Interesting Characters Inhabit 'Chaillot' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 13 February 2012 19:43

South Bend Civic Theatre opened its 2012 Warner Studio Theatre season Friday evening with a production of Jean Giraudoux' "poetic satire" "The Madwoman of Chaillot".

Madwoman of Chaillot  South Bend Civic TheatreWritten in 1943 and first produced in 1949, it tells the story of Countess Aurelia (Connie Chalko) and her group of definitely off-beat friends who band together to keep their Paris suburb of Chaillot from destruction at the hands of powerful capitalists who have smelled oil beneath its streets. Initially, this group of ruthless men stood in for France's Nazi occupiers but now, unfortunately, is easily identified with present day big businessmen and politicians. Obviously haves and have-nots don't change much in any time or place.

In the adaptation by Maurice Valency, it seems frequently as though the inmates are running the asylum, but the old adage about divine care of fools becomes apparent and, in the end, the right/wrong people make the descent to well-deserved oblivion down an eerily endless stairway under the Paris sewers, presumably to wander there forever. "They were wicked," the Countess explains to some who expected the death penalty. "And wickedness evaporates."

While waiting for them to rush to their just deserts, this "Madwoman" delivers some interesting characters, most especially those who are the close friends of the primary Countess. Veteran SBCT actress Mary Ann Moran delivers a delightful turn as Madame Constance whose constant companion is her (dead) dog Dickie. Carolyn Sherman is Madame Gabrielle, an aging virgin with imaginary friends who holds her ears and refuses to listen to anything she finds even remotely concerned with sex. Madame Josephine (Ann Umbaugh) is the brusque, be-turbaned widow of a lawyer and thus the final word on all matters of jurisprudence. Her edicts set the parameters when Aurelia & Co. decide that the capitalists must be tried in order to be punished — legally — for their crimes.

Madwoman of Chaillot South Bend Civic TheatreThe ladies select The Ragpicker (Vincent Bilancio) as a surrogate defendant to stand in for The President (Bob Franklin), The Baron (Dan Driscoll), The Broker (Douglas Streich) and The Prospector (Libby Unruh). One of the most amusing segments of Act 1 is the search for a name for their next non-existent corporation. After the name, "All we need is a property", The President declares. Enter The Prospector who has a definite nose for such things and the scheme is begun.

That justice triumphs is a given and one could only hope it could always be that simple.

According to the program bios, Chalko is making her theatrical debut as the Madwoman, a role played in the film version by Katherine Hepburn and in the Broadway musical (titled "Dear World") by Angela Lansbury. Her height is a definite focus-puller but her crisply delivered performance is a sure sign of other productions to come. Her twittering trio is equally effective and none ever drop character, even when the action (such as there is) moves away.

Bilancio turns in another well-shaped character and his defense is completely logical although morally indefensible. He knows just how to hold the stage and, as with the elderly ladies and their delightfully hilarious tea party, provides a welcome relief in the second act. Here B.J.Simpson as the Sewer Man, a character with much more drive and energy than his first act persona Jardin, the city architect, kicks the Act Two proceedings into high gear.

The first act, which seems much longer than its one hour running time, could be well served with some judicious trimming. The second act picks up the pace but, on opening night, cues were slow and the result was frequently awkward. Some roles are doubled but, even so, the cast of 18 must be the largest ever assembled for a Studio Theatre production. It is under the direction of SBCT executive director Tami Ramaker.

"THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT" will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 19. For reservations and information, call 234-1112 or visit 

Last Updated on Saturday, 18 February 2012 16:53
'blue' Is A Very Pleasant Surprise PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 25 January 2012 20:00

If I am not familiar with a play, I usually go into the theater remembering a phrase standard with an old first-nighter friend: “Maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

blue  south bend civic theatre  south bend inSometimes we are and sometimes not. With the current South Bend Civic Theatre production of “blue,” a play by Charles Randolph-Wright with music by Nona Hendryx and lyrics by the author and composer, it was definitely the former.

Not that the scenario has not been played out frequently on stage. Dysfunctional families have been a standard with writers from the ancient Greeks to the present day. The first line of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” sets the scene for the tragedy to follow: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

 Not that “blue” is a tragedy. In fact, under the hand of guest director Ron OJ Parson, it contains a fair number of comic figures and situations, with a denoument that, if not completely expected, still supplies a surprising if soap opera-ish twist.

 The setting is Kent, a small community in South Carolina. The characters, each of whom has his/her own set of secrets, are members of the Clark family, plus one initial outsider and one very real musical memory.

