Cast, Script Shine In Dark Comedy PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 16 August 2016 15:29

When a bio of playwright Martin McDonough lists his influences as Quentin Tarantino, Samuel Beckett and David Mamet, you should have some idea of what you’re in for in the current South Bend Civic Theatre production of “The Cripple of Inishmaan.”

Cripple of Inishmaan South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAnd you don’t have to be Irish to laugh out loud at some of the dark humor with which the award-winning play is laced.

Director Jim Geisel has assembled some of the best from SBCT’s roster of veteran actors — David Chudzynski and his wife, Deborah Girasek-Chudzynski, Chelle Walters, Marybeth Saunders and Bill Svelmoe — as well as a few relative newcomers — David Weist, Jonathan Gigler, Conner Correira and Miranda Manier.

Together on Jacee Rohick’s easily-revolving set pieces, they tell the story of Cripple Billy Claven (Correira), an orphan who lives with his adoptive aunts Eileen Osborne (Girasek-Chudzinski) and her sister Kate (Walters) and suffers the constant casual slurs and taunts of his family, friends and neighbors.

Especially stinging (and frequently physical) are those from Helen McCormick (Manier), a tough-talking girl on whom Cripple Billy has a crush. Helen and her slow-witted brother Bartley (Gigler), whose primary interest is the candy sold in the Osborne sisters all-purpose store, seem to have no purpose but tormenting Cripple Billy and each other.

When Johnnypateenmike (Chudzinski), the self-proclaimed town crier, arrives with three pieces of news (which he shares for a food fee) the word is out that an American film company is headed for the island of Inishmore to make a movie and may use locals. Cripple Billy decides immediately to audition and gets a ride from Babbybobby (Weist), a widowed boatman.

Cripple of Inishmaan  Souith Bend (IN) Civic ThetreMeanwhile, Johnnypateenmike is at home with his bedridden mother Mammy (Saunders), age 90. She has been drinking herself to death for 65 years, much to the delight of her son, who keeps her supplied with Irish whiskey, in spite of the dire warnings from Dr. McSharry (Svelmoe),

After a few days, it becomes apparent that Cripple Billy is missing and the residents of Inishmaan are disturbed — or not. When he does return, reactions are mixed as are the long-buried details surrounding the death of his parents which, it seems, everyone is finally determined to share.

The cast, each with his/her own degree of Irish accent, does a remarkable job of creating characters that are, with a few exceptions, much more than caricatures.

Girasek-Chudzynski and Walters are totally believable as aging siblings, each aware of the others idiosyncrasies — Eileen hides candy, Kate talks to stones — but ready to defend each other and Cripple Billy.

Chudzynski is the big blowhard you can’t hate but can’t stand and, of course, have to laugh at. His defense of his right to announce any news first is hilarious and frightening and he strikes just the right bullying notes. Saunders is actually delightful as the senior citizen who lets nothing stand between her and a medicinal nip.

Cfripple of Inishmaan South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreSvelmoe’s doctor is the one voice of reason in a rising chorus of … well, not exactly insanity but more and more disfunctional. Weist is the man with the boat. Caught between a flood and a rip tide, he struggles to stay afloat.

As Cripple Billy’s peers, Gigler is an Irish marshmallow dough boy, too soft and spongy to make a difference, while Manier is an Irish crag, all offense and deliberately jagged edges and way too sharp to elicit any sympathy. A softening would have helped.

The action, as one might suppose, swirls around Cripple Billy. Correira does an admirable job of keeping his “cripple” always in tact, not an easy thing to maintain for two hours. His determination to get out of Inishmaan is understandable as, eventually, is the reverse. His character is sympathetic without being pitiable and, finally, almost heroic.

The characters interact as easily as the set slides into different locations and the accents are not an impediment. The sound, however, is a different story.

This production was scheduled for the Warner Theatre (aka the Black Box) a downstairs space in which many of SBCT’s very best productions have been presented.

