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Monday, August 31, 2015

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike



Playwright:  Christopher Durang



Running Time:  2 hours, 30 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission) 

Date of Performance:  Sunday, August 30, 2015.


For those who may have missed the reference, the characters in the title Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (hereafter VSMS) are throwbacks to plays written by Anton Chekov in the late 19th century.  That is, the first three title characters.  Spike is playwright Christopher Durang’s creation and comedic upgrade to Chekov’s somewhat dark and depressing themes.

Chekov is an acquired taste, and one (along with broccoli) that I have yet to fully acquire.  His moody work (including the play Uncle Vanya, from which VSMS takes considerable inspiration) centers on the meaningless lives of the leisure class, materialistic values, and self denial.  His plays border on the absurd, using characters who seek meaning in a situation that seems meaningless.  Although he was not always identified with it, his work is thematically related to the 20th century existentialist movement. 

From this laugh free zone, Durang has fashioned a comedy of the absurd.  Vanya (Stephen Maestas) and Sonia (Caitlin Conklin) are brother and sister (she by adoption) who have long cared for their invalid but now deceased parents.  Having devoted most of their lives to caring for ailing “professor” parents, both are utterly unprepared for the real world.  Indeed, their lives have been wasted caring for others.  Their actress/celebrity sister Masha (Jennifer Bass) has become very successful after leaving Vanya and Sonia behind as caregivers.  Now that her career is sunsetting, she must sell the family home to pay the bills.  In the process, she must evict her siblings from the home they grew up in.  

What Durang has done is impressive; VSMS got a Tony Award for Best Play and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play in 2013.  David Hyde Pierce and Sigorney Weaver appeared in the Broadway cast.  There is no shortage of praise for those productions, and for Durang’s script.  The Firehouse production makes it clear that neither Durang nor Chekov is a flash in the pan.  Chekov was one of the leading writers of his time, and Durang has the justified confidence to believe he can improve on the original. Somehow I picture Durang on his 5th martini as the bar is closing at 2:00 AM, and someone dares him to improve on Chekov.  If there was such a dare, VSMS was surely the result.  

It's fair to say that Durang has made the Chekov work more accessible (and more fun) by painting the characters more as clowns than philosophers.   Vanya is the sad sack clown (Buster Keaton and Emmett Kelly come to mind).  Masha is the Lucille Ball of the family.  Sonia is a mix of Ellen DeGeneres and Joan Rivers.  Spike (Keegan O’Brien) is a sexy blend of Chris Rock and George Clooney.  Cassandra (Lisa Young) goes all Whoopi Goldberg on Masha.  Where Chekov was somber and pensive, Durang is bold and funny.

Durang liberally sprinkles the Chekov references throughout his script, including a cherry orchard (The Cherry Orchard), a play within a play (The Seagull), and of course the title characters (Uncle Vanya).  Doing so is clever, but perhaps too clever by half.  Those who are unfamiliar with Chekov’s plays will hardly appreciate the references.  Those who are familiar with Chekov may worry that Durang’s script diminishes the original work through subtle exploitation.  It’s a legitimate concern.   Rather than a subtle exploitation, however, I prefer to see VSMS as an updated adaption of the Chekov’s work.  It’s more engaging, more accessible, and definitely funnier than Chekov’s original, and Durang adds an upbeat ending that would probably make Chekov wince.  

With that as background, you may be wondering, “so what did you think of the show?”  And, as you may have guessed, it’s a bit of a mixed experience.  

First, I think it’s decidedly helpful to know something of Chekov’s original works.  Perhaps not a requirement, but a very helpful “plus.”

Second, Chekov challenged audiences with both his subject matter and style.  Durang’s style (contemporary setting with lots of laughter) improves the experience for the audience.  Still, Durang’s work is nearly as challenging as Chekov’s.

