Connect with us

Out of Town

Flowers for Mrs. Harris Streams in from Dior’s Paris by way of Chichester Festival Theatre

Published

on

Flowers for Mrs. Harris is a new musical that was first produced at Sheffield Theatres in 2017 then revived in 2018 at the Chichester Festival Theatre where this recording was made by The Other Richard (click here to watch for free until May 8th, and don’t forget to donate here if you can, all theatre needs your help). It lovingly enters our streaming atmosphere just in the nick of time, giving us something new to embrace, even if it doesn’t blow us away entirely. It’s a tender and sweet story, one that won’t alter or challenge your view of musical theatre, nor will it expand that horizon, but it will lovingly fly you away from all the stress of your world, and that, I would say, is a flight of fancy that feels more and more necessary as we self-isolate ourselves away from this nasty and deadly virus.

Set just after the Second World War, with a Battersea silhouette perfectly framing the heart-warming scene set out before us, the simple yet sweet-natured cleaning lady, Ada Harris, played solidly by the earthy Clare Burt (Grizabella in West End’s Cats) shares a lovely engaging moment with her kind husband, Albert, played perfectly by Mark Meadows. They have tea and lovingly discuss flowers, the value of a penny, and the ultimate meaning of love and personal satisfaction. “All I ever needed is here, right here” the 53-year old woman says, but we also can’t ignore the subtle tinge of mourning that seems attached to her heart. With rationing and bomb sites still very much a part of everyday life, it becomes clear that Albert did not make it back from the war, but Ada finds that she needs him there to fend off the disquieting emotions that are coming to the surface on, what appears to be, their wedding anniversary. She’s a strong focused positive-minded soul, especially in the hands of the fine Burt, and it is in her inner strength that we find that tender engagement with her heart.

Flowers_Clare-Burt-Ada-Harris-Claire-Machin-Violet-in-CFTs-Flowers-for-Mrs-Harris.-Photo-by-Johan-Persson_01800-2018
Clare Burt and Claire Machin. Photo by Johan Persson.

It’s the perfect picture of a working-class household in the mid-1940s, filled with love and a strong attachment, and it feels like it just popped up from the ground right and steady. That is until the power goes off, as it tends to do from time to time. Albert disappears into the darkness, only to be replaced by Ada’s good friend, fellow housekeeper, and confident, Violet, authentically portrayed by the wonderful Claire Machin. This is how Ada is surviving, The two need one another with a casual desperation, as much as they need routine and work. Times are tough for these two, and even though Albert has always urged her to take a holiday, to sell his old watch and treat herself to some happiness, she buckles down and uses work to satisfy her soul and give her inner peace.

Ada Harris spends her days dusting, darning, polishing and scrubbing. She using her warmth and resilience to provide care and cheer for the people that she works so lovingly for; a retired Major (Gary Wilmot) angry about corners and obstacles to his inner joy, a depressed accountant Bob (Louis Maskell) frustrated with his life choices, a neurotic, struggling actress Pamela (Laura Pitt-Pulford) who Bob is secretly and shyly in love with, and an older Russian Countess (Nicola Sloane) who wants to return home. They all desire, struggling to find meaning in these difficult times and in their complicated lives, but are too afraid or nervous to act. Round and round they hopelessly circle, and thanks to Lez Brotherston’s structurally smart revolving set design and Mark Henderson’s warm and detailed lighting, we feel their pain and desperation. Ada tries with all her heart to breathe hope and life into their souls with her positive outlook, as it is clear that this is something they need from the maternal Ada. But on this one particular day, something changes for the earthbound Ada, something that she never saw coming, and never would have believed was waiting for her around the type of corner that the Major is so distrustful of.

If you hate the thing, change it“, and as directed by the endearing Daniel Evans, a stage actor who broke my heart when he starred in Menier/West End/Broadway’s Sunday in the Park with George, the colorful vision that alters Ada’s outlook and direction comes when she least expects it. She offers to help out Violet at the house of one of her upper-class clients, and little did she know what waited for her upstairs. Ada arrives and dives right in and works hard, as she always does, finding humanity in the woman’s distracted ramblings, and thoughtfulness in her own heart. But then it happens with little warning. Ada, for the first time in her well-structured simple life, comes face to face with something that sits most beautifully and firmly outside the simple pure existence she lovingly embraces, and she is dumbfounded. She stares, barely able to take it in. Hanging like a piece of art (“It is a piece of art“, she discovers), a ravishing Christian Dior dress, at first glance, sets her head spinning and her world flipping. Its beauty throws her off balance, enchanting her to such a level that she decides quite suddenly to alter her pathway forward. Even if no one in her life understands, and why should they, she can hardly understand it herself, as it is “foolish to the core“. But is it?

