Saturday, March 9, 2019

A Little Night Music at TLT

A Lot of Messing Around
by Michael Dresdner

L to R:  Casi Pruitt, Jonathan Bill       All photos by Dennis K Photography
The Stephen Sondheim musical A Little Night Music, guest-directed by Lakewood Playhouse artistic director John Munn, opened last night at Tacoma Little Theatre to a crowd that was both appreciative and, I suspect, familiar with the play.

Set in fin de siècle Sweden and based on Ingmar Bergman’s film Smiles of a Summer Night, it revolves around the dalliances of several disenchanted and unfaithful couples. By the end, couples get together, get back together, or rearrange themselves into new unions. There’s plenty of bed-hopping and jealously inducing game playing, but ultimately they all end up happier than when they began. This is the main difference between theatre and real life.

L to R: Juliet Hollifield, Hayley Ewerz
Fredrick Egerman (Jonathan Bill) is a middle aged lawyer who has a 19-year-old son, Henrik (Will Johnson), and is married to an 18-year-old trophy wife, Anne (Juliet Hollifield.) After 11 months, she’s still a virgin, and is secretly lusted after by her sexually unsophisticated stepson Henrik. No worries; Fredrick solves his frustration by reconnecting with an old flame, actress Desiree Armfeldt (Cassi Pruitt) who is, if not the town pump, at least liberal in her bedroom affections. She has a daughter (Julianna Guzman-Ferreira) who is somewhat suspicously named Fredrika. Desiree frequently dallies with a married Count (Jamey Cheek,) which inspires his wife (Alyssa Hersey) to craft a jealousy-inducing plot to end his roving.

L to R: Dominic Girolami, Rosalie Hilburn, Grace Wilkerson, Julianna Guzman-Ferreira
All is brought to a head when the whole gang shows up at the estate of Desiree’s mother, the wise, wheelchair-bound matron Madame Armfeldt (Rosalie Hilburn). Here among the trees they are all free to romp and play, and eventually sort themselves out into happier pairs.

L to R: The Greek Chorus: Erik Davis, Kira Leigh Vega, Heidi Walworth-Horn, Caryl Dowd, Chap Wolff
Singing was generally excellent throughout the entire cast, with both leads and ancillary cast members, like the Greek chorus, exhibiting the vocal chops of well trained singers. While musicals often sacrifice acting for voice, this one offered some performances worth noting, including Julianna Guzman-Ferreira as young Fredricka, Hayley Ewerz as the lusty maid Petra, Rosalie Hilburn as the reserved but wise Madame Arnfeldt, Jonathan Bill as Henrik Egerman, and last, but certainly not least, Casi Pruitt as Desiree. She also gets a nod for doing such an excellent job on the one song everyone comes to hear, the haunting and beautiful Send in the Clowns.

Since much of Act II takes place in the woods, the set, by Blake York, was minimalist, consisting almost entirely of white-painted movable hanging panels with adroit cutouts to make them look like stands of birch trees. Those, like me, who are given to pareidolia (go ahead – click on it – I’ll wait) will be delighted to find random faces in the woods. When rooms were needed, they were created by furniture moved on and off stage.  

L to R: Alyssa Hersey, Jamey Creek
Costumes by Michele Graves were extravagant and superb. Niclas Olson’s lighting was spot on (pardon the pun), as were hair, makeup, and props by Jeffery Weaver. Choreography was by Lexi Barnett, and stage manager Courtney Rainer, assisted by ASM Grace Wilkerson, who also had a small on-stage role, kept the busy show running smoothly.

Music, under the direction of Deborah Lynn Armstrong, was provided by an adept onstage orchestra (Kelly Marsh, Alonso Tirado, Kailee Wright, Erika Fiebig, Rose Nicholson) peeking out from behind the trees.

Curiously, the program’s aptly named director’s note, which is often about the play or the experience creating it, was instead about the director himself. It’s a choice.

This 1973 classic will delight Sondheim fans with its complex music and equally complex set of relationships. There’s plenty afoot to keep your attention, and some damned good singing and acting to boot.