The venue was changed to the cavernous Wilson Theatre in which, whenever an actor turns away from your direct line of hearing, the dialogue, no matter how well delivered, vanishes or becomes mumbles.

This is a problem which has plagued SBCT since the first play in the Wilson and which no one seems able to solve.

It is unfortunate that when solid productions like “The Cripple of Inishmaan” are in the lineup, everyone will have to sit in the center of the auditorium to be able to hear the whole show.

“THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN” plays Wednesday through Sunday in the Wilson Theatre, 215 W. Madison St. For show times and reservations, call 234-1112 between 3 and 6 p.m. weekdays or visit

'Grease' Is The Word On Wagon Wheel Stage PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 13 August 2016 14:39

“Grease” is the word at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre where the popular musical opened Wednesday evening as the final offering of the regular 2016 season. (The Encore show, “The Full Monty” opens a one-week run Aug. 30.)

The Chicago-originated “Grease” has survived Broadway and West End (London) first runs plus multiple revivals and seemingly endless tours, all without skipping a doo-wah beat.

Grease WAgon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INIts original content, however, has been toned-down, a good thing considering its appeal to younger generations.

It still, in this reviewers opinion (which is shared by many), presents a less-than-acceptable premise — the young and innocent leading lady transforms herself into a less-than-innocent “babe” in order to fit in and win the affections of the gang leader.

Smoking, drinking and casual sex are presented as a matter of course and prerequisites for acceptance by ones peers. Not the premise sought in this age of “be yourself” and hopefully accepted strictly as a part of “the good old days.”

That said, the up-tempo score by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, who also wrote the book and lyrics, seems to transcend the script and strikes home with viewers of all ages.

That was the obvious consensus Wednesday evening as a large portion of the WW audience happily joined in when the Pink Ladies and the T-Birds (formerly the Burger Palace Boys) let go with “Born to Hand Jive.” Some muscle memories never die!

As always, the WW production shines with the sharply executed choreography of director Scott Michaels which lifts the production above the ordinary and provides one solid reason for being there.

Grease Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw INKayla Eilers and Sean Watkinson are Sandy and Danny, the miss-matched sweethearts whose relationship is dependent on the opinions of their peers.

He is the leader of the T-Birds, who ignore more rules than they obey, she is the new kid. Their “Summer Nights” romance, which each sees differently, turns cold in the light of high school.

She is befriended by the Pink Ladies, female counterparts of the T-Birds. Members are Jan (Elaine Cotter), who never met a left-over she didn’t like; Marty (Laura Plyler), who has a boyfriend (“Freddy, My Love”) in the Marines; Frenchy (Elaine Cotter), who plans to drop out and enter beauty school; and Rizzo (Lexi Carter), whose “I don’t care” attitude (“There Are Worse Things I Could Do”) seemingly applies to everything.

Her comment to non-smoking Sandy, who refuses a cigarette, “It ain’t gonna kill you,” got a justifiable laugh.

Rizzo’s boyfriend is Kenickie (Keaton Eckhoff), whose primary focus is his car “Greased Lightnin’.” Other T-Birds are Doody (Barrett Riggins), who is learning guitar for “Those Magic Changes,” Roger (Noah Kieserman), who delights in “Mooning”; and Sonny (Caleb Fath), whose comb is his favorite appendage.

Grease  Wagon Wheel Theatre  Warsaw  INOutside are “lesser” characters who prove the old saying about no small parts.

Evan Duff, who has contributed a gem to every production this season, is Eugene, the class nerd, paired with Aria Braswell as Patty Simcox, head cheerleader and all-around goody goody. Miss Lynch (Kathy Hawkins) echoes the frustrations of every high school teacher, Joey Birchler is radio DJ Vince Fontaine, a Dick Clark wanna-be., and Akilah Sailers kicks up her heels (literally) as Danny’s prom date Cha-Cha DeGregorio.

Chuckie Benson delivers a real show-stopper with his second act appearance as Teen Angel. In sequined jacket, pink shoes and Little Richard “do,” he descends with his angelic quartet to urge Frenchy (“Beauty School Dropout”) to go back to high school.

