Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Archbishop's Ceiling

Playwright: Arthur Miller

Venue:  Arvada Center for the Arts & Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada CO.

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

Date of Performance:  Tuesday, March 24, 2015.  Regional Premiere.

There is no question that Arthur Miller is one of the best American playwrights of the 20th century.  His résumé includes classics like Death of a Salesman, All My Sons, and The Crucible.   His writing career spanned more than 60 years, and for those who weren’t avid theater goers, he was also known to some because of his famous wife:  Marilyn Monroe.

The Archbishop’s Ceiling is not one of his more famous works.  In fact, this Arvada Center production of the 1977 script is a regional premiere.  Unlike Death of A Salesman or All My Sons, The Archbishop’s Ceiling is not focused on strong American characters faced with life’s challenges.  In fact, there is only one American character in the cast of 5 and the setting is not in America, but “a capital in Europe” (presumably Prague, Czechoslovakia).  

The Archbishop’s Ceiling is best considered a political drama, with themes of power, privacy, and intrusive spying.  It was written, in part, in response to Miller’s 1956 testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).  He refused to provide HUAC with names of Communist sympathizers.  He was convicted of contempt of Congress and blacklisted.

All of this background information is helpful in understanding The Archbishop’s Ceiling, where the assumption is that the setting, the former residence of the Archbishop, is bugged with microphones.  Although the microphones are unseen, it is safe to assume that they exist, and that every word spoken in that room is recorded and reviewed by the government.
Marcus (William Hahn), Adrian (RodneyLizcano), and Sigmund (Michael Morgan).

The American character, Adrian (Rodney Lizcano) is a writer who has stopped by to see friends, including two other writers (Marcus, played by William Hahn, and Sigmund, played by Michael Morgan).  He is also hoping to, and does, see Maya (Heather Lacy), who has been a mistress to all three writers.  

Miller’s script is like a parachute; densely packed with ideas that cover everything when the chute is opened.  Those ideas are expressed through three writers.  Marcus has a checkered past, but is now friendly to, if not employed by, the government that is seeking to control all information.  Sigmund is critical of the government, and faced with prison or fleeing the country.  Adrian, the only American in the script, is appalled at the persecution of anyone critical of the government.  

The Arvada Center production is one that Miller himself would have been proud of; the set, the costumes, the lights, and the performances are all outstanding.  Brian Mallgrave’s set is a masterpiece of detail; there are books, notebooks, and writer’s debris strewn everywhere.  The chaos of writing sets the scene; Mallgrave gives the actors the tone and the tools for writing, even though no writing takes place during the play.
Maya (Heather Lacy) and Marcus (William Hahn).

Costume Designer Clare Henkel puts Maya in a stunning blue dress, giving her a femme fatale look that perfectly fits her character.  Each of the writers has a different but fitting costume style; Adrian, the American, is in jeans and a sport coat.  Sigmund, the critic, is in a dress suit.  Marcus, the collaborator, is dressed as a late 1970s dandy.  

It is the performances, though, that strike the tone and carry Miller’s message.  Heather Lacy speaks in a heavy Eastern Europe accent, walks with the confidence of a diva, and juggles her affection for all three writers even when then four of them are together in the room.  William Hahn’s Marcus brings his new girl (Irina, played by Adrian Egolf) into the mix with no apparent concern.  Hahn is convincing as the duplicitous spy; we’re never sure if he’s telling the truth or spinning a tale.  Rodney Lizcano is the American writer, and he hardly recognizes his own naïveté as he valiantly tries to intrude in a political environment he hardly understands.  

Adrian Egolf (Irina), William Hahn (Marcus), Michael Morgan (Sigmund).
Adrian Egolf is a very talented actress with an outstanding résumé, and she could play Irina in her sleep.  It’s not a very challenging role, and to that extent, Egolf’s talent is squandered here.  One wonders why Miller even included Irina in the script.  My theory is that Irina is a derogatory caricature of Miller’s ex-wife, tossed in for contrast to the intellectual and artistic nature of the other characters.  

Miller’s script reminds us of how artists and writers are often considered subversives.  They challenge the status quo.  They represent the unfettered distribution of ideas in an environment where the powerful need to control information and ideas.  
Michael Morgan, as subversive writer Sigmund.

