Seeing What They Want to See

SOUTH BEND — An ancient world is crafted carefully and beautifully in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Rashomon,” playing Wednesday through Sunday in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium. Based on two short stories written in 1915 and 1921 by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, its most familiar incarnation is the 1950 film by Japanese master Akira Kurosawa. The play by Fay and Michael Kanin followed in 1959, with Rod Steiger as the Bandit and his then-wife Claire Bloom as the Wife. Set at the Rashomon Gate (the castle gate) at the entrance to the city of Kyoto about 1,000 years ago, it nevertheless carries a timeless truth, delivered by the Wigmaker (Kathleen Carnavan-Martin) who serves throughout as sort of chorus/conscience. “People see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear,” she says to a Woodcutter (Kyle Curtis) and a disillusioned Priest (Nathaniel Smith), understandably confused after listening to several versions of the same crime.

Rashomon at South Bend Civic TheatreThe basic story is the same. A famous Bandit (Scot Shepley) falls upon a Samuri (C.J. Nwokah) and his Wife (Emilija Nahas) traveling through the forest. The Wife is raped and her husband ends up dead, but was the rape really rape and just how did the husband die? The reenactments by the participants, plus an additional one by the Woodcutter, who was an observer, are presented from each one’s point of view, with help from the Stage Keeper (Seyhan Kilic). As in the classic Japanese theater, the Stage Keeper delivers all the sound effects from thunder to a crow to a baby, plays (or supplies) all the “supporting” roles including the Bride’s mother, a horse and a medium through whom the dead Samurai delivers his version, and distributes costumes pieces when required. No surprise, each version has a number of similar incidents yet each presents the teller as the wronged person. During several, there are vigorous duels between the Samuri and the Bandit, all well-staged by, I assume, director Jim Geisel as there is no program credit for a fight choreographer. Each of the actors delivers a strong performance, with Shepley’s Bandit truly frightening and Carnavan-Martin’s Wigmaker walking well the thin line between seer and psychotic. The costume design and construction by Jonnie Kilic and Lois Veen and the scenic and lighting design by David Chudzynski, plus the mood-inducing sound plot, work beautifully together. There is no credit given for makeup, but there should be. It is well done on each of the seven actors and adds much to the essence of time and place created by the imposing set and costuming. “Rashomon” is Geisel’s directorial debut for SBCT. He delivers a complete package which hopefully is the first of many.

For ticket information, see the SBCT link on this page. “Rashomon&quote; is performed without intermission.

Looking at life through "Art"

NAPPANEE — The mainstage season of Amish Acres’ Round Barn Theatere is several weeks away, but what may be the best production of its year is currently in the Locke Meeting House, tucked away at the rear of the gift shop adjacent to the theater. On the small, back-to-basics stage, the award-winning play “Art” is in the more than capable hands of a trio of actors — Sam Brown, Joe Ford and Jeremy Littlejohn. All three will be familiar to regular Round Barn audience members, although Jeremy is more often in the director’s chair and Joe, on stage in Chicago. Together they do an excellent job of recreating the protagonists in Yasmine Reza’s 1998 play, which is often described as a comedy but definitely has enough sharply dark moments to question that label. Whatever you want to call it, “Art” is a 90-minute examination of both the limits of friendship and the definition of art.

Art at Amish AcresSerge (Brown), a dermatologist with a penchant for art, has purchased a new painting which he eagerly displays for his friend of 15 years Marc (Ford), an aeronautical engineer. Marc’s reaction to the work — a white painted canvas with some barely discernible white lines across it — and more especially to the purchase price — $200,000 — is to laugh uncontrollably, call it a joke and label it “crap.” Serge, not surprisingly, is less than pleased and defends his acquisition. The arguments move from the painting to more personal moments and, in the way of all verbal battles, cutting words are said in increasing anger. Their friend Yvan (Littlejohn) is focused on his upcoming wedding and his hated new job as a stationery salesman. Basically an insecure person, he tries his best to placate both his friends and, naturally, winds up the target for their anger. “Why,” he asks, “Do we see each other if we hate each other?” It seems that fractured friendships are unavoidable, but a saving gesture mends them, at least temporarily. The personalities of the friends are sharply detailed in the performances as their characters are, by turn, sympathetic and abrasive. It is impossible to hear the fast-paced dialogue without something hitting home. And there are plenty of laughs, possibly of recognition. Here the point of contention is art. In reality it could be anything.

