Chekov Classic Spans Centuries PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Tuesday, 01 October 2013 17:54

Russian playwright/author Anton Chekov described his last play, “The Cherry Orchard,” as a comedy. The company that premiered this work in January 1904, director Constantin Stanislavski’s Moscow Art Theatre, played it as a somber tragedy.

The Cherry Orchard South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreThe adaptation by British playwright Tom Stoppard which opened Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Warner Studio Theatre offers a rather bland blending of both genres.

First impression is that the design team for this production headed by Jacee Rohlck, set; David Chudzynski, lighting; Matt Davidson, sound; Teri Szynski, props; and Donald Eugene Willman, costumes, is at the top of their respective games.

With a minimum of “bustle,” thanks to stage manager Michelle Miller and her swiftly silent crew, the space turns from the nursery in an ancestral Russian estate, to a location somewhere on the grounds, to the main ballroom and back to the nursery. The only constant is the painted silhouettes of the family’s famous cherry orchard, which is both visible and the topic of almost every conversation.

Naturally, the production designs as well as the performances by the talented cast all evolve under the watchful eye of director Deb Swerman. It is to the credit of the SBCT ensemble that they have done a solid job in presenting a classic only infrequently found in the lineup of amateur theaters.

Since Stanislavski is the father of Method Acting, it is no surprise that, barring a brief outline for each character, the interpretations are up to the actors with, of course, the guidance of the director. Although the setting is turn-of-the-20th-century Russia, it could easily be turn-of-the-21st-century America.

Melissa Manier is Ranevskaya, widowed owner of the estate still grieving the death of her five-year-old son. After a disastrous five-year love affair in Paris, she is being brought home by her daughter Anya (Olivia Becht), Anya’s governess Charlotta (Andrea Creasbaum) and Yasha (Phil Kwiecinski), a servant, to face the auction of the family estate and the probable destruction of its famous cherry orchard.

The Cherry Orchard  South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreWaiting to greet her are her adopted daughter Varya (McKensey Hedberg), her brother Gaev (Matthew Bell), her maid Dunyasha (Lisa Blodgett), the estate manager Yepikhodov (Aaron Denlinger), a fellow landowner Pishchik (Douglas Streich), merchant Lopakhin (BJ Simpson) and butler Firs (Bill Frascella). Each has his/her own reasons for wanting (or not wanting) the orchard to go.

Lopakhin offers a practical solution to save the estate but not the orchard which he, Trump-like, proposes to divide into small parcels to be sold to city dwellers for summer homes. He is continually amazed that he now is wealthy and in control while his parents and grandparents were serfs of the family.

Also in the mix is Trofimov (Steven Cole), a student and the girls’ former tutor, in love with Anya and representative of the pre-revolution thinking of the servant class. "To Live in the present," he declares, "You have to be rid of the past."

The Cherry Orchard South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreRanevskaya still refuses to sell although the impending auction is inevitable. Instead she waits for a miracle to save them, including marrying Varya to Lopakhin, an arrangement the girl finds agreeable and he never mentions.

The outcome is inevitable.

Manier is the heroine you want to shake into reality, literally floating blindly through a sea of memories. She recalls the way things were, while the way things are becomes the harsh present.

Bell is the uncle obsessed with billiards even as the axes are being sharpened. His attempts to lighten the atmosphere with humor fall flat and he also is unable to accept a solid solution.

The rest of the ensemble (including Jared Roy Windhauser who appears in several small roles) delivers well-formed characters, all of whom are caught up in the web of inertia that surrounds the family. There are well-delivered, brief moments of comedy but I would have to agree with Stanislavski. There is nothing really funny about an entire system falling for lack of interest.

“THE CHERRY ORCHARD” is presented at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Warner Studio Theatre at 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For reservations, call 234-1112 or visit

Strong Cast Brightens 'Color Purple' PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 12 September 2013 14:08

It took more than 20 years for Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Color Purple” to make it to the stage and almost another decade before it was available to community theaters around the country.

The Color Purple South Bend Civic (IN) TheatreSouth Bend Civic Theatre is the first group in northern Indiana to tackle the demanding property which requires a 99 percent African American cast — the only Caucasian role being that of a jail guard who is less than friendly to his prisoners.

So, in spite of the fact that the acoustical problems still are very apparent throughout, and not alleviated by the awkward staging, the obviously enthusiastic cast rises to the challenge and comes out a real winner in the production which opened Friday in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium.

The challenge of turning Walker’s novel (and Stephen Spielberg’s 1985 film) into a coherent musical narrative is not totally successful, primarily because it touches so many aspects in the life of Celie (the amazing Makeda Grier) that none gets more than cursory attention.

In the end, that is secondary to the sensitive performances delivered by Grier and her fellow performers, many of whom have not been on stage before.

