Monday, August 29, 2016

Thunder River Theatre Company Recognizes Founder and Artistic Director Lon Winston

Lon Winston is the founder and Artistic Director at Thunder River Theatre Company (TRTC) in Carbondale, Colorado. If you haven't been there, it's near Aspen. If you love theater AND you haven't been there, you REALLY need to make that trip.

Lon welcomed Roxie Wheeler and I to shows on several occasions while I was a Henry Judge for the Colorado Theater Guild. He's a gracious host, and very proud of his company. And he should be proud. Thunder River does amazing work in a state of the art facility. 

When I was working the Henry Award Work Team in 2015, Lon Winston was one of the people I really wanted on the team. He's a creative force and a dynamic personality. His knowledge of theater production is legendary. The day he said "yes" and joined the team I knew we were going to be able to tackle the many problems we faced. 

Not only did he volunteer, but he did so at a time when he had a LOT of other issues and commitments in Carbondale. But when asked, he answered the call. 

The theater in Carbondale was recently renamed "The Lon Winston Theatre." Think about that. You don't go to the Black Box at TRTC anymore. You go to THE LON WINSTON THEATRE. 

What an honor. Lon's the kind of guy you can't ignore. And Thunder River Theatre Company has done the right and nearly inevitable thing by recognizing Lon's talent, drive, and dedication to excellence.

So today it's NOT a hat tip. It's a STANDING OVATION. Well done, Mr. Winston. Well done.

Thursday, August 11, 2016


Sunset, Colorado Springs.


I’ve taken most of the summer off, after more than four years of reviewing shows all over Colorado. 

Aspen. Fort Collins. Longmont. Denver. Carbondale. Boulder. Colorado Springs. Evergreen. Dillon. Johnson’s Corner. Aurora. Lakewood. Arvada. Parker. Lone Tree. 

It’s a long list.

I’ve reviewed only 7 shows since the end of May, and most of those have been close to home here in Colorado Springs. In the past, 7 shows would be about 3 weeks worth. There were a number of reasons for cutting back. Extensive travel, overnight costs, fatigue, and some minor but annoying health issues. 

As much as I have totally enjoyed all the great theater, I just can’t continue at the pace I had set: 90 shows last year, and on a pace as of the end of May to do more than 100 in 2016.

I’m going to narrow my focus to theaters in the Colorado Springs area. That will eliminate a lot of overnight travel, I-25 traffic jams, and getting home after midnight. 

So, to all my theater friends all over Colorado, thank you. I’m sorry if I have let you down, but I have to slow down the pace. 

There have been times driving home from a show late at night, a drive of about 90 miles from Boulder, when I had serious trouble staying alert. Things were different when I lived in Denver; it was no big deal to get anywhere in the metro area and back home at a reasonable time. Things changed for me in late 2013 when I moved to Colorado Springs. The challenge is much greater.

The Theater Colorado website will get a new look and a new name: Theater Colorado Springs.  The web address will stay the same, and all content (currently 277 posts, about 260 of which are reviews) will remain available indefinitely. 

I will continue to write for the Colorado Springs Independent as well. Posts for "Theater Colorado Springs" may also appear on their website and in their weekly publication.

I greatly appreciate all the kind words and support you have given me and Theater Colorado over the last four plus years. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Kind of Red

Playwright:  John DiAntonio

Company:  Creede Repertory Theatre

Venue:  CRT Mainstage, 124 Main Street, Creede, Colorado

Running time:  2 hours  (includes 15 minute intermission).

Date of Performance:  Saturday, August 6, 2016. 

We had originally arranged to see Kind of Red on Saturday, July 23.  Our plans changed when an accident closed the road between South Fork (where we were staying) and Creede.  We rebooked for Saturday, August 6.

In an unintentional but interesting coincidence, August 6, 1911 is Lucille Ball’s birthday.  So Kind of Red, a riff on Ball’s zany comedy, had a special significance.  She would have been 105 years old that day.  (She died in 1989 at the age of 77.)  

While those who knew Ms. Ball from her days starring in I Love Lucy would best relate to Kind of Red, the show stands on its own independent of her.  You don’t have to know Lucy or remember Lucille to enjoy the antics of Kind of Red.  That’s a plus, as there’s a whole new generation of theater fans who have never encountered Lucy and Ricky.

It’s difficult to overstate Ball’s contributions both to early television and to women in the arts.  Starting in 1962, she was in charge of Desilu Productions, one of the true heavyweight studios at the time. She was nominated for thirteen Emmy Awards, and won four.  Nearly six decades later, I Love Lucy is still running in syndication on the Hallmark Channel.  

A product of the Creede Repertory Theatre’s Headwaters New Plays Program, Kind of Red is a World Premiere.  Playwright John DiAntonio also plays the lead in the show (Rick), a dejected jazz trumpeter on a downward spiral.  He’s lost his soul mate (Rosalita, played with  passion by Mehry Eslaminia), and has lost his musical “sound” just as the audition of a lifetime drops in his lap.  Rick’s neighbors Frank (Logan Ernstthal) and Esther (Anne F. Butler) try to break him out of his funk so he can finally get a gig that will pay the rent.

