REP’s “The Glass Menagerie” Is A Must See

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby                       56363610_2129288077161106_2573474696443985920_n

A beautiful, almost ethereal production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie opened Friday at Flint Repertory Theatre (REP). It is a riveting glimpse inside a world of emotional family relationships and the angst endured in their efforts to find contentment.

Director Michael Lluberes has chosen to unfold this “memory play” in an intimate space created by locating audience and playing area together on a black-draped stage. The characters are close up where playgoers can feel included in the action.

Williams coined the term “memory play” to describe this narrated piece. Michael Lopetrone tells the story as both narrator and character Tom Wingfield, and scenes evolve based on that telling. Lopetrone opens the action by directly addressing the audience. He sets the scene and the tone by explaining that he will turn back time, and he also speaks of the other characters in the play. Lopetrone presents this character as intense and certainly frustrated, creative and caring, but driven to escape.

Janet Haley is Tom’s mother, Amanda Wingfield. Amanda is beautiful and kind, but also a tad silly in her reminiscences of a Mississippi girlhood long gone. Her children are her focus and she finds it vexing that they cannot seem to understand the lifestyle she has held in her mind for them. Haley brings an intriguing air of gentility and spunk to this role. She is wistful one minute and scolding the next, yet she portrays the futility that Amanda perceives as her life with pain and even comic grace.

Playing Laura Wingfield, Meredith Deighton brings out Laura’s excruciating shyness and her near complete escape into her music and her glass collection. Deighton is marvelous in this role; her panic and her fear are real as is her near emergence from both in Act 2 with the gentleman caller.

That gentleman is Jim O’Connor, a co-worker of Tom’s. Scott Anthony Joy’s portrayal is refreshing and outgoing. He is a breath of the outside world when he comes to call. The slow realization that he and Laura knew each other in high school is intriguing to watch as she begins to come out of her shell.

Joy’s character is the one “normal” fellow in this story, but even he has secrets. He crafts this fellow as a smiling, polite, compassionate and overall nice guy.

Set in an alley in St. Louis, the play employs a sparsely furnished space with only the necessities. There is much use of “fire escapes”, and with careful use of lighting effects and by leaving the rigging exposed the tenement effect is enhanced.

Indeed, lighting is key in this production. Williams specifically dictates that the stage be dim and unrealistic. In the second act the lights go out and the use of candles is handled nicely to create an even more otherworldly atmosphere.

Overall, this is an exceptionally impressive production of an American masterpiece. The REP is to be congratulated for bringing this amazing level of creative expertise to our own backyard. It should not be missed.

The Glass Menagerie continues at Flint Repertory Theatre, 1220 E. Kearsley St, Flint, MI 48503 through April 14. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-7333 or online at www.FlintRep.org

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Dating and Friendship: “Significant Other” Puts it all Out There

Reviewed by Mary Paige Rieffel

As an alumnus of the Department of Theatre and Dance, it is always a pleasure to return to the University of Michigan- Flint to watchso productions. Friday’s production of Significant Other, directed by Bill Irwin, was written by Joshua Hartman and first performed Off-Broadway in 2015, eventually making its way to Broadway in 2017. The plot revolves around Jordan, a gay man in his late twenties who must endure watching his three closest friends find relationships and then attending their weddings. All this leaves Jordan feeling alone and unsure of how to proceed with his own pursuit of love.

The action of the play takes place in the round on the mainstage (a clever and effective trend in the theatre scene recently). Upon first observing the set I assumed that it was a projection casting the face of the lead actor (Gage Webster) on the floor. It was not until I was leaving at the end of the evening that I finally saw that the image was created by hundreds of snapshots from every day life, depicting mostly family and friendship. The rest of the set (designed by Lisa Borton) simply consisted of a bench and string lights. Aided by smart lighting and costume changes (lighting design by Doug Mueller and costume design by Shelby Newport), this proved to be all the play required to set its scenes.