A Little Night Music
March 8 to 31, 2019
Tacoma Little Theatre

Saturday, January 26, 2019

A Doll's House at TLT

Small World 
by Michael Dresdner 

L to R: Annie Katica Green, Sean Neely    All photos by Dennis K Photography
Last night the celebrated 1879 Ibsen play A Doll’s House opened to a most appreciative crowd at Tacoma Little Theatre. They had good reason to feel that way. Director Marilyn Bennet assembled an outstanding ensemble to create a well-paced, superbly acted play, frequently substituting more streamlined and accessible language without losing any of the impact of the original. Well done all.

Much analyzed and dissected over the years, Ibsen’s play was scandalously radical in its day for promoting the idea that women were more than simply working accessories for a male-oriented society. What’s different today? Depending on your vantage point, either “there’s no comparison” or “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.” (The more things change, the more they remain the same.)  
L to R: Patrick Gow, Nigel Kelley, Jillian Littrell, Annie Katica Green
Nora (Annie Katica Green) is the naïve, insular wife of prim, upright banker Thorvald Helmer (Sean Neely). With the help of her own former nanny Anne Marie (Robin McGee) and a housemaid named Helene (Marleyne Hernandez), she dutifully cares for the house and her three young children, Ivar ( Patrick Gow), Bob (Nigel Kelley), and Emmy (Jillian Littrell.) Her loving but patronizing husband treats her like a child, continuing a tradition started by her father. She does her best to please him, as she did with her father, and outwardly, it looks like a happy arrangement all around. But for nine years, she’s been carrying an awful secret.

L to R: Annie Katica Green, Jason Sharpe 
To save his life when he was ill, she secretly borrowed money to take him to Italy to recover by forging her father’s signature on a loan from a lawyer turned bank clerk, Nils Krogstad (Jason Sharpe,) who is now her husband’s subordinate. He, too, was guilty of forgery, and both Thorvald and the family’s best friend, Dr. Rank (Mark Peterson) are therefore revolted by him. When Nora’s girlhood friend Christine Linde (Kristen Moriarty) shows up to ask that she convince Thorvald to hire her just as he decides to fire Nils, he offers her the disgraced man’s job. What none but those two know, Christine and Nils have a painful but unresolved past together. The actions of those two, separately, ultimately triggers both the meltdown of this happily clueless home and a resolution of the core threat. This results in a life-changing epiphany for Nora and a rude awakening for Thorvald.

L to R: Kristen Moriarty, Annie Katica Green, Mark Peterson 
The women, Nora, Christine, and Anne Marie, have all made massive personal sacrifices in their lives for the sake of others, including parents, siblings, and spouses, and have all paid dearly for it in one way or another. Yet all are relatively stoical about it, deftly keeping the beneficiaries in blissful ignorance. Such were (are?) the demands of society.

L to R: Robin McGee, Annie Katica Green 
As I said, the entire cast was exceptional, right down to the three children who, along with the nanny, maid, and Christine, brought surprising realism to what might have been mundane roles. Green (Nora) did much of the heavy lifting, almost never leaving the stage and handling a massive line load and a physically demanding range of emotions and actions most skillfully. Sharp (Nils) neatly balanced his character’s desperate scheming with the broken spirit of a jilted lover, while Peterson (Dr. Rank) provided a constant anchor as the stalwart friend who unselfishly conceals both his terminal illness and his unrequited love for Nora. As for Neely (Thorvald), it’s the final scene where he truly shines, unleashing a perfectly nuanced and deftly executed portrayal of a man dutifully trying to remain in control while experiencing a shattering emotional upheaval.

As usual, the technical support was flawless, from the beautiful period set by designer Blake York and scenic artist Jen York, through wonderful period costumes by Michele Graves, lighting by Niclas Olson, sound by Dylan Twiner, and props, hair, and make-up by Jeffery Weaver. These outstanding people make up the resident technical team that consistently shines in TLT productions. Also listed, and certainly due theirs, is an assistant director and dramaturg, Lydia K. Valentine, stage manager Dana Galagan and her ASM Alyshia Collins, and Chevi Chung as fight choreographer.

