Other Reviews Archive



 

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The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas by Larry L. King & Peter Masterson

Music and Lyrics by Carol Hall

Directed by Jack Mann

January 19-29, 2012 at the Virginia Samford Theatre

Reviewed by Leonard Jowers

 

What do you say after a play that you expect to be wonderful? “Wonderful.” I try to ignore the star-studded cast when looking at a production that is so packed full of many of the best of Birmingham’s talent. I try to think of it from a perspective of an out-of-towner who may have come from Chicago, Sarasota, Los Angeles, or New York to the historic Virginia Samford Theatre.

Certainly, everyone knows the basic storyline: the 100+ year old “Chicken Ranch” is thriving, getting ready for the party after the annual Texas A&M vs. Texas game. Unfortunately, a Dallas television show picks the best little whorehouse as a rating bonanza. Through the power of TV, public opinion is turned against this “national treasure” and the governor mandates its closing. The story is much more than that.

When the show opened in 1978, although the word “whorehouse” was still censored on TV, Alabama did not outlaw prostitution in unincorporated areas until this century; and Texas had ignored the “Chicken Ranch” in La Grange, Texas, famous for its quality ladies and good times, until 1973 when, in fact, the governor did order it closed.

From the opening scene, we were engaged. There are so many good things going on with this production that it is difficult to cover them all. The storyline itself is interesting and deep. The play points out the financial value of the brothel to that community. It reminds us of the humanity of prostitutes. It reminds us that the power of TV can overturn institutions. It warns us of private agendas that prey on zealots. It does this and more.

Such a great production does not happen by accident. It requires a lot of hard work and diligence to make sure that little things do not detract from the performances. No little or big things did. The set (Ben Boyer) was a real construction project, sturdy, versatile, effective. Costumes (Kim Dometrovich) were spot on also. The Chicken Ranch Band, who we do not really get to see, were excellent (directed by Katie Holmes). These aspects of a grand musical production are very important to a well run one.

When you see the show, note the choreography (Carl Dean). The dance numbers were fantastic. Thanks to the director (Jack Mann), Carl was allowed show time to do so much. The dances and dancers were as enjoyable as one could want; it was clear that talented folks were chosen and took their contribution seriously.

Kristi Tingle Higginbotham was the star among stars. She was Miss Mona Stangley, mistress of the house; her story was the main thread. Kristi is such a fantastic performer. One cannot help but feel sorry for Mona, and yet not. Mona is kind and strong.

A surprise for me was Kyle Holman’s rendition of “Good Ole Girl”. I have my stage favorites; Kyle is now one of those. His portrayal of Sheriff Ed Earl was good, but the way he presented “Good Ole Girl”, in character and flawlessly, was amazing. It was just one song for him, but what a song it was!

Musical and stage performances were great all over. Melvin P. Thorpe’s (Barry Austin) quintet was great a cappella. Jan Dixon Hunter as Doatsy Mae; love her. The church ladies (Kim Dometrovich, Valerie Paulin, Julia Hixon, and Jan Dixon) were so much fun to watch. Julia also was a great domineering wife to the dominative mayor (Andrew Duxbury). The Governor’s song “The Sidestep” was just wonderful; great dance and voice (Stephen Fister), great choreography, great ensemble.

It is just a really great  production. I rate it as good as Off-Broadway. I hope you  get to see it. Thank you sponsors, and Virginia Samford Theatre Productions. Virginia, it’s worth a run extension.


Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful

Sunday March 13, 2011 by Billy Ray Brewton

 

Horton Foote’s “The Trip to Bountiful” has been a favorite of mine for a long time and I have never been able to see the production staged…until now.  South City Theatre presents “The Trip to Bountiful” as directed by Clay Boyce and the production runs through Sunday the 20th.

The story deals with an elderly woman, Mrs. Watts (Carole Armistead) who wants nothing more than to return to her home of Bountiful, Texas.  She left Bountiful 20-years before and sold her land so she could send her son, Ludie (Howard Green) to college.  She now lives in Houstin with Ludie and his wife, Jessie Mae (Vicki Goldstein), in a small 3-room apartment.  Mrs. Watts has tried running away to Bountiful before and the friction between she and Jessie Mae is derived from that and from Jessie’s dislike of her hymn-singing (among other things).  Most of this play centers around Mrs. Watt’s newest ‘trip’ in her attempt to see Bountiful one more time before her death. 

What makes this story work – and what has always been crucial to the piece – is having someone believable and wholly likable as Mrs. Watts.  Geraldine Page sold it in the film and took home an Academy Award for her efforts.  Here director Clay Boyce has found the perfect actress in Carole Armistead.  She lights up the stage in her performance and turns Foote’s scenes (which can sometimes drift into the mundane) into little pieces of electricity.  There is never a dull moment in this production and much of that comes from Armistead’s incredible stage presence.

Armistead is joined by a talented crop of supporting performers.  Howard Green is terrific as Ludie, her son who wants to forget the past so it doesn’t remind him of how stale his life has become.  Vicki Goldstein gives the best performance of her career as Jessie Mae, a woman whose own position in life has turned her argumentative and bitter.  Even the supporting performers shine, specifically Steve Martin as the compassionate sheriff and Maggie Ballard as Thelma.

The set for the show is also quite remarkable.  Shawn Reese has created a rotating unit that takes us from the inside of the Watts’ Houston apartment, to a bus station, all the way to Bountiful.  The show had this organic feel where we see the actors moving set pieces and props.  Some people might not like this approach but it’s right up my alley.  I love seeing the organic experience of a show working and you get that throughout this production.  I specifically enjoyed the transition between Mrs. Watts’ in the bus station to her arrival at Bountiful.  Luckily, the set makes this much easier to accomplish.

I saw this show in an audience of around ten, which was a true shame.  Like Boyce’s previous South City effort, “Driving Miss Daisy”, he has another winner on his hands.  I hope more and more people will make the ‘trip to Alabaster’ to see “The Trip to Bountiful”.  It really is one of those shows that makes you happier for having seen it.  And, while the script is laced with doses of melancholy and grief, it does end on an uplifting note with a woman having found her dignity and a new reason to live.

Kudos to the cast and crew for a terrific Sunday performance!


Fahrenheit 451

Theatre Downtown

January 31, 2011 by Max Soma

 

I read Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451 about 15 years ago, so I knew the basis of the story going into Theatre Downtown’s production of the stage interpretation (adapted by Bradbury himself, and directed by Kenny Morris).  However, I had forgotten large chunks of the story, so it was interesting to see it unfold before me.

Set in “The not too distant future” according to the program, Fahrenheit 451 is about Guy Montag (Chris Boucher), a fireman who sets fires.  In the society of the story, books are banned.  Anyone caught with a book will have the books and their home burned.  Fires no longer need to be put out because everything is fireproof.  To top it off, Montag and Captain Beatty (M. Bates Redwine) have built a mechanical dog that will hunt down and kill anyone as instructed by the authorities.  

Of course you do not have to have a lot of foresight to know that Montag will eventually be led to reading books instead of burning them.  He discovers a girl who lives next door and seems out of the ordinary.  Her name is Clarisse (Christy Vest), and she also turns out to be a reader.  Her grandfather, Professor Faber (the always likeable Ron Dauphinee) comes to Montag’s aid later and helps him to understand what he is reading and how to digest it.  Oh course that isn’t before Captain Beatty is onto Montag and reveals that, he too, use to believe in books.  However, he has now seen the light and refuses to read anymore.  He is, to my understanding, the man who assimilated into society without questioning why.

Before Beatty’s reveal we are treated to a 15 minute monologue by Beatty about how books came to be banned.  It is self indulgent of any playwright to think a monologue this long will work in a play that is dialogue based (and not monologue based).  Yes, I just called Ray Bradbury self indulgent, but he earns it.  Perhaps a more experienced actor could have pulled off the long speech, but Redwine isn’t equipped with the technique or stage presence to maintain interest.  You kind of just sit there waiting for it to be over; the point driven home with a sledgehammer. 

I was also put off by Vest’s Clarisse.  There was no life in what she said, and no belief in her tone.  Everything, just like Redwine, was one note.  It really is a disappointment that the two are in so much of the show.

On the other hand, I found myself enjoying Boucher’s Montag, and Kelsey Sherrer playing his wife, Mildred.  I’ve seen Sherrer in several other productions, and have come to expect well developed characters.  She has a habit of being the best part of many of the shows she has been in (The Crucible at Theatre Downtown comes to mind).  Boucher was a surprise, though.  I hadn’t seen him before, and didn’t know what to expect.  I wouldn’t say that he wowed me, but he was fully committed, and played his levels really well.  He found motivation in all his movements (something that definitely was lacking in many of the other actors), and he has good stage presence.

Morris’ direction I think is to blame for a large part of what I found lacking in the production.  The script is good (even with that monologue), and it is an interesting story.  Sure, it works better as a book, but the play is fine enough.  Morris pulled together a great set design, has a good sense of pacing, and seems to have really put some thought into the look of the play.  This is, of course, all the pre-work a director in community theatre has to do.  However, once the production starts, you can’t just rely on great sets and lighting to get you through.  Most of the show looked incredible (I found the opening very pretentious, but I’m sure most people would disagree with me), and the set kept opening up to reveal something new.  There was a screen used to show images, and the image work was very well suited.  I loved the idea of the screen, but it was rear projected, and you had to pretty much just look into the projector when looking at the screen.  It really should have been front projected.  However, all this work, and Morris casts two main people who haven’t a clue what they are doing.  Then he doesn’t seem to bother to direct them very well.  All of the staging was like watching directing scenes in Directing 101.  Everyone faces out to the audience to deliver lines, and moves in a diamond shape to utilize the space.  He is one of those directors that paints a pretty picture on stage, but doesn’t really know what to do to make it come alive.