Flowers_Mark-Meadows-Marquis-Clare-Burt-Ada-Harris-in-CFTs-Flowers-for-Mrs-Harris.-Photo-by-Johan-Persson_07156
Mark Meadows and Clare Burt. Photo by Johan Persson.

She finally gives in to Albert’s plea; to treat herself to something that gives her pleasure. So off she goes, on a hard-fought journey to get herself to Paris so she may purchase an evening gown of her own. It doesn’t make sense, to her or to Violet, but in her determined desperation, there is, sticking out like flowers in a vase, an inspiring nonsensical mission for something more than she ever dared to dream of. Something that is “made to make you feel a different way” about beauty and life. But how can a life made up of numerous ‘three shillings per hour’ slots ever deliver her the £450 it would cost to fulfill her Parisian dream? She has no other option than to find a way, so Ada, with the help of Violet, dive in relentlessly, working as only they know-how. And with a  little bit of luck, they find their way. After 2½ years of sacrificial hard work and determination, Ada achieves her dream, boards a plane and is off to Paris on a day trip to purchase the dress that means much more to her than any dress could or ever would.

Capturing the kind humanity of the Paul Gallico novella on which it is based, the clever British production won three UK Theatre Awards: Best Design (Lez Brotherston), Best Performer in a Musical and Best Musical Production. With a smartly arranged book by Rachel Wagstaff (West End’s Birdsong) and the stirring score by Richard Taylor (West End’s The Go-Between), Flowers for Mrs. Harris lovingly finds echoes of Sondheim’s melodic complexities inside the natural interactions of Ada’s world, and all those that discover her kindness along the way. The music and lyrics float out the caring energy like a sweet floral scent carried on a gentle breeze. “Shirt by shirt, shawl by shawl” the songs keep ‘putting it together, inch by inch’. Burt’s Mrs. Harris is clearly the emotional and sentimental core, delivering the goods honestly and clearly, matched most engagingly by Meadows’ Albert and Machin’s brilliant Violet. It’s melodic and touching, and although it is nothing like an inspirational revelation, the kind gentleness that is its core is a testimony to Ada’s positive outlook and warm-hearted nature.

Flowers
Dior dresses in Flowers for Mrs. Harris at the Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo by Johan Persson.

With BEA boarding steps rolled in, London swiftly becomes Paris, swapping one identifiable skyline for another. All is centered around an elegant staircase that has Ada excitedly descending into her dream state, the Dior store. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t quite get the welcome she imagined. It’s clear she doesn’t look the part, just ask the french cleaning lady (Claire Machin doing double duty) who doesn’t know quite what to make of her. and those in power arrogantly treating her with disdain and wishing she would just go away. But we also know Ada’s superpower, even if she doesn’t quite know it herself (and maybe that is part of it), and through her empathetic engagement and honesty, she finds the sentimental heart in all that, at first, had dismissed her.

Most of the well-tuned cast also play double duty in Paris, with very different, yet similar themed roles. Joanna Riding beautifully portrays a sophisticated ‘vendeuse’ with a warmer heart than anticipated, while Laura Pitt-Pulford, surprisingly also finds a somewhat more relatable and engaging role as a couture model missing chocolate cake and a simpler kinder life. Louis Maskell finds greater authenticity in a Dior account manager who awkwardly (and a bit over the top) loves the beautiful model from a charming distance, Gary Wilmot plays a pompous manager who doesn’t have a charitable heart anywhere to be found, and Mark Meadows miraculously transforms himself into a Marquis who is equally as captivated by Ada’s lovely and gentle nature as his London counterpart.

Flowers_Louis-Maskell-Andre-Laura-Pitt-Pulford-Natasha-in-CFTs-Flowers-for-Mrs-Harris.-Photo-by-Johan-Persson_06258
Louis Maskell and Laura Pitt-Pulford. Photo by Johan Persson.

