“Wait Until Dark” Needs a Flashlight

Reviewed by Amber M. Dillard

untitled-design-2_orig It was a sparse opening night for Flint Community Players and their production of Wait Until Dark, a suspenseful thriller written by Frederick Knott and directed by Anthony Ennis. Still, it kept us guessing and was played (mostly) in the dark.

The production centers around a blind housewife, Susy Hendrix, who unknowingly possesses a doll filled with drugs and a conman, Harry Roat, who desperately wants to find the doll and sell it. Roat enlists the help of two recently released from prison thugs, Mike Talman and Sgt. Carlino, which stirs the opening of the plot. First we meet Mike Talman, played by Thomas J. Goedert, who is driven by his need for money to be a participant in Roat’s evil games. Goedert delivered a wonderful performance and really brought out the humanity in his role as a conman.   He and his counterpart thug, Sgt. Carlino, played by Gene Pincomb II played nicely off of each other although Pincomb was sometimes hard to understand.

Talman and Sgt. Carlino are coerced into assisting Harry Roat Jr. and Sr., both played by Christopher Dinnan who easily changed into various characters with ease and style. We enjoyed his performance but only wish that we could have seen more because it was obstructed by the darkness. The true standout of the cast has to be Allison Ouellette who plays the target of Roat’s plan, Susy Hendrix. Ouellette is believably blind, vulnerable, smart, and strong as her character arch progresses through the day’s events.

Rounding out the cast are Susy’s husband, Sam Hendrix, played dutifully by Christopher Carlson and their upstairs neighbor girl, Gloria, played sweetly by Marie Halligan. Congrats also to our two policemen played by Matthew Cremeans and Davonte Tenniswood.

While Thursday night’s performance had some lighting and sound kinks to work out we must stress how impressed we were with the superior set design and construction work by Rick Doll, Cindy Hubbard, and Ron Barrett. It was expertly assembled and decorated, and easily helped move the story along. More kudos are due to the front of house staff and box office for all of their hard work.

Wait Until Dark continues through November 17 at FCP’s Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy. Flint, MI 48507. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-235-6963 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com

 

 

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Flint’s REP Brings Theatre of the Absurd to Life in “The Chairs”

Reviewed by Kathleen KirbyChairsWebBanner1

Lots of definitions describe what is known as theater of the absurd, but they all agree that this post-WWII art form puts forth the ludicrous, even farcical nature of human life by using confusing, illogical and basically meaningless action and dialogue. Eugene Ionesco, one of the most heralded playwrights of the genre, penned The Chairs that opened to an enthusiastic reception at Flint Repertory Theatre Friday.

Often billed as an absurdist comedy, there certainly are comical moments as an aged couple living in Paris try desperately to come to come up with a message worth passing on to mankind; to give life a meaning of sorts.

Kay Kelly as the Old Woman and Michael Kelly as the Old Man range about their disheveled, war-torn apartment chatting about nothing at first. The apartment appears to be water locked, on an island of sorts. The Kellys are amazing from the beginning as they banter lovingly about nothing in particular. We soon begin to realize these two are and have been alone together for quite sometime.

Michael’s Old Man seems to grasp that now, at age 95, he has only a short time left and has failed to accomplish anything meaningful aside from his self-proclaimed position as “general factotum”. Michael’s moment of regression into childhood is both poignant and distressing as Kay becomes a projection of his mother even going so far as to sit on her lap as he cries.

Indeed, Kay’s Old Woman, herself 94, must also realize the impending end of what seems a meaningless life as she encourages her husband that to express himself may possibly bring back all they’ve lost. In her constant buoying up and encouraging of this clearly confused man, Kay’s portrayal is both comic and tender but also heartrending.

Ultimately, the Old Man’s decision to engage an Orator to give his message to the world begins an onslaught of unseen visitors invited to hear his wisdom. As they hurry to find chairs for each newcomer, the stage begins to fill with “characters”. We hear one side of each conversation, but can easily imagine the unheard side. Soon the supply of chairs runs out and all manner of stools, pots, and ledges are employed until the area is packed and the two householders find themselves stranded apart – one on the far right and the other on the far left.

