve Wallace) who falls for a beautiful girl (Isabelle, played by Michelle Pantle) who could be his daughter.  The girl’s mother (Joanne Koehler as Madame Argante) is a conniving battle axe.  Crispin (Adam Sterling-Blancas) and Lisette (Sarah S. Shaver) are servants in love.  Eraste (Greg Reilly) is the handsome, dashing suitor who cannot have Isabelle unless he can acquire Geronte’s fortune.  Scruple (the aptly named attorney, played by Sophie Thunberg) is a mere 3 feet tall and the source of numerous size jokes.

The story is straight forward.  Geronte is a wealthy miser but dying of diarrhea (a condition that may be naturally occurring or pharmaceutically induced).  He is desperately trying to live long enough to finish his will.  All the other characters (save Scruple) are jockeying to be the sole heir to Geronte’s fortune.  Some of the plot twists are predictable (Geronte, presumed dead, is resurrected for additional humor), others are not (Eraste and Crispin in drag).  Geronte has an Ebenezer Scrooge moment in the end, and love blooms for all.

Greg Reilly (Eraste) & Michelle Pantle (Isabelle).
This is an experienced and talented cast, led by Sarah S. Shaver as Lisette.  Shaver opens the show, dusting the set pieces when she’s grabbed from behind and embraced by her love interest Adam Sterling-Blancas.  The two make a credible couple, stealing kisses and trading glances at every opportunity.  Shaver’s mischievous side is on full display as she keeps Geronte loaded up on laxatives.  Greg Reilly is the hunky dashing pauper in love with Isabelle (Michelle Pantle).  Reilly and Pantle have the chemistry that Regnard intended.  Both are marvelous on their own, but together they are on fire.  Joanne Koehler’s Madame Argante is cold and calculating, keeping Eraste on the defensive.  Koehler is a strong, shrewd woman who refuses to be taken lightly.  

Steve Wallace (Geronte).  
Geronte is Regnard’s central character, and Steve Wallace nails his role as the wealthy miser lusting after Isabelle.  He is the classic “dirty old man,” sharing both his bowel movements and his libido shamelessly with the cast and the audience.
 
Regnard inserts Scruple into his script for purely comedic purposes; a 3 foot tall lawyer serves to diminish a profession that many before and after him have short changed.  Puns intended.  Sophie Thunberg (in drag, as it were, complete with a full but fake mustache) plays her role on her knees.  She shuffles around the stage, making the illusion real:  her Scruple is really only 3 feet tall.  For one of such small stature, though, Thunberg stands tall.  She milks the laughs from every line, exaggerating her French accent and channeling her inner Inspector Clousseau.  She makes the most of her short time onstage to make an oversized impact. 

Max Ferguson’s direction focuses on the fun, the physical, and the farce.  Ferguson doesn’t just permit some overacting.  He requires it.  From gestures, to costumes, to facial expressions, the cast is constantly directed to ham it up, and that’s a good thing.  Ferguson dresses Eraste and Crispin as women, and both actors are fetching, funny and fabulous.  Sarah S. Shaver’s costumes are a delight, and none are better than the hoop dresses for the guys.  

This performance was the second night of the run, and at times the actors seemed to rush their lines.  That’s a shame; Ives’ poetry, like a fine wine, is best sipped, not chugged.  Many of the lines needed a slower pace and occasional pauses to be fully appreciated.  

David Ives has written some exceptional scripts of his own, and he’s a master at adapting forgotten classics for the contemporary stage.  This Jean-Francois Regnard/David Ives collaboration is pure comedy, done in eloquent poetic verse.  I’m a fan, but there are those who may be intimidated by rhyming lines.  That’s a shame.  It may take your ears a few minutes to adjust to the cadence, but it’s well worth the effort.  Springs Ensemble’s production is an entertaining classic comedy with a modern twist.  Throw in a dirty old man with diarrhea, guys in drag, and a midget lawyer and you can count on a fun night out at the theater.


Foreground, L-R:  Adam Sterling-Blanca (Crispin) Steve Wallace (Geronte), Greg Reilly (Eraste).
Background, L-R:  Sarah S. Shaver (Lisette), Michelle Pantle (Isabelle).





NOTES:

This show closes on March 5, 2017. 

For all the bathroom humor and sexual innuendo, there were very few four letter words in the script.  The subjects may be delicate, but the language is rarely vulgar (I did note one F bomb).  Still, discretion would be advised for preteen children.

For more information on Regnard, Ives, and The Heir Apparent, check out this First Folio Student and Teacher Resource Guide.  (Hat tip to the Shakespeare Theatre Company, Washington DC.)

As information, the Comédie Francaise is still in the theater business more than 300 years after producing Regnard’s comedy.  

Photo Credit:  Springs Ensemble Theatre Company, photos by Emory John Collinson.

Tickets HERE.  


CREATIVE TEAM:

Executive Producer & Costume Design:  Sarah S. Shaver

Co-Producer:  Jenny Maloney

Director:  Max Ferguson

Set Designer:  Jack Salesses

Lighting Design:  Jeremiah Miller

Sound Design:  Taylor Geiman

Dramaturg:  LeAnne Carrouth

Stage Manager/Board Operator:  Amber Carlton

Costume Construction:  Rebecca Hillstead

Properties Master:  Marie Verdu

Running Crew:  SairReese Gavzy


CAST:

Geronte:  Steve Wallace

Lisette:  Sarah S. Shaver

Eraste:  Greg Reilly

Crispin:  Adam Sterling-Blancas

Isabelle:  Michelle Pantle

Madame Argante:  Joanne Koehler

Scruple:  Sophie Thunberg