The issues in The Archbishop’s Ceiling are certainly relevant today; surveillance of American’s phone calls and emails is part of the political landscape.  Americans are generally opposed to that surveillance, but it’s not an issue that generates much passion.  Privacy is not an issue that shows up in our priorities.

The context has changed significantly since Miller wrote The Archbishop’s Ceiling.  While Americans have done away with HUAC, we now accept some loss of privacy in the name of national security.  Whether that loss of privacy is a good thing is debatable.  

The Archbishop’s Ceiling reminds us of the dangers of lost privacy and government power.  It’s a world most of us do not want to live in, and hopefully, we won't.  For that reason alone, The Archbishop’s Ceiling is the right Arthur Miller play at the right time.  Add in the excellence of the Arvada Center production, and you have a must see event that combines a rarely seen Miller play with important ideas that still resonate with us decades after Miller raised them.


This show, in my view is appropriate for all ages (I counted just one F bomb), but it’s a show about ideas, not action.  Younger teens will be bored quickly.

For those who are interested, here is a link to Arthur Miller’s testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in June, 1956.


This show will close on April 19, 2015.


We tried an Arvada Center recommendation, 3 Sons, at 64th Avenue and Indiana Street in Arvada.  3 Sons has a full menu of Italian specialities.  It’s about 15 minutes from the theater, weather and traffic permitting.
3 Pigs Specialty Pizza at 3 Sons.

We were running late and asked Nicki, our waitress, if we could get a pizza and make it to the show by 7:15.  She assured us we could, and she made sure the kitchen got our order moving.  The 3 Pigs Speciality Pizza (bacon, pepperoni, and sausage) was excellent, as were the salads.  We were disappointed with the Happy Hour sangria, which was just ok at best. Service was excellent.  We will definitely go back to 3 Sons when we’re in the area.


Artistic Producer:  Rod A. Lansberry

Director:  Brett Aune

Lighting Designer:  Jon Olson

Sound Designer:  Grant Evenson

Set Designer:  Brian Mallgrave

Costume Designer:  Clare Henkel

Wigs and Makeup Design:  Diana Ben-Kiki

Stage Manager:  Jonathan D. Allsup


Adrian:  Rodney Lizcano

Maya:  Heather Lacy

Marcus:  William Hahn

Irina:  Adrian Egolf

Sigmund:  Michael Morgan

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Public Reading of An Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney

Playwright: Lucas Hnath

Venue:  Madelife, 2000 21st. Street, Boulder, CO.

Running Time: 70 minutes (no intermission).

Date of Performance:  Monday, March 23, 2015.  

Disneyland, Disney World, Bambi, Snow White, Dumbo, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmations, the list of award winning destinations and film events seems endless.  The name Walt Disney has been synonymous with family entertainment excellence since the mid 20th century.

Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but Disney’s dark side is on full display at the Catamounts in A Public Reading of An Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney (hereafter abbreviated as APRUSADWD).  

Not only is that one of the longest titles ever for a play (perhaps beaten only by The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade), it’s also one of the most descriptive titles you will find anywhere.  

What you get is exactly what it says:  
  • A public reading.  
  • An unproduced screenplay.  
  • The death of Walt Disney.
Lindsey Pierce, Jason Maxewell, Paul Borrillo, Mark Collins.
The four actors enter, sit down at a table, pick up their scripts, and act out the screenplay.  They include stage/screenplay directions, including the ubiquitous “cut to” (transition/change of scene).  The screenplay covers a range of topics, from Disney’s health to his succession plan, and from problems with his daughter to his squabbles with employees seeking to unionize.  These issues all have factual roots in Disney’s life, although they are far less well known than the products he produced.

Paul Borrillo plays Walt, who comes off as a bully at best and an uncaring egotistical psychopath at worst.  Borrillo is in a constant state of agitation, ranging from frustration to rage, with occasional bouts of clinical depression.  He seethes at union organizers, bullies his brother Roy (Mark Collins), orders his daughter to name her son “Walt,” and, at one point, turns to Roy and asks him if he thinks he’s a “jerk?”  Well, Walt, if you have to ask, you probably already know the answer.  Borrillo, who has a passable likeness to the original Walt, delivers a tour de force performance, taking an American icon and turning him into a flawed, pathetic human being. 
Paul Borrillo as Walt Disney.

