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Monday, August 13, 2012

"The Play About The Baby"


Playwright:  Edward Albee

Venue
Germinal Stage Denver, 2450 West 44th Avenue, Denver, CO


Date of Performance:  Sunday, August 12, 2012

Running Time:  1 hour, 50 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).

Ed Baierlein ("The Man") and Deborah Persoff ("The Woman") in "The Play About The Baby" (Westword)
  
Here’s what you need to know about Germinal Stage Denver’s “The Play About the Baby”:

·      It’s disturbing.

·      It’s confusing.

·      It will challenge you.

·      It’s brilliant.

Albee’s script is the textbook definition of “theater of the absurd.”  Things are not what they seem; in fact, they may well be quite the opposite.  Words are just words; they are vague, ambiguous, and sometimes meaningless.  The characters find themselves in an improbably, in fact, unbelievable situation.  Logic is lost.  The crisis is severe, but it cannot be resolved on this stage.  The absence of a resolution is frustrating, but Albee was never interested in giving us solutions.

This script would be a disaster in the hands of a lesser playwright.  For Albee, though, “The Play About the Baby” is a playground for words and ideas that ricochet loudly off the walls as the audience tries to fathom what they are seeing.  If your head is spinning ten minutes into the first act, you are having the correct Albee experience.  If the first ten minutes (or any ten minutes) of the play make perfect sense to you, you’ve probably seen this play multiple times.  Comprehension may come with the repetition…but I doubt it.

Albee uses the illogical events on stage to confront the audience with important questions.  Foremost among those important questions is “what is real?”  How do we know if something is real or imagined? 

Albee asks us whether it matters.  Is an imaginary crisis any more or less urgent than an actual crisis?  And if that crisis is imaginary, is there no value or lesson that can be taken from it?

If the script is challenging (and it obviously is), the cast here is more than equal to the task.  Deborah Persoff never has a bad day onstage, and “Baby” is no exception.  Watch her carefully in the first act, as she becomes increasingly drunk before your eyes.  I started to wonder if it was real vodka in the decanter…she was THAT good.
Deborah Persoff/Ed Baierlein

Ed Baierlein brings exactly the proper balance of deadpan delivery and philosophical guidance to his character.  “If you haven’t had the wound of a broken heart, how can you know if you’re alive?” he asks the Boy and the Girl.  Being young and innocent, they haven’t had that experience.  And given the circumstances, the question of whether they are alive is a very pertinent one.  Baierlein makes them ask the question but gives them no hope of answering it.

Cole Cribari and Kelsey Kaisershot
The Boy (Cole Cribari) and the Girl (Kelsey Kaisershot) struggle with a rapidly disintegrating reality.  Their characters run the gamut of emotions.   We see the Boy and the Girl display their lust, passion, fear, anger, sadness, anxiety, guilt, and shame.  The display of a rainbow of emotions is extraordinary, and a joy to watch.
 
Director Tad Baierlein, to his credit, brought a wise sensitivity to the nudity here.  He stages two completely naked actors so that they are entirely visible to every seat in the house, but the action is so fleeting as to avoid the audience gawking at the sight.  In a theater that puts every seat within 30 feet of the stage, he deftly manages the shock of naked bodies without making either the actors or the audience overly uncomfortable.

As the play ends, we still don’t know what is real.  What happened to the Baby?  Where is the Baby?  Is there a Baby?  Was there ever a Baby?  Does any of it matter? 

Germinal Stage Denver is truly a local gem.  From the recent “A Streetcar Named Desire” to the French classic “The Misanthrope” and now to “The Play About the Baby,” GSD provides the audience with works that are important at a time when most theaters are focused on what’s popular and profitable.  For years, GSD has been the go to stage for theater that matters. 

It’s easy to give audiences what they want.  Germinal Stage Denver gives us what we need. 

NOTE

This show runs through Sunday, August 26, 2012.  This production includes adult themes and adult language, as well as nudity.  Not recommended for children.

Director:  Tad Baierlein  

Costume Design:  Sallie Diamond

Production Manager:  Lauren Meyer

Cast:

Man:  Ed Baierlein

Woman:  Deborah Persoff

Girl:  Kelsey Kaisershot

Boy:  Cole Cribari


Photo Credits:  Westword and Germinal Stage Denver.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Comic Con Con Comedy

Photo Credit:  Theater Company of Lafayette
Playwrights:

CP Stancich  (scene changes and “Comic Con Finale”)

Clyde James Arag√≥n (“Gila Monster Man to the Rescue!”)

Madge Montgomery  (“American Way”)

Emily Golden (“Bombicon”)

Erich Toll (“Hero Sandwich”)

Karen Goodwin (“The Bat Who 
Loved Me”)

Sheri Flannery Verrilli (“Joisey?!! SURE!”)

Ryan Armstrong (“The Adventures of Super Duck and Team Apocalypse”)

Audrey Gab (“Light Speed Dating”)

Brett Hursey (“Kung-Foolery”)

David Vardeman (“Weird Saga”)

Michael D. O’Hara (“To Boldly Go”)

David Golden (“Rhaptonstall Lives!!!”)