Third, the cast is very good, but somewhat uneven.  Caitlin Conklin is electric as the sometimes low key and sometimes hostile, prop smashing Sonia.  She goes from weepy to angry in a heartbeat.  Conklin puts in an emotional performance that is, at times, stunning.  She beams as she preens after upstaging Masha at a party; for the audience, Conklin is delivering a much needed dose of humility to Masha.  Think professional bad guy wrestler body slammed by the good guy.
Keegan O'Brien (Spike)

Lisa Young (Cassandra)
Lisa Young’s Cassandra is a colorful contrast to her self absorbed cast mates, bringing us voodoo and common sense in equal measures.  Jennifer Bass is sassy and sexy, as Masha with her boy toy Spike in tow.  Keegan O’Brien plays Spike for all the laughs possible, letting his libido run wild with his unbelievably limber and sculpted physique.  (Note to the ladies…no, on second thought, to the ladies and gentlemen:  Keegan is delicious eye candy.  I don’t think he will mind if you leer while laughing.  I did.)  Mollie Horne (Nina) is the picture of naiveté, swooning over Masha’s very presence.

It is Vanya, though, who is central to the title and the plot, and Stephen Maestas delivers an uneven rendering of his character.  It’s a quibble, but his monologue in the second act is masterful (“WE HAD TO LICK POSTAGE STAMPS!”), whereas at other times his timing seemed off and his delivery tentative.  If his entire performance were as complete, as convincing, and as powerful as his monologue, Maestas would unquestionably be the star of VSMS.
Caitlin Conklin (Sonia), Stephen Maestas (Vanya), Jennifer Bass (Snow White/Masha).

Director Steve Tangedal keeps the laughs coming with outrageous costumes by Deborah Montgomery and Kris Paddock (Snow White is marvelous, as is Spike in bun hugging tights), gymnastic feats rarely seen on any stage, and precision timing of offstage screams with onstage voodoo.  Tangedal’s touch is particularly evident as Masha discovers that Spike has taken an interest in Nina.  Despite Masha’s abundance of self esteem, Tangedal lets us see her softer side as she starts to realize that her dream is over.

VSMS will keep you laughing.  Keegan O’Brien’s gymnastics will be forever burned into your memory bank.  You may be inspired to read Chekov’s Uncle Vanya to get a handle on the history.  All of which is to say that despite my quibble with one performance, Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike is a rollicking revision of Chekov’s legacy.  If you’re a Chekov fan, VSMS is a no brainer.  Get a ticket.  If you’re not a Chekov fan, you will almost certainly prefer Durang’s generous glimmer of hope for the hapless characters who have escaped from Uncle Vanya.  

Here Comes the Sun.”  And it’s shining for both of you, Vanya and Sonia.  
CAST (l-r):  Keegan O'Brien, Lisa Young, Mollie Horne, Jennifer Bass, Stephen Maestas, Caitlin Conklin.


NOTES:

There is ample free parking behind the theater, and on surrounding streets.  

There are adult themes and adult language in VSMS.  Discretion is advised for children under 15. 

This show closes on September 26, 2015.

PHOTO CREDITSFirehouse Theater Company/Meghan Ralph of Soular Radiant Photography.

TICKETS HERE:  


PRE/POST SHOW DINING RECOMMENDATION:

Steak Teriyaki with brown rice.

There are a number of restaurants nearby in the Lowry Town Center.  We've eaten several, including Salty Rita's and Serioz Pizza.  As we didn't have much time before the 2:00 matinee, we stopped at Pei Wei, also in the Lowry Town Center.  

I'm probably the last one to be giving advice on Chinese cuisine, but Pei Wei is freshly prepared to order after you order it.  I had the steak teriyaki on brown rice, and it was delicious.  Roxie had the shrimp, which while tasty, only had 5 shrimp.  Two meals, two drinks, and a tab of just over $19.00 made for a quick, delicious lunch before the show.  Also recommended in the Lowry Town Center:  The Tavern.


CREATIVE TEAM:

Director:  Steve Tangedal

Assistant Director/Stage Manager:  Andrew KC Nicholas

Lighting & Sound Design: T. Marc Stevens

Set Design:  Jeffrey Jesmer

Production Coordinators/Costumes:  Deborah Montgomery & Kris Paddock

CAST:

Vanya:  Stephen Maestas

Sonia:  Caitlin Conklin

Masha:  Jennifer Bass

Cassandra:  Lisa Young

Spike:  Keegan O’Brien

Nina:  Mollie Horne


Monday, August 24, 2015

Lysistrata



Playwright:  Aristophanes


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

Running Time:  2 hours (includes 15 minute intermission) 

Date of Performance:  Saturday, August 22, 2015.