There are, of course, veteran singer/actors in the large cast. Primary among these are Larisa LeSure who portrays Sofia (the role that was Oprah Winfrey’s film debut), the friend who first shows Celie that a woman can say “Hell, No”; Delshawn Taylor is Harpo, Sofia’s husband who is on the receiving end of her refusal; Jasmine Dennie is Shug Avery, sultry singer who appeals to both sexes; Nettie (Zoe Morgan), Celie’s sister, who escapes her sister’s fate in Africa; David Smith is Pa, their cruel and abusive parent; Ben Little plays Albert Johnson aka Mister, who marries Celie to have a live-in slave; and Laverne McMutuary, Michele Love-Moore and Sheila LeSure are three ladies of the town who serve as narrator/gossips.

The Color Purple South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreGrier, however, is at the core of the action, dramatically and musically. She has a powerful soprano that can rage against her fate and soar in amazement upon discovering “I am beautiful” and she goes from cowering slavey who sadly accepts the abuse of both father and husband to independent woman who stands proudly alone.

This production owes special thanks to the men and women of its chorus who take a variety of roles from southerners to African natives and add a great deal of weight to all the musical numbers.

Jaycee Rohlick’s scenic design underscores the poverty of Celie’s life and allows the color and strength of Africa to take center stage when needed. Costume designer Lois Veen spices the necessary drab of the town with some brightly colored native outfits and especially brilliant ensembles for the three gossips. Check those hats!

The digital music track is well handled and neither deserts nor overpowers the singers who are right with it at all times!

There are only five more performances of this unique production. It is one that definitely should not be missed,

“THE COLOR PURPLE” plays at 7:40 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium at South Bend Civic Theatre,403 N.Main St., South Bend. For reservations, call 234-1112 or visit

Golf Object of Frantic Fun in ECT Farce PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Monday, 09 September 2013 00:38

To look at playwright Ken Ludwig’s academic credentials — Haverford College, Harvard Law School and Trinity College at Cambridge University — you would scarcely believe him to be the pre-eminent farce-master of the modern theater.

Believe it!

Fox on the Fairway Elkhart Civic Theatre Bristol INOne of Ludwig’s most recent (2010) creations is a ridiculously fast-paced bit of fluff titled “The Fox on The Fairway,” which opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House.

The Elkhart Civic Theatre production, directed by Rick Ellis and assistant director Bob Franklin, is graced with a sextet of players who throw themselves (sometimes literally) into the rounds of madness with total disregard for the safety of life and limb.

Having very little knowledge of the ins-and-outs of the game of golf, I have to report that even a little is not necessary to participate in the escalating hi-jinks in the Tap Room of the Quail Valley Country Club. The annual tournament against longtime rivals of the Crouching Squirrel Golf Club is about to be played. The stakes are high and getting higher as club owners/managers Henry Bingham (Bill Svelmoe) of Quail Valley and Dickie Bell of Crouching Squirrel (Joshua D. Padgett) indulge in pre-tournament one-upmanship, each certain that he has the key to winning.

The key is in the form of one team member, initially with Quail Valley, who has secretly jumped teams leaving Bingham holding a large bet that suddenly seems a losing one.

Fox on the Fairway  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INSuccess may be within his reach, however, due to the discovery that a new employee, young Justin Hicks (Kenny Prawat), recently engaged to club waitress and student Louise Heindbader (Kaitrin Higbee), may be a ringer. Bingham finds an ally in Pamela Peabody (April Sellers) club board member and ex-wife of Dickie, who offers her complete support — and then some! Unfortunately, some of her caustic dialogue was lost Friday due to lack of projection. Nothing that cannot be remedied.

All is well until — but wait. No need to spoil all the fun, Enough to say that what happens next includes a grandmother’s engagement ring, an expensive vase, a broken arm and a great deal of double-dealing — and that’s just for starters!

Led by Prawat and Svelmoe, the action ramps up and up and up without missing a beat — or a stroke. Frantic finds new meaning in the hands of Svelmoe, a talented farceur who evokes memories of the late Paul Lynde. Going from full speed ahead to instant reverse, he never falters. His scenes with Sellers are models of comic timing, ditto that duo’s work with Prawat.

As the babes-in-the-rough, Prawat and Higbee deliver delightful innocents who really are too dumb to survive but manage to blunder their way through to a happy ending.

Fox on the Fairway  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol  INJennie DeDario as Muriel Bingham, Henry’s dreaded wife, makes up in attitude what she lacks in stature, wielding a folded paper with the force of a battering ram on whoever is in her way. Padgett as the Mr. Malaprop of Crouching Squirrel gets to gloat and taunt his rival smugly (if incorrectly!) while bravely costumed in some increasingly ugly sweaters.

True to Ludwig form, mix-up piles on mix-up as the characters advance and retreat until the final tableau. Scenes are prefaced by TV announcers sharing some very old (and very bad) golf jokes and clichés.

