ECT Comedy Offers Classic Twist

Take a TV star who doesn’t care for Hamlet, add his girlfriend/fiance who thinks Shakespeare is the greatest and mix well with the all-too-lively ghost of the theatrical star known for his portrayal of the Prince of Denmark.

Realtor/mediumFelicia Dantine (Victoria Lauren Gural, center) conducts a seance for (from left: Lillian Troy (Stacey Nickel), Deirdre McDavey (Jac

The result is “I Hate Hamlet,” a comedy with a soulful touch by Paul Rudnick, which opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House.

The Elkhart Civic Theatre production, directed by Demaree Dufour-Noneman and assisted by Melissa Auvil, has a goodly number of laughs and, in the process, offers a few things for your consideration.

Among these: which is more important, money or  integrity — specifically artistic integrity ? This is the dilemma facing Andrew Rally (Ryan Yeager).

Having come to New York to play the leading role in the annual summer Shakespeare in the Park production, this year of “Hamlet,” the TV actor finds himself definitely having second thoughts, primarily because, as he declares strongly to girlfriend Deirdre McDavey (Jacqueline Kelly-Cogdell), he doesn’t like Shakespeare and, most specifically, he hates Hamlet!

The ghost of John Barrymore (Keith Sarber, right) explains life and the theater to Andrew Rally (Ryan Yeager) in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of I HATE HAMLET.

It doesn’t help that real estate agent Felicia Dantine (Victoria Lauren Gural) has rented him the apartment in which John Barrymore lived which he was playing the role on Broadway.

Enter Andrew’s agent, Lillian Troy (Stacey Nickel), who recalls her brief-but-intense affair with Barrymore in that very apartment. When Felicia reveals that she also is a medium, the women decide to have a séance hoping for the spirit of Barrymore to convince Andrew to play the role.

A bell tolls and Barrymore (Keith Sarber) appears  — in costume  — but only to Andrew, and the battle begins.

Stirring the pot is the arrival of Gary Peter Lefkowitz (Andrew Miller), a writer/producer friend of Andrew’s, with an offer he is sure the actor can’t refuse.Will a new TV show and a big paycheck wipe out the actor’s determination to play Hamlet? Or will his old insecurity win out and send him back to TV?It takes about two hours to determine the answer which involves not only some snappy one-liners but also some familiar Shakespearean dialogue.

Theatrical agent Lillian Troy (Stacey Nickel) reconnects with the ghost of John Barrymore (Keith Sarber) to recall shared memories and share a waltz in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of I HATE HAMLET.

Sarber is obviously having a good time recreating one of the best-known (and wildest) of the famous theatrical clan. He and Yeager spar sharply with both dialogue and fencing foils.

Since the setting is present day New York City, the determination of Deirdre to go no further than kissing with her boyfriend seems rather unrealistic, but does underscore his eagerness to learn from Barrymore’s apprenticeship on and off stage.

Yeager makes his reluctance to play Hamlet before a live audience more than understandable. His disgruntled “No sex. And Shakespeare. It’s just like high school” earned a sympathetic laugh.

In one of the quieter and most touching moments, Barrymore convinces Lillian that he also recalls their brief encounter and the duo share memories and a brief waltz.

Ready to play Shakespeare’s Danish Prince, actor Andrew Ralliy (Ryan Yeager, right) refuses a big offer from his friend producer Gary Peter Lefkowitz (Andrew Miller) in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of I HATE HAMLET.

Gural and Miller represent the garish elements of both coasts well enough to prove it’s better in the middle.

Set designer John Shoup’s modern-to-medieval apartment fits both requirements and morphs fairly easily from the former to match Andrew’s increasing attachment to the latter.

(Note: Tiny program print and muted light make program notes difficult to read in  the auditorium. Take one home and enjoy it after the fact.)

I HATE HAMLET plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Oper House, SR 120 in Bristol  For information and reservations, call (574) 848-4116 11 am to 5:30 p.m. weekdays.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘The Nerd’ Is Not Your Usual Farce

All you have to do is read the list of characters in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of “The Nerd” to realize that this is not your usual farce.

Actually, I’m not at all sure there is such a thing as a “regular” farce because that would, by designation, have to be extremely irregular.

Its difficult to say who is more sur[rised at this dinner party in the South Bend Theatre production of THE NERD. (From left: Shelly Overgaard, Dave Kempher, Brian Nolan, Nicholas Hidde-Halsey, Sarah Myers and Tate Grendt) (Photos by Peter Ringenberg)
Anyway, what is going on in Larry Shue’s utterly ridiculous scenario is, no matter what, good for a large number of laughs which Friday’s opening night audience in the Wilson Auditorium certainly supplied.

