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24 February 2009

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern...

Another CT review.

Review: ‘Rosencrantz' is complex but entertaining


There are some shows that require total concentration while watching, and even then, it's difficult to grasp just what's going on. The absurdist comedy “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” is like that, but it's well worth seeing, because of the superb acting in this cast. And as puzzling as it can be, there is a payoff.

Playwright Tom Stoppard has taken Shakespeare's “Hamlet” and given it a very odd twist, pulling two minor characters from the classic, putting them in the spotlight and dropping them into a weird “Twilight Zone” like setting. And there is no Rod Serling to step out from behind the curtain to explain what's going on.

So unless you've seen this one before, or really understand “Hamlet” or Stoppard, don't feel bad sitting there, scratching your head. It's not supposed to be easy.

Director Angie Flynn-McIver has assembled an amazing cast, fronted by two familiar faces: Hans Meyer as Rosencrantz and Willie Repoley as Guildenstern, loyal but mostly unimportant friends of Prince Hamlet (Chris Allison).

The two have been cast into an odd world that they don't understand and have no way of escaping. They while away the hours tossing coins or playing back-and-forth word games, trying to remember who they are and how they came to be there. Rosencrantz is more of a simpleton and Guildenstern poses as the more knowledgeable of the pair, but it's a sort of Laurel and Hardy set-up.

Through the course of the story, they meet a traveling band of actors led by The Player (Michael MacCauley), who comes in and out of their world but offers little help in sorting it out. Our boys sometimes find themselves where they belong — as characters in “Hamlet” — as the King and Queen (Joe Sturgeon and Lauren Fortuna) seek their help in understanding the madness of the Prince.

And so it goes. But there is a point in the show — as in its title — where it become obvious, even to non-Shakespeare readers, and to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern themselves, what lies ahead. They are on a journey to which there is no good end and no escape.

There are two intermissions here, and while they are 10 minutes each, that lengthens this evening to just short of three hours. In the second intermission, the audience must leave the theater, so that a mighty set change can be made. We won't spoil the surprise, but it is worth it, although the second intermission found much of the sold-out crowd jammed into the lobby, hands in pockets, with others puffing their cigarettes outside the theater on Stage Lane, filling the air with an unpleasant smell.

As for the performances, Repoley gives a masterful turn as the smug Guildenstern, proving again why he is among the finest actors in Asheville. There's fine chemistry with Meyer, equally impressive as the more naïve Rosencrantz. It's a rare chance to see Meyer act, as he usually directs.

Coming close to stealing the show is MacCauley as The Player, who gets some great scenes. And it is good see Allison as Hamlet, sinking into madness, although he has less to do than the others.

20 February 2009

Little Dog Laughed

Another from the C-T

Review: ‘Little Dog Laughed'' funny, powerful

Jim Cavener take5 Correspondent • published February 20, 2009 12:15 am

“The Little Dog Laughed,” now being presented at Asheville Community Theatre's 35below black-box house, is frequently funny, earnestly edgy and — often — comedic in content.

But wait, there's more: a climax that borders on Frederick Durrenmatt's classic chiller, “The Visit,” where the vicious and vindictive female lead issues a challenge that paralyzes a community and terrifies the audience.

This is high drama, not (at least entirely) to be taken lightly. Come prepared for fun and fantasy as you enter the world of “Hollywierd” — although most of the action takes place in New York. Then expect to fasten your seat belts before the show ends. This is going to be a bumpy ride, for sure.

A shrewd and aggressive talent agent has a chore trying to keep her handsome male protégé in the closet. As this conniving shrew is confronted with obstacles, she concocts a duplicitous dilly to achieve her goals. As the demanding and demeaning Diane, one of Asheville's best, Joan Atwood, turns in a chilling performance that ranks close to her pinnacle as Maria Callas in Terrence McNally's “The Master Class.” Atwood, a classically trained theater maven, is a treasure. It's hard to imagine a more effective rendering of the role.

David Ely is electric as the would-be star, Mitchell. The character is not gay, he says, but has increasingly frequent dalliances with guys. Ely holds his own against the diva, Diane, and his struggle is both touching and troubling. The immediate source of the conflict is that Mitchell is more and more involved with a young hustler, and this increasingly significant relationship provides the threat to Diane's plan for getting Mitchell onto the top rung of stardom.