 The mother, Peggy (Natalie Davis Mller), is an elegant former model who moves from one project to another while ruling her quiet husband Samuel Jr. (Paul Bertha) and her two sons, Samuel III (Shaylon Wright) and young Reuben (double cast and played easily on opening night by Ian Coates and by Gilbert Michel as the adult Reuben), with an iron hand in her decidedly velvet gloves. The family is wealthy thanks to their ownership of the flourishing (and only) black funeral home in town. It provides the upper middle class lifestyle so important to Peggy. Her pretense of “elegance” is underscored by her Friday night dinners, culinary extravaganzas which she orders, transfers to her own dishes and swears she has cooked them herself.

blue  south bend civic theatre  south bend IN The barb under her mink is mother-in-law Tillie Clark (Diane Gammage), who delights in skewering the matron’s pretentions. Peggy also objects to son Sam’s current significant other, LaTonya Dinkins (Laurisa LeSure), whose dress and manner mark her from the down side of Peggy’s social register. Her antagonism evaporates quickly, however, when she discovers LaTonya is an intense fan of Blue Williams (Ben Little), a singer whose vocals are a constant part of Peggy’s life. LaTonya instantly becomes a project and is welcomed to the family.

 There is no timeline for intermission but between Acts 1 and 2, things have obviously changed and it is at least 10 years later. Sam’s Afro has been cut to an acceptable length and Reuben, who spent his youth practicing the trumpet to please his mother, returns home in blue jeans with dredlocks which he refuses to cut, even when Peggy’s longtime project, her family on the cover of Ebony magazine, is about to be realized.

 The final scenes of the 2 ½ hour show are rife with confrontations, parents to children and siblings to each other, and a confession that explains many things too easily.

 The cast is solid, with a silver-coiffed Gammage the primary scene-stealer, refusing to be intimidated by her controlling daughter-in-law and delivering barbs soto voce with hilarious accuracy. The trim and vocally smooth Little, whose acappella vocals ala Barry White and slow motion movements are consistently right on, is never intrusive but accentuates the underlying emotions that swirl beneath the Carters’ public façade. Bertha creates a quietly strong persona who sees his family’s flaws and deals with them for the good of all. Coates is a delight as the wise-beyond-his-years youngster.

 The set design by Jacee Rohick provides the perfect background for the family, with the stage crew deserving applause for its swift and complete change of the interior during the one brief intermission. The unfortunate acoustics in the mainstage auditorium still prove a stumbling block for the actors. Dalogue is lost to whichever side of the house they turn away from.

 “blue” will be presented through February 5 in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium in the theater at 403 N. Main St. Times and tickets prices vary. For information and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit

Last Updated on Friday, 17 February 2012 03:08
Simon At Home In 'Brighton Beach' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 18 January 2012 20:39

For more than a half century, playwright Neil Simon has made a successful career of hitting the funnybones of audiences around the world.

Brighton Beach Memoirs Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol;One of his best plays, which combines the rapid one-liners for which he became famous via “The Odd Couple,” Come Blow Your Horn” and “Barefoot in The Park,” is on stage through Sunday in the Bristol Opera House.

The Elkhart Civic Theatre production of “Brighton Beach Memoirs” not only has the acerbic wit of the master but is genuinely touching and hits home with anyone who has ever been part of a family. The first play in a series unofficially known as the “Eugene Trilogy,” “Brighton Beach Memoirs” is semi-autobiographical and, with “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound,” charts the life of Eugene Morris Jerome from angst-filled puberty to early experiences in the wild world of comedy.

From the minute the lights go up on young Eugene imaging himself as the star pitcher for his beloved New York Yankees (and giving his Aunt Blanche a headache by his bouncing fast ball) you can believe the young boy who declares he is blamed for everything that goes wrong — even the impending war in Europe. Eugene’s cryptic asides echo the thoughts of anyone who sees himself as the family scapegoat, no matter the circumstances and, in his quest to see a naked woman, discovers that “lust and guilt are closely related.”

Brighton Beach Memoirs Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INEugene is in the hands of an excellent young actor, Memorial High School junior Daniel Daher, who brings the teenager to agonizingly hilarious life as he stumbles through the bewildering maze of puberty and family (with the infallible (?) guidance of his older brother Stanley, played by Brock Butler with just the right blend of elder sibling arrogance and still-young uncertainty). In the Jerome household, the titular head is father Jack (an appropriately weary Dave Dufour), a garment cutter whose supplementary job as a salesman of novelties has just disappeared, but — as in the majority of families — it is mother Kate (Melissa Domiano) who steers the ship.

