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Monday, August 29, 2016

Thunder River Theatre Company Recognizes Founder and Artistic Director Lon Winston


Lon Winston is the founder and Artistic Director at Thunder River Theatre Company (TRTC) in Carbondale, Colorado. If you haven't been there, it's near Aspen. If you love theater AND you haven't been there, you REALLY need to make that trip.

Lon welcomed Roxie Wheeler and I to shows on several occasions while I was a Henry Judge for the Colorado Theater Guild. He's a gracious host, and very proud of his company. And he should be proud. Thunder River does amazing work in a state of the art facility. 

When I was working the Henry Award Work Team in 2015, Lon Winston was one of the people I really wanted on the team. He's a creative force and a dynamic personality. His knowledge of theater production is legendary. The day he said "yes" and joined the team I knew we were going to be able to tackle the many problems we faced. 

Not only did he volunteer, but he did so at a time when he had a LOT of other issues and commitments in Carbondale. But when asked, he answered the call. 

The theater in Carbondale was recently renamed "The Lon Winston Theatre." Think about that. You don't go to the Black Box at TRTC anymore. You go to THE LON WINSTON THEATRE. 

What an honor. Lon's the kind of guy you can't ignore. And Thunder River Theatre Company has done the right and nearly inevitable thing by recognizing Lon's talent, drive, and dedication to excellence.

So today it's NOT a hat tip. It's a STANDING OVATION. Well done, Mr. Winston. Well done.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT THEATER COLORADO


Sunset, Colorado Springs.






IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT THEATER COLORADO.

I’ve taken most of the summer off, after more than four years of reviewing shows all over Colorado. 

Aspen. Fort Collins. Longmont. Denver. Carbondale. Boulder. Colorado Springs. Evergreen. Dillon. Johnson’s Corner. Aurora. Lakewood. Arvada. Parker. Lone Tree. 

It’s a long list.

I’ve reviewed only 7 shows since the end of May, and most of those have been close to home here in Colorado Springs. In the past, 7 shows would be about 3 weeks worth. There were a number of reasons for cutting back. Extensive travel, overnight costs, fatigue, and some minor but annoying health issues. 

As much as I have totally enjoyed all the great theater, I just can’t continue at the pace I had set: 90 shows last year, and on a pace as of the end of May to do more than 100 in 2016.

I’m going to narrow my focus to theaters in the Colorado Springs area. That will eliminate a lot of overnight travel, I-25 traffic jams, and getting home after midnight. 

So, to all my theater friends all over Colorado, thank you. I’m sorry if I have let you down, but I have to slow down the pace. 

There have been times driving home from a show late at night, a drive of about 90 miles from Boulder, when I had serious trouble staying alert. Things were different when I lived in Denver; it was no big deal to get anywhere in the metro area and back home at a reasonable time. Things changed for me in late 2013 when I moved to Colorado Springs. The challenge is much greater.

The Theater Colorado website will get a new look and a new name: Theater Colorado Springs.  The web address will stay the same, and all content (currently 277 posts, about 260 of which are reviews) will remain available indefinitely. 

I will continue to write for the Colorado Springs Independent as well. Posts for "Theater Colorado Springs" may also appear on their website and in their weekly publication.

I greatly appreciate all the kind words and support you have given me and Theater Colorado over the last four plus years. 
Bill

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Men of Steel




Men of Steel

Playwright: Qui Nguyen


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

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

Date of Performance:  Thursday, August 4, 2016. 

THIS REVIEW IS ALSO AVAILABLE ON THE Colorado Springs Independent website.

I’m not a big fan of comics or superheroes, so I was somewhat apprehensive about Funky’s latest show.  Men of Steel (hereafter Men) turned out to be a clever but disturbing experience.  Clever because Qui Nguyen’s script mixes the superhero genre with cutting social commentary.  Men, however, is also disturbing.  Nguyen tells his story with both realistic and cartoon violence.  

The social commentary in Men focuses on two themes.  The first is that violence in ghettos is tolerated, but violence in a middle class neighborhood brings a superhero response.  Nguyen also takes on domestic violence.  Shocking displays of violence are visited upon Mommy (Haley Hunsaker), and Hurt (played by Josh Boehnke). 

