Theatre
Island Weekend Turns Deadly PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 01 August 2014 18:37

There’s no doubt about it. Everybody loves a good mystery.

There also is no doubt that nobody wrote a good mystery better than Agatha Christie.

And Then There Were None Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INAmong her prolific output, which included 66 mystery novels and 153 short stories, are novels that became plays which have track records as enviable as her written words.

One of the most popular, “And Then There Were None,” opened Wednesday evening at the Wagon Wheel Theatre in Warsaw to a large and enthusiastic audience.

And Then There Were None Elkhart Civic Theatre Warsaw INIt began as a novel in 1939 (without the assistance of Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple or any of Christie’s other super sleuths) and underwent several title changes in the name of political correctness. Finally settling on the one approved by Christie, it came to Broadway in 1944 and has been the basis for four feature films over a period of almost 50 years.

Whatever the name, the suspense never changes.

In his pre-show remarks, WW artistic director Scott Michaels requested that the last five minutes of the action not be revealed to “outsiders” (i.e. those who hadn’t seen the show). A reasonable request considering what transpires in that time but, as we learned, it really doesn’t matter whether or not you know “who dunnit” (we already did), the tautly wrapped action pulls you in and keeps you as the deadly plot unfolds.

This is due to the excellent cast, the sharp direction by Andy Robinson and Ben Dicke, both WW veteran actors and directors, and the desire to see how murderous actions play out “live!”

And Then There Were None Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INThe premise is perfect. Ten strangers are gathered by invitation to a house on Soldier Island off the coast of Devon, England. It is not yet “a dark and stormy night,” but it certainly is getting there. The hosts, however, are not and won’t be coming until the next day.

Waiting to greet the guests are the caretakers Mr. and Mrs. Rogers (Jennifer Dow and Kyle Timson). First to arrive are Vera Claythorne (Kira Lace Hawkins), Philip Lombard (Matthew Janisse) and Anthony Marston (Jeremy Seiner),  followed by William Blore (Javier Ferreira), General MacKenzie (Dan Smith), Emily Brent (Kristin Ysenchak), Sir Lawrence Wargrave (Mike Yocum) and Dr. Armstrong (Scott Fuss).

After delivering the guests, Fred Narracort (Lucas Thomas) sails back to the mainland, leaving them to question the reasons for their invitations since there seem to be no mutual connections.

The reasons become chillingly clear as Rogers, on instructions from the missing host, plays a recording which accuses them all — individually — of murders.

As polite conversations turn pointedly personal, each declares him/herself innocent of the charges. Tempers begin to fray — and flare — rapidly. Soon the deadly intent of the gathering — to kill each guest one by one according to methods outlined in a child’s nursery rhyme — becomes chillingly obvious.

But they are the only ones there, with no way off or on the island. So. . .who is the killer and will he/she be discovered before all life is gone?

Guess you’ll just have to find out for yourselves and, in the process, really enjoy some fine character work by WW company members. All are exactly right for the secretive personas they portray. There are few extraneous histrionics, no melodramatic mustache twirls or gnashing of teeth and, for the most part, accents remain in place as part of solid characters.

In short, the ensemble is the thing in this drama and that applies not only to those on stage but to the production staff as well. With a suggestively excellent circular set design by Michael Higgins, some frequently frightening lighting designed by Patrick Chan and Michaels, mood-sustaining music by sound designer Chris Pollnow and, of course, the proper period costumes by Stephen R. Hollenbeck, the entire event is a real tribute to its famous author — and guarantees a very suspenseful evening, even if you do know who did it.

Just don’t tell!

“AGATHA CHRISTIE’S AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” plays through Aug. 9 in the Wagon Wheel Theatre, 2515 E. Center St., Warsaw, IN.  For performance times and reservations, call 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.org.

 
Playing Who's Who in Barn's 'Mrs. Markham' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Friday, 25 July 2014 19:33

“farce (fars) n. Fr 1(an) exaggerated comedy based on broadly humorous situations 2 an absurd or ridiculous action, pretense, etc.”