Possibly it is just the sight of five adults behaving more than oddly playing a game that might, in a pinch, be suitable for toddlers.

And it is pretty funny.

The tangled plotline circles around architect Willum Cubbert (Dave Kempher) and his two live-in friends. Tansy McGinnis (Shelly Overgaard), is about to leave their happy home in Terre Haute, IN., to take a job as a TV weather girl in Washington, D.C., In love with Willum, she hopes her move will jolt him into action, romantically speaking.

Axel Hammond (Brian Nolan), the third part of their triangle, is a sharp-tongued drama critic and self-described curmudgeon who was briefly engaged to Tansy and now enjoys sitting back and making caustic remarks.

The party doesn’t quite go as planned with an irate Waldgrave (Tate Gerndt, center) expressing his anger in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of THE NERD,. (From left areShelly Overgaard, Brian Nolan, Gerndt, Dave Kempher, Sarah Myers and Clara Moran Walton)

The trio is expecting Willumn’s client, Warnock Walgrave (Tate Gerndt), his wife Clelia (Sarah Myers) and their young son Thor (Clara Moran Walton), for dinner. Willum is designing a hotel for Warnock (“Call me Ticki”) and the two have different ideas on how it should look.

Into the dinner party comes the unexpected guest, Rick Steadman (Nicholas Hidde-Halsey), a fellow Vietnam veteran of Willum’s who saved the architect’s life. They have never met but Willum feels he owes Rick a great deal .

It’s a feeling that allows Rick to literally take over Willum’s dinner party — and his life, settling in for the long haul as, one by one, the others find his crass behavior more than they can handle.

Willum (Dave Kepher, center) explains to Tansy (Shelly Overgaard) why the dinner is so important as All (Brian Nolan) listens in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of THE NERD,

No one, however, refuses to play Rick’s wild and messy games (“Shoes and Socks” — use your imagination) and he continues to settle in for a long stay. When Willum has finally had too much, he attempts to oust his nerdy guest with some bizarre games of his own!

The players obviously are having a good time with their off-beat characters, a feeling that transmits itself to the audience. It is to their credit that no one breaks character!

Underneath all the craziness lie a few sobering questions: How far should gratitude go? How far should friendship excuse bad behavior? How long should relationships be ignored?

Not enough to overcome the laughs, but something to think about when the last bit of cottage cheese has flown.

Rick Steadman (Nicholas Hidde-Halsey, center) thinks he has found new best friends, but Tansy (Shelly Overgaard) and Willum (Dave Kempher) don’t agree in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of THE NERD.

The off-the-wall scenario is played out on an appropriately middle-class set — complete with necessarily sturdy doors (this is a farce, you know) by designer and scenic artist Jeff Barrick. It fills the wide proscenium of the auditorium and provides the actors plenty of room in which to “play.” Most of the time, however, they are grouped around the octagonal coffee table playing the game.

The eclectic furniture around the table for some reason includes one molded-plastic chair into which Tansy climbs with obvious difficulty. Its purpose is revealed when another uses It, but it seems a long way to go for a short laugh.

Sound-wise, the recent work done on the auditorium sound system is worth whatever it cost! The actors are miked and every word comes through as clear as a bell.

Under the direction of Leigh Taylor and assistant director Laura Moran Walton , the action moves crisply and quickly, stopping frequently for laughs!

Even if you find most farces as un-funny as I do, you won’t be able to stop laughing at this Nerd.

“THE NERD” plays Wednesday through Sunday in the Marjorie H. and James M. Wilson Auditorium, 403 N. Main St., South Bend For information and reservations call (574) 234-1112

 

 

 

Murder, Mirth Mixed In Mystery

If you think Sherlock Holmes is nothing to laugh at, take a look at the current Elkhart Civic Theatre production,

 

Dr.Mortimer (Tony Venable (right) tells Sherlock Holmes (Chad Harms, left) and Dr. Watson (Deron Bergstresser) about strange happenings in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of BASKERVILLE.

“Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” which opened Friday evening in the Bristol Opera House, delivers everything its title implies and something more.

Penned by Ken Ludwig, one of the most prolific playwrights of farce in modern theatrical history, and based on a novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, one of the most prolific authors of mysteries of the 19th-20th centuries, and you can check your disbelief at the door en route to discovering who dunnit.

Ludwig has taken Conan Doyle’s most famous characters ·— Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson — and one of his most famous novels (he only wrote four, the rest were short stories) — “The Hound of the Baskerville” — and put (or should I say “twisted”) them together. The result is a fast-paced theatrical entertainment.

