Monday, January 30, 2017

[Record] [Transfer] [Erase]

Playwright: Jeremiah Miller

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

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

Date of Performance:  Friday, January 27, 2017 (World Premiere performance). 

Imagine that you, just like many police officers, are forced to wear a body camera.  No problem, right?  Except that you must wear it 24/7.  It records everything you do, say, and think.  The content is transferred regularly to a data center, where it is stored for later review.  

This troubling premise is central to [Record] [Transfer] [Erase].  It is not science fiction; much of it is possible with existing technology.  Colorado Springs native Jeremiah Miller creates a dark, disturbing dystopian future for [Record] [Transfer] [Erase] where our personal privacy is not even a distant memory.  Privacy has been manipulated and virtually eliminated.

[Record] [Transfer] [Delete] is Miller’s first full length production, and it’s a dandy.  A world where we no longer own our most intimate experiences is a very scary place.  Miller gives his characters the “opportunity” to erase their bad experiences, creating a “happy” population through manipulation of memories.  Other characters though are “reported” for some offense and forced to have their memory erased.  What could possibly go wrong?

Whether the timing is deliberate or a coincidence, [Record] [Transfer] [Erase] is a pertinent  “Mayday” call.  While our memories are not currently manipulated directly, “fake news” and “alternate facts” have severely distorted our political reality.   “Facts” have become disposable, truth is somehow debatable, and baseless, fact free opinions are now embraced as valid political argument.  The difference between the deleted memories of [Record] [Transfer] [Erase] and the spread of “fake news” is one of degree, not kind.

Like most dystopian scripts, Miller’s story does not have a happy ending.  Eliminating grief, guilt, and loss does not make one “happy.”  Artificial “happiness” has some serious consequences; it’s the digital equivalent of a surgical lobotomy.  

Miller wisely includes some valiant female resistance to memory tampering.  Both Amelia (Dee Schnur) and E. Pierce (Joanne Koehler) endure immense personal sacrifice to oppose the status quo.  Their noble efforts, of course, are futile.

This is Ms. Schnur’s first appearance on the Funky stage, and I can guarantee it won’t be her last.  Schnur broods her way through the first act, trying to get her parents (Cara Marshall as Martha and Dan Burdan as Jeffrey) to delay and cancel her scheduled surgery.  Schnur is at once vulnerable and rebellious, scheming to avoid any attack on her memories.  Schnur’s character is not naive; she explores her sensitive side with Caroline (Chelsie Bennett).  The two share precious memories that would never survive the law governing [Record] [Transfer] [Erase].  By the second act, her scheming turns into desperation, and Schnur sticks the landing.  Amelia gets her way, but in an unspeakably barbaric manner.  

Chelsie Bennett, on the other hand, is a veteran of the Funky stage, and [Record] [Transfer] [Erase] may well be her best work there.  Her chemistry with Schnur is palpable.  The sparks fly when they embrace, and there’s no denying the passion between them.

Joanne Koehler has only a few scenes, but she makes a powerful statement in the second act.  Her call to arms is inspiring and revolutionary, and made poignant by Koehler’s sense that it will not end well for her.  She delivers Miller’s message with clarity and passion, knowing that her principled resistance will ultimately fail.

Garrett McCormack plays the heavy here (Jack Davis, CEO of the company serving up manipulated memories), and he’s very good at being very bad.  Nicole Goeke is pitch perfect as the smiling reporter who actually asks the hard questions.  Steve Sladaritz is the doctor you never want to meet.  Sladaritz has the smile of an angel and the ethics of Dr. Mengele.  Marshall and Burdan are every teen’s fantasy and fear:  zombie parents.

I’ll get on my soapbox briefly; those who care not a whit about my personal opinions should skip the next paragraph.  I won’t be offended.

Our understanding of “privacy” has undergone a dramatic if subtle change over the last few years.  There are numerous reasons for that change (not all of which are mentioned here).  First, for national security reasons, the federal government has engaged in bulk collection of telephone and email records.  The impact on the privacy of these two means of communication has been substantial.  Second, web based applications have been routinely compromised, exposing personal and financial data records of millions of innocent people.  No effective remedy for these intrusions has been implemented.  Third, for various but questionable reasons, millions of individuals have shared intimate photos and videos on social media platforms.  The reaction to each of these three privacy changes has not been outrage.  Rather, it has been widely accepted that the government snoops on its citizens, that financial data will be stolen regularly by criminals, and that our freedoms allow us to transmit any personal violent or sexual content we please.  

In other words, “privacy” has not been taken away from us.  We have given it away.