The couture dresses float in, descending down those elegant stairs with grace and beauty, much to Ada’s wide-eyed delight. The setting is different, but the lovely care delivered by Mrs. Harris remains the same, and the discomfort and heaviness of her newly made friends parallels what she has left behind in London. She manages to squeeze every moment of kindness out of every touching detail, as director Daniel Evans arranges with care the power within her gentle approach. Lives are altered by her kindness and attention, and she leaves beauty much greater than a Dior dress behind her at every turn and gesture. It’s a lovely arrangement to behold, and the message, although not very subtle, radiates a floral bouquet that is as simple as it is sweet.

Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris is the title of Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel that was published as Flowers for Mrs. Harris in the UK. It was the first in a series of four books about the adventures of a London charwoman who transforms the lives of everyone she meets. The ending of this amiable musical drips in gentle sweet sentimentality that never feels overly florid. Her achievement is as pure as Ada’s outlook, and although I didn’t understand or feel that the aspiring actress deserves Ada’s brand of kindness when she returns from Paris with the dress in hand, Mrs. Harris seems to know a thing or two more about kindness and love than I do. It’s a perfect little adventure to dive into on a self-isolating evening in Toronto. Chichester’s  Flowers for Mrs. Harris didn’t whip up tears as the press quotes suggested it would, but it didn’t disappoint either. She deserves the flowers and all of the rewards she gets in the end, as do the others. I only hope Ada comes across my doorstep one day, I could use a good housecleaning and a dash of her loving care and attention. Especially during these days of wild uncertainty.

Please donate to the Chichester Festival Theatre. They need our help. 

For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Out of Town

Crow’s/Obsidian Theatre Company’s “seven methods of killing kylie jenner” Kills It, Elevating the Dissertation with a Precise Brilliance

Published

on

By

Dragging their baggage in with a determined force, these two, dressed in fake fur and leather, enter the space at Crow’s Theatre with manic laughter and a forceful narrative. Sharply and expertly written by British playwright, Jasmine Lee-Jones (Curious), the play dives in with a tightness and fortitude that elevates and enlightens the darkness of its exploration. With a hypnotic frustrated energy, the play masterfully rolls out the seven methods of killing kylie jenner without missing a beat, unpacking the intricate exploration of cultural appropriation and queerness with a sharp precision. Delivered in a modern vernacular that excites, it circles around its formula with a careful carefree existentialism, becoming deeply entwined in the pervasive influence of social media and celebrity culture that can do mental damage to those around them, especially in the arena of the ownership of black bodies online and IRL, as well as the connecting energy and complication of female friendships.

Déjah Dixon-Green in Crow’s/Obsidian Theatre’s seven methods for killing kylie jenner. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

It’s completely hyper-engrossing and thrilling, giving power back provocatively to our heroine, Cleo, dynamically portrayed by Déjah Dixon-Green (Stratford’s Much Ado About Nothing), a young black woman who, after a confessional breakup with her cheating boyfriend, expresses her fevered frustration and anger via Twitter using the profile name @INCOGNEGRO. She dives in with gusto, flying into the fray with an aggressive rage that rarely fizzles. The play unwraps the seven methods in a layered unhurried manner, giving space and time to the framework, while also delivering engagement energy to her forever friend, Kara, fascinatingly well-played by Jasmine Case (Tarragon’s Black Girl in Search Of..), a queer person who has lots to say, both positive and negative, about Cleo’s unpacking online.

Dixon-Green is solid and on point throughout, with Case finding engagement at every turn somewhat brilliantly, and together, they excel in every way possible, finding attunement and synchronized energy throughout. Veering somewhere between real life and the virtual space, the play, as directed with exacting intent by Jay Northcott (Tarragon’s A Poem for Rabia), spirals in a rich media space, focusing its lasers on the framework that the born-wealthy media personality, Kylie Jenner, can call herself “self-made“, basking in the positive warm glow of what that label means to a woman like her, and how it can be felt by a woman like Cleo. The unwrapping is expertly intricate and verbally captivating, forcing us to dive in with these two and pay close-close attention to this vivid exploration of Blackness, queerness, and the way the online world can spiral one way and then another in an instantaneous flash of engagement and brutality.

You think you’re funny, don’t you?” as her tweets spiral into the abstract world of death threats and verbal violence enlightening the space, designed with inventive flair by set designer, Nick Blais (Factory’s Trojan Girls…), with well-formulated video graphics, designed by Laura Warren (Outside the March’s No Save Points), helping guide us through the dynamic experimental argument that expands the needed structure addressed. Jones’ dialogue radiates quick, sharp, clever constructs, expanded in thought, and reduced to a parade of letters in caps most brilliantly. The sexual undercurrents are both hilarious and brazen, giving us ample reason to connect as she fastidiously piles up all the injustices against Black women that are woven into the wording of this expert play, and we find ourselves forever invested in her outcome and ultimate safety.