Playwright John DiAntonio places Ball’s spirit in the center of his script, and the story plays out much as it might have had Ball herself been the creative force.  The story could be tightened up some on the front end; it takes nearly 30 minutes of exposition before the story really starts to unfold.  When Saint Lucia (Caitlin Wise) finally pops up on the stage, though, the story pops as well.  Without spoiling the climax, DiAntonio has written a very creative twist at the end of his story.  It ties up all the loose ends, just as I Love Lucy resolved everything in less than 30 minutes.

Saint Lucia (Caitlin Wise).  
Caitlin Wise is the Lucille Ball lookalike, and when she appears, hilarity ensues.  Wise channels Ms. Ball, from her bright red hair to her booming voice and her comical overacting.  Wise lights up the stage from the moment she takes it to her final scene.  Her first appearance is a stunner.  She makes the most of her first scene, putting her foot on the gas and accelerating to full throttle from that moment on.  Whether it’s physical comedy (watch her try to get off the couch) or her salsa dancing (in a gorgeous costume), Wise is in full control of the show.  

Rick’s obsession with Rosalita (Mehry Eslaminia) borders on insanity; he can’t maintain two thoughts at a time.  It’s either Rosalita or music, and Rick’s libido has no interest in music.  Eslaminia is the perfect seductive distraction.  She brings her swagger, sass, and sexiness to the stage, wrapping Rick around her little finger.  That her character is all sex and no substance is mostly lost on Rick, but Eslaminia makes sure that everyone else in the room gets it.

John DiAntonio (Rick), Mehry Eslaminia (Rosalita).

Logan Ernstthal is Frank (the Fred Mertz equivalent), and Anne F. Butler is Esther (the Ethel Mertz equivalent).  Ernstthal and Butler are a perfect fit; at times it’s like watching Fred & Ethel live.  DiAntonio puts them in the same general relationship as the original.  They are foils for Lucy and Ricky, and sometimes accomplices.  

Logan Ernstthal (Frank) &
Anne F. Butler (Esther).
DiAntonio, for his part, has no problem bringing his character off the page and onto the stage.  After all, he did write the script.  The result is a fully developed Rick whose character arc is complete and credible.  DiAntonio snatches victory from despair and certain defeat.  Along the way, his self discovery is both needlessly difficult and profound.  DiAntonio’s script and his performance bring home his real message.  The antics and the fun are entertaining, but what really matters is finding our place in the world.  DiAntonio does exactly that, both as playwright and as a gifted actor.

John DiAntonio (Rick).

Director Stephen Weitz has his hands full here, with Lucy-like dialog, pratfalls, a dance number, and an actor who probably thinks he knows more about his character than the director knows.  Weitz is a professional, and he can handle this challenge.  He’s got a great script, a great cast, and an excellent crew behind the scenes.  Weitz turns them all loose, but demands a quality that shows down to the tiniest details.  There is a scene near the end of the show that drove home those details.  One of the characters cast a passing glance at a painting hanging on the wall.  I hadn’t realized until that moment that the character on the stage is also the subject of the painting.  When it finally struck me, the resemblance was stunning.  Every detail was exactly the same on the painting and on the actor.

It would be wrong not to mention here the outstanding costumes from Anthony James Sirk’s shop.  From Saint Lucia’s colorful copies of Lucy’s classics to the Cuban salsa dancers, Sirk puts pop and color on the CRT stage.  Choreographer Bethany Talley makes the salsa dancing the centerpiece of Kind of Red.  It’s fun, it’s colorful, and it’s exactly the kind of party Lucy loved.

The program for Kind of Red includes a section called “playwright’s perspective.”  Mr. DiAntonio closes his comments with this:

"Part of the beauty of playwriting is the opportunity to put order and (if you’re lucky) meaning to the chaos of life.  In this play, I got to put chaos to the chaos, and then hopefully throw in a dash of meaning."

Chaos.  Check.

Chaos put to chaos.  Check.

Meaning.  Check.

Mission accomplished.


Lucille Ball, circa 1944.
Happy birthday, Ms. Ball.  You are gone, but not forgotten.

Kind of Red is suitable for all ages.  Even kids who do not know Lucille Ball will be entertained by this story.

If you're going to Creede, make it a weekend mini vacation.  The lodging in Creede is limited, but South Fork (21 miles) and Del Norte (37 miles) are nearby options.  

If you're staying in Del Norte, visit the Three Barrel Brewery for craft brews (Trashy Blonde is the lightest, Black Yak the darkest) and an interesting menu.  When I told the waitress I'd like to try the Trashy Blonde, the conversation quickly devolved into a series of double entendres.  Sorry.  I couldn't help myself.  Never had a trashy blonde before, so I didn't know the protocol.

For casual dining in South Fork, we found the Old Firehouse Restaurant to be our favorite.  The menu is standard fare, but the food is good and the service is first rate.  (Roxie loved the catfish poor boy.)  We didn't need the calories, but dessert was irresistible.  LEMON BARS.  Enough said.  

This show closes on August 28, 2016.

Photo Credit:  Creede Repertory Theatre, with photography by John Gary Brown.



Director:  Stephen Weitz

Scenic Designer:  Patrick Rizzotti

Costume Designer:  Anthony James Sirk

Lighting Designer:  Jacob Welch

Sound Designer:  Becca Pearce

Stage Manager:  Jean Egdorf

Assistant Stage Manager:  Lucas Bareis-Golumb

Choreographer:  Bethany Talley


Frank:  Logan Ernstthal

Esther:  Anne F. Butler

Saint LuciaCaitlin Wise

Rosalita:  Mehry Eslaminia