Monday, June 23, 2014

The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?

Playwright:  Edward Albee 
Venue:  Springs Ensemble Theatre, 1903 East Cache La Poudre Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80909.
Running Time:  95 minutes (no intermission).
Date of Performance:  Sunday, June 22, 2014 

Never having seen Albee's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia (hereafter referred to as The Goat), I wasn't sure what to expect.  
Now I know.  
For those who may be similarly unfamiliar with The Goat, be forewarned.  It is very INTENSESprings Ensemble Theater (hereafter referred to as SET) may want to consider providing seat belts and crash helmets to the audience. It should come with a WARNING to sit down, buckle up, and keep your arms inside the ride at all times.  The Goat is disturbing, challenging, frightening, repulsive, and unquestionably the very best theater I have seen in a very long time.
Continuing with the warning theme, the script contains abundant adult language and adult content, including references to incest, bestiality, and pedophilia.  Many would find the themes in The Goat repugnant.  If you might be one of those troubled by these topics, read no further. 
I won't give away the details of the plot, as those details are crucial to the intensity of the performance.  For the details, I suggest that you buy a ticket as soon as possible and discover them just as I did, sitting in a small room with four very talented actors doing a "bang up" job with a strange, but wonderful, script. 
What I can say is that there is love, loss, and heartbreak of a most unusual type.  The married couple, Martin and his wife Stevie, are happy and successful until Martin is outed by his friend Ross; it turns out he's having an affair.  An affair with a goat.  And Martin is in love with Sylvia...his goat friend.  
If you've ever had a relationship go bad on you, The Goat might make you feel better.  No doubt, the circumstances of your breakup were better than those visited upon Stevie.  After all, if your competition is another woman, it doesn't seem so bad.  But a goat?  A GOAT?
L-R Amy Brooks (Stevie), Steve Emily (Martin), Christian O'Shaughnessy (Billy)
As I mentioned, there are four fine actors here at the top of their game.  Steve Emily (Martin) is central, locked in, and a joy to watch.  He may not want The Goat on his resume, since he's a very credible practitioner of bestiality, incest, and perhaps pedophilia here.  Regardless, he veers from dementia to barnyard lust to a full on mouth kiss with his teenage son, all with a "why is everybody picking on me" attitude.  It truly is a masterful performance.
Amy Brooks' performance (Stevie) is dazzling, as is every costume Emory John Collinson puts on her, including the blood splattered one at the end.  She lets go of a long, deep primal scream as she tries, in vain, to process what is happening to her husband and her marriage.  
Billy (Christian O'Shaughnessy), Stevie and Martin's gay son, is understandably distressed about the events.  Still, he loves his parents, despite their flaws.  O'Shaughnessy (who bears a striking resemblance to Green Day lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong) is a convincing gay teenager.  He also rocks Emory John Collinson's costumes, looking like he just stepped off a photo shoot set for GQ magazine.
Ross (Tom Auclair) has the smallest role in terms of lines, but he has a very critical role as the one who betrays Martin and spills the dirty secrets.  Auclair wants us to believe he had no choice, and we almost do believe that...but not quite.  Which is exactly what Albee wants.
Director Max Ferguson has assembled a marvelous cast on a marvelous set that he uses and abuses in every possible way.  He takes the characters and the audience on a roller coaster ride while watching a script driven train wreck on the stage.  
The Goat at SET is unforgettable theater.  It is the best production I have seen yet at SET.  Anyone who enjoys the edgiest, the gutsiest, and the most provocative and challenging drama in Colorado should try to get a ticket.  If you can.  
You won't regret it, and you'll not forget it.

This show is suitable for adults only, and even then it is not for ALL adults.  The content is strictly for open minded persons who are willing to have their sensitivities challenged.  
This show closes on June 29, 2014. 

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
Phantom Canyon Brewing Company, 2 E. Pikes Peak, Colorado Springs.  Happy Hour 3:00-600 PM, and 10:00 PM to close (pints for $2.75, pitchers $10.00).  Full selection of handcrafted beers brewed on premises.  It's a fifteen minute drive to/from the theater, so plan accordingly.  Street parking (meters and pay lots).  Menus here.

