In 'Love Letters' It Only Takes Two PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 11 June 2015 21:46

“Love Letters,” the two-character drama by A.R. Gurney which opened an abbreviated one-week run Tuesday at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI, is a deceptively simple theatrical offering.

Love Letters The Barn Theatre Augusta MIThere is no set, only two desks, side-by-side, each holding a folder and a glass of water with pitcher. There are no props to speak of, excepting the glass, pitcher and the pages in the folder which holds the script for the play (a Pulitzer Prize finalist).

There are no costume changes, very few lighting variations and minimal movement, yet the lives of two people are created from notes, cards and letters exchanged throghout the years.

What then, you may ask, is the attraction of this piece for the many acting duos, famous and not, who have settled down to breathe life into Gurney’s protagonists?

On the surface, one would say it’s because there is little or no rehearsal time required and no memorization.      But ask actors Robert Newman and Penelope Alex who share the stage at The Barn, and somewhere in their answers would be facing the challenge of bringing to life two people whose relationship covers half a century without the benefit of old age makeup or (upright) body language.

They do it all while seated at their respective desks. No standing allowed, except walking on and off the stage.

Love Letters  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIThe fascination is watching their characters grow from elementary school age to definitely senior citizens; of feeling the shifts in their relationship as financial, emotional and physical changes play definite parts in their friendship.

The roller coaster highs and lows of their lives never seem to find them in the same space at the same ti yet their connection is constant.

There may be no memorization required, but as Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, Alex and Newman never appeared to be reading from their scripts, so well defined and clearly delineated were the shifts as time and circumstances repeatedly brought them together and kept them apart.

Both grew up in a restricted, segregated community where money and family were the keys. She was wealthy and always the rebel, an artist who cared little for the opinion of others until it was too late. And she hated writing letters. He had the ancestry but not the money until he headed into banking and politics, almost tragically aware of what others thought. And he was in love with writing.

Their eventual resolution was inevitable.

The talented actors nuanced their multi-aged characters with honesty, warmth and a solid core. In addition to being a thoroughly entertaining evening, it was a lesson in what can be done by two excellent actors with minimal externalization and a solid mastery of their craft.

”LOVE LETTERS” plays through Sunday in the theater on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For performance times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121.

Michaels & Co. Create Magical 'Mermaid' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Saturday, 06 June 2015 21:19

From the Wonderful World of Walt Disney have come stories to delight all ages, primarily in animation.

The Little Mermaid  Wagon Wheel Cdenter  Warsaw  INMost recently, the enchanted drawings have taken solid form as theatrical musicals, coming to life yet again but with live actors rather than cartoon figures telling the stories.

The most popular of these have been “The Lion King,” “Beauty and The Beast” and “The Little Mermaid.” The last, based on the 1837 tale by Hans Christian Anderson and the 1989 Disney cartoon, received its area premiere Wednesday evening at Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Center.

The Little Mermaid  Wagon Wheel Center Warsaw INIf you think the transition from animated film to live action was disappointing, just ask any one of the SRO audience members. From toddlers to senior citizens, they were captivated by the sparkling undersea world of Ariel (Audrey Kennedy), youngest of King Triton’s (Danny Burgos) seven daughters, and her friends Scuttle (Keaton Eckhoff), a gossipy seagull, and Flounder (Parker Irwin), an adorable finny fish.

Along with Sebastian (George Vickers V), a crimson crustacean, they try to keep Ariel from following her heart to terra firma and human Prince Eric (Angel Lozada), whose life she saved in a savage storm.

Forbidden by Triton from human contact, Ariel listens to the whispers — make that hisses — of Flotsam (Nick Pelaccio) and Jetsam (Alex Dorf), electric eels serving Triton’s evil sister, Ursula (Kristen Yanenchak), the sea witch. Ursula envies Ariel’s magical voice and plots to regain all of Triton’s kingdom.

To this end, she strikes a deal with the lovestruck mermaid and . . . . but this is a fairy tale and, in spite of Anderson’s original ending, in the Disney version everyone winds up smiling. And, of course, singing.

