Unlikely Angels Upend Tradition and Spark Revival

Reviewed by Sherrema A. Bower

The New McCree Theatre’s production of the award-winning gospel musical comedy Sanctified, written by playwright Javon Johnson and directed by Cathy E. Johnson, depicts the rigors (and revelations) of modernizing a church steeped in tradition. Set in the modern day “Bible Belt”, East Piney Grove Baptist Church has a new, interim pastor with a vision. Harold P. Jones (L. ‘Chris’ Young) is passionate, inspired, and hopeful to grow this fading congregation into a mega church. Pastor Jones faces down entrenched, traditional ideals from the church’s elder members, some of whom have been there for half a century. To bring East Piney Grove’s faltering choir to full strength, Pastor Jones brings in his cousin Pauletta D. Jones (Shannen Hawkins), PhD in music, and the church members do not take her seriously. Both a power struggle and coup ensue when Brother Deacon (Terence Grundy) challenges Pastor Jones’ position, while a mysterious odd couple named Sir (Frederick Fife) and Mister (Daniel Lopez) arrive bent on a heavenly errand to help East Piney Grove have a revival and thereby receive their own eternal reward.

            This production carries the essence of several themes from popular culture, including the films Sister Act (1992), Joyful Noise (2012), and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Sir is the dignified, dapper elder of the two and wishes to have a name befitting his station, as compared to his young, gangsta partner who recognizes Sir’s lofty disdain and cleverly gets the elder to call him ‘Mister.’ They become the Dum Dum Ditty Delivery Boys, who deliver a special ‘donation’ of music equipment to East Piney Grove Baptist Church on a Sunday morning. They are met at the door by Deacon, who is highly indignant that there should be a delivery of equipment about which he was not previously informed. Sir and Mister interrupt a scene of ineptitude when they are introduced to the church’s apathetic choir. Sir sings a rousing, bluesy rendition of the song they were practicing (‘Early in the Morning: Blues-Reprise’) to demonstrate how it should be sung. Meanwhile, Mister gets a little too cozy with young choir member Monique (Kimberly Harris). The elder members of the choir are not impressed by these strangers and prepare to throw them out when Pastor Jones intervenes and Dr. Pauletta makes a sweeping entrance.

            In the spirit of Sister Act, Dr. Pauletta is given a choir to lead that is barely worthy of her level of education, skills, and talents; yet, she attempts to draw out the gospel harmonies that she hopes they are capable of. However, unlike Sister Mary Clarence and the nuns that she befriends, Dr. Pauletta is unable to find ways to relate to these simple country folk. She and Pastor Jones butt heads – not unlike Sister Mary Clarence and Mother Superior in the film – and family relationships and motives get revealed. The song ‘Come Out of the Wilderness’ captures their increasing tension, wariness, and challenge to one another and provides a compelling end to Act I. Meanwhile, Mister mentors Jamal (Jayden Hawkins), Monique’s younger brother and the three form a music band. Mister is fighting a growing, mutual attraction to Monique and tells her his life story (‘Doubts’). Her response (‘A Miracle In Your Eyes’) is beautifully vulnerable and naive. When she attempts to touch him, she falls to the ground and Mister lifts her with deep care and regret.

            Meanwhile, other choir members try to gain ground and have their voices heard – although not always in song. They agree that pianist Sister Thelma (Tiana Rison) has an obvious drinking problem but are ambivalent on what, if anything, to do about it. Sis. Sarah (Martra Roberts) advocates on behalf of Pastor Jones, while Sister Clara (Beverly Woods) is intractable in her desire that nothing change and tradition be upheld. Brother Bobby (Giovanni Jackson), who longs to sing, ecstatically belts out his own inserted solos, whether or not they are on key, and brings the brevity. Other choir members, including Alverine Simpson, Renee Hill-Sykes, Patricia Thompson, Miguel Torres, and Cheryl Venerable, round out the choir. By play’s end, the East Piney Grove Baptist Church Choir finds its purpose in a grand finale reminiscent of another small church choir in Pacashau, Georgia, from the film Joyful Noise.