The night I saw the show, it was either sold out or close to it.  It was, by most theatre standards in Birmingham, a large turnout.  I’ve been to Theatre Downtown productions before, and the crowds are very inconsistent.  I’ve been to a show with 7 people in the audience, and I’ve been to a show with over 40.  This one probably had 71.  Box office, though, does not equate to quality.  The production is good enough, but I certainly can’t say I would recommend it to everyone.  I’ve been told it is the best selling show in Theatre Downtown history, but no one I’ve talked to has said it is even close to their best production.  I’ve seen several shows here, and couldn’t agree more.


Henrik Ibsen’s

A Doll’s House

Translated by: Robert Cole

Pinson Valley High School Fine Arts Department

Sept. 18-19, 2010

 

Reviewed by: R. Daniel Walker

 

            The first question one would ask would be, “Why would anyone do A Doll’s House, much less a high school?!” The answer could be any number of reasons, the most obvious being “It’s educational for the students to learn the classics.” This was the first and foremost reason why Ryan C. Tittle, Theatre Teacher for Pinson Valley High School, decided to do this play. But he took this educational instruction a step further…enlisting the help of Robert Cole to translate the play from the original 19th Century Norwegian text. Note, I said Translate not Adapt. This gave the students a chance to not only study the classic play but also learn what it is like to work on a piece that changed from day to day as if it were a new play.  This is the mark of a fine teacher, one that challenges his students and in the end produces a very good production with the limited means of public school finances. Robert Cole’s translation, also, is remarkable.

            The set, designed by Matt Allison, and lighting, designed by Josh Weaver was very simple, which required the actors to keep the audience’s attention by taking the grand realism out of the picture, worked very well. The areas were well defined with the minimal use of hanging windows and furniture. The lighting never really moved or changed, this was a good thing at times because it relieved the show of potential complications with multiple cues, but also took away from some of the longer scenes at the couch or table. The costumes, designed by Mary Gurney, were wonderful as always and they were what gave the play the right amount of realism. The sound design was probably the only offsetting part of the production. The volume was never really the same from scene to scene, and the times when it was used to underscore the scene on stage it was too loud which caused the audience to miss pieces.

            Now…I’m not going to say a whole lot about each actor. The whole cast was really wonderful, it seemed as if they understood what they were talking about and what was happening in the play…which is very good for high school students doing a play of this caliber. There were times that they didn’t project as much as they should have but that is a skill that takes time and having the comfort to be able to scream at the person 2 feet away from you so the back row can hear your “whispers” is also a learned skill.

            I do want to talk about the two leads in particular though. Ashley Clift playing Nora and Eric E. Marable, Jr. playing Torvald. These are two high school students that took on a giant and leveled it with ease.  Ms. Clift was wonderful; she spoke clearly and with conviction. She made some excellent choices and should be rewarded for her feat and courage to take on such a role. Marable was also excellent and since I have seen him in two productions, Grease as Danny and this production, I am forced to analyze a bit more. First off he was not Danny in this production…he was Torvald! That in itself is a sign of great potential for this young actor and I can’t wait to see where he will end up down the road. The only criticism I have for this young man is to work on his voice and his movement from role to role. Though there were definite changes in his character from the modern day high schooler he still had a modern day high school walk and a modern day high school talk.

            I think Pinson should be very proud of what their students are creating and doing for this art form and I think Ryan C. Tittle should be commended for his guts to trust his kids enough to throw them into the fire and have them walk out stronger and more learned than when they went in.

 

Kudos!


The Crucible

Theatre Downtown

October 16, 2009 performance reviewed by James Lee Griner.

 

In 1953, Arthur Miller's The Crucible wowed Broadway for almost 200 performances. Since then, millions have read it or seen it performed on stage and screen. Today, Theatre Downtown expertly reanimates Miller's masterpiece.

The script is an excruciating portrayal of how dogma warps belief, how life tests faith, and how individual's faults threaten society's promise. For minds that crave justice and equity, reading it is painful. It is more painful to see actors live it. But this play needs to be seen, and this production is an excellent opportunity to do that.

With 20 characters in a script peppered with antiquated language, the show might seem quite an undertaking for a young blackbox theatre group, as director Billy Ray Brewton admits in his program note. However, they've pulled it off by using modern media and assembling a very talented cast.

In a small, cleared-out performance space on the second floor of a charming antique shop on 5th Avenue South, you might not expect computer-projected backdrops, but you get them and they work. Further, by suggesting the various settings, the backdrop method eliminates the need for elaborate sets and frees up valuable space for the actors' magic.

John Proctor is the heart of the show, and Kenny Morris's performance pumps life through every word. He is loud, then tender. He is respectful, then indignant. He is hope, then heartbreak and, finally, triumph.

Proctor's wife, Elizabeth, is played by Flannery Miles with understated, truth-filled emotion that reminds us how people really can love each other.

In a cast of 20 actors, some are bound to impress more than others, and this cast is no exception. But alongside Morris and Miles, any weaknesses are overshadowed by several major players, including Susan Cook as the spiteful Abigail Williams, Ron Dauphinee as the imperious Deputy Governor Danforth, John Wright Jr. as the lovable Giles Corey, and Howard Green as the despicable Judge Hathorne.

The play is heavy in subject, tone, and language, and for all its strengths there are a few times when the production disappoints. Actors nearly stumble over the few pieces of furniture, the smallest movements of the overzealous upstage the main action, and sometimes (probably in an effort to keep it all moving) even the most satisfying performers rush through lines that are almost incomprehensible at any speed.

In the past, Theatre Downtown has been negatively criticized for poor production values. This show answers those critics, proving that an ironclad script with timeless relevance and outstanding characters played with devotion need only carefully chosen and aimed lights, evocative costume pieces, and realistic properties to take an audience out of time and place, and into artistic reality.

It is a show you will not forget, a haunting reminder that America, our great experiment, is a country that exists in the fragile balance between tolerance and intolerance.

The Crucible runs through October 31, 2009, at 2410 5th Ave S. For tickets, call 205-306-1470 or visit www.theatredowntown.com.


Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill

Aldridge Repertory Theatre at The Carver Theatre

October 10, 2009 performance reviewed by James Lee Griner.

 

The second production of Aldridge Repertory Theatre's inaugural season at The Carver Theatre, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill showcases the talents of an endearing singer, Billie Holliday, and her quick-fingered pianist, Jimmy.

A third actor plays Emerson himself, an old friend of Holliday's who owns and serves drinks in a "cozy" bar and grill on Philadelphia's south side. He and Jimmy have scheduled her there, to sing in front of an audience that is likely to remember the brighter days of her youthful career.

She is having none of that. Oh, she sings—classic Holliday fare in a classic Holliday style includes God Bless the Child, Strange Fruit, What a Little Moonlight Can Do, and more. But she cannot resist telling stories from her life—not many of them very bright.

There was the beloved mother who ultimately disappointed her, the boyfriend who set her on the road to ruin with drugs, and the ever-present historically white people who applauded the spirit in her singing and tried to shackle the spirit that was her life.

Together, the actors who portray Billie Holliday and her fourth (or is he her fifth?) accompanist, Jimmy, find humor, irony, regret, hope and its rival despair in the 17 songs and interwoven dialog that are the script.

Her mannerisms, voice, and singing style are spot-on Holliday as she reveals how self-destruction and self-pity allowed the singer to see the possibility of actually achieving her dream of success, but never to enjoy it. To watch her performance is to see how she felt the bushel forced over her light that, conveniently for some and tragically for others, went out when it could have grown stronger.

Her piano player clearly respects her talent, but he also hopes to profit through it, so he also clearly wishes she would get out of the past. At the piano, with his back to the audience most of the time, he has only to shake or turn his head, or smack the keys with uncommon force, and the audience feels his disdain.

In the background, the sparse set was a fitting pallet for lights that effectively suggested the performance corner of a northeastern neighborhood bar.

The show was a very good one, and this lifelong Holliday fan found several more reasons to love her and her music.

Two things disappointed me, neither of them in the show itself.

First, the online ticket sales process left me thinking I had purchased specific seats, but when we arrived we found general admission seating. No seat at the Carver is bad, but in a more full house, I might have resented being misled.

Second, there was no printed program to tell me the names of the actors, designers, technicians, and others who labored to bring this show to life. This absence bothered me more than the seating, for reasons made obvious in this review.

The Aldridge Rep, as it's called, has another powerful and relevant show to follow its season opener, No Child. Lady Day also highlights the theatre's alliance with the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, housed at the historic Carver Theatre.

The crowd was appreciative, but not large. (We all know what autumn Saturdays mean in Alabama.) Hopefully, perhaps later this season, the new theatre group will work out those kinks in its front-of-house operations, and more people will experience the talent that is growing in downtown Birmingham.

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill runs through October 18, 2009 at the Carver Theatre, 1631 Fourth Ave. N, Birmingham. For tickets, call 205-264-9910 or visit www.aldridgerep.org.


Smokey Joe’s Cafe

Virginia Samford Theatre

October 8, 2009 performance reviewed by James Lee Griner.

 

Facebook link: Smokey Joe's Café Sizzles with Energy, Fun

Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller may not be household names, but you've heard their songs. What you probably haven't heard are the energetic and entertaining renditions of them that make up the Virginia Samford Theatre production of Smokey Joe's Café, playing October 8-18, 2009.