So, can a circa 1879 play that’s been analyzed to a fare-thee-well still have relevance today?
How, exactly?
You really want to know? Eschew all the analysis and explanations. Just go see it.

Lagniappe: The play was based on the real life story of Ibsen’s friend Laura Kieler. Needing money to help find a cure for her husband’s tuberculosis, she asked Ibsen to recommend her to his publisher, thinking that would give her an avenue for needed income. He refused to help, after which she forged a check for the money. When it was discovered, her husband divorced her and had her committed to an asylum. Astonishingly, she returned to him and her children two years later, at his urging. You may make of that what you will.

A Doll’s House
Jan 25 to Feb 10, 2019
Tacoma Little Theatre

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Scrooge! The Musical at TLT

Dickens, but with pizazz
by Michael Dresdner

L to R: Emily Newland, Kaden Stanford, Olivia Zamira, Eva Hay, (Jeremy Lynch, Evie Merrill, Kenya Adams.
All photos by Dennis K Photography 

I rather suspect that Scrooge! The Musical, now playing at Tacoma Little Theatre, was created to add some welcome lightness and fun to the admittedly dreary and somewhat overdone Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol,” and in this case, it certainly does.

You know the story, right? Uber-miser Ebeneezer Scrooge (Andrew Fry) is visited in turn by ghosts of his departed business partner Jacob Marley (Joseph Woodland), and the ghosts of  Christmas past (Kathy Kluska), present (Chris Serface), and future (Alan Plaster.) Through the miracle of fiction, they manage to change the heart and mind of the old skinflint and make him do a total about face.

L to R: Joseph Woodland, Andrew Fry 
A very talented trio consisting of director Micheal O’Hara, musical director Zachary Kellogg, and choreographer Eric Clausell molded a huge and largely youthful cast into a most impressive ensemble. They set the tone right away with a powerful opening number that fills the hall with richly blended voices, along with often surprisingly intricate dance numbers. Better yet, they repeat the experience each time the chorus takes the stage.

Now and again one of them gets the chance to step out of the crowd and show us both great stage presence and equally fine vocal and dancing abilities. Some examples? Ok, just a few – it’s a large and able cast, after all. There’s Isabel (Allie Watkins), Ebenezer’s lost love with her beautiful and obviously trained vioce, Bob Cratchit (Jeremy Lynch), another finely trained singer with a most pleasant stage demeanor, the limber and energetic Tom Jenkins (Liam Loughridge), Mr. Fezziwig (George McClure who is way too spry for one his age, dammit,) The Ghost of Christmas Present (Chris Serface, the theatre’s managing artistic director who is also an outstanding actor who fills the room to bursting with his voluminous and thoroughly infectious ebullience,) and smallest, but certainly not least, the adorably winning Tiny Tim (Evie Merrill.) One gets the sense that there are probably quite a few more shining stars tucked away in that ensemble waiting for their shot. 
L to R: Andrew Fry, Chris Serface
It’s getting a bit tired to write this again and again, but as usual, they were backed by the regular and consistently excellent production team. Blake York’s initially stark set, a scrim-backed silhouette of the inside of a huge clock face, boasted four cleverly hidded doors for egress of both props and people. Back lit with changing scenery for locations, it also did a great job of creating starkly crisp shadows, particularly of Scrooge, when front lit. Scene changes had wonderful set pieces – street carts, a four poster bed, and Cratchit’s dining room, to name a few -- that slid silently and hermetically on and off stage.

An enormous array of excellent period costumes by Michelle Graves, with wigs and hair, by Jeffery Weaver, who is also the adroit props master, added to the rich panoply. Ditto for the varied and well though out lighting design by Niclas Olson, abetted by follow spot operators Kerry Bringman and Ku’uleialoha Hoapili. In this case, the music was “packaged,” meaning there is no live orchestra and the actors have to match pace and pitch with a pre-recorded score, a much more challenging situation than having a skilled conductor massaging the tempo and volume to those on stage.