Now, it’s important to say here that this production is performed in the Bower’s black box playing area that brings the audience into very close proximity with the stage. Intriguingly, the chairs nearly mirror the arrangement of chairs in the audience so that they could easily begin to identify with the assembled invisible beings on the stage.   Perhaps to encourage this very effect, Ionesco has painted the occupations of this group with a broad brush.

We won’t reveal the final scene, but will say the character of the Orator (Harvey) is not what we expected and clearly was not what the Old Man and Woman had in mind either.

Michael and Kay Kelly meld perfectly into these characters as they portray the pathos and the satire that is combined here. This remarkable performance is one they were meant to do.

Director Alex Bodine, scenic designer Andrew Licout, and lighting designer Jennifer Fok have returned once again to bring their professional expertise to bear on this production. They are a formidable team as they bring this theatrically rich production to the Bower stage. With its bombed-out appearance, the apartment takes on a marooned feeling exactly right for this story. As the chairs begin to multiply, the briefly lit glimpses of a shoreline-like raft of chairs in the distance adds symbolism and ghostly meaning.

The Chairs is a historical and genre-specific play that isn’t blithely performed. It is well worth the experience. Go for it!

The Chairs continues at Flint Repertory Theatre through November 10. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-7333 or access online at flintrep.org/tickets

 

 

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OCP Presents “Marvin’s Room” – A Family Tale

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

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It was a dark and stormy night Saturday as we drove out to Owosso to see the OCP (Owosso Community Players) current drama, Marvin’s Room by Scott McPherson. One could comment that the weather was a good preamble to the story about to unfold on the Lebowsky Center stage. In truth, the story told in this play is dark, but it also harbors light and hope.

Beginning in Florida, we find Bessie (Debie Lundeen) nervously seated in a doctor’s office as a slightly fumbling Dr. Wally (Ben Cassidy) fills in for Bessie’s usual doctor. There is comedy here right off the bat as Dr. Wally seems confused as to who exactly he is treating, cannot locate all the blood testing tools and lets slip that there is a bug infestation in the building. Okay, we see that there will be a sense of humor at work here.

Bessie is a caregiver. She has been responsible for her father who she says has been dying for 20 years, and for her aunt Ruth who has a back injury being treated electronically and wears a lavaliere control around her neck. Ruth (Deb Knipe) is sweet and funny as she complains that though the contraption works well, it also sets off the garage door opener every time she uses it.

We never see Marvin. His room is behind opaque glass upstage but we see the flashing light he enjoys as the sunlight reflects off a mirror.

When Bessie finds out that her “vitamin deficiency” is in reality leukemia, she is told to contact family for possible bone marrow donors. But her only relative is an estranged sister in Ohio with whom she’s had no contact for years. Still, she reaches out.

Lee (Lyn Freeman) has had a bit of a topsy-turvy life and is introduced as a gruff and angry woman, but we feel her pain. She has one 17-year-old son, Hank (Ayden Soupal) who is in a mental institution since burning the house down. She also has a younger son, Charlie (Evan Worden) who reads constantly and says little.

Soupal brings an amazing depth to this troubled young man. His performance is both disturbing and touching. So we have a divided family, nearly opposite in temperament, now joined to focus on a hopeful outcome. It’s not an easy road.

Bessie is the heart of this story. She is compassionate and caring, and her selflessness not only contrasts with the selfishness around her, but it subtly transforms her sister and her angry nephew. It’s all about family and the ultimate wonder that Bessie’s kindness bestows.

There is not a weak link in this show. Director Stephanie Banghart has managed to bring a blend of just the right amount of pathos and wit to this performance. Each characterization is full and unnervingly believable. We only wish more folks had braved Saturday’s downpour to come out and see this ultimately heartwarming tale.

Marvin’s Room continues at The Lebowsky Center for Performing Arts October 27 and November 1, 2, and 3. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 989-723-4003 or online at lebowskycenter.com

 

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Comedy Opens UM-Flint 2019/20 Season

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

theliar.fb_As truth, trust, honesty and their underlying integrity seen to have begun a slide down the proverbial slippery slope of late, perhaps a look at the possible comical consequences that could and often do result is in order. Indeed, the art of prevarication has been around for centuries.

Such is the stuff of the University of Michigan-Flint Department of Theatre and Dance production of The Liar. Written in the seventeenth century as Le Menteur by Pierre Corneille, it was adapted for the modern stage by David Ives who has updated it with fast-paced contemporary language but still delivered in verse.