Despite the contemporary vibe you’ve come to expect from a theater called “funky,” you might be surprised to know that they have revived a very old script for their current production.  Lysistrata opened in 411 B.C. in Greece.  I’m not that great with math, but 2,015 + 411 would make Lysistrata 2,426 years old this year.  Can a script that old be either relevant or contemporary?  

The answer is a resounding yes.  Lysistrata speaks to two issues that apparently never go out of style:  the real or apparent power of women, and war.  

We don’t have any reviews of the original production, but we can assume that Aristophanes made some waves in his Greek theater community.  The script gets very specific about sex, as the women go on strike, refusing to satisfy their mates until they make peace between Athens and Sparta.  Lest you think I exaggerate, here’s the plan:

All we have to do is idly sit indoors

With smooth roses powdered on our cheeks,

Our bodies burning naked through the folds

Of shining Amorgos' silk, and meet the men

With our dear Venus-plats plucked trim and neat.

Their stirring love will rise up furiously,

They'll beg our arms to open. That's our time!

We'll disregard their knocking, beat them off—

And they will soon be rabid for a Peace.

Their stirring love will rise up furiously.”  This text is loaded with puns, double entendres, and downright graphic references to genitalia and intimate acts.  Some things haven’t changed in 2,500 years.

Funky Director Chris Medina maximizes the comedic elements of Lysistrata, hamming up the sexy parts with gestures, facial expressions, and some phallic props of extreme dimensions.  It’s a wise move; one can’t miss the tension, the frustration, and the discomfort the women visit on the men until they relent and make peace.  Medina doesn’t miss any opportunity to squeeze a laugh out of these upright, rigid, suffering males.

Which brings me to something important; Lysistrata is not for everyone.  It’s adult fare, based on the language and subject matter.  That said, though, some adults apparently have a problem with strong, smart women getting the best of some fairly lame guys.  Chris Medina tells me that a couple of customers complained of “man bashing” as they left.  That’s unfortunate.  Theaters don’t deliberately antagonize customers, but they often challenge their audience.  It’s a legitimate role for theaters.  So if you’re uncomfortable with a show that uses humor to show women getting the best of men, Lysistrata is not for you.  That’s a shame; you will miss a very funny show.

Not to be lost in the carnal comedy here is the message about war.  It has depleted the supply of husbands.  Whether the women go on strike because they miss their men or because they oppose the war is a difference without a distinction.  War widows then, as war widows now, would generally do anything in their power to bring their men home safely.  Lysistrata makes that point by pooling the power of women 

The source of all the mayhem is Lysistrata, played here by Jenny Maloney.  Maloney is a cunning, scheming Lysistrata.  She manipulates both sexes by turning horniness into a tool for peace.  Maloney is indignant when she catches the women sneaking out for encounters, and she comes down hard on them (pun intended).  Maloney shames them into chastity, all in the name of peace.

The cast is obviously having fun; I suspect there are some raging parties after the performances at Funky.  Myrhine (Michelle Pantle) exudes both an innocence and a worldliness, and she clearly enjoys torturing her husband Cinesias (Jareth Spiro).  She leads him on, then stands him up, time after time.  (Again.  Pun intended)  Spiro, for his part, is beyond frustrated, and it’s too hard for him to handle.  (Again.)  He’s unable to hide his growing, throbbing concern (last one for now):

Ah, what shall I do? Whom shall I screw,

cheated of the loveliest of them all!

How will I raise and rear this orphaned cock?

Is Fox Dog out there anywhere?

Lease me a nursemaid!

It would be blogger malpractice to leave Désirée Myers out of this piece.  Not only does she stir the pot with a mischievous charm, she does so in the most outrageous wig ever seen onstage.  Her afro must be the size of a bushel basket, and she wears it well…at least when it doesn't slip off her head.  

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.  (Oops. That one wasn’t intentional.)  It’s about the laughs, and there are a LOT of them.  I could point out that sex and politics are still entertainment fodder for the masses, just as they were in Aristophanes day, but that would be stating the obvious.  2,426 years later, men are not always thinking with the head they find on their shoulders, and women are still left home when the politicians decide someone else must go to war.  

Perhaps Funky Little Theater could do a Lysistrata benefit performance at Fort Carson.  Take the show on the road to the place where men, women, and war mix it up every day.  I’m sure they would recognize the tension of long deployments and the power of intimacy denied.