Off the soapbox for now, but my uneasiness at Miller’s premise is not that it is possible, but that it may be inevitable.  Our disinterest in privacy issues may make [Record] [Transfer] [Erase] sadly prophetic.

Miller’s script could use some editing late in the second act; the climax is delayed by some loose ends that take too long to tie up.  I struggled a bit with Miller’s (or possibly Funky’s) use of an already outdated technology to display memories in the future setting of [Record] [Transfer] [Erase].  

That said, though, [Record] [Transfer] [Erase] is a powerful first effort from Miller.  Funky’s production is one of its best to date, with some sparkling touches added by Director Dylan McClintock.  If you haven’t been to Funky before, it’s time you got there  If you’re a Funky regular, [Record] [Transfer] [Erase] is your loyalty reward.  

It’s a short run (just 2 weekends), and the opening night house was packed.  Get a ticket soon.  [Record] [Transfer] [Erase] is a memory I won’t delete, and neither will you.


This show closes on February 4, 2017. 

The subject matter is appropriate for teens and up.  As Funky promises, though, [Record] [Transfer] [Erase] is not for the faint of heart.  You’ve been warned.

Photo Credit:  Funky Little Theater

Tickets HERE.  


Director:  Dylan McClintock

Set Designer:  Chris Medina

Costume Design:  Delaney Hallauer

Original Music & Sound Design:  Chad Orr

Choreography:  Breanna Skelton

Lighting Design:  Dylan McClintock

Stage Manager:  Justin Anderson

Assistant Stage Managers:  Will Sobolik, Megan McManus


Amelia:  Dee Schnur

Martha:  Cara Marshall

Jeffrey/Judge:  Dan Burdan

Rebecca/Ellie:  Nicole Goeke

E. Pierce:  Joanne Koehler

Caroline:  Chelsie Bennett

Doctor Bryson/Detective:  Steve Sladaritz

Jack Davis:  Garrett McCormack

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Remembering Murray...

Murray Ross, bigger than life, at the construction site of The Ent Center for the Arts.  March, 2016.

This is a huge loss for the Colorado Springs theater community.  Murray Ross, Artistic Director at Theatreworks, was one of a kind.  He built Theatreworks from the ground up, branding it with his personal passion, energy, and flair for innovation.  He will be fondly remembered and sorely missed by all who knew him and his work.

I didn’t know Murray well; we never sat down and had a beer.  I met him in person just once.  Like most of us who follow live theater in Colorado Springs, I knew Murray best through his work.  His impact has been both immense and unforgettable.  The proof of his genius and his humanity came to me in two remarkable experiences, one onstage and one offstage.

1.  The first Theatreworks show I saw (on March 13, 2013) was Everyman on the Bus.  My late wife Linda was a Henry Judge, and she was assigned to judge Everyman for the Colorado Theater Guild.  Little did I know how transformative that show, and Director Murray Ross, would be for both of us.

Everyman on the Bus was not just one of the most creative and profound performances I have ever seen, although it certainly was that.  It was also a perfectly timed message to my wife Linda and I about life and death.  Linda had terminal breast cancer, and she would be gone just 60 days after Everyman.  The play greatly affected both of us; it gave us context and strength for what we would endure in the following two months.  

The music for Murray’s Everyman production included contemporary songs that spoke to life and death:  Knocking on Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan), That’s Life (Frank Sinatra), and especially, Awake My Soul (Mumford and Sons).  Linda had a burning passion for theater.  The lyrics for Awake My Soul gave her comfort in her last days, just as they now help us appreciate Murray’s life:

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, you invest your life

Murray invested his love, and his life, in his work.  That investment has brought abundant rewards to all of us.  

2.  As many readers of this blog know, the constant travel and writing commitments for Theater Colorado have grown substantially since it’s humble beginnings back in 2012.  In May of 2016, I announced that I would no longer be able to meet those commitments.  

When Murray Ross heard that Theater Colorado was going away, he reached out to me via email.  His message was a heartfelt thanks for all I had done, and a plea to continue writing for Theater Colorado.  Rather than covering ALL of Colorado, Murray suggested that I limit my writing to just the Colorado Springs area.  

As I mentioned above, I met Murray only once.  It was on July 28, 2016, at Rock Ledge Ranch, just before the opening performance of Antony and Cleopatra.  I saw him and his wife Betty, killing time before heading into the tent.  I walked up and introduced myself and my wife Roxie.  Murray was as gracious, as friendly, and as compelling as I expected.  Of course, he reminded me that he wanted Theater Colorado to continue.  

If you’ve ever met Murray, you know how persuasive he can be.  I thought long and hard about his message, and in August, 2016, Theater Colorado became Theater Colorado Springs.  