Actually, for three of the five-member cast, this ”Baskerville” is not only fast but definitely furious!

The action opens quietly enough with Dr. Watson (Deron Bergstresser), who also serves as narrator, detailing to Holmes (Chad Harms) how he determined the owner of a walking stick left in their flat by using the detective’s method of “observation, forensic science and logical reasoning.”

Dr. Watson (Deron Bergstresser, left) Sherlock Holmes (Chad Harms, center) and Inspector Lestrade (Bonnie MacGowan) are on the trail of a ghostly hound in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of BASKERVILLE. (Photos by Mel Moore)

Listening calmly, Holmes then proceeds to prove his friend incorrect in every detail. Their discussion is interrupted by Dr. Mortimer (Tony Venable) who brings the duo a challenging narrative which combines a bit of Baskerville family history, the death of Sir Hugo Baskerville (Bonnie MacGovern) and the recent (and similar) death of Sir Charles Baskerville ( MacGovern again) which could — or could not — mean the same end for the his son, the current title-holder, Sir Henry Baskerville (right, also MacGovern).

Mortimer is asking for advice as to whether or not to tell Sir Henry as Sir Hugo’s death occurred in the same way (throat ripped out by giant hound) as Sir Charles’.

Holmes agrees to meet Sir Henry who arrives with tales of warning phone call and missing boots, new and old.

Holmes is intrigued. With Watson, of course, he heads for Baskerville Hall where the eerie fun is just beginning and the game is now afoot!

In case this doesn’t make it obvious, the remaining 40 characters are played by the remaining three cast members — Venable, MacGovern and Jenna Ladd — with little regard for character age or gender. Harms and Bergstresser remain firmly Holmes and Watson, with the exception of a disguise or two.

Sherlock Holmes (Chad Harms, second from right) and Dr. Watson (Deron Bergstresser, right0 check with two of Holmes’ street agents (from left Tony Venable and Jenna Ladd) in. the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of BASKERVILLE.

In addition to matching Holmes with the proper explanation of ghostly dog days on the Devonshire moors, the fun in this production is watching the muti-role actors morphing from one character to another and keeping track of just which one they are at which time.

Not only costumes but voices, accents (some of which are a bit difficult to decipher) and even facial hair must be changed to go with the appropriate persona..

Credit for the facility with which these changes are made must go not only to the actors but to the small but indispensible group of dressers who assist in each swift change, some of which take place in the space of only a sentence or two.

Adding to the fun is the presence of on stage “Foley artists” who are responsible for each bell, whistle, wind and howl, in short for every sound required by the script. . For those unfamiliar with the term “Foley,” it is in honor of Jack Foley, the first sound effects artist.

The projections on the back of the bi-level set take the action easily from London’s 221B Baker Street to the echoing chambers of Baskerville Hall to the dark and dangerous moors.

ECT’s go-to director for tongue-in-cheek mysteries, Dave Dufour, teamed here with lighting designer Randy Zonker, who also acted as stage manager and assistant director.

The result is definitely much more than “elementary.”

“BASKERVILLE: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” plays Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. in the Bristol Opera House on SR 120 in Bristol For information and reservations call 848-4116 weekdays.

 

 

 

 

South Bend Civic Hits The ‘Heights’

I have to begin by saying that this is the kind of review I really don’t like to write.

For two reasons, probably not the ones you think.

Residents of Washington Heights enjoy an evening of dancing in the South Bend Civic Theater production of IN THE HEIGHTS. (Photos by Lauren Mow)

The first is because the subject, South Bend Civic Theatre’s current show, “In The Heights,” which opened Friday evening in the Wilson Auditorium, is  its best musical production to date.

The second is because, in spite of performances added to its scheduled run, as of this weekend all are completely sold out. So if you were holding back to see if your friends liked the show, you are too late for that to make any difference.

Difficult to say what makes an amateur production come together as solidly as this.

Obviously the foundation is the script and score. The former is by Quiara Alegria Hudes, with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The show earned four Tony Awards in 2008 including Best Musical.

That does not, however, guarantee a successful production.

So begin with a director, Leah Isabel Tirado (who also plays the pivotal role of Abuela Claudia), an associate director Paul Mow and a choreographer, Jon Martinez, all of whom have extensive backgrounds in professional theater, and you have a great structure on which to build.

Its a celebration in Washington Heights in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of IN THE HEIGHTS.

The “building blocks” they selected to inhabit the New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights obviously are top quality. There is not a weak or off-putting voice among the principle players. Jorge Rivera-Herrans is Usnavi, bodega owner who dreams of opening a bar in his native Dominican Republic and Rachel Thomas is Vanessa, who hopes to have her own apartment in the West Village but whose alcoholic mother drinks up all she earns in the beauty shop owned by Daniela (Andrea Deleon) who must move her shop due to increased rent.