Mark Collins plays Walt’s brother Roy, who bore the brunt of much of Walt’s anger.  Collins is not a foil for Walt; rather, he’s a doormat.  Collins shakes his head and rolls his eyes, trying to get Walt to see reality.  Collins’ understated, submissive performance is a gem.  He comes off as the wiser, smarter, and more mature brother who is exceedingly tolerant of Walt’s tantrums.

Lindsey Pierce plays Walt’s daughter who is married to Ron Miller (Jason Maxwell).  Both have relatively minor roles in the screenplay.  Maxwell’s performance made for a suitably annoying Ron; Miller got under my skin as well as Walt’s.  Pierce had a juicy moment with Walt, in which she completely unloaded a lifetime of anger on him.  It was a cathartic performance, and Pierce delivered it with unbridled zeal.

Amanda Berg Wilson directs with a frantic pace and intense performances.  She gets that and much more from her talented cast.  Ryan Wentworth’s lighting design is relatively transparent until he lights up the stage as Walt’s health takes a turn for the worse.  That scene is done beautifully, emphasizing the drama of the moment.  Wentworth also goes all out for the final scene, darkening the stage but lighting Walt in an eerie, creepy transition before fading to black.

As I was watching APRUSADWD, I had the distinct impression that I have heard this story before.  The story of a brilliant innovator and successful entrepreneur who was nearly impossible to work with, bullied his talented employees, hid his health problems, and turned to alternative medical options for his cancer at the end.  Ironically, Steve Jobs and Disney collaborated on Pixar Studios long after Walt was gone.

Lucas Hnath’s script includes some artistic liberties; I cannot verify several important parts of his story (how Roy got the bandage on his head, the origin of the Liberty Tree at Disneyland, and the details about Walt’s death).  I can overlook those liberties, given that no one on a pedestal can withstand strict scrutiny.  I suspect that Walt had enough skeletons in his closet to create a compelling script, had Hnath wanted to stick to the historical record.  His choice, to make up derogatory facts about Disney leaves him open to needless charges of character assassination.  

Whether the story here is entirely factual (it’s not), it does underscore something important in our culture.  We tend to deify our cultural heroes.  It’s universally true that they are flawed human beings who have feet of clay.  Walt Disney was such a man.  He was not a god.  He was not a hero.  He was a man.  A very successful man, but still a man. 

As I left the theater, I couldn’t help but remember that Disneyland is a dream, not a reality.  “The Happiest Place on Earth” did not make its creator a happy person, and any happiness for the Disneyland visitors ends in the parking lot at the end of the day.  

Life is complicated.  Even the dreamers have to face reality in the end.


This show contains adult language.  OK for teens and up.

There is parking on surrounding streets, but this is Pearl Street (at 21st) in Boulder.  It would be wise to arrive early enough to hunt for a good spot if you have not been to madelife.

Although the building is at the corner of 21st and Pearl, you can’t actually enter from either street.  You have to walk around to the east side of the building (which faces 21st), and enter through a back door.  It’s not well marked or signed, so be ready to poke around a bit in the dark.  Don’t worry; you’ll find it.  There’s probably a small crowd walking around looking for it, so you might want to join forces with others.

For those who are interested, here is a link to Walt Disney’s testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) about Communists organizing a strike at Disney Studios.

PHOTO CREDITSCatamounts Theater Company.


This show will close on March 28, 2015.


T⎮aco, 1175 Walnut Street, Boulder, 80302.  We had planned to stop at the Walnut Brewery & Restaurant (practically next door to T⎮aco), but there was a 20 minute wait before seating.  Since we didn't have time to wait, we checked into T⎮aco, where we were seated immediately.  (They are probably accustomed to getting the overflow from the nearby brewpub.)  

What a marvelous surprise.  The service was fast, excellent, and competent.  The food was tasty; small soft tacos, excellent queso with the chips & salsa.  We tried three of the salsa choices, including the habanero and the chipotle.  The habanero is eye watering, sweat inducing HOT, the chipotle was delicious.