Tickets HERE.
Photo CreditsSprings Ensemble Theatre.
Director:  Max Ferguson
Set Design: June Scott Barfield
Lighting Design:  Jeremiah Miller
Costume Design:  Emory John Collinson
Sound Design:  Pat Collins

Martin:  Steve Emily
Stevie:  Amy Brooks
Ross:  Tom Auclair

Billy:  Christian O'Shaughnessy

The Well of Happiness

Playwright:  Stuart Ostfeld

Company:  Theatre Company of Lafayette (TCL)

Venue:  Mary Miller Theater, 300 E. Simpson Street, Lafayette CO

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

Date of Performance:  Friday, June 20, 2014 (This production is a Colorado Premiere.)

First things first; The Well of Happiness is not for everybody.  It's a serious drama, with serious issues (teenagers, violence, and guns), and provocative and sometimes disturbing content.  Warnings aside, however, The Well of Happiness is an exceptional theater experience.  If you can handle the subject matter, you will definitely be glad you saw this production.

The story line is difficult to describe without spoiling the show, but here's a minimal outline.  Melanie, or "Mel," (Beth Davis) is a freelance advertising agent with a great track record.  We learn that she has just done a brilliant advertising campaign for a clothing line, bringing a female perspective to her clients.   She's a bit obsessive/compulsive; she obviously thoroughly researches and analyzes how to successfully sell her client's products.

Her boss, Nathan (Artemus Martin), asks her to take on a difficult (perhaps impossible) task:  design an advertising campaign for a handgun made specifically for women.  She reluctantly accepts.
Mel (Beth Davis)

Handguns are a product that would be very difficult to sell unless you have a full understanding of both the product and the consumer.  Mel has neither, so she does her research.  She attends a gun safety class.  She does some target shooting at a range.  She reads up  on "state of the art" firearms.  In fact, she becomes so immersed in the gun culture that she becomes a gun owner.

Mel's teenage son Collin (Donny Petro) lives in an alternate world, one where he can live as a non-conforming, anti-social narcissist.  Oh.  And he has a fascination with guns.

Mel and her son are on a trajectory that can only end in tragedy, and so it does.

Beth Davis is adept in the central role of Mel in The Well of Happiness, convincingly moving from skeptic to true believer.  There is a scene at a shooting range, where Mel fires her weapon for the first time.  Her experience is as profound and as unforgettable as losing her virginity.  (The connection between sex and firearms is an interesting one, but somewhat off topic here.)  Mel's distaste for guns evaporates before our eyes as she embraces the power and control she can wield with the proper weapon.

L-R Troy (Michael Samarzia), Lisa Ann (Molly Bibeau), Collin (Donny Petro)
Donny Petro is creepy as Collin; he is as disconnected and dangerous as a teenager can be.  One sometimes wonders how parents failed to prevent the carnage their children inflicted at places like Columbine High School or Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Petro deftly demonstrates the problem; Collin a moderately lovable child with serious but mostly secret psychiatric issues.  We all know about kids like Collin, but we only know their names posthumously, after they have inflicted their mayhem on the innocent.  Petro puts a face on those kids, and it's a very scary face indeed.

Molly Bibeau shines as Lisa Ann, the naive victim of Collin's senseless mayhem. Bibeau embodies the recklessness of youth, oblivious to the danger she foolishly falls into.

Artemus Martin (as Nathan, Mel's advertising boss) knows Mel is the best shot he has at getting the gun account, but he fears she won't take the assignment.  To help her make a decision, he offers her a partnership in the firm.  Martin shows us a boss who is sensitive to the ethical issues, but still determined to get the client to sign a contract.  It works.  Mel takes the assignment despite her misgivings.

Madge Montgomery has directed The Well of Happiness before, and it shows.  Montgomery understands the gravity of the script, the sensitivity of the subjects, and the tragedy that plays out on stage.  She has inspired a small but dedicated group of volunteers, both on and off stage, to perform at their respective peaks.  The set, the props (including non-lethal firearms), the costumes, the lighting, and the sound were all at a level one rarely sees in community theater.