Haley Hunsaker and Josh Boehnke deliver Mommy and Hurt in agonizing detail.  Hunsaker’s battered Mommy does what many women do in that situation; she suffers in silence to protect her young son (Evan Slavens).  Slavens, an 8th grader, is strong in a role well beyond his years.  Boehnke is Mommy’s adult child, forever changed by his childhood trauma.   He will endure any beating for a price. The damage done is difficult to watch, largely because of Boehnke’s stellar performance.

Luke Schoenemann is no stranger to the Funky stage, but Men is far and away his best Funky work.  He plays five different roles, each distinct and believable.  His portrayal of a raging bully is the one that you will remember when you leave the theater.   Schonemann is monstrous as he manifests both the rage and the perverse pleasure of inflicting unbearable pain on another human being.

L-R:  Megan Lastrella (Lady Liberty),
Chris Medina (Captain Justice), &
Chris Jordahl (Maelstrom).
The cartoon characters are, of course, very cartoonish.  Captain Justice (Chris Medina), Chris Jordahl (Maelstrom) and Meghan Lastrella (Liberty Lady) all look great in tights, but their talent exceeds the required level of acting.  Still, Jordahl was a standout in the cartoon club, with his towering stature and his menacing voice.  The superhero characters benefit greatly from the colorful costumes designed by Delaney Hallauer, Haley Hunsaker and Teri McClintock.

Nguyen’s script is choppy; there are three separate story arcs spinning around on stage simultaneously.  They are tied together by the thin thread of the superhero framework. Men correctly reminds us that underneath the cape and tights, “superheroes” are regular people in extraordinary circumstances.  

Dylan McClintock’s direction is of the “no holds barred” variety, making Men a worthy evening of theater.  McClintock is focused and pays careful attention to both the comedy and the tragedy.  It’s a delicate balance; “Bam! Pow! Zap!” superheroes are followed by a male hooker and ghetto kids looking for social justice.  McClintock weaves them into a bumpy but coherent passage from fantasy to reality.  His venture into video projections, however, was a weak spot.  A fifteen second video blackout left the audience wondering what they missed.

Men of Steel comes with a serious warning.  The language is vulgar, and the violence is stomach churning.  Still, if you’re a fan of superheroes and/or comics, or if you like theater that will jerk you out of your comfort zone, Men is your show.  Despite my initial anxiety, Funky’s Men reminded me that I should spend more time in my “discomfort’ zone.


NOTES:

I’m not a fan of superheroes.  I was traumatized (OK, maybe that’s too strong a word) by the Adventures of Superman at an early age.  I was 11 years old in 1959 when “Superman” star George Reeves died of a self inflicted bullet wound.  The superman I knew from television turned out to be human.  Very human.  I tried, but I could not understand why “superman” would kill himself.  He was faster than a speeding bullet, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and more powerful than a locomotive.  The bad guys never had a chance.  

Superman’s death was very troubling for me.  From that day on, I lost interest in the “Superhero” genre.  I had gone along with the TV show, only to learn that we are ALL human.  We are born, we live, and we die.  Superheroes are imaginary.  

This show closes on August 27, 2016.

Photo Credit:  Funky Little Theater/Megan Williams

TICKETS HERE


CREATIVE TEAM:

Director:  Dylan McClintock

Scenic/Lighting Designer:  Jeremiah Miller

Costume Designer:  Delaney Hallauer/Haley Hunsaker/Teri McClintock

Original Music & Sound Designer:  Chad Orr

Fight Director:  Dylan McClintock

Props:  Teri McClintock

Films by:  Josh Boehnke/Jake Leech

Board Operators:  Teri McClintock/Chad Orr/Emma Colligan


CAST:

Justin Aguirre:  Lukas/Burnout

Josh Boehnke:  Bryant/Anderson/Hurt

Dante J. Finley:  Damon/Mole/Christian

Haley Hunsaker:  Helen/Mommy

Chris Jordahl:  Malcom/Maelstrom/Marcus/Reynolds

Megan Lastrella:  Liberty Lady/Camille/Melinda

Chris Medina:  Jason/Captain Justice

Luke Schoenemann:  Hooded Menace/Andy/King/Warden/Dickens


Evan Slavens:  Young Bryant

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Kind of Red




Playwright:  John DiAntonio

Company:  Creede Repertory Theatre

Venue:  CRT Mainstage, 124 Main Street, Creede, Colorado

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

Date of Performance:  Saturday, August 6, 2016. 

We had originally arranged to see Kind of Red on Saturday, July 23.  Our plans changed when an accident closed the road between South Fork (where we were staying) and Creede.  We rebooked for Saturday, August 6.