I very much enjoyed watching actual young adults playing young adults and utilizing the modern text naturally. Sandy Doll, Alyssa Banister, and Koyasha Kent played the three best friends to Jordan who all wind up finding their other significant others. Doll plays Laura, Jordan’s BEST friend, with a sweet and steady tone. Kent plays Vanessa, the friend who tells it like it is and Banister plays Kiki, the grown-up party girl we all know whose future children we legitimately fear for. As a young adult who had to play an elderly woman several times in my college career, I must truly commend Lindsey Briggs on playing Helen, Jordan’s grandmother. Briggs’ physicalization and obvious care for the development of character was clear and highly enjoyable. Luis Perez, Enrique Vargas, Gil Hall, David A. Guster, Paul Gregor, and Brian Costanza play a wide range of very entertaining supporting characters that swoop in and out of scenes with a great sense of energy and fun, each one showing a fully developed character. This production relies on its leading man. Jordan is in every scene, has some very intense monologues, and must tell the story even while simply listening and observing, all while being likeable and someone we want to root for. Gage Webster was all that and more in this role. He gave an exceptional performance and is an absolute asset to the department. Bravo!

Joshua Harmon has this to say about his work,

“I wanted to take the gay sidekick character, who maybe gets to say three witty quips and shift the camera, so to speak, so that he wasn’t standing on the edge of the frame but was front and center, to see what happened when you took a character people assume they know and told the story from his point of view…”

What I found so commendable about this story is that it was the gay best friends’ story, but it could be any of us, regardless of gender, orientation, age…anything. The character is gay, but that is not what defines him. What defines this character is how he feels and his frustration with finding a significant other when the loved ones in his life are the most significant others in his heart. There was a recurring scene that involved Laura and Jordan dancing together at their friends’ weddings. It was a true testament to the power of theatre that something so simple could bring me to tears by reminding me so heavily of moments in my own life. But the real magic in those moments was looking across the audience and seeing pairs of friends, and every single one of them having a palpable emotional response to the same scenes. How amazing that a story can bring us all together in the same place to feel feelings in real time.

Significant Other closes this weekend and is a must-see for anyone who has ever been single. The University of Michigan- Flint Department of Theatre and Dance is located at 303 E. Kearsley St. Flint, Michigan. Tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 810-237-7333 or at the theatre one hour prior to the performance.

 

 

 

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FVP Presents “A ‘nice’ Family Gathering”

Reviewed by Karla Froelichfamily-gathering

Fenton Village Players opened their second show of the season with Phil Olsen’s A Nice Family Gathering. The clue in the title indicates that this may not be such a nice gathering. It’s Thanksgiving, and when we first meet the members of this family, they appear “nice” and then are revealed to be flawed human beings.

The set is an adorable and well-used space. It is the living and dining area in the family home of Mom, played delicately by Jan Cable, and Dad, handled with dexterity by Geno Essenmacher. Action also includes the front stoop and the garden archway that indicates the driveway. A forced perspective hallway greets us upstage center. It gives the small space a depth I haven’t seen before. That’s nice.

The set decorations were that of an upper-middle class family with a cozy fireplace and Dad’s putter leaning against it, ready for play. We’re sort of set for dinner, but that’s a clue that something is not quite right. There’s an offstage kitchen, and while the door swings regularly, there isn’t much food being delivered to the table.

Our protagonist is middle child, Carl, played with just the right blend of confidence and anguish by Tim Maggard. Carl has a good case of “why me?” through most of the play. He has a journey that will give him answers and justifications. We happily see that he turns it into “why NOT me?” for a plethora of reasons.

We also meet “perfect child number one”, Michael and his perfect wife, Jill who have taken on the family business of being a doctor and his country-clubbing wife. They have surpassed the wealth and stature of the parents, but at what cost? Michael is played with haughty grandeur by William Paul Jones, and Jill is brought to us on a tilting platter by Laura Ann Strong.

Completing this little family is Stacy, the often forgotten, younger sister. She is portrayed with proper angst and understated presence by Kaitlyn Renae Morris. Stacy is the baby, but is anything but typically spoiled.

