Theatrical 'Strangers' Not Hitchcock PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 02 November 2011 19:34

Warning to Alfred Hitchcock fans: Do not expect to see his thriller “Strangers on a Train” recreated in the current South Bend Civic Theatre production of the play by the same name.

strangers on a train south bend civic theatreCraig Warner’s theatrical version is closer to Patricia Highsmith’s 1950 novel but the suspenseful twists and turns of the 1951 film have been replaced by endless monologues by the psychotic killer which, to quote another play, “do not so much rouse as stupefy,” and by plot machinations that are ridiculous to say the least and definitely unbelievable. One can only suspend disbelief for so long.

The “action” in Warner’s drama begins, as does the film, when two strangers meet on a train (ergo the title). Charles Bruno (Rob Buck) strikes up a mostly one-sided conversation with architect Guy Haines (Richard Isaacson). Guy reads his book (Plato) while Bruno pontificates about white (good) horses and black (evil) horses and the grey in-betweens which make up most of the population. It is his theory that everyone has a god and a murderer inside him and that, give proper motivation, anyone will commit a criminal act.

It is this motivation he proceeds to propose to Haines. As each has a person in his life he wishes to be rid of, they will swap murders. Since they are strangers, there will be no connection. Haines takes Bruno’s proposal as a morbid joke and laughingly agrees. The joke turns deadly when Haines’ wife is killed. From that point on, Bruno evidently abandons his theory of safety as strangers.

In several less-than-believable scenes, he appears as an uninvited guest at the architect’s wedding to Anne Faulkner (Heather Marks), later manipulating an invitation to spend the night in the couple’s home when Haines is out of town, later encouraging the young architect to build the couple’s dream home plus one for him just down the street and finally threatening to tell all if Haines does not fulfill his part of the “bargain.” When Haines finally is driven to comply — the most unbelievable act of all — his life becomes a nightmare.

Enter Arthur Gerard (Tucker Curtis), a private investigator hired by Bruno’s father (Guy’s target) who has been rehired by his doting mother, Elsie Bruno (Andrea Smiddy), to catch her husband’s killer. A most unbelievable plot twist occurs when, in true Colombo fashion, Gerard discovers the truth. The plot then reaches a really ludicrous climax in “the old railroad yard” (there’s that train again!). The finale is completely ridiculous.

strangers on a train south bend civic theatreThe urge to laugh, however, had little to do with the performances which, for the most part, were more than adequate, with special notice to Isaacson, Smiddy and Curtis. Buck is assigned the thankless task of delivering Warner’s psychological diatribes. I can only suspect that the book also hinted at the uncomfortable, too-close relationship between adult Bruno and his mother and the obsessive turn by Bruno as he stalks Haines, but it cannot make the eventual fates of each of the characters any less contrived.

Completing the cast are Jason Gresl as Frank Myers, one of Haines’ fellow architects, and Jeff Starkey as Robert Treacher, a long-time friend who urges him to follow his dream of building “a white bridge with a span like an angel’s wings.”

The multi-level set designates many locations, all well defined. The cold color scheme is in keeping with the general tone of the script. Veteran director Craig McNab keeps the pace up as much as possible but it’s difficult to make a super flyer out of a steam engine.

“STRANGERS ON A TRAIN” plays at 7:30 p.m. today and Nov. 9; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Nov. 11-12; and 3 p.m. Sunday and Nov. 13 in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium of the theater at 403 N. Main Street, South Bend. For reservations and information, call 234-1112 or visit

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 December 2011 02:45
Chilling Drama on Goshen Stage PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 14 October 2011 15:53

“Frozen” is the title of the three character (plus one silent prison guard) drama by Bryony Lavery which opened Friday evening in Goshen’s New World Arts theater. It also is an apt description of the atmosphere engendered by the plot which deals with a terrifying and unthinkable subject.

Frozen  New World Arts  GoshenA 10-year-old girl sets out for her grandmother’s house but never arrives. For years, her mother agonizes over the loss and is haunted by not knowing the how and why of her disappearance.