Art” plays at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For reservations, call 773-3722.

Will the Real Bride Please Stand

BRISTOL — It comes as no surprise to those who know me that farce is about my least favorite form of theater. That said, the hard-working cast of playwright Robin Hawdon’s venture into the wild world of who-did-what-to-whom-and-with-whom-and-why — “Perfect Wedding” — is a fun way to spend two hours if you have a tolerance for the same-old/same-old. After the first half hour, that’s what every farce becomes: Different twists on the same story delivered at increasingly breakneck speed — and with a multitude of additional flourishes — by each of the major characters. In “Perfect Wedding,” those twists are less mean-spirited and bathroom humor-sourced than in many, although it is more Ray Cooney than Ken Ludwig. The small cast deserves large cheers for its delivery of this dizzying dialogue without much hesitation while managing to keep everyone in their properly convoluted character-of-the-moment. It is a rather daunting task and they accomplish it with applaudable flair, also managing to wait for the many laughs, a feat without which the laughs soon fade in the fear of losing dialogue. The only pitfall is overdoing the line deliveries or attitudes that evoke the most reaction. What can be funny at first, soon becomes repetitive and annoying, turning character into caricature.

Bill (Peter Sessions) is about to be married. On the morning of his wedding day, he wakes up in the bridal suite very hungover and with a naked woman in his bed. He has no idea who she is or how she got there or what went on between them. All he knows is that the clock is ticking and he has only a few hours to get it together. Enter Tom (Ricky Fields), his best man, a take-charge kind of guy who sets about to help his friend emerge from his impending pre-nuptial catastrophe. Of course, his efforts, which include many mistaken identities (a mainstay of all farces everywhere as is the extremely long arm of coincidence), lots of close calls, slamming doors and several people who could not possibly be as oblivious as they seem. But hey, it’s a farce so suspension of disbelief is a major requirement. The initially naked woman is Judy (Stephanie Zonker), who heads for the bathroom at Tom’s arrival. Next on the scene is Rachel (April Sellers), a bride who is nothing if not in charge. She is followed by the hotel chambermaid Julie (Jen Shenk) who comes to clean up and stays to make a real mess of everything. Finally, the bride’s mother (Lorri Krull) enters with the gown and hopes for a “Perfect wedding.” It isn’t easy, but by the final blackout, each one is paired with his/her appropriate other and lots of “big moments” lie ahead. Director Randy Zonker keeps his sextet of players in good form, going from slow walk (the groggy awakening) to a trot (the best man) to a canter (the bride-to-be) to a gallop (the chambermaid) to a full out run (the mother of the bride). With all finally assembled and accounted for, mayhem ensues, much to the delight of the opening night audience. “Perfect Wedding” plays at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House. Tickets: 848-4116.

Getting Ready to Make Disney Magic

Students in the Goshen High School auditorium are focused intently on the energetic woman standing at center stage. Director Marcia Yost is giving notes  to the cast and crew of the upcoming GHS production of “Beauty and The Beast” before one of the final dress rehearsals.

beauty and the beast - goshen high school The show, based on the original Walt Disney animated feature, went to Broadway in 1994 and was an instant hit. Since then it has, in spite of its many production “challenges,” become a favorite of community theaters and schools across the country. One never, it seems, gets tired of the tale of Belle and her Beast and the romantic transformation that led to happily ever after. For Yost, however, producing this musical after it has made the rounds of other groups  and schools in this area is not true to form. She was the first to lead led her team through the premiere production of the high school version of “Les Miserables” and tried for “Beauty” when it was initially released for amateur production. But timing is everything and those rights went to John Glenn High School. Yost instead produced a high-flying “Peter Pan.” “After that we did ‘Godspell,’ an ensemble show,” the dynamic director recalled. “And then one thing led to another and a couple of area theaters and schools had done it (‘Beauty and The Beast’) and we decided to wait.” Obviously the time is right and, as usual, Yost & Co. are pulling out all the stops.