The cast of 8 singer-dancers, 4 women and 4 men, hurtle through 40 numbers in 2 hours, including intermission: Kansas City, Jailhouse Rock, Poison Ivy, I Keep Forgettin', Yakety Yak, Charlie Brown, Hound Dog, Love Potion #9, Spanish Harlem, and plenty more that you may recognize simply from the opening chords. Especially remarkable are performances from (in alphabetical order, as in the program) Jan D. Hunter (Some Cats Know, Teach Me How to Shimmy), Kendall Johnson (D W Washburn; I, Who Have Nothing), Belinda George Peoples (Hound Dog, Fools Fall in Love), and Ernest Sykes (the bass voice in everything).

The musical accompaniment is outstanding. The choreography is simple where it needs to be, more complex where it can be. The set appears simple at first, but it is extremely conducive to the varying tableaux and stories that are staged to support the songs. And the projections that make up the backdrops are enchanting in their own right.

All in all, it's one toe-tappin', hand-clappin', sing-a-longin', smokin' good time.


Pippin

Directed by Carl Dean

May 29-June 7, 2009 at the Virginia Samford Theatre

Reviewed June 3 by Frank Thompson, III

Although this show has been previously reviewed here on eBhm.org, I am moved to offer a different perspective to add to that which has already been put forward. This is not to discredit or disrespect anyone else's opinion, but simply to present my own.

     I attended MCAT's Pippin on opening night, and was thoroughly entertained by a show I really don't like.  To put it more clearly, I do not care much for the script or score. Again, this is not meant to offend any of the Pippin groupies out there...it's just not my favorite musical by a long shot. With that in mind, I was actually DOUBLY impressed by how much I legitimately enjoyed MCAT's performance. A few highlights include:

·         The performances of Dylan Hunter (Pippin) and Kendall Johnson (Leading Performer.) Hunter and Johnson were, in a word, outstanding. Each of these talented actors brought life and energy to his role as well as to the production as a whole. Hunter's boyish charm and stellar singing voice gave Pippin a youthful exuberance that never gave way to parody. Matching his performance skill beautifully was Johnson's stern yet captivating "Ringmaster" role as Leading Player, the semi-narrator who comments on yet involves himself in the doings of the show. Johnson has the talent and magnetism to make this role shine, which he does.

·         The supporting cast. From Celeste Burnham's delightfully treacherous Fastrada to the ever-saucy Carole Armistead, with Jenny Wiggins' sweet and charming Catherine thrown in for good measure, the women in this show pull their weight and then some! In smaller male roles, Kyle Holman gives us a pompous, blustery Charlemagne who commands the stage at every entrance, and Finn Steward proves that the next generation of Birmingham theatre is in good and capable hands with his hauntingly endearing Theo.

·         The ensemble. Pippin is very much an ensemble piece, and this cast does not disappoint. At times old-fashioned and vaudevillian, at other times seedy and lecherous, the ensemble provides a fluid, well-directed thematic backdrop to the action of each scene. Director Carl Dean has put together a cohesive, enjoyable production that does not shy away from the more adult themes in Pippin, yet handles such material appropriately..

     Is there sexuality and adult subject matter in Pippin? Absolutely, but that is where any issue must be taken with the playwright/composer, NOT the individual production or staff. From the film version to various productions I have seen through the years, Pippin has always contained a certain amount of naughtiness, as any credible examination of the human condition MUST. We live in a grown-up world, and any tale of a boy becoming a man simply can not ignore or whitewash that fact. To attempt so to do would make a mockery of that which the show seeks to explore.

     My grandmother had a saying which I have used all my life... "well, that's why they make chocolate ice cream." (This is to say that not everyone likes vanilla.) Pippin will clearly not be for everyone. I must respectfully observe, however, that if one goes in completely "blind" to see a show, one takes one's chances. There is a thriving theatre community in Birmingham, with all sorts of offerings from family-friendly to extremely mature. If you've never seen the show, it may be worth a call to the box office to inquire about subject matter or suitability for younger audiences.


Pippin

Directed by Carl Dean

May 29-June 7, 2009 at the Virginia Samford Theatre

Reviewed May 29 by Cliff Keen Jr.

I have never seen Pippin before in my life. Having done theatre for most of my life you would think that I would have at least seen one production of this show. This being the case I did not know what to expect from the show. I have heard some of the wonderful music but that was the extent of my knowledge of the show. Was I in for an education?

     First off, the presentation of Pippin by Magic City Actors Theatre made for an interesting piece of theatre. There is no disclaimer listed on the program or posters that this show is intended for mature audiences, there should be. I would not suggest taking your children to this production. I must say that I was not prepared for the blatant sexuality that is expressed throughout this production.

     Dylan Hunter as Pippin is extraordinary! Wonderful voice and presence on stage. He immersed himself in the role and it showed! Carole Armistead is magnificent! Great voice and timing! Jenny Wiggins as Catherine was superb! Loved her character and was actually a joy to watch on stage. Kyle Holman as Charlemagne was fantastic. He had a wonderful mix of emotions and boy, can he sing! The ensemble had some strong elements. Daniel Jackson and Dominique Johnson definitely stood out for me.

     I found this production to be overwrought with sexuality. Bumping, grinding, grunting, and barely costumed actors seemed to be having a wonderful time on stage but it was uncomfortable to watch. It seemed as though for most of the production the sexuality was not a necessary element. It actually overshadowed the wonderful job done by Dylan as Pippin. At one point he was so in character, actually crying, but I was so appalled at the sexuality that I did not have time to care or want to.

     After watching what basically constituted an orgy on stage, we had to endure Fastrada singing a song about incest. If one was not aware of these themes in the production it would catch you off guard. That is what happened with me. Even though these are a part of the story I felt they should have been dealt with differently for my taste.

     There was potential for this show to do its job, of presenting the point of the entire show to the audience. This could have been an incredible experience for many patrons but instead it was a night of uncomfortable theatre, with sound issues, missed choreography, and too much in your face sexuality. There were wonderful performances on stage and you could definitely see the work that these talented people put into the show but theatre does not always have to shock you. Pippin has wonderful music and tells a nice story. If you can look past the unnecessary sexuality there is great production underneath.


The Glass Menagerie

Directed by Edward Miller

May 14-16, 7:30, May 17, 2:30, 2009 at the Virginia Samford Theatre

Reviewed May 9 by David R. Garrett

When a Tennessee Williams play is performed correctly, it guarantees plenty of multi-layered characters and a plot full of southern madness.  Virginia Samford Theatre's current production of The Glass Menagerie does not disappoint. The moment the patrons enter the theatre, the "Tennessee Tone" is set with Ben Boyer's dark and very appropriate set design of a run-down apartment. The walls are made from thin pieces of wooden slats that efficiently define the space, but the clever design also tells us that we are looking at a fragile environment that houses a fragile family.

     The Wingfield Family lives in the four walls of this dank apartment under a watchful portrait that hangs over the fireplace of Mr. Wingfield.  Several years earlier he abandoned the family, leaving son Tom to support his controlling and manic mother (Amanda) and his crippled and terribly shy sister (Laura). Together, the three live in their bleak existence which also represents their hopeless world.  At first, Tom seems to tolerate his mother's rants about his lack of ambition, but he becomes increasingly frustrated with his lot-in-life and fears his mother's predictions of impending failure will come to fruition.  As the plot progresses, Tom realizes, as does the audience, that his only real chance for a better life is to choose the same path his father did and to abandon the family.  Relentless and somewhat delusional, Amanda Wingfield provokes Tom frequently with her constant meddling and criticism.  However, as a tribute to Tennessee William's brilliance as a writer, the audience feels sympathy for this overly verbose and critical woman. Despite her desperate need to cling to the past and her constant craving for attention, there is no doubt that Amanda loves her children and wants a better life for them.  Daughter Laura is probably the most sympathetic character of all. Not only is she mired in the everyday existence of her dysfunctional family, she is also plagued with a painful shyness which is as equally debilitating as her crippled leg. So shy and self-conscious is Laura, she creates her own world which consist of a collection of glass figurines. It is in this world (her glass menagerie) that she finds solace and refuge from a terribly unpromising life.  In a poignant scene, Laura instructs (Jim) the gentleman caller to hold her favorite figurine (a tiny glass unicorn) to a candle. She explains that when the light shines through the glass, the figurine is even more beautiful.  Williams' skillful writing challenges us to imagine how different Laura  would be if some semblance of light was allowed to shine threw her…but there is no real light in her true world, so Laura  must live vicariously through her glass trinkets. The audience is forced to watch helplessly as they realize that Laura's world of glass is as fragile and susceptible to tragedy as is her real world.

     Under the masterful direction of Edward Miller, The Glass Menagerie is well executed and performed with just the right amount of sensitivity, brutality and humor. Miller does double duty, not only as director, but also as the older Tom.  Traditionally, Menagerie productions cast the same actor in both the older and younger role of this character, but Miller creatively steps outside the box and cast himself as the old Tom, while his real life son Evan Miller plays the younger version. Father and son do a good job as the two Tom's and this fresh approach to the casting, makes for a much welcomed spin on a classic piece of theatre.  Ian Philips churns out an enthusiastically believable performance as Jim O'Conner (the gentlemen caller) and proficiently walks a theatrical type rope, giving the audience just the right balance it needs to still find his character likeable... after he literally shatters Laura's world.  Alyssa Crisswell is mesmerizing as the shy and crippled Laura and she completely embodies the quirkiness of her character. From the awkward walk, to the nervous tension of each hand gesture, her performance is solid and consistent.  The real pay-off for the audience though comes in the form of actress Beth Kitchin (Amanda).  Kitchin steals every scene she's in with the skill and craftiness that only a truly seasoned actress could bring to the performance.  She makes us love her, hate her and even laugh at her character. But most importantly, Kitchin's portrayal allows us to understand Amanda Wingfield. It is through this understanding that we realize that Amanda is living in her own glass menagerie that will soon be unavoidably shattered as well.