Finally, one must acknowledge the Herculean task of keeping such a complex and lively array running smoothly. Kudos for that go to stage manager Nena Curley and ASM Courtney Rainer

All in all, there’s a whole lot of talent and even more energy flooding that stage for a Christmas offering that is decidedly more engaging and pleasant than the old Dickens standby that spawned it. You’d do well to consider spending a couple of hours with this delightful group during the holiday season.

Scrooge! The Musical
Dec. 7th to 30th, 2018
Tacoma Little Theatre

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Bell, Book, and Candle at TLT

Love in the Time of Witchcraft
by Michael Dresdner

L to R: Victoria Ashley (Gillian), Jed Slaughter (Shepherd)    All photos by Dennis K Photography
Just in time for Halloween, Tacoma Little Theatre’s second play of its 100th year is Bell, Book, and Candle, a 1950s era romantic dramedy with a witch as its main character. As it was written, it was set in New York’s Greenwich Village, then a hotbed of artistic eccentricity. This production moves it to the more upscale Murray Hill neighborhood in the late 1960s, though I’m not sure why.  

Gillian Holroyd (Victoria Ashley) is a beautiful, statuesque witch with a cat named Pyewacket as her familiar. She, her Aunt Queenie (Wendy Cohen) and her brother Nicky (Max Christofferson) all have magical powers that they use with surprising frequency for thoroughly selfish reasons.

L to R: Victoria Ashley (Gillian), Max Christofferson (Nicky), Wendy Cohen (Queenie)  
For instance, she causes her hapless neighbor and tenant, Sheppard Henderson (Jed Slaughter) to fall irrationally in love with her. She does this not because she loves him, (witches, we are told, can’t fall in love) but merely because she finds him interesting and wants to break up his imminent engagement to a woman she hated in college. This seems a far cry from the behavior of the real Wicca community.
Victoria Ashley (Gillian), Jed Slaughter (Shepherd) 
She, Nicky, and Queenie proceed to use magic spells to upend Shepherd’s life while she keeps him in thrall, both physically and emotionally. Gillian does this with the help of her familiar, a real live cat who was surprisingly cooperative on stage. A minor complication comes in the form of Sidney Redlitch (Mike Storslee), an “expert” who writes books exposing the existence of modern day witchcraft.

L to R: Mike Storslee (Redlitch), Victoria Ashley (Gillian) 

The fly in the ointment is that if witches fall in love, they lose their magical powers. It takes most of the play for Gillian to figure out that she loves Shepherd enough to give up her “charmed” life in order to be with him. But by then it may be too late; he’s aware that he’s been manipulated by a real witch.

There are some excellent actors on stage working with a production, directed by Brett Carr, that is heavy on dialogue and low on action. They’re backed up with flawless technical support.

The set 
The set, by Blake York with dressing and props by Jeffrey Weaver and amazing painting by Jen York, is beyond gorgeous. Heck, even I would like to live in that apartment. It’s worth seeing this play just for the set, but it doesn’t end there. Costumes by Michele Graves are impressive, as is lighting by Niclas Olson. Considering all the difficulties of this production, stage manager Nena Curley also deserves a nod, as does Pyewacket’s trainer, Alyshia Collins.

But can we digress a little? If you’ll allow me a bit of armchair analysis, what bothered me about this play was a dark undercurrent of 50s sensibility – or lack thereof – concerning the “battle of the sexes.” Women in general, it was felt in some quarters, were mysterious and had sexual power over men who were in turn powerless to control their behavior. The most chilling aspect of that common mindset was that once she falls in love, a woman (in this case Gillian) loses all her power.  

Perhaps it’s best not to think about it too deeply and instead go with the conceit that this is merely a fanciful journey into “Love, Witchcraft Style.”  

Bell, Book, and Candle
Oct 26 to Nov 11, 2018
Tacoma Little Theatre

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Foreigner at TLT

Stranger in a hilariously strange land
by Michael Dresdner

L to R: Blake York, Charlie Stevens     All photos by Dennis K Photography

On the opening night of their 100th year, Tacoma Little Theatre pulled out all the stops with an intensely funny and perfectly executed Larry Shue comedy called The Foreigner. It was so good that even this jaded, “seen it all before” reviewer was laughing out loud at the antics of director Cassie Pruitt’s wonderful ensemble cast.   