 

Nina (Mimi Bell) has dropped out of Stanford and come home which upsets her parents Kevin (Jeffrey Villlorio Santos) and Camilla (Shay Northstine) who are determined to pay for her return to school no matter the cost. They disapprove of her romance with Benny (Samuel Jackson) who works for Kevin in his taxi service.

Around this core, all of whom strongly inhabit their roles vocally, physically and dramatically, are other relatives and friends who work and live in the Heights.

Its morning in Washington Heights and residents begin their day in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of IN THE HEIGHTS.

The show spans three days during which major changes occur, not the least of which is a $96,000 lottery ticket won by the neighborhood matriarch Abuela Claudia, impressively played and sung byTirado.

From the beginning of a swelteringly hot July 3 through the final realizations on July 5, this block in the Heights is in perpetual motion, blending hip-hop, salsa, soul and Hispanic rhythms that defy audience members to stay still, with ballads that go straight to the heart.

Whether explosive ensemble numbers like the Act 1 fireworks finale and the neighborhood carnival or the introspective solos and duets, the pacing (along with the excellent voices) keeps everyone in tune with the characters.

Principle or ensemble, the 29 company members mark the highs and lows of life in a Latino community with contagious reality.

Kyle Chamberlin’s set design instantly creates the atmosphere of the block, including a view of the bridge, and Matt Dolphy Clark’s lighting design (with fireworks) enhances the feeling of hot summer, day and night.

Roy Bronkema is music director/pianist and Joshua Goines is orchestra conductor/pianist. With six instrumentalists, they happily bridge the gap of playing on both sides of the “street..

Vocally and instrumentally, this production is enhanced by the theater’s new sound system.

“In The Heights,” which most know was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s one before ”Hamilton,” celebrates the uniqueness of the individual and the solidarity of the community in a life-affirming package applicable to everyone everywhere!

IN THE HEIGHTS plays in the South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Auditorium through March 25. All performances are sold out, To add your name to the extensive waiting list, call (574) 234-1112 weekdays.

 

 

Musical ‘Comedy’ Mixes Murder/Laughter

A serial killer and a New York City detective, both with crippling ”mommy” issues, cross paths in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of “No Way to Treat A Lady.”

Detective Morris Brummel (Zachary Rivers, right) gets a call from a killer (Brent Graber, left) during astressful visit with his mother in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY. (Photos by Mel Moore)

Based on a 1964 novel by author/screenwriter William Goldman (“The Princess Bride,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “All The President’s Men”), it became a 1968 film starring Rod Steiger and, almost 20 years later, a “musical comedy thriller” with book, music and lyrics by Douglas J. Cohen.

Be advised. This is not your high-stepping, big cast musical.

True, there are almost a dozen characters but they are played by a cast of five who manage to fill the stage as this definitely “black comedy” progresses.

It opens with a deceptively sweet scene as Father Barry Fitzgerald (sound familiar?) pays a call on Mrs. Sullivan, an elderly, recently-widowed parishioner.

But wait. Father Fitzgerald (1940s movie fans will get the reference) is really Christopher “Kit” Gill (Brent Graber), a mediocre actor determined to match the fame of his recently deceased mother, Alexandra Gill (Annette Kaczanowski), with a notice in The New York Times, achieved by any means necessary.

dancer
Christopher “Kit” Gill romances his second victim in Spanish dancer Carmella Tucci (Annette Kaczanowski) in heElkhartCivic Thetre production of NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY.

Unfortunately for Mrs. Sullivan (also played by Ms. Kaczanowski) this means joining her husband, ready or not, with a post-mortem lipstick kiss drawn on her forehead

The homicide case is assigned to Detective Morris Brummell (Zachary Rivers) ,who still lives with his mother Flora (Julie Herrli Castello), definitely a less-than-supportive parent. In the course of his investigation, Morris meets Sarah Stone (Michelle Miller), a tenant in the victim’s building, and immediately falls in love.

Meanwhile Kit, unhappy that his crime has not made The Times, contacts the detective and draws him into his murderous plot, proceeding to up his game via his next victim, Spanish dancer Carmella Tucci (Ms. Kaczanowski again), who has just lost her partner. This time, Kit is disguised as an Arthur Murray (the ‘40s again!) dance instructor. Their tango ends with a deadly kiss.

The homicidal wave continues until ….but no more spoilers here. Enough to say that Ms. Kaczanowski has still one last character to create and Morris has to get his priorities straight.

