SBCT 'The Explorers Club' Mines Comedy PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 16 June 2015 15:08

In 1904, a group of scientists and adventurers gathered in New York City to form The Explorers Club. To this day, members are credited with an impressive number of firsts: going to the North Pole, the South Pole, the top of Mt. Everest, the deepest part of the ocean and the moon.

The Explorers Club  Sojuth Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe club, or at least some of its members, is the focus of a farce of the same name by Nell Benjamin which played off Broadway in 2013. The South Bend Civic Theatre production opened Friday evening in the Warner Theatre.

Directed by Leigh Taylor and featuring some of SBCT’s best actors, creditable period costumes and an absolutely knockout set designed by the always surprising Jacee Rohick, “The Explorer’s Club” is set in 1879 London where it teeters somewhere between farce and melodrama with frequent dollops of theater of the absurd thrown in for good measure.

Some of the humor, no matter in which format, lands well. Some, not so much.

The Explorers Club  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreUnderlying all the exaggerated declarations is one fact: Into this males-only sanctum sanctorum Interim President Lucius Fretway (Ted Manier) wishes to propose for membership — a female. A biologist, he has named a new plant after the lady, Phyllida Spotte-Hume (Melissa Manier), who has just returned from an expedition bringing with her the last member of a lost tribe. He is painted blue, is decorated with feathers and speaks only in his native garble. She calls him Luigi (Mark Moriarty). Luigi displays a hidden talent that solves one of the club’s primary problems (and provides several of the show’s most hilarious moments).

The Explorers Club  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe membership at large — Prof. Cope (Doug Streich), a herpetologist who wears his pet cobra Rosie around his neck; Prof. Sloan (David Chudzynski), an archeo-theologist whose latest findings prove the lost tribes of Israel wound up in Ireland; and Prof. Walling (S. Overgaard), a zoologist who is attached to Jane, the last of the experimental guinea pigs — are less than agreeable to Fretway’s proposal even as the returning president, explorer Harry Percy (Tucker Curtis), explodes on the scene and, after a look at the attractive Miss Spottte-Hume, obviously considers her for more than membership.

Lest there be any suggestion that Percy’s explorations are more realistic than his fellows, he repeatedly reminds all that he discovered the East Pole and is about to search for the West. He also is known for being the lone survivor of any of his expeditions.

The Explorers Club  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe catalyst for the eventual mayhem is the form of greeting of Luigi’s tribe: a smack in the face. Startling at best, it is the signal for war when, during his audience with the queen, Luigi delivers an unscheduled

“hello” to her majesty.

News of the planned military reprisal is brought to the club by Sir Bernard Humphries (a wonderfully stiff-upper-lip-ish Craig MacNab), who demands the location of the lost tribe. Phyllida refuses and chaos ensues.

Into the middle of this free-for-all springs Beebe (Thomas Neff), a Percy-survivor-turned-killer-monk whose skill at martial arts is vigorously displayed as he attempts to settle the score.

Costume-wise, his leather shoes, black socks and garters were definitely an anachronism, as was the female portraying one of the professors., complete with mustache and beard. A rather odd note in a play whose major premise is the determination of men to keep women out of their club.

FYI: The actual Explorers Club finally allowed female members in 1981.

THE EXPLORERS CLUB plays through June 28 in the Warner Theatre, 215 West Madison Ave., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.

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

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