No story is complete without “the other person” love triangle. We have Jerry here, presented with the demeanor befitting a jackal by Mike Dietz. We know he’s probably up to something, we just don’t know what.

I hope I’ve thrown enough lines into the water to attract more viewers to this slice of life. I don’t want to give too much away, but you’ll laugh, cry, and groan in recognition. It is family, after all, and we are all part of one…or two.

A Nice Family Gathering continues at FVP through April 14. For tickets and more information contact the box office at 810-750-7700 or online at fentontheatre.org

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FCP Presents “Arsenic and Old Lace”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby                                                 arsenicfbcover_orig

A friend fondly described it as an old chestnut. After seeing Friday’s performance we can agree that Flint Community Players’ current offering of Joseph Kesselring’s Arsenic and Old Lace is a well-roasted and yummy evening of theatre.

Just to recap what most theatre-goers already know about this show – set in 1941, it is a comedy with a wry twist involving two spinster sisters who rent rooms to old fellows with no place to go. Feeling sorry for them, they dispatch them to everlasting life with a glass of their elderberry wine and conduct appropriate funerals for them in the basement.

Laura Kline and Patty Bracey are perfect as Abby and Martha Brewster. Kline has stepped out of the costume shop and the box office to play this principal role. Why has she been hiding! She and local theatre veteran Bracey are a hysterical pair in their efforts to maintain the Brewster heritage. Dressed in vintage dresses (even for 1941) they captivate our attention whenever they are onstage. We fully expect them to prevail.

Then, there’s nephew Teddy, played with gusto and madcap bravado by Philip Kautz. Believing completely that he IS Teddy Roosevelt, Kautz spouts proclamations, blows his bugle and charges up the stairs (San Juan Hill). He is also digging the “Panama Canal” in the cellar.

Justin Wetenhall portrays Mortimer Brewster, also a nephew and the local theatre critic, a job he disdains to say the least. He exudes a sense of confidence and some pomposity at first, but he will face a host of challenges before the night ends.

The girl next door, Elaine Harper, played by Jesse Jeane Eldredge, is clearly in love with Mortimer. They seem destined to live happily ever after until the unexpected arrival of Mortimer’s dreadful older brother almost makes her a victim!

Christopher Dinnan plays Jonathan Brewster to a terrifying tee! Jonathan has a long history of awful behavior, and when he and his mewling sycophant sidekick, Dr. Einstein (Shane McNicol) come knocking, things begin to really heat up.

A few local policemen pass through the Brewster house off and on. Brett Smith and Thomas Goedert epitomize the small town local constabulary that was probably Brooklyn in these days. Later, Zachery Wood reveals his wacky character as Officer O’Hara, a fledgling playwright who enlists Mortimer’s reluctant help in finishing his script.

First impressions are a big deal, so upon entering the theatre the set for this show is startling in its detail and vintage authenticity. Kudos for this design to Rick Doll and Sam Di Vita. It literally set the tone before the show began.

Director Di Vita has marshaled her large cast well. They move easily, trip terrifically, and utilize the four, maybe five (!), distinct entrances nicely. Above all, their characterizations are so well developed and believable that Friday’s audience was heard to chuckle, gasp and then occasionally guffaw at the antics on the FCP stage.

Arsenic and Old Lace continues through March 24 at the Flint Community Players, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy, Flint, 48507. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-235-6963 or find them online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com

 

 

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Ancient Riddle Finally Solved

Reviewed by Amber M. DillardTrilobites

Under the sea is where you want to be!  Opening night for Flint Repertory Theatre’s partnership with CollaborationTown on their co-production of The Riddle of the Trilobiteswas petite but full of fun.  This musical centers around two young trilobites, Aphra and Judomiah, coming into their own after their first molting ceremony.  This world premiere puppet musical was amusing for all ages and at just ninety minutes is perfect for the whole family.