The Little Mermaid  Wagon Wheel Center  Warsaw INI don't like to keep saying that director/choreographer Scott Michaels has done it again, but this time, he has more than done it, creating a truly enchanted kingdom where mermaid princesses sing and dance in sparkling sequins (thanks to costume designer Stephen R. Hollenbeck!), a sailing vessel cracks in a thunderous storm, and all manner of sea creatures swirl, crawl and “swim” “Under the Sea.”

The LIttle Mermaid Wagon Wheel Center Warsaw INAs usual, the ensemble dance numbers are dazzling and the 2015 company seems overloaded with talent! Kennedy, about to enter her sophomore year in college, has a clear, strong voice (singing “Part of Your World” while “swimming” in a harness over the stage — Do Not Try This At Home!) and a completely winning personality. She is the center of this world and carries the leading role with charm and talent.

As all Disney heroes, Lozada is required to look regal and sing well, completing both assignments more than satisfactorily.

It is obvious that Yasenchak revels in being the really bad girl, plotting deliciously with her eels, gloating at her moment of triumph and disappearing with amphibian fury when “Daddy’s Little Angel” finally has the upper fin.

There is no doubt, however, that the sea creatures, good and bad, are audience favorites. Vickers & Co. deliver genuine show stoppers in both “Under the Sea” and “Kiss The Girl” with amazing costumes, lighting, choreography and aerial acrobatics. The eels are fascinatingly sinister and Irwin (12) displays the stage presence of an actor twice his age.

Have to mention Asher Dubin who cuts quite a swath (literally) in his one scene as Chef Louis, frantically determined to serve Sebastian as an entrée.

Thomas N. Sterling conducts the excellent 13 piece orchestra which, on opening night, was silenced briefly by an electrical outage.

It is a tribute to the magic of this “Mermaid” that the entire audience remained seated — and quiet— as Michaels and the technical crew worked quickly to restore power to the orchestra pit.

I could go on but, unfortunately, it’s really not fair. Few if any seats remain for the rest of the run. But it never hurts to try.

“THE LITTLE MERMAID” plays through June 13 in the center at 2517 E. Center St. Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call 267-8041 or visit

Soadys Are Hunting Again In Escanaba PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 03 June 2015 20:14

There are certain shows that can guarantee a positive audience response. One of these, as The Barn Theatre has found out, is Jeff Daniels’ comedy “Escanaba in da Moonlight.”

Escanaba in da Moonlight The Barn Theatre Augusta MIThe Barn opened its fourth production of the Yooper laughfest Tuesday evening. Since 2003, The Barn has found a visit with the Soady family to be a sure shot in the right direction.

Having seen all four productions, I agree with producer Brendan Ragotzy (who also served as director) that there are certain scenes when laughter is inevitable, even when you know what’s coming.

And the return of Barn veterans Eric Parker and Roy Brown doesn’t hurt either.

Joining them in the Soady deer camp to await the dawn of opening day — hunting-wise — are Jamey Grisham, Nicholas Barakos, Robin Nuyen and (briefly) Samantha Rickard.

Parker is Reuben Soady, oldest of the two Soady brothers, hoping to break what he considers his buck-less “curse” and avoid being “the oldest Soady in recorded history never to have shot a buck.”

Escanaba in da Moonlight  The Barn Theatre Augusta MITo this end, he interrupts time-honored Soady traditions including pasties as the evening meal. Instead he serves a liquid concoction made by his wife, Ojibwa native Wolf Moon Dance, to drink for good luck and advises his fellow hunters to sprinkle themselves with porcupine urine to attract the deer.

Into this gathering rushes Jimmer Negamanee from Menomanee (Brown), famous locally for being a returned alien abductee — UFOs visit frequently in the UP, according to dad Albert Soady (Nuyen). Jimmer declares his Chevy has …. exploded and warns of supernatural events to come.

Brother Remnar (Gresham) is against change until events — the traditional home-brewed Sweet Sap Whskey is more syrup than whiskey and the euchre cards are all 2s, 3s and 4s — convince him, reluctantly, to try Reuben’s remedies.

