Runyon Characters Back At The Barn PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 25 June 2016 19:57

The late Damon Runyon is known best as a writer and author of many short stories which conjure up images of brightly garbed Broadway characters best known by descriptive nicknames and a distinctive manner of speech.

Guys and Dolls  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIRunyon was a newspaper reporter and award-winning sports writer whose colorful creations remain unique. These are the stories and personalities which supplied the basis for one of the theater’s best-loved and most frequently produced musical comedies, ‘Guys and Dolls.”

It debuted on Broadway in 1951 and saw three successful revivals — 1976, 1994 and 2005 — plus unending productions in every regional and civic theater across the country. Subitled “A Musical Fable of Broadway,” it is now on stage at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI..

With the bright lights of Broadway and the elusive rumblings of “The Oldest Established (Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York)” underscoring the action, it is filled with delightfully off-center guys (gamblers and police) and dolls (nightclub entertainers and mission workers), each of whom pursues his/her ambitions with admirable determination.

Guys and Dolls  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIThe book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows and music and lyrics by Frank Loesser are incredibly well tuned in to the Runyonesque vibe, dialogue, lyric and character-wise.

With a cast of characters that includes Sky Masterson (Eric Parker), Nathan Detroit (Robin Haynes), Harry the Horse (John Jay Espino), Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Patrick Hunter), Benny Southstreet (Sam Massey), Rusty Charlie (Jamey Grisham) and Big Jule (Charlie King), the plot revolves around Nathan’s need for $1,000 to secure a location for his floating crap game, and on Sister Sarah Brown’s (Hannah Eakin) need to produce a goodly number of “genuine sinners” for her midnight prayer meeting at the Save-A-Soul Mission..

To insure the former, Nathan bets Sky that he cannot take Sister Sarah to dinner. To insure the latter, she agrees to go, not knowing that the dinner will be in Havana.

Meanwhile, Nathan is dealing with his lack of location (for the game) and his 14-year engagement to Miss Adelaide (Brooke Evans), headliner at the Hot Box nightclub. She is dealing with a 14-year psychosomatic head cold and has already assured her mother they are married, with a large number of children.

Guys and Dolls  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIAdd to this a colorful array of Runyon’s Broadway characters all “lookin’ for action” in Nathan’s crap game and a police lieutenant Brannigan (Matt Ruehlman) determined to shut it down and you have a wonderfully off-beat mix, all set to the marvelous Loesser score.

The primary problem here, on opening night at least, was the obvious lack of rehearsal time for the too-loud, too-off key, mostly-brass orchestra. From the opening notes of the overture, familiarly known as “post time,” it was obvious this was going to be a bumpy ride. And it didn’t get any better.

In any production, the first step to a successful endgame is casting, matching the right actor with the right role as closely as possible. Even when the performer is good, he/she may not be the right one for a particular part.

The mis-matching was evident here. There was no connection between Sky and Sarah, who oversang all her solo work, and their romantic involvement was embarrassing at best. Most of the gamblers took mugging to a new level, forgetting these are written as characters not caricatures.

One successful pairing is that of Adelaide and Nathan who happily remembered that less is more and managed a definitely sweet aura even in their hilariously love me/love me not duet “Sue Me.” Evans has the most familiar song, “Adelaide’s Lament,” which she handled well, sneezes and all, while Haynes’ frequently frantic Nathan always walked the fine line between real and cartoonish with appreciated ease..

Director Hans Friedrichs, who also played Sarah’s uncle Arvide Abernathy, probably should have cast a stronger “sheep’s eye” on the entire flock.

All in all, however, it’s difficult to keep a good classic down and most of the audience seemed to be having a good time.

“GUYS AND DOLLS” plays through July 3 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit

Last Updated on Saturday, 25 June 2016 21:09
Relationships Focus Of Ensemble Production PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 21 June 2016 18:31

What’s in a name?

The title of The Acting Ensembles’s current production, which opened Friday evening in Studio 217, might — as Shakespeare would say — give you pause.

A prize-winning comedy/drama by British playwright Mike Bartlett, the four-character study in relationships is titled “Cock.”