Sadly, I can’t tell you much about the play’s plot because it would ruin a lot of the very unexpected humor, so I’ll do what everyone else does; just offer you the set-up and hope you will trust me enough to go see it mostly on my say so.

L to R: Mikel Michener, Jen Aylsworth

S/Sgt. Froggy LeSueur (Mikel Michener) arrives at a Georgia hunting lodge to drop off his friend Charlie Baker (Blake York) for a few days while he goes on maneuvers. The ultra-shy Charlie is horrified at having to converse with strangers, so Froggy tells their host, Betty Meeks (Jen Aylsworth) that Charlie is a foreigner and speaks no English at all. She finds that thrillingly charming (why, honey child, she just never met no foreigner before) and quickly misinterprets every little action as stuff that’s plumb natural for foreigners, no matter how unlikely and absurd it is.

Rev. David Marshall Lee (Cody Wyld Flower) and his fiancé, Catherine Simms (Caiti Burke) both take that as a free pass to be able to speak freely about private matters both around him, and in Catherine’s case, to him. Lee wants to buy the old lodge with Catherine’s money and turn it into… See, there you have it. One of the those things I mentioned that I can’t give away lest I ruin the comedy.

L to R: Jen Aylsworth, Cody Wyld Flower, Charlie Stevens, Brian Cox 

The rather duplicitous Reverend Lee is, we’ll soon find out, not quite so nice as he pretends to be when he shows up with a completely reprehensible stereotypical Southerner named Owen Musser (Brian Cox) in tow. There’s little reward in playing a truly bad guy. The better you play the role, the more everyone genuinely hates you, and Owen was outstanding at being despicable. From the moment Cox stepped on stage he crafted both a thoroughly obnoxious and a completely recognizable archetype.  

L to R: Charlie Stevens, Caiti Burke, Cody Wyld Flower 

Last, but certainly not least, is Ellard Simms (Charlie Stevens), Catherine’s mentally challenged brother. Gangly, a bit twitchy, and delightfully funny, Stevens made Ellard captivatingly believable. His breakfast scene with Blake during Act I was magnificent. Riddled with non-stop sight gags and almost no dialogue, the “slow” boy hilariously tries to communicate with this foreign tongued stranger, who plays along ad absurdum. It was both reminiscent of and better than the best work Laurel and Hardy ever did.

L to R: Caiti Burke, Blake York, Jen Aylsworth 

The key to this play is Charlie Baker, and Blake York hit that role right out of the park. With his range of facial expressions, body language, and grab-bag of strange voices and actions, he created a character that you couldn’t take your eyes off of, and couldn’t stop laughing at.

Each of these performers would have been justifiably praised on their own, but Blake’s work as Charlie was so outstanding that he actually overshadowed much of this exceptional ensemble. How good was he? Normally I despise standing ovations because they’ve become so overused, but when Blake stepped out on stage for his bow, he got one that was richly deserved.

Not content simply to act, Blake York also designed the beautifully realistic set (abetted by the talented scenic artist and painter Jen York) but then we’ve known for some time that Blake has pretty much captured the “best set designer in the area” title already. Add that to his skill as a director and you have a very different sort of theatrical triple threat.

Jeffery Weaver did his usual top-notch job on props, set dressing, hair, and makeup. Ditto for Michele Graves’ costumes, Niclas Olson’s lighting design, and Chris Serface’s sound design. In other words, the technical side was well up to the challenge of this extraordinary cast.

Opening night was sold out. When word gets out about this triumph, every other night will be as well. Trust me; go see this one. It’s hard to imagine a more wonderfully hilarious evening.

The Foreigner
Sept. 14 to 30, 2018
Tacoma Little Theatre

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Brighton Beach Memoirs at Lakewood

When salmon meets lox
by Michael Dresdner

L to R: Drew Bates, Andrew Fox Burden      All photos by Tim Johnston

Lakewood Playhouse opened their 80th season last night with Brighton Beach Memoirs, part one of the brilliant autobiographical trilogy by the deservedly legendary Neil Simon less than two weeks after his passing. It’s a masterpiece of timing.

