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Monday, June 25, 2012

"Sweet Storm"


Sweet Storm

Playwright:  Scott Hudson

VenueMiner’s Alley Playhouse, 1224 Washington Avenue, Golden, CO


Date of Performance:  Sunday, June 24, 2012

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

To describe this play as “intimate” does not really convey how uncommonly personal it is.  The two actors portray the first 90 minutes of their marriage.  They’ve come straight from the ceremony to the handmade tree house where they will spend their wedding night.  What could possibly be more intimate, more personal, or more private? 

For the audience, it is a privilege to be admitted to such a special moment, but it also seems somewhat voyeuristic.  It’s an unusual premise, but one ripe with dramatic opportunities.  “Sweet Storm” is not about consummating the marriage, at least not in the usual sense.  Rather, it’s a window into a relationship between two people, and their personal relationships with God. 

Bo (Michael Bouchard) is a preacher, and Ruthie (Rachel Bouchard) is having a justifiable crisis of faith.  It’s awkward at times to watch them interact; they hardly know each other on their wedding day, and they barely know how to communicate with each other.  They are na├»ve, innocent, and yet bonded together in a new and unfamiliar way.
Ruthie asks the question that Bo has heard many times, and a question all of us have probably asked ourselves from time to time:  “Do you think we’re punished for the bad things we do?

It’s a central question.  Does God visit disasters on us for our transgressions?  Do we suffer because we’ve offended the Creator?  If we have faith and lead a virtuous life, why would God punish us?  Or is suffering random, just a matter of bad luck?  Bo’s faith is strong, Ruthie’s is understandably weak. 

Ruthie asks Bo “is luck in the Bible?”  Of course, luck is not in the Bible.  Luck is our way of rationalizing the randomness that intrudes on our lives.  But if luck is not the reason for Ruthie’s predicament, how can it possibly be explained or understood?  It is the questions Ruthie asks, and that Bo can’t answer, that power “Sweet Storm.”

That the actors here, Michael and Rachel Bouchard, are actually married to each other adds an interesting dimension to their performances.  They have shared their own intimate wedding night with each other.  They have had those moments, some of them no doubt awkward, where they began to understand each other on a very deep, personal level.  And that experience informs their sincere, strong performances.

Putting a tree house on a stage is a challenge, but Richard Pegg, Scenic Designer, has created a gem that is both realistic and functional.  The stage lighting includes a working kerosene lantern, which is exactly what one might find in a tree house.  Lighting and sound are combined effectively throughout the performance to put the audience in a continuous thunderstorm.

Robert Kramer’s direction exquisitely portrays the tension, the love, and the struggle the couple faces on their wedding night.  Kramer’s recent credits include “A Small Fire” at The Edge Theater, another intimate and powerful production, and one of my personal favorites of 2012.  “Sweet Storm” again demonstrates his skill for coaxing the most personal emotions from his actors.

Theater sometimes jars us into thinking about our own lives, and “Sweet Storm” is one of those thought provoking, rewarding experiences.  “Sweet Storm” may not give you the answers you seek, but it will force you to ask yourself the questions.

NOTE

This show runs through Sunday, July 8, 2012.

Director:  Robert Kramer

Scenic Designer/Construction:  Richard H. Pegg

Cast:
Rachel Bouchard (“Mrs. Ruthie Harrison”)
Michael Bouchard (“Mr. Boas Harrison”)


Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Footloose"


Stage Adaption:  Dean Pitchford & Walter Bobbie

Venue:  Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 South Allison Parkway, Lakewood, CO


Date of Performance:  Saturday, June 23, 2012

Running Time:  2 hours, 20 minutes (including 20 minute intermission).

I’m probably not the only one who remembers the 1980s with mixed feelings.  But I do recall the 1984 film “Footloose.”  It had a thin plot but marvelous dance scenes.  It wasn’t a film you remembered for the strong characters or the inspiring message (although there was a little of each if you watched closely).  But if you saw “Footloose” with Kevin Bacon dancing up a storm as Ren McCormack, you have not forgotten the experience.  The film was a triumphant celebration of dance, even if it wasn’t a triumph of filmmaking.

And by the way, if you didn’t see “Footloose” in the 80s, or the remake in 2011, you’ll still know some of the music.  The Kenny Loggins theme song played constantly on Top 40 radio back in the day.  Add “Holding Out for a Hero,” “Almost Paradise,” and “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” and you’ve got a sing along musical confection from the moment the curtain goes up. This show is a high energy, foot tapping musical adventure of the first order.

