Broadway Bound (review)

Broadway Bound (review)

THE PLAY: This is the final entry in Neil Simon’s semi-autobiographical trilogy about an aspiring playwright and his family.


THE PRODUCTION: Theatregoers expecting Simon’s traditional punch-line comedy will find this more of a drama, sprinkled with a few zingers. Reprising their roles from Brighton Beach Memoirs (my review), Tyler Stevens (the author’s surrogate) and Jill Bari Steinberg (his mother) are the heart of the play. He creates a sweetly charming character and lands every line with comic ease, while she handles the more delicate job of the long-suffering matriarch. Their scene in the second act is the show’s sweetest moment, but like the married-couple encounter in Act One, these unexpectedly serious encounters slow the show’s momentum. The rest of the cast is commendable. Director Steve Perigard keeps the show grounded in warmth and humor, while treading lightly in the more serious scenes. The multi-level set and period costumes are a reprise from Brighton and still add nicely to the nostalgia. One historical note: In the 40s people didn’t yet cough into their elbows. Running time: 2:40


THE POINT: While there are winning comic moments, the more dramatic scenes make this more of an affecting family drama than a typical Neil Simon comedy.


(4 / 5)


A Virginia Rep production at Hanover Tavern thru 4/28


Jeff Clevenger and Jill Bari Steinberg (Photos by Aaron Sutten)

An Act of God (review)

An Act of God (review)

THE PLAY: The creator appears in the guise of a local actor to issue a new set of commandments that often refute many current religious convictions.


THE PRODUCTION: Even thought there are 2 women who play angels and have small sets of lines (Kylie M.J. Clark & Anne Michelle Forbes), this is basically a one-woman show that casts Maggie Bavolack in the titular role. She’s an established local actor with a solid rep for comic abilities. In this case, she’s comfortable with her audience and has an off-hand delivery that usually lands. Keep in mind, that many of her comments will teeter on sacrilege to anyone with hardline religious views. As for the jokes, some are clever, while others fall on the sophomoric spectrum (playwright David Javerbaum was a Head Writer on “The Daily Show with John Stewart.”). Director Jan Guarino has kept the staging simple, to allow Bavolack’s free reign. Although the audience seemed to find a lot of it funny, I had a harder time detecting much smart amusement. The set by Chris Raintree is downright cheesy in design and, even more, in execution, while Shelia Russ has created God’s robe that’s literally slipshod. Running time: 1:10 (no intermission)


THE POINT: While some may find this hilarious and others sinful, it provides a mildly outrageous look at some of the focal points of religious beliefs.


(3 / 5)


At Richmond Triangle Players thru 3/23




Anne Michelle Forbes Maggie Bavolack and Kylie Clark (Photos by John MacLellan)

Pride and Prejudice (review)

Pride and Prejudice (review)

THE PLAY: A stage adaptation of the popular Jane Austen romance.


THE PRODUCTION: Some novels should never be turned into plays and this is one of them.  The sprawling story requires too much narration, instead of relying on character interaction. It isn’t helped by the uneven production and a lack of rebuff/attraction chemistry between the leads (Irene Kuykendall & Axle Burtness). The flowery language often gets lost from unintelligible delivery. Stage vet Joe Pabst shows how it’s done: He makes every line easy to hear and appreciate, while creating one of the show’s strongest personalities. Some delightful moments were provided by Allison Page GIlman’s spunky Mary, while Joel White’s bufoonish Mr. Collins seemed to be in a different style/show. Director Christopher Owens created some nice stage pictures, but let the action proceed at the same medium pace/delivery throughout. This lack of variety turned tedious. Reed West designed attractive scenic elements that glide around the stage in various configurations, while Patricia Wesp created pleasant period costumes. Running time: 2:25

NOTE: On opening night the show’s Dialect Coach Erica Hughes substituted for Melissa Johnston Price. I don’t know if she was copying/channeling Price’s performance, but Hughes created the show’s most winning comic performance.


THE POINT: While there are some enjoyable elements, this somewhat complex plot gets lost with inarticulate actors and passive pacing.


(2 / 5)


A Quill Theatre production at VMFA’s Leslie Cheek Theatre thru 3/24

In My Chair (review)

In My Chair (review)

THE PLAY: Eva DeVirgilis explores the motivations behind why women always apologize for their appearance when they sit in her makeup chair.


THE PRODUCTION: DeVirgilis created this show over the course of 6 years, as she travelled around the world connecting with women over their discomfort with their looks. She bursts onto the stage with her “chair partner” and tells her story with dizzying versatility, re-creating a variety of characters, while proudly asserting her feminist message. There are some delightful audience interactions and self-aware examinations that are funny, touching and yes, ultimately, empowering. Director Lisa Rothe has loaded the staging with supporting business, but also allows moments of contemplation. The tight tech and deceptively simple design successfully supports the show with projections and sheer curtains (Tennessee Dixon), effective lighting (Andrew Bonniwell) and appropriate music and SFX (Robbie Kinter). Running time: 1:30


THE POINT: This is basically a theatrically-embellished TED Talk that explores women’s empowerment through a tour de force performance by DeVirgilis.