Mitchell's paramour, the “rent-boy” Alex, is given life by young Waynesville actor, Adam Kampouris, known for his impressive work at Haywood Arts Regional Theatre. Adam gives Alex a winsome and winning persona the playwright would have to love. There's enough in him of the opportunistic and ambitious to make us wary of this lad's intentions.

But, he's the whore-with-the-heart-of-gold when the chips are down. It's a lovely rendering of a dicey role.

The apparent lightweight in the cast is the part of Alex's girlfriend, Ellen, as portrayed by Jamie Shell. Shell takes this pivotal role, without flash or dazzle, and gives it life. It's possibly the hardest-to-interpret role in the script, due to its ambiguity and desperation. It may only appear that little is demanded for this realization. But all that is needed is forthcoming. Nice casting, all around.

The spirited and effective direction is by newcomer to our locally heavy theater scene, Francis Cullinan, former theater professor at University of Missouri in Kansas City. For a newbie at Asheville Community Theatre, Cullinan must have had lots of good advice to locate and score the fine talent, both on- and backstage. Let's hope to see more of his fine work in coming seasons.

Jim Cavener reviews theater for take5.

17 February 2009

Letter from the editor

Hi All.

Thanks for keeping up with this blog. I’m hoping that we can have more of an impact in Asheville, and I need your help.

It is my suspicion that right now most of the people reading this blog are local actors and producers. That's wonderful, but I think this blog also has the potential to become a powerful tool for the average audience member, giving them not only a voice, but a way to think more deeply about their experience at the theatre.

Indeed, my hope for this blog was that it would be, first and foremost, a great public recourse: any potential audience member (or even someone who had already seen a particular show) would have a one-stop website where they would be able to see all the latest reviews of any show they might want to see around town. And each show would hopefully have multiple reviews with unique insights and points of view. This would allow people to get a sense of the theatrical lay of the land at a glance, and would encourage their patronage of multiple venues, while giving more thoughtful consideration to the value of their theatrical experience.

I think the “diversion” threads that have cropped up here and there are helpful to local producers, actors, etc, and I think they add depth and insight to the overall discussion, but I don’t think they serve the originally intended audience for the blog all that well. I don’t think we should discourage such spirited and frank conversation as part of this blog, but I’d like your help in also helping to increase awareness of the site among the theatre-going public.

So here is my request: don’t abandon this blog as a place for discussion, but please encourage your friends, patrons, parents, etc, to utilize the blog when they want more opinions about a particular show than any one news source can provide. Encourage them to contribute their own comments about shows they have seen. Continue to post those comments yourself, as well.

But most of all, please help spread the word. I think the potential of APAR is huge. Without losing the things that make it interesting now, I hope that together we can broaden the appeal of the blog to include the --arguably-- most powerful and important members of the theatrical community: the audience.

Thanks all. Keep writing. Keep reading.

Open for comments…


11 February 2009

Oedipus For Kids

Sorry, this is quite late. My bad.

‘Oedipus for Kids’ a ribald sendup on classic literature

By Jim Cavener / take5 Correspondent

ASHEVILLE - Is “Oedipus for Kids!” really a comedic musical version of Sophocles’ “Oedipus”? For kids?

Comedic, yes. Slapstick, over-the-top melodrama even. Musical, yes. And with some rousing tunes.

But surely not for kids. This is a show about a fictional theater group that attempts to do “Oedipus” for young people. As the show informs us, Little Oeddy (Oedipus) is a “little boy, a lot like you, except you didn’t kill daddy and sleep with mommy.”

Although a lot of humor is adolescent and the treatment sometimes juvenile, this is adult material all the way. Staged by the Zealot theater group, the show is now running at N.C. Stage Company.

This “Oedipus” is yet another of the recently frequent ribald, raucous and riotous sendups of traditional literature, aimed at 20-somethings of all ages. If you like your theater loud, impulsive, unrestrained and undisciplined, you’ll love this show. Debauchery reigns in this totally twisted telling of a Greek myth of yore.

“Oedipus for Kids!” is a show within a show, with the fictional Fuzzy Ducks Theatre Company trying to produce the classics for children and perhaps having chosen the wrong classic this time. How do you make school kids familiar with this ancient myth of an adopted son doing in his daddy, then bedding down his mommy? Not easily. The onstage warring partners who are the Fuzzy Ducks principles didn’t get the message.