You might be asking yourself, what is a trilobite?  Trilobites were a prehistoric invertebrate that dominated the ocean floor millions of years ago and were one of the most successful early animals.  Trilobites left an extensive fossil record with some thousands of different known species; however, a few mysteries still exist. This is where our story is centered – on an ancient riddle that can only be solved by a trilobite with one-of-a-kind markings.   Aphra, played by Sifiso Mabena, happens to be this chosen trilobite.  Mabena moves expertly about the stage and gives our young heroine grace, humility, and kindness for all creatures.  The elders of her people, including Aphra’s grandmother, Galla, share with her her newfound destiny.  Grandmother Galla is played by actress Mia Pak, who brings a dominant yet playful energy to the character.  Luckily, Aphra does not have to solve this riddle on her own as she is joined by her most neurotic friend, Judomiah, played by Richard Saudek. Saudek brings so much range to his character that we can’t help but go along on his emotional journey.

Aphra is also joined on her journey by a host of other characters including an opabinia named Calliope, played by Julia Rose Duray.  Duray is youthful, energetic, and confident in her role as the more experienced sea explorer of the group.  Together these three set out to solve the ancient riddle.  Of course the story would not be complete without a few bumps along the way, including meeting the oldest and largest of the trilobites – Isotelus Rex, played by Zach Fike Hodges.  Mr. Hodges brings depth and polish to each of the characters that he plays throughout the production, and this reviewer knows that he personally brought one little girl a special amount of joy as Josh, the fish.

Another standout, multi-faceted persona is that of Hai, the fish that Aphra befriends despite warnings from the elders, played by Phillip Taratula.  In this role Taratula is vulnerable and soft-spoken creating some tender moments in the show that had several audience members tearing up.  All of Mr. Taratula’s characters Friday night were extremely well executed and showed his incredible range of talent.

Kudos must go to the scenic designer, Deb O, for transforming the REP into an underwater wonderland made of plastic which moved and swayed and gave just the perfect amount of magic to this story.  The plastic floor was loud at times, but as the run continues it should lessen and become less noticeable.  Another spectacular reason that this show works so well is that it is staged expertly by director Lee Sunday Evans for the thrust stage of the Elgood Theater.  I cannot forget to mention that this show is billed as a puppet musical, however, the work of the actors, director, and designers work so flawlessly together it’s easy to forget that you are watching puppets. The puppets themselves are crafted marvelously and the actors move them perfectly to create nothing short of magic. Microphones are always an issue and at times the accompaniment was a bit too loud, but the music is catchy, clever, and had many audience members dancing in their seats.  The writers of this musical must also not go unmentioned as the dialogue is witty, researched-based yet full of puns.  Lots of laughs are had by all ages.

Riddle of the Trilobites plays until March 10 at the Flint Repertory Theatre, 1220 E. Kearsley St. Flint, MI., but you won’t want to say goodbye to this show, only “See you later!”   For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-7333 or online at FlintRep.org

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“The Wizard of Oz” Features Huge Cast of Kids

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbyimages

A well-known and much-loved classic played this weekend at the Swartz Creek Performing Arts Center as Light in the Dark Musical Theatre’s production of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz opened with a matinee and evening performance on Saturday. It’s an ambitious undertaking for a number of reasons, but it is not without its highlights.

Beginning its second year, Light in the Dark Musical Theatre Co. took advantage of the generous playing space to put an amazingly large group of “munchkins” in their cast. Marshaling a bevy of youngsters is tough for any reason, but when they must be ready to “take the stage” on time, move in at least semi-sync and sing in unison, it is a major achievement when they do it. Kudos to directors Stephen Visser and Joshua Bleau for wrangling this young troupe (we counted 30+)!

The Wizard of Oz may be most familiar via the film version. (Remember, it started in black and white and then became color upon Dorothy’s arrival in Oz. Technicolor was new back then.) So, having been whisked away in a cyclone, house and all, the story really began after Dorothy landed, house and all, on top of the Wicked Witch of the East. Interestingly, the brown tone set switched to a colorful background at this point.

Microphones are used in this show to some affect. They were not always equal in their sound projection and, it could be somewhat hard to hear each equally.

Still, certain players stood out both as performers and singers. As Dorothy, Clio sophomore Sarah Falardeau was perky and adorable with a crisp, strong voice and competent command of the stage. She set the tone throughout and often brought order when it threatened to breakdown.