Jasmine Case and Déjah Dixon-Green in Crow’s/Obsidian Theatre’s seven methods for killing kylie jenner. Photo by Dahlia Katz

Steeped in the language of internet culture, assisted strongly by the sound design of Maddie Bautista (Stratford’s Les Belles-Soeurs), straightforward lighting by Christopher-Elizabeth (CS/Bluebird’s Maanomaa, My Brother), and precise costuming by Des’ree Gray (Coal Mine’s Appropriate), the delivery and online reaction to Cleo’s escalation pushes the agenda outward and upward. Embodying numerous online characters, the two flawless performers combine as an exacting unified force, showcasing Cleo’s viral methods for murder and the resulting pushback from the unseen faceless community that has a lot to say about her tweets. The recitation and debate are raw and deliberate, finding truths and the complicated echoings of racism and rape threats that are honestly horrifying and troubling. It’s a terrifying landscape, displaying the vile and horridness of the internet culture that we all play a part in, either as an active participant or abject denier.

Cleo’s tweets and dissertation gain momentum and the back-and-forth conversation becomes more drenched in blocked anger and hurt, with the two reclaiming their time when needed, as they navigate the difficult cloud space filled with personal dredged-up resentment and smoky spaces of connectivity. Demanding to be heard, yet also needing to find the empathy to apologize when required, these two friends work hard inside the vividness of this captivating play so they don’t get swallowed up whole by the racist violence of the world, even as Cleo vocalizes the seven methods of killing kylie jenner one after the other. Its high-minded viewpoint is crystal clear, and delivered with an expertise that is both thrilling and epic, finding inventive casualness in its meticulous unified delivery.

Gripping tight to our emotional attention with a brilliant determination by writer Jones, the play, while feeling a bit trapped by the body bag hidden in the back, seven methods of killing kylie jenner, produced by Obsidian Theatre in association with Crow’s Theatre, Toronto, finds its sharpness and quick wit in the end, reinventing the meta imaginative exit with the weight of history and cleverness. “What are you going to do now?“, they ask. Well…., I’m going to tell you all that this play is something to engage with, learn from, and completely celebrate, but more importantly, I’m going to tell you to get your tickets and dive into this inventive striking new play without delay or hesitation.

Déjah Dixon-Green in Crow’s/Obsidian Theatre’s seven methods for killing kylie jenner. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Crow’s/Obsidian Theatre Company’s seven methods of killing kylie jenner. For tickets and more information, click here.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Continue Reading

Out of Town

Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents tick, tick…Boom!

Published

on

We are so pleased to announce our guests this week are Director Eric Rosen, Andy Mientus and Krystina Alabado about tick, tick…Boom! at The Cape Playhouse this summer. Join us Wednesday May 22nd at 5pm.

Andy Mientus as Jon in Tick, Tick…BOOM! at Bucks County Playhouse.
(© Joan Marcus)

Artistic Director Eric Rosen brings his acclaimed production – hailed as a powerful and bold new interpretation of this show – for his Cape Playhouse debut. Rosen directed the original production of A Christmas Story: The Musical, which opened on Broadway in 2012 and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical. He co-wrote and directed Venice at the Public Theatre. He is also known for his reimagining of classic musicals including Sunday in the Park with George, a punk rock production of Pippin, and Hair: Retrospection in collaboration with and starring members of the original Broadway companies of Hair

As a playwright, his work includes the play Dream Boy which won a Chicago Jeff Award for Best New Play and Best Direction.

In 2000, he co-founded About Face Youth Theatre, one of the nation’s foremost arts and advocacy programs for at-risk LGBTQ youth, and the 18 year old program continues to serve thousands of young people in Chicago.