Without Murray’s thoughtful and unexpected intervention, Theater Colorado would have died and Theater Colorado Springs would never have been born.  For that, I am very grateful.

We are all grieving this loss, but also celebrating his life.  He made a difference in our lives.  That’s an enormous accomplishment, and one that we can all aspire to achieve.  So I’m sending my sincere condolences to Murray’s wife Betty, and to their families, friends, and many admirers.  

Murray’s influence was much broader than just his family and friends, though.  So thanks, Murray, for all you have done.  We will grieve for you, and we will celebrate your love, your friendship, and your many accomplishments.  We are better people for having known you, and Colorado Springs is a better place for having had you and your gift of wonderful, inspiring theater.


Theatreworks has scheduled a celebration of Murray Ross’ life for Thursday, January 19 at 5:30 PM.  Parking is free in all campus lots for this event. Here's the campus map:

An endowment fund has been established in Murray Ross’ name.  Donations can be made here.  

Murray appreciated my work for Theater Colorado/Theater Colorado Springs, even when I took issue with some of his work (see Ludlow, 1914 and Antony & Cleopatra).  That’s class.  Since he had such an impact on me personally, I’m including the links below.  These posts document the last few years of Murray's extraordinary work.  

1.  Everyman on the Bus.  March 8, 2013.

2.  Venus in Fur.  March 23, 2014.

3.  The Servant of Two Masters.  May 1, 2014.

4.  Ludlow, 1914.  (Mr. Ross was the Dramaturg.)  September 11, 2014.

5.  Happy Days.  March 27, 2015.

6.  The Liar.  April, 2015.

7.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, August 13, 2015.

8.  Ghosts.  October, 2015.

9.  Girl of the Golden West, May 3, 2016.

10.  Antony and Cleaopatra, July 28, 2016.

11.  The Game of Love and Chance, October 23, 2016.

12.  A Christmas Carol, December 3, 2016.

This show and this life closed on January 3, 2017.  The standing ovation continues.

Photo Credit:  Facebook/Murray Ross

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Last 5 Years

Music/Lyrics/Book by: Jason Robert Brown

Venue:  First United Methodist Church Theater, 420 North Nevada Avenue, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Running time:  1 hours, 30 minutes (no intermission).

Date of Performance:  Friday, January 6, 2017. 

If you haven’t heard of Chameleon Arts & Entertainment, you’re not alone.  It’s a modeling and career enterprise that is now producing live theater.  As far as I know, Jason Robert Brown’s The Last 5 Years is its first production.  Brown’s two person musical is unquestionably an ambitious project for a first outing.  

Brown’s script is virtually all sung, with few spoken lines.  That’s a challenge for the actors, both of whom have robust resumes.  Malerie Jo (Catherine Hiatt) was superb on the First United Methodist Church stage as the lead in First Company’s 2014 production of Thoroughly Modern Millie.  Nick Charles Madson (who, coincidentally, was  also in the Millie cast with Malerie Jo) has been a regular at the Thin Air Theatre Company, including a role as Charlemagne.  Jo and Madson are both talented, capable and engaging; a more qualified cast for a local production of The Last 5 Years would be difficult to find.

Brown tells a story that doesn’t have a happy ending.  I’m not spoiling the plot by saying that it chronicles the end of Catherine and Jamie’s marriage; that much is disclosed in the program.  It’s a fairly common plot; the lovers grow apart and are not up to the challenges of married life.  Catherine and Jamie have a classic “starter marriage,” a relationship that burns brightly before flaming out.  Brown tells his story in chronological order (Jamie’s version) and in reverse chronological order (Catherine’s story).  That’s a gimmick, but a useful one.  The story we see is two people on totally different arcs, and the effect is that we know from the outset that the bond between them is doomed.

Nick Charles Madson (Jamie) & Malerie
Jo (Catherine).
Madson and Malerie Jo shine in their solos (their only duet is when they sing their wedding vows and kiss).  Malerie Jo is particularly engaging singing at her kitchen sink in A Part of That.  Madson mesmerizes in The Schmuel Song, perhaps the best song in the show.  When Madson wraps it up with the words ‘Have I mentioned today how lucky I am to be in love with you?,” we know he means it, even though his love is not as enduring as he thinks.

Madson’s set design is both creative and functional, and the changing of set pieces between scenes was seamless.  His direction is crisp, using the entire stage but in three sections, creating a sense of intimacy by lighting one third of the stage and darkening the rest.  

