Murderous Farce Features Holmes Twist PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 07 June 2016 18:58

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.

GThe Games' Afoot Sojuth Bend (N) Civic TheatreMost 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

Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 June 2016 19:25
Beautiful Fairy Tale Beautifully Enacted PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 03 June 2016 19:40

Children of all ages love a good fairy tale, never more so than when it is set to music and receives the magic Disney touch.

Beauty and the Beast Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INAdd to that fairly faultless direction and choreography by artistic director Scott Michaels and you have the current Wagon Wheel Theatre production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.”

Based on the 1991 animated Disney film with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice and a stage book by Linda Woolverton, it continues to be — after “The Lion King,” — the most popular in the Disney cartoon-to-live action repertoire.

And the most widely toured.

And the most frequently done in schools and community theaters.

Beauty and the Beast Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INAs always, the WW production faces the challenge of comparison at all levels and, again as always, comes out on top.

It goes without saying that conductor Thomas N. Sterling’s 11-piece orchestra makes the entire score — from overture/prologue to finale— worthy of listening to on its own.

Add to that another area in which Michaels & Co. seem to excel — character-perfect casting.

Even if you have seen this musical many times (and many in the near-capacity opening night audience obviously had), you will find layers of emotion underneath the excellent singing and dancing.

In the title roles are Elaine Cotter as Belle and Joey Birchler as The Beast. Living in separate worlds, they nonetheless share the stigma of being “oddballs” in less than understanding communities. She deals with it by living in other worlds through books; he takes his frustration out on his equally frustrated underlings.

Cotter, who last season played Jo in the WW production of “Little Women,” again creates a determined young woman who stands against adversity and beside her slightly-wacky inventor dad Maurice (Andy Robinson). She has a strong, clear soprano which lyrically expresses her gradual change in feelings towards her captor.

Beauty and the Beast Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INIn his WW debut, Birchler has the difficult task of being loudly intimidating on the outside and quietly frightened on the inside, with a lion-like crouch and a roaring façade masking his increasing fear of remaining a beast forever. He expresses this in the Act 1 finale “If I Can’t Love Her,” a demanding solo which follows the ensemble’s show-stopping “Be Our Guest.” a daunting juxtaposition which Birchler handles with impressive power and obvious empathy.

The comic relief here is in many excellent hands. First on the scene are Gaston (Charlie Patterson) and his happily battered sidekick LeFou (Barrett Riggins). If Patterson has fewer bulging biceps than his animated persona, he makes up for it with a smug swagger and a baritone that can shake the rafters (or antlers) when he extols his many exaggerated attributes (“Gaston”).

Riggins has the unenviable task of being his human punching bag, with frequent hits timed to a clapstick and a super-flexible body that turns each hit into a pratfall and earns extended laughter.

In the castle of The Beast is the heart of the familiar show: the enchanted staff gradually becoming The furniture/utensils/etc. With the aid of Stephen R. Hollenback’s equally enchanted costume designs, they are universally audience favorites.

Lumiere (Keaton Eckhoff), the French candelabra, formerly a footman, squabbles with Cogsworth (Scott Fuss), a fussy grandfather clock nee butler, and romances Babette (Lexi Carter), a French maid-turning-feather duster. The diva of the group is Madame De La Grande Bouche (Kira Lace Hawkins), a chiffonier who dreams of better days in grand opera.

Beauty and the Beast Wagon Qheel Theatre Warsaw INThe voice of reason belongs to Mrs. Potts (Lottie Prenevost), the housekeeper becoming a teapot, whose son Chip (Parker Irwin) is the prize cup on her tea cart. She delivers the show’s title song as Beauty and her Beast enjoy a break-through waltz.

Throughout, the talented ensemble becomes villagers, wolves, giggling girls, an angry mob, enchanted objects and whatever else is required (special kudos to the silent winged gargoyles flanking the Beast’s chair) , singing and dancing and moving set pieces all without missing a beat!

The downside to this is the lack of tickets (if any) for the remaining performances. The upside is that this year’s WW company is one of the best and five season shows plus the encore remain in which to check out this talent.

“BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” plays through June 11 in the theater at 2517 E. Center St., Warsaw. Show times vary. For information and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit

Last Updated on Friday, 03 June 2016 19:57
Swim Club Members Share Life, Laughs PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 16 May 2016 18:59

It comes as no surprise that some of the friendships we make in high school and college are the ones that last for life.

Such are those between the five protagonists of the current Elkhart Civic Theatre production “The Dixie Swim Club.”

Dixie Swim Club Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe comedy by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House and, within 10 minutes, had the audience laughing, a condition that continued in some degree throughout the four scenes of the two-hour (including intermission) show.

The title obviously indicates the collegiate activity that brought them together. The timeline covers 33 years of an annual August weekend in a summer cottage on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Th cottage is owned by Sheree (Stephanie Yoder), team captain and daughter of the coach, who still sees her assignment as making sure everything — and everyone — is in order. This includes serving her “signature” hors d’oeuvres which gathering members profess to love and quickly get rid of when she’s not looking..