I suspect many of the men and women at Fort Carson could use some laughs, and Funky’s Lysistrata might just be the way to get them.
Funky Cast

NOTES:

There is ample free parking at the strip mall where the theater is located.  
There are adult themes and adult language in Lysistrata.  Discretion is advised for children under 15. 

It doesn't hurt to do a little research before the show if you're unfamiliar with Lysistrata.  Doing so would be helpful to understand both the context and the comedy.

This show closes on August 28, 2015.


TICKETS HERE:  

CREATIVE TEAM:

Director:  Chris Medina

Set & Lighting Design:  Chelsie Rigor

Costume Design:  Delaney Hallauer

Stage Manager:  Will Sobolik

CAST:

Lysistrata:  Jenny Maloney

Calonice:  Emma Colligan

Lampito:  Jennifer Westrom-Crabtree

Myrhine:  Michelle Pantle

Councilor/Spartan Ambassador:  Earnest Mazyck

Cinesias/Athenian Ambassador:  Jareth Spirio

Men’s Chorus Leader:  Taylor Geiman

Men’s Chorus:  Grant Langdon, Dylan McClintock

Women’s Chorus Leader:  Desirée Myers

Women’s Chorus:  Sallie Walker, Christina Vilgiate

Ensemble: Kailey Gillen

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The 9th Annual Front Range Playwright's Showcase






The 9th Annual Front Range Playwright's Showcase


Playwrights:  Isme, by Kelly McMahan, Once Widowed, Twice Divorced, by Jacqueline Garcia, and Gus’s Very First Shift by Oliver Gerland

Company:  Coal Creek Theater of Louisville

Venue:  Louisville Centrer for the Arts, 801 Grant Street, Louisville CO

Running Time:  3 hours (includes 15 minute intermission) 

Date of Performance:  Friday, August 21, 2015.

The Front Range Playwright’s Showcase is in it’s 9th season, with a single night dedicated to readings of 3 new plays submitted to the company.  This year they received 24 submissions to sift through.  Judging by the three plays they selected, 2015 is a very strong year for the Showcase and for new work.

The Showcase is structured somewhat like American Idol.  Three “adjudicators” (Alphonse Keasley, Madge Montgomery, and Gene Kato) watch the readings from front and center.  
After the reading is over, the playwright is given a seat directly in front of the three judges, who then critique the script.  

Once all three judges have weighed in, the audience is given a chance to ask questions or offer reactions to the scripts.  After the criticism of all the scripts, the adjudicators announce their choice for the winning script.

For those aspiring playwrights who have a justified fear of an American Idol panel, hold your fire.  These adjudicators were civilized, respectful, and brilliant in their criticism.  The three playwrights in this Showcase should take their feedback to heart.  The adjudicators offered them advice that is difficult for a playwright or author to get in any other forum.  

The contestants for the 9th Annual Showcase were:

1.  Isme by Kelly McMahan

Director: Vonalda Utterback
Isme:  Veronica Straight-Lingo
James:  Bill Graham
Siobhan/Eteocles/Antigone:  Erica Jo Young
Costos/Polyneices:  Evan Marquez
Macha:  Lisa Lowery
Narrator:  Vonalda Utterback

SYNOPSIS:

Ismene has suffered numerous family tragedies that leave her adrift in her own life.  She tries to make sense of her past by creating a theatrical production of her own personal journey.
2.  Once Widowed, Twice Divorced, by Jacqueline Garcia

Director:  Ash VanScoyoc
Eileen:  Lynn Fleming
James:  Dan Schock
Narrator:  Beth Beckel Fitzjarrald

SYNOPSIS:

Eileen, a feisty resident of an assisted living facility, receives a new cell phone from her family but doesn’t know how to use it.  One of the facility’s orderlies, James, lends a hand.  In the process the two end up discussing her long life as Eileen tried to use her new gift to achieve closure for a tragedy that occurred decades before.

3.  Gus’s Very First Shift by Oliver Gerland

Director:  Lynn Fleming
Marion:  Rachel Cohen-Birzer
Margery:  Kathleen Boyle Rausch
Guss Goff:  As VanScoyoc
Gertrude:  Lynn fleming
Tony:  Jim Whiteman
Cheryl:  Rachel Cohen-Birzer
Darby:  Jim Whiteman
Narrator:  Dave Dahl

SYNOPSIS:

A grocery store manager tells her assistant how a new checkout employee, Gus, who is arriving for his first shift early that morning, will help cut labor costs:  because he has a behavioral disorder, his hourly wage is government subsidized.  Upon arriving, Gus is disappointed to learn he won’t be paid immediately, but works diligently to satisfy customers while obeying Corporate rules.  Assisted by his disorder, Gus has personally enriching engagements with three customers, each a denizen of that strange time just before dawn.