            The character development in this production carries the story. For instance, Roberts and Young have good chemistry in their characters Sister Sarah and Harold Jones, one an elder and the other a young pastor, who understand one another in growing friendship. Their relationship provides a counterpoint to Sir and Mister, who jockey for position between themselves. Grundy plays Brother Deacon as a character who is snappy in dress and comportment. Still, he is also grouchy, indignant, and power-grabbing which culminates in a hilarious parody of Pastor Jones himself.  While Sister Clara joins him in his quest to unseat the pastor, she is solicitous and protective of her niece Monique, and provides a counterpoint to her own story; she is no more a villain than she is a doting aunt. Hawkins, as Dr. Pauletta, impresses with her vocals, haughty airs, and beautiful dresses that are so fitting to her station; yet, she too is humanized when speaking of her purpose for coming to Piney Grove. Lopez, as Mister, provides a balanced mix of humor, street smarts, and under-the-surface vulnerability in his earnestness to complete this mission and prove himself worthy of a heavenly reward. In his kindness to Monique and Jamal, he is not unlike the character of guardian angel Clarence Odbody in the film It’s a Wonderful Life, who has yet to receive his wings, and finally does so upon helping George Bailey find his life’s purpose. Hawkins, as Jamal, ably plays a young rapper who is ambitious and headstrong and the sibling rivalry between he and Harris’s Monique is organic and familiar. The latter’s ability to play a much-younger character feels natural and fresh, as she blossoms from a shy, introverted singer into a powerful songstress, not unlike Sister Mary Robert in Sister Act.  

            The musical band, under the talented direction of keyboardist Mr. George Warren, also carries the story line with jazzy, gospel renditions brought by musicians Luther Brown, bass; Andrecious Reed, keyboard/organ; and Javaius Reed, drums. Lights (Cathy ‘Tess’ White) and costumes (Pat Y. Hill) help depict and develop the characters.

            There is something for everyone in this gospel musical comedy, especially (but not limited to) churchgoing folks who may have experienced the clashing of generations in old and new – music, preaching, and ways of doing things – among their church pews.

            Sanctified continues through May 21st. For more information contact the box office 810-787-2200 or online at http://www.thenewmccreetheatre.com 

Leave a comment

FCP Musically Explodes With “Disaster! The Musical”

Reviewed by Karla Froehlich

Disaster! The Musical opened on the Flint Community Players stage last night to a nearly sold-out house of appreciative audience members. It was great to see faces again, as mask wearing was optional, so the laughter was not muffled and there were plenty of laughs! Congratulations to director, Nora-Lee Luttrell!

The opening number set up everyone’s dilemma aboard this ship-turned-docked-casino, and “Hot Stuff” has many different and hilarious meanings, rarely the one you think of first. The entire cast drove this number home with enthusiasm and delightful energy. This show is packed with riffs of oldies but goodies, and many times we got to hear the entire song. Each song is tied directly to the dialogue preceding it, and it flows with deft aptitude.

I thoroughly enjoyed several performances:  Marie L. VanHorn and Todd Clemons as a long-time, happily married couple delighted with “Still the One.”  “Feelings” by Christopher Rodriquez II, Christopher Dinnan, and Diana Waara had me knee slapping. And a grand tip of the hat to Aven Young for playing boy/girl twins who run literal circles AND sing an adorable trio with their mom, played by Jessi Eldredge.

Bringing realness was Leila Miller delicately caressing the question (and her little dog): “Do You Know Where You’re Going To?” and answering it by belting out how one should “Knock On Wood-baby.” Later, Ms. Miller and Rebecca L. Pauli blend in a hilarious and solid duet, “Come To Me.”

