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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CCC Spices Up the Season With “The Mousetrap”

Reviewed by Jon R. Coggins50013032_10156191462562198_8323074899371360256_n

On this brisk February evening Clio Cast and Crew opened their latest offering, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. This play first opened in London’s West End in 1952 and has been running continuously since.  It is and has been an oft-used community theatre staple.

Let’s get started. The set was magnificent. The English Cottage guesthouse offered many levels, nice color scheme and a lot of exits and entrances. There were no scene changes and few light cues. Costumes were incredible. I’m certainly not an expert on costuming, but they all seemed period and personally correct. (That is they worked for the character so costumed)

The setting, as mentioned above, was an old English Country guesthouse just after WWII. Eight people from different backgrounds and different locales find themselves stranded here by a fierce snowstorm. A murder is committed. An investigation and fun begins. Christie is the master of the red herring, the subtle clue, and the surprise ending. This show has it all.

As with any theatrical production – the key to success lives and dies with the cast. With his usual aplomb, director William Kircher has assembled an excellent ensemble. Everyone shined. Characters were developed and consistency was observed.

The play begins with the entrance of Mollie Ralston, the lady of the manor, as she sets about getting ready for their first batch of travelers. Played nicely by Rebecca Norris, Mollie was tough, resolute and kind. Gracious to her boarders yet not afraid to get her hackles up. Accents were a mixed bag, though all – right or wrong – were consistent. Rebecca’s accent was fine.

Close on her heels was hubby Giles Ralston, her one-year married mate. Played by Jeff Rogner, Giles had the best and purest accent. He was a staid, strong and comforting host and also not afraid to speak his mind. This character tends to anchor the cast and Jeff handled it well.

A crowd favorite – Preston Sannicolas – playing the peculiar Christopher Wren, was sprightly, energetic, disheveled and delightful. My companion for the evening called him “creepily mysterious”.

Hot on his heels was Mrs. Boyle, played by Karen Fenech. Boyle was a widower, traveling around Europe after the war and seemed a lost soul. She was stiff, arrogant and had an air of faux nobility. Though Fenech played this character very well, I had a hard time hearing her voice. The teacher in me suspects her vocals were coming from her throat and not her diaphragm.

The next suspect – er – I mean cast member was Nick Weiss, as Major Metcalf. Weiss had a booming voice (which I suspect was a put on) and played the deprecating consort to Mrs. Boyle. He kept in the background, loved architecture and thoroughly explored the Manor. He was another fine casting choice.

Next up was Miss Casewell played by Pam Beauchamp. She was cold, aloof and of course mysterious. Her accent was indeterminate as befitted the character. Casewell was another audience favorite with her droll observations and stinging bon mots. My one complaint/concern was her face. Was the startlingly white complexion a character choice or bad make-up? Beauchamp’s hands were a healthy pink belying the stark white complexion.

The last guest to arrive, unplanned and with no reservation, was Mr. Paravicini, delightfully played by Bill Vanaman. This character helped to move the narrative along and on several occasions summed up the crisis to date. Vanaman was extremely animated, had a terrific accent and as my seatmate summed up – crazy mysterious. His manner, makeup and backstory made him a tremendous red herring. Or did it??

The last cast member to arrive was Sergeant Trotter played by Shane Wachowicz. Trotter was sent to the manor, on skis as all roads were blocked, to investigate the nearby murder. Wachowicz struts around, interrogating the guests and hosts as he tries to solve the murder and prevent additional mayhem. His accent was off, though I understand he’s been under the weather. Still, he played Trotter to the hilt.

Also noted in the cast was Kevin Proffitt – the radio announcer who kept us abreast of the storm and the murder investigation.

A couple of oddities before I reveal the ending: in the beginning there was no wood in the wood basket although a huge fire was aglow. Also no one had any snow on them, even coming from outside in a fierce blizzard.

And now the big reveal – the killer was ____________________________.   PLEASE, you don’t think this humble reviewer would give away the ending! If you want to see a great show in a swell venue, go see Clio Cast and Crew’s The Mousetrap.

A tried and true theatre classic, it is handled very nicely by William Kircher and company. It continues through this weekend and next – February 16, 22, 23, at 7:30 pm and February 17, 24 at 2:30 pm at Theatre 57, 2220 W. Vienna Rd. Clio. For more information contact the box office at 810-687-2588 or online at www.cliocastandcrew.com

 

 

 

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The REP Opens 2019 With “The Wolves”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbywolves

The U.S. women’s soccer team has won the highest challenge – the FIFA World Cup – three times, most recently in 2015. Girls and young women across the country are playing soccer in increasing numbers, so Flint Repertory Theatre’s decision to bring Sarah DeLappe’s award-winning first play The Wolves to life is clearly timely. It’s also a look into what drives female players to excel at such levels and how their individuality works for and against them.