COMMENTARY

All three scripts were strong, and, of course, all three had room for improvement.  In the case of Isme, playwright Kelly McMahan jammed the 40 minute script with an abundance of themes and threads.  Elements of comedy and tragedy competed with the philosophical (“one doesn’t need death for a tragedy.  Living on might be the tragedy”), the whimsical (Motown and Disco musical breakouts), and contemporary Irish drama as the successor to Greek tragedies.  (Note:  the quotation is a paraphrase, despite the quotation marks.)  Any one of these topics alone would support a one act play; all in the same work is overload of the first order.

In Once Widowed, Twice Divorced, playwright Jacqueline Garcia cleverly evokes the loneliness of aging.  Your visibility diminishes, and the worst thing that can happen is that you spend all your time with other old people.  Eileen, the aging, tech challenged focus of Once/Twice, however, seems straight out of central casting.  She fits our stereotype (cranky, impatient, somewhat intolerant, and self righteous) of someone in the twilight of her years.  That she was touched and inspired by her orderlies’ kindness seemed a tad contrived as a result of that stereotype.

Oliver Gerland, playwright for Gus’s Very First Shift, set his play in a 24 hour grocery store where Gus begins work with an easy shift:  only 30 minutes (4:30 AM to 5:00 AM).  The script puts Gus and his cognitive disability into contact with three customers, and he handles them all with respect and sincerity.  It’s an elegant set up for some drama, and the Gus character is very strong.  I did find it to be somewhat unlikely, however, as the Store Manager comes off as oblivious, while the disabled Gus is smart enough to turn his disability into an asset.  Not that I haven't known some poor managers, but even the least capable could have easily seen through Gus's self serving inquiries about the Corporate Rules.

As I mentioned above, all three scripts were strong, and based on the advice they got from the adjudicators and the audience, they will become stronger with the next draft.  In the end, though, the adjudicators had the difficult chore of deciding which of the three excellent scripts would be the winner.

Their decision:  Gus’s Very First Shift.

A fine choice indeed from three promising scripts.

NOTES:

A theater company's main mission isn't discovering new work.  That main mission is usually producing plays and paying the bills.  Finding new talent and giving that talent a stage and an audience is above and beyond the call of duty.  

Well done, Coal Creek.  Well done indeed.  Sorry I missed numbers 1-8, but I'll be back next year for the 10th Annual Front Range Playwright's Showcase.

PRE/POST SHOW DINING RECOMMENDATION:



I met Vonalda Utterback (Director for Isme) and her husband John at the Zucca Italian Ristorante, 808 Main Street, Louisville.  Roxie and I have been there before, and were impressed.  This visit just confirmed what we found the first time:  great service, delicious food, and great happy hour deals.

All three of us had the $6.00 Happy Hour pizza.  Mine was delicious; there wasn’t a scrap left on my plate.  Many of their ingredients come from their Three Leaf Farm in Lafayette.  Zucca gives locavores something to get out of bed for:  delicious food from local sources.

Zucca is an easy 5 minute walk to the Louisville Center for the Arts, so you won’t need to move the car.  

Ranch Dressing and Other Coping Mechanisms


Playwright:  Kelsie Huff


Venue:  The Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder CO

Running Time:  1 hour (no intermission) 

Date of Performance:  Thursday, August 20, 2015.

If you’re going to do a one woman show, that woman must be able to carry the entire load.  Kelsie Huff is one such woman.  She carries that load of personal baggage and dumps it all at your feet with a loud thud.

Huff is the writer and director, as well as the only actor in Ranch Dressing and Other Coping Mechanisms (hereafter Ranch Dressing).  That makes sense, since she is the subject matter expert, the subject being herself.  She takes a deep dive into her childhood, her alcoholic family, and her life as a survivor of some pretty scary crises.