Rebecca L. Pauli glowed with each dainty step taken by her guitar slinging and soul saving character, Sister Mary. Pauli’s comedic timing skills have honed to a sweet soft edge that boomerang slicing comebacks and subtle facial expressions. I thought I’d died and gone to comedy heaven with her “Torn Between Two Lovers.” Oof.

The action, costume changes, and music almost never stopped and rolling set pieces provided by Adam Iaquinto, Natalia Iaquinto, and Morgan Wicker along with an array of hues in the costumes cleverly designed by Kelli Gibbons, made everything roll like gentle waves. And music!!…musical director Felicia Hall assembled an orchestra of seven (though I happen to know that the reeds player always blows more than one horn!) top-notch musicians. Thanks for David Boze strumming guitar, Chris Morden thumping the bass, Nathan Gilmore banging out percussion, Molly Boze blowing reeds, Emily Pate tickling the keyboard, and David McEachern and Brandon Sexton for tooting their horns: trombone and trumpet, respectively.

FCP has a unique situation in that the remotely. It’s pretty cool and offers its own challenges. I’m happy to report no disasters in this arena. There were some unscripted rough seas for the set opening night, but under the tutelage band is in a completely different room from the theater house, and the music director watches the action of stage manager, Shane McNicol, and with the help of stagehands, Joy Bishop and Jullian Donnert, the cast frolicked from scene to scene, singing and dancing pieces into place.  Everyone rocked his or her roles!

You’ve got to see how clever this romp is put together. Never a dull moment!

Disaster! The Musical performs May 12-22. For more information call the box office at 810-441-9302 or visit their website at www.flintcommunityplayers.com

Leave a comment

“Anne of Green Gables” Presented by Talented Clio Cast

Reviewed by Karla Froehlich

Clio Cast and Crew opened their production of “Anne of Green Gables” last evening to an almost sold out house. SOMEone broke the laughter ice in the first exchange between Anne and Matthew. This was an indicator of the subtle humor known mostly to those of us who are long in the tooth, and a lesson for this young cast in holding for laughs, and there are many in this sweet story.

Clever lighting and strategic placement of set pieces and paint divided this small stage into sections for three specific places inside and several outside. Rick Doll and Cindy Hubbard worked magic with the integrated set design, delivered by the great blocking of director, also, Cindy Hubbard. The magical lighting, turned on by Patrick Hubbard, Mance Broome, Jr. and “People in the Dark” Julie Tack and Jared Mazer, and lack of set changes, made this big little show of twenty-one scenes skate flawlessly along like many of Anne’s run-on sentences. Light is another actor in the telling this story, but no spoilers!

We waited in the light for a minute once or twice, and we’re certain it had to do with a few intricate costume changes and will tighten up like a good little corset. And these costumes!!! Costumers Dennis Swedorski, Daphne Navarre, and Noah Beauchamp nearly outdid themselves to help tell this story. Colors, styles, and hats. Many hats. It is a delight for the eyes.

The splendor of Anne’s world is delicately conveyed by Liza Dinnan, whose commitment is seen at first light. Creating a strong sense of home for young Anne are her new parents, siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, portrayed with love and honesty by Carl Frost and Johanna Kurnik. These actors brought the solid, fertile earth on which Liza’s Anne could blossom.

Adding to the potpourri of memorable and flowery performances, brought to you by a multigenerational cast, are first a delightful busybody in the form of impeccably dressed Rachel Lynde played perfectly by Melanie Poisson. Also, glistening like morning dew, we witness Samantha Tack bring Diana to life. Finally the perfect little bud in the bunch is Diana’s younger sister, Minnie May, delivered expertly by newest comer, Elise Bean.

Congratulations to all involved! A good time was and will continue to be had by all!

“Anne of Green Gables” continues at Clio Cast & Crew through May 1st. Order your tickets online at cliocastandcrew.com or call the box office at 810-687-2588.

