Sunday, April 21, 2013

Always...Patsy Cline

Photo by Ronnie Gallup

Written by:   Ted Swindley
Venue:  Parker Arts, Culture, & Events Center, Parker, Colorado
ProducerStarkey Theatrix
Running Time:  2 hours (includes 15 minute intermission)
Date of Performance:  Saturday, April 20, 2013, 2:00 PM

John Moore, a very wise and widely respected theater critic, recently expressed the opinion that: 
"Two things the new generation of self-starting blogger critics have in common: Almost none of them are paid anything close to gas money to write about theater. And, perhaps coincidentally—perhaps not—what they write is almost always insufferably, uselessly positive."  

As a "self starting blogger critic," I fully agree.  If one is going to "hold the mirror up to the artists," that mirror must include the warts.  Although I am sometimes guilty as charged, I also point out the warts when necessary, such as here, here, and here.
However, despite Mr. Moore's excellent advice, I won't be reporting any warts for Always...Patsy Cline.  That's not due to the reasons Mr. Moor points out in his opinion piece;  rather, it's because there aren't any. 
There are so many things done right in Always...Patsy Cline that it's difficult to know where to start.  So here's a short list of what really works well:
1.  The set is striking, and Director John Moore makes full use of all of it.  
2.  The band (The Bodacious Bobs) is excellent, and Moore puts them in the center of the        stage, not in a pit.  That's a great move; music is, after all, performance art. Seeing the performance as well as hearing it puts faces to the music.  
3.  The lighting, including follow spots for the actors as they stride all over the stage and into the audience, is precise, focused, and sharp.  
4.  The costumes range from basic (for Louise Seger, portrayed by Carla Kaiser Kotrc) to stunning (for Patsy Cline, played by Megan Van De Hey).  Van De Hey performs at one point in a black sparkly evening gown that literally lights up the stage, and follows that with her skin tight gold lamé pants with cowgirl boots.  Costumers Rae and Laurie Klapperich have expertly dressed their characters to bring out their separate but complementary personalities.
5.  The multimedia (audio, video, photos) piece is projected on a giant screen behind the actresses.  Sometimes these technical tricks intrude and detract; here they enhance and emphasize the story.
The real strength, though, of Always...Patsy Cline is the heartfelt and engaging performances by Megan Van De Hey and Carla Kaiser Kotrc.  Both are at the top of their games, charming each other and the audience with their sincerity, humor, and love for each other.
Given the title, one would expect Patsy Cline to be the starring role here.  But one would be wrong; these two actresses are the very definition of "co-stars."  While music is certainly the focus of Always...Patsy Cline, there is also a story here, and they share equally in telling that story.  It's about the unlikely relationship between a housewife and a celebrity that endured until Cline's death in an airplane crash in 1963.  Van De Hey and Kaiser Kotrc have a special chemistry; the audience never doubts the love each has for the other as they tell their story.
Obviously, no musical production can succeed without excellent music. Always...Patsy Cline has Patsy's library of country hits, and they still sound great 50 years later.  With the Bodacious Bobs providing the instruments and Megan Van De Hey the lyrics, one can actually believe for two hours that Patsy never died in that crash.  Van De Hey looks like, and sounds like, the Patsy Cline America loved...and still loves.  
Despite good advice to the contrary, I can find no warts in Always...Patsy Cline.  Perhaps the director will forgive me for this "relentless sea of acidic sunshine."  I certainly hope so, because in my view, Always...Patsy Cline is a very rewarding evening of music and memories, served up by an excellent cast and crew.  

Photo Credit:  John Moore
This show has been extended, but will close on April 27, 2013.  
This is a family show; there's no vulgarity, no nudity, and no violence.  

