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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 26, 2017

She Loves Me


















Book by: Joe Masteroff

Music by:  Jerry Bock

Lyrics by:  Sheldon Harnick

Based on a play by:  Miklos Laszlo


Venue:  Main Stage, 124 S. Main, Creede Colorado.

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

Date of Performance:  Friday, June 23, 2017.

At one time or another, we’ve all been looking for love.  For some of us, we’ve been looking in all the wrong places.  The quest to find a soul mate has morphed over the last century from pen pals in a lonely hearts club” or classified newspaper ads to email and finally to there’s an app for that.”  It won’t be long before there will be a “virtual reality” version of matchmaking.

She Loves Me is a musical romance based on Miklos Lazlo’s 1937 play The Parfumerie.  The story is based in a perfume shop where the aging owner’s marriage is failing and his staff is rattled by the hiring of a new sales clerk, fresh from their competitor.  The basic plot reappeared in 1940 in the Jimmy Stewart film The Shop Around the Corner, and again in the Judy Garland film In the Good Old Summertime (1949).  The most recent (1998) film adaption, You’ve Got Mail, starred Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.  

Donovan Woods (Georg) and Emily Van Fleet (Amalia).
 "Where's My Shoe?
Creede Repertory Theatre’s (CRT) musical version sparkles with wit, charm, humor and the excellent vocal chops of Emily Van Fleet (Amalia Balash) and Donovan Woods (Georg Nowack).  The pair does a delicate dance, balancing their hostile veneer with a deeper and undeniable attraction.  Their chemistry is special.  Van Fleet’s Amalia works hard at disliking her co-worker Georg, only slowly realizing that her “dear friend” and Georg have much in common.  

Woods, for his part, is a master at conveying meaning without words.  His facial expressions are priceless, revealing the his true feelings despite his words.

The real magic here is the music.  Van Fleet and Woods both have strong singing voices, and when they sing together, the chemistry is powerful.  Their duet Where’s My Shoe?,” sung in Amalia’s bedroom, is my favorite moment in the show.  It’s the point where their mutual attraction becomes obvious, and the hostility starts to dissipate.  Woods and Van Fleet carry off the shoe caper with a modesty that we know will bloom into passion.
  
Pat Moran (Kodaly) & Kate Berry (Ilona).
The entire She Loves Me cast is strong.  Kate Berry (Ilona Ritter) delivers a beautiful duet with Van Fleet.  When Berry and Van Fleet team up for I Don’t Know His Name, they shoot an arrow into the heart of every woman in the room.  

Spencer D. Christensen is a hoot as the shop suck up (Ladislav Sipos).  If you’ve ever held a job with more than three coworkers, you know a Sipos.  There’s one in every office, and Christensen nails his character.  

Pat Moran (as Steve Kodaly) is equal parts charm and cad.  As with Sipos, you may know a Kodaly.  Moran’s version is an amoral hedonist seeking lust but not love.  

Scenic Designer Rick Reeves created a highly flexible eye popping set with rolling pieces that do double and even triple duty.  Asa Benally’s costumes are period perfect, from Maraczek’s (Logan Ernsthall) pin stripe suit to Arpad’s (CJ Salvani) short pants and delivery boy hat.  Benally puts the ladies in some stunning outfits; her blue dress for Ilona and Amalia’s pink ensemble to meet her “dear friend” are outstanding.

Spencer D. Christensen (Ladislav Sipos).
Ian Leroy provided the music, turning his own pages at the piano while delivering nothing but perfect notes for the soundtrack.  Eaton Sayler’s sound design flawlessly mixed Stuart’s piano with the actor’s microphones.  All the technical parts of She Loves Me mesh seamlessly with the high caliber talent on the stage.  Director Michael Perlman combines behind the scenes technical experts with his onstage artistic talent for a compelling rendition of She Loves Me.  