Leave a comment

Laughter Rocks Fenton Village Playhouse with Opening of “Southern Fried Funeral”

Reviewed by Joseph M. Mishler

Southern Fried Funeral by Osborne & Eppler is a raucous play revolving around the father’s death, a land dispute, sibling rivalries, busybody neighbors and more.  There is a food fight, a toupee that can’t be controlled, and a son who is in a world all by himself.  Zany characters abound in this play.

            An evening of comedy is what we need in these trying times.  The Fenton Village Players happily provides that with their production of Southern Fried Funeral.

            Serving refreshments on stage before the show is an interesting concept.  This could have more effective if the person doing the serving was more energetic and engaged the customers.

            Osborne & Eppler’s play is challenging because of the accents.  At the start of the play the actors had difficulty with the accents, and they remained all over the place throughout the play.  The play started a tad slow and the action seemed forced, but the energy picked up as they warmed up.

            Accents aside, the cast was able to pull off the comedy with ease.  Judging by the house laughter, they loved the comedy right from the start. 

            The director Tammy Robison did a good job of casting the play.  The two daughters, Sammy Jo Frye-Lefette (Stacy Mrazik) and Harlene Frye (Lauren Kondrat) were well matched.  They kept up a high level of energy throughout the play.  They provided a lot of verbal fireworks, their food fight was great and ended with excellent timing with Ozella Meeks (Judie Santo) taking a pie in the face.  The pie had a life of its own and was the cause of considerable laughter.  A well-played, spontaneous, possibly unscripted moment.

            Dewey Frye, Jr. (Matt Osterberg) did an excellent job of the son who lived in his own world.  The Chewbacca outfit was a great touch.  The blender scene was well performed.  Winning the lottery was icing on the cake for Matt.  He was a man on a mission.

            Atticus Van Leer (Rob Conway) was paired up with Harlene.  They had good chemistry on stage.  You could feel the tension between the couple.  They were the opposite of Sammy Jo Frye-Lefette and Beechum Lefette (Kevin Emmons).  Dub Frye (Richard Hingst) played a good bad guy.  He was smooth, but still a bad guy.  

            Bennie Charles Greenwood (Scott Rajala) had a small role, but his toupee also played a number of times causing a lot of laughter.

            Mary Powers, Patty Bracey, Joy Bishop and Kevin Emmons also performed well.

            The set was well done.  It was divided between an outside playing area and the kitchen inside.  The costumes were great.

            I recommend Fenton Village Player’s production Southern Fried Funeral.  Performances are April 22, 23 at 7pm, April 24 at 2pm, April 29, 30 at 7pm, May 1 at 2pm.  The Fenton Village Playhouse is located at 14197 Torrey Rd., Fenton MI, 48430.  You can connect with them at fentontheatre.org.

Leave a comment

“The Twilight Zone: Live Parody Show” Brings Laughter to Local 432

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby

            For those who are not currently familiar with The Twilight Zone, you may want to catch one of these intriguingly odd yet funny shows staged by Dark Room Productions. Their forte is parody so any time you see a familiar title, be aware that it has surely been tweaked at least a bit if not a lot!

            We had fun Friday night at their production of The Twilight Zone. Two television half hours plus the mandatory “commercials” kept the evening moving at a comical clip that began with “The Whole Truth”.  

            Harvey Hunnicut (Michael Hamilton) owns a car lot where he embodies the worst in used car dealers. Truth isn’t in his vocabulary, at least not until an Old Woman (Shaena Poehner) manages to sell him a haunted Model T that effectively changes his tune!

            Others in this tale with a lesson to teach include a young couple there to buy a car (Kari Gaines, Dan Gaines) and Luther Bigby (Jimmy Adams) an “honest” politician who might do as well selling cars!