Huff’s script is a one hour monologue that starts with her locked in a ladies room, hiding away in a church basement.  Thus begins the sad saga of how Stephen Spielberg, using an oversized mechanical shark, traumatized her as a child.  Jaws never died; we only saw the alleged “chunks” of shark flesh, but not the carcass.  The 7 year old Kelsie Huff was convinced that Jaws lived in the plumbing at her house, and would attack her from the bowl below as she sat on the toilet.

The predatory marine killer trauma, though, isn’t enough.  Huff recounts a chaotic Christmas that ends in a fist fight between her father and Santa Claus.  Although it’s sometimes difficult to see the line between reality and artistic embellishment, Huff’s tales are much more the former than the latter.  

Huff goes into a seemingly funny story of an all night bender that doesn’t end until she takes a bag lady to a liquor store at 5:00 AM.  The story then takes a disturbing turn.  She and her new bestie bust open a wine bottle (they didn’t have a corkscrew) in an American History X twist that, for me at least, generated an agonizing flashback.  If you haven’t seen the movie, you can see the scene Huff refers to here.  

Fair warning, though: the scene is both barbaric and unforgettable.  You cannot “unsee” the brutality of American History X, and Ranch Dressing will take you to a very dark place with this reference.

It’s funnier when the American History X reference is to a wine bottle rather than a human being, but still, this is some very dark humor.  (For the record, the original scene in the film was not known for its comedic value.)  For Huff, dark humor is perhaps the only suitable kind, given the traumatic childhood she has survived.  That said, though, the humor isn’t really the point for Ranch Dressing.  It’s the message in Ranch Dressing that matters.

After immersing us in the alcohol haze of her escapades, Huff ends her show with a confession we are all familiar with:  “My name is Kelsie Huff, and I’m an alcoholic.”  We are not surprised to hear this, as Huff has been demonstrating it to us for nearly an hour at this point.  Even so, we need to hear it.  We need to know she is recovering and not spiraling into a cess pool filled with cheap vodka.

Huff’s Ranch Dressing is a tale of survival.  She survived a traumatic childhood.  She survived her own self destructive behavior as an adult.  She is now able to put herself out in front of anyone, anywhere, and tell her story.

Whether alcoholism is genetic is debatable, but we do know that children of alcoholics are four times more likely to have problems with alcohol.  Huff’s declaration is testimony to her determination to survive, and that is the central message of Ranch Dressing.  You can put ranch dressing on a pizza (“cream makes everything better”), but it’s still a pizza.  You can also put ranch dressing on alcoholism, but it’s still a self-destructive addiction.  It just tastes a little different.  The solution isn’t ranch dressing.  Surviving requires determination, persistence, and a lot of courage.

Huff confronts her demons, exposes her most intimate details, and does it in front of a room full of strangers.  How many of us would do the same?  

The laugh lines do not hide her pain; the laughs are forced but the pain is real.  You will not see a more honest, more personal, more intimate display of courage on any stage.  Huff lets us into her life, partly for therapy, but more importantly in a hope that she may touch someone else.  Someone who needs the strength to battle his or her personal demons.  

Kelsie Huff
For that, Ms Huff, you get my praise and my thanks.

Ranch Dressing is an unusual piece of theater, combining stand up comedy with very dark personal experiences, and ending with a disarming and sincere personal confession.  Huff isn’t acting here.  This is all real for her.  

An unusual piece of theater, and one that might actually change some lives.  For the better.  Which is exactly why we go to the theater.


NOTES:

There is ample free parking behind the theater (The Dairy Center), and on surrounding streets.  I am not sure what the parking situation is at the Buntport Theater.

There are adult themes and adult language in Ranch Dressing.  Discretion is advised for children under 15. 

This show closes at the Dairy Center for the Arts on August 22, 2015.  It will continue at the Buntport Theater, 717 Lipan Street, Denver, August 27-29.


TICKETS AT BUNTPORT HERE:  


PRE/POST SHOW DINING RECOMMENDATION:


We stopped at Turley’s Kitchen, 2805 Pearl Street, Boulder.  It’s a bit of a Boulder landmark, and rightly so.  They serve breakfast all day; I had the #4 Combination Creation (3 pancakes, choice of meat, 2 eggs) for $9.00.  We had a very pleasant table on the patio, although the view of the parking lot is not inspiring.