The colorful costume designs by Stephen R. Hollenbeck help greatly in setting the time, as do the equally colorful set design by production designer Michael Higgins and the late Roy Hine and the ‘50s-era wigs by Jennifer Dow. Again. Music director Thomas N. Stirling and his blue ribbon band supply the perfect accompaniment. Chris Pollnow’s sound design keeps everything in balance.

Scott Fuss, most usually seen on stage, served as assistant director.

‘GREASE” plays through Aug. 20 in the theater at 2515 E. Center St. For show times and reservations call (574) 267-8041 or visit

'Rocky Horror' No. 11 At The Barn PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 06 August 2016 18:17

If “The Time Warp” is among your dance favorites and science fiction/horror films are your top movie choices (at the B-level, of course), then The Barn Theatre has the answer to your entertainment fantasy.

Rocky Horror Show The Barn Theatre Augusta MIThe Augusta, MI playhouse opened its 11th (right, eleventh!) production of “The Rocky Horror Show” Tuesday evening and, while the number of costumed audience members seemed down — it was a week night, after all — those who followed their Transylvanian urge deserved the stares they received from those in “regular” garb.

Director Brendan Ragotzy repeated the “no props” request which thankfully was respected., although one theater-goer was seen entering with a role of toilet paper and a loaf of bread in a large purse. (For those familiar with “Rocky Horror,” no explanation is necessary. For those not, well, it would take too long.)

Enough to say that, since its beginning in the 1970s as the creation of out-of-work British actor Richard O’Brien, the campy mash-up has taken on a life of its own. From its start in a small experimental theater space in London to a full-scale production (and a revival) on Broadway, to national and international tours, to a now-cult film and upcoming “live” TV production, “The Rocky Horror Show” just keeps coming!

The latest Barn Theatre production, according to Ragotzy, is in answer to the repeated requests from audience members for its return. Here I have to say that I was not among them, having seen this show in many forms from summer stage to Broadway to film, but, as my grandmother used to say, that’s what makes horse racing.

Rocky Horror Show The Barn Theatre Augusta MIEnough to report that those in attendance were definitely “Rocky Horror” fans. This was obvious by their vocal participation (and kudos to the actors for staying in character and never missing a best as lines were shouted from the audience). As my fellow attendee noted: “This is theater for people who don’t know theater.”

Whatever the on-lookers’ mind-set, it was obvious that those telling the tale of honeymooning Brad (Cody Stiglich) and Janet (Sarah Lazar) were enjoying it fully.

Those roles are played by actors costumed primarily in their underwear, for this is their garb-of-force when taking refuge from a storm in the castle of Dr. Frank N. Furter (Jay Poff) and his minions Riff-Raff (Eric Parker), Magenta (Penelope Alex) and Columbia (Kasady Kwiatkowska), and a large group of others, all scantily clothed in sparkling outfits.

Rocky Horror Show  The Barn Theatre Augusta MNIDr. Frank, who introduces himself as a “Sweet Transvestite from Transylvania,” has just completed creating Rocky (Jamey Gresham), a Charles Atlas-wannabe, strong on muscle and short on brains. He insists Janet and Brad stay the night and that’s when the “fun” (make that sex) begins.

Out of the freezer pops Eddie (Patrick Hunter), a biker in love with Columbia from whom Dr. Frank extracted Rocky’s brain. His appearance is short-lived. When wheel, eventually,chair-bound scientist Dr. Everett Scott (Charlie King), arrives looking for his nephew Eddie, the truth is revealed and eventually everyone goes home to their respective planets.

A minor electronic glitch opening night got the show off to a slightly “rocky” restart (pun intended), but it was smooth sailing from then on.

Since the last “Rocky Horror” incarnation at The Barn (2012), Riff-Raff’s hair has gotten longer and whiter, the mellow-toned Narrator (John Jay Espino) more closely resembles a character from Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” leggy Poff is more at home in the doctor’s fishnets than the last Frank N. Furter, and the glitter-and-glitz ratio has been ramped up at least 75 per cent.