In an unintentional but interesting coincidence, August 6, 1911 is Lucille Ball’s birthday.  So Kind of Red, a riff on Ball’s zany comedy, had a special significance.  She would have been 105 years old that day.  (She died in 1989 at the age of 77.)  

While those who knew Ms. Ball from her days starring in I Love Lucy would best relate to Kind of Red, the show stands on its own independent of her.  You don’t have to know Lucy or remember Lucille to enjoy the antics of Kind of Red.  That’s a plus, as there’s a whole new generation of theater fans who have never encountered Lucy and Ricky.

It’s difficult to overstate Ball’s contributions both to early television and to women in the arts.  Starting in 1962, she was in charge of Desilu Productions, one of the true heavyweight studios at the time. She was nominated for thirteen Emmy Awards, and won four.  Nearly six decades later, I Love Lucy is still running in syndication on the Hallmark Channel.  

A product of the Creede Repertory Theatre’s Headwaters New Plays Program, Kind of Red is a World Premiere.  Playwright John DiAntonio also plays the lead in the show (Rick), a dejected jazz trumpeter on a downward spiral.  He’s lost his soul mate (Rosalita, played with  passion by Mehry Eslaminia), and has lost his musical “sound” just as the audition of a lifetime drops in his lap.  Rick’s neighbors Frank (Logan Ernstthal) and Esther (Anne F. Butler) try to break him out of his funk so he can finally get a gig that will pay the rent.

Playwright John DiAntonio places Ball’s spirit in the center of his script, and the story plays out much as it might have had Ball herself been the creative force.  The story could be tightened up some on the front end; it takes nearly 30 minutes of exposition before the story really starts to unfold.  When Saint Lucia (Caitlin Wise) finally pops up on the stage, though, the story pops as well.  Without spoiling the climax, DiAntonio has written a very creative twist at the end of his story.  It ties up all the loose ends, just as I Love Lucy resolved everything in less than 30 minutes.

Saint Lucia (Caitlin Wise).  
Caitlin Wise is the Lucille Ball lookalike, and when she appears, hilarity ensues.  Wise channels Ms. Ball, from her bright red hair to her booming voice and her comical overacting.  Wise lights up the stage from the moment she takes it to her final scene.  Her first appearance is a stunner.  She makes the most of her first scene, putting her foot on the gas and accelerating to full throttle from that moment on.  Whether it’s physical comedy (watch her try to get off the couch) or her salsa dancing (in a gorgeous costume), Wise is in full control of the show.  

Rick’s obsession with Rosalita (Mehry Eslaminia) borders on insanity; he can’t maintain two thoughts at a time.  It’s either Rosalita or music, and Rick’s libido has no interest in music.  Eslaminia is the perfect seductive distraction.  She brings her swagger, sass, and sexiness to the stage, wrapping Rick around her little finger.  That her character is all sex and no substance is mostly lost on Rick, but Eslaminia makes sure that everyone else in the room gets it.

John DiAntonio (Rick), Mehry Eslaminia (Rosalita).

Logan Ernstthal is Frank (the Fred Mertz equivalent), and Anne F. Butler is Esther (the Ethel Mertz equivalent).  Ernstthal and Butler are a perfect fit; at times it’s like watching Fred & Ethel live.  DiAntonio puts them in the same general relationship as the original.  They are foils for Lucy and Ricky, and sometimes accomplices.  


Logan Ernstthal (Frank) &
Anne F. Butler (Esther).
DiAntonio, for his part, has no problem bringing his character off the page and onto the stage.  After all, he did write the script.  The result is a fully developed Rick whose character arc is complete and credible.  DiAntonio snatches victory from despair and certain defeat.  Along the way, his self discovery is both needlessly difficult and profound.  DiAntonio’s script and his performance bring home his real message.  The antics and the fun are entertaining, but what really matters is finding our place in the world.  DiAntonio does exactly that, both as playwright and as a gifted actor.

John DiAntonio (Rick).









Director Stephen Weitz has his hands full here, with Lucy-like dialog, pratfalls, a dance number, and an actor who probably thinks he knows more about his character than the director knows.  Weitz is a professional, and he can handle this challenge.  He’s got a great script, a great cast, and an excellent crew behind the scenes.  Weitz turns them all loose, but demands a quality that shows down to the tiniest details.  There is a scene near the end of the show that drove home those details.  One of the characters cast a passing glance at a painting hanging on the wall.  I hadn’t realized until that moment that the character on the stage is also the subject of the painting.  When it finally struck me, the resemblance was stunning.  Every detail was exactly the same on the painting and on the actor.

