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18 June 2009

Man of La Mancha

From the Citizen-Times

Check out ‘Man of La Mancha'
Flat Rock actors present classic with great zest

“Magnificent” is the word brought to mind by Flat Rock Playhouse's “Man of La Mancha,” the timeless story of the 17th- century “mad knight” who jousts with windmills and pursues the impossible dream.

A play within a play, “La Mancha” tells the story of Spanish tax collector Miguel de Cervantes, who with his assistant Sancho is thrown into prison to await the judgment of the Inquisition for daring to tax a monastery.

To escape harsh treatment from fellow prisoners, Cervantes seeks to amuse them by acting out a story he has written. It tells the tale of a delusional old man who proclaims himself Don Quixote, a knight-errant who seeks to right all wrongs.

David Lutken gives an unforgettable performance as Don Quixote, whose grandiose self-deception has no limits. Not only does he imagine himself a knight 300 years after the age of knights, but he declares the lowly harlot Aldonza to be instead the high-born lady Dulcinea, the epitome of innocence and grace.

Ariela Morgenstern is delightful as saucy wench Aldonza. She jeers at Don Quixote's doting attention to her as the fair Dulcinea but slowly begins to believe she can have a better life.

Patric John Morgan gives a touching performance as Sancho, who follows Don Quixote's madcap fantasies wherever they lead, proclaiming, “I really like him.” The delusion reaches manic proportions when Don Quixote declares the brass shaving basin carried by the barber (Scott Treadway) is really the “golden helmet of Mandrino.”

Of course, noble ambitions inevitably draw opposition. Don Quixote is obsessed with an archenemy he calls “the Enchanter,” but his greatest nemesis is scheming Dr. Carrasco (Damian Duke Domingue), who seeks to shatter his grand illusions with the searing truth of reality.

“Man of La Mancha” focuses on the age-old dichotomy between man's sometimes soaring aspirations (“The Impossible Dream”) and his much baser achievement, whether it is better to reach for the unattainable or settle for what is easy and obvious.

With book by Dale Wasserman, music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, it tells of Don Quixote's quest in some of the best-loved music of the American theater. To deliver the full sound required for this production, Flat Rock has assembled the largest music contingent in the theater's history, including some outstanding Hendersonville High School band members.

Director Paige Posey and a strong cast of veteran Flat Rock actors and some talented newcomers deliver a show that is among the best in recent memory. If you plan to see only one show at the Rock this summer, make this the one.

Tim Reid reviews theater for Take5. Contact him at timreid4@charter.net.

Funny Girl

From the C-T

“Funny Girl,” opening the season at Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre, is a most representative, if formulaic, example of 20th century American musical theater. It's full of New York showbiz elements: show girls, show tunes, aspects of vaudeville, a bit of Yiddish, sequins, glamour, star power, impresarios, glitz and lots of dazzling dancing. And it was well chosen for launching a rousing, upbeat, attention-getting summer of theater in the venerable Owen Theatre on the Mars Hill College campus.

Liz Aiello may have been born for the role of Fanny Brice in this slice of pseudo-history from the early life of the famed mid-century comedienne and stage maven. Barbra Streisand is forever associated with both stage and film forms of this story, and with major tunes from the score by Jule Styne. Think “People, people who love people — are the luckiest people in the world...,” and “Don't Rain on my Parade.”

Aiello competes favorably with the Streisand versions of both hits, and interprets all the subtle inflections with panache.

The show calls for a large cast and the stage is often filled with near a score of able actors, all capably coached by show director and company artistic director Bill Gregg. No way to name and comment on all the stellar talent, but some standouts amongst the cast are male lead Christopher Lynn of Asheville, who plays Brice's love interest Nick Arnstein, Peter Tamm as comic foil Eddie Ryan (and the boy can dance), and Chris Caggiano as the Ziegfeld tenor, whose soaring high register is most impressive. Tony Medlin is a mean Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.

Choreographer Heidi Kulas has coached the dozen dancers into an ensemble of note. Amy Thrift, Amber Watson, Mary Ellen Jones, Erin McFarland, Rachel Shipley and Brittany Hazeldine are among a bevy of beauties who kick and wiggle with the best of them. Of the guy dancers Mitchel Hillburn and Mackenzie Knapp are notable magnetic movers and shakers. Some of the dance moves are quite daring and well accomplished.