Director: Amanda Berg Wilson

Production:  McPherson Horle

Lighting Designer:  Ryan Wentworth

Sound Designer:  Brian Freeland

Set Designer:  M. Curtis Grittner

Costume Designer:  Annabel Reader

Stage Manager:  Lara Maerz


Walt Disney:  Paul Borrillo

Roy Disney:  Mark Collins

Ron Miller:  Jason Maxwell

Daughter:  Lindsey Pierce

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Couple Dating

Playwright: Cricket Daniel

Company:  Funky Little Theater Company

Venue:  Funky Little Theater, 2109 Templeton Gap Road, Colorado Springs, CO 80907.

Running Time:  2 hours (includes10 minute intermission).

Date of Performance:  Monday, March 16, 2015.  

If you’re a relatively new married couple, how do you meet new “couple” friends?  Your single friends don’t get the couple thing, and besides, you can’t go out doing “single” things if you’re married and have a kid.  

Well, there's always Couple Dating.  In short, couples get matched up for a dinner party to see if there’s a seed that could sprout into a couple friendship.

If you’re skeptical, you’re onto something.  Dating as a single is hard enough; simple math tells us that Couple Dating would be twice as hard.  Or maybe three times as hard.

Playwright Cricket Daniels has fun with this topic, giving her friend seeking couple, Tess and Bobby, three tries to find a suitable couple friendship.  I won’t spoil the story here, but you should expect such an experiment to be fraught with potential and actual problems.  And it is.

Tess and Bobby have a child, presumably around 2 years old, but never seen or heard.  (The script might benefit from at least an occasional reference to the kid sleeping in the next room.)  Tess thinks they should find some friends like themselves, which is to say, young, married, and with a youngster.  She saw a story about “couple dating” on the Today show, and wants to give it a try.  Bobby, who is not the most sociable guy you ever met, is dragged kicking and screaming into the experiment.  

Tess sets up the first dinner with a couple that she has only met half of (the wife/mother).  She then moves on to two other couples, each of which she knows less well than the first.

What could possibly go wrong?

In a word, everything.  I won’t reveal the details.  You have to buy a ticket for that.  However, I will say that the details are well worth the price of admission.  It’s a new spin on the pit falls of dating, and if you ever find yourself in a “couple dating” situation, this show may increase your chances of survival.

Alicia Franks (Tess) eagerly displays her complete confidence in televised fads, in a spot on New York/New Jersey accent, no less.  (The show is set in NYC.)  Husband Bobby (Jonathan Herrera) is a working stiff with drinking buddies, a wife, and a kid, all of which seems to be an adequate social network for him.  His objections to 3 dinner parties in a week go unheeded, and the game is on.  Franks is completely convincing as the naive stay-at-home mom looking for new friends.  Herrera is suitably annoyed, and willing to sabotage the whole idea at times.  I think he may have dropped a line or two, but his performance overall made the entire premise work.

The couples in Couple Dating show up two by two, starting with Jason (Grant Langdon) and Suzanne (Hilary Hudson).  Langdon is smarmy and conceited, and clashes with Bobby right away.  Like Tess, Suzanne tries to minimize spousal discord to little effect.  

Langdon and Hudson are followed by Lauren (Jennifer Westrom-Crabtree) and Toni (Carrie Chesney), creating an exceedingly awkward situation salvaged only by Toni’s Harley Davidson dealership.  Chesney plays her part with a wink and a nod, showing extreme patience with Bobby while snickering about his primitive inquiries.  

We finally get dinner with Scott (Alex Niforatos) and Nathalie (Emma Colligan), and abundant hilarity ensues.  There is an obvious misunderstanding going on for 5-10 minutes, one that is obvious to the audience but invisible to Tess and Bobby.  That they don’t see it coming seems somewhat contrived, but the “big reveal” is the most delicious moment in the show.  Niforatos and Colligan go from ecstatic anticipation to complete humiliation in the wink of any eye, and it’s a comedic climax you won’t soon forget.