Director Eric Rosen

Andy Mientus toured with the first national touring company of Spring Awakening, appeared in the 2012 Off-Broadway revival of Carrie: The Musical, He made his Broadway debut in the 2014 revival of Les Misérables as Marius Pontmercy. In February 2015, he was cast as journalist Brett Craig in Parade, for a one-night-only concert presentation at the Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. In LA he appeared in the show Bent at the Mark Taper Forum. He also reprised his role as Hänschen in the Deaf West production of Spring Awakening, directed by his partner Michael Arden. The production then transferred to Broadway. In 2013, Mientus was cast in season two of the musical drama television series Smash as series regular Kyle Bishop. Following the cancellation of Smash, Mientus and co-stars Jeremy Jordan and Krysta Rodriguez joined the cast of Hit List, the real-world staging of the fictional rock musicalcreated for season two of Smash

Mientus appeared in several episodes of the ABC Family series Chasing Life as Jackson, the CW series The Flash as the Pied Piper (Hartley Rathaway), having previously auditioned for the lead role of Barry Allen. Mientus made history with this role by playing the first openly gay supervillain ever. He was in GoneGrendel, an eight-episode Netflix series based on Matt Wagner’s Dark Horse comic books.

Andy Mientus

At the age of 18, Krystina Alabado joined the national tour of Spring Awakening and made her Broadway debut in 2011 as a replacement ensemble member and understudy in American Idiotlater reprising her role in the show’s first national tour. In 2013, she joined the national tour of Evita (based on the 2012 Broadway revival) playing Juan Perón’s mistress. In 2016, she appeared in the short-lived Broadway production of American Psycho.  In  2019, Alabado joined the cast of Mean Girls as Gretchen Wieners, replacing Ashley Park. In March 2020, Alabado started a YouTube channel to explain to her followers different aspects of how Broadway works and interview her fellow castmates during the COVID-19 pandemic that temporarily closed Broadway

Krystina Alabado

“Live From The Hotel Edison Times Square Chronicles Presents ”, is a show filmed at the iconic Hotel Edison, before a live audience. To see our past episodes; First episode click here second episode click here,  third episode click here, fourth episode click here, fifth episode click here, sixth episode here, seventh episode here, eighth episode here, ninth episode here, tenth episode here, eleventh episode here, our twelfth episode here, thirteenth episode here and fourteenth here

Continue Reading

Out of Town

Another Barricade Visit for Mirvish Toronto’s “Les Misérables”

Published

on

By

I was apprehensive and excited, all at the same time, as I entered the touring company staging of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s  Les Misérables, now taking form at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto. The production, brought to us by Mirvish Productions, transported me back to that time, about forty years ago, when I first saw this glorious musical over in London’s West End. Twice actually, with the magnificent Patti LuPone. Lupone was divine, broking my heart at every moment given. This might have been the show that somehow created this theatre junkie, so much so that I had to return again a few weeks later, spending more than this young man could really afford. And I believe I also returned to see that same beautiful revolving stage design when it made its award-winning debut on Broadway, about two more times before it closed.  It was heavenly and forever memorable.  I remember being swept away by the intensely moving story, and sumptuous music and songs. Tears were in my eyes at so many emotionally heart-breaking moments, that I left fully satisfied and happy each and every time.

The staging this time around, with set and projected image design created by Matt Kinley (25th Anniversary Production of Phantom of the Opera) is said to be “inspired by the paintings of Victor Hugo”, and with a stunning musical staging by Geoffrey Garratt and directed most beautifully by Laurence Connor (Mirvish’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) and James Powell (London’s The Witches of Eastwick), the production still found its way into my emotional heart. It carried forth all of the same powerful moments, even without that famous revolve. It was different, and in some ways, it felt smaller and not as expansive and connecting, but maybe, with time and an awareness that I didn’t have when I first saw the same touring revival on Broadway back in 2016, this familiar staging fully engaged, taking me happily on that same emotional journey, even while missing the expansive previous revolving set design.

The music and those powerful tragic moments still deliver with a vengeance, mainly because of the incredible vocal performances of this touring cast. Tears came to my eyes at numerous moments, and I knew that I would enjoy myself from the moment the Bishop of Digne, played by a wonderful Randy Jeter (Public’s Parable of the Sower) told the constables that he had in fact given Jean Valjean, embodied by a magnificent Nick Cartell (Broadway’s Paramour) the church’s silver (that he, in fact, had stolen). And furthermore, he had forgotten to take the more valuable pieces of silver during the epic Prologue and ‘Soliloquy’. That and each subsequent moment, lasting all the way from the beautiful ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ sung with such loving sadness by Haley Dortch, the saddest of all sad songs; the engaging ‘On My Own’ by the powerful voiced Mya Rena Hunter; to Valjean’s stunningly rendered of ‘Who Am I?’ and all points in-between, moved me most generously. The songs, delivered graciously by these glorious-voiced actors brought it all back to life, and embedded itself inside my soul once again.

