Relationships Focus Of Ensemble Production PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 21 June 2016 18:31

What’s in a name?

The title of The Acting Ensembles’s current production, which opened Friday evening in Studio 217, might — as Shakespeare would say — give you pause.

A prize-winning comedy/drama by British playwright Mike Bartlett, the four-character study in relationships is titled “Cock.”

OK, so the program cover illustrates it in one way with a black-and-white design of two roosters obviously fighting. Among the many dictionary definitions are a faucet valve, a gun hammer and the jaunty tilt of a hat. None reference male genitalia which, however, seems to be the first connection most people make.

That’s unfortunate if it keeps anyone from seeing the clever, caustic and frequently comedic play which holds the attention completely for its 90-minute, no intermission, playing time.

Done as the playwright instructs, with no set, no props, no furniture, no specific costuming and no specific time frame, it allows everything to be focused on the participants, or should I say combatants, because that is precisely what they are. If not at first, then definitely at last.

The suggested circular arena is a box-like space here which serves equally well as the actors advance and retreat, circle, enter and exit. Round or square, they are caught within the limitations of their lives.

John (Brent Graber) and M (Geoff Trowbridge) have been in an exclusive relationship for an undesignated length of time when M feels the need for taking a break. John protests but eventually agrees.

When M returns, he is carrying the burden of another love affair — with a woman — and is, to quote an old cliché, on the horns of a dilemma. Caught between his feelings for both M and W (Angie Berkshire), John finds himself struggling to make a decision.

“What I am is not more important than who I am” he declares, torn between the two and seemingly unable to choose.

To facilitate a decision, a dinner for three is arranged with M stacking the deck slightly by adding F (Brad Mazick), his father, to the guest list. No surprise as to who’s cause he is supporting.

In the course of the evening, the pros and cons of all manner of relationships are discussed, focusing on identity and sexuality and the part they play in the life and makeup of an individual.

Agree with the outcome or not, under the direction of Melissa Gard, the solid acting quartet delivers a frequently humorous always thought-provoking evening — and one that, unfortunately, you probably will not have the opportunity to see again in this area.”

COCK” plays Thursday through Sunday on The Acting Ensemble Main Stage at Studio 217, 217 S. Michigan St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 807-0108 or visit This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Adult language and content.

Musical Satire Spears Big Business PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 18 June 2016 18:29

There are certain musicals that, for one reason or another, stand the test of time. One of these is the current production at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre — “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

How to Succeed in Business  Wagon Wheel Theatte  Warasw INNot only did the 1961 Broadway smash hit win seven of the eight Tony Awards for which it was nominated, it also earned the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for drama and, decades later, received successful revivals in 1995 and 2011.

Not bad for a satirical musicalization based on a satirical novel by Shepherd Mead. With a book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert and music and lyrics by Frank Loesser (ironically the only nominee who did not win), it could be compared to “Mad Men” but with the accent strictly on laughs.

The meteoric rise of J. Pierrepont (“Call me Ponty”) Finch (Tom Sweeney) from window washer to chairman of the board of World Wide Wickets is every entry-level employee’s fantasy.

Armed only with a disarming grin and a do-it-yourself handbook for corporate success, Finch is the champion advantage-taker of all time. He never misses the chance to turn a seeming mishap into another step up the ladder and he never looks back.

Neither the machinations of lazy, egotistical Bud Frump (Keaton Eckhoff), the boss’s nephew-by-marriage, or the determined devotion of WWW secretary Rosemary Pilkington (Erica Durham), who has her eyes on another prize (“Happy to Keep His Dinner Warm”), can deter him from his goal.

Starting in the mailroom, he takes advice (“The Company Way”) from its head man Mr. Twimble (Evan Duff) and uses information about the collegiate history (“Grand Old Ivy”) of WWW president J.J.Biggley (Chuckie Benson) How to Succeed in Business Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INand his after-hours romance (“Love From A Heart of Gold”) with Hedy LaRue (Lottie Prenovost), ex-nightclub cigarette girl and secretary wannabe, to climb ever higher.