It would be wrong not to mention here the outstanding costumes from Anthony James Sirk’s shop.  From Saint Lucia’s colorful copies of Lucy’s classics to the Cuban salsa dancers, Sirk puts pop and color on the CRT stage.  Choreographer Bethany Talley makes the salsa dancing the centerpiece of Kind of Red.  It’s fun, it’s colorful, and it’s exactly the kind of party Lucy loved.




The program for Kind of Red includes a section called “playwright’s perspective.”  Mr. DiAntonio closes his comments with this:

"Part of the beauty of playwriting is the opportunity to put order and (if you’re lucky) meaning to the chaos of life.  In this play, I got to put chaos to the chaos, and then hopefully throw in a dash of meaning."


Chaos.  Check.

Chaos put to chaos.  Check.

Meaning.  Check.

Mission accomplished.

NOTES:

Lucille Ball, circa 1944.
Happy birthday, Ms. Ball.  You are gone, but not forgotten.

Kind of Red is suitable for all ages.  Even kids who do not know Lucille Ball will be entertained by this story.

If you're going to Creede, make it a weekend mini vacation.  The lodging in Creede is limited, but South Fork (21 miles) and Del Norte (37 miles) are nearby options.  

If you're staying in Del Norte, visit the Three Barrel Brewery for craft brews (Trashy Blonde is the lightest, Black Yak the darkest) and an interesting menu.  When I told the waitress I'd like to try the Trashy Blonde, the conversation quickly devolved into a series of double entendres.  Sorry.  I couldn't help myself.  Never had a trashy blonde before, so I didn't know the protocol.

For casual dining in South Fork, we found the Old Firehouse Restaurant to be our favorite.  The menu is standard fare, but the food is good and the service is first rate.  (Roxie loved the catfish poor boy.)  We didn't need the calories, but dessert was irresistible.  LEMON BARS.  Enough said.  

This show closes on August 28, 2016.

Photo Credit:  Creede Repertory Theatre, with photography by John Gary Brown.

TICKETS HERE:  


CREATIVE TEAM:

Director:  Stephen Weitz

Scenic Designer:  Patrick Rizzotti

Costume Designer:  Anthony James Sirk

Lighting Designer:  Jacob Welch

Sound Designer:  Becca Pearce

Stage Manager:  Jean Egdorf

Assistant Stage Manager:  Lucas Bareis-Golumb

Choreographer:  Bethany Talley

CAST:


Frank:  Logan Ernstthal

Esther:  Anne F. Butler

Saint LuciaCaitlin Wise

Rosalita:  Mehry Eslaminia

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Antony & Cleopatra


















Playwright:  William Shakespeare

CompanyTheatreworks

Venue:  Rock Ledge Ranch, Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Running time:  2 hours, 40 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).

Date of Performance:  Thursday, July 28, 2016. 

For those who haven’t had the experience, Colorado Springs has an annual Shakespeare Festival.  Theatreworks hosts a Shakespeare show at Rock Ledge Ranch each summer to open its season.  They’re kicking off this season with Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare’s tragedy set in Rome and Egypt.  

Cleopatra (Tracy Hostmyer) & Antony (James Keegan).
Shakespeare’s lead characters are well known for their voracious sexual appetites, their political betrayals, and their tragic downfalls.  Mark Antony (played by James Keegan) was a Roman general and supporter of Julius Caesar until Caesar’s death.  Cleopatra (Tracy Hostmyer), was a female Egyptian Pharaoh, legendary for her beauty and her ruthless palace politics.  The complicated plot follows them as they use each other to satisfy their orgasmic and political power lusts.

The Theatreworks set is stark; the floor of the stage is a black and white reproduction of the map of the Mediterranean, suggesting the power centers of Rome, Athens, and Alexandria.  Other than a few set pieces (chairs, a table, and a large dark representation of Cleopatra’s monument) that move on and off the stage as needed, the stage is bare.  

Rather than an elaborate set, Director Murray Ross sets the time and place with Harvey Santos’ brightly colored costumes.  The Romans are in contemporary uniforms, including desert camouflage, making them immediately recognizable as soldiers. 