            A commercial break at this point includes a comical pitch for young adult diapers by the Wee Girl (Rachel Nagy), a new Apple product with Steve Jobs (Dan Dulin), and a Star Wars/Star Trek memorabilia store by a disheveled Darth Tiberius (Brian Powers)   

            The Invaders finds two sisters (Karla Marie Froehlich & Terrie Harris) awakened in their separate beds. Neither of them says a word throughout the entire tale but they manage to communicate nonetheless.  They are opposites in that one is neat and follows a routine while the other is messy and freewheeling. Then a strange visitation occurs as a tiny spaceship invades the house!  All is upset for both the sisters as a tiny spaceman attempts to communicate but the gals want to capture it as a pet.

            Just who is invading who? And who is the wiser and might wind up in charge? If you’ve seen this episode, you know the quirk comes right at the end!

            Lastly, Rod Serling (Brian Thomas Orr) is the emcee of each of these episodes as he describes what is to come and even sometimes why. His comments attempt to wrap up the stories and mention – finally – The Twilight Zone.

            This Dark Room Production will repeat at tonight at 7:00 pm and Sunday afternoon at 1:00 pm at the Local 432, 124 W. First St., Flint, MI 48502. Reach them at 415-246-0064.

Leave a comment

Let the Audience Say…Amen!

Reviewed by Ladel Lewis

Fiery sermons, tambourines and joyful tunes filled the air at the New McCree Theater. The Amen Corner, McCree’s newest production, gives attendees a glimpse inside of the African American church through the lens of American writer and activist James Baldwin. If you’re familiar with the traditional black Christian church, you’ll be right at home at the Amen Corner.

Set in the 1950’s, the “fire and brimstone” preaching pastor loses touch with her humanity causing rifts in her relationships with friends and family. She sacrifices intimate relationships because of over zealous religious ideologies. When it’s time for her to receive some of the same grace that others have been requesting from her, she finds out that she’s being judged with the same unrealistic measuring stick. The intersection of religion, love and economics creates a major conundrum.

Director Cathye Johnson outdid herself with this timeless show. Although she had to postpone the show because of the pandemic, she magnetically pulled everything together for an electrifying performance.  The stage was uniquely divided into three separate sections set as the church, a bedroom and the kitchen. The storefront church exuded the sanctification while the kitchen was used as an informal place where folks ate and debriefed.  The bedroom was used to as the final destination and the place of reconciliation for the wayward husband and his religiously intense wife. Audience members sang along to the hymnals for a hand clapping, toe tapping and soul stirring good time. 

This all-star cast is no stranger to the New McCree Theater. Their acting and singing capabilities highlight the thespian greatness within the community.  James Baldwin himself would be proud of their depiction of his classic production.  

The Amen Corner runs until March 19, 2022. For more information, dates, times and tickets call the box office at 810-787-2200 or access them online at http://thenewmccreetheatre.com

Leave a comment

 FCP Brings Intrigue and Wit Alive With “A Lion in Winter”

Reviewed by Mary Paige Rieffel

            It was appropriately chilly as I bundled up to go to opening night of The Lion in Winter at Flint Community Players this early March evening. 

Written by James Goldman in 1966, The Lion in Winter is set in medieval France. I think the merger of these two time periods makes for a very fun script. The characters are actual historical characters that are in a constant power struggle so there is plenty of fuel for the ever-thickening plot. 

The work is arguably best known for its film version, starring Katherine Hepburn. I must admit, I have never seen the film but I had seen a different production about five years ago that left a much different impression on me. 

Director, Chip Duford, took care to lean into the script’s wit and comedy which in turn led to successful performances by the cast. What’s nice about this play is that it can be labeled as “historical drama”, which sounds intimidating, but it is in fact very accessible. 

The set, designed by Adam Iaquinto, had a cozy castle feel. I especially liked the candles glowing while classical flutes kept us in the medieval moment. 

This small ensemble worked exceptionally well together and was technically very sound and well rehearsed. I am especially happy to see all this new and talented talent here at FCP. Laura Flores, as matriarch Eleanor, is especially compelling, infusing confidence into each of her scenes. 