Aside from that, the camp classic hit home with its long-time fans and undoubtedly made many more. signaling no doubt that the theater will go for an even (or uneven) dozen.

‘THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW” plays through Aug. 14 in the theater on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For show times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit

Classic Comedy Still Fresh And Funny PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 29 July 2016 15:19

There’s a song by Peter Allen that declares “Everything old is new again.”

The proof of this opened Wednesday at the Wagon Wheel Theatre in Warsaw with its production of the 1939 comic classic “The Man Who Came to Dinner.”

The Man Who Came To Dinner Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INWritten by two of the best in their era and beyond — George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart — it tells of the enforced stay (via an icy fall and an injured hip) of a famous author/radio personality in the home of a Mesalia, Ohio, factory owner and of the major chaos which ensues. It is December 1939 and Scrooge, aka Sheridan Whiteside, is not feeling the love.

Based on a slightly similar incident in the Hart home, the lineup of characters includes several based on theatrical personalities well known in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

The Man Who Came to Dinner Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INIf you can guess who they are, you are as old as I, but in this show, directed sharply and at a required rapid pace by Ben Dicke, it doesn’t make any difference if you can or not.

They are hilarious no matter who they were/are.

In the center of the increasing whirlwind sits (literally) Whiteside, played with wonderfully appropriate stentorian bravado by Robert J. (Bob) Miller. The world, no matter where it is at any given moment, revolves around him and he definitely thinks this is the way it should be.

Commandeering the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Stanley, played with increasing frustration by Chuckie Benson and Lottie Prevenost, he virtually sentences them to the upper floor and continues with his life as usual.

At his side (initially) is his trusted secretary Maggie Cutler (Elaine Cotter), while several in the Stanley household — daughter June (Kayla Eilers), son Richard (Noah Keiserman), butler John (Sea Watkinson) and cook Sarah (Aria Braswell) — are looked upon favorably, as are local newsman Bert Jefferson (Joey Birchler), a playwright-in-waiting who goes rather wildly overboard for Maggie, and Mr. Stanley’s sister, Harriet (Ruby Marie Gibbs), an other-worldly spinster who floats in and out of Whiteside’s frantic reality in a world of her own.a

Not-so-gentle treatment is afforded Miss Preen (Laura Plyler), the unfortunate nurse in charge of the recalcitrant patient (her exit speech is worth the wait and received well-deserved applause) , and Dr. Bradley (Evan Duff), a physician with a literary aspirations and a good deal of patience (pun intended!).

The Man Who Came to Dinner Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INDashing in and out of the Whiteside bedside are Professor Metz (Keaton Eckhoff), delivering a “buggy” gift; Banjo (Scott Fuss), a wildly wacky comedian; Beverly Carlton (Barrett Riggins), playwright with a flair for music and imitation; and Lorraine Sheldon (Lexi Carter), film femme fatale on the prowl.

From the outset, Whiteside is more than rude to everyone. Receiving a welcoming gift of calves foot jelly from a local matron, he snarls “Made from her own foot, I have no doubt.”

And that’s when he’s feeling charitable.

The insults fly fast and furiously but there is no profanity and each gets the laugh it deserves, primarily thanks to the sharp delivery of the wheelchair-bound central figure, the reactions of his captive targets and the determinaiton with which he plots — and co-conspirators augment his plans.

Miller maneuvers his wheelchair deftly around the comfortable living room set designed by Jacki Anderson, shouting orders and shooting barbs with gleeful abandon. He is the man you love to hate and, when the snow clears, the final blow — to quote Gilbert and Sullivan — fits the crime.

It is two hours-plus and most of that time is filled with laughs. After more than three-quarters of a century, this man is still one of the funniest dinner guests in theater history.

Trust me. This is one you don’t want to miss.

“THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER” plays through Aug. 6 in the theater at 2515 E. Center St. in Warsaw. For show times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit

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