Ostfeld's script is at once intelligent and brutal.  The story is not preachy but personal.  It carefully avoids taking a position on the politics of gun ownership while demonstrating the painful reality of guns falling into the wrong hands.  It's a smart story that provokes both sides to question their positions.

The central point here, though, is less about guns and more about our consumer culture.  Any product, of any kind, can be marketed successfully to virtually any group.  "Marketing ethics," if there is such a thing, must be solely focused on the clients, not on the consumers.  Advertising sells guns.  Advertising sells tobacco.  Advertising could probably sell heroin and nuclear weapons if they were legal.  Marketing executives have no moral or ethical problem selling any product, even if that product is harmful or unsafe for consumers.  Their interest is only that what increases their own bottom line.  Ostfeld's point is well made, and it's a sad reflection on both the corporate mindset and on consumers collective ignorance.

The Well of Happiness is one of the best shows I've seen at TCL.  If you're looking for a smart, provocative, and challenging night of theater, go to The Well.

Ron (Tom Doyle)


There is ample free street parking at the theater.

This show closes on June 28, 2014.

This show is suitable for mature teenagers; but it is not recommended for children under 12.  Gunshots (starter pistols) used during the performance.  Discretion is recommended, as the subject matter may be disturbing to both teenagers and adults.

Pre or post show dining suggestion:

Waterloo Restaurant, 809 Main Street, Louisville CO.  Waterloo is an interesting mix of British and classic country music influences ("God Bless Johnny Cash"), inspired by the Waterloo Record Store in Austin TX.  Happy Hour is 3:00-6:00 PM daily.  Draft beers include Guinness (of course), Boddington's, and Left Hand Sawtooth Ale.  Live music some nights, rock and roll always.  Menu here.  

Tickets HERE.

Photo Credits: Lafayette Theatre Company

Director:  Madge Montgomery

Scenic Design/Construction:  Chris Pash, Pam Bennett, Howard Lee Smith

Sound Design/Projections:  Madge Montgomery

Lighting Design:  Brian Miller

Production Manager:  Artemus Martin


Melanie ("Mel"):  Beth Davis

Collin:  Donny Petro

Troy:  Michael Samarzia

Lisa Ann:  Molly Bibeau

Nathan:  Artemus Martin

Detective Dale:  Bill Graham

Dana:  Heather Murray-Price

Ron:  Tom Doyle

Pat:  Artemus Martin

Connie/A Woman:  Judy Wolf

Friday, June 20, 2014

Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky

Book & Lyrics by:  David Cale 

Music by:  Jonathan Kreisberg & David Cale
Company:  Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
VenueColorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80903.
Running Time:  1 hour 45 minutes (no intermission).
Date of Performance:  Thursday, June 19, 2014 (Colorado Premiere).