These, according to Webster’s, are definitions for the goings-on going on at The Barn Theatre where “Move Over. Mrs. Markham” opened Tuesday evening.

Move Over, Mrs. Markham The Barn Theatre Augusta MIWhat it doesn’t say is that the broader and more absurd the situations, the more difficult it is to create and enact them properly. In other words, playing farce is not as easy as it has to seem to the audience.

Farces by British playwright Ray Cooney were frequent additions to The Barn seasons in a good many of its 68 seasons. In recent years, his spot has been taken by playwright Ken Ludwig, whose locations were more Americanized (and required no accents, just distinct enunciation).

For “Mrs. Markham,”by Cooney and John Chapman, the accents are back, some with more successful than others. The plot (?), however, remains as frustratingly stupid as ever. Must confess that my aversion to farce is because one honest statement early on could avoid the increasingly involved situations; but then, it wouldn’t be farce, so here goes!

This production is more than fortunate to have veteran comedic actress Penelope Alex in the title role. Her timing is impeccable and the more frantic the situations, the more she pulls incredible explanations out of — thin air! Her ability to remember the many fictitious names — and connections — she has given each character is enviable. Her delivery — audibly and physically — is equally “spot on,” as they say, with facial reactions responsible for more than half of the increasing hilarity.

Move Over, Mrs. Markham The Barn Theatre Augusta MIThe same can be said of Kevin Robert White in the role of Alistair Spenlow, Mrs. Markham’s decorator. Although there is a bit too much of the “poof” in his early scenes (is he really anxious to get sexy maid Sylvie (Bethany Edlund) alone?), it proves there is nothing “really” about any of this. His reactions hit home with the opening night audience. Watching his exits, each one with a different take on the on-stage shenanigans, drew more and more extended (and well-deserved) laughter. And his gymnastic turns give new meaning to bedroom acrobatics.

Mr. Philip Markham is played with pompous naivete by another Barn veteran Eric Parker, who blunders blindly through the obvious until he receives a sharp-but-totally-misinterpreted “wakeup call” that rouses his inner Jeeves.

With the exception of the Markhams, every character has his/her own agenda, all focused on the use of that couple’s flat which each of the pairs supposes to be empty — and available — for the evening.

In and out in various stages of undress are Melissa Cotton as Linda Lodge, wife of Philip’s partner Henry, who has an assignation arranged with stuffy Walter Pangbourne (Patrick Hunter), who never goes anywhere without his bowler and his brolly.

Move Over, Mrs. Markham The Barn Theatre Augusta MIHenry Lodge is played by Bruce Hammond with the unflappably dashing demeanor associated with philandering Englishmen whose “stiff upper lip” never quivers.  His target for the evening is Miss Wilkinson (Lindsay Maron), a telephone operator he has heard but never seen, an omission that adds greatly to the eventual mass confusion. Both she and Sylvie are costumed primarily in their underwear, a requisite for attractive girls in a Cooney farce.

The only fully-clothed female is Jillian Weimer as Miss Smythe, prudish author of a series of children’s books in search of a new (and sex-less) publisher. Consider that her main characters are dogs and the double entendre rises to a new level.

The split set (side by side rooms) by Kerith Parashak works well and the one necessity in any farce — ultra sturdy doors — do not fail the actors who slam in and out with increasing speed and intensity.

Sex (implied, never demonstrated), mistaken identity and the double entendre are the building blocks of farce. What holds them together is timing. There is no way to teach good comic timing. If it’s there, it’s there. If it’s not….but there is enough in this “Move Over, Mrs. Markham” to make it a fun evening.

MOVE OVER, MRS. MARKHAM’ plays at The Barn Theatre on M-96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI through Aug. 3. For performance times and reservations call (269) 731-4121 between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily or visit www.barntheatre.cob

 
'Fiddler On The Roof' In A Circle Of Life PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Sunday, 20 July 2014 16:56

It seems like only a short time ago that  I was writing about a production of “Fiddler On The Roof.”

