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
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
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
WW "Tenor" Is Fast-Paced Frantic Farce PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Sunday, 07 August 2011 00:28

Playwright Ken Ludwig is in the business of making people laugh. One example of how he frequently succeeds in a big way is “Lend Me A Tenor” which opened Wednesday evening at the Wagon Wheel Theatre.

Farce is the name of this particular comedic game and it is served up with style by the eight-member cast under the guidance of guest director Mickey Fisher. To say that it is fast-paced would be like calling the Empire State a tall building. It starts with a bang and accelerates for its two-hour running time. Actually, I’m not sure the actors could have survived a longer performance.

lend me a tenor  wagon wheel theatre  warsawAnyone who has seen a farce knows that a number of very sturdy doors through which characters sneak stealthily or slam frantically (with increasing emphasis on the latter) are necessary. The amazing set, designed for the first WW “Tenor by the late Roy Hine, is a great example of how doors can become see-through and still be solid.

Set in Cleveland in 1934, the basic premise hinges on the appearance by famed tenor Tito Merelli (David Schlumpf), aka Il Stupendo, at the opening gala of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company. Anxiously awaiting Tito’s arrival are Saunders (Ben Maters), company manager who fears impending disaster, and his assistant Max (Stephen Anthony), an aspiring tenor in love with Saunders’ daughter Maggie (Alex Finke), a big Morelli fan. Also waiting are Julia (Sophie Grimm), chairman of the Opera Guild; Diana (Jennifer Dow), a soprano with an eye on advancing her career; and a Bellhop (Nick Laughlin), a tenor fan in more ways than one. Accompanying Il Stupendo is his very jealous and very volatile wife, Maria (Lauren Roesner).

Mix this group of assorted individuals with a double dose of sleeping pills and a plan to cover the star’s “death” which includes a substitute tenor in the title role of the scheduled opera, “Othello," and results in two Othellos frantically confronting — and attempting to avoid — several amorous women, and you have the ingredients for increasingly hilarious situations.

If timing is everything, the WW cast of “Lend Me A Tenor” has it all. Frantic entrances and exits, slamming doors and mistaken identities all are part and parcel of a farce, with success measured on how well these requirements are realized.

Schlumpf and Anthony carry the major burden here and, as they have all season, deliver their characters with style, flourish and believability. The scene in which the star gives vocal tips to the fledgling tenor is not only hilarious but beautifully sung. Schlumpf deserves extra applause for maintaining his “deadly calm” in the face of extremely vigorous efforts to “revive” him, while Anthony morphs beautifully from mild-mannered flunky to self-confident master of his fate.

All of the ladies do their own individual scenery-chewing. Finke deals well as the calmest of the quartet, hilariously discarding inhibitions for the ringing of bells. Grimm delivers a wicked caricature of every society-matron-as-overage-groupie. Dow slinks sensuously in and out of costumes on her own path to the Met. Roesner is a formidably possessive wife but would be even better if the Italian decibel level was a bit lower.

Maters offers an explosively slow burn and demonstrates the wildly swinging focus of a man whose eye is on the prize, even when that prize keeps shifting. Laughlin’s Bellboy is in fine voice in a role that has a different key than in earlier productions.

Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s costumes are, as usual, period perfect, and the matching costumes for “Othello” are works of art. Director Fisher has set the pace for this farce and his talented cast never lets it fall.

“LEND ME A TENOR” continues through Aug. 13 in the theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or (866) 823-2618.

Last Updated on Sunday, 07 August 2011 00:44
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