No Turning Away From 'StopKiss' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 29 March 2016 18:26

Some new plays take a while to get here from major cities, “here” being a viable production in middle America.

Such plays are the aim of South Bend Civic Theatre’s Firehouse Series (named for its venue) which may suffer from lack of production facilities (long scene changes, sound problems) but most always are well-acted and, judging from the small-but-enthusiastic audience’ reception, are welcome.

StopKiss South Bend (JN) Civic TheatreSuch a production is “StopKiss,” the current offering on the Firehouse “stage.” A work by American playwright Diana Son, it was premiered in New York’s Public Theatre in 1998 where the initial run was extended three times.

It is not necessarily an easy play to watch but, thanks to the honesty of the performers, it is not something from which you can turn away. And, considering the times in which we live, it is most certainly — and unhappily — current.

Callie (Sara Bomgaars) is an 11-year resident of New York’s Greenwich Village. As a traffic reporter for a local radio station, her main claim to fame is that she does her job from a helicopter. She lives, on-again, off-again, with George (Geoff Trowbridge), a bartender who obviously regards her small apartment as his home-away-from home.

StopKiss  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreInto her life comes Sara (Angie Berkshire), a recent resident of the big city who has come from St. Louis on a teaching fellowship at an elementary school in the Bronx. They meet when Callie agrees to take care of Sara’s cat while she goes out of town.

The women have an instant connection which, as Callie helps Sara fit in to the city lifestyle, becomes something more than just friendship, even though it is never named.

Coming home early one morning, the two stop in a park and impulsively share their first kiss, a moment interrupted by an attack (never seen) which puts Sara into a coma and signals the arrival of Peter (David Weist), her ex boyfriend, who is determined to take her back to St. Louis and oversee her recovery.

The time-line of StopKiss moves between the past — Callie and Sara’s meeting and the evolution of their relationship — and the present, which includes Callie’s harsh interrogation by a police Detective Cole (Michael Clarkson), whose sympathies seem onStopKiss  South Bend (IN) Civic Theatre the side of the attacker; the report by Mrs. Winsley (Darlene Hampton), a witness who saw the attack but never acted, and Callie’s determination to prove herself able to care for her still-recovering friend.

The time shifts are well-delineated and there is no problem determining just when events are taking place. The multi-locations are sparsely defined and, hopefully, will be reached more quickly and quietly as the run continues.

The emotional connections between Bomgaars and Berkshire are honest and believable, especially in creating their journey towards the difficult but eventually unavoidable acknowledgement of their feelings.

Trowbridge is the kind of friend you don’t need, while Hampton avoids caricature as the nosy do-gooder who evades involvement but relishes all the details.

Clarkson delivers a sadly realistic portrait of a detective who would rather be persecuting the victim. Weist is stuffily righteous as the beau Sara left behind.

Under the direction of Lucinda Moriarity, assisted by Mark Moriarity, the 90-minute, no-intermission drama challenges us to look at the way we perceive people — individually and collectively — and decide what really is important.

STOPKISS” plays through Saturday in the Firehouse Theatre, 701 Portage Ave. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit Seating is limited.

Bad Jokes, Good Friends For 'Guys On Ice' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 08 March 2016 21:37

On a cold winter’s day in Sturgeon Bay, WI, what are two buddies to do but pack up the Leinenkugel, grab their poles and head out on the frozen lake to wait for local TV personality Cubby Cavernon to pay them visit.

How they pass the time waiting for Cubby is shared in the Elkhart Civic Theatre production of “Guys on Ice; The Ice-Fishing Musical” which opened Friday evening in the Bristol Opera House.

Guys on Ice  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INWith music by James Kaplan and book and lyrics by Fred Alley, it premiered in 1998 in Wisconsin where it has since been presented annually. In contrast to more recent bigger-and-bigger musical productions, this is a small show which foregoes flying nannies and magical genies for a comfortable look at two men who are unavoidably familiar.

Marvin (Tony Venable) and Lloyd (Rick Nymeyer) are longtime friends who share a love of fishing, drinking beer, telling tall tales and commiserating about the fortunes of their Green Bay Packers.