Venue:  Mary Miller Theater, 300 East Simpson Street, Lafayette, CO

CompanyTheater Company of Lafayette, Lafayette CO

Date of Performance:  Thursday, August 9, 2012

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

It could have been Halloween in August at the Mary Miller Theater.  Super Heroes, Wonder Vixens, “Bull Steer,” Lois Lane, Princess Leia, Catwoman, Retractor, Soap Woman, Termite Boy, Jersey Devil…well, I think you get the idea. 

“Comic Con Con Comedy” (CCCC for short) is the result of The Theater Company of Lafayette (TCL) writing competition.  TCL puts out an annual request for scripts based on a specific theme.  CCCC was developed from more than 240 sketches submitted by playwrights from all over the country.  The basic requirements were that the sketches must deal with a Comic Convention theme and run for 2-8 minutes each.  Each of the 13 sketches and 7 scene changes are stand-alone performances, unrelated to what came before and what comes after.  That is a creative twist with both benefits and risks.
 
I have to admit that I’m not a comic book fan, nor am I likely to show up in a Darth Vader costume at any event, anywhere,  but CCCC forced me to look differently at those who are comic book convention fans.

The show opens with a scene change (I know…that would seem unnecessary).  We meet the “Gaffer,” who, one could say, sets a sufficiently goofy tone for all that follows. 
Gila Monster Man to the Rescue!” follows the Gaffer, and if you don’t have flashbacks to the “Star Wars” cantina scene, I’m guessing you never saw the film.  And the comparison to a science fiction classic is meant as a compliment.  The assorted characters (“Gila Monster Man,” E-Ray Beam Girl,” “Giant Eyeball” guy, “Incredible Flying Grub”) on the stage are nearly as creative, crazy, and scary as the ones created by George Lucas, and they’re definitely funnier. 

Photo Credit:  Jeremy Papasso/ColoradoDaily.com
CCCC succeeds, sometimes with goofy stories and characters, and other times with solid, poignant moments.  For example, “Hero Sandwich” needs little humor to make a serious point.  Erik Wilkins’s alter ego is “Bull Steer,” a caped crusader with the big “BS” on his chest.  As he admits to Lois (Heather Kaskinen), he’s not really a Super Hero, he just plays one at conventions.  Kaskinen, who plays her role with equal parts of confusion and fascination, asks BS what he does in real life.  When he admits he’s “just a teacher”, she’s impressed.  Who are the real Super Heroes in our midst?  Teachers, it turns out, are on the list, and rightly so.  Wilkins and Kaskinen make “Hero Sandwich” one of the high points in CCCC.

It’s not difficult to play Comic Conventions for laughs; the humor almost writes itself.  What’s difficult for the playwrights is to add substance to the humor.  Like “Hero Sandwich,” the “Light Speed Dating” episode gets some easy laughs, but makes a point in the process. Rachel Ricca does an eye popping belly dance that will forever change how I remember “Star Wars.”  But it’s not the sexy Leia who gets the date; it’s Mary (Lisa Morse-Moore) who has a special appeal.  She’s a normal person, and in the crazy CCCC alternate reality, a normal person stands out…in a good way.  It’s the moments of substance that elevate CCCC above just being a comedy; it’s also a sensitive look at those who have the courage to dress up in their fantasies.

Given that the 13 playwrights did not collaborate at all, CCCC can also seem somewhat disconnected at times.  Kirsten Jorgensen-Smith and Lisa Lowrey deliver two of the best performances in the production with “Weird Saga.”  It’s funny, it’s provocative, and it’s convincing.  If any of the sketches could be expanded into a full script, I’d vote for “Weird Saga.”  But it just didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the script. 

American Way” was another disconnect for me.  I know just enough Spanish to get a little bit of the dialog in both languages, but I didn’t get enough humor or substance from either version to link up “American Way” with the theme. 

Saving the best for last, the “Comic Con Finale” features the only music in the show.  It brings 28 actors (I think that may be everybody in the company) onto a very small stage for a rousing mash-up of the Beatles “Oh Blah Di Oh Blah Da.”  Not only is it a toe tapping, finger snapping, sing along end to the show, but it also gives Abby Read a chance to cut loose.  It’s not easy to stand out on a stage with 27 other performers, but Abby makes it look easy.  She’s fun, she’s goofy, and you won’t be able to take your eyes off her.  The finale is a great ending to an evening filled with fun, laughs, and Abby dancing “like no one’s watching.”

Comic Con Con Comedy” is on a very short run; two weekends and its gone.  If you like innovative, creative and risky ventures, make sure you get a ticket.  You’ll be supporting live theater and new talent.  And trust me.  You don’t have to be a comic book fan to have a great time.


NOTE
This show runs through Sunday, August 19, 2012.  Appropriate for all ages.  Get in the spirit of the show; wear your favorite Super Hero costume.  You might even win a prize.

Directors:  Brainard Starling, Kirsten Jorgensen Smith, Madge Montgomery, Vonalda Utterback, Brian Miller.  