Oh, wait. I was.

fiddler on the Roof Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INWell, currently there is another Tevye pulling his dairy cart onto the stage of another area summer theater, this time at the Wagon Wheel Theatre in Warsaw.

Which proves you can never get too much of a good show, especially when differences — one is on a proscenium stage and the other, in the round — allow for creative challenges.

Directed and staged at WW by artistic director/choreographer Scott Michaels, the story of the Jewish dairyman, his wife and five daughters and their neighbors in the Russian village of Anatevka moves along at a steadily up-tempo pace. The aim, no doubt, is to reduce “Fiddler’s” almost inevitable running time of three hours (including intermission). With the elimination of one song, some dialogue and advancing the exodus, Michaels & Co. succeed by about 15 minutes.

Must concede that the difficulty level of putting Anatevka and its population into what is essentially a circle (side areas are elevated for interior scenes) is at least an 11 out of 10 on the difficulty scale. There also is no doubt that Michaels, as always, rises to the challenge. He also is responsible for successfully recreating the dances based on the original choreography by Jerome Robbins — who had a huge proscenium space in which to work.

From the introductory kaleidoscope that is “Tradition,” to the rousing celebration of “To Life,” to the gasp-inducing fantasy of “The Dream,” to the mesmerizing slow motion of the Bottle Dancers, the number of ensemble dancers proves no problem, and the duo, trio and solo numbers are equally at home.

Fiddler on the Roof Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INHeading the large cast is Robert Joseph Miller as Tevye. His portrayal of the bushy-bearded patriarch is well-layered, a gruff exterior hiding a caring interior and struggling always to determine the right thing to do for his family and his village. He bends whenever possible but refuses to break. His interpretation of Tevye’s famous “If I Were A Rich Man” (and its accompanying “shimmy”) received well-deserved cheers. The intimacy of his frequent conversations with God, however, is somewhat  lessened by focusing them partially on the Fiddler who appears, unnecessarily, whenever Tevye looks heavenward.

Tevye’s long-suffering wife Golde is played by Kristen Yasenchak, whose vitriolic delivery softens only infrequently. Katie Finan does double duty as Yente the Matchmaker, who proposes a match for Tzeitel, and Fruma-Sarah, the deceased wife of the intended groom. Her vocal appearance in Tevye’s “nightmare” underscores one of the show’s most impressive scenes.

Fiddler on the Roof  Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INAs Tevye’s oldest daughters, Tzeitel (Rachel Eskenazi-Gold), Hodel (Monica Brown) and Chava (Alison Schiller) express their feeling humorously in “Matchmaker,” and Brown’s “Far From the Home I Love” poignantly echoes the parting of all parents and children, no matter the distance. Their (eventually approved) fiances Motel (Dan Smith) and Perchik (Matthew Janisse) deliver their solos (“Miracle of Miracles,” “Now I Have Everything” respectively) in strong, clear baritones. The Russian fiancé, Fyedka (Jeremy Seiner), stands out in “To Life” but never wins Tevye’s approval.

Fiddler on the Roof Wagon Wheel Theatre Warsaw INMusical director Thomas N. Stirling’s lush arrangements for the nine-piece orchestra do justice to Jerry Bock’s emotional score. Familiar choral highlights — “Sabbath Prayer” and “Sunrise, Sunset” — do not disappoint and the bittersweet “Anatevka” provides the perfect description of the pain of leaving home and hearth for an uncertain future.

Special praise to the designer for “The Dream,” which is not credited in the program but is a definite show-stopper! Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s costumes are necessarily drab (they all are peasants and soldiers, after all) with enough touches of color to brighten the special occasions.

If the set and the design hold to shades of brown and gray, the dances and vocals supply enough brilliance to lighten this familiar tale of undying faith and hope.

“FIDDLER ON THE ROOF” plays through Saturday in the theater at 2517 E. Center St., Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call 267-8041 or (866) 823-2618 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.org.