Perlman reaches for a contemporary message, and hits the target:  

“Sometimes, as these characters find, we have to be willing to sit across from someone we think we hate— with whom we think we share nothing in common, with whom we think there could not possibly be anything on which we agree or even ways in which we see the same world— and discover that there may be plenty to love after all.”

Perlman’s casting of Woods and Van Fleet makes his point perfectly.  When something seems as obvious as black and white at first glance, look again.  You may see a million shades of grey on closer inspection.  

There’s plenty to love about CRT’s She Loves Me.  Looking past our differences to find the qualities in each other is a message we need today.  Whether we’re looking for love or looking for peace, or just looking for something to give our lives meaning, we need each other to succeed.  



NOTES:

She Loves Me is rated PG by the Creede company.  

This show closes on August 10, 2017. 

Photo Credit:  Creede Repertory Theatre and John Gary Brown, photographer.

Tickets HERE.  


CREATIVE TEAM:

Director:  Michael Perlman+

Music Director:  Ian LeRoy

Choreographer:  Maddy Apple

Scenic Design:  Rick Reeves

Costume Design:  Asa Benally

Lighting Design:  Jacob Welch

Sound Engineer: Eaton Saylor

Stage Manager:  Devon Muko*

Asst. Stage Managers:  Nia Sciarretta*, Aaron McEachran, Alexandria Skaar

Dance Captain:  Emily Van Fleet*

PIANISTS

Ian LeRoy



CAST:

Amalia Balash:  Emily Van Fleet*

Georg Nowack:  Donovan Woods*

Ilona Ritter:  Kate Berry*

Steven Kodaly:  Pat Moran

Zoltan Maraczek:  Logan Ernstthal*

Ladislav Sipos:  Spencer D. Christensen

Arpad Laszlo:  CJ Salvani

Headwaiter & U/S Georg:  Josh Zwick

Butterfingers:  Brian Kusic

Pianist:  Ian LeRoy

Ensemble:  Christy Brandt*, Annie F. Butler, Claudio Venancio

Ensemble & U/S Ilona:  Bettina Lobo

Ensemble & U/S Amalia:  Gina Velez

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

+ The Director is a member of the STAGE DIRECTORS AND CHOREOGRAPHERS SOCIETY, a national theatrical labor union.

The Syringa Tree





Playwright:  Pamela Gien


Venue:  Ruth Humphreys Brown Theatre, 120 South Main Street, Creede, Colorado.

Running time:  2 hours, 25 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).

Date of Performance:  Saturday, June 24, 2017.

Syringa Tree:  A genus of woody shrubs and trees, commonly known as lilacs.  Native to southeastern Europe and Eastern Asia but widely and commonly cultivated in temperate areas elsewhere.  (From the program glossary.)

Segregation in South Africa under apartheid.
Playwright Pamela Gien’s syringa tree is a childhood memory, part of the natural beauty of her native South Africa.  More importantly, though, is the syringa tree’s power to connect Elizabeth, or "Lizzie," (Caitlin Wise) to the people in her life.  It is under the syringa tree that Gien tells Lizzie’s story of growing up white in the last years of apartheid in South Africa. 

Make no mistake.  The Syringa Tree is a challenging script for any audience.  It’s non-linear, spoken with a heavy South African accent, and the two actors play multiple roles.  That challenge is a foreseeable result of telling a story through the eyes of a child.  Like all challenges, however, there are substantial rewards for accepting it.  It may not be your cup of tea, but if it is, it may be the sweetest tea you’ll ever taste.

I couldn’t help but think, as I watched Lizzie’s story unfold, what a difficult script The Syringa Tree must be for the actors.  Caitlin Wise and Portland Thomas (Salamina) carry the entire weight of the production on their shoulders for nearly 2.5 hours.  With a few props and a couple of swings attached to the syringa tree, they have to transport the audience to a foreign land in a troubled time to tell a fractured story.  Wise and Thomas are professionals, and they make their difficult task appear effortless.