     Miller's choice of music to underscore the show is both appropriate and moving and Kim Dometrovich's costume design is two-fold in its success. Not only do her costumes capture the essence and tone of the play, but they also flatter the actors.  I will fairly admit that my only criticism of this production is a picky one, but I found the addition of the street urchin character to be confusing.  Because Miller successfully challenges us with his non-traditionally casting of the two Tom's, I was expecting the urchin's character to represent something more significant. Maybe it does. Maybe I missed it, but this unnecessary character slows down an otherwise rock solid production and leaves the audience asking, "Who is he?"  Fortunately, this character is a very small part of a much bigger theatrical puzzle and this minor criticism is definitely no reason to pass on this fine production of The Glass Menagerie.

     These talented actors have indeed gotten it right and their performances are definitely multi-layered and loaded with lots of southern madness! Tennessee would be proud and so should the cast and crew of this delightful piece of "audience worthy" theatre.

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Shadowlands

July 10 -19 at Deerfoot Community Bible Church (Trussville)

Reviewed July 10 by Paul McCracken

First of all, a disclaimer: My son is in the cast. As his father, I thought he was wonderful. As a director and fellow actor, I thought he was pretty damn good.

Shadowlands, based on the true story of the unlikely romance of crusty English professor C. S. Lewis and American expatriate Joy Gresham, is a powerful play. Jessie Bates carries off the difficult role of Lewis with magnificent aplomb. He is imminently believable as the confirmed elderly bachelor who is set in his ways and happy to be so. Bates delivers Lewis' theology with sincere passion and delivers his emotional awakening in a way that reveals astounding depth. Sheila Snoddy's performance as Joy is equally remarkable. Her portrayal has just the right balance showing the whirlwind that struck Lewis' life when he met Joy yet at the same time Snoddy does not overplay the part. She has the remarkable ability to play an over-the-top character in a manner that accurately depicts the person while at the same time she does not go so far as to turn the role into a farce.

Also worthy of high praise is David Gregson's performance as Warnie, C. S. Lewis' brother with whom he lived. Here a role that could be a minor comic relief or a filler to deliver plot points. Instead, Gregson plays with a subtle touch that enhances the entire show. He maintains a proper British deportment and at the same time gives a performance with important nuances. Brothers Nathan and Caleb Denard give excellent performances as Joy's son Douglas at four years apart. An ensemble of other actors: Tanner McCracken, George Maronge, William Brisky, and Susan Joy Denard do an excellent job of filling in a number of additional roles. Their performances significantly enhance the story. A special word of praise goes to John McGinnis' performance as Christopher Riley, Lewis' atheist friend. It is his role to present the viewpoint opposite of Lewis' optimistic theology and McGinnis is able to portray a potentially unlikeable character as a charming rogue instead of a caricature. Director Clay Boyce deserves great credit for assembling an talented cast and molding them so as to present a powerful script in a powerful manner.

A couple of technical notes of commendation. Shadowlands is presented in a church worship center but the set is well-designed and makes good use of the available space. Also, the lighting design is especially effective, using subtle changes to depict a shift of location or of time.

While Deerfoot Community Church is not centrally located in the Birmingham area, it is easily accessible off of the Deerfoot Parkway exit of I-59 near Trussville. Believe me, this show is worth the drive.


Cabaret

April 16-20 – Theatre UAB

Reviewed April 16, 2008 by Billy Ray Brewton

      There was not much optimism rustling about in my head when I made the trip on Wednesday night to see UAB's production of Cabaret.  For starters, I had already seen two lackluster productions of Cabaret in about two years and neither of them lived up to what I consider to be the overall point of the show.  Secondly, I had never seen a musical produced at UAB, and am always worried about vocals when it comes to performers I haven't seen before.  To say I was pleasantly surprised by UAB's production of Cabaret would be an understatement.  I haven't enjoyed a musical so thoroughly in this town in well over a couple of years. 

The most dazzling aspect of the show from the get-go was the set design, lighting design and sound design, all of which complement one another well and prove to be some of the most affective I have seen in quite a while.  The set is simple, and the scenes changes are fluid and convincing, with the pace never slipping, except maybe in the scenes between Sally and Cliff.  The way in which director Karla Koskinen stages the ending of the show is just incredible and it really adds a sense of levity to the production, something that was missing entirely from the previous two productions I saw.  The choreography was spot-on and highly entertaining, most memorably in numbers like "Mein Herr", "Two Ladies" and "The Money Song". 

As for performances, the Emcee generally carries the show in the production, and there is no exception to that rule here.  Played by Michael Dunlap, the Emcee in this production is as nasty and frothy and entertaining as I have seen.  There is a big difference between someone who plays the Emcee as over-the-top and flashy and 'look at me, look at me' and someone who plays the Emcee as someone who is laid back, loose and 'I don't give a damn'.  This production features the latter and it's that performance that carries a large chunk of the show.  His best performance comes with the raucous "Two Ladies" and the beautifully scaled back and executed "I Don't Care Much".  Other highlights in the cast include Diann Gogerty as Fraulein Schneider – who is dressed up to look old and frumpy and really manages to play that role convincingly, with wonderful vocals; Katies Hine as Fraulein Kost, who has the best female vocals in the entire show; and a colorful assortment of Kit Kat Girls and Boys.

If I have one gripe with the production it's that there is always this tendency to cast the very best singer in the role of Cliff, even though that character sings less than anyone else in the show.  In turn, it always seems like the weakest vocals are given to the role of Herr Schultz, who sings quite a bit in the production.  This is how it has been in each production I have seen, and it always seems to boggle my mind.  But, that is really all I have to say in the complaint department about this production.  I went in expecting nothing and was thoroughly surprised and highly entertained.  More musical theatres in Birmingham should check out this production and take note of how to deliver an exciting, entertaining and consistently rewarding musical production.  Cabaret is certainly the best production I have seen UAB produce, and I hope they start producing more musicals.  If they are even close to as entertaining as this one, they will be worth the ticket price.


Glengarry Glen Ross

April 3-19 – Theatre Downtown

Reviewed April 15, 2008 by R. Daniel Walker

     With sell out houses and extended performances of Dog Sees God last month you may have thought it was just the one great show of their season; that is until you go see Glengarry Glen Ross, playing for one more weekend, April 17 – 19 at 8PM at the Playhouse across from the Alabama Theatre. It’s enough to make me wish I had seen more shows prior to Dog Sees God, and yet makes me regret that I didn’t.

Theatre Downtown has proven that you can still do the classics (well modern classics) and do them well. Billy Ray Brewton has assembled a stellar cast without a single weak link anywhere to be seen. If I went into detail about any one actor in this show it would just get repetitive.

David Mamet is well known for being some of the most difficult dialogue to speak for an actor, the interruptions, the lack of complete thoughts, the repetitive lines, the yelling and screaming, is all but distracting to this cast! Everyone was focused on their characters goals and stayed in the scene no matter what was happening. I have not seen a group of actors so focused and intense for an entire piece as I witnessed in this show. These are guys that I have worked with, and seen perform numerous times over the years and I have to say this was the best work I have ever seen any of them do. This goes to show that they loved the script, and just had one hell of a good time performing with each other. There is not much more praise I can give Billy Ray and his incredible cast, except give us more!


 

Funhouse

Presented by Jonathan Goldstein at the Virginia Samford Theatre

Reviewed on February 27, 2007 by Matt Morris

The last and final performance of Eric Bogosian's Funhouse by Jonathan Goldstein was attended by a middle-aged and younger crowd. As a fan of Goldstein, I waited with much anticipation for an exciting performance.  I knew the acting would be stellar and it was.  The play opens with Goldstein speaking passionately into a microphone in complete darkness.  Just as disturbing as his speaking, however, is his breathing.  His variety in breath and vocal rhythms are compelling to say the least. His commitment to the character sends a shock wave of fear through my body.  The opening scene feels so frighteningly real that I had to keep reminding myself it was just a play.  His voice grabs onto you and does not let go.  This incredibly creepy opening scene sets the tone for what is to come.  Thankfully, however, Goldstein changes gears.  He fosters an invitation to the audience to be relieved from the doom and gloom, by revealing himself to be vulnerable and human.  His characters are, in a word: neurotic.  In another word: dysfunctional.  The thorough depiction of the insurance salesman puts a sour taste in one's mouth.  The conniving salesman keeps bringing up fears of the customer and asking, "have you thought about that?"  It turns into a verbal boxing match with the insurance salesman throwing the knockout blow.  That people can be so cunningly mean to others is a tough pill to swallow. 

     Favorite parts of the play, for me, are when Goldstein speaks in two different NYC/urban accents.  These accents add to the atmosphere and feel of the already fascinating characters.  He seems to use his accents as avenues to delve ever deeper into the character's unique feelings. His scene as the evangelist is convincingly disturbing while also being clever and humorous.  It paints a real-life picture.  The evangelist shows pictures of children starving in Africa and lays condemnation upon the audience for eating extra pieces of pie while letting it happen.  Goldstein does a great job of bringing some difficult characters to life.  His liberal addition of humor into the theatrical batter makes the audience feel safe along the journey through these neurotic characters.  A favorite scene of the ladies seems to be Goldstein's aerobic bit as his presence resembles an air of Richard Simmons.  A charming scene, for me, is when he reveals a country redneck boasting about his achievements and trophies.  As mentioned, most of the characters Goldstein presents are incredibly contemptible. 