(4.5 / 5)


Co-produced by Virginia Rep and Cadence Theatre Company at the Theatre Gym thru 3/31


Click here to watch the SIFTER video about this show from 2013.


Eva DeVirgilis. Photo by Jason Collins Photography.

Every Brilliant Thing (review)

Every Brilliant Thing (review)

THE PLAY: A man looks back at his life and his efforts to cope with his mother’s depression and suicide attempts by creating a list of positive things in the world.


THE PRODUCTION: This is billed as a one-man show, but the audience interaction acts as part of the cast. They enumerate the “brilliant things” and even play characters. As a matter of fact, the constant back and forth (although providing some of the best comic moments) hinders dramatic momentum. The actor just recounts the events and doesn’t assume characters or experience the emotions…until the final few minutes, when the interaction stops and he finally deals with his own demons. Chris Hester is the most genuine he’s ever been on stage. He’s engaging and comfortable with the audience and when it’s time to bring it home, he creates a heartfelt mood. Director Frank Foster has placed the show in the round and kept Hester constantly navigating the room. He’s brought out Hester’s natural charm, but kept him authentic. Foster also designed the space, which has been re-arranged like a big, comfy living room with rugs, lamps and chairs. Running time: 1:05


THE POINT: Chris Hester’s affable audience interaction and sincere performance brings humanity to what’s essentially a palatable exploration of depression and suicide.


(4 / 5)


At HATTheatre thru 3/15



Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (review)

Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (review)

THE PLAY: Stephen Sondheim’s classic about a barber consumed by vengeance, who dispatches his victims with his blade and sends them to be cooked into his landlady’s meat pies.

THE PRODUCTION: In the leads, Alexander Sapp and Bianca Bryan are so in sync, the show crackles every minute they’re together. His potent vocals and tireless intensity are riveting, while her character is delightfully devilish. The rest of the cast is loaded with talent. Notable are Matt Polson’s stalwart hero, Audra Honaker’s hilarious Pirelli and Matt Shofner’s sweet waif. Director Deejay Gray has inventively staged the show for dramatic impact, while highlighting plenty of callously comic moments for contrast. The up close staging allows us to appreciate the rich complexity of these powerful performances. Musical Director John-Stuart Fauquet gets equal credit for this show’s success: The voices blend beautifully and you never notice that he and Marissa Resmini (violin) are the entire accompaniment. The music dynamically fills the theatre. Gray also designed the set, which works well as a kill room with a few simple props. Michael Jarett’s evocative lights add yet another dramatic element (although the actors sometimes missed their tight spotlights). The costumes by Ruth Hedberg work well, but Mrs. Lovett’s dress seems weird in the mix. Sondheim’s lyrics are brilliantly clever and (thanks to Joey Luck’s sound design) it’s wonderful that you can appreciate almost every word.  Running time: 2:30

THE POINT: Every aspect of this deliciously wicked production is top-notch. A season high point. (BTW, the entire run is already sold out.)

(5 / 5)

At TheatreLAB thru 3/1


Photos by Tom Topinka
Women’s Theatre Festival

Women’s Theatre Festival

5th Wall Theatre and TheatreLAB are teaming up to co-produce the Women’s Theatre Festival beginning 3/27.


TheatreLAB and 5th Wall Theatre, in association with The Heritage Ensemble Theatre Company, the Weinstein JCC and Cadence Theatre Company, will bring stories of women overcoming strife, finding their voice, and making their place in the world. The festival also brings together an outstanding all-female production team.


Playing in repertory over 4 weeks, the plays include:


Pretty Fire by Charlayne Woodard

(5th Wall, directed by Carol Piersol, featuring Haliya Roberts)

Two young African American sisters grow up near Albany in the 50’s.


Golda’s Balcony by William Gibson

(Weinstein JCC, directed by Debra Clinton, featuring Jacqueline Jones)

About Golda Meir and her journey from a Milwaukee schoolgirl to Prime Minister of Israel.


Message from a Slave by Margarette Joyner

(Heritage Ensemble Theatre, directed by Shanea N. Taylor, featuring Pamela Archer-Shaw)

The passage of a woman’s transition from freedom into slavery and the voice of her 100-year-old daughter.


Bad Dates by Teresa Rebeck

(TheatreLAB, directed by Melissa Rayford, featuring Maggie Bavolack)

An idiosyncratic venture of self-discovery involving the Romanian mob, shoes, a Buddhist rainstorm, a teenage daughter and quite a few very bad dates.


Also running in association with the festival:

In My Chair written and performed by Eva DeVirgilis (Virginia Rep and Cadence Theatre


There will be moderated discussions and talkbacks throughout the festival.

All performances are at the Basement, 300 E. Broad Street.

For show dates, times and tickets visit the 5th Wall Theatre website.