Caitlin Wise (Elizabeth and others).
Early in the first act, I was searching for words to describe Caitlin Wise's young Lizzie.  I settled on childish, innocent, and in particular, exuberant.  I needn’t have bothered.  Lizzie could have saved me the trouble; after I pondered a description, she announced that she’s “HYPERACTIVE!”  

Hyperactive is unquestionably the correct term.  Wise's Lizzie bounces around the stage, narrating in a stream of consciousness that could only come from a child.  She learns Scottish dancing.  She loves ballet.  She loses her underpants.  She swings on the syringa tree.  She blurts out whatever she’s thinking (“South Africa has no fucking water!”).  Wise's polished South African accent, her exaggerated facial expressions, and her charming childish demeanor are irresistible.  Even when the story becomes difficult to follow, you cannot look away from her.

Wise becomes an adult in the second act, and despite the years, she still has a lot of “little girl” left in her character.  Elizabeth the adult is married, a mother, and living in the United States.  “Free.”  “Brave.”  But she's still full of the fire of her childhood.  

Caitlin Wise's performance as Lizzie/Elizabeth is a rare theater experience.  It was just a few minutes after the curtain went up that it dawned on me.  I was in the presence of excellence.  Not just talent.  Not just skill.  I was witnessing theater at the level of "art."  Sometimes theater entertains, but at its best, it surpasses entertainment and becomes a profound artistic experience.  Wise surpasses entertainment.  She is an artist.  I can offer no higher praise.

Portland Thomas (Salamina and others).
None of which is meant to diminish Portland Thomas’ performance.  Her Salamina is a nuanced, complicated delicate woman.  She’s a victim of apartheid, but not vengeful.  Thomas’ grief at losing her daughter to the revolution is one of the best moments in the production.


Thomas provides an understated dignity to the story, creating a sharp contrast to Lizzie’s exuberance.  There’s an enduring bond between the two women who couldn’t be more culturally different.  Thomas transcends those differences with a basic humanity that we all share.


Director Tosin Morohunfola pushes his actors to their limits, and they respond with unforgettable performances.  His staging of the final scene is stunning.  It’s a wordless, dreamy aerial ballet; the actors float by, synchronized souls under the syringa tree.  It is one of the most powerful and memorable scenes I have seen on any stage. 

L-R:  Portland Thomas, Caitlin Wise.
The Syringa Tree reminds us that revolutions always have innocent victims.  Good people on both sides are always caught up in the chaos of social and cultural change.  It’s a message we need to remember.  Today's "Muslim ban" is yesterday's "Pass Law."  Black Lives Matter is the new Defiance Campaign.

Don’t expect to just sit back and be entertained at The Syringa Tree.  You need to engage with the story, the actors, and the script to find the beauty and wisdom of the experience.  I can guarantee that you will be richly rewarded for the effort.  Just as I did, you will find yourself in that rarest of events: undeniable artistic excellence.  

The Syringa Tree is not just a show I’ll remember for a long time.  Rather, it’s a show I will never forget.




NOTES:

The Syringa Tree is suitable for teens and older. 

For more information on apartheid in South Africa, see these links:









This show closes on August 26, 2017. 

Photo Credit:  Creede Repertory Theatre and John Gary Brown, photographer.

Tickets HERE.  


CREATIVE TEAM:

Director:  Tosin Morohunfola

Scenic/Lighting Design:  Matthew Schlief

Costume Design:  Asa Benally

Sound Design:  Becca Pearce

Dialect Coach:  Rebecca Bossen

Trapeze Choreographer:  John DiAntonio

Dance Choreographer:  Bethany Eilean Talley

Stage Manager:  Aaron McEachran

Dance Captain:  Nia Sciarretta*

Asst. Stage Manager:  Lucas Bareis-Golumb

CAST:

Elizabeth and others:  Caitlin Wise*

Salamina and others:  Portland Thomas*

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.