The glorious “Bring Him Home“, sung with incredible intensity and love by the gifted Cartell, felt as tender and angelic as ever. Understudy Cameron Loyal (Broadway’s Bad Cinderella) as the determined Javert couldn’t match the heightened level of expertise that Cartell climbed himself up to and was maybe the weakest link in this beautifully performed construction, but it never tarnished the overall effect. The Thenardier husband and wife team, gorgeously well-played by Matt Crowle (Mercury Theater’s The Producers) and Victoria Huston-Elem (Goodspeed’s Gypsy), performed the wonderfully crafted ‘Master of the House’ number with great comic timing and delivery, and the Student’s songs, ‘The People’s Song’ and ‘Drink With Me to Days Gone By’ were also lovingly performed, although there were a few over-done attempts of humor and inauthentic drunkenness. Marius, lovingly portrayed by the handsome Jake David Smith (Off-Broadway’s Between the Lines) delivers a tender (but not so well stage-designed) version of one of my favorite songs, ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’.  His voice graced us with its loving tones, lifting us in its softness, and working well our emotional heartstrings with this sad sweet song.

All in all, my friend and I had gathered together to hear all these aforementioned, beautifully crafted, and much-loved songs, sung with care, expertise, and love. Les Misérables sounds as glorious as ever, and I must add that I was happy to have had the chance to insert these songs back into my head. I’ve been humming these numerous melodies, all of which brought me great joy and happiness, all weekend long.  This small simple staging still packs a musically beautiful and powerful punch, and I’m forever grateful for that gift, revolving or not.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Continue Reading

Out of Town

Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” Burns Hot and Cool at Coal Mine Theatre

Published

on

By

With homecoming flowers and the sound of strings, Coal Mine Theatre‘s revival of the classic Hedda Gabler gets underway. It’s a captivating runway set-up, giving intimacy to the struggles of Henrick Ibsen’s anti-hero and namesake by placing the audience on three sides of its wood-planked rectangle. Played with wild abandonment by Diana Bentley (Coal Mine’s Detroit), her Hedda finds herself sitting in the moonlight at the piano, hunched over in some complicated state of anguish, trapped and caged in a backless gown. It’s clear, from that first image and the music that comes, that this production, adapted with tinges of modernity by Liiisa Repo-Martelli (Crow’s Uncle Vanya), is aiming itself directly at the naked soul of Hedda Gabler, now Hedda Tesman, the married woman who had once enchanted the men of this town with her beauty and cool exterior. But in what time frame does she come from and live within? That is a complex question that doesn’t actually have to be answered because as directed by Moya O’Connell (Actor: Coal Mine’s The Sound Inside) with a fierce passion that sometimes overflows the sparsely-used space created by set and costume designer Joshua Quinlan (Crow’s Theatre’s The Master Plan), this Hedda is from no distinct era, floating and fighting against her position and place in the world that never fits her frame.

Fiona Reid and Diana Bentley in Coal Mine Theatre’s Hedda Gabler. Photo by Elana Emer.

When the sweet Auntie Julia, played lovingly by Fiona Reid (Shaw’s Dance of Death), is ushered into the living room by an overwhelmed nervous Berta, played quietly by Nancy Beatty (“The Shipping News“), it is clear that there is tension in this newly acquired home of Hedda and her newlywed husband, Jorgen Tesman, played a bit too obviously by Qasim Khan (Canadian Stage’s The Inheritance). Jorgen is forever oblivious, even when prompted by the sweet maternalness of Auntie Julia. He doesn’t seem to see much beyond his books and personal interests, even when addressing the woman he has married and is completely spellbound by. Khan’s Tesman is a bit dense about marriage and what comes next, sailing in worlds that are oceans apart from his wife, especially when it comes to sensuality and seduction. It all flies over his head, but not ours.

Trapped in a marriage and a house that she does not want, Bentley’s Hedda is a heap of contradictions, struggling with her new life and the timeframe she must live in. Devoid of any excitement or enchantment, she battles with an inner demon that only comes out when she finds herself alone on that stage. Her fighting spirit erupts in those moments, making it clear that when she is in the room with others, she is mostly insincere and putting on whatever face is required. This is especially true when it comes to her interactions with the timeframed women who float in and out of the room in a more traditional tone. She belittles them, slyly, for no other reason than knowing how. Playing nice, when she needs security or information, but shifting gears the moment she is no longer in need. Hedda’s tragic flaw, as we all know, is her willful narcissism that latches itself on to a destructive force within. Her only focus is getting whatever she wants at any given moment, even if it comes at the expense of another person’s feelings.