The Lion in Winter runs through March 13th and is a great show for anyone but especially people who like Shakespeare but may be intimidated by the language.

For more information contact the box office at (810) 441-9302 (please call for box office hours) or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com

*FCP is recommending the show for PG13 audiences for language and adult themes throughout.

Leave a comment

Fenton Village Players Revive the Ingenious Lt. Columbo

Reviewed by Jon R. Coggins

Well, this old scribe finally poked his head out of a two year Covid necessary quarantine to witness an indoor theatrical event. To wit: I was honored and pleased to attend Fenton Village Players current production of PRESCRIPTION: MURDER.

The show, written by William Link and Richard L. Levison (yes these are the writers/creators of the Columbo series – by special arrangement with Concord theatricals/Samuel French) is directed by Victoria Stratton and produced by Patti Lee.

The show started on time to a bit more than a half filled house of supportive and eager patrons. The set was pretty neat – with a hinged and sliding wall that became the Doctor’s office, his apartment and even Columbo’s office. Scene changes were smooth and efficient and the players moved well and throughout the set.

The show is a fairly well known and often used mystery where husband hates shrewish wife, takes a lover, murders his wife then tries to outsmart Columbo. 

The husband, Dr. Roy Flemming, is played by Mike Dietz. The Doc is cold and calculating as he plots and plans the murder, then tries to keep calm as Columbo closes in.

The wife, Claire, is portrayed by Tammy Beckett. She is loud and boisterous as she clings to a deteriorating marriage. My seatmate noted that she would kill the wife, too!

The mistress, Susan Hudson, played by Elaine Riedel, is clingy and cloying as she reluctantly assumes her role in the mystery.

The hero, Lt. Columbo is played by Nick Brazeal, and is confident and assured as he closes the net on the murderer. Though Brazeal played the role with poise, I would have appreciated more and clearer “Columbo” mannerisms.  

Additional players included the receptionist Miss Petrie (Kim Giacchina) and Dave Gordon, the best friend and District Attorney who was a bit boisterous as played by Trevor Allen. Also, the delivery boy (Jamie Hildreth) made a confident appearance.

There was a lack of energy as the show began. It finally did warm a bit by the end of the first half.  Players should beware of monotonous line delivery and show some range of emotion.

Some obvious things were missed. For instance, the shrewish wife didn’t even bat an eye as she passed the mistress in the Doc’s lobby. The mistress did provide a bit of stink eye here. Also the music seemed to be from the PBS mystery series (Sherlock Holmes) as opposed to the little nursery rhyme ever-present on the Columbo series.

There seemed to be no sense of urgency during the murder and the wife made very little noise (yes, I know she was being choked) and provided no struggle.

The designers did a great job in keeping the set, costumes and furnishings in period – late 1960’s.

Overall, it was a fine evening, and I know the players and show will get stronger during the run. Prescription: Murder continues Feb. 25 & 26 @ 7PM; Feb. 27 @ 2PM; March 4 & 5 at 7PM; and March 6 @ 2PM at the V. Sibyl Haddon Auditorium in the Fenton Village Playhouse 14197 Torrey Rd. Fenton. For more information contact them online at https://fentontheatre.org

Leave a comment

Clio Cast & Crew’s “Harvey” Kicks Off 2022!