Along the way, he alienates fellow executives and ignores Rosemary, even after realizing (“Rosemary”) that he loves her. Nothing cracks his overwhelming self-confidence (“I Believe In You”), not even . . . Sorry. No more spoilers.

If the treatment of women in the workplace (“A Secretary Is Not A Toy”), and the limited goals they set for themselves (“Cinderella Darling”), seems way too unreal, you never worked for a big corporation in the 1950s-60s.

The fact that the secretary’s primary way out of the steno pool was marriage seems (thank goodness!) too far-fetched to be real. Then “The Brotherhood of Man” did not include females.

Enjoy ‘How to Succeed” in its proper satirical context and be glad that today’s office workers have more to focus on than getting a spouse or a bigger office.

Sweeney is believable as the enterprising Finch, with his spotlighted slow-turns as opportunities arise earning increasing laughter. Durham has a warm soprano which tends to become too shrill and rapid with dialogue.

How to Succeed in Business  Wagon Wheel Theagtre  Warsaw INScene stealers are Eckhoff’s clumsily diabolical Bud Frump, who gives nepotism an even worse name, and Laura Plyler’s Smitty, leader of the steno pool and chief advocate of marrying the boss as the way out. Their agony when the pot runs out (“Coffee Break”) is universal!

Andy Robinson’s direction keeps the devious plotlines crackling along, a necessity for a 2 ½+ hour show. The set design by Michael Higgins and Terry Julien seeks to evoke the ‘60s with a header hung with colored discs in a variety of shapes and sizes and a central playing area that, to this reviewer, strongly resembled an Etch A Sketch without the knobs.

Costume anomaly: All the women wear straight skirts except Rosemary whose outfits are a salute to crinoline.

Historical note: The “Voice” of the book, delivered here in properly stentorian tones by Mike Yocum (who also plays Willie Womper), was recorded for the ’95 revival by Walter Cronkite and, for ’11, by Anderson Cooper.

Hmmm. Wonder if they followed its advice?

”HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING” plays through June 25 in the theater at 2515 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit

Scott and Barbra A Winning Combination PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 16 June 2016 20:34

Talk about a triumphant return!!!

Buyer & Cellar  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIFor many years, actor/director Scott Burkell was one of the primary reasons to travel to The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI every two weeks from June through August.

A mainstay of the core Equity company, he rose to the challenge no matter what the role — from door-slamming farce to heart-wrenching drama, straight play or musical — it seemed there was nothing he couldn’t do (his Riff-Raff was the highlight of many Barn productions of “The Rocky Horror Show”).

When other theatrical commitments drew him away from the Augusta stage, something special was lost..

After more than a dozen years, producer Brandon Ragotzy has succeeded in luring Burkell “home” for the 70th season celebration.

He opened Tuesday evening for one-week-only in “Buyer & Cellar,” delivering a tour-de-force solo performance as Alex More, an out-of-work actor who takes a job for an unnamed employer in Malibu, CA.

When the employer turns out to be Barbra Streisand and the job is tending to the mini-mall in her basement (true!) where she is the only buyer, things get a bit complicated.

In addition to dealing with Barbra’s major-domo Sharon, Alex must handle increasing hostility from his boyfriend Barry who definitely resents Alex’ obvious devotion to the star which grows with her every “shopping trip.”

Buyer & Cellar  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIThe mall, as described in Streisand’s book “My Passion for Design,” is a fact, which the actor separates from fiction in the opening scene. Also the creation of author Jonathan Tolins are the meetings with Streisand’s husband James Brolin, the wonderfully sly “can you top this” sales duels (or is that duets?) between More and the lady of the manor and the suspiciously overpowering speed with which she accepts his suggestions for her next film.

When he finally is invited to come out of the basement and visit the main house, it is the culmination of his dreams . . . or is it?

There is no intermission in this 90-minute performance and every minute is a real delight. Burkell is a triple threat, master of facial, physical and vocal nuance and each is utilized perfectly under the eye of guest director Jim Gaylord.

There is no set, just a scrim tri-plex which serves as the background for a series of Streisand-oriented projections, and little furniture. Area lighting designates the location of each scene, up or down, in or out.