The actual audience becomes an audience of schoolchildren, called on to “quack” back and be interactive with the actors onstage. It worked with the opening night crowd.

Asheville’s Zealot actors company is a multitalented crew. Rae Cauthen as Catalina is a marvel of psychosexual energy, with a tour-de-force finale folks will not easily forget. Her ballads are quite effective as well.

Both she and Joseph Barcia (Evan, in the Fuzzy Ducks company, who portrays Oeddy/Oedipus) exhibit fine singing voices. Greg Gassler as Alistair rounds out the three-person cast. They give this material their all - and more.

The piece was created by New York and Florida writers Kimberly Patterson and Gil Varod with additional material by Robert J. Saferstein.

Producing director Meg Hale and artistic director Ryan Madden have assembled a fine offstage company, including Evan Hill as musical director, and Nancy Asch and Kathryn Allen on percussion and keyboard, respectively. Plus Jason Williams, who did the lighting design and controls the board during performances.

What can you do with lines like “Whatever Oedipus touches, Oedipus wrecks,” and “My husband is my lover is my son”?

Jim Cavener reviews theater for take5.

10 February 2009

Review review

These comments are technically outside the scope of this blog, but the editor did -arguably- open the door to this post in responding to a comment on the "Leading Ladies" post. So, it stands.

I can’t resist responding to a posting by Actress34, ostensibly in response to a review of a show at ACT, though the focus of the thread had morphed by then. Consider this, then, a review of a review?
I’ll reprint Actres34’s comments here, for the benefit of those who may have missed them:

“The sad thing is that NC Stage could be turning a profit....the problem is that most of us get sick of seeing the same 5 people on stage all the time. Or is it really wise to put the staff in every production? Isn't it called Show Business? If your show isn't turning some kind of profit than I am afraid you are missing the business part of it. I bet the Catalyst shows turn profits because they are using local people on-stage. I mean wouldn't it be nice to see a show with different people in it every now and again?”

She seems to be trying to make two points. One: NC Stage could –and, by inference at least, should-- be making money by casting “local people” and by not casting the “same 5 people … all the time. Two: Catalyst shows probably do make money because they “use local people.”

Ok, I’m long-winded so here is the condensed retort: Seriously?

If you want the full version, here goes:

First let me just say that I agree that variety in casting is usually good. I too like to see fresh faces.

But, with all due respect, Actress34, are you seriously suggesting that NCSC could be making more money by refusing to hire the people they deem best to fill a role, just because they have worked for the company before or are on staff? Seriously?

(And for now, let’s just leave the idea of “making money”… NCSC is a not-for-profit organization, after all, not to mention a small theatre—which almost by definition means not a money maker.)

Of course no theatre can make perfect casting decisions all the time, and not every audience member will agree with every choice, but every theatre in town (or anywhere else for that matter) casts both from a wide net of sought-out talent and a reliable ensemble of trusted collaborators. Without this cadre, it can be prohibitively difficult to create an environment of trust and creativity in a short rehearsal time, and each theatre in town has developed their own reliable –and necessarily fluid—talent pool (with some crossover between companies). Of course, using all the same people all the time can be tiresome, but I personally think NCSC does a pretty good job of balancing that reliable group with exciting new talent from Asheville and beyond. Personally, I regret that you are “sick of seeing” a certain “5” people at NCSC and I hope I’m not one of them, but I still gotta pay the bills, and this is my job. And I love it. And because I keep getting hired by NCSC and other challenging regional theatres, I am able to keep getting better at it, I hope.

And the second point: Catalyst shows make money? And they do so because they “use local people”? Seriously?

As a sometime Catalyst producer myself, let me say that the NCSC Catalyst model allows producers –if they are careful— to not lose their shirts. But as for “making money,” I’ve never heard of a Catalyst show actually turning a profit. In my companies, at least, any earned income goes to subsidize a meager portion of the time my actors, crew, and creative staff have dedicated to the project. A small amount is reserved as a nest egg for the next production. That’s it.

And Catalyst companies are as guilty, if not more so, as any one else in town of relying on the same people for each show. And really I don’t think there is anything wrong with that (see above).

(Also, as a side note here, I can’t help but notice your use of the word “use”, as in “use local people.” Please keep in mind that NCSC “hires” people, local and out-of-town. Which is a huge difference. Again, no use saying more here—that is a separate discussion.)