By the time Simon turned his attention to his own childhood memories in this oeuvre, he had already racked up a string of close to 20 stage hits over as many years, including Come Blow Your Horn, Barefoot In The Park, The Odd Couple, Plaza Suite, The Sunshine Boys, Murder by Death, and several others.

L to R: Andrew Fox Burden, Pamela Roza 

Eugene Jerome (Drew Bates) is almost 15, not yet recovered from puberty, and living in a barely middle class Brooklyn household in 1937, a time when war was already heating up in Europe. Eugene does double duty as the narrator who fills in details and delivers a stream of comical “observations” about his family, a technique that mitigates the painfulness of their very tenuous grip on solvency.

L to R: W. Scott Pinkston, Andrea Gordon 

His father, Jack Jerome (W. Scott Pinkston) works two jobs to support his wife Kate (Pamela Roza), their sons, Eugene and his 18-year-old brother Stanley (Andrew Fox Burden), Kate’s younger and more timid sister Blanche (Brynne Garman), and her two daughters, the beautiful 16-year-old Nora (Andrea Gordon) and her 13-year-old sister Laurie (Kate-Lynn Siemers), who has a heart flutter but is treated like far more of a delicate flower than she really is. Blanche lost her husband six years earlier to cancer (a word no one says in anything but a whisper lest uttering it would bring it on) and is completely dependent on the largess of her sister’s family. They all live crammed together in a small house where they must be constantly on top of one another.

At the opening of the play, Jack has lost one of his two jobs, and son Stanley, the only other wage earner of the bunch, is on the cusp of losing his. It’s just the first of  any number of calamities, mostly financial, that befalls the stalwart tribe, but they always manage to pull together and soldier on. The glue that binds them is a deep and real familial love, something strong enough to overcome whatever comes.

Meanwhile, Eugene is grappling with his lust for his cousin Nora, the dark secret of teen masturbation, and his dual desires to be a baseball player and a writer. Throughout, he’s fed a scattering of sage sexual advice by his slightly more aware older brother, confidant, and role model Stanley.  

L to R: Pamela Roza, Brynne Garman 

Although the males take much of center stage, the best scene, and the most authentic character portrayals, comes during act two, when sisters Kate and Blanche have it out. The argument dredges up all the long-suppressed resentments of childhood, from the common “mom always liked you best” issue, to the unyielding unfairness of being the older/younger sibling. Kudos to Roza and Garman for making that scene truly sparkle.

The set, by director John Olive with props by Karrie Morrison, was large, complex, and quite appropriate, though I have seen better paint jobs from past Lakewood teams. Lighting by Michalyn Thomson was bright and clear, but I would have liked to have seen it used for more delineation. For example, there are times when Eugene verbally (not physically) “steps away” from the action to narrate, and dim lights and a spot on him would have made those transitions more crisp.

Costumes, by Rachel Wilkie were right on target for both the characters and the time period, and if you like that period’s music, which I do, you’ll love the sound design by Artistic Managing Director John Munn.

My biggest issue with this play is how much it depends on a deep understanding of the culture it portrays. Simon peels back the veneer of classic Jewish angst to expose a very specific, and very common, family dynamic. However, though it is in English, he expresses it through the unique rhythm and musicality of Yiddish jargon. That may sound easy, but it’s rather elusive for West coast ears.

Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with salmon, but it’s not lox. Though this undoubtedly sounds effete and petty, for someone who grew up as part of that culture, this rather goyisha take on Simon comes off a bit like an all-white version of Raisin in the Sun.

Still, that hairsplitting is probably lost on most patrons, and to be sure, the opening night audience definitely found this both funny and delightful. My guess is that you will too.

Brighton Beach Memoirs
Sept. 7 to 30  2018
Lakewood Playhouse

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Macbeth at TLT

By the pricking of my thumbs…
by Michael Dresdner

Seyton (Nicholas Anderson), Donnalbain (Kyle Yoder), Duncan (Dennis Worrell) , Macduff (Rodman Bolek)                        Photos by  Dennis K Photography
Tacoma Little Theatre chose a very solid and enjoyable production of Macbeth, directed by pug Bujeaud, to close out its 99th season. An outstanding cast working on a minimalist set by Erin Manza Chanfrau did just what should be done with Shakespeare; allow the words and the acting to work their magic without undue distraction from costumes, surroundings, or props.