 
Brooks' Musical Produces Laughter PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 17:22

When the 2001 Tony Awards ended, one musical — “The Producers” — had won 12 of the coveted medallions. The man behind them all was playwright (here with Thomas Meehan)/composer/lyricist Mel Brooks who turned his 1968 film into a Broadway musical and, in 2005, back into a movie.

The Producers South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreEvidence of his multi-area talent is on stage through Aug. 3 in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Auditorium.

The satirical behind-the-scenes look at the making of a Broadway show is, more particularly, the making of a Broadway producer. In this case, that’s producers, plural: Max Bialystock (Ted Manier) and Leo Bloom (Nick Hidde-Halsey). The former has the reputation for producing major flops and the latter hides the desire to produce behind his “day job” as an accountant.

When Leo shows up to audit Max’s books, he muses that the producer could make more money with a big flop, an idea that Max instantly runs with (“We Can Do It”). Getting the timid number-cruncher away from the remnant of his blue baby blanket is the first step in a daring partnership.

The Producers  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThere are many, many laughs in “The Producers” caused by many, many characters but the laugh-buck stops — or goes — with Bialystock and Bloom. Manier and Hidde-Halsey (who has the most ear-piercing shriek in SBCT history) work very hard — and quite successfully — to create this comedic partnership. Each has individual moments to shine and each makes the most of them, especially Manier who belts out the “11 o’clock” number “Betrayed” handily, in spite of a bench attached to prison bars that wobble every time he sits down.

Along the way, the men are aided and abetted ably by Allison Jean Jones as showgirl/receptionist Ulla, whose resemblance to Marilyn Monroe is more than accidental; by Mark Torma, who puts on a helmet and steps out of the pigeon coop as former (?) Nazi and fledgling playwright Franz Liebkind; by Sean Leyes as bad director Roger De Bris, who recreates the Chrysler Building and yearns for a Tony; by De Bris’ “creative” staff headed by Nicholas Salay as Carmen Ghia; and by a slew of Little Old Ladies (some  of whom are men), showgirls, officers, prisoners, singers, dancers, etc.

The Producers  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreWith Brooks, the laughs are ultra-obvious or semi-shaded. “Bialystock,” for example, is both a town in Poland and a flat onion roll while “bris” is a Jewish rite of circumcision. But you don’t have to look too far. If you don’t get the joke, there is a song to explain it or make fun of it or, usually, both.

When B&B go to director De Bris and his flamboyant staff, the song is “Keep It Gay.” Ulla’s “interview” is “If You’ve Got it, Flaunt It” (and Jones definitely does!), and Leibkind’s allegiance is no secret after “Der Guten Tap Hop-Clop,” which he insists B&B dance with him.

The Little Old Ladies who bankroll Max after considerable “game playing” reveal all in “Along  Came Bialy”  (complete with walkers) and the tune everyone is humming is the catchy “Springtime for Hitler.” Or it could be Leo’s theme “I Want To Be A Producer.” Whichever sticks with you I guarantee it’s difficult to leave behind after the final blackout.

The Producers  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe use of a recorded orchestral track is extremely supportive and rear-screen projections of cityscapes and NY marquees designed by artistic director Mark Abram-Copenhaver define the scenes successfully, requiring the addition of only a few set pieces. The art of moving these quietly, however, still has not been achieved and, when furniture is removed, it should be completely out sight.

Director David Case keeps the action moving briskly  throughout the show which runs almost three hours (including intermission).  Choreographer Callie Lorenz does well with principals, showgirls and old “ladies” and the costumes are in keeping with characters, regular and “bizarre.” The overall lighting tends to be rather dark and the follow spot doesn’t seem to know on which character to focus, but that may be resolved over the next several weekends.

Special “salute” to Dave Rozmarynowski who designed Franz Liebkind’s feathered friends and to whoever huddles under the “coop” to keep them moving.

“THE PRODUCERS” will be presented through Aug. 3 in the Wilson Mainstage at 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For performance times and reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org.

 
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