Director Kathryn Walsh has done a masterful job with this ensemble of nine gals who are nearly always on stage together and seem to never stop moving. The setting is an indoor soccer field on successive Winter Saturdays. The girls gather to practice and to compete against other teams. There is non-stop chatter as they stretch and warm-up that often leads to conversation that ranges rapidly – Cambodian atrocities, Harry Potter, weekend escapes, the coach’s drinking and of course the latest gossip about whoever isn’t present at the practice.

The ensemble nature of this production is intriguing. It allows for no lead characters – they are all leads. Each has a unique identity – quiet, angry, bubbly, growling, loud, bossy, excitable, chatty, and calmly observant. With all of these differences, they seem to swarm like birds or bees between ideas and beliefs, between moods and finally to collision with a reality they had only touched blithely on before.

Walsh refers to these young women as warriors. Their team name gives them an even more distinctive spot in time and space. They move and speak with strength and their words often collide and spill over one another. They exhibit a desire to win and to excel both in the game and in life. They are at their best when they bow to team spirit – as when one is hurt and another is a newcomer still on the outside looking in. Their ability to accept and forge ahead in the face of loss and adversity is clearly a result of their interconnections with each other. They are a pack; much like wolves.

We won’t single out any players for special attention as they were all pristine in their portrayals. Indeed, this is an unusual situation where a group can toss such a diverse amount of sentiment and personality into a pot and emerge with such bold awareness.

We must mention the unique set design – we were in the “bleachers” at the indoor soccer field – and give credit to the entire technical team that provided just the right lighting and sound to augment the action on the stage.

The Wolves is an amazing first play for DeLappe and a show worth seeing if you have any interest in soccer and young women who play it or many other sports. We will caution that this show is recommended for teens and adults. It contains mature language and explores sensitive topics.

            It continues through February 17. For tickets and more information contact the box office at 810-237-7333 or online at FlintRep.org

 

 

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UM-Flint Presents Stunning “My Children! My Africa!”

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirbymcma

My Children! My Africa! launched the New Year Friday as the University of Michigan-Flint Department of Theatre and Dance presented Athol Fugard’s stunningly moving story about the violence that raged in South Africa in the mid-eighties. It features a mere three players, but the impact of this trio is immense and amazing.

Set in the fall of 1984 in a small town, the setting is the school. Classroom One is how characters refer this venue overseen by a venerable teacher known as Mr. M. In this role Jason Briggs brings strength, kindness, understanding, and an amazing intensity as he strives to reach his students. His character is a tribute to all teachers who deal with strife in the lives of their pupils and go the extra mile to both keep them safe and at the same time infuse a sense of intelligent comprehension that will allow them to be a positive force.

Two students open the play with a clash of beliefs, ideas and tempers as they discuss a debate topic. What is uniquely disquieting about these two is their differences. They are of different races, genders, social backgrounds and schools.

Thami is a student in Mr. M’s classroom. Edward Giovanni Moore III brings an endearing quality to this role. He clearly portrays Thami’s intelligence and love of learning even as his slide toward a darker environment brewing in the town begins. He is also obviously Mr. M’s protégé, a role he enjoys but resents as well.

Isabel is a student from a white, all-girls school. Ava Pietras couldn’t be more different from Thami and yet she manages to ease into the atmosphere of this very different classroom and to actually enjoy the fun and freedom she senses exuding from Mr. M. She and Thami respond enthusiastically to Mr. M’s idea to place them together as a debating team and grow to admire and understand each other as they move toward the contest.

The first act is sweet and enjoyable, even comical at times with the relationships developing so well between these divergent three. But there is a storm brewing outside the classroom and it will eventually take over and destroy most of what could have been.

We must congratulate all three of these performers and their dialect coaches for the marvelous diction and assimilation of the South African speech patterns. Even with this so well in place, we were able to understand and comprehend everything said. This is an especially grand achievement given the long speeches often delivered as each character reminisces and/or explains their life experiences and struggles.

Director Janet Haley’s coordination of this piece is to be congratulated. We were not only struck by the integrity and strength of the players, but the line of sand and rock downstage that allowed a change of venue is very clever. And the sound is masterful with only slight street noises at first that eventually explode into the violence that Mr. M has been trying to keep Thami away from all along.

Based on a true story that the Fugard read in a newspaper during these terrible times, this story doesn’t end as happily as we’d wish. Still, it is a riveting and impeccable production as well as a stirring tribute to all dedicated teaching professionals.

My Children! My Africa! continues today 2:00 pm and February 1 & 2 at 7:30 pm and February 3 at 2:00 pm. For tickets contact online at umflint.edu/theatredance or phone 810-237-1530.

 

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