beauty and the beast - goshen high schoolIn one part of the auditorium,  Jacob Greaser is being turned into the Beast and Katie Neeb Miller goes over her lines as Belle. Justin Lehman and Elisabeth Kleinsmith check their elaborate costumes as Cogsworth the butler/clock and Mrs. Potts, housekeeper/teapot, respectively, while Luke Jacobs displays Gaston’s muscles and Tell Williams prepares for the many stage falls required of LeFou.

beauty and the beast - goshen high schoolScenic designer Rich Snyder did not make it easy on himself or his construction crew. He designed and built a rotating central block (shades of ‘Les Mis’) that turns from the village marketplace to the palace of the Beast and back again easily and, more important, silently. Expanding the playing area, one side of the stage becomes Belle’s palace room and the other, the Beast’s tower where the enchanted rose is drooping. Drops and set pieces define the additional locations — the village inn, the forest and Belle’s home.

beauty and the beast - goshen high schoolAdd to this the costuming —not only for the many villagers but for the enchanted inhabitants of the palace who gradually become “objects” as the spell increases — plus props, wigs, makeup, black lights, fog machines,  a trickling fountain, live mikes for each of the primary performers and, in the grand finale, an airborne transformation courtesy of ZFX Flying Effects, and you have a production of grand proportions. And that doesn’t include the 85 young people in the singing/dancing/acting cast and Sue Ellington’s orchestra. “We encourage them to give all they’ve got,” Yost said of her students. “They don’t realize how much they have down deep. We don’t want them to disappoint themselves.” Talking to the assembled company, her final instructions were “Work a plan … you’ll have a plan and that’s how good theater happens.””Beauty and The Beast” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and March 19-21 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday and March 22 in the GHS auditorium. Tickets are $9 for adults and $7 for children and students through high school with senior citizen prices for Sunday matinees. FCor reservations, 533-7674 or 533-8651, ext. 2518.

beauty and the beast - goshen high school

Old Favorite Cabaret Hits High/Low Notes

First, I have to say that”Cabaret,” the Kander and Ebb musical set in pre-war Germany, is one of my all-time favorite musicals. Possibly that’s because the story and I, in one form or another (pun intended), go back almost 60 years, the latest incarnation being the current South Bend Civic Theatre production which opened Friday evening in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium. I missed the actual point of origin. It was “Goodbye to Berlin,” one of the two short novels making up Christopher Isherwood’s 1946  “Berlin Stories.”  I caught up in 1951 when my  summer season in Woodstock, N.Y. included John Van Druten’s play “I Am A Camera,” based on that novel. That non-musical story of expatriate Sally Bowles, her life and loves, became a b&w movie in 1955, with Broadway star Julie Harris repeating her role. Neither stage nor film version were noticeably successful but, as every musical lover knows, sometimes all it takes is a couple of good tunes. “I Am a Camera” was followed to the stage a few years later by “Cabaret,” the musical version by one of my favorite songwriting teams (see above). The 1966 multi-Tony Award winner was memorable not only for a cast that included Joel Grey, Jack Gilford and the musical icon Lotte Lenya but also for the fact that my matinee ticket — in the 7th row of the orchestra — cost $7.