This performance of Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky played to an enthusiastic audience and received a standing ovation.  There's a lot to like in Floyd and Clea, and for fans of country music, it's an audio and visual feast.  
Jordan Leigh (Floyd) and Chelsey Ringer (Clea)
Floyd (Jordan Leigh) is a somewhat successful, B list country music singer/songwriter who loses his way.  His career is over, he's spent all his money, he's drinking all day, he's living out of his dusty, rusty Studebaker, and he's running out of reasons to keep on living.  
Clea (Chelsea Ringer) is a young, beautiful, and talented woman who, fortunately for Floyd, stumbles into his life.  
The themes of the script are much like the stories told in thousands of country songs; hard liquor, hard times, loss, desperation, and ultimately, redemption from life's temptations.  When Floyd sings "I'm looking for a safety net," you know he means it; he's always about 30 seconds from ending it all.
Clea is stronger, smarter, and wiser than Floyd, or at least that's how she seems.  She is a force for good for Floyd; their friendship is pretty much all that he has going for him.  She has some serious issues with her deceased father, which explains her need for a surrogate father like Floyd.
The Fine Arts Center company always delivers a first rate production, and Floyd and Clea is no exception.  The acting, the singing, the set, the lighting, the band...all contribute to a beautifully staged performance.  
The lighting, in fact, is extraordinary.  Lighting Designer Holly Anne Rawls has flawlessly lit the stage perfectly, covering it with a marvelous "Western Sky." 
Costume designer Janson Fangio dresses the actors for a Montana winter, a homeless shelter, and honky tonk bar performances.  His costume for Clea's big concert is resplendently trashy, in complete character for Clea at that point.
Chelsea Ringer, Jordan Leigh.  Costumes by Janson Fangio
Leigh's performance is nuanced; he deadpans Floyd's desperation, never complaining.  At one point, Clea accuses him of being homeless; he disagrees.  Clea points out that he lives in his car, but he just shrugs his shoulders.  Leigh has the moves and the voice for country music, and he uses both to his advantage here.  He's a very credible Floyd, who is a very talented but seriously flawed character.
Ringer's first song starts out a capella.  With no accompaniment, she sings a song she "just wrote" for Floyd.  Ringer's first few notes were gorgeous; they brought me to the edge of my seat.  I was stunned by the clarity and the beauty of her voice.  If you're in the audience, I guarantee that you will not forget Ringer's first number.
Musical Director Jay Hahn has assembled a rocking band for Floyd and Clea.  They all have day jobs, but these guys could make a decent living as a country band.  Bobby McGuffin's percussion was particularly notable; he's a talented musician who was having as much fun as the audience.
For all the first rate performances and production values, though, the script is somewhat disappointing.  The main theme here is redemption, but the conclusion is ultimately ambiguous.  I had some misgivings about the script's abrupt and confusing reversal of Clea's character; she goes from saving Floyd from his demons to adopting those same demons for herself.  The script is also devoid of any significant chemistry between the two characters.  They are close friends, who care deeply about, and are attracted to, each other.  At one awkward point, they find themselves together in a motel room.  It was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate some chemistry between the two, but the script provided none.
My quibbles with the script aside, Floyd and Clea is excellent musical theater for both country music fans and theater fans alike.  The standing ovation was sincere, and I'm sure there are many more to follow for Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky.

This show is suitable for all ages, although parents should be aware that there is one "F" bomb in the script.  Free parking is available across from the Dale Street entrance and on the surrounding streets. 
The Fine Arts Center is featuring a major exhibition of art works by glassblower Dale Chihuly; you may want to consider making the exhibit part of your theater excursion.  There is an additional charge for the Chihuly exhibit, but this is a rare opportunity to see a beautiful collection of work by the most successful glass artist in the world.

This show closes on June 29, 2014. 

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
The Dale Street Cafe at 115 East Dale Street is within walking distance of the Fine Arts Center, and has an excellent fine dining menu.  We tried the ribeye steak ($21.95), the mahi mahi ($15.95), and the French onion soup. All were delicious, as was the Key Lime Pie for dessert.  For fish fans, there is an extensive selection of sushi available.  With patio seating for al fresco dining, the Dale Street Cafe is a marvelous choice for dinner "Under the Western Sky" of Colorado Springs.

Photo Credits:  Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; Jeff Kearney, TDC Photography.

Director:  Scott RC Levy
Musical Director:  Jay Hahn
Set Design: Christopher L. Sheley
Lighting Design:  Holly Anne Rawls
Costume Design:  Janson Fangio