OK, so the program cover illustrates it in one way with a black-and-white design of two roosters obviously fighting. Among the many dictionary definitions are a faucet valve, a gun hammer and the jaunty tilt of a hat. None reference male genitalia which, however, seems to be the first connection most people make.

That’s unfortunate if it keeps anyone from seeing the clever, caustic and frequently comedic play which holds the attention completely for its 90-minute, no intermission, playing time.

Done as the playwright instructs, with no set, no props, no furniture, no specific costuming and no specific time frame, it allows everything to be focused on the participants, or should I say combatants, because that is precisely what they are. If not at first, then definitely at last.

The suggested circular arena is a box-like space here which serves equally well as the actors advance and retreat, circle, enter and exit. Round or square, they are caught within the limitations of their lives.

John (Brent Graber) and M (Geoff Trowbridge) have been in an exclusive relationship for an undesignated length of time when M feels the need for taking a break. John protests but eventually agrees.

When M returns, he is carrying the burden of another love affair — with a woman — and is, to quote an old cliché, on the horns of a dilemma. Caught between his feelings for both M and W (Angie Berkshire), John finds himself struggling to make a decision.

“What I am is not more important than who I am” he declares, torn between the two and seemingly unable to choose.

To facilitate a decision, a dinner for three is arranged with M stacking the deck slightly by adding F (Brad Mazick), his father, to the guest list. No surprise as to who’s cause he is supporting.

In the course of the evening, the pros and cons of all manner of relationships are discussed, focusing on identity and sexuality and the part they play in the life and makeup of an individual.

Agree with the outcome or not, under the direction of Melissa Gard, the solid acting quartet delivers a frequently humorous always thought-provoking evening — and one that, unfortunately, you probably will not have the opportunity to see again in this area.”

COCK” plays Thursday through Sunday on The Acting Ensemble Main Stage at Studio 217, 217 S. Michigan St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 807-0108 or visit This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Adult language and content.

Musical Satire Spears Big Business PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 18 June 2016 18:29

There are certain musicals that, for one reason or another, stand the test of time. One of these is the current production at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre — “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

How to Succeed in Business  Wagon Wheel Theatte  Warasw INNot only did the 1961 Broadway smash hit win seven of the eight Tony Awards for which it was nominated, it also earned the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for drama and, decades later, received successful revivals in 1995 and 2011.

Not bad for a satirical musicalization based on a satirical novel by Shepherd Mead. With a book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert and music and lyrics by Frank Loesser (ironically the only nominee who did not win), it could be compared to “Mad Men” but with the accent strictly on laughs.

The meteoric rise of J. Pierrepont (“Call me Ponty”) Finch (Tom Sweeney) from window washer to chairman of the board of World Wide Wickets is every entry-level employee’s fantasy.

Armed only with a disarming grin and a do-it-yourself handbook for corporate success, Finch is the champion advantage-taker of all time. He never misses the chance to turn a seeming mishap into another step up the ladder and he never looks back.

Neither the machinations of lazy, egotistical Bud Frump (Keaton Eckhoff), the boss’s nephew-by-marriage, or the determined devotion of WWW secretary Rosemary Pilkington (Erica Durham), who has her eyes on another prize (“Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm”), can deter him from his goal.

Starting in the mailroom, he takes advice (“The Company Way”) from its head man Mr. Twimble (Evan Duff) and uses information about the collegiate history (“Grand Old Ivy”) of WWW president J.J.Biggley (Chuckie Benson) How to Succeed in Business Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INand his after-hours romance (“Love From A Heart of Gold”) with Hedy LaRue (Lottie Prenovost), ex-nightclub cigarette girl and secretary wannabe, to climb ever higher.

Along the way, he alienates fellow executives and ignores Rosemary, even after realizing (“Rosemary”) that he loves her. Nothing cracks his overwhelming self-confidence (“I Believe In You”), not even . . . Sorry. No more spoilers.

If the treatment of women in the workplace (“A Secretary Is Not A Toy”), and the limited goals they set for themselves (“Cinderella Darling”), seems way too unreal, you never worked for a big corporation in the 1950s-60s.