cabaret-sbcivicI was definitely hooked and remained so through the 1972 Liza Minelli film (in spite of the excision of my favorite characters), the 1987 revival (with Wagon Wheel’s Greg Edelman and Joel Grey) and the most recent Broadway version in 1998, which cast Alan Cumming as the Emcee. It put a decidedly darker and more sexually diverse face on the entire proceedings, something which is only hinted at in the film but which does go back to the play. That ’98 version is making its debut in South Bend. In spite of its “updating,” am not sure it is has any advantage over the original. Neither can be called “family friendly,” dealing however carefully with abortion, prejudice and, in the ’98 version, homosexuality. This is definitely adult fare. The scenic introduction to the SBCT production is impressive: Towering flats in wine and gold, a color scheme carried out in the cabaret tables and bar, are painted with drooping art deco  lillies and, in different configurations,  serve as a backdrop. When moved aside, they reveal a catwalk above center stage flanked by two spiral staircases. Draped on these initially are the Kit Kat Klub Girls and Boys who periodically descend to join the Emcee in entertaining the guests. The girls especially interpret their numbers sharply and with enthusiasm. Throughout, the Emcee (Stephen Bailey) comments sardonically on the action and events swirling outside the club as the dark shadows of Nazi Germany begin to dim the lights of Berlin in the late 1920s. As American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Jordan Mullins) puts it “…it was the end of the world.” The stories of Cliff and Sally Bowles (Stephanie Yoder), a hedonistic, self-destructive Brit who stars in the Kit Kat floorshow, and of Cliff’s pragmatic landlady Fraulein Schneider (Susan South) and her beau Herr Schultz (Steve Chung), a Jewish fruit vendor, are intertwined. Bringing reality sharply into focus are Fraulein Kost (Kristin Apker),  a hardworking lady of the evening, and Ernst Ludwig (Nathaniel Smith), at first Cliff’s friend then only a Nazi. Yoder has a strong voice and does very well vocally with the demands of the role. Mullins, who unfortunately can’t sing,  is an anachronism; a West Side  Jet in a flapper world. Smith and Apker deliver believable characterizations and Bailey works hard to create the androgynous persona required for the Emcee but never quite overcomes a baby face. The chilling “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” is done with the right  hint of foreboding by  talented young Carson Collins. The very strong points in this “Cabaret” are South and Chung who not only sing well solo and in duets, but create characters that go beyond the script. Their connection is warm, honest and beautifully  delineated. In their hands and voices, a pineapple becomes a beautiful bouquet. Their parting is inevitable and hauntingly sad. There still are problems with the orchestra which, on opening night, frequently had trouble finding the right notes. “Cabaret”continues through March 15. See SBCT link above.  Running time is 3 hours.

Wonka Bars Good to the Last Bite

I don’t usually like to write about things that readers will be unable to see, but I do feel strongly that something must be said about the current ECTeam production of “Willie Wonka Jr.” As a part of the SRO Bristol Opear House audience on Friday evening, I was probably one of the few who had no young friends or relatives in the 75-member cast. That qualifies me to make an unprejudiced observation: It was probably the best youth theater production I have seen. My immediate thought was that most kids shows are appreciated only by friends and family but this one I could recommend to anyone who likes an enjoyable evening of theater. The leading players were outstanding, with special applause for Carson Collins as Charlie, a youngster with an amazing voice and excellent stage presence; Payton Manly as the manipulative Willie Wonka; Daniel Cotton as his co-hort in candy crime; Leigh VanRyn, Michael Salisbury, Erin Weber and Joel Lininger as the ticket holders whose individual flaws lead to their hilariously appropriate downfalls; Dakota Miller, Stephen Mattison, Marilyn Cover and Mallory Jones as their parents; Tim Moon as Charlie’s supportive Grandpa Joe; Stephanie Musser, Callahan Jones and Jill Springer as his other bed-bound grandparents; Alex Slabaugh and Katie Norwood as his parents, and Dayna Arnett as a TV persistant reporter.