We chuckled along with most of Friday’s opening night audience as we watched the Parisian romantic endeavors of Dorante (David A. Guster) first unfurl, then unravel, then rekindle again. Guster is foppish and flamboyant, yet intriguing in his posing and preening as he brags about his ability to lie his way into and out of life’s predicaments.

New in town – although he won’t admit it – Dorante finds a fellow looking for work as a servant. He has only one “flaw” – he cannot tell a lie. He is the perfect “conscience” for Dorante! Giovanni Moore III is terrific in this wacky, slapstick role. He opens the show, sets the tone, and then keeps the comedy coming throughout.

Enter two lovely ladies and their maid. Clarice (Ava Pietras) and Lucrece (Alyssa Banister) are strolling in the Tuileries when Dorante accosts them. Pietras is comical in her attempted rejection of this fellow. She is possibly engaged to the slightly whiney but still hotheaded Alcippe (Paul Gregor) and surely is not drawn to Dorante. However, Lucrece is interested even though he ignores her. Banister is the more regal of the pair and may prevail if all goes well.

As the maid, Isabelle/Sabine, Sandy Doll has her work cut out for her. She is the sweet Isabelle one moment and then the raspy Sabine the next! She makes these conversions smoothly and with ease.

When Alcippe arrives on the scene accompanied by his friend Philiste (Enrique Vargas), he greets Dorante, his old school chum, with gusto! Gregor does a fine job of portraying this character through his excitement, then his rage, and ultimately his love for Clarice.

Finally, Dorante’s father, Geronte (Trevor Allen) only wants his son to find a wife. His sole desire is to see Dorante settled down and giving him grandchildren. Allen does well with this older character as he tries to separate fact from fiction.

Director William Irwin’s troupe does a wonderful job of moving from place to place with very little set disruption. The gleaming emerald curtain is a centerpiece and the cast literally sets the scenes with their steady focus and pristine timing.

They handle the iambic pentameter verse with skill and comic aplomb. Rarely falling into excess cadence, they also manage to tweak the audience’s funny bone more often than not.

Costumes are wonderfully frilly and fine. The men outshine the women as they did in those days, with their wigs, broadly plumed hats, waistcoats, and even swords.

All in all, The Liar is worth a trip to UM-Flint if you like to laugh and think as well. The play continues through November 3. For tickets and more information contact the box office at 810-237-1530 or online at umflint.edu/theatredance .

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McCree Opens New Season in a New Place With “Memphis”

220px-Memphis_musical_posterReviewed by Kathleen Kirby

            To inaugurate their new venue, The New McCree Theatre chose to open this season with the Tony Award winning Memphis, a musical set in the fifties’ South. Based loosely on actual events, this Joe Dipietro and David Bryan script and music tells the story of a downhome white fellow who wanders into a black club on Beale Street one night and falls in love – first with the music and then with the girl.

Huey Calhoun, played with enthusiasm and acute naiveté by Joshua Bleau, doesn’t seem to grasp the significance of the racial divide that exists in his hometown. Enamored by the music (“The Music of My Soul”) he soon falls in love with the club owner’s sister Felecia, played here by vocally adept Marianna Gillespie. It’s his determination to get her on the radio so a broader audience can share in this sound that drives the rest of the action.

Besides enthusiasm, Bleau brings a strong voice to the range of vocals evident in his many singing numbers. He is at the center of nearly every scene/song, so it was no wonder that his voice started to scratch by the end of the night Friday.

Felecia’s brother DelRay (Daniel Lopez) owns the club and is understandably concerned about his sister’s well being and skeptical of Huey’s ability and his motives. Lopez exhibits his terrific vocal ability more than once, but especially as he sings “She’s My Sister”.

While these three are at the center of the action, there is a strong supporting cast with them. First, as Huey’s mother, Ann Oravetz moves her character from a frightened, racially insensitive woman to a place of strength with her second act “Change Don’t Come Easy”. Joined here by Lopez and two other club denizens, Gator (Fred Fife) and Bobby (Justin Searcy), this one sparked cheers and applause from the audience.

In his determination to get Felicia on the air, Huey forces his way into a radio station where he manages to do just that. The rest is history even though the manager, played by Steven Visser, isn’t keen on the idea from the start and threatens to fire him. Visser plays two more of these pompous roles as Huey makes his way up the ladder.