Dawn Sabourin was terrific as the Wicked Witch of the West. Her screeching laugh and menacing air along with her impressive stage presence made her worth the price of admission.

While Joshua Bleau (Scarecrow/Hank) and Jeremy Love (Tinman/Hickory) both have strong voices, they were handily overpowered by Aaron Furman (Cowardly Lion/Zeke) in the vocal department. Furman’s voice was strong and powerful enough to bypass the mic if necessary. Still, as a trio these three were comical and fun to watch as they managed to find the Wizard and fulfill their dreams.

The rest of the story is intact – the Witch is overcome and everyone gets what they wanted. Dorothy keeps the ruby slippers, and there’s still “no place like home” in the end.

A few things bothered us about this production. First was the lag time between scenes. The curtain seems to unnecessarily go down too often only to reveal nothing changed when it rises.

We also wondered if the music (taped) was slowing the action as so often happens when actors must wait for music.

Sets were minimal and might have been easily changed without the curtain in order to move the action along. In that case, backdrop projections could have eased in slowly as well.

We loved the literal “light in the dark” on stage at the outset. A nice, symbolic touch. Still we wish this troupe would consider using live musicians (if only a piano) to accompany their future shows. Musicals are a huge undertaking. There is so much more to producing them, and if this troupe plans to do them exclusively, then a system including live music needs to be part of the plan. (Just our opinion.)

The Wizard of Oz has one more performance today at 2:30 pm. Skedaddle over to Swartz Creek and catch this one if you can!

 

 

 

 

 

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“Anne Frank” Moves Audience with Timeless and Heartbreaking True Story

Reviewed by Mary Paige Rieffelanne-frank

There are very few people who are not aware of Anne Frank and the amazingly pure and optimistic words she left behind in a diary written while she and seven other Jews were in hiding from the terror of World War II, and one the most horrific crimes against all humanity, The Holocaust.

There are a few dramatic interpretations of the work. The one presented by Fenton Village Players Thursday evening was by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. I am unsure whether this script was abridged in some way than other versions I am familiar with or if the director (Grace Lee) made judicious cuts, but either way, this is a piece that can feel lengthy as an audience member, yet in this production the pacing felt just right.

The cast had a mix of green and seasoned actors that all demonstrated a good sense of cooperative story telling and chemistry. Bart Berger as the even-tempered patriarch, Otto Frank, kept the entire cast grounded and led by example. The younger actors showed much heart and were very sharp with their lines, of which there are many. Bria Mayer as Anne displayed an appropriate amount of youthful energy and deep reflection. Jacob Riley as Peter was also a stand out, and the scene work between these two in the latter part of the show was very strong. This entire story hinges on the importance of keeping hidden, so I found the moments of stillness and silence to be very powerful, thanks to the commitment and dedication of the ensemble as a whole. Also, they somehow found a REAL cat that could handle being on stage; I would have loved to see them give a credit in the program!

The space at FVP is small for a proscenium, but the set was done very economically with no curtain or walls which lent credence to the bare isolation in the type of “prison” these eight people had to endure for at least two years of their lives. That being said, transitions were a major road bump for the action of the play throughout. This may be aided by fixing the sound levels and mixing during transitions as a gentle form of distraction from the shuffling of set pieces as well as having all crew involved either wear all black or be costumed. I acknowledge that it is often difficult to choreograph exposed set changes, but, in my opinion, it is important to see them as part of the story.

The Diary of Anne Frank is a literary marvel. That a young woman facing such incredible and terrifying circumstances still maintained any amount of optimism is why her words will forever live in print, on the stage, and in our hearts. I commend FVP for a job well done and for choosing a season full of challenging work that digs just a little deeper.

The Diary of Anne Frank continues at the Fenton Village Playhouse, 14197 Torrey Rd., Fenton, MI, February 22nd through March 3rd with 7 pm evening shows and 2 pm matinees on Sundays. For more information contact the box office at 810-750-7700 or online at fentontheatre.org/tickets

 

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