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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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Extremities





Playwright: William Mastrosimone

Company:  Funky Little Theater

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

Running time:  1 hour, 45 minutes (no intermission).

Date of Performance:  Saturday, May 20, 2017.


When you enter the Funky Little Theater for Extremities, there’s a large banner.  You can’t miss it:

And when you're a star they let you do it. You can do anything ... Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."

Donald Trump rarely apologizes, but when this 2005 video surfaced, he said “I apologize if anyone was offended.”  I was offended, as were millions of other Americans who found Mr. Trump’s comments 1) repugnant and 2) revealing.  The banner sets the tone for Extremities at Funky.  Some men, including one in the highest office in the nation, really believe they can do anything to women, and they aren’t ashamed to admit it.

When Extremities opened off Broadway in 1982, Susan Sarandon played Marjorie.  She was replaced after the initial run by Farrah Fawcett.  Mastrosimone adapted his play for the 1986 film version of Extremities, which again had Farrah Fawcett in the lead role.   Haley Hunsaker gets the lead in the Funky version, and it’s a role she seems born to play.  

Extremities is the dark, disturbing story of Marjorie’s encounter with a rapist named Raul (Dylan McClintock).  He stalks and assaults her, and in the process, subjects her to extreme emotional distress.  Alternating between seductive and destructive, McClintock is a fearsome beast.  When Marjorie turns the tables on Raul, the story moves from rape to revenge.  Mastrosimone puts the victim’s dilemma right in your face:  what recourse is there for a powerless woman when she is attacked?

Mastrosimone’s point is one that hasn’t changed in the three decades since he wrote Extremities.  For every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will never serve a single day in jail.  Only about 1/3 of rapes are even reported to police, often for the same reasons that Mastrosimone’s script so aptly depicts.  Unfortunately, it appears that the President’s casual attitude about sexual assault may become a national policy.  

Director Grant Langdon is passionate about Extremities.  This is not his job.  It’s his crusade.  From his program notes:  “Art can be effective and successful but even more so when advocating for a greater purpose.”  He’s right.  Mastrosimone’s purpose, and Langdon’s by extension, is to create awareness, dialogue, and change.  They both succeed in Funky’s frightening production.

Banksy:  Red Balloon.
In addition to directing, Langdon designed the country house set for Extremities.  It’s a gorgeous room, from the wooden plank flooring to the print of the Red Balloon by street artist Banksy.  Langdon also split the audience into two parts, facing each other and forming walls for his set.  The effect is to draw viewers in even closer; we not only see the actors, but also the audience reaction as if we’re looking in a mirror.

Langdon doesn’t stop the crusade when the house lights come up at the end of the show.  We hear his message as we leave the theater.  Lady Gaga sings “Til It Happens To You:”

'Til it happens to you, you don't know
How it feels
How it feels
'Til it happens to you, you won't know
It won't be real
No it won't be real
Won't know how it feels  

Haley Hunsaker takes a tremendous emotional beating as Marjorie: 

“The biggest challenge for me has been the attack scene. It’s extensive and gritty, I’ve never had to do anything quite like it before. It’s difficult to stay in the scene and maintain some composure without getting too upset about what’s happening. I think I want the scene to be over just as quickly as Marjorie does.” 

Her program bio is direct:  she hopes we are inspired by Extremities, even though we are disturbed by the brutality.  Hunsaker hits the target.  She inspires.  Her Marjorie is fearful, fragile, and ferocious in equal measure.  Whether she is the victim or the victimizer, we get it.  Our emotions are as real as hers.  

Marjorie’s dilemma, and the dilemma all sexual assault victims face, is whether to report or bury the violence.  She cries out for an answer:  “What about me?  Don’t I count?”  It’s the cry of every woman who has suffered the emotional and physical violence of sexual assault.  The answer, sadly, is statistically elusive.  

Hunsaker’s performance is greatly enhanced by Steve Perkin’s sensitive fight choreography.  Perkins walks the fine line that fight specialists must walk:  the action must be realistic, yet respect the actor’s safety and boundaries.  He carefully balances the realism with respect.  For those who think this the balance simple, easy, and natural, I assure you that it is not.  

McClintock takes on a big challenge here as Raul, the heartless amoral animal who takes his sexual satisfaction wherever and whenever he wants.  It’s fun to play the hero; but playing Raul requires convincing the audience that you are the worst possible example of humanity.  McClintock’s performance is so powerful that he might want someone to start his car for him after each show.  He generates a reflexive revulsion that instantly justifies Marjorie’s revenge.  If the role isn’t difficult enough on the emotional level, there’s still the physical challenge: McClintock spends most of his time blindfolded bound and gagged, crammed in a tiny space.  His performance is revolting, and that’s high praise, not criticism.

DesirĂ©e Myers, self described “Nasty Woman and Survivor,” brings some sanity to the cast as Patricia, a social worker.  Myers is a peacemaker here, trying to deescalate the crisis using her social worker skills.  They fail her in spectacular fashion, and Myers turns into every victim’s worst nightmare.  She turns on Marjorie, blaming her for provoking the assault.  Patricia is a key character; Mastosimone uses her to demonstrate how even those we trust can turn on a victim.  Myers convincingly makes that point for the playwright.

Sophie L. Thunberg as Terry is NOT the friend and peace maker here.  She is concerned but ambivalent about Marjorie’s attack, and there’s a reason.  She has also been a victim of sexual assault.  Thunberg reveals the secret, and her decision to just let it go.  Thunberg’s Terry is damaged, but not broken.  Like millions of victims, she chooses to bury the violence rather than fight back.  Terry is Mastrosimone’s passive option for victims; Thunberg makes that option crystal clear, if ultimately unsatisfying.

Extremities is a huge dose of reality that lands a knock out punch to everyone in the audience.   If someone asked me where to put it on this emotional pain chart, I’d rank it at 11.  Extremities exposes our casual acceptance of sexual assault, the neglect of its victims, and our tolerance of predatory males.  It also indicts our legal system’s failure to adequately punish predators.  Funky never shies away from pushing the envelope on social issues.  Extremities is ample proof that theater is both relevant and thriving in Colorado Springs.


NOTES:

For mature adults only.  Subjects in Extremities may be unsuitable for survivors of sexual assault and/or domestic violence.

Several groups have supported Funky’s production of Extremities.  They include Her Story Cafe, the Human Trafficking Task Force, and the Zonta Club of the Pikes Peak Area.  Anyone with concerns about domestic abuse and/or sexual assault may want to explore those links.

Other resources in the Pikes Peak area for women in distress:  

1.  Tessa





Please seek out help if you are in distress.  If you are a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or emotional abuse, you are not alone.  

This show closes on May 28, 2017. 


Photo Credit:  Funky Little Theater, Chris Medina

Tickets HERE.  



CREATIVE TEAM:

Producer:  Chris Medina

Director/Scenic Design:  Grant Langdon

Lighting Design/Stage Management:  Delaney Hallauer, Megan McManus

Costume Design:  Dee Schnur

Sound Design:  Will Sobolik

Fight Choreography:  Steve Perkins

Props:  Megan McManus


CAST:

Marjorie:  Haley Hunsaker

Raul:  Dylan McClintock

Patricia:  DesirĂ©e Myers

Terry:  Sophie L. Thunberg