Becky’s New Car (review)

Becky’s New Car (review)

THE PLAY: Even though things seem to be going well at home and work, Becky goes thru a mid-life crisis that puts it all at risk.


THE PRODUCTION: Fortunately, this production has Kerrigan Sullivan in the pivotal role. She maintains a pleasing personality throughout, providing most of the shows humorous moments. She’s assured and comfortable, even when she breaks the 4th wall to interact with audience members. As for the rest of the cast, the 2 young actors (Jimmy Mello & Maura Mazurowski) fare best, while the others are less natural in their characterizations. Director Ann Davis keeps the action zipping along in Act One, but just when the second act could use more momentum, the pacing falters, making the final scenes drag. The set by Lin Heath effectively does triple duty, but the overall quiet neutrals failed to make each area distinct. Running time: 2:10


THE POINT: The show’s strongest asset is the frantic portrayal by Kerrigan Sullivan in the title role.


(2.5 / 5)


At CAT Theatre thru 2/23


Photos by Daryll Morgan Studios

Performance in a bathroom, literally

Performance in a bathroom, literally

Here’s an interesting (and very limited) theatrical event coming to town later this month.


Brooklyn-based writer/performance artist Siobhan O’Loughlin’s is presenting her Broken Bone Bathtub. This one-hour, one-woman show takes place in the bathroom of a private residence, as she recounts experiences taken from her journal after an accident.


The audience (10 to 18 people) takes on the role of her close friends—listening, sharing, and assisting her at bath time (she’s wearing a cast). It premiered in Tokyo and has since been performed in 5 countries, 15 cities and nearly 291 different bathtubs.


The RVA engagement features 6 performances between 2/22-24 (one already sold out). Tix are $25 each (general admission). Visit the website for more information and tickets.

Waitress (review)

Waitress (review)

THE PLAY: This is a musical version of the popular film about a gifted pie maker coping with a unhappy marriage. Luckily, she has good friends for support.


THE PRODUCTION: Although this show is full of pleasant songs, it’s the characters that make it enjoyable. While Christine Dwyer nicely handles the lead, it’s the supporting roles that provide the comic chops. As the doctor, Steven Good is delightfully goofy and her fellow waitresses (Maiesha McQueen & Jessie Shelton) mine every opportunity for laughs. Although some of the words got lost in the mix, the musical numbers are enjoyable, boosted by a solid onstage band. “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” gives Jeremy Morse a chance to lead the hilarious highlight of the night (while channeling a bit of Leslie Jordan). Act 2 starts with rambunctious fun, but dips into drama before it starts to lag with too many songs. The tech elements are all effective. NOTE: To ease your culinary curiosity, they sell small “pies in a jar” in the lobby. Running time: 2:35


THE POINT: A winsome treat with pleasant music and genuinely amusing glee.


(4 / 5)


A Broadway in Richmond production at the Altria Theatre thru 2/17


Rheaume Crenshaw, Christine Dwyer and Steven Good (Photos: Philicia Endelman)

Broadway In Richmond’s new season

Broadway In Richmond’s new season

Jam Theatricals has announced the season for 2019-20 (all shows at Altria Theater):


Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (9/17-22)

The Play That Goes Wrong (10/22-27)

Hamilton (11/19 – 12/8)
Cats (2/4-9, 2020)

Fiddler On The Roof (4/7-12)

The Band’s Visit (4/28 – 5/3)

Wicked (6/3-14)


Sales for new and renewing subscriptions begin today (group sales later in the spring). The best way to guarantee seats is to subscribe to a season subscription package (starting as low as $310 with the option of adding WICKED).  Call 804-592-3401 (M-F, 10-5) or visit

Once (review)

Once (review)

THE PLAY: Based on the popular 2007 film about a frustrated singer/songwriter in Dublin and the Czech woman who encourages his talent.


THE PRODUCTION: This cast is loving every minute of the music they’re making and it’s infectious, starting with the pre-show jam in the lobby. In the lead, Ken Allen Neely is a strong musician and solid presence with Katherine Fried’s “Girl” full of sly comic charm. From the first magical duet, their harmony saturates the stage (literally and figuratively). Every supporting role provides appealing moments, with Jon Patrick Penick and Trevor Lindley Craft as comic standouts. Director/choreographer Nathaniel Shaw has filled the show with warmth and heart, reveling in the play’s Irish charms. I’m usually a maniac for snappy pacing, but Shaw lets the intimate encounters breathe, which are made more compelling by the strong chemistry between the leads. This show is largely about the songs and this excellent ensemble (who also play all the instruments) fills the theatre with beautiful music, thanks to the musical direction by J. Michael Zygo and Derek Dumais’ sound design. The technical elements all work well. Running time: 2:25


THE POINT: Once is a wondrous combination of love for music and music for love!


(5 / 5)


At Virginia Rep’s November Theatre thru 3/2




Trevor Lindley Craft, J. Michael Zygo, Jon Patrick Penick, Lauren Wright. Photo by Jay Paul.

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