Diana Bentley in Coal Mine Theatre’s Hedda Gabler. Photo by Elana Emer.

This Hedda, passionately portrayed by Bentley, needs to manipulate others as an undercurrent form of power and control, forcing those frameworks forward, most likely, because of societal expectations and norms. Ideals Hedda can’t abide by. Bently does a fascinating job at flinging herself into the role, flipping back and forth from insincere politeness and care to manipulative and suggestive power dynamics, usually involving one particular way of sitting on that lounge chair. Unfortunately, those two aspects get used repeatedly without much variance or subtlety added. Where is the steady climb to destruction? And where is the fall from grace? She is supposed to be a woman born into a higher class than the one she finds herself in; more her regal father’s daughter than her intellectual husband’s wife. Thus the play’s focus on her maiden name. But rather than class consciousness, she simply comes off as a hungry smooth sociopath, with no empathy and an impulsive streak that stings all that get too close. This Hedda sometimes falls into the form of a one-page, two-sided narcissist without a soul, and with nowhere to go, she doesn’t hold our interest as sharply as she is supposed to.

A sense of subtlety seems to be the key that is missing in much of this production of Hedda Gabler. Everyone is hitting their marks, doing what is required of them at any given moment, raising their voice when they are told to, but the deeper depiction of the manipulative nature feels a bit hurried, as we watch the characters move with urgency around the space. Within this patriarchal society, Hedda pushes a bit too hard and obviously, trying to gain some agency or control over her existence. It’s clear that she is forever disturbed by her marriage to the boring Tesman, now that she has found herself caged in a new house that, while being more extravagant than they can really afford, “smells like old lady” and death. And it will never bring her any contentment unless she seizes control.

(L to R) Andrew Chown, Diana Bentley (back), and Leah Doz in Coal Mine Theatre’s Hedda Gabler. Photo by Elana Emer.

So when she hears from a former classmate Thea Elvsted, portrayed tense and uncomfortable by Leah Doz (Coal Mine’s The Effect), that a former lover, Eilert Lovborg, handsomely portrayed by Andrew Chown (Crow’s Bad Roads) has resurfaced, her focus shifts. “He’s nothing to me“, Hedda delivers, but a shaking, dynamic need has been awakened. A spark has been lit inside this trapped animal, and this spark leads all to chaos and a sea of drunken madness and despair. “No one trusts a tea toddler,” Hedda says, tempting and creating her own manifesto for the future, one of manipulation, deviance, and a roaring fire of pages destroyed. Why, we may ask? Because something must happen in this woman’s new world order, and she must find a way to take control. “This night will be the making of him,” she says, for someone, or herself.

Hedda is smug and cruel, out of boredom and shallow emotional connection to others. She moves through the space like a caged lioness, under captivating lighting by Kaitlin Hickey (Factory’s Wildfire) with a strong sound design by Michael Wanless (Coal Mine’s Appropriate). Hedda initially only finds excitement in the eyes of their family friend and helper, Judge Brack, played suggestively and a bit overtly by Shawn Doyle (Canstage’s A Number). But that triangle only works with one rooster in it, the Judge tells the woman he wants to control, and once he sees the glint in Hedda’s eyes for the firebrand that is Lovborg, a different tension climbs up and out of its box. And like any caged animal unleashed, destruction must come for all those who get too close and demand too much.

Diana Bentley (back) and Shawn Doyle in Coal Mine Theatre’s Hedda Gabler. Photo by Elana Emer.

The ending is legendary, complicated and raw. A different fuse has been lit, as we witness what happens when Hedda discovers that the intended destruction did not go how she had conceptualized it. She must take control of something, but unfortunately, after such a solid buildup, the end disappears into the depths in a far too quick undynamic fashion with an inauthentic mayhem following soon after the firing. The symbolic bodily unleashing is fascinating, but doesn’t actually carry the emotional weight and magnitude that is intended. It’s overwrought and disconnected from the heart, even with the thought-provoking physicality thrown out with wild abandonment. The tragedy doesn’t connect to the desperation that is underneath in Coal Mine‘s Hedda Gabler. It’s distinct and electric, but doesn’t manage to shoot itself deep into the soul.