I’m aware that everyone already knows the story, but let me frame it in just a couple of lines that will both recap the tale’s arc and provide an explanation of why it is still so relevant today.  

Macbeth, spurred on by both his nagging wife’s ambition and a prophecy from three witches that he’ll be king of Scotland, murders the king and usurps the throne. Of course, it does not end there. His fear spurs him to kill any other potential threats, including his close friend and ally Banquo. Another pair of prophecies by the witches convince him he’s invincible, but their words contain trickery making them technically true, but easily misconstrued by the egomaniacal Macbeth.

In other words, it’s a cautionary tale about how a disastrous combination of ego, paranoia, and unbridled political ambition can wreak havoc on a country.

Sound familiar?

As I said, the cast was excellent, but since it’s such a large cast, allow me to call out just a few of the leads.

Macbeth (Dylan Twiner) & Lady Macbeth (Kathryn Philbrook)
Macbeth (Dylan Twiner) and Lady Macbeth (Kathryn Philbrook), two roles that demand intense passion and emotion, were both superbly crafted by actors comanding a deep and convincing span of emotions. Philbrook’s “out damned spot” scene in particular was one of the best I’ve seen, replete with some sneaky prop assistance. 

Malcolm (Jacob Tice) & Macduff (Rodman Bolek)
The same can be said for Macduff (Rodman Bolek) and Malcolm (Jacob Tice), who also met their emotionally damanding scenes with admirable range and rage. For that matter, Jonathan Hart also deserves a call-out for fine nugget of acting in a very minor role. 
Ross (Maddox Pratt), Angus (Sean Raybell), Banquo (Jessica Weaver) & Macbeth (Dylan Twiner)
There’s some gender shuffling, rather to be expected with this director. One of the weird sisters (witches) is male (Ethan Bujeaud,) but it absolutely worked. Even more to the point, Banquo (Jessica Weaver) is female. Weaver was masterful at clarifying the unusual Shakespearean phrases, but what really made this work was how well she captured the nature and character of Banquo, something vastly more important than his/her gender.

As I said, there were no weak spots in the cast. They all deserve the bows they took.

Witch (Kaylie Hussey), Witch (Ethan Bujeaud), Hecate (Laurice Roberts) & Witch (Jackie V.C.)
This was all played out on an industrial dark set filled with pipes and concrete stained with grime and blood. It was meant, I suppose, to evoke a distopian present, where swords shine when modern weaponry is no longer reliable. If you are a fan of minimalist sets, and I am, you’ll find they work beautifully with a production whose acting and content easily stand on their own. As for the change in venue, I felt it neither aided nor distracted from this excellent presentation.

Bujeaud used the set in some clever ways. For instance, the behind-the-scrim, foot-stomping march of Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane was particularly effective and even a bit intimidating.     

Lighting (Niclas Olson) worked well with the set to create both color and mood changes, amplified by Dylan Twiner’s sound design. Costumes (Michele Graves) were interesting, but somewhat uneven, with a smattering of kilts and tartans sharing billing with drab, utilitarian shirts and trousers, no doubt to convey that this is no longer the old Scotland. Even the witches wore inconsistent garb, as opposed to the more traditional “clearly we’re all the same and thoroughly eerie” outfits we normally see.

Freddy Tse did yeoman service as the fight choreographer in a play heavily laden with finely executed and often quite complex fight scenes. And as is often the case with a play this complex, stage manager Nena Curley deserves her own accolades.

All in all, this was a strong and enjoyable presentation to wrap up the season, and a good segue to a 100th year that many of us TLT fans are anticipating with great pleasure. If you are a Shakespeare fan, or even just a fan of Macbeth, this is an ideal opportunity to see it done brilliantly by some of the South Sound’s best.

June 1 to 17, 2018
Tacoma Little Theatre