Service was spotty.  My pancakes arrived with no syrup.  We had also ordered the house speciality, a large buttermilk biscuit, to split.  The biscuit did not show up either.  I reminded the waitress that I was expecting syrup and a biscuit, and told her that we did not have enough butter either.  She seemed surprised.  Perhaps pancakes in Boulder are eaten without butter & syrup, but I doubt it.  She promised to bring them right out; she didn’t.  Nearly 10 minutes later, the biscuit, butter and syrup arrived.  By then the pancakes were barely warm enough to melt the butter.  Incidentally, the butter is served in those tiny paper cups with folded sides, making it almost impossible to dislodge all the butter from the container.

It’s not like they were slammed with customers; there were many empty tables.  I’m not sure what the problem was, but we’re a little skeptical of returning when there are so many other options nearby.

CREATIVE TEAM:

Executive Producer/Production ManagerEmily K. Harrison

Director:  Kelsie Huff

Lighting Design:  Jess Buttery

Sound DesignEmily K. Harrison

Costume Design:  Kelsie Huff

CAST:

Kelsie:  Kelsie Huff


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

La Cage Aux Folles





Book by:  Harvey Fierstein, based on the play by Jean Poiret

Music and Lyrics by:  Jerry Herman


Venue:  Aurora Fox Theatre, Main Stage, 9900 E. Colfax, Aurora CO

Running Time:  2 hours, 30 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission) 

Date of Performance:  Sunday, August 16, 2015.


“Life is a celebration with you on my arm.” 

Indeed it IS a celebration.  

I know the exact moment when Ignite Theater’s La Cage Aux Folles won me over.  It was early in the first act, when Albin (John White) began singing A Little More Mascara.  

So when my spirit starts to sag,

I hustle out my highest drag,

And put a little more mascara on.

Albin/Zsa Zsa (John White)
It’s a transformational musical moment.  Albin sits in front of the mirror in his dressing room, and transforms from male to female before our eyes.  He puts on his makeup, his mascara, his dress, and his fake boobs.  He becomes Zsa Zsa.  

I was hooked.

John White’s performance is remarkable in many ways, not the least of which is how well he morphs from guy to gal as we watch.  He’s also a marvelous singer, with a mid range voice suitable for either a man or a woman.  He can dance…in heels.  He can sulk, he can smolder, and he can really rock.  But his special skill here is that he can be so very brave and so very vulnerable simultaneously.  Don’t cross White or Albin; she’ll make you pay.  But never doubt that underneath that swagger, she’s a sensitive human being.  She’s a master of the eye roll, and she’s a professional level sulker.  When she turns on the charm, though, she is totally irresistible. 

Did you notice what I did there?  I did exactly what White did so well; I transformed Albin from male to female.  I changed pronouns like Albin changes gender...but she's much better at it than I am.  Watching her metamorphosis isn’t jolting.  It seems as natural as how any of us, male or female, get gussied up to look our best.

Albin would be lost, however, without his long time lover Georges (Jim Hitzke) on his
Georges (Jim Hitzke)
arm.  Hitzke is a gifted singer with a marvelous voice; he can belt out a song with the best of them.  His most important contribution to La Cage Aux Folles, though, is his universal humanity.  He goes through the same things many of us endure.  He has a son, an ex, a lover, and a lot of conflict in his life.  This is a tale of two gay men, but Hitzke quickly makes us realize that he’s living our own lives.  In Georges world of offbeat drag performers, Hitzke is, at his core, a very regular guy.  We totally get his love for Albin and and his frustration with his son and his distant partner in a one night stand.

Darren Koehler plays Jean-Michel, son of Georges and, wait for it, Albin.  Abandoned by his own mother, Albin has raised Jean-Michel as her own son.  Koehler lights up the stage with his first song: With Anne on My Arm.  Seriously.  I sat up straight after the first few bars, stunned at how beautifully he sang about his bride to be.  Director Bernie Cardell has a wealth of talent on the Aurora Fox stage, and Koehler shot to the top of that
Foreground:  Darren Koehler.  Background:  John White, Jim Hitzke, Valerie Igoe.
talent list with his first few notes. 