The fact that the secretary’s primary way out of the steno pool was marriage seems (thank goodness!) too far-fetched to be real. Then “The Brotherhood of Man” did not include females.

Enjoy ‘How to Succeed” in its proper satirical context and be glad that today’s office workers have more to focus on than getting a spouse or a bigger office.

Sweeney is believable as the enterprising Finch, with his spotlighted slow-turns as opportunities arise earning increasing laughter. Durham has a warm soprano which tends to become too shrill and rapid with dialogue.

How to Succeed in Business  Wagon Wheel Theagtre  Warsaw INScene stealers are Eckhoff’s clumsily diabolical Bud Frump, who gives nepotism an even worse name, and Laura Plyler’s Smitty, leader of the steno pool and chief advocate of marrying the boss as the way out. Their agony when the pot runs out (“Coffee Break”) is universal!

Andy Robinson’s direction keeps the devious plotlines crackling along, a necessity for a 2 ½+ hour show. The set design by Michael Higgins and Terry Julien seeks to evoke the ‘60s with a header hung with colored discs in a variety of shapes and sizes and a central playing area that, to this reviewer, strongly resembled an Etch A Sketch without the knobs.

Costume anomaly: All the women wear straight skirts except Rosemary whose outfits are a salute to crinoline.

Historical note: The “Voice” of the book, delivered here in properly stentorian tones by Mike Yocum (who also plays Willie Womper), was recorded for the ’95 revival by Walter Cronkite and, for ’11, by Anderson Cooper.

Hmmm. Wonder if they followed its advice?

”HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING” plays through June 25 in the theater at 2515 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit

Last Updated on Saturday, 18 June 2016 18:49
Scott and Barbra A Winning Combination PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 16 June 2016 20:34

Talk about a triumphant return!!!

Buyer & Cellar  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIFor many years, actor/director Scott Burkell was one of the primary reasons to travel to The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI every two weeks from June through August.

A mainstay of the core Equity company, he rose to the challenge no matter what the role — from door-slamming farce to heart-wrenching drama, straight play or musical — it seemed there was nothing he couldn’t do (his Riff-Raff was the highlight of many Barn productions of “The Rocky Horror Show”).

When other theatrical commitments drew him away from the Augusta stage, something special was lost..

After more than a dozen years, producer Brandon Ragotzy has succeeded in luring Burkell “home” for the 70th season celebration.

He opened Tuesday evening for one-week-only in “Buyer & Cellar,” delivering a tour-de-force solo performance as Alex More, an out-of-work actor who takes a job for an unnamed employer in Malibu, CA.

When the employer turns out to be Barbra Streisand and the job is tending to the mini-mall in her basement (true!) where she is the only buyer, things get a bit complicated.

In addition to dealing with Barbra’s major-domo Sharon, Alex must handle increasing hostility from his boyfriend Barry who definitely resents Alex’ obvious devotion to the star which grows with her every “shopping trip.”

Buyer & Cellar  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIThe mall, as described in Streisand’s book “My Passion for Design,” is a fact, which the actor separates from fiction in the opening scene. Also the creation of author Jonathan Tolins are the meetings with Streisand’s husband James Brolin, the wonderfully sly “can you top this” sales duels (or is that duets?) between More and the lady of the manor and the suspiciously overpowering speed with which she accepts his suggestions for her next film.

When he finally is invited to come out of the basement and visit the main house, it is the culmination of his dreams . . . or is it?

There is no intermission in this 90-minute performance and every minute is a real delight. Burkell is a triple threat, master of facial, physical and vocal nuance and each is utilized perfectly under the eye of guest director Jim Gaylord.

There is no set, just a scrim tri-plex which serves as the background for a series of Streisand-oriented projections, and little furniture. Area lighting designates the location of each scene, up or down, in or out.

Nothing else is needed. Burkell does it all. Aside from the entertaining script, the evening is like meeting an old friend and realizing he has only gotten better!

NOTE: Burkell will return Aug. 30 for “Red, White and Tuna” with another Barn veteran Joe Aiello.

“BUYER & CELLAR” plays through Sunday in the theatre on West highway M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or on line at

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