Leigh Margaret Manning must have had much fun pulling together the garb with which to clothe these more-than-a-score actors.

Hats and shoes, topcoats and bags are all evocative of the roaring '20s, and add much to the visual appeal of the show. Richard Seagle gives us a deep, three-tiered set. Owen Theatre is lacking enough lighting power to fully illuminate the side areas of the broad stage, but light designer Robert Berls does the best with what he has to work with. Nice shadow effects, but brighter spots would be a positive addition.

A spirited, unseen house band is led by Paul Schierhorn, with Virginia McKnight on piano, Ben Clymer on trombone and Tim Morgan playing a mean trumpet for the “Cornet Man” tune. Bruce Lang, James Mathis and Justin Maybry round out the backstage band.

Never before have those crystal chandeliers hanging above the audience in Owen Theatre looked more appropriate than when Nick Arnstein woos Fanny Brice in various upscale locales. Those sparkling fixtures once hung in the lobby of downtown Asheville's Battery Park Hotel. A touch of Ziegfeld, way off-Broadway.

Jim Cavener reviews theater for take5.

05 June 2009

Like Mother

This is from the C-T. It is a review of two shows, but there is already a posting for I Wrote This Play..., so there you are.

Theater review: NC Stage does two comedies in repertory
Original post.

Jim Cavener I take5 Correspondent • published June 5, 2009 12:15 am

N.C. Stage Company is trying something different with its current repertory production of the comedy “Like Mother” and “I Wrote this Play to Make You Love Me.” The company has long considered a repertory session, with two or more plays and some of the same cast in production at the same time. For the early summer, comedies seemed to be in order.

“Mother” and “Wrote” are written by women writers/actors known to NCSC's founders from their days of theater in New York City, and both of whom had come to Asheville in recent years to appear in the theater's productions.

The third play in this series, “A Beautiful View,” was also on the company's radar screen, and will join the season on June 17th.

Both current works are somewhat autobiographical and both are billed as comedies, although both have serious, meaningful overtones. “Wrote This Play” is deadly serious much of the time, and is for the most mature audiences. The material and language is rife with candid sexual situations — think “Sex and The City” with no holds barred. This is hard-core candor, tough-talking topics and graphic language.

These two vehicles have much in common: youngish women, writing from their experience in theater in Gotham, starring in their own work. In “Mother” the playwright, Shannon Polly, is the only actor on stage, although voice-overs by Willie Repoley are quite vivid, yet the father-figure they bring is heard, not seen. “Mother” is seen from the perspective of the daughter of the proverbial stage-mother-from-hell. It's intensified by her daughter's marriage, and the mother's being “mother-of-the-bride” — with all the rights and privileges appertaining thereto.

In “Wrote” Anne Thibault interprets Lysette, with local stage presence Hans Meyer playing the male figures, notably Lysette's brother Zach.

But the major work is done by the author. It is the life story of a young actress, as told from the perspective of the too oft passed-over Lysette getting the role of her dreams, that of Nora in Ibsen's “The Doll's House.” The central events of her life are all of loss rather than gain, as in being abandoned by a mother, the loss of a brother, the distance and decline of a father, and the frustration and futility of having lots of sex, but little intimacy or affection.

Polly, of “Mother,” is charming, delightful and appealing as herself and her mother. This is a ribald spoof of dominating moms, but with some tender and authentic moments of genuine emotion, which keeps the fun from being saccharine and syrupy.

Thibault's “Wrote” is much more serious, and there is much poignancy and pathos. Thibault's character study of Lysette is wise and deep beyond her years, the writing is painfully beautiful, and her performing is well done. Both writers know how to construct drama and write contemporary dialogue that rings true.

A distinguishing aspect between these two effective plays is that “Mother” incorporates six splendid songs that advance the plot, with Polly able to belt the Broadway ballad with the best of them. Although the songs are not well known, they borrow from show tune genres, and even incorporate a few bars of familiar theater tunes, to good effect.

“Wrote” has to get all its mileage simply from the power of words, and there is a lot to be gotten from this script.

Jim Cavener writes on theater for take5

I wrote this play to make you love me.

This is a post from the blog Art Seen Asheville(Art Seen Asheville: I wrote this play to make you love me.)

