THE PLAY: The head of admissions for a New England prep school strives to increase student diversity, while facing related issues at home.

THE PRODUCTION: The actors are all perfect in their roles, capturing the conflicts with assurance and so many “colors.” Jacqueline Jones starts the show with a delightful comic character and brings more humor every time she returns. The rest of the cast faces a more serious challenge, but does well (notable is Tyler Stevens’ extended rant). Director Deejay Gray has kept the pace brisk and the staging simple. allowing the cast to marshall the needed emotiional interactions. Connor Scudder has made impressive use of the space, creating an attractive kitchen with a hint of an office up front. Ruth Hedberg’s costumes are character appropriate, attractive and flattering. Running time: 2:00


THE POINT: This is basically a dramatized debate on racism that’s elevated by the smart script and involving performances.


4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)


At TheatreLAB thru 9/28

David Clark and Tyler Stevens (Photos by Tom Topinka)

Passing Strange (review)

Passing Strange (review)

THE PLAY: A young black man from LA travels to Europe on a journey of personal and artistic self-discovery.


THE PRODUCTION: This musical is almost set up like a concert with a “lead singer” or narrator (Jeremy V. Morris in another dynamic, assured performance). The Youth’s travels play out with an excellent ensemble assuming a variety of roles. The first few numbers literally rock the house with rambunctious energy and a solid onstage band (under the direction of Leilani Fenick). While the entire cast shines thru the vocals and the comedy, Keaton Hillman (Youth) turns in his most memorable performance to date. Director Tawnya Pettiford-Wates’ staging is visually complex, often inventive and downright fun. The sound mix by Jimmy Fecteau is sometimes muddy, making it hard to catch the lyrics (but fortunately, they repeat a lot). The set by Chris Raintree features metal trusses and LED frames. Bill Miller’s colorful lighting is uneven, sometimes leaving the actors unlit and sometimes using the framing LEDs to distraction. Alex Valentin’s costumes add visual fun to the satire. Running time: 2:20


THE POINT: A vibrant, witty musical journey.


4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)


At Firehouse Theatre thru 10/18


Dylan Jones, Keydron Dunn, Keaton Hillman, Jamar Jones, Katrinah Carol Lewis (Photo by Bill Sigafoos)

Falsettos (review)

Falsettos (review)

THE PLAY: A gay man copes with the changing dynamics of the relationships with his lover, his ex-wife, his son and more.


THE PRODUCTION: From the assured energy of the opening number, it’s clear that this cast is talented and tightly worked. Even though the play itself sometimes feels overwrought, this ensemble brings considerable skills to the stage. In the pivotal role, Matt Shofner expresses a quiet intensity that echoes his character’s constant conflicts. As his son, Rowan Sharma holds his own with the adult cast members, while Rachel Marrs’ small roles provide the show’s most enjoyable comic moments. The musical highlights include Casey Payne’s hilarious “I’m Breaking Down” and Durron Marquis Tyre’s powerful “The Games I Play.” It’s fortunate that Debra Clinton assumed both directing and choreography, because the interaction of precise movement, lively staging and emotional connections give this production its strength. Since the entire show is sung (with often intricate lyrics), Jonathan Sparks’ sound design makes it easier to follow. Although the set provides a blank space for the action, the motivation behind Kevin Johnson’s design isn’t clear. Michael Jarett’s lighting helps visually elevate this bland room. While Shelia Russ costumes in Act One are quietly period, she has lots of fun with the 80s looks in Act Two. Running time: 2:40


THE POINT: The play itself is a challenge both in its length and subject, but the marvelous cast and the robust direction accentuate the show’s strengths.


4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)


At Richmond Triangle Players thru 10/5




(clockwise from upper left) Matt Shofner, Rowan Sharma, Casey Payne, Durron Marquis Tyre and Dan Cimo

Artsies Nominations Announced

Artsies Nominations Announced

The Richmond Theatre Critics Circle has announced the nominees for this year’s Artsies, the community’s recognition of excellence in Richmond-area theater. The event will take place at 7:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 27, at Virginia Rep’s November Theatre. Tickets are $20 for orchestra seating and $25 for balcony seating. They will go on sale September 3 and can be purchased by calling the Virginia Rep box office at 804-282-2620. Get your tickets early – ticket prices go up by $5 on October 13.