Dixie Swim Club Elkjart Civic Theatre Bristol INEach of the characters has a definite if not stereotypical persona. It is to their credit, and to director Tim Yoder, that the “types” soon become individuals, easy to identify among our own acquaintances.

Lexi (Mary Norwood) is the much-married matron, working on her third husband as the action begins and looking for number five at the conclusion. Fashion and appearance are at the top of her list and plastic surgery tops motherhood.

Making up for Lexi’s lack of maternal instinct is the self-deprecating Vernadette (Jennifer Ross), whose children are frequently just this side of the law. Tolerating her abusive husband, she faces life and its many obstacles with a sharp, stinging wit. Her diatribe in defense of southern biscuits is a real show-stopper and her sense of comic timing and delivery cannot be taught.

Dixie Swim Club  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INRepresenting the law is Dinah (Stacey LeVan Nickel), an unmarried attorney with a cynical outlook and a predeliction for martinis. Her success in the courtroom makes up for her lonely personal life.

Completing the aquatic quintet is Jeri Neal (Laura Mosher), a soft-spoken late-bloomer whose unexpected appearance provides a real shock to them all.

Tim Yoder and his assistant director Demaree Dufour Noneman have chosen the right actresses for the roles and the camaraderie that brings — and holds — them together is the bricks and mortar of this less-than-heavyweight look at life. The finale is more a “Steel Magnolias” wannabe and not necessary to enforce the strength of the comradeship.

It should be noted that Mosher and Ross are making their first appearances for ECT. They are in the company of veterans and the entire ensemble works well and easily together.

Since the action requires the players to age 33 years, wigs are required and, for the most part, serve well. The physical ages, which according to the program timeline had to end in mid 70s at the final curtain, were less believable.

The setting, by John Shoup makes a shore cottage the perfect place to spend much more than a weekend.

Actually, I’m ready to hit the beach!

‘THE DIXIE SWIM CLUB’ plays through May 22 in the Bristol Opera House. For performance times and reservations, call 848-4116 between 1 and5:30 p.m. weekdays or visit

Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 May 2016 16:51
Strong Performances In Powerful Drama PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 18 May 2016 21:05

If you manage to survive infancy, childhood, teenage, young adulthood and middle age with a minimum of medical mishaps, you should reasonably expect to head into what is euphemistically referred to as your “golden years,” right?

Today, unfortunately, the answer too often is — wrong.

The Other Place  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe shadows of dementia and Alzheimer’s hover over those heading into their final years and, increasingly, over many decidedly younger.

The journey of one woman into this unyielding darkness, and its affect on those in her life, is powerfully played out in the current South Bend Civic Theatre production “The Other Place,” on stage through Sunday in the Warner Theatre.

Juliana Smithton (Melissa Manier), age 52, is a professor-turned-drug company scientist. Speaking at a medical convention, ostensibly in support of a new drug that would help combat neurological diseases, she suddenly loses touch with reality, something she attributes to her belief that she is suffering from a brain tumor. She blames her distraction on seeing a girl in a yellow swimsuit among the male listeners.

The Other Place  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreResisting help from her husband Ian (Roy Bronkema), an oncologist who is uncertain of her self-diagnosis and whom she alternately clings to and pushes away as she struggles to hold on to an ever-elusive reality. She fights therapy and, as her mind wanders, experiences phone conversations from a long lost daughter and struggles to return to “the other place,” a Cape Cod cottage once owned by the family, where she is sure she will find her missing daughter.

An encounter there with the new owner, at first hostile then sympathetic, eventually leads to some realization of what is happening.

Her gradual but inevitable slide is terrifying to her and equally horrific for her husband, the target of her increasingly vitriolic attacks, who struggles for any way to help his wife in a situation he realizes can only become worse.

Playwright Sharr White’s script is deftly crafted to keep the audience in a state of uncertainty as to whether Juliana is experiencing fact or fancy.

Under the sensitive direction of Aaron Nichols, the four member cast creates the shadowy world of mental illness, making the 90-minute (no intermission) a truly emotionally riveting experience.

The most riveting is Manier, whose delusions become her reality with incredibly painful consequences. Her attempts to desperately hang on to the phantoms she believes real are shattering and, in the end, infinitely empathetic. It is a fully realized and emotionally draining portrayal of the onset of “the great darkness,” one of the most frightening conditions in a world full of frightening conditions.

The Other Place  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreBronkema delivers an equally powerful performance as the frustrated husband, stretched to the end of his own rational thinking and suffering helplessly in tandem with his wife.

The roles of the daughter, the therapist and the now-owner of “the other place” are created skillfully by Courtney Qualls who manages to instill each with its own persona. The final scene between the owner and Juliana is truly heartwrenching.

Michael Clarkson as “The Man” creates the son-in-law Juliana accuses of responsibility for her daughter’s disappearance. Or was he?

Jacee Rohick’s textured scenic design sets the solid decking of a summer place against the semi-transparency of floating panels which finally disappear into a triangulated reality.

Two slim streams of sand flow from the ceiling to flank the stage, ending just prior to curtain time. Obviously the elusive and ever-shifting sands of time. Don’t let them run out before seeing this excellent production.