Waiting in their ice fishing shack for “The Guy From TV” to come bringing 15 minutes of fame, they discuss many of their favorite things — the varying sizes of “The One That Got Away,” the value of “The Wishing Hole,” the fact that ‘Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be,” the importance of “The Beer in The Bucket” and, most hilariously, the flexibility of their cold-weather gear.

Guys on Ice  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INThe last is delivered in an “Ode to A Snowmobile Suit,” and comes complete with a chorus accompanied by rhythmic zippers. ripping Velcro fasteners and as much fancy footwork as good-ol-boys can muster.

Venable and Nymeyer establish a very comfortable rapport which plays easily and well throughout the hour and 45 minute (including intermission) performance.

They also take obvious delight in telling some of the worst/best shaggy dog jokes which, on opening night, earned loud groans and applause from the audience.

In addition to waiting for Cubby, the guys are trying to avoid their “friend” Ernie, aka The Moocher (Mike Nichols). As the afternoon progresses, it is obvious how Ernie earned his name. Once he is “in,” anything liquid and/or edible goes out. In addition, he travels with his ukulele, strumming and singing at the drop of a earflap. Nothing discourages Ernie, who always gets what he wants, even if he doesn’t know at first what’s available.

Nichols energetic performance made him an audience favorite, undoubtedly because everyone has an Ernie in his/her life. He also leads a game show for the audience at the top of act two, complete with appropriate prizes.

Directed by John Shoup, assisted by Kelly Rider, the shack opens easily in front of the forest silhouette. The lively score is in the hands (literally) of keyboardist Miriam Houck, with Nichols on 12-string guitar. Vocal director Michelle Miller has a cameo as a local anchorwoman.

In spite of (or maybe because of) the purposely bad jokes, “Guys on Ice” definitely has an appeal for all ages, especially anyone who can bait a hook.

GUYS ON ICE: The Ice-Fishing Musical” plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and March 18-19 and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on SR120. For reservations, call 848-4116 from 1 to 5:30 pm weekdays or visit

'The Music Man' Not As Easy As It Seems PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 04 February 2016 17:31

On Dec. 19,1957, Prof. Harold Hill stepped off the train in River City, Iowa, onto the stage of Broadway’s Majestic Theater and into musical theater history.

The Music Man South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreIn the nearly six decades since then, Meredith Willson’s homespun salute to middle America and the importance of a band has become, along with the Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Top Five, one of the most-produced musicals in the history of the genre.

The latest locally is on stage in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Auditorium through Feb. 21.

The Music Man South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreWith a cast of 34 under the direction of David Case, it delivered all the familiar melodies but, unfortunately, fell into the trap of seeming easier to produce that it actually is.

Having seen the original Broadway production with THE music man Robert Preston and Barbara Cook, (yes, I am THAT old!) I have long ceased to expect a reproduction to deliver anything close to the originals. Individual interpretations frequently work (saw a Harold Hill whose forte was tapping turn “Marian The Librarian” into an extended tap routine and it was excellent), but most amateurs go for the obvious. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

The South Bend offering is a bit more of the latter.

The Music Man South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe “doesn’t” begins with the first blatting notes of the “band,” set in an immovable gazebo upstage right. Under the direction of Conner Stigner, the small ensemble (not listed in the program) plowed through the familiar score, frequently without regard for consistentcy in tempo or key, often making it difficult to see how vocalists and dancers could keep together.

The justly famous opening, “Rock Island Line,” is an exercise in a capella rhythms designed to deliver necessary background information on Hill and his “line,” which worked fairly well.

The Music Man Suth Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe task of creating HH is assigned to Sean Leyes, a SBCT veteran with a variety of roles to his credit. With a smile always in place, he plunged through Hill’s tongue-twisting mostly-spoken solos successfully but the con man’s self-effacingly magnetic charm was lacking.

As the River City librarian who keeps Hill at a good distance for the first act, at least, Libby Klesmith is a matronly Marion, rather out of place opposite Leyes’ youthful salesman.