Further proof of other-worldly doings arrives in the person of DNR agent Tom T. Treado (Barakos) whose behavior is more than extreme.

Will Reuben get his buck? Is God really on the ridge or is it the Bearwalk? Things always turn out well but it is always much fun getting there.

The brothers Soady and Jimmer ease into their familiar roles with hilarious authenticity. The more ridiculous the situation, the more they take us right along for the ride. As the DNR man, Barakas is in properly straight-laced underwear.

This is a first time for Nuyen, who serves as narrator of the events as well as participant. He begins the action with a long-winded introduction of terms and details of life “above the bridge.” In his hands, the pacing suffers, getting the action off to a too-slow start and bringing it to a halt when injected mid-scene. Hopefully, this will pick up as the one-week-only run proceeds.

The familiar set is faithfully recreated with the especially effective silhouette of trees surrounding the rustic cabin providing a “middle of the woods” effect.

“ESCANABA IN DA MOONLIGHT” plays through Sunday in the theater on M96 between Augusta and Galesburg. For show times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121 or visit

Baseball Comedy As A Life Lesson PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 01 June 2015 19:31

Back in the 1940s (and I do remember them), many of the popular plays were comedies with few characters — excepting, of course, those by Kauffman and Hart who crammed as many people on stage as possible.

Home Games Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INThe comedy which Elkhart Civic Theatre opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House is definitely among the former. “Home Games” is a warm-hearted look at families, relationships and the little things in life that count.

It was written by Tom Ziegler, a professor at Washington and Lee University who describes himself as “a teacher who writes” rather than “a writer who teaches.”  Whatever that difference may be, Ziegler has turned out a number of low-keyed plays, several of which (including “Home Games”) have found their ways to off-Broadway houses and unanimous if not thunderous praise.

The action, such as it is, centers around Mertie Mae (Mert) Tucker (played with ingenuous charm by Amie Kron),  an unmarried lady of 37, who lives in an apartment in New York’s Washington Heights and is the sole support for P.K., a blind cat, and P.B., a rescued bird, and her father, Anton (“Tony”) Tucker (David Robey).

It is 1985 and Mert is a dispatcher with the trucking company for which her father drove until an accident left him in a coma.

Homne Games Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INA former professional ballplayer, he now lives in a baseball world, specifically amid the New York Yankees in 1955, the one season when he played for the team, primarily from the bench. About to be traded to Cleveland, he opted to retire but, in his head, is still  a Yankee catcher.

At home now, he spends much of his time in one-sided conversations with manager Casey Stengel as well as cheering on his team mates, including Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle, suited in a Yankees shirt and his “lucky” BVDs.

He assigns Yankee personas to everyone in his life including Mert, who is his Casey Stengel. When a young man follows Mert home from her night school class in English lit, he becomes Mickey Mantle.

Initially, Frank Whitfield (Joseph Schroeder) seems to be fairly well-adjusted and “normal” by society’s standards. He describes himself as “a conservative capitalist,” complete with fiancé and parents who find a college degree important. It gradually becomes clear, however, that he is indeed a candidate for “Mert’s home for the helpless.”

Watching these three square pegs searching for the right fit in a world of round holes makes for a gently entertaining evening.

Opening night the pace was slow and an electronic glitch left the actors shouting from the hall rather than speaking through the non-working intercom, but anyone familiar with a sports addict will relate to Tony’s emotional rise and fall as the Yanks face their longtime pennant enemies, the Brooklyn Dodgers. And anyone who cares for a damaged relative or friend will applaud Mert’s unswerving devotion to her dad and her undeniable resilience in the face of a “will he/won’t he” relationship.

Home Games  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol  INThe rest will cheer for Frank to make the “right” decision, whatever that may be. I didn’t see it coming but, upon reflection, agreed with Ziegler that it was the best for all.

As always, the set designed by John Shoup is undeniably livable if a little “country” in color.

Calling the plays, director Tony Venable was assisted by Josh Padgett. If not a home run, ‘Home Games” is a sure three bagger.

“HOME GAMES” will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House. For reservations, call 848-4116 or visit


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