The score contains some lovely melodies, several with a definitely macabre flavor. Kaczanowski deserves major applause for her swift and definitive segues from character to character, attitudes and accents well in hand. Rivers is properly frustrated, balancing love and duty while struggling to overcome the insecurity developed through years of smothering “mother love.” He and Miller display the show’s best voices and she creates a warmly stubborn young woman who never loses I\sight of her objective.

Detective Morris Brummell (Zachary Rivers) takes his girlfriend Sarah Stone (Michele Miller) on a picnic in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY.

Castello is constantly shrill, making Morris’ desire to get out instantly understandable. As the increasingly frustrated actor/killer, Graber’s desire to one-up his late mother is exacerbated by her scathing remark “Whether you’re a successful killer or an unsuccessful actor, you still can’t get arrested in this town.” His rising anger is the through-line of the story and he handles it well.

The production is directed by John Shoup assisted by Penny Shoup, with vocal direction by Kim Dooley and choreography by Jackiejo Brewers. Keyboardist Miriam Houck is music director with keyboardist Brenda Summers, clarinetist Grace Johnson and percussionist Mark Swendsen.

Director Shoup designed the flexible set which features a portrait of Alexandra by Jeff Barrack and integrated slide designs by Sandy and Brian MacGowan indicating locations in 1970 Manhattan. A stage crew of NYPD’s finest makes quick work of the many scene changes.

NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY plays Friday through Sunday and March 16-17 in the Bristol Opera House on SR 120 in Bristol. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 848-4116 .

Murderous Farce Features Holmes Twist

Since his first Broadway hit in 1989, prolific playwright Ken Ludwig has kept most of this country’s regional — and community — theaters well-supplied in entertaining fare.

Most of it is strictly no-nonsense — make that plenty of nonsense — farce (“Lend Me A Tenor”) while several set the pratfalls to music (“Crazy For You”).

The Ludwig offering that opened Friday evening in the South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Theatre

mixes holiday merriment with murder. From it’s title, “The Game’s Afoot or Holmes for the Holidays,” it doesn’t take much to deduce that the rough-and-tumble action will be laced with mayhem or that the detail-minded detective will be Sherlock Holmes as played by actor William Gillette.

Actually, it’s Bill Svelmoe playing Gillette playing Holmes.

The Game's Afoot South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreGillette was a Broadway actor /director/playwright at the turn of the century. With the permission of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle he wrote a four-act drama starring himself as Holmes. Over the course of 30 years, he played the character more than1,300 times and is responsible for Holmes’ signature deerstalker cap and Meerschaum pipe.

The setting for Ludwig’s mystery/farce is Gillette’s Connecticut castle (still a tourist attraction) to which he has invited the cast of his play for a holiday — and to determine who shot at him during a recent performance. He plans to answer this question in true Holmesian fashion.

Under the direction of Tucker Curtis, the eight-member cast features mostly area theater veterans. Led by Svelmoe they are Mary Ann Moran as the actor’s mother Martha Gillette; Mark Moriarty as his best friend Felix Geisel; Lucinda Gary Moriarty as Felix’ wife Madge; Casey St. Aubin as leading man Simon Bright; Grace Lazarz as Simon’s girlfriend Aggie Wheeler; Kate Telesca Banks as drama critic Daria Chase; and Laurisa LeSure as police Inspector Goring.

The Game's Afoot  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreDuring the course of the evening, one is murdered and the others, when not confessing to the crime, run around literally in circles trying to find the killer.

Damon Mroczak’s scenic design covers a lot of territory. The set contains several “hidden features” including a suit of armor which serves as an intercom and a trophy wall which doubles as a bar (and body hiding place).

The action opens on a theater stage where the company is playing Shakespeare but as the action is in front of the Gillette drawing room set, it takes a while to realize that it is not taking place in that room.

The location changes to the mansion which features a giant art deco something high above the sliding doors to the patio. I suppose it was a window but it really was a distraction. On the second level, the door frames should have been taller as anyone going in or out had to stoop to avoid hitting his/her head. For the Christmas setting, there were only a few decorations and no tree.

As for the actors, they were again fighting the playing space which tends to swallow all dialogue not aimed directly at the audience. Crisper diction and projection is a must.

It seemed that there were only two vocal levels: shouting or mumbling. Svelmoe and Mark Moriarty shouted a good deal, primarily at each other. They were at their best when trying desperately to find a place to hide the corpse.

LeSure was so soft as to be completely unintelligible. Banks stood out as the caustic, sarcastic newspaper columnist who seemed to have everybody’s number.

THE GAME’S AFOOT or Holmes for the Holidays” run has been extended through June 18 in the theater at 403 N. Main St. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit sbct.org.