Chris Medina’s direction is tight and focused, and the pace is quick.  His set is detailed but a little clunky at times, requiring actors to enter and exit out of view of the audience.  Jeremiah Miller’s lighting design splits the kitchen from the living room to follow the actors, darkening one when lighting the other.  This is perhaps the most technically challenging show Funky Little Theater has put on in its new space, and that they were able to meet those challenges bodes well for future productions here.  

Couple Dating is entertaining and thought provoking.  Yes, it’s a comedy, but one with a subtle message.  If you’re going to be meeting new people, it helps to do your homework, whether you’re single, married, or other.  Random samplings of interested parties often yields a lot more chaff than wheat.


This show contains adult situations and adult language.  Recommended for adults only.

There is ample parking in the strip mall parking lot in front of the theater, as well as on surrounding streets (no meters).

PHOTO CREDITSFunky Little Theater Company.


This show will close on March 21, 2015.


Director: Chris Medina

Lighting/Sound Designer:  Jeremiah Miller

Set Designer:  Chris Medina

Stage Manager:  Krista McCann


Tess:  Alicia Franks

Bobby:  Jonathan Herrera

Jason:  Grant Langdon

Lauren:  Jennifer Westrom-Crabtree

Nathalie:  Emma Colligan

Suzanne:  Hilary Hudson

Scott:  Alex Niforatos

Toni:  Carrie Chesney

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Enchanted April

Playwright: Matthew Barber, from the novel by Elizabeth Von Arnim

Venue:  John Hand Theater, 7653 E 1st Pl, Denver, CO 80230

Running Time:  2 hours, 15 minutes (includes15 minute intermission).

Date of Performance:  Sunday, March 14, 2015.  

I admit it.  I had never seen Enchanted April before, and I really had little idea what to expect.  Now I know what a lovely script this is, and I can honestly say that It blew me away.  From start to finish, this is a charming, endearing, and yes, even enchanted show.  

We often tend to return to shows we’ve seen before and loved, like Forever Plaid or Syvia.  There’s little risk in sticking with the standards, and the entertainment rewards are substantial.  However, when we venture into unknown territory and try something new, we are often surprised and pleased with the results.

Such is the case with Enchanted April.  I was surprised, pleased and delighted.  It’s a gem of a show, set in 1922 London, with the second act moving to a castle in Italy (that’s the “enchanted” part).  The story line starts with Lotty Wilton (played by the pesky Chloe McLeod) asking a virtual stranger (Rose Arnott, played by Kelly Uhlenhopp) to read a classified ad in the London paper.  That ad is offering readers to rent a castle in Italy for the month of April for the sum of £60.  (Approximately $90 for the month in current dollars.)
Chloe McLeod (Lotty), Kelly Uhlenhopp (Rose), Erica Fox (Lady Caroline).

Lotty barely knows Rose, but she insists that they would both enjoy a month in Tuscany at a castle, complete with a cook.  Rose predictably declines to participate in such a crazy idea, but Lotty is both persistent and persuasive.   The two decide to take out their own classified ad to find 2 more women to spend April in Italy with, and to help defray the costs.  Rose is actually hoping they won’t get any replies and the whole scheme will fall through because of the cost.  It doesn’t; they find two other women (Lady Caroline and Mrs. Graves) to join them on the adventure.

The set up here is that the castle in Italy represents a true holiday; a break from the boredom and gloom of life in London.  The four women set off on this enterprise, which at the time was probably as shocking as Thelma and Louise was 70 years later.  

Chloe McLeod (Lotty), Jason Green (Mellerish).
Matthew Barber’s script has three males, Mellersh Wilton (played by Jason Green), Frederick Arnott (Jeff Jesmer) and Aaron Lade (as Antony Wilding).  With a name like “Mellersh,” you would be correct to assume that he’s a self-absorbed neanderthal with control issues.  Frederick is a writer, and in his spare time, he’s a womanizer.  Neither Mellersh nor Frederick will be getting the Male Role Model of the Year award.  Wilding hosts the ladies at his castle, and Lade brings his best charming, debonair persona to the mix.

Mellersh, Frederick, and Antony notwithstanding, this show is for and about the ladies.  They dream, they scheme, and they pull off a magical holiday at a castle in Mezzago, Italy.  The Tuscan trip is exactly what they need:  an escape from the bleak London lives they in which they are trapped.  

