Review from The Herald-Times for Travesties 2017:
Lenin, James Joyce and artist Tristan Tzara come to (supercharged) life in ‘Travesties’
By Connie Shakalis H-T Reviewer
Like a washing machine on spin cycle, Monroe County Civic Theater’s “Travesties,” by Tom Stoppard, is continuous action as it whirls across its 2 1/2 hours of Stoppard’s brilliant babel. To grasp the play, which ain’t easy, it helps to remember Oscar Wilde’s play “The Importance of Being Earnest,” to which “Travesties” refers.
Stoppard was only in his 30s when he wrote the play in 1974, and it is a speeding vehicle for his intelligence and wit, winning 1976 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play, 1976 Tony Award for Best Play and 1976 Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy.
Stoppard doesn’t provide a lot of plot. Characters enter and exit, waltz and speak in limericks, lecture each other and generally create a wild, disjointed political and philosophical romp. During all this, we learn about Zurich, Switzerland, in 1917 (where much of the action occurs), Dadaism (the then-new artistic movement that ridiculed art), Irish writer James Joyce and Russian communist revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. It’s a lot to take in.
MCCT captures the wackiness — and long monologues — with talent aplenty. Much of the story comes as tangled memories of an aging and demented Henry Carr, an English consul in Zurich. He revels in his self-importance, gained through past ties with notable figures, namely Joyce, Dadaist Tristan Tzara and Lenin.
Roy Sillings, as Carr, not only managed his opening 12-minute monologue with enough variety to keep me listening, but also kept my interest throughout the play. When young, Carr is a dapper, clothes-obsessed dandy. As the older Carr, Sillings mismatches his socks and wanders about in a frayed bathrobe. He delightfully drifts in and out of reality, often confusing his past lead role in Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” with actual events. Sillings’ own charm and humor can’t help but peek through.
Playing Carr’s younger self is the robust and hilarious William A. Henry. Every time a bell dings, the era changes: sometimes we see young Carr, sometimes, old, as the play progresses. As left-wing artist and Dadaist Tristan Tzara, Jason Lopez uses his comic timing to sublime effect. Steve Heise is young Carr’s manservant and serves up his character’s ideas in a sudden surprising diatribe, as only Heise can do.
As two young women, visiting the play from Wilde’s “Earnest,” Emily McGee as Gwendolen and Gwen Livesay as young Cecily seem to have emerged from a Renaissance painting. Their combined, though different (one voluptuous and red-haired, the other petite and bruntette), beauty illuminates the room. Their argument over which one gets the man (tricked by a travesty, they believe they love the same one), is a high point. So is Cecily’s monologue about her esteem for Lenin. And, McGee’s face was made for the stage — as was her glorious peach-vanilla costume, matching her complexion — and designed by her.
Dan Heise is the kooky and entertaining James Joyce. Steve Scott as Lenin is a force — intense and commanding. I particularly enjoyed one of his exits, as he leaves the room fondly stroking his wig, one used to help camouflage him. He desperately wants to leave his exile in Zurich and get back to Russia. As his wife, Nadya, Jennifer Whitaker is supportive and convincing. I liked her believable Russian accent, and actually all the actors had good ones. Accents can be distracting. Not here. As old librarian Cecily, disappointed that she ended up marrying Carr instead of her beloved Lenin, Maryann Iaria moved me. “They all went on,” she laments, making me feel her sorrow at life’s having left her behind.
Gwen Livesay and Steve Heise co-directed. One of this production’s more unusual strengths is the venue. Audience members lolled in comfortable armchairs, or sat at the bar, at Oddball Fermentables, a winery of sorts in a nicely refurbished old bungalow. I’ve never seen a play in this kind of setting. The actors roamed, very effectively, throughout the first floor. Somehow, this lent a feeling of realness to the night. We were right there, in the characters’ homes.
“Travesties” is loaded with words, puns, poems and historical and literary references. This is a play that warrants, in order to take it all in, being seen more than once. That is indeed possible. This afternoon, admission will be free, as the play is performed cabaret-style during Oddball business hours. Next Wednesday and Thursday nights, Oddball will be closed to bar traffic, so tickets will be $15.
Review in The Herald-Times for The Odd Couple (Female Version) 2017:
Preview in Limestone Post for The Odd Couple (Female Version) 2017:
Herald Times Review for As You Like It 2017:
Herald Times Review for The Trojan Women 2017:
Herald Times Preview for The Trojan Women 2017:
Herald Times Preview for It’s a Wonderful Life 2016:
Ken Pimple on “It’s a Wonderful Life” 2016:
It takes a certain degree of chutzpah for an all-volunteer, amateur, community theater to produce a play based on one of the best-known and best-loved Christmas movies in America, but in the last few years, the Monroe County Civic Theater has exemplified Robert Browning’s adage that we “should exceed [our] grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” (slightly paraphrased from “Andrea del Sarto”).
It’s a Wonderful Life has a great deal to say about grasping for good and evil, and Heaven is never far away while the adversary lurks uncomfortably near. It is suitable that the play is held at Sherwood Oaks Christian Church in a performance space an order of magnitude more comfortable and beautiful than I have experienced other MCCT productions. In addition, the cast numbering north of 40 is the largest in my memory, of which at least a fourth are impressive actors and the rest no less than very good. The play is heartwarming and heart breaking in turns. I laughed many times and tears came to my eyes four or five times.
The play begins with a beautiful rendition of “Bleak Midwinter” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” by the Sherwood Oaks Choir. For me, the most moving and amusing scenes include:
● young George Bailey’s (Sam Durnil) saving Mr. Gower (Frank Buczolich), the pharmacist, from accidentally poisoning a child;
● Violet Pemberton’s flirtations (Maggie Coats as young Violet and Tayler Fischer as adult) with George;
● the Charleston scene, set to “In the Mood,” in which a dozen dancers kick up their heels with energy and style until the floor parts and the partiers fall or jump into the pool;
● the touching, then hilarious, conversation between adult George (Brant Hughes) and Mary Hatch, later Bailey (Yolanda Valdivia), in which Mr. Hughes is actually funnier than Jimmy Stewart is in the movie;
● Mr. Bailey (Steve Scott) challenging and supporting his son;
● Mr. Bailey’s off-stage funeral heralded by Tim Thompson humming, then singing, “Amazing Grace,” in a lovely and painful moment;
● and the tension in the run on the Baileys’ Building and Loan in the 1929 crash, nearly bringing it down, and the joy when it is saved.
And that is only a taste of Act 1 of 2.
I must mention the key roles and their talented actors not already mentioned. Clarence Odbody, the angel (Pip Chamberlain), is earnest, appropriately simple, and bit silly. Mr. Potter (Roy Sillings) channels Lionel Barrymore in his full avaricious, miserly, covetous, scheming, and hateful disgrace. Uncle Billy (Steve Heise) is affectionate, good-humored, and bumbling. The children are as adorable as possible.
The simple scenery is effective, the sound excellent, and the period music played in the many scene changes helps to maintain the atmosphere. At the close, the cast was honored with a well- deserved standing ovation.
I hope that MCCT and the Sherwood Oaks Church will work together again soon.