Willie Wonka - BristolThese performers took center stage throughout, but possibly the most impressive groups in this musical were the Teen Ensemble and the absolutely delightful Oompa Loompas. Groups of this size are never easy to coordinate, but these young people were right on the money, vocally and dance-wise, and the very youngest Oompa Loompa was an audience favorite with his earnest efforts to stay in step). I have seen many larger adult choruses that did not fare as well. And, since this is one of my pet peeves, I have to say I could understand just about every lyric and all the dialogue. Congratulations! There is no doubt that a good many of these youngsters will be on stage again, not only in ECTeam productions but in mainstage shows at ECT and their respective schools. It’s a real joy to watch them grow. It is programs like this, with talented and caring adult leaders sharing their knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm with the next generation, that keep the joy of theater alive and well, even in the face of the current economy. The shows at 7 p.m. today and 3 p.m. Sunday are sold out, but there are usually some unused tickets. ECT asks anyone who will not be using all the tickets they reserved to please call the box office as there are always people who walk in at the last minute.

Willie, Charlie and a whole lotta kids

BRISTOL — For about 45 years, the story of a poor boy whose honesty earns him the best of all childhood rewards — cash and candy, has been a favorite of young readers around the world. It was inevitable that Roald Dahl’s award-winning book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” would make its way to the big screen. It did. Not once but twice, with the original 1971 Gene Wilder film “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” redone in 2005 using the original name and starring Johnny Depp in a Buster Brown hairdo and frightening circular dark glasses. Today, candy czar Willie Wonka and the quintet of young people who win a trip through his factory are on stage, specifically in “Willie Wonka, Jr.” an adaptation for young performers which sticks mainly to the book/’71 film and uses the tuneful score by Anthony Newley. (Note: “Oldsters” will recognize a Sammy Davis Jr. hit among the upbeat melodies.)

Willie Wonka- Brstol
Choreographer Lesli Gibson works with bewigged Oompa Loompas on a dance sequence for
For the past few months, ECTeam, the youth theater arm of Elkhart Civic Theatre, has been working diligently on its production of the junior version, with ECT artistic/technical director John Jay Shoup leading the way (and the large number of volunteers) via set design, lighting design and direction. The results will be on stage at the Bristol Opera House Friday through Sunday. I stopped in at an early dress rehearsal Monday and was properly impressed. Taking a break from building some of the magical props required for the chocolate factory tour, Shoup admitted that, although he has directed many adult shows with large casts, working with 80 youngsters (ages five to 18, chosen from the 130 who auditioned) on the less-than-massive Opera House stage had been, to say the least, “a challenge!” The solution? To divide the primary group into two categories: The Teen Dance Ensemble is featured in Act 1, Willie’s workers, the lime-green-bewigged Oompa Loompas, take the stage in Act 2 and, “If they all line up correctly, they all fit for the finale.” The cast features first-time performers plus those who, considering their ages, have an amazing amount of experience. Not surprisingly, leading roles are in the hands of those with more on-stage time to their credit. Paxton Manley, 15, who doubled as the Preacher and the Town Drunk in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” dons a top hat as the inscrutable Willie Wonka, with Carson Collins, 12, as Charlie Bucket. The St. Thomas School sixth grader played the leading role of Jojo in ECT’s Elco summer production of “Seussical.”

Willie Wonka - BristolBoth the talented young people display a maturity well beyond their years. “I feel at home on the stage,” said Paxton, a Memorial High School freshman. “I really get my rush from performing.” Citing singing as his first love, the tall teen noted “I take every opportunity to perform. The more experience you have, the better you get.” “Willie Wonka Jr.” is the sixth show for Carson who has “always liked acting” and admits wanting to be on the stage since he was three years old. “I like being on the stage and working with the people,” he said. “I like seeing how everything works — sets, props, lights. . . everything. Everyone is positive here. I love it!” That’s what Shoup and fellow adult volunteers like to hear. “We want to make sure this is as good and as educational an experience as possible,” he said, comparing participation in an ECTeam production to being a member of a club in which everyone has the same goal, to present the best show possible and, along the way, to find and make friends who also love to “put on a show”. “The more kids who can get involved in theater, the better,” Shoup said, aware that with young performers come parents, grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts and friends who not only to buy tickets but become participants themselves. Elijah Lee, 6, came with sister Cadie, 8, and is one of the more energetic Oompa Loompas. “I wanted to see how fun it is,” he said, trying valiantly to keep the slippery strands of the lime green wig out of his eyes. He already was connected to the ECTeam via grandmother Karen Johnson who is assistant director and helped Elijah learn his lines. “I will come back and do more,” Elijah said emphatically, noting — after serious consideration — “The most fun is the finale.”