The charm in Enchanted April comes from the transition from gloomy, rainy London to
Anne Myers, Aaron Lade, Chloe McLeod, Kelly Uhlenhopp. 
bright, sunny Italy.  Bernie Cardell’s bucolic Italian set is eye popping, with abundant flowers, colors, and soft sunlight.  It is a magical place, where London is but a distant memory.  

Those distant memories, though, have a way of breaking into the new holiday reality.  The Italian castle is the perfect holiday venue to refresh, relax, and reassess goals and relationships.  The appearances of Mellersh and Frederick in Italy provide some comedic plot twists and romantic conflict to the Italian utopia.  

For the fans of happy endings, Enchanted April reminds us of the power of hope and love.  The ladies are reborn, and Frederick and Mellersh have a new perspective and renewed love for their spouses, despite their crazy Italian diversion.

Chloe McLeod is a marvelous Lotty.  She’s got an endearing energy, peppering the conversations nonstop with her romantic but flawed logic.  McLeod’s British accent was spot on, and her delivery was a beautiful blend of naïveté and sincerity.  She turned a crazy idea into a crazy reality through the force of her personality.

Kelly Uhlenhopp’s Rose is proper and abundantly skeptical.  She is not given to darting across the continent without her husband.  Uhlenhopp is a hard sell, which is obvious not just from the script but also from her ability to look down her nose at Lotty without saying a word.  Even after she agrees to buy a classified ad and go to Italy, Uhlenhopp exudes skepticism at every turn.

Katie Mangett (Costanza), Anne Myers (Mrs. Graves).
Erica Fox is on holiday as Lady Caroline, and she is the most contemporary woman in the show. She knows how to relax, and lets no one deter her from enjoying her stay.  Costanza (Katie Mangett) speaks only Italian, but no one can misunderstand her.  Her gestures and facial expressions speak louder than her Italian.

Anne Myers is the proper, sheltered, and judgmental Mrs. Graves, and she steals nearly every scene she is in.  She takes a dim view of nearly everything and everyone, playing the curmudgeon to the hilt.

Director Rachel Bouchard has put together a talented cast, and given them the freedom to use that talent.  That cast soars with the romance, the rhythm, and the beauty of Barber’s script.  There is one scene in particular that needs a woman’s touch, and Bouchard handles it with skill and taste.  There is fleeting male nudity (from behind) in that scene, and Bouchard manages to make it real for the audience and abundantly awkward when the bath towel drops to the floor.  In the hands of a male director, I’m pretty certain this scene would have been less real and less awkward.  Bouchard gets it right, and it's as funny as it gets, unless you're the poor guy standing before the world in his naked glory.

Enchanted April is one of those rare and beautiful surprises.  It sneaks up on you, grabs you by the lapels, and makes you smile, giggle, and laugh…a lot!  Spotlight Theater Company has a charming, entertaining, and poignant hit with Enchanted April.  It probably won’t change your life, but it will definitely improve your outlook on life.  It may also get you to finally book that trip that you’ve always dreamed about.  An Italian holiday may be just what we all need to refresh, reboot, and review our lives.


This show contains adult situations and brief nudity.  Recommended for adults and mature teens.  

There is ample parking behind the theater, as well as on surrounding streets (no meters).

PHOTO CREDITSSpotlight Theater Company.


This show will close on March 21, 2015.

Pre or Post Show Dining Suggestion:

Since Act 1 of Enchanted April is set in the UK, you might like a to stop at Casey’s Bistro and Pub in the Stapleton Town Center, 7301 E 29th Ave #100, Denver, CO 80238.  The menu includes Shepherd’s Pie and Banger’s and Mash, but the selections are probably more Irish than British.  Happy Hour is 3:00-6:00 and 10:00-Midnight daily, with half off all appetizers and selected drink specials.  PBR cans are $3.00 all day, every day.  