The nominees are:


Best Musical

Grey Gardens, Richmond Triangle Players (RTP)

Once, Virginia Repertory Theatre (Virginia Rep)

Sondheim on Sondheim, RTP

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, TheatreLAB

The Wiz, Virginia Rep


Best Direction (Musical)

Kikau Alvaro, The Wiz

Debra Clinton, Grey Gardens

Deejay Gray, Sweeney Todd

Nathaniel Shaw, Once

Tom Width, Bright Star, Swift Creek Mill Theatre


Best Actor (Musical)

Paul Major, Gutenberg! The Musical!, Quill Theatre

Ken Allen Neely, Once

Alexander Sapp, Sweeney Todd

Cooper Sved, Girlfriend, RTP

Robert Throckmorton, Miss Gulch Returns, RTP


Best Actress (Musical)

Bianca Bryan, Sweeney Todd

Felicia Curry, Sister Act, Virginia Rep

Katherine Fried, Once

Desiree Roots, The Wiz

Susan Sanford, Grey Gardens


Best Supporting Actor (Musical)

Trevor Lindley Craft, Once

Dylan Jackson, The Wiz

Brandon LaReau, The Wiz

Matt Polson, Sweeney Todd

Matt Shofner, Sweeney Todd


Best Supporting Actress (Musical)

Kelsey Cordrey, Sister Act

Grey Garrett, Grey Gardens

Audra Honaker, Sweeney Todd

Jessi Johnson, The Wiz

Gwynne Wood, Sister Act


Best Musical Direction

Paul Deiss, Bright Star

JS Fauquet, Sweeney Todd

Starlet Knight, Lizzie the Musical, 5th Wall Theatre (5th Wall)

Anthony Smith, The Wiz

Michael Zygo, Once


Best Choreography

Kikau Alvaro, The Wiz

Kikau Alvaro, Atlantis, Virginia Rep

Nicole Morris-Anastasi, Dance Nation, TheatreLAB

Nathaniel Shaw, Once

Megan Tatum, Bright Star


Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design (Musical)

Maura Lynch Cravey, Bright Star

Ruth Hedberg, Sweeney Todd

Ruth Hedberg, Grey Gardens

Jeanne Nugent, The Wiz

Alex Valentin, Lizzie


Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design (Musical)

Paul Black, The Wiz

Erin Barclay, Lizzie

Joe Doran, Once

Michael Jarett, Sweeney Todd

BJ Wilkinson, Atlantis


Outstanding Achievement in Set Design (Musical)

William James Mahoney, Once

Kimberly V. Powers, The Wiz

Chris Raintree, Mr. Popper’s Penguins

Jason Sherwood, Atlantis

Tom Width, 1940s Radio Christmas Carol


Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design (Musical)

Derek Dumais, Once

Derek Dumais, Forever Plaid, Virginia Rep

Joey Luck, Sweeney Todd

Joey Luck, Sondheim on Sondheim

Joey Luck, Lizzie


Best Play

Dance Nation, TheatreLAB

Gloria, Cadence Theatre in partnership with Virginia Rep (Cadence)

The Laramie Project, RTP

An Octoroon, TheatreLAB

Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England, RTP


Best Direction (Play)

Chelsey Burke, The Taming of the Shrew, Quill

Anna Senechal Johnson, Gloria

Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, An Octoroon

Carol Piersol, Pretty Fire, 5th Wall

Lucian Restivo, The Laramie Project


Best Actor (Play)

Jamar Jones, An Octoroon

Jamar Jones, Red Velvet, Quill

Michael Manocchio, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Virginia Rep

Matt Polson, Gloria

David Emerson Toney, Between Riverside and Crazy, Cadence

Scott Wichmann, Talk Radio, 5th Wall


Best Actress (Play)

Bianca Bryan, The Taming of the Shrew

Kimberly Jones Clark, Who’s Holiday, RTP

Eva DeVirgilis, In My Chair, Cadence

Katrinah Carol Lewis, A Doll’s House, TheatreLAB

Haliya Roberts, Pretty Fire


Best Supporting Actor (Play)

Jeff Clevenger, Broadway Bound, Virginia Rep

Cole Metz, An Octoroon

Jeremy V. Morris, Oedipus: A Gospel Myth, Firehouse

Stevie Rice, Red Velvet

Adam Turck, The Tempest, Quill


Best Supporting Actress (Play)

Rachel Dilliplane, Red Velvet

Anne Michelle Forbes, Gloria

Amber Marie Martinez, Dance Nation

Donna Marie Miller, The Game’s Afoot: Holmes for the Holidays, Virginia Rep

Jill Bari Steinberg, Broadway Bound


Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design (Play)

Nia Safarr Banks, An Octoroon

Maura Lynch Cravey, Savannah Sipping Society

Cora Delbridge, Red Velvet

Sue Griffin, The Game’s Afoot

Ruth Hedberg, A Doll’s House


Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Design (Play)

Andrew Bonniwell, Songs from Bedlam, Firehouse

Joe Doran, Count Dracula, Swift Creek Mill

Michael Jarett, The Laramie Project

Michael Jarett, Dance Nation

BJ Wilkinson, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time


Outstanding Achievement in Set Design (Play)