The costumes coordinated by Sherry Martin fit each characters although I did wish for Padgett’s golf outfits to be more outlandish from top to bottom. The set design by John Shoup captures the old English aura of many of the more traditional golf clubs.

Under Ellis’ sharp eye, what happens inside that club is traditional Ken Ludwig!


“FOX ON THE FAIRWAY” plays at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House on S.R. 120 in Bristol. For reservations, call 848-4116 between noon and 5:30 p.m. weekdays.

Lots Of Life, Laughs In This Creature PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marcia Fulmer   
Thursday, 22 August 2013 23:21

Back in the early 19th century — undoubtedly on a dark and stormy night — young Mary Shelley, wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, created one of the most enduring creatures in English literature.

Young Frankenstein  The Barn Theatre Augusta MIHer book was titled “Frankenstein.” The name referred to Dr. Victor Frankenstein, not the undead monster cobbled together with various limbs from the definitely dead with whom it is definitely associated.

Through the centuries, the story of the doctor and his creation has lived and grown into a wide (and wild) variety of incarnations in plays, movies and television shows. Among the most famous is the 1931 film which made a star of Boris Karloff and gave cinematic dialogue one of its most famous lines: “It’s alive! It’s alive.”

The latest theatrical view of The Monster is indeed alive and well and much more hilarious than horrible. To be honest, I much prefer it to the over-Tonyed “The Producers,” also the work of the wildly creative Mel Brooks. (Note: The script contains a good amount of double entendre and a lot not so double.)

“The New Mel Brooks Musical YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN” opened Tuesday evening at The Barn Theatre in Augusta, MI. It is the last show — and may well be the best — of the 2013 season.

Young Frankenstein  The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIBased on Brooks’ now-cult-classic 1974 film, “Young Frankenstein,” the 2007 Broadway hit borrows a monk, adds songs and a buxom lab assistant and definitely gives a new twist to the doctor’s fiancée, all with the aim of making something old new again.

To judge from the frequent interruptions for applause from the opening night audience, Brooks — and The Barn cast — definitely succeeded.

In the title role of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (“That’s Fronk-en-steen!”), Kevin Robert White does a fine job creating the highly ethical grandson of the original stitcher who, when all is said and done, can’t resist the urge to join the family business. He puts the emphasis on all the right syllables and, once off at a break-neck pace (“There Is Nothing Like The Brain”), never falters, not even for The Barn bats which spent much of act one looking for a way out!

As The Monster with a soft heart and a giant foot on the downbeat, Eric Parker returns to his favorite color (he spent the last two weeks in Shrek green) to deliver a character who needs no words to convey his feelings. In his case, a groan is worth a thousand words!

The undisputed show-stopper here is Penelope Alex as Frau (cue the horses!) Blucher, housekeeper of the castle. Every look and move are perfectly timed to support her depiction of a wildly wacky woman in mourning. When she revealed “He Vas My Boyfriend,” the sustained applause was more than well-deserved.

Young Frankenstein The Barn Theatre  Augusta MIAnother audience favorite (and rightfully so) is the talented Roy Brown in the cowl (and shifting hump) of Igor (”That’s Eye-gor”), faithful assistant to the doctor. His duet with White (“Together Again for the First Time”) is a highlight of their meeting — on Track 29 of the Transylvania Station. !?!Right!?! It is Brooks humor and it just keeps coming!.

Petite Emily Fleming, flying earlier this season as Peter Pan, flies again, this time without wires, as Elizabeth, fast-moving fiancée of Dr. Frankenstein. Her push-me, pull-you solo, “Please Don’t Touch Me,” keeps the already fast action rolling along. Her recognition of “Deep Love,” is an about-face equally well-delivered. With Parker and Philip David Black, who plays a ghostly Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Fleming shares “best voice” honors.

Bethany Edlund is Inga, the accommodating lab assistant, who begins her relationship with the doctor via a “Roll in the Hay,” advises him to “Listen to Your Heart” and joins him — and the Monster and Igor and the villagers of Transylvania Heights — in “Puttin’ On The Ritz.”

Completing the array of familiar characters is Patrick Hunter as Inspector Hans Kemp, village policeman who lost two limbs to the Monster. Describing the price of artificial replacements, he declares “It cost me an arm and a leg!”

And there you have it. About two and a half hours of music and laughs — lots of laughs — with only a few flaws.

On the down side, the scrim used to mask busy cast members moving set pieces, props and furniture behind the actors, rattles annoyingly in its metal rigging and fails to mask anything once the spotlights hit. The wigs need to have the webbing across actors’ foreheads covered and there is a great deal of breaking the fourth wall as characters run up and down the aisles.

These, however, are minor irritations. A story that has lived for almost 200 years is definitely using the right brain!

“The New Mel Brooks Musical YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN” plays through Sept. 1 in the theater on M96 between Galesburg and Augusta, MI. For show times and reservations, call (269) 731-4121.

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