Director: Rachel Bouchard

Lighting Designer:  Vance McKenzie

Sound Designer:  Luke Allen Terry

Set Designer:  Bernie Cardell

Costume Designer:  Rosemary Smith

Stage Manager:  Keegan Jennney


Lotty Wilton:  Chloe McLeod

Rose Arnott:  Kelly Uhlenhopp

Mellersh Wilton:  Jason Green

Frederick Arnott:  Jeff Jesmer

Caroline Bramble:  Erica Fox

Mrs. Graves:  Anne Myers

Antony Wilding:  Aaron Lade

Costanza:  Katie Mangett

Monday, March 16, 2015

Stupid F##king Bird

Playwright:  Aaron Posner, based on The Seagull by Anton Chekov.

Company:  Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company

Venue: Carsen Theater, The Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder CO, 80026.

Running Time:  2 hours, 30 minutes (includes two 10 minute intermissions).

Date of Performance:  Saturday, March 14, 2015.  

I’m going to start here with the bottom line.  You don’t have to read this whole review to get the message.  Stupid F##cking Bird is an amazing experience that I recommend to anyone who cares about theater and who can deal with the coarse language.  The acting, the direction, the staging, and literally everything else about Stupid F##king Bird are all splendid.

Since I started with my conclusion, it's pretty clear that I am deviating somewhat from my customary format.  By that, I don't just mean that I gave you the bottom line at the top.  I have listed the cast and crew members below, as is my custom, but for Stupid F##cking Bird, I’m not going to go into detail about the production and individual performances.  Stupid F##king Bird is about ideas; the characters are vivid and engaging, but it is the message that matters.  Besides, the individual performances were uniformly magnificent.  Enough said.

There’s a conventional wisdom that starving artists are the best of the bunch; their suffering makes their art more real, more personal, and certainly more intense.  There’s also another conventional wisdom that argues that the best art is that which is “successful.”  If it doesn’t get eyeballs, and make a LOT of money, what good is it?  

So which is the better argument?  Stupid F##king Bird will make you both think and laugh about the question.  Ask yourself whether revolutionaries can be successful artists by destroying what came before.  And ask yourself whether profitable art enterprises are doing anything creative, or are they just about making money off the masses.  Indeed, ask yourself if these questions even matter.

Aaron Posner’s update to Chekov’s 1895 script is a spot on take down of the folly of both arguments, an irreverent poke in the eye of artists and theaters alike.  Take the tradition of the 4th Wall.  That imaginary barrier between the cast and the audience has a purpose; it separates the reality of the audience from the fictional story on the stage.  Posner doesn’t just take down the 4th Wall.  He smashes it, multiple times, engaging the audience directly and repeatedly.  It’s disconcerting, but it’s one of Posner’s ways of shocking the audience into challenging their assumptions about theater.

To say that Posner takes down contemporary theater might be an understatement:

…what they’re doing to Shakespeare these days to make him “accessible”…and the tiny, tepid, clever-y clevery-y clevery-y little plays that are being produced by terrified theatres just trying to keep ancient Jews and gay men and retired academics and a few random others who did plays in high school trickling in their doors…

While the skewering of contemporary theater is my takeaway from Stupid F##king Bird, I don’t want to leave readers with the impression that it is the only theme here.  Also on the menu are life, death, love, relationships, and personal failure.  All are valid topics, certainly, but they seem tangential to Posner’s central point about theater.

The structure and tone of Chekov’s original work is intact, and Posner’s updated
Luke Sorge as Con.
contemporary characters ring true.  Con (Luke Sorge) is the artistic revolutionary; and he has the first line in the show as he stands with the rest of the cast downstage.  To avoid spoiling his first line, I will just say that Con marks his alpha male artistic turf with his first words to the audience.  Con is determined to change the world in the first act, but by the end of the play he is depressed, broken, and suicidal.  He also has a new respect for the old forms.  

Rebecca Remaly (Mash), Ian Anderson (Dev), Brian Gregory Shea (Trig).

The second act is kind of a kitchen table confessional.  The set completely changes from the first act; we are now in the kitchen, where the cast comes to bare their souls.  Mash (Rebecca Remaly) starts it off with a song on her ukulele (lyrics by Posner), lamenting that “the best that life can offer me is more of the worst.”  The maudlin, melancholy lyrics are laughably lame, but Remaly’s sweet voice makes them listenable.  Remaly makes her sincere confession in the kitchen:  “we’re cosmically screwed.”  She’s lost in life; perhaps we all are. 