A serial killer pedophile is caught and imprisoned for life.

An American psychiatrist comes to England to complete work on her thesis: “Serial Killing: A Forgivable Act?”

Inevitably their lives touch and, eventually, each finds his/her own solution.

A series of monologues in Act 1 provides the background on the crime and on the individuals involved. In Act 2 they come together in duologues.

Nancy (Leah Borden) relives the day she sent her youngest daughter Rhona off to grandmother’s house. She suffers from acute stress-related headaches. Years later she still is searching for answers and hoping Rhona is alive. Ralph (Jim Jones in a disturbingly chilling performance) relives his crimes from his prison cell and declares he has no remorse. Agnetha (Brittany Gardner-Kennel) is suffering her own loss but deals with her topic in a stoically clinical manner, determined to retain her objectivity. Eventually, however, she is the unwilling bridge between criminal and victim.

Frozen  New World Arts  Goshen“Frozen” deals with a subject — and a premise — that is difficult to absorb. Abnetha’s question as to whether Ralph’s actions were “a crime of evil or a crime of illness” has no definitive answer. Were the killings sins or symptoms? Does he deserve forgiveness? His description of a happy childhood is, like his rationale for killing, a figment of his imagination.

After years of freezing herself from any other emotional contacts, and against the psychiatrist’s orders, Nancy finally gives in to her older daughter’s insistent pleas. She confronts Rhona’s killer and forgives him. He, in turn, faces the reality of his actions after her visit.

Borden’s Nancy goes from guilt to acceptance with little sign of emotional change. Gardner-Kennel is all scientist but could use a little more authority in her lectures. Both need more severe hairstyles, at least at the beginning.

Jones, who has played the role before, is a master of twitching fingers, rolling eyes, nodding head and shaking limbs. He is both an object of revulsion and someone to be pitied. It is impossible to look away from him, like the accident you don’t want to stare at but from which you can’t look away. (Except Brian Kozlowski as the Prison Guard who also serves by standing and waiting but never says a word.)

Director Adrienne Nesbitt has opted to cover the stage and set pieces with white sheets, which individual actors eventually remove little by little as the story progresses. I assume it is to represent the melting of frozen minds and hearts. Unfortunately it more resembles taking down the wash.

“FROZEN” plays at 8 p.m. today and Saturday and Oct. 21-22 in the theater at 211 S. Main Street, Goshen (entrance from South Third Street). Tickets at the door or call 1 (800) 838-3006. For information visit 

Last Updated on Friday, 14 October 2011 16:02
Tale of King Arthur on SBCT stage PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 15 September 2011 18:18

In the final moments of “Camelot,” musical version of the Arthurian legend by Alan Jay Lerner (book and lyrics) and Frederick Loewe (music), the beleaguered king on the eve of battle tries to insure the survival of his dream by instructing a young boy:

“Don't let it be forgot

That once there was a spot,

For one brief, shining moment

That was known as Camelot.”

camelot  south bend civic theatreIn the current South Bend Civic Theatre production, there are several "brief shining moments" but not enough to make the three-hour show seem anything more than just long.

It is not the fault of this production. I have never seen one that did not make me check my watch after the first hour and a half. Despite it’s now-classic ballad “If Ever I Would Leave You,” “Camelot” cannot escape the boringly ponderous finale, “Guenevere,” or the unending “Lusty Month of May” and “Take Me To the Fair.” And “The Joust,” an obvious “Ascot Gavotte” wannabe, doesn’t even come close to the “My Fair Lady” chorale.

That aside, SBCT veteran Ted Manier does a more than credible job as the legendary king, who finds his marriage and his kingdom crumbling before the machinations of his bastard son, Mordred. Arthur’s struggle to maintain the high ideals of his round table when faced with the increasing attraction between his wife and his champion knight is movingly delineated in his throne room “Proposition.”