Floyd:  Jordan Leigh
Clea:  Chelsea Ringer

Guitars:  Jim Christian & Jim Robertson
Percussion:  Bobby McGuffin

Bass:  Jay McGuffin

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Butler Did It

Playwright: Todd Wallinger

Venue:  Black Box Theatre, 1367 Pecan Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80904.
Running Time:  2 hours (includes 15 minute intermission).
Date of Performance:  Thursday, June 5, 2014 (opening night performance).
The Butler Did It is an mystery whodunnit drama/comedy by local playwright Todd Wallinger (The _urloined Letter, Kill the Critic).  Like all good mysteries, you'll be trying to guess who the culprit is as soon as ladies' man Trevor Barstow (Andrew Davis) is brutally stabbed to death in the kitchen before dinner. It turns out, though, that Barstow's demise is not a tragedy; everyone onstage had ample reason to see him take a permanent dirt nap.
That Barstow considers himself a fan of, and a gift to, women everywhere is not in dispute.  Two of his conquests, maid Sarah Jane (Maddy Sneckner) and Kat Covington (Megan Rieger) both had ample opportunity and motive to see Barstow meet a hideous fate.
The first rule of murder mysteries is that the obvious culprit is always innocent. The least likely suspect is usually culpable, but figuring out how and why he or she did it is the fun part.  As regular readers of this blog already know, I don't do spoilers, especially when the plot is as dependent on the final surprise as it is here.  If you want to know who did it, you'll have to buy a ticket.  
Jenkins, the butler (David Olson) and the title character, is the obvious suspect.  He reluctantly admits in the first act that Trevor Barstow is the one person he would dispatch to the next world, if he could get away with it.  His interest in hastening Barstow's appointment with the Grim Reaper results in him spending part of the first act and most of the second act tied to a chair.
David Olson delivers a credible performance of a proper British butler with a penchant for mocking his masters.  His British accent is very well done, and his comedic timing is "spot on" (as the British would say).  Acting while tied to a chair is not easy; it requires appropriate facial expressions and gestures to compensate for reduced mobility.  Olson's character is never compromised in the slightest while he's reduced to being a seated hostage.
Maddy Sneckner and Megan Rieger are both capable as scorned women.  For different reasons, both are relieved to learn of Barstow's gory passing.  Covington, the strongest female character in the cast (despite sometimes being confused with a "cat" when she's actually a "Kat"), seamlessly moves from an independent and liberated woman to a shrewd, calculating opportunist, consenting to an arranged marriage for purely monetary gain.  Rieger handles that transition with convincing sincerity.  Sneckner's British accent is delightfully low class, befitting her status as a domestic servant.
Father Timothy (Daniel Robbins) is a charming, engaging, and somewhat mischievous priest who invites himself to dinner.  Robbins has a delightful Irish accent that is perfect for Father Tim.  Robbins has both the gravitas to play the priest and the obligatory wink wink personality to make Father Tim a joy to watch. 
The set is well done, although it seems to be one door short.  The offstage murder in the kitchen requires the actors to enter and exit the kitchen through a curtain.  There are three physical doors onstage; the curtain for the kitchen seemed odd.
Wallinger's script delicately sets up the mystery and the final payoff.  His characters are decidedly typical of the genre, bringing both credibility and complexity to the story.  There is an elegant symmetry to the plot, as both the Barstows and the Covingtons have the illusion of wealth but a justified fear of poverty.  The British upper class is the butt of the biggest jokes Wallinger weaves into his story. 
The Butler Did It is a safe, entertaining, and a pleasant diversion for all ages.  It's a short run, so if you're thinking about seeing The Butler Did It, get your tickets soon.

This show is suitable for all ages.  Free parking is available on the surrounding streets. 
The Black Box Theatre has been open at the current location for about a year.  It's in a fairly well hidden spot in an industrial area; I had stumbled upon it a few months ago when taking my Honda Civic to a body shop across the street.  However, don't let the external appearances fool you.  Once inside, you'll find an excellent venue with state of the art lighting, a fine sound system, and comfortable seating.

This show closes on June 14, 2014. 

Pre or post show dining suggestion:  
Carlos' Bistro is one of the best restaurants in Colorado Springs, and it's only minutes from the theater,.  If you're looking for fine dining to go with a good show, Carlos' is a natural.  They have an early bird special between 5:00-5:30 PM; 50% off somewhat smaller portions of their entrees.  That's a good deal; a full price meal at Carlos' can set you back $30-$50 per person.  I'm not sure if they have a happy hour, but they do have an extensive wine list and a full martini menu.

Tickets HERE.
Photo Credits:  Black Box Theatre Company

Director:  Nancy Holaday
Set Design: Kitty Robbins
Lighting/Sound Design:  David Atkinson

Jenkins:  David Olson
Sarah Jane:  Maddy Sneckner
Trevor Barstow:  Andrew Davis
Gram:  Jenny Maloney
Colonel Nigel Covington:  Richard Buchanan
Lady Miranda Covington:  Teri McClintock
Kat Covington:  Megan Rieger
Father Timothy:  Daniel Robbins
Edwina Corry:  Karann Goettsch