     Funhouse lets people safely peek into dangerous characters and search for the humanity therein.  Are we similar to the characters or different from them?  How so?  I felt Goldstein exhibited a clear and precise understanding and sympathy for the unique character's he brought to life on stage.  His research into their intricate personalities allowed him to present full and thorough characters with built-in vulnerabilities and idiosyncrasies.  Never was there a lack of specificity between the characters. Goldstein brought an entirely different energy and tempo to each one.  The play is dark to be sure, but is also brought into the sunlight by Goldstein's charm and humor.  Goldstein can be admired for his willingness to tackle such extremely scary and disturbing characters.  His play asks us to question exactly which tendencies in society operate to bring out such filthy and neurotic beings. Funhouse is an invitation to embrace these by-products of our free, capitalistic system so that we may grow in our own humanity from our experience with them. .


 

Funhouse

Presented by Jonathan Goldstein at the Virginia Samford Theatre

Reviewed on February 21, 2007 by Frank Thompson

 

Friday night's second-night performance of Eric Bogosian's Funhouse, (currently playing at VST's Martha Moore Sykes Studio Theatre,) was well-received and enjoyed by a somewhat eclectic audience. The demographic seemed to run the gamut from elderly patrons who may have looked more at home attending Hello, Dolly! or My Fair Lady, to several twentysomethings ready for an evening out. As someone who falls somewhere between the two, I can honestly say that there was much I enjoyed about Jonathan Goldstein's tour de force. Goldstein acts as the show's director, producer, promoter, and sole performer. In less capable hands, this could have been a complete train wreck, but Goldstein has managed to assemble and present a well-rehearsed, passionate, and clearly thoughtful production.

     The show opens on an unnerving note, as a disembodied voice (Goldstein) wheezes menacingly in the pitch darkness. This sets a creepy, somewhat surrealistic tone, which is only partially dispelled by the following vignette featuring a buffoonish insurance salesman. Throughout the remainder of the evening's entertainment, Goldstein morphs himself into an effeminate aerobics instructor, a wino, a frenetic young man, and numerous other denizens of Bogosian's twisted psyche. These are not all nice people, nor are they all sympathetic characters. Goldstein succeeds, for the most part, in bringing them vividly to life. Occasionally there is a slight lack of specificity between the characters, especially in the second half of the second act. However, Goldstein has obviously invested great time and thought in his character choices, and this dedication is obvious in the enthusiasm and commitment he brings to the role(s.)

     Bogosian's script is somewhat edgy, and his language is definitely not for the easily offended. The script itself is mostly pessimistic and dark, so those who are looking for a bright, happy little show had best look elsewhere. For those who are interested in a more contemporary drama presented by a talented and dedicated actor, the Funhouse is the place to be.


 

“Don’t You Just Love Christmas”

Presented by Magic City Actors’ Theatre

Virginia Samford Theatre

Reviewed on December 19, 2006 by Howard Green

It seems like the same old thing, year after year at this time.  I get caught up in the Holiday rush, hustle and bustle, scramble for that last minute gift, write a check, swipe the plastic, no thanks I hate eggnog and yes my blood pressure is up!  So I decided to chill last Tuesday night and take in the latest production from MCAT “Don’t You Just Love Christmas”.  I’d seen an abridged version around this time last year in Gardendale so was fairly familiar with the story line and anxious to see it unfold on the glorious old stage at the Virginia Samford Theatre.

     Director Roy Hudson, along with an original concept by Steve Pennington and original music provided by Tom Paden, has woven together a Holiday treat for Birmingham theatregoers.  Carl Sloan, a recent widower, is trying to find his new direction in life, playing his guitar, writing songs and most importantly keeping in step with his brassy young daughter Samantha.  Brenda Angelo is trying to make the best of the Holiday season for her young daughter Chelsea while her husband is fighting the war overseas.  Brenda’s sister Katherine is single, career minded and certainly in no need of a man in her life.  Katherine is directing a benefit Christmas show and is planning to leave opening night for a well-deserved vacation alone in the mountains.  Brenda runs into Carl at the mall while waiting in line for their daughters to see Santa, which is actually Brenda and Katherine’s dad Bill.  With the help of Carl’s daughter Samantha, Brenda finds out Carl is a guitar player/songwriter and is available to help with the band as well as providing the show’s music.  He agrees, comes to rehearsal, meets Katherine and eventually they fall for each other, again with the help of Samantha.  Brenda’s daughter Chelsea has but one wish from Santa; that he bring her daddy home for Christmas.  Happy endings abound; daddy makes a surprise entrance at the end of the show, Katherine cancels her vacation plans to stay with Carl and her family, the Christmas show is a sellout and Carl has a recording contract on the table.

     The show boasts a wonderful cast, each of whom portray characters that most of us can relate to; caring, warm, every day people.  Carl Dean stars as Carl Sloan and as you watch him sing “What I Really Want For Christmas” and “This Christmas Eve” you’re reminded why he’s truly one of Birmingham’s premier performers.  Young Dee Dee Joehl plays his 10-ish year old daughter Samantha to perfection, complete with all the wisdom, courage, sensibility and logic it takes some of us lifetimes to gather!  Emily Herring and Kimberly Kirklin as sisters Brenda and Katherine turn in stellar performances also.  As you watch Kirklin sing “Someone I Don’t Even Know”, you see the wall around Katherine begin to crumble as she realizes her feelings for Carl.  Herring’s beautifully touching vocal on “Merry Christmas Wherever You Are” is certainly a highlight, and becomes even more so as her husband, played wonderfully by Jeff Johnson, makes a surprise homecoming and finishes the song with her.  There were hardly any dry eyes at this point in the crowd where I was seated.  Hal McIntosh and Martha Summey are a wonderful pair as parents Bill and Louise Sanders and are delightful in “Santa’s Song”.  Caroline Condon as Brenda’s daughter Chelsea tugs on the heartstrings throughout the show.  She never loses faith that Santa will bring her daddy home for Christmas and is the first to say I told you so in the end.  Mark Anthony Hardin II as Sid continues to impress audiences with his vocal stylings and brings the house down as he duets with Erin Johnson on the “The Spirit of Christmas in Me”.   The adult and children’s chorus were full of energy and presented Carl Dean’s choreography very effectively.  Music Director Michael King has once again put together a fine group of musicians that do great justice to the original score.

     Cheesy?  Syrupy sweet at times?  Perhaps, but while doing CenterStage’s “ A Christmas Carol” this year, we embraced the power of “cheese”.  And why not?  It’s the Holiday season!  With everything else going on in and around our lives, if we have a chance to experience something that causes us to feel a little happier, a little more joyful and have a little more faith I say God bless it!  Thanks, MCAT for your Christmas gift to the community!


 

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe

Theatre Downtown

Reviewed on December 7th, 2006 by Jason Carlton

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe is one of the cornerstones of American theatre.  Edward Albee is best known for his absurdism, but he left that at the door when he approached George and Martha, the two main characters of Woolfe, head on. 
     For those unfamiliar with the script, I’ll Cliff Notes it for you.  George (Terry Hermes) is a professor at a New England college where he is married to the college president’s daughter, Martha (Ellise Mayor).  They are both in their mid to late forties.  It is the beginning of a school term and George and Martha have just come back from a mixer.  Martha has invited a new college instructor, Nick (Jonathan Goldstein), and his wife, Honey (Melissa Bush), back to their place.  George and Martha like to play mind games, and Martha has decided to include the younger couple in on the “fun.”
     I went into this production with a healthy knowledge of the material from having seen the film adaptation featuring an engrossing performance from Elizabeth Taylor as Martha.  The movie is an extremely close adaptation of the play.  There is something about watching Taylor rip through the dialogue that makes me enchanted, and I just can’t stop watching it once I start. 
     There are some tricky things about Virginia Woolfe (actually this is true about almost every Albee play).  First off, the material is complex and alienating to the audience.  It really is almost too smart for most people to appreciate.  The characterizations are as layered as anything in modern dramatic literature.  Martha is probably the female equivalent to Hamlet, and Albee’s characters and complexity of themes rank up there with Chekhov, Ibsen, and Genet.  This is not light stuff.  It is the reason people leave during intermission, or choose not to see the play after seeing the movie.  Personally, I don’t understand how anyone could not sit on the edge of their seat waiting to find out what is going to happen next, or how it is going to be played by the actors.  This brings me to the second tricky thing about Woolfe, you have to have good actors. These aren’t roles that just anyone could play; it truly is a prime example of how the material lives or dies in the hands of the actors.
     Anyway, forget all that and let’s talk about this production.  Theatre Downtown’s decision to mount this production (with all it’s ability to fail in a spectacular way) is ballsy to say the least.  They pulled it off brilliantly.  The set is tight and efficient.  Setting it at Christmas time didn’t bother me, and the lighting was warm and inviting.  Then Ellise Mayor entered as the drunken Martha, and the real magic of theatre began.  This is an example of when the right actors, right director, and right script all come together.  It was as close to flawless as I could hope for in community theatre.
     Terry Hermes as George and Jonathan Goldstein as Nick were captivating and showed real depth to their characters.  I did feel that George was a little too spineless, but I also understand that may have been a director’s choice.  There were times when George would have read more interesting to the audience had he more energy.  However, it was a sound choice to play him so weak, and Hermes pulls it off in what is hands down the best performance I have seen him do.  Pulling off George is a hard feat, and Hermes’ interpretation is unlike anything someone familiar with the script would think to do.  It is original, fascinating, and it does work.
     Watching Goldstein’s Nick trying to figure out Martha and George is also fascinating.  Goldstein brings a light hearted, All-American quality to the stage.  Nick’s motives are obvious to the audience in large part because of Goldstein’s ability to convey them to us.  It is not always there in the dialogue, and Goldstein helps you see a part of yourself in him.
     Elise Mayor as Martha is pitch perfect.  As they say, this was the role she was born to play.  She pulls off every drunken slur, every jab, every barely able to walk moment.  She is miraculous in her performance and the true center piece of the work.  I couldn’t take my eyes off her, and her break down at the end was unbelievably convincing.  Does she remind the audience of Taylor?  Maybe a little bit, but then don’t we always see a little of Brando in every performance of Streetcar?  Mayor does make Martha her own creation, and it is worth the price of admission just to see her.
     Melissa Bush rounds out the cast as Honey; a role that really is nothing more then a plot device.  However, Bush might just be the best thing in the show.  She is dead on and funny as hell.  I believed every moment of her on stage, and I would love for her to take on the role of Martha in 20 years.
     The direction is even paced for the most part.  This is the third show I have seen Brewton do and he manages to always bring a lot of humor to his productions.  I always seem to hear this director’s timing in his comedy; his actors usually all have the same timing.  This time it truly is unique to each character.  He is growing as a director by choosing challenging pieces to pursue. 
     All in all, this is the best production I have seen in Birmingham theatre in quite some time.  If you have never seen this show you owe it to yourself to see this production.  If you have seen it before, see it again.  This is an incredible way to jumpstart a new theatre and I am waiting in anticipation of their next production. 