Domiano’s characterization makes a solid connection, especially with mothers who struggle to keep the family together while keeping often conflicting emotions under wraps. Kate is complex and Domiano delivers the many facets of her personality in an empathetic package.

Kate’s widowed sister Blanche Norton and Blanche’s daughters Laurie and Nora are part of the extended Jerome family. As portrayed by Valerie Ong, Molly Hill and Lydia Coppedge, respectively, they create a trio of familial guests who deal in varying degrees with the gratitude and resentment their situation engenders, both in themselves and their relatives/hosts.

The highs and lows in the Jerome household in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, during a week in September 1937 are a microcosm of events that could take place in any family. In the hands of Neil Simon and the excellent ECT cast, they are hilariously moving and definitely believable.

Director John Hutchings and assistant director Carl Wiesinger develop the nuances of family relationships — sibling to sibling and parent to child — and get an admirable degree of realism from each cast member. It certainly doesn’t hurt that their “dramedy” is played out on another of artistic director John Shoup’s ultra livable sets. The attention to detail (a very important word in Shoup’s theatrical vocabulary) in every corner of the Jerome house is amazing and puts a living/dining room, two upstairs bedrooms, a porch and a bathroom on the small opera house stage with seeming ease. It’s the little things that make a difference.

“BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS” plays at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on Ind. 120 in Bristol. Running time: 2 ½ hours including intermission. For tickets: 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 January 2012 04:09
Willson Musical Not Quite A Miracle PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 09 December 2011 18:44

Once the holiday season begins there’s one thing you can be sure of: before it ends you will have the chance to see many holiday-themed shows.

Wagon Wheel Theatre  Miracle on 34th StreetOn stage, on TV or on the silver screen, most are varied productions of the same story as the “classics” eventually go from print to film to stage play to musical, stage and film. How you get your dose of Christmas cheer is your choice, but be aware that not all are the same, even if they share a namel.

Such is the case with “Here’s Love,” which opened Friday at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre.

Initially, that was the title given the musical version of the now-classic 1947 film “Miracle on 34th Street.” It opened on Broadway in October 1963, played thru July 1964 and departed. When it reappeared it had adopted the movie title (adding “The Musical”), probably for more instant recognition.

It’s pedigree is impressive. Book, music and lyrics are by Meredith Willson, who performed the same triple threat in 1957 with “The Music Man,” a stage and screen blockbuster, and again in 1960 with “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”

Only natural to figure that another musical would follow in the timesteps of its older siblings, which just goes to show that lightning may strike twice but three strikes can mean you’re out.

In spite of an excellent production directed by WW artistic director Scott Michaels, who also is responsible for the outstanding choreography, the theatrical script has a hard edge which shifts the tone from the film’s sweet and kind-hearted feeling to one that is uncomfortably cynical. Even the comic roles are way off the wall.

The score is well-handled by the eight piece orchestra under the direction of Thomas N. Stirling, and the voices, both solo and ensemble, are up to the high WW standard. The problem, with one exception, is that the songs are easily forgettable. The exception is “Pinecones and Hollyberries,” a lovely duet between Kris Kringle (Robert J. Miller) and young Susan Walker (Lauren Housel) which harkens back to “gentler Christmas times.” It incorporates one of Willson’s earlier seasonal melodies, “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas,” and definitely is worth the Act II reprise.

Wagon Wheel Theatre  Miracle on 34th StreetMiller, who could double anywhere as Old St. Nick (the beard is real), infuses his character with ingratiating warmth and Claus-worthy charm. His duet with young Sadie Lemon as Hendrika, a little European refugee, is delivered in believable Dutch (on both parts) and is a lovely highlight of the show.

Housel avoids any hint of brattiness as the young girl brought up to believe only what she can “see, smell, taste or touch.” As Susan’s realist mother Doris Walker, Jennifer Dow again proves that she is one of WW’s hidden treasures. Unfortunately, this script makes Fred Gaily (Michael Mott) a very brash ex-Marine who wants to be a lawyer. His relationship with Doris is fast and furious and not very romantic.

The performers, both adults and children, do their best to keep the parade moving along briskly, but I kept hoping a barbershop quartet would stroll through.

“MIRACLE ON 34th STREET, the musical” plays through December 18 in the theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performances dates and times and reservations, call (574) 269-7996 or visit




Last Updated on Friday, 09 December 2011 19:24
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