As Guenevere, Maggie Mountsier displays a clear soprano and a gentle sense of humor. Her character warms as she battles her deep affection for Arthur and her growing love for Lancelot (Quinton McMutuary). There is no real connection between the supposedly star-crossed lovers, unfortunately making their emotional tension less than believable.

Steve Chung delivers a humorously grouchy King Pellinore, who arrives in Camelot in his search for the Questing Beast and, like Sheridan Whiteside, comes to dinner and stays for years. Gary Oesch is properly bearded as Merlin who lives backward in time until bewitched by Nimue (Pam Gunterman) and fails to warn Arthur about Mordred. (Joshua Napierkowski).

camelot south bend civic theatreThe evil offspring is actually one of my favorite characters, as is his lyrical outline of “The Seven Deadly Virtues.” Unfortunately Napierkowski stomps about (everyone else has soft shoes) and takes the sly usurper way over the top, delivering his song so rapidly that the delicious lyrics are mostly unintelligible.

Director David Chudzynski, who designed the set with Jill Hillman, keeps the action as fluid as possible. His impressive set features a large circular Celtic design on center stage, with hanging set pieces and changing lights to indicate varied moods and locations.

One major plus in this production is the absence of individual microphones for the performers. This seems to have been a large part of the sound problem that has plagued shows in the Willson Mainstage Auditorium. There is no difficulty here in hearing the singers/actors and, with only a few exceptions, both lyrics and dialogue are easily understood.

This does not apply to the nine piece orchestra which is offstage somewhere and visible to performers via a video screen on the light booth. The lush Loewe score is given short shrift and seemed to indicate the need for a good deal more rehearsal.

“CAMELOT” plays through Sept. 25 with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. For reservations and information, call 234-1112 or visit




Last Updated on Thursday, 15 September 2011 18:51
Birthday Celebration Is Explosive PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 11 October 2011 19:33

Four generations of African-American women come together to celebrate the 90th birthday of the family matriarch in the South Bend Civic Theatre production of Cheryl L. West’s comedy/drama “Jar the Floor,” which opened Friday evening in the Warner Studio Theatre.

To say that several familiar topics are covered during the 2 ½ hour (plus intermission) party, which is much more confrontation than celebration, is a major understatement. Rather ask if there is one that has been left out. Knowing that the play is more than two decades old is one answer. Possibly lesbianism, sexual abuse, breast cancer and single parenthood were fresh topics in the early 1900s. Today they have been chewed over in both comedies and dramas and “Jar The Floor” offers little fresh insight.

Jar the Floor  South Bend Civic TheatreIn this production’s defense, however, the cast assembled by directors Kevin Dryer and Consuela H. Wilson, does its best to hit the high — and low — notes with convincing if repetitious aim.

The characters assembled in the suburban Chicago home of MayDee (Eula Milon) are her grandmother MaDear (Nora Batteast), who now lives with MayDee, her mother Lola (Laverne McMutuary), and her daughter Vennie (Kelly Morgan). An unexpected addition to the guest list is Raisa (Nicole Brinkmann Reeves), Vennie’s white girlfriend.

Money, men and the disinterring of old wounds are among the most frequent conversational trends as the party progresses. MaDear goes in and out of awareness waiting for the arrival of her son, who she mistakenly insists is a doctor, and for her long-dead husband to “jar the floor” to signify his other-worldly presence.

Unlike Lola, her no-holds-barred, life-of-the-party mother, MayDee rigidly controls her emotions. She is tensely awaiting the arrival of her daughter and a call that may — or may not — signal her receiving tenure.

Lola, whose continual failure to find a good man, has a casual attitude that involves drinking and dancing and grates obviously on her controlling sister. This conflict erupts periodically as the question of what to do with increasingly senile MaDear heads to the surface along with MayDee’s worry that Vennie has too many close female friends and too few boyfriends.

When the young girl arrives with Raisa, a breast cancer survivor who faces her illness by offering to display her mastectomy and shouting “Cancer” as often and as loudly as possible, Vennie’s announcement that she is not continuing her education in favor of pursuing a singing career is, as they say, the straw that blows the lid off her mother’s repressed emotions, which leads to more explosive confrontations.

