Monday, February 25, 2013

The Woman in Black at Lakewood Playhouse

Black clad and black hearted
by Michael Dresdner

  L to R: Dylan Twiner, Nathan Rice 

If a classic ghost story rings your bell, Lakewood Playhouse has just the ticket for you, literally. The Woman in Black, directed by Beau M. K. Prichard, is an old style chiller that starts with a puzzling but innocent premise, and slowly unfolds to a decidedly upsetting conclusion.

This is not a play of gunshots and chilling screams, but rather one that builds gradually, revealing its most horrid aspect only at the very end. There’s no gore, and although we hear sounds suggestive of fear and calamity, we never see anyone harmed or killed. Rather than being visceral, it is an intellectual thriller that relies on the audience investing in the somewhat convoluted tale.

The story begins in an abandoned theater with a man named Kipps (Dylan Twiner) who hires an unnamed actor (Nathan Rice) to help him present the horrific true story he’s written down. The hired actor agrees to portray Kipps, who in turn portrays both the narrator and all the other characters in Kipps’ story. Kipps, we find out, is a solicitor sent to close the affairs of a now dead recluse, and at her funeral he catches the first glimpse of a mysterious woman in black (Kat Ogden in a non-speaking role), though none of the other decidedly skittish townsfolk admit to having seen her.

   L to R: Dylan Twiner, Nathan Rice 

Kipps stays in the dead woman’s secluded home on the marshes to plow through her papers, and gradually discovers the horrific secrets of the household. As he does, he experiences first-hand a range of inexplicable and spooky phenomena, all of which seems to have some connection to the woman in black. It is only when the tale is concluded and we’re once again with the actor and the storyteller in the abandoned theater that we find out just how evil, and how dangerous, all this may be.

Both actors did a very credible job, though, admittedly, Twiner had to create many more iterations and dialects. They were helped by copious and excellent lighting effects by Niclas R. Olson and sound effects by Keith Jewell, and a range of spot-on period costumes by the meticulous Alex Lewington. 

And yet, there was a nagging sense that the whole, in this case, was a bit less than the sum of its parts. Perhaps it was the wordy and plodding first act that robbed it of some of its thrill, or pacing that dragged just a tad too much. Then too, doing this play in the round presents its own challenge. It’s important for the audience to witness the fleeting glimpses of mysterious people and actions, but depending on what direction you are looking and where you sit, you might well miss some of the more subtle elements.

As I said, this is classic fare for the ghost story lover, but plan to be patient and attentive for the first half, for the bulk of the action and all the explanation comes late in the play.  

The Woman in Black
February 22nd to March 17th, 2013
Lakewood Playhouse

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged (revised) at TLT

Glorious madness
by Michael Dresdner

  Photo by Jason Ganwich
 L to R: skull, Coleman Hagerman, Alex Smith, Luke Amundson, severed head

With her unerring eye for humor and a truly amazing cast, director Suzy Willhoft has brought one of the stage’s funniest properties to a new and greater height of hilarity and lunacy. The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged (revised), now playing at Tacoma Little Theatre, is the update of a screamingly funny mishmash of all (yes ALL) of the Bard’s plays delivered not in warp speed, but rather in warped speed. Along with out-and-out mockery of Shakespeare, there’s wild physical comedy, bawdy jokes, malapropisms, cross-dressing, mondegreens, and plenty of sexual innuendo.

It may seem like an onslaught, but it’s only a three person cast; Luke Amundson, Coleman Hagerman, and Alex Smith, all of whom are well beyond outstanding. They race on and off stage cycling through a wealth of voices and mannerisms, and endless rapid fire costume changes, creating dozens of different characters and a lot of buffoonery.

The updated script is funnier than before, but still has room for expansion with local and timely references, like one to Downton Abbey added by Willhoft. Improvisation also rears its delightful head, especially when the cast turns their impish attention to the audience. By the end of act two, they’ve dragged everyone into the mania, whipping the audience into a laughing, roaring frenzy. You’re never sure if you or the guys on stage are having more fun.

Along with great actors, a top notch property, and very adroit direction was a stellar support group in the background. I certainly don’t envy costume designer Michele Graves who created heaven knows how many truly funny outfits. Niclas R. Olsen did his usual excellent job with lighting, as did Blake R. York with the set/backdrop. However, the backstage angels who really deserve a bow are Sarahann Rickner, who not only did props (there were plenty!) but also served as stage manager, and her ASM Sophie Nevins, the backstage dresser known as "Bob" who keeps the out-of-sight lunacy running smoothly.  

The only sad aspect of this play is that it only runs two weekends, so you have tonight, tomorrow and next weekend to see it, and that’s all. And strangely, tickets are only $10, which certainly means that if every seat is not filled for every remaining show, the heavens themselves will surely weep.

Don’t let that happen. Re-arrange your schedule and do what must be done, but make sure you see this show. It is simply too perfect, and far too funny, to be missed.

The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged (revised)
Feb. 22 to March 3, 2013
Tacoma Little Theatre

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Pizza Man at Olympia's Midnight Sun

If you are in the Olympia area, or inclined to visit there, check out Alec Clayton's review of Pizza Man at The Midnight Sun Performance Space on his blog: 

Pamela Arndt, Zoe Shields and Tim Samland

I enjoyed most of the first act and parts of the second act, but there was something disturbing about Darlene Craviotto’s feminist screed (if you can call it that) that I can’t quite sink my teeth into. Yes, that statement was a play on a line from the play: "Teeth are important for pizza, among other things."

Read the full review at:

Believe in Yourself: The Lena Horne Songbook at Centerstage

A well-earned standing ovation
by Michael Dresdner

   L to R: Laurie Clothier, LaVon Hardison, Stacie Calkins 

Three weeks ago I gave you fair warning that a delightful storm was on its way. I predicted that Believe in Yourself:The Lena Horne Songbook, a one-night-only Purple Phoenix production at Centerstage on February 16th would be both completely sold out and an absolute delight to experience.

I was right on both counts. 

David Duvall once again arranged a superb and flawlessly paced concert. This time, three vocalists shared the honors with both solos and harmonized numbers to a wide range of songs Horne performed. They were all wonderful.

Stacie Calkins brought her powerful, passionate voice to bear, a thrilling counterpoint to Laurie Clothier’s polished elegance. LaVon Hardison, who is, like the other two, an amazing vocalist, not only nailed Horne’s earthy, sultry style and timbre, but coincidentally looked surprisingly like a beautiful, young Lena Horne. Any one of them would have been worth the price of admission; the fact that we had three amounted to delightful overindulgence.

Backing them up was the redoubtable David Duvall leading an eight piece orchestra that included Cary Black, Bill Branvold, Bruce Carpenter, Rich Cole, Don Dieterich, Steve Mostovoy, and Milo Peterson. And yes, they are as critical a part of this terrific production as are the singers who get the spotlights.

As usual, it was more than a mere concert. The between-songs patter presented a very informative recap of Horne’s personal life and career in bite-sized fits, adding yet another dimension to an already stellar performance.

If you missed it, shame on you, but don’t worry; there’s more to come. Duvall will be bringing It's A Good Day for Miss Peggy Lee to Centerstage on April 13th, 2013 and Reflections of the Supremes on June 29th,2013.

As before, these are one night only performances, so I will repeat my sage advice. Click on this link: Centerstage. Buy tickets. Be there.

You will thank me.