Nothing else is needed. Burkell does it all. Aside from the entertaining script, the evening is like meeting an old friend and realizing he has only gotten better!

NOTE: Burkell will return Aug. 30 for “Red, White and Tuna” with another Barn veteran Joe Aiello.

“BUYER & CELLAR” plays through Sunday in the theatre on West highway M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or on line at

Life Lessons Set To Music On 'Avenue Q' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 09 June 2016 16:39

Who said puppets are just for children?

Avenue Q  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MICertainly not composer/lyricist Robert Lopez or writer Jeff Whitty or the cast and crew of “Avenue Q,” the Tony Award-winning musical that opened the 70th season (and a short one-week-only run) Tuesday evening at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI.

“Avenue Q” Opened Off Broadway in March 2003, moved to Broadway in July, won three of the top Tony Awards and played there through September 2009. In October it returned to Off Broadway where it still plays today.

Talk about a popular show!

The Barn production shows just why.

Under the solid direction of Eric Parker, 11 puppets and 10 humans offer a delightfully insightful look at the pros and cons of young adulthood as lived on Avenue Q.

For whatever reason, three adults are puppetless throughout while six create create 10 almost larger-than-life characters. Seven are rod puppets and four, hand puppets which frequently require two puppeteers. One “extra’ adult, Samantha Rickard, fills in several “bodies.”

Avenue Q  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIFor those who have never seen “Avenue Q,” the fact that the actors/puppeteers are highly visible at all times, moving and speaking/singing for their characters, might seem a definite distraction.

The puppets and human characters completely ignore the puppeteers and, after a very short time, so does the audience.

The show conjures memories of “Sesame Street” with a generous dash of “South Park,” but it is definitely its own . The primary protagonist is Princeton (Sam Balzac), a recent college graduate looking for a purpose and a cheap place to live. Meeting building superintendent Gary Coleman (Shinnerrie Jackson) he takes an apartment and meets the rest of his neighbors: Brian (Charlie King), an aspiring standup comic. and his Japanese fiancé Christmas Eve (Jasmine Ejan) a clientless therapist; roommates Rod (Balzac) a Republican banker, and out-of-work Nicky (Patrick Hunter); Trekkie Monster (Hunter), a growly hermit who spends his days searching for internet porn; and Kate Monster (Melissa Cotton), an assistant kindergarten teacher who dreams of opening her own Monstersori school.

Avenue Q  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIIn pursuit of his “Purpose.” Princeton meets the Bad Idea Bears (Brook Evans and Hans Friedrichs), who resemble cuddly Care Bears but have mischief on their minds, and Lucy the Slut (Cotton), a sleazy singer who aims her lyrics at Princeton, much to the annoyance of Kate Monster who , with Princeton, is enjoying a number of Long Island Iced Teas.

Their hazy night on the town, which includes hilariously noisy naked puppet sex, has unhappy consequences including breakups, rebounds, unemployment and homelessness.

Under the puppet guises and a wonderfully singable score, “Avenue Q” touches on a wealth of problems including sex, racism, pornography, commitment and homosexuality with a little ”Schadenfreude” (look it up, it’s more common than you think!) thrown in.

Avenue Q  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIThe outstanding cast makes the most of every situation, human or puppet. Cotton does an amazing “double take,” going from innocent to worldly with a flip of her hair (and her hip). Balzac’s characters are closer in temperament, but he differentiates beautifully, all without skipping a beat or dropping a line!

Hunter is perfect as both whiney sponger and grumbling monster. Jackson is a great grinning Coleman and the petite Ejan is delightful as the “crabby old bitch,” a title she embraces with enthusiasm.

The scenic design by Michael Wilson Morgan works well, with windows and doors, upstairs and down, operating smoothly.

Pianist/conductor Matt Shabala leads a solid instrumental quintet. There is at times a bit of overplaying, but that could be corrected by the sound operator.

All in all, a stroll down Avenue Q is a great way to spend an evening, but leave the children at home.

“AVENUE Q” plays through Sunday in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit

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