Willie Wonka - BristolIn addition to June classes (which have been affected by the disappearance of Genesis grants), ECTeam does two shows a year. A musical like “Willie Wonka Jr.” (next year’s is “Alice in Wonderland”) and a fall play based on classic literature. For 2009, two one-acts based on the lives of the Brothers Grimm and one of their stories have been chosen. Shoup is hoping some of the older players will be a part of the ECT 2009 summer musical, “Footloose,” to be presented July 31-Aug. 2 in the Memorial High School auditoriums. Check out the young “stars of tomorrow” this weekend. A Saturday matinee has been added due to the ticket demand. Call 848-4116 from 1 to 5:30 p.m. weekdays. I guarantee you’ll find the experience “fascinating and delicious!”

Almost, Maine absolutely excellent

Proving once again that the best things frequently come in small packages is the current South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Almost, Maine.” Playing through Sunday in the Warner Studio Theatre, this delightfully warm work by first-time playwright John Cariani looks at the many phases and forms of love — coming and going — through a series of eight vignettes, each enacted by a different couple (and, in one case, plus one). Originally performed by two men and two women who alternated in the 16 roles, the script allows for the cast to number as many as 19 — nine men and 10 women — which is the format used with exceptional success by SBCT. Too often, this would result in several strong duos and, at best, a couple not-so-strong. Here, there are no not-so-strongs in the bunch. Making it even more interesting, several are pairs in real life. But whether connected outside as well as on stage, each twosome makes its playlet totally believable, even when frequently absurd.

almost-maineThe tales are set in a small town in an “unorganized territory” almost in Maine. Its characters drink at the local bar, the Moose Paddy, and obviously know each other outside of their particular relationships. Think “Northern Exposure” or “Men in Trees” without actual connections. From the widow carrying a broken heart to a mismatched duo meeting in the laundry room to a young woman coming home for an answer, each segment is an individual gem. The stories range from the oddly romantic to the semi-slapstick to the bittersweet, with a Prologue/Interlogue/Epilogue encircling them all in a global embrace that shows actions speak louder than. Director Leigh Taylor has led her actors, which include those with a long list of credits and those with few or none, deftly and directly to the heart of each scene. The results, without exception, are delightfully gratifying and right on the money. There is really no set, unless you count the long wide strip of cotton batting stretched across the bottom of the back wall to indicate snow. Each segment has its own set pieces and the “northern lights” are most effective. The rest is done by the actors, and the quirkily wonderful script by Coriani, himself a Tony-nominated actor. It was developed in 2002, premiered in 2004 (appropriately at the Portland Stage Company) and played off Broadway in 2005-06, being named one of the best new plays of the season. The reason for its swift rise in popularity is obvious in the SBCT production. There is no doubt it will be around for many seasons to come. It’s the perfect show for any time, but is especially appropriate as Valentine’s Day draws near. Unfortunately, only five more performances are scheduled (Wednesday through Sunday) and the studio theater has limited seating. My advice is to call now (243-1112) and book a trip to “Almost, Maine.” TRAVELED TO KALAMAZOO Thursday evening to catch the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre production of a rarely-produced Steven Schwartz/Joseph Stein musical “The Baker’s Wife” directed by the Elco’s  Craig Gibson with Elkhart’s Paul Hanft as the Baker. This was the second or third version of the musical which, despite two Broadway productions, never caught on. The music remains lovely and the story rather obvious but the KCT production boasted an excellent orchestra and an ensemble that provided many strong individual performances as well as a full vocal presention.   Hanft, as always, provided the Baker with a fine baritone and was especially convincing in his Act One finale. The premise hangs on the baker’s wife, Genevieve, being believeably much younger than her new husband and thus susceptible to the advances of Dominique, the local stud, thus throwing the bread-obsessed villagers into a panic when their departure kills the baker’s zest for his art. This Genevieve may have been much younger, but her wig gave her the appearance of a matron from “Mad Men”  and her voice was much too heavy for the role. Dominique was too short, too slight and too palid to come anywhere close to being a wild and dangerous ladies man. The necessary connection was nowhere to be found. For fans of this musical, however, it plays one more weekend in the KCT studio theater. For tickets, (269) 343-1313.