Reviewed by Sherrema Bower

    Clio Cast & Crew opened their new year Friday with Mary Chase’s comical production of Harvey.  Performed both on Broadway and onscreen (1950) by Jimmy Stewart, it is set in late 1940s – early 1950s America. Elwood P. Dowd (John Dunning) is an eccentric, puerile soul whose best friend is a 6’5” invisible, white rabbit called Harvey. Dowd’s long-suffering sister, Veta Louise Simmons (Judy Harper) lives with him in their childhood home along with Veta’s daughter Myrtle Mae (Judie Santo), a debutante. They have however become social outcasts, due to their  brother and uncle introducing the invisible Harvey to everyone he meets. Their waning social status is of supreme concern since Myrtle Mae and her mother have their schemes for securing her a suitable husband. Thus, Dowd’s behavior is inconvenient to the extreme. When he ruins yet one more party – and properly scandalizes the dignified Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet (Pamela Beauchamp) – Veta is fed up and takes him to the local sanitarium to have him committed. She hopes to become the executor of his estate, control the family wealth, and bring back their waning social status. However, Dr. Lyman Sanderson (Noah  Beauchamp) interviews her and decides she is the crazy one, orders Nurse Ruth Kelly (Rebecca Wilhite) to have her institutionalized, and allows Dowd to go free. Once the mistake is realized, via a tipsy Mrs. Chumley (Pamela Beauchamp), Sanderson is fired by presiding psychiatrist Dr. William R. Chumley (William Kircher), and a wild romp ensues to bring Dowd – and Harvey – back. 

    Underlying the madcap humor is tension that keeps the audience engaged in this dramedy where nothing is as it seems. Dunning’s Elwood P. Dowd is unruffled and relaxed, blithely unaware of the stir he causes every time he acknowledges or introduces Harvey. By contrast, Harper’s Veta L. Simmons is disconcerted and thoroughly rattled. After enduring excruciating humiliation, she returns home to Myrtle Mae and the waiting Judge Gaffney, and gives a magnificent performance in theatrics – a blend of righteous indignation and traumatized sensibilities of the ‘well, I never!’ variety. She rises on the edge of hysteria – without fully giving into it – and the effect is humorously superb. 

    Transitions of class and gender bring important themes to this production. At the beginning is a Philadelphia Story/High Society motif; while hostessing a grand party, Mrs. Simmons receives a phone call from the society page editor of the local newspaper, whom she knows by name. A description of Myrtle Mae’s ‘perfectly peach’ dress is included in the write-up. As women of means, their chief concern is seeing and being seen by the right people to perpetuate their wealth. Though she is older than her character, Santo plays Myrtle Mae’s coquetry to the hilt. The women’s gregarious brother and uncle, who is affectionately puzzled by their frustration with him, knows no stranger and recognizes every person as someone of worth. Dowd’s interactions with Nurse Ruth Kelly cause her to compare his decency with Dr. Lyman Sanderson’s studied disregard. 

Wilhite’s nurse is appropriately unflappable and professional while she waits to be noticed by Dr. Sanderson. Beauchamp’s Sanderson is aloof and condescending; in his world, women are ‘hysterical’ and men must ruefully tolerate them. He listens to Veta Simmons’ story with an acute inability – or unwillingness – to explore or hear the subtext. And yet, by contrast his seeming lack of regard for Nurse Kelly is revealed as something else entirely. 

    Dowd projects gentlemanly decency; however, when he returns to the Sanitarium much later in the evening, he brings a seemingly fantastical story about the missing Dr. Chumley and his affable manner takes a sociopathic edge. Orderly Duane Wilson, appropriately played by Rick Doll as malevolent and sometimes creepy, is ready to pummel him. However, Dr. Chumley arrives and suddenly Dowd’s sinister edge melts and he is, once again, merely oblivious, a man who talks to thin air. Pamela Beauchamp gracefully transcends class boundaries when she represents three female characters –  the upperclass Mrs. Chauvenet and Mrs Chumley – the former is haughty and the latter is never without her flask – and the taxicab driver, who brings insight and wisdom to Veta Simmons and helps her make a vitally important decision on behalf of Dowd in the play’s final moments. 

    Themes of faith and spirituality are also present. Mrs. Chauvenet crosses herself when Dowd introduces her to Harvey and in the next sentence, Myrtle Mae expostulates with, “Oh God!” multiple times. Both women call on ‘God’ in their own way. Harvey himself is a pooka, a fairy creature and shapeshifter found in Celtic folklore. The pooka may bring both good and bad fortune to those who believe in its existence, which Veta Simmons comes to understand when, in the end, it appears that Harvey intervenes on her brother’s behalf. Dr. Chumley, it turns out, has dreams of his own that involve a caring and empathetic woman in Akron and Harvey sets out to make them happen. Kircher is excellent in his role as the older psychiatrist, playing him believably and well. Harvey to Dowd is not unlike Drop Dead Fred to Elizabeth Cronin in the film Drop Dead Fred (1991). 