 

Veronica’s Room

Playhouse, Inc. – Presented by Twisted Dog Productions

Reviewed on October 18th, 2006 by Jonathan Temple

If one of the main purposes of the thriller genre is to incite those dark, unspoken emotions which reside in each one of us, then let it be said that Chris Burch and his fantastic cast have reached an uncanny level of emotive response with their superb production of Ira Levin’s Veronica’s Room.  Having read and seen some of Levin’s previous work (i.e., Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives), I fully expected something that gravitated towards the macabre.  What makes this play so effective however, is not its ability to be dark and brooding.  That’s the easy part.  Instead, the most chilling aspect of this production is the eerie level of normality that is achieved by each actor. 

     Russell Jones as the young man portrays a certain intensity that gives way to his own character’s depth.  Instead of honing in on one specific emotion or response, Jones is very diverse in the way he molds and shapes his character.  Without giving away too much of the story, I can say that Jones’s ability to manipulate his character is outstanding.

     David Gregson, in his portrayal of the old man, conveys a sense of geniality that gradually descends into a detached apathy for those around him.  Gregson’s responses are very subtle yet very effective.  His belief in the character exudes through every line of dialogue.  Once again, without revealing the depths of the play, Gregson’s ability to change without being overbearing makes his performance all the more captivating to watch.

     Lyndsay Antos as the young woman absolutely succeeds at showing her deepest and darkest fears as they become realized throughout the play.  It’s fairly easy to give off the emotion of fear, but for Antos, she promulgates the emotion so well that it becomes the very definition of her character.  Antos also presents a wide degree of diversity in her character as well. 

     Donna Love’s performance as the older woman is perhaps the most chilling of all.  Love is absolutely captivating in her character’s metamorphosis throughout the play.  Her ability to swing the pendulum of emotions from one end of the spectrum to the other leaves the audience in utter awe at what her character is or isn’t.  Love’s ability to transcend the normalcy of her character’s surroundings while still maintaining a sense of control is a testament to her talent. 

     To say that this play is entertaining would be an understatement.  The play is perfectly cast, and that is a testament to Chris Burch and the others who helped in the process of this production.  The cohesiveness felt from each of the four actors was as good as any show that I’ve seen in recent memory.  There is a certain level of professionalism and work that comes from being in such an emotionally and physically draining production.  With just four cast members, one might tend to take advantage of the limelight.  With this cast however, there is such a balance and blend that they all four are blended together in one horrifying tale that will leave you breathless not just by its subject matter but by those actors who give it to us as well.  If you haven’t made your way to the Playhouse to see this show, you are missing one of the best shows in Birmingham this year.     


 

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

Virginia Samford Theatre - Presented by Magic City Actor's Theatre

Reviewed on September 20th, 2006 by Frank Thompson

A medium-sized but extremely festive audience was on hand for opening night of How To Succeed..., the premiere production of the new Magic City Actor's Theatre. Director/Choreographer Carl Dean and Musical Director Michael King have loaded the cast with talent, and a solid, respectable performance was enjoyed by all. The show's highlights included Jacob Pollard in the leading role of J. Pierrepont Finch, a role made famous by Robert Morse in the original production and Matthew Broderick in the 1995 Broadway revival. As a performer, Pollard is everything Finch should be...young, charming, and a reliably strong singer/actor. Of particular note was his superb desktop turn in the rowdy "Brotherhood Of Man" number. As good as he was in the role, this was the one moment when Pollard literally became Finch. Having watched Pollard  slightly understate his antics for the first three-quarters of the show, I was happy to see him really cut loose in this eleventh-hour number.

     As love interest Rosemary Pilkington, Kristen Bowden was another high point in the show. Her sweet demeanor and baby-doll vocal inflections gave Rosemary an authentic 1960's femininity, yet she managed to skillfully create a strong and determined character at the same time. My favorite song in the show is Rosemary's "Paris Original," and Bowden did not disappoint with this humorous and fun number.

     Wes Seals just about steals the show in the role of Bud Frump, the obnoxious nephew of the boss. I have always been impressed with his performances, and this one was no exception. He was simply hilarious. Matching him laugh-for-laugh was Juliet Brooks as Smitty, the wisecracking secretary and buddy to Rosemary.Her performance was also a comedic gem.

     In smaller roles, a real standout was Jennifer Gamble as Hedy LaRue, the bombshell "secretary who can't type." Gamble brought a Betty Boop-style sexiness to the character, and played her as daffy but never truly stupid. (Given how things turn out for her in the end, you are left wondering if Hedy may have been the smartest character all along...) Birmingham favorite Dwayne Johnson was a delight in several small roles, and Valerie Lemmons and Vicki Goldstein literally made me almost fall out of my seat laughing at their antics as a pair of cleaning women.

     And the list goes on...I could literally go through the entire cast and mention each person in the show and talk about something good that he or she brought to the production. There truly were no weak links in this group.

     As for the negatives...well, there were very few. If I had one main criticism, it was that the overall energy seemed to drop once in a while, but that could well have been opening-night fatigue. A few set changes were less-than-perfect, and as is usual at Virginia Samford Theatre, the orchestra occasionally drowned out the singers. These negatives are quite minor, however, when compared with the far more numerous and substantial high points of the show.

     How To Succeed...is a fun, entertaining, and enjoyable show. Magic City Actor's Theatre has done an excellent job with its' first production, and if subsequent shows maintain this level of quality and professionalism, the company will most definitely have a bright future ahead.


 

Long Day’s Journey into Night , Dane Peterson Theatre Series at The Virginia Samford Theatre

Reviewed on February 2, 2006 by Billy Ray Brewton

 

Alcohol.  Morphine.  Consumption.  Fog.  Those are the only five words you need to know to prepare yourself for the four hour 'journey' provided by the great Eugene O'Neill.  But, once you leave the theatre, you might add one more word to that list...amazing.  "Long Day's Journey Into Night" is one of the great cornerstones of American drama, and Dane Peterson & Co. masterfully bring this classic to the stage, incorporating all the drama and all the tragedy we have come to expect from this tale of regrets and denial.

     The piece centers around the Tyrone Family.  Father, James, is a former actor turned alcoholic and landowner who lives life to pinch pennies.  Mother, Mary, is a morphine addict who is finally back at home after being 'away' for treatment.  Their two sons, Jamie and Edmund, are more than a handful.  Jamie is thirty-four and still comes home for Summer, broke and needing work.  He is also an actor.  Edmund has been at sea for a while, but is now home and sick with something quite serious.  The play centers around these four characters coming to terms with their own faults and realizing the faults within one another.  This play deals with the regrets we all have in life, though those found in this piece are the kind that cause the greatest of tragedies.  This family is not so much dysfunctional as it is unrealized.  There are so many 'what ifs' in this play that we also start to question what might have happened...if...

     What makes this undertaking so successful (and, at four hours, it is very much an undertaking, which is why very few theatres perform this piece for the masses) are the performances.  My God, the performances.  I can honestly say I have never seen a better female performance onstage than that of Carole Armistead, and that goes for shows I have seen on Broadway, in London, or anywhere else.  She is phenomenal, and perfectly captures every single aspect of Mary's disillusion and subsequent 'journey'.  She is flawless...absolutely flawless.  Jerry D. Sims, as James, is equally amazing in one of the best male performances I have seen in a long while.  His Irish is pitch perfect.    While some at the show found some of his mumbling to be bothersome, I thought it was absolutely in keeping with character.  I didn't necessarily need to hear what he was seeing because I could see it written all over his face.  As Jamie, Jonathan Goldstein hit all the right buttons.  He was cocky...he was biting...he was sympathetic when he needed to be...and he was cowardly to an extent in Act Two.  And, though he was just a little too wooden at times, I also found Daniel Walker's performance as Edmund to be in keeping with the talent level of the show.  These actors did their homework.