Set Design/Construction:  Chris Pash

Costume Design:  Julie Vance

Lighting Design:  Brian Miller

Keyboards:  Howard Lee Smith

Cast:
Glenn Spitz, Erik Wilkins, Abby Read, Mitchell Dow, Pam Bennett, Rachel Cohen-Birzer, Tania Guzman, Doug Hawkins, Kirsten Jorgensen Smith, Heather Kaskinen, Fayth Krause, Dorothy Lee, Lisa Lowrey, Lisa Morse-Moore, Susanne Neswadi, Rachel Ricca, Artemus Samarzia-Martin, Fred Sandal, Richard Walter Sotelo, Brainard Starling, Vonalda Utterback, Ash Vanscoyic, Seth Whitehair-Hardyway.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

"Spring Awakening"


Sources:  based on the play by Frank Wedekind (“Spring Awakening:  A Children’s Tragedy”).  Book/lyrics by Steven Sater.  Music by Duncan Sheik.

VenueAurora Fox Main Stage, 9900 East Colfax Avenue, Aurora, CO

Company Ignite Theatre (a program of LucentPerforming Arts), Denver CO

Date of Performance:  Sunday, August 5, 2012

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

The title, “Spring Awakening” sounds inviting; one thinks of the first sights, sounds, and smells when winter melts away, the world is reborn.  However, that’s not what this play is about.  There is no melting away of winter, no rebirth, no blossoms, no sense of renewal.  Instead, the “Spring Awakening” is a dark dose of reality about the transition from teen to adult.

The original work was titled “Spring Awakening:  A Children’s Tragedy.”  Yes…tragedy.  This is NOT a festive romp in the park.  It’s a rock musical.  And it is definitely a tragedy…and a poignant one at that.

The original Spring Awakening/Tragedy was written by Frank Wedekind in 1891.  That makes this story 121 years old this year.  Despite the gap of more than a century, this Ignite Theatre production is fresh, crisp, alive, and highly relevant to those teens currently “coming of age.” 

The themes here include sex education (“Please mother…talk to me…”), teen pregnancy, teen suicide, and abortion.  All are relevant today, and, in fact, are still the source of many real life tragedies every day.

Jack Thomas
Brooke Singer

The young lovers in the cast (played by Brooke Singer and Jack Thomas) are not just convincing--their chemistry onstage is very real.  They awkwardly fumble through their first sexual encounter with a combustible passion that “ignites” the stage.  Singer and Thomas bring emotion to their roles, and superb voices to their music. 

Director Amy Osatkinski is creative; she put a lot of actors on the stage, including a number who were more often spectators than performers.  The chorus/Adults/”Chairs” of Rock sat on benches at each side of the stage while the others performed.  It was a bit disorienting at first, but as the play develops, you realize that these performers/onlookers are dressed in contemporary clothes.  The effect is to bring both the 19th and 21st century characters together on the stage.  They are literally connected, occupying the same space.  The clothes may be different, but the issues, the problems, the crises are the same.  And the mix of 19th century actors and 21st century spectators on the same stage works

If I have any quibble with the production, it’s the sound.  It is, at times, frustrating.  While the mix of instruments and voices seemed appropriate (the band did not drown out the singing), there were times when the lyrics were muffled, muted, or otherwise unintelligible.  It could be a problem with the microphone levels, but more likely it is a result of the poor acoustics in a World War II era Quonset hut.  Whatever the cause, it was a bit of a distraction.

Spring Awakening” is a dynamic, powerful musical tragedy of substance, well staged by Ignite Theatre.  It’s an ambitious, sensitive, and powerful production.  You will spend a couple of hours reliving the problems we all have becoming adults.  It may, in fact, force you to confront unpleasant memories of your own childhood. 
Any play that makes us look at our hopes, our dream, our fears and our failures is a very good one indeed.  “Spring Awakening” is that kind of play.



NOTE

This show runs through Sunday, August 26, 2012.  It has adult themes, adult language, and nudity.  Although it deals with teens coming of age, it is probably appropriate only for mature teens over 15. 

Ignite Theatre is dedicating its performances of “Spring Awakening” to the victims of the July 20 tragedy in Aurora.  The performance I saw was dedicated to Jesse Childress.   Ignite Theatre will be making donations to "Giving First" for victims of the theater shootings.  You can do the same here. 

Rest in Peace, Mr. Childress, and thanks, Ignite Theatre, for recognizing the tremendous loss to the Aurora community at the Century 16 Theater that day.

Director:  Amy Osatkinski

Set Design/Construction:  Mike Uhlenkamp

Costume Design:  Laura High and Jennie Patten

Choreography:  Cameron Turner

Musical Direction:  Blake Nawa’a

Cast:

Andy Anderson (“Adult Males”)

Valerie Igoe (“Thea”)

Suzanne Nepi (“Adult Females”)

Brooke Singer (“Wendla”)

Jack Thomas (“Melchior”)

Chris Russell (“Moritz”)



All photos courtesy of Ignite Theatre and Lucent Performing Arts. 

Photography:  Poshtography by Simone, Official Photographer for Ignite Theatre.