L-R:  Iras (Carmen Shedd), Cleopatra
(Tracy Hostmyer), & Charmian (Regina
Steffen).
Ross puts the Egyptians in period costumes, emphasizing the femininity of Cleopatra and her servants Charmian (Regina Steffen) and Iras (Carmen Shedd).  Both Steffen and Shedd make the most of their supporting roles, mixing some sassiness with servitude and injecting some royal mischief into Cleopatra’s chambers.  While it may seem difficult to share a stage with Cleopatra, Steffen and Shedd are always getting more than their share of the audience’s attention.

Tom Paradise (Enobarbus, Antony’s friend), is spot on as a loyal supporter, and equally as impressive in his remorse he betrays Antony.  Paradise’s suicide is one of the most convincing acts of honor in the entire show.

I’m no Shakespeare scholar, but I know that he saddled his main characters with a frustrating paradox.  They are to be both lovers and mortal enemies, though not simultaneously.  This conflict of changing emotions is a very delicate balance for the actors.

James Keegan’s Mark Antony is strong and hunky.  He’s briefly shirtless in the first act, a detail I’m sure was noticed by every woman in the theater.  The volatile love/hate relationship is challenging; Keegan is more convincing in his anger than in his carnal passion.  His passion for revenge boils over, but his passion for Cleopatra is more of a slow burn.  

James Keegan (Antony) & Tracy Hostmyer (Cleopatra).
Tracy Hostmyer’s Cleopatra is an attractive character who knows how to get what she wants.  She can scheme, she can seduce, she can betray, and she can change her mind in a flash.  Even so, Hostmyer comes off as more a manipulative puppeteer rather than a sexy seductress.

This is a first rate production, and Keegan and Hostmyer are gifted actors.  Both have extensive experience with Shakespeare.  Still, I left the theater wishing for more chemistry between Antony and Cleopatra.  The anger was real, the mutual manipulation was real, and the remorse was real.  The passion, however, seemed more smoke than fire.  


NOTES:

Rock Ledge Ranch is a historic ranch/museum located just inside the main entrance to the Garden of the Gods park.  If you haven’t seen the Garden of the Gods or Rock Ledge Ranch, arrive early enough before the show to get at least a “drive by” look at the magnificent red rock structures in the park.  Garden of the Gods is one of the best attractions on the front range, and it’s free.  Rock Ledge Ranch is also a worthwhile attraction.  Prices are here.  

Theatreworks has upgraded the tent for this year’s Shakespeare Festival.  The new tent is bigger and better, offering an excellent venue in any summer weather.

This show closes on August 20, 2016.

Photo Credit:  Theatreworks

TICKETS HERE:  


CREATIVE TEAM:

Director:  Murray Ross

Assistant Director:  Jeff Flygare

Scenic Designer:  Jerry Ditter

Costume Designer:  Harvy Santos

Lighting Designer:  Vanc McKenzie

Sound Designer:  Jason Ducat

Stage Manager:  Timothy J. Muldrew

Assistant Stage Managers:  Elise Jenkins & Kristen Wickersheim

Props Manager:  Lauren Soto

Master Electrician:  Steve Jessop

Production Crew:  Charles Redding


CAST:

THE EGYPTIANS:

Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt:  Tracy Hostmyer

Charmian:  Regina Steffen

Iras:  Carmen Shedd

Mardian, a eunuch:  Dana Kjeldsen

Diomedes:  Alex Williams

Messenger/Seleucus:  Trey Burns

Alexas/Clown:  Sammie Joe Kinnett

Soothsayer:  Steve Wallace


ANTONY AND HIS MEN:

Mark Antony, Triumvir of Rome:  James Keegan

Domitus Enobarbus:  Tom Paradise

Eros:  Brian McClure

Philo:  Mark E. Cannon

Demetrius:  Trey Burns

Scarus:  Dylan Mosley

Euphronius, a schoolmaster:  Steve Wallace

Canidius:  Michael Augenstein

Decretas:  Mark E. Cannon

Soldiers:  Jonathan Andujar & Alex Williams

THE ROMANS:

Octavius Caesar, Triumvir of Rome:  Kyle Dean Steffen

Octavia, his sister:  Carmen Shedd

Lepidus, Triumvir of Rome/Dolabella:  Michael Augenstein

Agrippa:  David Hastings

Maecenas:  Phillip Gallegos

Thidias:  Dana Kjeldsen

Proculeius:  Steve Wallace

Soldiers:  Jonathan Anujar & Alex Williams