     Though Act Three stays on track for a while, it eventually loses steam and we finally start seeing why this show is so difficult to pull off.    But, just as we think it is getting a little too long, in comes Jonathan Goldstein and, eventually, Carole Armistead, and the show heats up once more.  The best scenes of the show were between Armistead and Sims -- both of whom work instantaneously off one another.  Their chemistry is the stuff directors dream of discovering and cultivating.  Kudos to director Dane Peterson for giving us one of the most powerful and enjoyable shows of the year...or any year.  I feel I will be hard pressed to find a better show in Birmingham in 2006...or 2007...or 2008.  This was professional theatre.  So, don't let the four hours distract you from this show...by the time the wedding dress makes its way onto the stage, you are sitting there hoping it has more left to offer.  Eugene O'Neill's masterpiece if only made better by this director, these actors, and the phenomenal showplace of the Virginia Samford.


 

South Pacific  at The Virginia Samford Theatre

Reviewed on January 15, 2006 by Andrew Duxbury

In 1949, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were the reigning kings of Broadway.  Separately, they both had long and distinguished careers in musical theater but, when they teamed up for the first time in 1943 to create Oklahoma!, their creation of the first fully integrated musical play announced the mature arrival of an uniquely American art form.  They perfected the tying together of strong dramatic themes, rich characters, melody and dance two years later with Carousel, detoured into the concept musical with Allegro, and bounced back from that relative failure ready to surpass themselves again.  The source material for their new project was James Michener’s book of short stories about World War II in the Pacific theater, Tales of the South Pacific, a Pulitzer Prize winner published the year before.  The war, only four years finished, was still at the forefront of American culture and America was still wrestling with its impacts on its people and society.

     Hammerstein took Michener’s stories, full of an evocative feeling of place, and peopled with ordinary American servicemen and women on an extraordinary mission, French planters, and Polynesian natives and wove from them a full tapestry of human relationships against the backdrop of war.  Most of the musical was drawn from the stories, Our Heroine, about the romance of military nurse Nellie Forbush with the older French planter Emile De Becque and Fo’ Dolla, about the mercenary Tonkinese trader, Bloody Mary and her scheming to get herself an American son-in-law but characters and incidents from other stories were seamlessly worked in.  The result was South Pacific, which opened to rapturous reviews, enormous box office success, a Pulitzer for drama, and a raft of Tony awards.  The original cast recording, the first ever issued in the new LP format, brought the music to the masses and songs such as ‘Some Enchanted Evening’,‘Bali H’ai’ and ‘I’m Going To Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair’ became cultural touchstones.

     Given this pedigree, a production of South Pacific, such as the one currently running in Birmingham at the Virginia Samford Theater, is something of an event.  The theater, a home to several local production companies, is venturing into producing its own shows for the first time and the result of this maiden voyage is mostly a success.  As directed by noted local director and performer, Dane Peterson, this South Pacific mostly manages to strip away memories of countless lackluster high school and community theater productions to reach the emotional truths regarding love, war, and racism that are at the heart of this show. He is helped by an exceptionally strong cast of local musical theater veterans headed by Kristi Tingle Higginbotham as Nellie Forbush and Bill Bugg as Emile De Becque. 

     South Pacific is a very tricky show.  The first twenty minutes, rather than consisting of large chorus numbers or huge production values, is an intimate scene for two on a terrace between Nellie and Emile.  If the two performers cannot engage our attention and our interest, the show will fail, no matter what comes later.  Ms. Higginbotham and Mr. Bugg are up to the task with stellar voices and a touching chemistry.  Ms. Higginbotham is a tad too sophisticated to be the self confessed ‘hick’ that Nellie professes herself to be, but by the end of her first number, her angelic voice and her winning personality keep us from caring.   Mr. Bugg is physically imposing and his rich bass-baritone is almost enough to banish memories of Ezio Pinza wafting from your parents hi-fi. 

     The supporting leads are strong as well.  Lucas Pepke, as the doomed Lieutenant Cable, has a glorious voice and the looks of a virile juvenile. Ginger Goodall as Bloody Mary, sells her numbers and finds the comedy in her role as well as the pathos and Jeff Johnson is a riot as the perpetual screw-up, Luther Billis.  Frank Thompson barks his way through Captain Brackett with suitable authority and Don Garrett quietly steals every moment he can as the pompous Commander Harbison.  The ensemble acquits itself well although, like many musicals produced in Birmingham, the male ensemble is a bit anemic in its numbers, and while there are no weak voices,  the lack of bodies leads to some odd doubling in bit parts.

     The voices are so strong, that the dual piano combo in the pit, under the direction of Michael King, while musically proficient, makes you long for the original lush orchestrations to set off the singers.  The cost of good musicians to fill a full orchestra is beyond the capacity of many or our local theater groups and keyboards have become an economic necessity.  It’s a shame.  Mr. King is quite capable of putting together a bang up pit when given appropriate resources.

     Ben Boyer’s set is well executed and gives a sense of place.  His scenic painting of palm trees and tropical foliage in particular is well done.  The set is dominated by an enormous projection screen at the rear, where photo real projections of sunsets, beaches and islands carry us to an exotic locale.  While the projection technology is a major step forward for local theater, it doesn’t always live up to its promise.  At the top of the show, the use of newsreel clips is very effective, but this is immediately undercut by a silly movie credits sequence which is entirely too reminiscent of the bloated 1958 film version with its bizarre Technicolor filters.  The static backgrounds of sunsets or skies work well, but the tourist picture postcard scenes clash with the more abstract work in the foreground.  When the projections are video clips of lapping waves, they distract from the actors in the same way that an unwanted television does and the occasional technological snafu is disastrous in breaking emotional moments.  Costumes, by Mary Gurney and Kim Dometrovich, are appropriately colorful and delineate character well, but a bit more attention could be paid to shoes which are occasionally way out of period.

     Even with the minor flaws, South Pacific remains one of the better evenings I’ve spent at the theater recently and a good deal better in terms of performance than the touring version of Forty Second Street recently presented at BJCC.  Birmingham audiences flock to second-rate national tours.  They need to start looking at the first rate offerings in their own back yard.


 

PERSONAL REACTION TO ANTIGONE AS DIRECTED BY DR. HAARBAUER
Reviewed May 5, 2005 by M.L. Carlisle

When Dr. Haarbauer first mentioned his ”Feral” approach to this production, my response was that it would either succeed wonderfully or be a total failure.  It took a day to digest it after leaving the theater.

             Perhaps for the first time, the philosophy of Bertold Brecth really came alive for me.  The play maintained the aesthetic distance which is required to assimilate the philosophy which underlies the story.  The audience was kept from an empathetic association with the pathos of the situation and forced to regard the main message, that stubborn defense of an unpopular idea can destroy a leader.  Whether or nor Creon had a real point in denying Polynicius his burial rights seemed lost in the actual play by Sophocles.  The production by Dr. Haarbauer did not stoop to the level of human tragedy that is so often represented by ANTIGONE, but kept the burden on the audience members to think about what has happened.

             The set accomplished a great deal.  It both humanized the action and provided distance.  The huge sculpture at center stage, broken and looking like an antiquity kept the audience in mind of the time distance from this tragedy.   The set also gave an appearance of columns while not engaging in Doric or Ionic capitals which would identify the actual time period.  The scaly floor was lost on those sitting too close to the stage, but could be seen when entering the theatre and departing. The scale of the set, with its deep reveals, also created a sense of permanence, a solid connection to this universal problem of when is the good of the state above the good of the individual.

             Likewise, the lighting provided a superior atmosphere while allowing adequate lighting on the faces of the actors throughout and at critical moments.  There has been a proliferation of lighting designers in our area who think that ?Dark is Dramatic?.  Sorry, Dark is Dark.  Most of the audience has to read lips to get the actual words in so many productions.  The use of Lekos which could be shuttered and swiveled like follow-spots provide just the right amount of light on the characters while never creating an illusion of a musical number.

             At the beginning of the production, the exaggerated pronunciations were very annoying, but as the play progressed, it was engaging to understand every word and to feel more like one was entering the ancient mind instead of a modern one.  Similarly, the dance-like movements and continued hugging of the ground gave a symbolic connections to the turmoil of that times; the seeking of how to handle such situations; of Creon?s desperate attempts to demonstrate his fitness to rule.  The hissing and growling of various characters informed the audience of the feral nature of this moment in human history, when law is not settled and power is the rule.

             It goes without saying that the cast had a difficult assignment.  The testimony to their success is the fact that no one in the audience ever laughed.  Actors have to be totally committed to such characterizations for them to work.  The tension of this play is not relieved by any comic moments.  It builds and builds.  When an audience is partly composed of college students who are there to get extra credit in another class, the tendency is to laugh at things that they are not sold as being real.  No matter what concept a director may have, the cast has to make it work.  They cannot let down for one second on stage or the entire production becomes a parody.  Kudos to this cast.  It is impossible to select any one from such an ensemble piece.

             The sound effects, while distracting at times, also gave an immediate sense of ancient times.  The Australian instrument, so well known to us because of various movies and commercials, was recognized immediately as being pre-history.  A little less volume was warranted at certain moments, but the effect was what the director seemed to have envisioned.

             The only weakness that I saw was in some of the logic of the script.  Yes, in the script.  Traitors on the battlefield are shot.  They are not given a place at Arlington cemetery, nor have they ever been honored by the country they turned against.  Creon has a right to maintain the allegiance of his troops by denying this traitor a proper burial.  As important as a proper burial was in the time of Sophocles, I am surprised that his justification was not provided to support the case for Creon.  Perhaps this translation from 1939 skirted the issue more.