A Midsummer Nightmare

A new — or re-newed — group is making its maiden voyage into the world of community theater this weekend with the Osceola Community Theatre production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

Does the word “Titanic” ring a bell?

Unlike the “unsinkable” liner, there are so many danger signals here that one can only hope there are enough lifeboats to go around.

First: Don’t ever attempt Shakespeare without actors — and a director — who have some understanding of the play — what it is and where it  is going — and at least a minimum command of the language. Just rattling off a string of words without any idea of what is behind them or what they mean, in the context of the period, results in what my grandmother used to call gobbledegook.

Midsummers Night Dream

Second: Make sure at least the primary players have the ability to make themselves heard — and understood — beyond the end of the playing area. The audience usually deserves the chance to know what’s going on, although here it doesn’t seem to matter. Not helping was a motor, which sounded like one for a heating system or a large refrigerator, which cut in and out frequently and completely drowned out most of the voices.

 

Third: Take aim at a style for the production and make sure it works — consistently. Allowing the two ingénues to scream at each other while their respective swains are battling it out literally and loudly right being them is a shot at farce that results in the need for earplugs. In com

There are several cast members who definitely have potential — the men playing Bottom (Scot Shepley) and Demetrius (Steven Cole) and the females portraying Puck (Abby Jeffirs), Titania (Kristen Baker) and Helena (Kelsey Suwarsky — who needs to turn both volume and delivery speed down several notches) . They seem to be the victims of skewed direction — or lack thereof. — and deserve the opportunity to try again.

The costumes were adequate (loved the fairies wings!) except for Oberon who looked more like a pilgrim wandering in the desert than a magical king of the fairies.

The lighting, obviously due to the extreme limitations of the performance space which is a very small altar space, was dependent on one large follow spot which illuminated the players in one central area.

Believe it or not, this has been very difficult to write. I am always in favor or new theaters and new talent and would much prefer to see them start well, specifically with something they can handle. I give them credit for the effort, but just because it’s Shakespeare, doesn’t mean anyone can do it.

Hepefully, the next offering from the OCT will be something easier to stage in their limited facility and one which actors and audience will have less difficulty delivering.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” plays at 7:30 p.m. today and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Harry Housour Performing Arts Center, 3134 Apple Road, Osceola. check www.osceolatheatre.com

New Harmony 2009 Revisited

Returning to a place where you have had a very good experience is not always the best thing to do. . .except when that place is New Harmony and the experience is the New Harmony Project.

The Project has been held for 23 years in this unbelievably green southwest Indiana location. It’s purpose has always been the same: To help playwrights develop new works that “offer hope and show respect for the positive values of life.” To this end, writers, actors, directors and dramaturgs head for this very southern Indiana town the last two weeks May bringing their creative energy and their talent . I visited the New Harmony Project for the first time last year, because daughter Deirdre Lovejoy was one of the actors. When she was asked to return, there was no doubt I would want to be there as well. Of course, I only went for the final week and all I did was listen, but to a confirmed theater buff, there was no greater place to be. In the first place, New Harmony itself is a popular vacation destination. You won’t find a nightclub or a thrill ride anywhere, but turning back the clock in a town that was founded by the Harmony Society, a religious sect, in 1814. The Harmonists came from Pennsylvania and returned there in 1825 after selling the town to a Scottish social reformer and education pioneer who collected notable thinkers and scientists to the banks of the Wabash River. What you will find is a serene environment where bicycles and golf carts are the primary modes of transportation, where night really falls darkly and you can feel stress easing away. It’s a popular spot for weddings and conferences the year round. It’s the perfect place to concentrate on your objective

Returning to a place where you have had a very good experience is not always the best thing to do. . .except when that place is New Harmony and the experience is the New Harmony Project.