Memphis is a story about love and loss. It covers a range of issues – prejudice, violence, hardship, stardom, failure, and redemption – and presents them with vocal and instrumental know-how.

Director Cathye Johnson’s touch is evident in the clever and efficient management of set changes and musical choreography. She has positioned the “McCree-Memphis” Band, directed by Phil Young, right on stage behind a scrim/screen but in full view. It works well since all the singers are miked and easy to hear.

There is collaboration at work on this production with folks, including actors and two co-directors from Light in the Dark Musical Theatre Company involved in performance aspects. Combining folks from various companies as well as opening in a totally new place has to have presented a series of challenges. Still, this show is well worth heading to Northwestern HS to enjoy the story, the music, the history and the effort this organization puts forth to entertain and to fulfill their mission – “To tell the African American story in the African American voice”.

Memphis continues today at 2:00 and 7:00 pm and October 17 and 18 at 7:00 pm and October 19 at 2:00 and 7:00 pm. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-787-2200 or online at https://www.thenewmccreetheatre.com/memphis-musical.html

 

 

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A Powerful “Rabbit Hole” Opens CCC Season

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby69923727_10156751536772198_7423206751811403776_n

What is it that we fear the most? When asked to write about this in a college class, playwright David Lindsay-Abaire drew a blank. But years later, after becoming a father himself and hearing stories of couples coping with the death of children, he knew he’d found his greatest fear.

Rabbit Hole, Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a couple wading through the grieving process after their four-year-old son was accidentally killed, opened Friday at Clio Cast & Crew’s Theatre 57. It is a stirring and emotional, but also uplifting and at times even comical performance.

Becca (Dawn Sabourin) and Howie (Connor Klee) live in a comfortable home outside New York City. The play opens eight months after the death of their son, Danny, yet remnants remain. A stuffed dog on the floor, a dinosaur under the coffee table, not to mention a child’s bedroom visible through a cutaway wall stage left still intact as it was on “that” day. Indeed, Kevin Smithwick’s set, while comfortable and even cozy, also emphasizes the emptiness of material surroundings when life departs.

As the play opens, Becca is carefully folding a child’s clothes from a laundry basket and chatting with her younger, wilder sister Izzy (Pamela Beauchamp). Beauchamp brings a comical and crazy yet loving and sturdy demeanor to this role that prevails throughout.

Sabourin comes across at first as an average suburban mom concerned with her sister’s zany behavior. It is when Becca offers to give the clothes to Izzy who has just announced her unplanned pregnancy that we begin to realize something is awry in this household.

The story of Danny’s death is never told outright. It emerges in conversation as does its impact. Howie’s attempts to relax his wife (and probably himself as well) are met with suspicion and resentment. Klee’s portrayal crafts Howie clearly with all his uncertainty and desire to comfort Becca even as he mirrors his own longing to return life to normal. Striving to not blame each other, they still search for a reason to explain the total senselessness of their loss. For a while they find that outlet in each other.

Enter Nat (Paula Price-Anthony) as Becca’s assertive and often comically outspoken mother. Price-Anthony may bring this character to life for many with her authoritarian, motherly advice. And yet, any attempts to console on Nat’s part are met with resentment and even anger, until months later when Becca finally realizes that her mother may have wisdom to offer.

Finally, there is the arrival of Jason (Noah Beauchamp), the teen who was driving the car that killed Danny. Curiously the meeting between Jason and Becca is a catalyst to begin the healing for them both. It is here that the definition of the title emerges with all its mystical meaning and the hope that it finally brings to Becca.

Although Lindsay-Abaire’s script emphasizes details and the wrenching memories simple moments can bring, his play projects the triumph of the human spirit. In her directing debut at Clio Cast and Crew, Dominique Hinde has guided her troupe with a finesse that allows them to portray these emotions with incredible power and unwavering honesty.