For those who are unfamiliar with the story, young Ren McCormack moves with his newly divorced mother to Beaumont from Chicago.  Beaumont is a small town with a twist:  dancing is outlawed.  Ren sets out to single handedly change the culture of his new small town.  As he learns, “if you drive up a mountain, you can’t back down.”  Ren carries through on his quest to dance, and Performance Now carries through on their ambitious task—a script with a huge cast, challenging music, and frenetic dance numbers.  Performance Now and Ren follow a similar arc…neither will back down that mountain.

This production is strong in every respect; acting, singing, set design, choreography, music, costumes, lighting…everything just works.  But, as in the 1984 film of the same name, this show is really about the dancing.
 
And the dancing here is spectacular.  I’ll say that again, to let it sink in.  The dancing here is spectacular.

Spectacular dancing takes talented dancers, and there are plenty of them on the “Footloose” stage.  But it also takes inspired direction and precision choreography.  Here, the director and choreographer are the same person:  Kelly Van Oosbree.  She has an obvious connection with her actors, dancers, singers, and they reward her with career defining performances.  

The male and female leads (Joshua Bess and Chelsea Ringer) are magnetic.  There may be a dozen other actors on the stage with them, but you can’t take your eyes off Ren and Ariel.  They sing, they dance, and they light up the stage.

Bess and Ringer, though, have some tough competition for acting honors on the “Footloose” stage.  Joshua Kwaniewski (“Willard”) nearly steals the scenes he’s in with his comic timing, charming innocence, and warm smile.  Willard is the kind of guy we all want to hang out with.  Kwaniewski provides just the right dose of “redneck” attitude to go with Ren’s urban sophistication and Ariel’s rebellious struggle with her parents.

If you like musicals, with large dance production numbers, and catchy music done by a smoking hot band, do not miss “Footloose.”  And if you don’t like that kind of show, check your pulse, and then get a ticket while you can.  “Footloose” is fun, funny, and worth every penny.

NOTE: 

This show runs through Sunday July 1, 2012.

Director/Choreographer:  Kelly Van Oosbree

Cast (This is an abbreviated list; the entire cast includes 17 actors, actresses, dancers and singers):           

Joshua Bess (“Ren McCormack”)

Chelsea Ringer (“Ariel”)

Joshua Kwaniewski (“Willard”)

Tim Fishbaugh (“Reverend Shaw Moore”)

Anna Hardcastle (“Rusty”)


Friday, June 8, 2012

"The Roast Beef Situation"



Venue:  Buntport Theater, 717 Lipan Street, Denver, CO


Date of Performance:  Thursday, June 7, 2012

Running Time:  75 minutes, no intermission.

It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while a production is so innovative, so creative, so inventive, that I hardly know how to describe it.  And with “The Roast Beef Situation,” words fail me.  It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  And that, frankly, is a good thing.

While the plot confounds, the premise is clear.  The Licensing Act of 1737 censored all theater productions in England.  Plays had to be approved by the government before they could be performed.  One of the more draconian requirements of the law required that theaters could not use any dialogue that was not accompanied by music.  That’s right.  No dialog without music.
Carlo Delpini, a professional actor, clown, and pantomimist, was imprisoned in 1787 for violating The Licensing Act by uttering the words “roast beef” without music.  It was, in his words, a “mistake.”  That “mistake” (“misteak?”) is the premise for “The Roast Beef Situation.”
Erin Rollman (Morey) and Erik Edborg (Grub) 
Buntport casts Delpini as the jailed protagonist, trying to rationalize his captivity and escape it in any way that is both possible and legal.  (It turns out that it’s legal to escape from prison in a boat, but it’s not possible.)  As for the lesser lunchmeats, well, you’ll have to see “Roast Beef” for yourself.
“The Roast Beef Situation” asks the obvious question:  does this law make sense?  And it also answers that question, with a random poll of 500 Londoners who think it does not make sense.  As Delpini says, “quelle surprise.”

The performances are engaging, exaggerated, and thoroughly entertaining.  The period costumes and makeup are surprisingly effective.  The white face makeup and the lipstick focus our attention on the facial expressions.  And those faces, at times, are as essential to the story as the script.

If we take “The Roast Beef Situation” simply as “food for thought,” one would quickly come to the conclusion that The Licensing Act of 1737 is misguided but irrelevant in 2012. 