THE OTHER PLACE” runs through Sunday in the South Bend Civic Theatre Warner Theater. For performance times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit

Last Updated on Thursday, 19 May 2016 00:20
Looking Back At Our Beginnings PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 20 April 2016 17:21

1776  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThere could not be a more appropriate time for a theater company to produce the 1969 Tony Award-winning Best Musical “!776.”

Whether by design or happy coincidence, this is the time South Bend Civic Theatre has chosen to present the Sherman Edwards/Peter Stone depiction of the struggles of the Second Continental Congress as members debated the question of liberty.

Comparison with today’s contentious congress shows we have made less than acceptable progress.

Under the direction of Chuck Gessert, “1776” is the perfect vehicle to inspire at least a minimal inspection of how we got to where we are today — and why we are increasingly unable to solve our problems like “gentlemen.”

“1776”opened Friday evening in the Wilson Theatre where an impressive accumulation of veteran and novice talent portrayed at least a portion of the historically memorable delegates.

1776  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe characters are important figures in the history of the United States and, although their relationships many not be exactly as portrayed in Stone’s award-winning script (dramatic license, you know), the result of their interactions — arguments, agreements and compromises — is exactly as it should be.

According to Edwards: “These men were the cream of their colonies. ... They disagreed and fought with each other. But they understood commitment, and though they fought, they fought affirmatively."[

Key words being “commitment” and “affirmatively.”

Led by an excellent Ted Manier as Congressional “gadfly” ,John Adams of Massachusetts, the seemingly disparate group “Piddle, Twiddle” and avoids making a decision on the question of “independency” as the fly-filled summer drags on in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

Standing with Adams are wiley Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania (Frank Quirk), inventor and statesman with an eye for the ladies; Roger Sherman of Connecticut (Michael Ball) and Robert Livingston of New York (Zach Gassman). All decline the invitation to write a declaration (“But, Mr. Adams”) while focusing on Thomas Jefferson of Virginia (Tucker Curtis), who eventually puts down his violin and puts quill pen to paper..

1776  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreIn the “loyal opposition” are equally strong delegates. Leading the group of “Cool, Cool Considerate Men” are John Dickenson of Pennsylvania (Steve Chung) and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina (Mark Toma), both determined to stay loyal to the crown.

As the debates co tinue, it is clear that those for the proposition will have to clear a number of hurdles, not the least is that a unanimous vote will be needed for it to pass.

From the first sight of Adams pacing in frustration outside the chamber (“Sit Down, John”) to the final compromise that would shape history, “1776” offers a dramatic — and humorous — insight into the deals that made this country.

The participants in the South Bend production deliver their historical characters with enthusiasm and, possibly, with some insight into the real individuals.

Viewing the strengths and weaknesses of all, makes for a theatrical history lesson that is enjoyable at best. Richard Henry Lee (Art Kopec) is hilarious-lee challenged lyrical-Lee while Franklin never misses the opportunity to drop another Almanac-worthy saying.

Chung is most impressive as the unswerving Dickinson and leads his constituents in a well-executed gavotte. Torma pulls out all the vocal stops sardonically challenging Adams with the show-stopping “Molasses to Rum.”

1776  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe very painful realities of the conflict are obvious in the frequent messages from General Washington, delivered by a Courier (Kevin Boucher) who describes the close-to-home war in “Mama Look Sharp.”

“1776” obviously is by, for and about the male delegates but, as everyone knows, behind each is a formidable female. Only two are included in this telling, Abigail Adams (Heidi Ferris) and Martha Jefferson (Elizabeth Buckman). Ferris delivers a sturdy and sensible pre-Revolution wife, supporting her husband with good advice and much needed supplies. (When not on stage, Ferris heads for the balcony and discharges her offstage duties as music director.)

The lighter side is depicted by Manier, Quirk and Curtis as they debate the choice of an avian symbol for the new country in “The Egg.”

Assembling a cast of 26 (24 men) is a daunting task for any theater, let alone one that requires a number of them just to enter, sit on stage and exit on cue. The entire ensemble deserves applause!

Special notice to Craig McNab as terminally ill Caesar Rodney, Rob Newland as feisty Scot Col. Thomas McKean, Daniel Grey as congressional secretary Charles Thompson whose primary task is reading The General’s dispatches, and Gary Oesch as Stephen Hopkins who tempers politics with rum.

For the most part, the vocals are excellent, ensemble and individual, and I wished Edwards had included more of them in Stone’s libretto which definitely is dialogue-heavy.

The scenic design by Ann Davis works well and the costumes and lighting maintain the mood. The wigs, however, are rather mix-n-match and a number are less than attractive.

The fact that everyone knows where this portion of the story ends does nothing to detract from the chills that accompany the eventual signing as the liberty bell rings out.

Politicians today could stand to review this episode in our history and remember that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

‘1776” plays through May 1 in the Wilson Theatre at South Bend Civic Theatre. Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes (with intermission). For performance times and reservations, call 234-1112.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 April 2016 17:55
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