Director:  John Moore
Scenic Design:  Shaun Albrechtson
Lighting Design:  Richard Spomer
Costumers:  Rae and Laurie Klapperich
Musical Director:  Jalyn Courtenay Webb
Patsy Cline:  Megan Van De Hey
Louise Seger:  Carla Kaiser Kotrc

Also on stage:  The Bodacious Bobs
Joe Bob:  Piano (Neal Dunfee)
Jim Bob:  Pedal Steel Guitar (Bob Case)
Billy Bob:  Lead Guitar (Jason Tyler Vaughn)
Jay Bob:  Bass Guitar (Scott Alan Smith)
Bob Bob:  Drums (Dan Hoeye)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Other Place

Playwright:   Sharr White
Venue:  The Dairy Center for the Arts,  Boulder Colorado
Running Time:  85 minutes (no intermission)
Date of Performance:  Thursday, April 4, 2013

We all believe that we are operating in a shared, structured world.  Reality is, well, "real."  It's fixed, constant, inflexible.  Or so we believe.
Unfortunately, this belief is sometimes wrong.  It can be valid 98% of the time, but there are those rare and disturbing times when "reality" as we know it utterly fails us.  
Reality, ironically, is actually personal, subjective, and pliable.  We define it with tiny electrical charges and chemical reactions in our brains, and then filter the results through our personal experiences.  The truth is that sometimes the electrical charges and chemical reactions run amok, distorting our "reality."  That distortion and loss of reality is at the core of The Other Place.  
The story is told by Dr. Juliana Smithton (Rachel Fowler), who is obviously a brilliant biophysicist who works as a research scientist for a pharmaceutical company.  As the show opens, she is lecturing a group of doctors who have traveled to the Virgin Islands to hear her pitch the revolutionary new drug the company has developed.  The new drug, ironically, is designed to treat the disease she is developing before our eyes. 
She's smart, sassy, focused, and professional, but she has an "episode" and becomes disoriented during her Power Point presentation.  As we soon learn, she is losing her grip on her memories, her faculties, and her family.  
Erica Young, Josh Hartwell, Rachel Fowler
Rachel Fowler's performance is intense, moving gracefully from an intelligent professional woman to a confused, angry victim of episodic dementia.  It would be an understatement to say Fowler does this well; her performance is inspired, convincing, and acutely personal.  She connects with the audience in a way that makes us suffer the confusion, the frustration, and the anger with her.  We cannot help but be drawn into the frightening "reality" she inhabits.
Josh Hartwell is magnificent as Smithton's husband; he is at times loving and supportive of his wife, and at times frustrated and angry with her.  He's a reluctant but devoted caregiver, but he's also an oncologist, utterly unable to do what he is trained to do:  treat and cure his patient.  Hartwell plays the role with a perfect mix of the husband, doctor, caregiver, father personas that the script requires.
Erica Young plays multiple roles, which actually advances the story by giving Julianna's confusion some plausible context.  Young moves seamlessly from character to character.  Pay attention to her portrayal of a woman who comes home to find a stranger in her house.  Young delicately mixes the surprise, the fear, and the sensitivity of the character in a way that is both appropriate and credible.
The Other Place literally takes us out of our comfort zone, to "the other place," where memories and reality are not what they seem.  It's a disturbing detour from that comfort zone, and a must see theater experience.  The Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC) has three hits in a row by my count, How the World Began and Ghost Writer being the other two.  If you haven't seen something at BETC this season, you have missed what may be the best productions on the front range this year.  

This show runs through April 7, 2013. A few vulgarities may offend some, but this play is otherwise suitable for teens and up.  However, the subject is disturbing, especially if a loved one has suffered Alzheimer's or other dementia.  

Playwright Sharr Wright is a graduate of Fairview High School, which is less than 5 miles from the Dairy Center where his work is making its Regional Premiere.

Director:  Penny Walrath Cole
Scenic Design:  Christopher M. Waller
Sound Design:  Andrew Metzroth
Lighting Design:  Steven McDonald
Costume Design:  Charlotte Ballard

Dr. Juliana Smithton:  Rachel Fowler
Dr. Ian Smithton:  Josh Hartwell
The Woman:  Erica Young
The Man:  Benaiah Anderson