Actress34, have you by any chance seen any of NCSC’s season this year? Take their first Mainstage show, Doubt: not one familiar face in the cast of four, and not many on the creative crew, either. Take this year’s incarnation of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play: one returning cast member from the year before, one actor who had been in a Mainstage show in 2006, and three actors brand new to NCSC. I could expand my thesis to include the rest of the season and beyond, but it’s not hard to come by season brochures or old playbills, so I’ll let you work out the rest on your own.

Sure, I recognize that I’m hardly in a position to suggest that NCSC stop hiring the same actors year after year: my career would be over. But I think your assumptions about how theatre works –certainly at NCSC— are wrong. I’m not suggesting you should agree with every casting decision, or that you aren’t allowed to not like seeing people return to the theatre year after year, but I do think that tossing around uninformed statements like your original post can be damaging to all parties involved. I’d rather be a part of fostering a real discussion that can ultimately help producers and audience members alike get more out of their experiences at the theatre. Maybe this is part of that. Maybe not. But that dialogue won’t be well served by bitter, absurd accusations on this blog or elsewhere.

Here’s to varied opinions, and informed critique.
Willie Repoley

Perfect Ganesh

Apologies for the delay in getting this out.

‘A Perfect Ganesh' lives up to its name

New theater companies pop up in Asheville with almost alarming frequency. Somehow, the best of these gravitate to downtown's North Carolina Stage Company where they become part of NCSC's much-lauded Catalyst Series of productions by troupes without a venue of their own. The Carolina Actor's Collective surely ranks among the best of this good crop. Their first production, “A Perfect Ganesh,” is extraordinary theater, by any standard.

It isn't surprising that quality theater ensues when you have a piece by Terrence McNally — who wrote “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “The Ritz,” “Love! Valour! Compassion!,” “Ragtime,” “Corpus Christi,” “The Lisbon Traviata” and “The Master Class.” Once add two of Asheville's most respected actors — Kay Galvin and CJ Breland, two newer talents of high competence, with all this under the splendid direction of Leslie Muchmore, it's good stuff, indeed.

McNally's work is always complex, challenging, and most always features a heavy quotient of gay substance in the script, with one or more dramatic twists that pack an emotional wallop. “A Perfect Ganesh” is no exception. This script starts with a journey into one of the most complex and challenging cultures on our globe: India. A contradiction of opposites, based in assumptions totally foreign to Western thinking, there are so many layers of meaning in this journey of two wealthy Connecticut dowagers, beyond even their secret reasons for undertaking the trip.

Symbolism abounds with multi-level metaphysical meaning, and this is theater that has as many meanings as there are viewers. Although the basic structure of the story is linear, the side-tracks of Ganesh's making continue to keep the audience on its toes through two demanding acts. Ganesh is one of Hindu India's most loved and revered gods. His elephant snout is masterfully conceived by George Martinat and Sydney de Briel, who give all four actors the ideal costume design. The two travelers wear 1993 pants suits, before they segue into sari's and shawls and sub-continent elegance.

Ganesh, as portrayed by Zach Blew is riveting. His visage is exotic, his choreographed presence evokes the most graceful and forceful of Indian ritual dance. His body paint and costumed drama create a masterpiece of movement and meaning. This playful, threatening and nurturing diety is all things to all people and is a theatrical tour-de-force. Blew will be noticed in our theater community.

The fourth actor, Bradshaw Call, portrays “the men,” several comic and farcical caricatures. Mostly he plays English speaking Indians who the women encounter on their pilgrimage. But his ferociously fey Air India gate agent starts off the hysteria with a bang. From there it is all uphill and his various native personages are each quite masterful. With this valuable versatility, Call creates a vast array of lepers and hotel managers, condescending baggage clerks and loony native hosts.

It almost goes without saying — but let it be said — Breland and Galvin are exceptional actors and they convey the despicable desperation and pathos of the pilgrims, Margaret and Katherine, with perfect panache.

Listed staff for technical and backstage support total a daunting score of known and less familiar local theater gurus. From venerable theater mavens and well-knowns such as Frank Avery and Rob Bowen to a slew of designers and techno-nerds, this large crew produces a totally satisfying intellectual, visual, dramatic and emotional experience. The loss of a child, the tragedy of AIDS, reconciliation, renewal and rebirth, legend and myth. It's all here in spades and will prove to rank among the best of the season.

Jim Cavener reviews theater for take5.