The Project has been held for 23 years in this unbelievably green southwest Indiana location. It’s purpose has always been the same: To help playwrights develop new works that “offer hope and show respect for the positive values of life.” To this end, writers, actors, directors and dramaturgs head for this very southern Indiana town the last two weeks May bringing their creative energy and their talent . I visited the New Harmony Project for the first time last year, because daughter Deirdre Lovejoy was one of the actors. When she was asked to return, there was no doubt I would want to be there as well. Of course, I only went for the final week and all I did was listen, but to a confirmed theater buff, there was no greater place to be. In the first place, New Harmony itself is a popular vacation destination. You won’t find a nightclub or a thrill ride anywhere, but turning back the clock in a town that was founded by the Harmony Society, a religious sect, in 1814. The Harmonists came from Pennsylvania and returned there in 1825 after selling the town to a Scottish social reformer and education pioneer who collected notable thinkers and scientists to the banks of the Wabash River. What you will find is a serene environment where bicycles and golf carts are the primary modes of transportation, where night really falls darkly and you can feel stress easing away. It’s a popular spot for weddings and conferences the year round. It’s the perfect place to concentrate on your objective

With the Project, the objective has been to read, re-read and re-re-read scripts, both for stage and screen, with the aim of polishing them as much as possible within the two week period. This is accomplished by bringing to the table (literally) professional actors, a director and a dramaturg for each script. The selection process begins with a call for new scripts, more than 100 are submitted annually. A 10 page synopsis for each is read by a committee which then narrows the field and requests full scripts. These, usually 20, are read and discussed.new harmony table read

For 2009, four were chosen for “full development” and two others, for one-time reads. I sat in on the former process for two scripts At the tables, all those involved shared ideas, suggestions and comments on the works in progress. Rewrites were done daily, with changes printed off on different color paper so that, in one case, the final script look rather like a rainbow. Words, sentences, paragraphs and even entire scenes were reshaped overnight. Watching this process was indeed humbling and a bit awe-inspiring.. There were morning and afternoon rehearsals for all four, the location of each announced by Project Director Joel Grynheim during the lunch and dinner in the New Harmony Inn dining room. The evenings were open for first reads, parties, writers discussions, and (my favorite) the annual Harmon-anny, during which talents other than writing — mainly musical — were shared. In the middle of the final week, high school students with an interest in drama were invited to spend the day, sit in on rehearsals and participate in discussions. I sat in on a musical theater workshop given by two award-winning musicians, Debra Barsha and Lance Thorne, who wowed the students during their two sessions to such an extent that none of the young people wanted to leave.

 Debra Barsha and Lance Thorne At each, the students were asked to write down their thoughts on whatever they wanted. No surprise, the majority chose feelings, relationships and the future. Taking their papers at random, Barsha and Thorne created songs from each one, some uptempo, some ballads and all utterly amazing. One, which they titled “The ABCs of Love,” was taken a step further and included (with credit to the young “lyricist,” who was present) in the final program, “A Taste of 2009,” presented Saturday evening during a benefit dinner for sponsors, donors and the all-volunteer board members of the New Harmony Project. From the last Thursday night through Saturday, readings of the four full development scripts were open to the public, which also was invited to share opinions. Thanks to the electronic age, one of the selected writers who was unable to attend, was video conferenced via laptop cameras with her director and cast, sharing thoughts and emailing suggested rewrites. The positive energy throughout sent even this on-looker home with the assurance that good theater, positive theater was — and would continue to be — eternally green, rather like New Harmony.