The Music Man South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe town matrons, led by the mayor’s wife, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn (Marty Smith), are at their best when they “Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little.” Unfortunately the comic dialogue in the song was drowned by a combination of blaring band and uncooperative sound system, obscuring all their reasons for disliking Marian.

The highlight of any “Music Man” has to be the feuding school board members, drawn together instantly by a note from Hill’s pitch pipe into an ever-singing barbershop quartet. Wayne Keppler, Ken Saur, Carey Treesh and Jacob Burbrink may not deliver the tightest harmonies, but they are close enough to make “Lida Rose,” “Goodnight Ladies” and “It’s You” remain my favorites.

Note to comedic second bananas: Louder definitely is not funnier.

Jennifer Paul’s choreography is well-executed, even when battling the band and Jim Geisel’s costumes are mostly colorful.

As always, Jacee Rohick’s set design is a pleasure to look at and easily delineates the various settings, from front porch to holiday fairground to school gymnasium.

Opening weekend found audience members program-less and advised to check the SBCT website, a situation we understand has been rectified for the rest of the run.

It is hard to tell the players without a program!

“THE MUSIC MAN” runs through Feb. 21 with shows at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For reservations, call 234-1112 noon to 6 p.m. weekdays.

Pulitzer Prize Drama On Stage In South Bend PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 14 January 2016 03:40

Seeing a theatrical production for the first time is always a risk. Will it be one to remember or easily forgotten?

The area’s first-time production of “Water By the Spoonful,” currently on stage in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Warren Theatre, is most definitely the former.

Water by the Spoonful South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe drama of tangled family relationships surrounded by the struggles of recovering addicts earned the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes. It is the second play in her trilogy focusing on the Ortiz family.

In the spare, electronically-augmented setting in the black box theater, emotions ebb and flow as connections familial and conversational sever sharply and tentatively reconnect.

At the dramatic center are Yazmin Ortiz (Jennifer Fox), a music teacher; her cousin Elliot Ortiz (Matthew Whitney), a Marine veteran of Iraq, and his biological mother Odessa Ortiz (Megan Chandler), also known in her internet chat room for recovering addicts as Haikumom.

Elliot is haunted by the ghost of a civilian he may have killed by mistake (Andrew Woverton) and plagued by a still-painful wound which has left his dependent on pills.

Water By The Spoonful  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreMembers of the anonymous chat room are known as Chutes and Ladders (Tucker Curtis), a discontented IRS employee; Orangutan (Sophia Korson), a young girl searching for her Japanese birth parents; and Fountainhead (Wes Mills), the newest entry, a successful business man who cannot admit his addiction.

The death of Odessa’s sister, Ginny, who raised Elliot at the insistence of his drug-addicted mother, brings he and Yaz together to plan for the funeral or, at least, for the flowers. The discussion erupts in anger as Yaz seeks to include Odessa in the plans, a suggestion to which Elliot violently objects.

The vitriolic outpouring of her son’s hatred causes Odessa to relapse which, directly and indirectly, affects the fates of all and underscores her description of the never-ending process of recovery: “Staying clean is like tap dancing in a mine field.”

All the characters are dancing as fast as they can and the result, under the direction of Marion D. Deleon, is mesmerizing. Each brings the individual struggle to painful reality and, rising or falling, each has a grip on the emotions of the empathetic audience.

The music and sound created for this production by Emily Beck and Deleon are instrumental (no pun intended) in setting and sustaining the varying moods. The same is true of the excellent light/projection design by Matt Davidson.

I have one major objection to this well-acted production: With the exception of Mills and Wolverton, none of the actors are ethnically correct. The script calls for three Hispanic actors, one African American and one Asian. The program contains extended explanations from the SBCT Artistic Director and the director as to why these roles were played by actors who “may not visually match the ways that some may expect these ethnicities to appear.”

This is not to take away from the performances of the very talented cast but it did make me wonder what the play would be like if the proper “types” had been available.

WATER BY THE SPOONFUL” plays tonight through Sunday in the Warner Studio Theatre. For reservations, call 234-1112.

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