 All in all, this was a production that succeeded in a way which should make everyone involved very proud. 

 

 May 5, 2005 M.L. Carlisle


 

My Fair Lady at the Virginia Samford Theatre, by Little Theatre Players

Reviewed January 23rd  by Frank Thompson

In staging the Lerner & Loewe classic My Fair Lady, Little Theatre Players have embraced an interesting and most effective concept. The entire show is performed by a cast of thirteen highly skilled and versatile performers. While it is unusual to see this show (which typifies the traditional large-scale musical) presented by such a small ensemble, the enthusiasm and talent of the actors more than makes up for the absence of a large troupe.

Director Jack Mann has assembled an "all-star" cast, led by Kristi Tingle-Higginbotham as Eliza Doolittle and Bill Bugg as Professor Henry Higgins. In her role as the cockney flower girl turned elegant lady, Higginbotham shows not only the glorious voice for which she is known, but also tremendous range as an actress, smoothly transitioning Eliza from a brash and ignorant lower-class urchin to a grand and refined lady under the tutelage of her curmudgeonly teacher. Vocally, Higginbotham is in fine form, particularly on the soaring "I Could Have Danced All Night" which somehow seems fresh and new, even as the show nears it's 50th anniversary. Matching her note-for-note is Bugg, who uses his powerful baritone voice to provide Professor Higgins with an operatic gravitas. Bugg's Higgins is not as flighty or bombastic as that of Rex Harrison, but rather brings to mind the performance of Leslie Howard in the film version of Pygmalion, the non-musical play upon which My Fair Lady is based. His performance is understated, yet completely engaging, and works splendidly. Bugg has made the role completely his own, and, like Higginbotham, breathes new life into a classic piece of theatre while remaining true to the original character.

In supporting roles, Jeff Johnson is superb as Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's n'er-do-well father, Barry Austin turns in a marvelously bumbling yet endearing Colonel Pickering, Jeanette Stelzenmuller is a wonderfully daffy Mrs. Eynsford-Hill, Lonnie Parsons stops the show with a magnificent "On The Street Where You Live" in the role of Freddy Eynsford-Hill, Boots Carroll provides a delightfully crotchety Mrs. Pearce, and Virginia Mae Schmitt is a sweet-but-sassy Mrs. Higgins who provides a calming force within the chaos surrounding Eliza's education.

In the ensemble roles, Mike Curry, Regina Harbour, Neal Hunter Hyde, Mark Roberts and Kristy White blend seamlessly into numerous roles, spanning all ages, social classes (and in one hilarious case, genders.) This My Fair Lady is an ensemble piece in every way, and the entire cast seems to work together perfectly.

The show is not without a few minor flaws. The sets are sometimes less-than-beautiful, there is an occasional inaudible line or two of dialogue, and a couple of the costumes would look a bit more at home in 1980 than 1912, but these small imperfections are quickly forgotten when this brilliant troupe of actors and singers share their considerable talents with the audience. Overall, the production is solid, with outstanding performances across the board. Melissa Bailey's chorography is bright and inventive, and Derek Jackson's musical direction has produced a clear, well-trained sound from the vocalists. This is a show not to miss!

threeandahalfStar


 

Falsettos at UAB Theatre
Reviewed February 20, 2003 by Frank Thompson, III

     If you are in the mood for a VERY polished and professional musical, UAB Theatre's Falsettos is for you. Director Dennis McLernon has assembled an extremely talented cast and has guided them towards a performance of excellence. Falsettos deals with the sexually ambiguous Marvin, a New York lawyer in the early 1980's. When Marvin leaves his wife and 12-year-old son, he starts a love affair with Whizzer, a gay man who gets by on good looks and other people's money. The traumas and joys of Marvin's new life run the gamut from the mundane (preparing for his son's Bar Mitzvah) to the comic (getting to know "The Lesbians Next Door") to the tragic (Whizzer's battle with AIDS.) Tying each of these worlds together is Mendel, a psychotherapist who treats both Marvin and his ex-wife, eventually falling in love with the ex-wife. As Marvin, Wes Stewart Seals is phenomenal. His vocal abilities make the difficult William Finn score seem effortlessly sung, and he commands the stage without ever overshadowing the other performers. Matching him note-for-note is Tammy Hyatt as Trina (the ex-wife.) Hyatt brings a graceful elegance to her tragic character, particularly in the "Making A Home" number, in which we see her enjoying an orderly, polite, (if passionless) marriage to Mendel.
     As Mendel, Lee Turner finds all the right levels of comic relief and serious drama. It is essentially through Mendel's perspective that we see these characters, and Turner creates a character who truly "is what he sees." That is, all of life's emotions, from joy to fear to sadness, etc. Other standout roles came from Will Lacey as Jason, Marvin's son, and Audra Yokley as Cordelia, a lesbian kosher caterer. Both Lacey and Yokley had excellent moments and played their roles beautifully. Fine, solid performances were also given by George Milton as Whizzer and Tawana Johnson as Dr. Charlotte. As always, Musical Director Michael King performed magnificently. Michael's name on a show always means that the music will be first-rate, and this one was no exception. And the list goes on...bright, fun choreogaphy by Amanda Barrett Hayes, a fabulous set by Cliff Simon, stellar costuming by Russell S. Drummond...there just isn't room to complement all the talented people who helped make this show work. Falsettos does deal with some adult themes such as sexuality, AIDS, and divorce, so parents may want to decide whether their children are ready for the show. However, each subject is approached with respect, intelligence and wit, and the show should be fine for teenagers and older children. There is some adult language, so be prepared. (I almost died laughing when Will Lacey, as Jason, asked himself "What was that bitch's name?" when trying to recall a classmate.) The closest thing I saw to a "negative" was the occasional microphone glitch, but that's stretching to criticize...this truly is a sophisticated, fun, well-done production. Go and enjoy!


 

Company at the Birmingham-Southern College
Reviewed May 15, 2000 by Valerie Whitfield

     On Robert’s 35th birthday, his married friends gather to wish him many happy returns.  Through a series of flashbacks, Robert explores the idea of marriage and partnership by interacting with his friends and his three vastly different girlfriends.  The intimate setting of Birmingham-Southern’s black-box theatre is perfect for this show.  Audience members can relate to Robert, as they too observe the craziness of his friends’ relationships. 
     While the cast was universally strong, certain performances stood out as exceptional.  Among these performances were Brooke Hoffine as the nervous Amy, Kim Byram as the daffy flight attendant April, and Amy E. Miller as the enthusiastic Marta.  The entire cast worked well as an ensemble. Chris Hardin was excellent in the lead character of Robert, but was at his best when surrounded by his fellow cast members.  In fact, the strongest moments in the show were when nearly the entire cast participated in a scene. 
     The technical aspects of the show also helped maintain the ensemble emphasis.  The few set pieces were slightly adjusted in order to indicate where the scene took place.  The liquor cart, in particular, linked each couple’s home.  The costuming was also effectively utilized in linking characters, as each couple wore color-coordinated outfits, while the three girlfriends were dressed in wildly different ways. 
     Overall, Michael Flowers directed a polished, professional production of a wonderful show. 

 


 

Desire Under the Elms at the Morris K. Sirote Theatre
Reviewed May 12, 2000 by Franklin Thompson, III

     If you have an opportunity, try and catch one of the remaining performances of O'Neill's Desire Under the Elms now playing at UAB's Alys Stephens Center. Director Ward Haarbauer has done a masterful job at taking material which could have easily come off as dull or dry in less capable hands and creating a vibrant, timely piece of theatre. The decline and fall of a 19th-century New England farm family is seen from various perspectives in this story of greed and forbidden love. 
     Haarbauer has made three-dimensional characters out of roles that could easily be caricatures (especially the two gold-driven brothers played by Douglas O'Neil, Jr. and Stephen Wilcoxon.) The multiplicity of layers in each character is vividly illustrated: no one is all "good" or all "bad" and the evening leaves one wondering whether to feel avenged at justice served or sorrowful for a myriad of victims. 
C. David Loggins is particularly strong in the role of Ephraim Cabot, the elderly farm owner. Loggins uses his sturdy frame and powerful voice to create an image of strength within the body of a character of advancing years. Artfully combining an old man's movements with a younger man's passions, Loggins shows us an elderly man who can still hold his own in a world of young men. 
     As Abbie, Rachel Steele is appropriately alluring and crafty. She brings a powerful and self-assured sex appeal to the role, yet never loses Abbie's internal frailty. This is clearly a woman who has only her wits and physical charms as tools for survival in this society, and Steele shows Abbie's desperation without ever revealing the panic that may (or may not) be there. Her scenes with Loggins are particularly strong in the second act, when Abbie's disgust with Ephraim replaces the cool calculation of the first act. 
     Michael Hicks turns in a well-formed performance as Eben Cabot, although one might have wished to see less explosive wailing and more brooding in the early scenes. As an adolescent farmboy experiencing his first love (and an illicit one at that) Hicks shows a quiet yet constant flow towards maturity, and his final scenes with Abbie are among the play's most powerful and moving. 
Haarbauer has made use of Adrienne Reid's lovely voice as a sort of transitional accompaniment, bringing her on-stage to sing a few lies from era-appropriate songs at the scene shifts within the show. This device works well, and provides a thematic richness which may have been otherwise lost. 
    With it's dark storyline and sometime talky script, Desire Under the Elms may not be for everyone, but Eugene O'Neill fans and those who enjoy a more serious evening at the theatre will certainly enjoy this polished and majestic production.

 



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