Notwithstanding the talent and the energy of Chameleon’s cast, the opening night performance was somewhat rough around the edges.  The musicians were seated onstage at house left.  The lamp lighting the sheet music for the piano was a brilliant blue/white globe that, at times, overpowered the actor’s lighting, and at other times was simply distracting.  A stage hand without lines appeared onstage during Catherine’s auditions; she also walked on and off stage once for no apparent reason.  There were times when an actor was barely lit (save for the piano lighting).  Malerie Jo’s opening number was intermittently overwhelmed by the musicians, making her lyrics difficult to discern.  

Still, this is a commendable production of a rather bleak story.  Seeing, hearing, and experiencing the loss of a lover is something most of us (sadly) can relate to.  If you haven’t had a “starter marriage,” you’re lucky.  For those of us who have, we know the love, the pain, and the loss on full display in The Last 5 Years.  We also know that after it’s all over, we know ourselves much better, and we’re substantially wiser in our future relationships.  Those are painful life lessons, but that pain is often essential to becoming a better  person and a better partner.


This show closes on January 15, 2017. 

This show is suitable for all ages.  However, the subject matter is probably more appropriate for teens and up.

Malerie Jo and Nick Charles Madson share only a single scene in The Last 5 Years.  That’s a shame, as their chemistry is very real.  They are engaged to each other.  I’d love to see that chemistry in another production.  Maybe Grease?  Or Phantom of the Opera?  Perhaps West Side Story?  Malerie and Madson, live and in love onstage and off.  I’d definitely see them in any of those shows…and I’d buy tickets for every performance.

Tickets HERE.  


Director/Set Design:  Nick Charles Madson

Music Direction:  Jana Lee Ross

Costume Design:  Malerie Jo

Lighting Design:  Tristan Hilleary

Stage Crew:  Osiana Bodine, Olivia Snively-Gonzalez

Stage Manager:  Katie Snively-Gonzalez


Catherine Hiatt:  Malerie Jo Bycura

Jamie Wallerstein:  Nick Charles Madson


Piano:  Jana Lee Ross

Violin:  Elizabeth Kahn-Lanning

Cello:  Elise White

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

MURRAY ROSS...1942-2017.

For those who may not have heard this sad news, I have copied below the message I received late yesterday from Drew Martorella, Executive Director, UCCS Presents:

Dear Friends,

It is with the most profound sadness that I must share the news that my inestimable friend and colleague Murray Ross passed away on January 3, 2017 with his wife, sisters, sons and his dog Toby by his side.    

In his own words (which appeared as the last line of his directing bios for years), he was married to the painter Elizabeth Ross, was the father of four splendid sons (two acquired , two sired), and was regularly walked by his dog, Toby.

Murray was an artist of the highest regard, an extraordinary academic, and a bold leader in the arts. In his 42 years at UCCS, he made wonderful and seemingly impossible things happen—he built a professional theatre company, he produced classic and contemporary plays in classrooms, buses, warehouses, basements, and, of course, the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, and he put true beauty and goodness out into this world.  

He worked with thousands of students, artists, actors, and staff and without a doubt left an impression on each. If you were lucky enough to be among those thousands, you know that he was wickedly funny, tremendously smart, a bit of an anarchist, a dreamer, a daydreamer, and a great lover of life. Good wine, great art, dinners around his ancient kitchen table, adventures (on stage and off), storytelling (on stage and off) and spirited debate filled his life. 

If he is to be measured by the company he kept, he stands tall. With the lifelong friends he met in college, he helped dismantle systems of segregation; with his wife, Betty, he founded THEATREWORKS and they produced over 100 shows together; and with the support of great artists and patrons he, in no small part, made it possible for UCCS to build the Ent Center for the Arts.

I have known and worked with Murray for over twenty years. And while I was the Executive Director of THEATREWORKS we were essential to each other. We were best friends. And I already miss him terribly.

Once more, to quote Murray, “In play we are free, and we are human, and in the theatre we are free and human together. We wish you joy.” I share his wish for joy for you all.

We are determined to build on what he started.  We will continue to make magic in improbable places, spread joy, celebrate the greatest plays ever written, and try our hand at a few new ones as well. I know we will do all of these things and have a very good time along the way. It’s just what Murray would have wanted.

Notes may be sent to the family in care of the Office of the Chancellor, 401 Main Hall. At the request of the family, donations can be made to the Murray Ross Artists Endowment Fund with the CU Foundation. Click here to go to the CU Foundation page to give your gift.

Drew Martorella

Words fail me, but Drew's eloquent tribute to Murray captures both his strength and his spirit.  This loss came much too soon; Murray's work was not finished.  He was a major force bringing the new Ent Center for the Arts to life.  It will house Theatreworks' new home in a black box space and carry the name "Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theatre."

When I first walk into that theater next year, I will know it as the Murray Ross Theatre.  He dreamed it.  He built it.  And his spirit will always inhabit that space.