Vinnie Gonzalez, Oedipus: A Gospel Myth

Rich Mason, Gloria

Terrie Powers, Broadway Bound

Chris Raintree, Songs from Bedlam

Lucian Resitvo, The Laramie Project

TJ Spensieri, Talk Radio


Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design (Play)

Ryan Dygert, Songs from Bedlam

Derek Dumais, The Game’s Afoot

Robbie Kinter, In My Chair

Joey Luck, Dance Nation

Roger Price, Talk Radio


Ernie McClintock Best Ensemble Acting

Dance Nation, TheatreLAB

Gloria, Cadence

Forever Plaid, Virginia Rep

The Laramie Project, RTP

Once, Virginia Rep


Promising Newcomer

Joel Ashur, Gloria

Lucy Caudle, Atlantis

Annella Kaine, The Laramie Project

Trinitee Pearson, An Octoroon and Dance Nation

Gwynne Wood, Sister Act


Best Original Work

Animal Control by Chandler Hubbard, Firehouse

In My Chair by Eva DeVirgilis, Cadence

Wrong Chopped by Dixon Cashwell and Levi Meerovich, Firehouse



Level 4 (review)

Level 4 (review)

THE PLAY: A visit inside a video game uncovers the characters who inhabit it.


THE PRODUCTION: Full disclosure: I’ve NEVER played a video game, but I know enough about them (including movies I’ve seen) to appreciate the technology, like the way “players” move, the cheesy sound effects and even the computer glitches. As a result, I was able to enjoy the experience. Act One plays out the same situation (with variations) as the game repeatedly restarts, then the second act allows the characters to embrace their humanity.  This uniformly enjoyable cast deftly moves thru the action with skill and comic prowess (surely some of that is due to director Chelsea Burke’s creative touches).  Writer Dante Piro’s concept is compelling and his dialogue is often clever, even though both acts could use shortening. Still, the story has an interesting outcome. The action takes place in a “battle chamber” designed by Dasia Gregg. It features turquoise geometrics with LED trim. Michael Jarett’s lighting uses that trim to colorful and sometimes immersive effect, while Ruth Hedberg’s costumes don’t maintain the high tech illusion (a traditional button down shirt?). All of the tech elements are a bit shoddy. Running time: 2:00


THE POINT: Audiences who can relate to video games will especially appreciate the fun of this experience. Everyone else will still find plenty to enjoy in this lively, creative production.


4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)


At TheatreLAB thru 8/31


Click here to watch the video preview featuring an interview with Dante.




Photos by Tom Topinka.

Life inside a video game (video 2:06)

Life inside a video game (video 2:06)

Fast on the heels of actor/playwright Dante Piro’s run of VERGE (my review) comes the world premiere of his full-length play about life inside a video game. I went to TheatreLAB Sunday before opening to chat with him about the play and grab a few moments of the rehearsal.


Level 4 plays at TheatreLAB thru 8/31.

Watch Video

The Elephant in the Room (review)

The Elephant in the Room (review)

THE PLAY: A graduate student from India expresses her reactions to life and discrimination in America, specifically the University of Virginia.


THE PRODUCTION: As we enter the theatre, Priyanka Shetty is already going thru her pre-show ritual. The audience is seated around the edges of the stage, creating an intimate space. Then she begins to share her experience: First as a woman in India, then as a grad student at UVA. Her adjustments to American customs provide humor, as they set up the differences that become more acute when she explores the surprisingly racist reactions she endures in academia. Shetty has a warm energy and comfortable rapport that makes the experience engaging and enjoyable. There are even some interactive elements (or elephants…you had to be there) to add to the relationship. Her writing is amusing, relatable and, as it dives deeper into the racial elements, incisive. Click here to read more about her upcoming tour, including the Kennedy Center.  Running time: 1:05 (no intermission)


THE POINT: Even though this one-woman show is focused on racial discrimination, writer/actor Priyanka Shetty imbues her message with creativity and charm.


4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)


One final performance today (Sunday) at 4pm at Firehouse Theatre


The Verge (review)

The Verge (review)

THE PLAY: This interactive experience invites the small audience to witness the reading of the final instructions left by the wealthy owner of an ice cream condiments fortune.


THE PRODUCTION: The “audience” is seated around a table where the action takes place, but this is more than a one-man show, it’s part interactive game. Dante Piro is not only a singular talent with immense abilities and a unique perspective on characters, this play (which he also wrote) proves his wonderful way with words. It’s a unique treat to be so close and enjoy his delightfully quirky mannerisms and total commitment to the character. I’m not sure how much direction Chelsea Burke added, but what she did feels completely integral to his performance. There is also an uncredited assistant who takes her job very seriously. The grand setting in the Branch Museum only adds to the specialness of the occasion. NOTE: Only 8 seats per show and black tie is suggested (I didn’t see that part and wasn’t dressed fancy). Running time: 1:15


THE POINT: This is an opportunity to witness the early stages of a promising actor/writer who’s brimming with creativity and talent.