Qasim Khan and Shawn Doyle in Coal Mine Theatre’s Hedda Gabler. Photo by Elana Emer. For tickets and more information, click here.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Continue Reading

Out of Town

Studio 180’s Four Minutes Twelve Seconds Ignites Tarragon Theatre’s Extra Space

Published

on

By

The sharpness and pointedness of this new play, Four Minutes Twelve Seconds is signaled quickly within the first few minutes and unknown seconds when the first of many lies are told from one partner to another. The lie, once revealed, seems simple enough, protective even, but as directed with a diligent focus to detail by Mark McGrinder (Studio 180’s Oslo), the unpacking that follows is anything but simple. This play, written to make us sit up and take notice by James Fritz (Parliament Square, Start Swimming), is as unrelenting as peeling an onion in tight quarters. It seeps inside, igniting a myriad of emotions that will stay with you long after the 85-minute play comes to its final resting place.

Megan Follows and Sergio Di Zio in Studio 180 Theatre’s Four Minutes Twelve Seconds. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Do you really want to do this now?” asks the husband as he watches anxiety grow in his concerned wife and mother. The production, by Studio 180 Theatre in association with Tarragon Theatre, revolves with intent around the actions or inactions of a couple around the unseen son’s state that starts with a nosebleed, which isn’t exactly a nosebleed. “It’s the circle of [bloody] life in Scarborough.” But it’s not just teenagers being teenagers. Nor is it “kid’s stuff” that ignites the forever-shifting dynamic. Their teenage son has either found himself, or placed himself in an unforgiving framework of sexual assault rumors, that are seen one way and then another as the plot thickens.

His parents, Di and David, expertly portrayed by Megan Follows (Soulpepper’s Top Girls) and Sergio Di Zio (Coal Mine’s Between Riverside and Crazy), find themselves at a crossroads, faced with a dilemma of the highest, most complicated order. Forever fencing with one another, skirting the formalities of truth and deception, they must come to terms with actions that are hard to take in, let alone process or understand. Impossible, in a way. They have devoted their whole lives to the care of their prized son, Jack, ushering their “good boy” through the world so that he may have every opportunity they never had. He must succeed, they think, after all they have done for him, but within an instant, some Four Minutes Twelve Seconds, a startling incident outside of school escalates into something they can’t quite seem to wrap their heads around. The gravity is huge, threatening everything they have tried to achieve, while also, more importantly, possibly destroying their faith in each other and the family unit.

Jadyn Nasato and Megan Follows in Studio 180 Theatre’s Four Minutes Twelve Seconds. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Who are they to trust, inside and out of their family unit? “Are people always gonna believe her?” they ask, and as the play sharply progresses forward, questions of a huge magnitude are asked; to us, to them, and to those around them. The framing thrusts Follows’ concerned and confused Di into a number of possibly ill-advised one-on-one interactions with both Jack’s “idiot” friend, Nick, played beautifully by a tender Tavaree Daniel-Simms (New Harlem’s The First Stone), and Jack’s now-ex girlfriend, Cara, powerfully embodied by a wonderful Jadyn Nasato (Canadian Stage’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream), who represents everything the parents have tried to keep Jack away from. She makes regrettable accusations one after the other, and the interactions dig deep holes in the outlook of almost everyone around. It’s tense powerful stuff, beautifully played out in two angled pathways to light and understanding, orchestrated with distinction by set and costume designer Jackie Chau (NEPA’s HUFF), with precise lighting by Logan Raju Cracknell (Bad Hats/Soulpepper’s Alice in Wonderland) and a solid sound design by Lyon Smith (Soulpepper’s Pipeline).

Tension lives and breaths in this production, deftly produced by Studio 180 Theatre, with important ideas and questions hanging in the air just long enough for us to breathe them in and sit inside them. The answers aren’t easily given, as we watch these two parents lie to one another for purposes unknown at the time. Each moment meticulously unveils more problematic ideas that lead to larger questions of morality and responsibility, while also shining a harsh light on how we engage with one another, and maybe on how we try to use each other. There are no easy straightforward answers to be had in Four Minutes Twelve Seconds, but it sure will linger in your head and heart for a much longer time than that.

Megan Follows and Tavaree Daniel-Simms in Studio 180 Theatre’s Four Minutes Twelve Seconds. Photo by Dahlia Katz.
Continue Reading

Trending

Copyright © 2023 Times Square Chronicles

Times Square Chronicles