With a title like "I wrote this play to make you love me" how could you not go see this show which is currently running at NC Stage Company in downtown Asheville. I realized the other day that 95% of the plays I've really enjoyed or had the most interest in attending played at NC Stage Company. As far as seeing good theater in Asheville - this venue seems the most reliable.
Written by and starring Anne Thibault, IWTPTMYLM is a terrific piece of theater which literally made me laugh and cry. Thibault carries the play with her powerful presence and her timing between vignettes is dead on. Using minimal props and no scene changes, the strength of the piece lies in Thibault's uncompromising script about a struggling actress - Lysette - who is dealing with the emotional woes of her married boyfriend. Along the way, we learn about past love affairs, her emotionally torn childhood, and her Catholic upbringing via really hilarious conversations with her brother.
When I read on the website that "only adults will be admitted" of course I rolled my eyes a little. I was thinking, okay, what does "adult content" exactly refer to - how risque is this really gonna get? In retrospect I can see why you wouldn't want to bring your kids to see this but I think teenagers could appreciate most of the content - especially girls. I know I could have handled it as a teen (Just not while sitting next to my mother. OMFG.)
They say we laugh to keep from crying, and the humor of this play is born out of some intense life experiences. I'm still giggling over that scene where she's comparing the guys tongue to a minnow. I have to admit, I shed a tear (well, many tears) the second act and was holding them back in the first one.
While you're at it, check out the two other plays that are running at NC Stage this season. Bitch from Bitch and Animal was sitting next to me in the audience and she filled me in on the fact that she and Thibault will be performing in a piece together beginning June 17. Sounds like a intriguing combination to me.
www.ncstage.org for more information and schedule

03 June 2009


If anyone was doubting Rock Eblen's ability to effectively produce, direct, and act in a Broadway style musical using only local talent, they should have seen his latest effort at Diana Wortham Theatre May 14-17. A wise collaboration with The Asheville Arts Center put Eblen at the helm for this ambitious project despite the lean economy and stiff competition with other local theaters. On opening night audience members were practically jumping out of their seats when the cast came out for curtain call.

Last year, Eblen pulled off JC SUPERSTAR in the same venue, although one writer in this blog seemed bent on attacking him for taking on the role of Jesus. The guy likes to act and he's damn good at it...so what if he also produces and directs at the same time? A true artist doesn't heed people who say "You can't do that!" So if one chooses to be so bold, he better know theater, and he better know how to cast good local talent who will do it for no pay. This is community theater we're talking about...yet I overheard tourists in the audience who thought TOMMY was a professional production. That's how good it was.

Of course it wasn't flawless. There were some problems with body mics cutting out, and a few missed light cues. The band sound levels had to be adjusted, but once the musicians got rockin', every head, even the grey heads, started bobbin' to Pete Townshend's classic rock score. Chuck Taft is a gifted musical director, able to handle anything from The Who's wild stuff to Lerner and Loewe. The music was pretty much non-stop with small bits of dialogue to elucidate Tommy's journey. Excellent choreography came from Mary Katherine Smith, and Susan Sertain of The Costume Shoppe put together delightful period costumes ranging from the 40's to the 60's.

Another fascinating aspect of this production was the staging. Eblen had the actors zipping stylish sets in and out while scenes magically blended into each other. He designed two of the set pieces from scratch, one being a flashy pinball machine Tommy could actually ride on, and the other a giant yellow slanted "T" (toppled Tommy) which took on various disguises to become by turn a Union Jack court, a purple pulpit, and even a bright red gypsy chariot.

Talk about gypsys, Margaret Evans was belting like Tina when she took little Tommy and the audience for a ear-bending ride with the Acid Queen.

Young Gabriel Gibson was perfect as the deaf, dumb, and blind kid who made many eyes moist that evening. Payton Turpin was major comic relief with his Uncle Ernie's Holiday Camp song on a giant tricycle. Newcomer Brad Pearsall was hot in black leather as he strutted and crooned the role of bully Cousin Kevin. Nicely polished duets came from Kelli Mullinix (Mrs.Walker) with Rod Leigh (Lover and The Hawker) and a new song added to the show by Townshend which she sang with Eblen as Captain Walker. The all important role of Narrator/Tommy was caked with charisma by Michael Wilson whose voice can melt your bones.

This was a terrific fundraiser for Eblen Charities and proves Bioflyer Productions is here to stay. So if you missed it, you missed it. But I dare you to find anybody WHO did see it WHO didn't love THE WHO'S TOMMY.

--Estella Banks