5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)


A Firehouse Theatre production at the Branch Museum thru 8/14



New Artistic Director announced

New Artistic Director announced

Richmond Triangle Players has announced that associate producer Lucian Restivo will assume the title of Artistic Director beginning with the upcoming season. He’ll will be the second Artistic Director in the theatre’s 27-year history (John Knapp held the post for over two decades). Restivo will continue to work alongside Executive Director Philip Crosby.


“I could not be more thrilled to have Lucian’s fine work for Triangle Players acknowledged in this way,” Crosby said. “He has been an integral and important part of this company for the last five years. His talents have touched every aspect of our productions, and have helped craft the very successful seasons we have produced.”


Since joining RTP in 2014, Restivo has guided all production aspects of the company, including scheduling, coordination of directors and design teams, and general production management, as well as occasional set, properties and sound designs. “I am so honored to be stepping into this new position at my artistic home in Richmond,” Restivo added. “Using the building blocks already in place, I am exhilarated to help guide Richmond Triangle Players’ success in mounting another 26 seasons.”


As local theatregoers will know, Lucian’s also an accomplished actor and director, including directing their acclaimed production of The Laramie Project earlier this season (as well as other shows for RTP and other companies). He’s also appeared onstage at RTP in 4 shows, in addition to roles with Swift Creek, 5th Wall, and Firehouse.


Click here for more information about RTP and their the theatre’s upcoming season.

Forever Plaid (review)

Forever Plaid (review)

THE PLAY: A men’s group from the 50s returns to modern Earth, where they sing a concert of their 4-part harmony classics.


THE PRODUCTION: This quartet perfectly captures the naiveté of the singers. As this delightfully awkward group performs, their stylized, goofy period choreography is full of amusing mistakes and misfires. Even if their routines are (purposely) off, their voices are always on…a lovely blend of doo-wop harmonies and earnest solos. It also helps that the sound mix by Derek Dumais makes every word clear without ever calling attention to the amplification. Standouts include their rendition of “She Loves You” and the incredible Ed Sullivan Show montage. That being said, anyone who doesn’t remember that Sunday nite show is likely to miss many of the period gags. Director Wes Seals gets lots of credit for the creative, comic moves and sweet interactions. There’s a constant sense of innocent fun. The attractive set by Terrie Powers features 2 arches with curtains, stars and glitter and BJ Wilkinson’s lights add variety and mood to the numbers. Running time: 1:25


THE POINT: Anyone who can appreciate the nostalgia of 50s men’s quartets will enjoy a purely delightful “harmony” of comedy and song.


4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)


A Virginia Rep production at Hanover Tavern thru 8/25



Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical (review)

Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical (review)

THE PLAY: A girl with polka dots is the new student at a school attended only by kids with squares.


THE PRODUCTION: To any adults in the audience, this play teaches a not-so-subtle lesson about integration and racial discrimination. Even if the youngsters don’t grasp the theme, they’ll be entertained by the songs, which reinforce the message with simple lyrics and easy melodies. The performances are earnest and energetic with pleasant voices (except for Sydnee Graves, who had some pitch issues, while her characters proved delightful). Director Jan Guarino has kept staging simple to allow focus on the relationships. The set echoes the square motif in muted tones, while the costumes and wigs add plenty of color. One wonderful note: The final song about acceptance mentions being gay as OK. As far as I know, this is a first positive reference in a major children’s show. Running time: 55 minutes


THE POINT: This play sends a message of racial tolerance with sweet songs and earnest performances.



3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)


A production of Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn thru 8/11


Caroline Lynch, Quan Chau, Madeleine Witmer, Sydnee Graves (Photos by Aaron Sutten)

Dance Nation (review)

Dance Nation (review)

THE PLAY: A dance team prepares for the finals, while expressing personal feelings about their adolescent longings and burgeoning sexuality.


THE PRODUCTION: When I was watching this play, the first thing that came to mind was The Wolves, which TheatreVCU produced last season (my review). Actually, this play was written first, but it’s similar in that they’re both modern works with minimal narrative that focus on character moments with young women. This group of preteens expresses their doubts and insecurities (sometimes in R-rated moments) with occasional humor, but more often with anger or confusion. The all-adult cast is uniformly forceful, embodying reflections of their youth with intense resolve. Director Maggie Roop has boosted this ensemble with powerful energy. Dasia Gregg’s set is simply a dance studio with typical surrounding props. There are a few focused lights for moments outside the studio. NOTE: Sit in the 2nd row for a subwoofer boost. Running time: 1:45


THE POINT: This sometimes raw exploration of a group of pre-teens and their emotional expression is given a sometime visceral, tightly-wound production.


3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)


At TheatreLAB thru 8/3



Photos by Tom Topinka

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