    Kudos to director Jim Waner for managing this comic romp so well. Directing an invisible character brings a tricky bit of talent to bear! The set, lighting, and costume design (Rick Doll, Jake Gayari, Ron Olsey, Robert Doll, Ron Fournier, Dean Norrington, Patrick Hubbard, David Collins, and Dennis Swedorski) worked well together. The set is two halves of a whole – all scenes take place in either the house or the Sanitarium, which split the stage between them. Costuming was appropriately period to the vocations of the characters. Overall, this show will delight with its hilarity and lively explorations of family, personality, and belief. Harvey continues through Feb. 27. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-687-2588 or online at cliocastandcrew.com

Leave a comment

“Wrong River” Premieres at Flint Repertory Theatre

Reviewed by Mary Paige Rieffel

It was my pleasure to attend a staged reading of a new work named Wrong River at the New Works Festival in January of 2020. It was my honor to attend its world premiere tonight at the Flint Rep in 2022.

Wrong River was written by Philadelphia playwright, Josh Wilder. It is easy, and valid, for Flint natives to be wary of “outsiders” telling the story of the Flint water crisis. I can tell you however that there is a caring and genuine quality in the writing that puts all of those concerns to rest.

The story begins with a heavy hitting monologue by June, played by powerhouse, Madalyn Porter, facing the city council. It set a realist tone that also lets the audience know the playwright has done his homework and even inspired applause. From that point on the audience was 100% invested.

We then meet the rest of the family in the living room of a familiar feeling home in Flint, Michigan. The family consists of Vick (Curtis Morlaye) and Leah (Jade Radford) parents to ten year old Dayla (Nikyla Boxley). Family friend Dante (Henri Franklin) also stays in the home and Aunt Lisa (Paris Sarter) for time later on in the story as well.  Although at this point Grandmother June (Porter) has passed, but her presence is still strong with the family, especially young Dayla (Radford).

Under the direction of Jeremiah Davison, this cast soars. Every scene was natural and compelling. This team, in its entirety, clearly understood the assignment, and all came together as a force.

The storyline follows the bleak narrative that may echo that of far too many families in Flint and for whom justice is yet to be fully served. Financial strain, marital problems, grief, and medical conditions caused by contamination and lead poisoning are all accounted for. Though this is and was a serious issue, there were plenty of appropriate sparks of joy sprinkled throughout. There were also moments of magic!

The set, lighting, and projection design (Marie Lancaster, Jasmine Williams, Allison Dobbins) all worked well together and were practical, creative, and original. The set also held a few surprises that I definitely don’t want to spoil! Sound design (Mikaela Fraser) was fresh and effective, using hip hop beats as interludes between scenes. Costume design (Kendra Babcock) is true to life and detailed in the way we hope costuming to be. And, can I please get a standing ovation for all of these women designers!

Since seeing the reading almost exactly two years ago, very little had seemingly changed script wise. The impressive part of that being, I remembered most of it! I also remember how it made me feel, which I would say, is a good sign.

Please come prepared to show your proof of vaccination or proof of a negative covid test before entering the lobby. Expect to spend over two hours at the theatre, but the new seating is a huge improvement for the Elgood Theater. Language is realistic and strong, so use discretion when bringing your kiddos.

Wrong River by Josh Wilder runs through February 20th, and I urge everyone in Flint to go see it. For tickets and more information contact the box office at 810-237-7333 or online at FlintRep.org/tickets. I would definitely recommend purchasing your tickets ahead of time.

Leave a comment