Of course, anyone who has seen La Cage Aux Folles knows that the eye candy here is Les Cagelles.  There are six in the ensemble, dressed in glitzy multicolored costumes (thank you, Elijah Meader, Costume Designer), abundant makeup, and a wig in every hairstyle you might expect (credit  goes to Valerie Igoe for the gorgeous wigs).  They put on a formidable show, dancing, singing, and strutting their stuff.  Choreographer Matthew D. Peters gives puts them through some very difficult moves, all meant to make us believe the dancers are really girls.  It’s rare to see a guy do the “splits.”  It’s stunning to see five of them do it, one after the other.  
Les Cagelles

The cast has other standouts as well.  Randy Chalmers (Jacob) brings color, attitude, and energy to his role.  (It would be a good idea to find a better way to conceal his conspicuous mic, however.)  The Dindons (Andy Anderson and Erin Trampler Bell) are suitable villains, pushing the drama forward and reminding us of the current resistance to equality.  Valerie Igoe (Anne) shines as Jean-Michel’s fiancée.  Shahara Ray brings her marvelous voice to Jacqueline, belting out her tunes with an incomparable smile on her face.  This is truly a magnificent cast throughout.

Tim Mack’s lighting design opens with Les Cagelles facing upstage, lit in silhouette.  In the semi darkness, Mack shows us feminine forms from behind, sexy, mysterious, and statuesque.  He sets exactly the right tone immediately for Les Cagelles, lighting them in a way that enhances their feminine beauty.  Set designer Rob Prytherch gave the cast a very flexible environment, with panels that double as both the club and an apartment.  

Tom Quinn’s sound design never lets the orchestra overpower the voices, and provides a suitably smooth sound in a somewhat difficult environment.  The theater has been upgraded to neutralize the sound problems inherent in a quonset hut structure, but it is still a somewhat challenging venue.  Music Director Blake Nawa’a keeps the soundtrack on track, with a talented eight piece orchestra.  

In the program’s Director’s Notes, Bernie Cardell starts with just two words.  “Love Wins.”  He’s right.  It does.  La Cage Aux Folles is, at its core, a love story with a happy ending.  It just happens to be a gay love story.  The way that story is told is universal and poignant.  The simple message is exactly the right one, no matter who you are or who you love:

Life is a celebration with you on my arm.

La Cage Aux Folles will give you a couple of hours to celebrate life in all its beautiful diversity.  You will leave the theater knowing that you have the right, perhaps even the duty, to celebrate who you are and who you love.  

So go do it.  Celebrate your life, and your love. You are who you are.


NOTES:

There is ample free parking behind the theater, on surrounding streets, and at the Aurora municipal building across the street.

Although there is no nudity and very little profanity, discretion should be exercised for kids under 15.  The term “adult themes” does not begin to cover it.

This show closes on September 6, 2015

PHOTO CREDITSIgnite Theatre/Olga Imaging.

TICKETS HERE:  


PRE/POST SHOW DINING RECOMMENDATION:

Due to unforeseen traffic problems driving up from Colorado Springs (who expects a 15 mile backup on I-25 on a Sunday?), we were rushed to get lunch before the show.  For the second time in a couple of weeks, we stopped at the Rusty Taco at 1760 S. Havana in Aurora.  It’s quick, it’s very good, and clean.  It’s about a 10-15 minute drive to or from the theater (traffic/weather permitting), so it works well when time is short.


CREATIVE TEAM:

Executive Producer:  Will Adams

Executive Artistic Director:  Keith Rabin Jr.

Director:  Bernie Cardell

Music Director:  Blake Nawa’a

Lighting Design:  Tim Mack

Costume Design:  Elijah Meader

Scenic Design:  Rob Prytherch

Choreography:  Matthew D. Peters

Stage Manager:  Sam Faktorow


CAST:

Albin/Zsa Zsa:  John White

Georges:  Jim Hitzke

Jacob: Randy Chalmers

Anne: Valerie Igoe

Jean-Michel: Darren Koehler

Jacqueline: Shahara Ray

Madame Renaud: Becky Trampler

Monsieur Renaud:  Brian Trampler

Francis:  Thairone Vigil-Medina

Les Cagelles:  Eric Pung, Jeff Parizotto, Christian Munck, Carlos Jiminez, Peter Dearth, Preston Lee Britton


ORCHESTRA:

Keyboard 2/Conductor:  Blake Nawa’a

Keyboard 1:  Heather Holt Hall

Woodwind 1:  JD Little

Woodwind 2:  Ryan Van Scoyk

Trumpet:  Erica Jaffe

Trombone:  Bryan Gannon

Drums:  Brian Jaffe


Bass:  Eli Acosta