Or is it?  Do we dare ask the contemporary question “do these laws make sense?” 

·      Foreign law has been banned in Kansas courts.
·      Pregnant women in South Dakota must be told that they have an "existing relationship" with the fetus before going through with an abortion.
·      It is illegal for undocumented immigrants in Alabama to get water in their homes.
·      Various states have enacted voter suppression laws, despite a lack of evidence of voter fraud.
·      The Wisconsin governor is attempting to prevent same sex couples from having hospital visitation access.

A lot has changed since 1737.  Unfortunately, silly, senseless legislation has not changed.  “The Roast Beef Situation” is a timely reminder of how the Ship of State sometimes veers far off course.

I was “plausibly perplexed” at times.  In the end, though, I was dazzled by the concept, the performances, and the challenge of “The Roast Beef Situation.”  This production is a unique experience that I recommend highly to all theater enthusiasts.  You will laugh, you will scratch your head, but you will not be disappointed.

This show runs through June 16, 2012.

Director:  Collaboration

Cast:           

Brian Colonna (Carlo Delpini)

Hanna Duggan (Stan)

Erik Edborg (Grub)

Erin Rollman (Morey)

Evan Weissman (Plausible Jack)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"In the Next Room...or the Vibrator Play"

PlaywrightSara Ruhl

VenueBug Theater, 3654 Navajo Street, Denver, CO


Date of Performance:  Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Running Time:  2 hours, 35 minutes, including one fifteen minute intermission.
Photo Credit:  C. Trammell/Oh Snap! Photography

As is my habit, I won’t spoil the story with too much information.  That said, though, it helps to know that it takes place in the late 19th century, near New York City, when the magic of electricity was just beginning to bloom.  And one of the blossoms was a mechanical vibrator that showed some value as a medical treatment for hysteria in (mostly) women.  The play depicts just such treatments, and the resulting “relief” it gave to the patients.  The first act is understandably comedic given the subject matter and the framework of 19th century values (which now seem less quaint than crazy).  

Needless to say, Dr. Givings’ (Charles Wingerter) patients are, shall we say, much more self aware and considerably less “tense” as a result of their “treatments.”

The second act moves abruptly from comedy to drama.  The contrast is stark but effective.  It seems the more self aware the characters become, the lonelier they are.  All of them fantasize about one of the other characters, but none of them can completely connect with that person.  And that is why this play is more relevant in the 21st century than it would have been in 1890.

Despite the title, the play itself is relatively tame.  There’s no nudity.  It’s not erotic.  It’s not vulgar or obscene, even though there are probably some adults who could be offended by some of the content. 

There are, however, some simulated orgasms achieved through mechanical means.  (And one that is achieved using a “manual” method.”)  I use the word “simulated” carefully here.  The simulations are very convincing.   Aimee Janelle Nelson (“Mrs. Daldry”) seems particularly gifted at portraying ecstasy.   Kaity Talmage-Bowers (“Mrs. Givings”) also displays considerable gusto for her “solo” performances. 

The standout performance here, though, goes to Adam Perkes (“Leo Irving”).  And that’s not just because he is marvelous to watch as he responds to “treatment.”  It’s also because he dares to push the sexual and racial boundaries of love in the 19th (and 21st) century.  And we are ultimately disappointed when we learn that doing so will make him lonely forever.

If you were hoping that “The Vibrator Play” would be all about mechanical self-gratification, you may be disappointed.  This play is about much more than that.  And it is very well presented here by Equinox, with a talented cast, an impressive set and tasteful, engaging direction from Deb Flomberg.

For a lot of reasons, technological, social, and emotional, the 21st century focus is more on fleeting pleasure (translation: “orgasm”) than on relationships.  We are too often connected socially but disconnected emotionally.  “In the Next Room…or the Vibrator Play” reminds us that this is not a new problem. 

This play won’t change your life, but it will make you think about the people you know, and your relationships with them.  And frankly, that’s more than enough reason to see this production.

NOTELeave the kids at home.

This show runs through June 16, 2012.

Director:  Deb Flomberg

Cast:           

Charlie Wingerter (“Dr. Givings”)

Kaity Talmage-Bowers (“Mrs. Givings”)

Aimee Janelle Nelson (“Mrs. Daldry”)

Linda Swanson Brown (“Annie”)


Arthur Pierce (“Mr. Daldry”)

Lisa Young (“Elizabeth”)

Adam Perkes (“Leo Irving”)