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
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
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
Music Is The Magic of 'Cinderella' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 12 August 2011 02:35

There is no disputing the ageless charm of a fairy tale. Read it at bedtime or re-discover it in animation or live theater and the fascination is still there,. No matter how many times or in what form the glass slipper fits or the kiss of first love awakens, the tales are multi-generational, appealing to young and old alike

One of the favorites, “Cinderella,” is on stage through Aug. 21 at The Barn Theatre. Even though the message of true love seeing through several layers of grime to the princess beneath is still predominant, this version (there have been many) also focuses on the importance of being one’s own person and standing up for one’s self.

cinderella family  barn theatre  michiganRichard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II first put music to the tale in 1957, with musical theater princess Julie Andrews in the title role fora black & white television production. It was revamped in 1965, also for the small screen, adding color and several more musical numbers as Leslie Ann Warren portrayed the long-suffering title character. The final TV version, in 1997, featured color-blind casting and inserted the Godmother-driven pitch for women’s rights as well as several more gently-used R&H songs.

However “Cinderella” is patched together musically, it never ceases to deliver the popular mantra that right will triumph and love conquers all, especially when the leading players sing well and look good in fancy costumes.

Overcoming my Disney-influenced feeling that Cinderella was a blonde, The Barn production features Annie Wessendarp in a black wig as the put-upon sister who definitely has the last laugh over her haughty Stepmother (Penelope Alex) and her shrieky, whiney, sausage-curled stepsisters misnamed Joy (Miriam Hendel-Moellman) and Grace (Natalie Sparbeck).

Definitely in Cinderella’s “Own Little Corner” is her upbeat fairy Godmother (Amy Harpenau) who dismisses Cindy’s misgivings as “Fol-De-Rol,” pointing out that , with the right attitude, nothing is “Impossible.” She transforms available animals and objects into the traditional coach-and-four with a wave of her wand — and she does it all while singing and whooshing around the stage on roller skates!

Of course it is the persistence of Prince Christopher (Jamey Grisham) and his search for the lady with the foot that fits the glass slipper left on the palace steps that finally puts Cinderella in her rightful place. Along the way, he is pushed towards marriage by his mother, Queen Constantina (Emily May Smith) and his father, King Maximillian (Roy Brown) (who happen to be really married) and by the royal steward, Lionel (Hans Friedrichs), who makes the most of his many laugh lines.

Audience members of all ages were delighted by the appearance of Cinderella’s animal helpers: four mice, a rabbit and a cat, who offered advice from the windows and the back of the couch.

The required settings are numerous and changes were handled by cast members, some more successfully than others. Early costuming for the ensemble as villagers was appropriately mis-matched and bright. When they became ball guests, however, it seemed to become “pick-a-period.” Dresses were floor length or short, full and flowing or narrow and clinging, with little thought to carrying through one time period. The costumer could have taken a cue from the young audience members who opted to attend the production in Cinderella gowns, many of whom met their favorite characters post-show for autographs.

Music director John Jay Espino and his band of four did well by the Rodgers score, both up-tempos and ballads, and many left the theater humming one of the lovely tunes.

“CINDERELLA” plays through Aug.21 in the theater on M-62 between Galesburg and Augusta, Mich. For information and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily or visit 

Last Updated on Friday, 12 August 2011 02:45
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