Stupid F##cking Bird is highly unconventional; the plot is based on the creative process, with characters that are straight out of central casting.  Mash is a woman whose unrequited love leads her to settling for second best.  Con is the struggling writer.  Nina  (Jaimie Rebekah Morgan) is the eye candy actress with more ambition than talent.  Emma (Diana Dresser) is the self absorbed diva.  Dev (Ian Anderson) is the geeky but lovable romantic.  Sorn (Bob Buckley) is the aging doctor, facing his own death.  Trig (Brian Gregory Shea) is the commercially successful writer and womanizer who is owned by his benefactor.  

Luke Sorge (Con) and Jaimie Rebekah Morgan (Nina).
It’s difficult to overstate the talent on the BETC stage for Stupid F##king Bird.  The performances are striking in their sincerity and their profundity.  You will rarely see actors as engaged and focused as those in Stupid F##cking Bird.  These are creative, dedicated theater people challenging their own assumptions, biases, and perhaps even their own life choices.  As such, it’s a rare opportunity for them, and they make the most of it.  You cannot take your eyes off any of them.  

Posner’s point may well be that the creative process is something of a corollary to the First Law of Thermodynamics.  That Law declares that energy can neither be created nor destroyed.  It can only change form.  A burning log appears to be destroyed; in truth it is transformed into heat, smoke, and ash.  Likewise, art, including theater, rarely creates anything new, nor should it be expected to do so.  Rather, it transforms an ordinary item or experience into something extraordinary.  Whether that transformation is popular enough to be profitable is immaterial.  What matters is the process itself, bringing us new perspectives on items and experiences that we all share.

Stupid F##king Bird is Exhibit 1 for what might be called Posner’s First Law of Theatrical Dynamics.  Nothing is created or destroyed here, but Chekov’s The Seagull is transformed into an entertaining, thought provoking indictment of contemporary creativity and theater.  With a title like Stupid F##king Bird, Posner seems unconcerned about commercial success.  His focus is on making us see something new, something useful, something important in Chekov’s classic.  For those who are wondering if it works, it does.  Marvelously.  

As I stated above, this is an excellent cast, working together as a sincere and talented ensemble, in a marvelous production of a show that is about important ideas.  That, it seems to me, is all you need to know about Stupid F##king Bird

Now go get a ticket.


This show contains coarse adult language, suicides themes, and adult situations.  Recommended for teens and up, but with parental discretion.

There is ample parking on surrounding streets and behind the theater.  If that is not adequate, BETC has arranged for overflow parking at 2505 Walnut Street, just north of The Dairy Center for the Arts.


This show closes on March 28, 2015.

Pre or Post Show Dining Suggestion:

Rather than give you my recommendation, I’m going to pass on the BETC recommendations.  These guys/gals are natives to Boulder.  I’m just a frequent visitor.  Here’s what they recommend:

The Med.  Delicious tapas and the pre-show happy hour specials are a great deal!  Their Happy Hour from 3:00 PM to 6:30 PM everyday is one of the best in town. Three words: Sangria and tapas.

Pizzeria Locale.  Amazing authentic pizza, cooked in a gorgeous pizza oven shipped over from Naples. Great wine list, and don't forget the butterscotch pudding for dessert.

The Kitchen Next Door.  The food is date-night quality, but the prices and menu choices are family-friendly. Best of all, on certain nights, a cut of the restaurant's sales go to help Boulder County kids learn how to garden!


Director:  Stephen Weitz

Music Director:  Rebecca Remaly

Choreography by:  Diana Dresser

Scenic Designer: Tina Anderson

Lighting Designer:  Kerry Cripe

Sound Designer:  Daniel Horney

Costume Designer:  Brenda King

Stage Manager:  Maxie Beth Bilyeu


Con:  Luke Sorge

Dev:  Ian Anderson

Mash:  Rebecca Remaly

Nina:  Jaimie Rebekah Morgan

Sorn:  Bob Buckley

Emma:  Diana Dresser

Trig:  Brian Gregory Shea