Rabbit Hole continues at Clio Cast & Crew’s Theatre 57, 2220 W Vienna Rd, Clio, MI 48420, today and October 4 & 5 at 7:30 pm and September 29 and October 6 at 2:30 pm. For more information and tickets contact the box office at (810) 687-2588 or online at www.cliocastandcrew.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FVP’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is a Theatrical Gem

Reviewed by Jon R. Cogginsstar-one-flew-over

It was a crisp fall evening as Fenton Village Players kicked off their 2019/2020 season with the light-hearted romp – oops wrong notes – with a serio-comedic dramatic staple – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Written by Ken Kesey and adapted for the stage by Dale Wasserman – Cuckoo has been a bestselling novel, a Broadway production with several revivals, a highly rated movie and now a local theater production directed by William Kercher.

Let’s get started. The show is set in a day room of a mental institution colored with industrial greens and grays, several exits and an impressive security box center stage complete with a working mic and blinking lights. The smallish stage was used quite effectively and even with a large cast never seemed crowded.

As the program states the show tells the tale of McMurphy, a charming rogue hoping to get out of a short prison sentence at a work farm and into an airy mental institution instead. Drama and light comedy ensue as Mac upsets the mundane daily schedule of this establishment.

Mac is played with tremendous energy and fervor by Jeff Rogner. He befriends the guys in his ward, clashes with Nurse Ratched, and even helps the Chief overcome his moribund condition. Jeff sets the tone, brings energy and excitement and spars with the establishment in a convincing nature. Well done.

His foil in this nuthouse was head nurse Ratched, a quietly tough professional who rules with an iron tongue and a withering stare. Played by stage vet Mary Smith Powers – Ratched is convincing, feared, tested and eventually and eternally in control. Powers handles the role well though is a bit quiet at times.

One of the guys, Dale Harding, played well by Matt Osterberg, knows the program and everything that goes on. As the self-proclaimed patient advocate, Osterberg is loud, unsure, timid and bold at times while struggling with a failed marriage and possible homosexuality.

Another fellow, Billy Babbit, portrayed by Grant Kenny, is a cutter and a stutterer who has problems dealing with women. Kenny plays the part well.

Charles Cheswick – a quiet protester is played well by Gary Smith.

Frank Scanlon – constantly fiddles with “bomb making supplies” in the day room. Frank is played with confidence by Gary Smith.

Ron Barrett plays Martini – a schizophrenic who “sees” his wife though she isn’t there.

The mark of a strong production and a strong cast shows everyone fully invested in their characters. This show exemplifies that as everyone is onstage nearly all the time. The guys squirm, twist, scratch, twitch, slap, mumble – constantly befitting their character choices – as they hang in the background. There is an endless card game going plus activities and crafts that keep the guys busy and enhance the show. Very well done.

Of course there are two other patients: First, Ruckly, played well by Kevin Emmons, is a nearly quiet inmate that “nails” himself to the wall and only bellows one sentence. Emmons totally immerses himself in the role and never breaks character even as tremendous effort was expelled keeping his arms constantly spread.

Finally, we have the Chief, a tall, domineering red man (quite literally) who is comatose, deaf and mute. Nick Carter brings this iconic character to life, matching eventually the fervor and energy of Mac. The biggest change in the guys comes from the Chief. We learn his tragic story and the play is viewed from his perspective. The climax is stunning, explosive and sad. Well done, Nick.

Additional characters include Williams, an orderly played by Preston Sannicolas, Warren, another orderly played by Bill Jones, Nurse Finn played by Rebecca Norris, and Turkle, an aide played by Geno Essenmacher. These cast members were capable, and added to the background believability of the institution. The staff doctor, Doc Spivey, was portrayed by Larry Stecco. Not sure if it was a character choice or a directorial choice but Larry’s laconic portrayal was a bit too laid back. I understand the character was old, irrelevant and ready to retire, but he was often hard to hear with low energy.

Finally, the last two characters were prostitutes brought in by Mac to party. Played by Laura Strong and Heather Ade the girls brought life, light, energy and booze to the gathering. There was also a non-credited walk on by tech director Dave Collins. I see you, Dave.

As usual Kercher pulled together a strong cast (kudos here as several shows of late in the local theatre community were scrubbed due to the lack of male actors), a talented crew and produced a theatrical gem.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest continues this weekend and next at the Fenton Village Playhouse, 14197 Torrey Road, Fenton.  For tickets and information contact the box office at 810-750-7700 or online at http://fentontheatre.org/tickets/.

CAUTION – Torrey road is closed and detoured at Torrey and N. Lake. You must approach from the north or Long Lake road.

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