The scars of all the women, physical and emotional, become apparent throughout the evening. The script, however, says little about them that has not been said frequently before. It’s effectiveness would be increased substantially by judicious cutting. Less still is more.

McMutuary commands center stage most often and her Lola is a tragic/comic figure which she interprets well — and loudly. Batteast’s volume is considerably lower but her soft asides during the family free-for-alls are well-aimed zingers that hit their mark with well-deserved laughter.

David Chudzynski’s set design includes the first floor of the home, plus an outside garden, and is an excellent example of the way in which the black box theater space can be utilized in more ways than just in the round.

“JAR THE FLOOR” plays at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the theater at 403 N. Main St. For reservations call 234-1112 or on line at

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 October 2011 20:08
Duo create residents of Tuna, Texas PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 13 September 2011 18:12

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes only two actors to raise a town.

greater tuna elkhart civic theatre bristol INThe town is Tuna, Texas and the two actors who bring 20 of its most unique citizens (and several canines) to life in the current Elkhart Civic Theatre production of “Greater Tuna” are Kevin Egelsky and Scot Purkeypile.

Not only is this serving of “Tuna” filled with off-the-wall characters who nevertheless are strangely familiar, it is a one hour and 45 minute (plus intermission) display of amazing quick change artistry, not only in costume but in a wide range of personae, all the more believable for their unbelievability.

Putting on a dress and a wig is only part of changing Egelsky from radio disc jockey Thurston Wheelis to besieged housewife Bertha Bumiller and her aunt, Pearl Burras, who is addicted to poisoning dogs, and changing Purkeypile from co-disc jockey Arles Struvie to Bertha’s cheerleader-wannabe daughter Charlene and her brother, dog-loving Jody, and her twin Stanley, a recent reform school grad.

The voices change, the physical demeanors slump or straighten and the faces alter ever so slightly to facilitate the appearance of yet another slightly skewed Tuna-ite. Even when slightly appalled by the chain-smoking Didi Snavely, owner of Didi’s Used Weapons (“If Didi’s can’t kill it, it’s immortal”), her husband, R.R, town drunk and frequent sighter of U.F.Os shaped like chalupas, and Elmer Watkins, head of Chapter 249 of the KKK, it is impossible not to award them the laughter they deserve, even if they sometimes feel a little too familiar.

greater tuna elkhart civic theatre bristol INPurkeypile can turn on a dime to deliver soft-hearted animal lover Petey Fisk of the Greater Tuna Humane Society and sociopath Stanley Bumiller, making both equally tangible. His gender switch to town gossip Vera Carp, vice president of the Smut-Snatchers of the New Order, is both hilarious and chilling but no more so than when Vera slides into sleep during a cliché-laden speech by Egelsky as Smut-Snatchers president the Rev. Spikes.

As Pearl, Egelsky takes her hatred of dogs to a riotous level as her strychnine-laced meatball is devoured by the wrong hound and she must enlist the aid of nephew Stanley in disguising the murder as a hit-and-run. His turn as Rev. Spikes is frighteningly familiar.

Canine or human, male or female, Eglsky and Purkeypile delineate the good, the bad and the ugly of Tuna, Texas with amazing results, from totally touching to absolutely appalling (and absolutely hilarious).

Under the direction of Karen Johnston with assistance from John Shoup, there are few if any lags as the action shifts from the studio of Station OKKK to the Bumiller home to a variety of other locations around town.

There is no doubt that the smooth transitions in characters could not be accomplished without the help of the ladies who spend each show waiting backstage and in the wings to facilitate the incredibly fast changes of shoes, dress and wigs. They are Pati Banik, Dawn Blessing, Susie Miller, Phyllis Oliver and Sandy VanTilburg. Each one is an integral part of “Greater Tuna.”

“GREATER TUNA” plays at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on S.R., 120 in Bristol. For reservations and information call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 September 2011 02:23
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