Theater

Dancing Lessons (review)

Dancing Lessons (review)

THE PLAY: A high-functioning autistic professor hires a Broadway dancer with a serious leg injury to teach him to dance.

 

THE PRODUCTION: From the moment he walks thru the door, Dean Knight presents a character that’s captivatingly charming. His stiff, awkward delivery and dead-on timing provide plenty of laughs (his best work ever). Every comic duo needs a straight man and in this case, it’s a woman:  As his skeptical counterpart, Kylie Clark is the perfect foil. This is a slight script (barely over an hour) that delivers plenty of humor, while barely skimming any depth. Still, director Jan Guarino has established an easy style that allows the warmth of the characters to shine. The handsome NYC apartment is beautifully realized by Terry Powers. (Running time: 1:10 no intermission)

 

THE POINT: Knight creates a character that provides lots of lovable laughs. Together with Clark, they dance a delightful comic boogie.

 

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

 

A Virginia Rep production at Hanover Tavern thru 3/26

 

Kylie Clark and Dean Knight (Photo by Jay Paul)

Choir Boy (review)

Choir Boy (review)

THE PLAY: Pharus is an effeminate, out student at an all-black boys school, but he’s also a gifted singer and headstrong leader of the choral group.

 

THE PRODUCTION: This isn’t a musical, but the group’s glorious a capella voices (under the direction of Anthony Ford) are the show’s strongest element. Jamar Jones is assured in the leading role and the audience often laughed at his over-the-top dish. I found his portrayal too easy and obvious. The rest of the cast is enthusiastic. Despite the distraction of a baby in the audience on opening nite, they managed to maintain their concentration. Director Margarette Joyner has kept the action flowing, even if the jokes are played at their most broad and the dramatic moments rushed. The script has flaws and sometimes veers from its story, like the extended discourse on spirituals that slows the show’s momentum. Vinnie Gonzalez has smartly crafted a set that suggests a traditional Tudor school with a revolving wall element. Running time: 1:40 (no intermission)

 

THE POINT: This energetic production features beautiful vocal harmonies and an enthusiastic cast, but the comic style and dramatic potential produce uneven results.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

A production of Richmond Triangle Players in collaboration with The Heritage Ensemble Theatre Company at RTP thru 3/18

 

The choral ensemble (Photos by John MacLellan)

Violet (review)

Violet (review)

THE PLAY: A young woman with an unsightly facial scar travels thru several states to find a faith healer who she hopes can restore her confidence.

 

THE PRODUCTION: From the lovely opening duet to the stirring finale, this production is blessed with a cast full of beautiful voices and solid performances. It features intricate harmonies and catchy tunes (some of which go on a bit too long). Thanks to Kim Fox’s tight on-stage band and Stephen Rudlin’s vocal supervision, every song sounds wonderful (the gospel number led by Karla Brown is the show’s musical high point). The performances are upbeat and genuine, although some of the interactions could have used a stronger emotional connection. Director Chase Kniffen created compelling action and, as choreographer, he kept it simple. Rich Mason’s country porch façade makes a fitting frame for the neutral acting area. Gregg Hillmar’s lighting adds visual punch, but sometimes calls attention to its constantly changing colors (those LEDs glaring out from the porch are a distraction). Sarah Grady has provided an attractive variety of costumes. Running time: 1:45 (no intermission)

 

THE POINT: With a cast that creates appealing characters and embraces the show’s vocal charms, this is a moving musical journey worth taking.

 

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

 

A Cadence Theatre Company production  in partnership with Virginia Rep at the Theatre Gym thru 3/11

 

LISTEN TO MY REVIEW (as aired on WRIR)

 

Karla Brown belts it out! (Jason Collins Photography)

Message from a Slave (review)

Message from a Slave (review)

THE PLAY:  The first act tells the story of a woman abducted from her African homeland to be forced into slavery in America. Act Two features her granddaughter lecturing the audience with advice on creating a better society.

 

THE PRODUCTION: This one-woman show exhibits the considerable talent of Pamela Archer-Shaw. She’s an effective storyteller with an open, comfortable style and affecting emotional range. Her young slave woman is full of life and dignity, while her old lady is sweetly charming. Director Shanea N. Taylor could have improved upon Archer-Shaw’s steady cadence by adding variety to the intensity of her delivery and a few pauses to let the emotions sink in. The set by Vinnie Gonzalez features eye-catching cutouts that represent characters, while his lights add dramatic focus. Earlie Joyner has supplemented the story with an effective montage of sounds, but it sometimes overpowers the monologue. As for playwright Margarette Joyner’s script: the slave’s learning of English and conversion to Christianity is inexplicably bypassed, overlooking potential for even more depth. Running time: 1:05

 

THE POINT: Pamela Archer-Shaw has an easy presence and significant skill in her dynamic and affecting portrayal .

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

A production of the Heritage Ensemble Theatre Company at Pine Camp thru 2/18.

 

LISTEN TO MY REVIEW (as aired on WRIR)

Bill W. and Dr. Bob (review)

Bill W. and Dr. Bob (review)

THE PLAY: A biographical look at the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous and how they created the program thru the trial and error of their own experiences.

 

THE PRODUCTION: From the first scene, this play dives right into the drunken drama, which makes the emotions that much more challenging. The leading quartet is seriously earnest, but they’re often trying too hard (the rudimentary script doesn’t help). Audra Honaker and David Janosik, who play several supporting roles, create the most interesting characters. Their final scenes in Act 2 are the production’s most genuinely moving moments.  Director Scott Wichmann has kept it simple, so that the staging doesn’t interfere with the reach for emotional connection. Unfortunately, more scenes feel strained than genuine. Frank Foster smartly designed a simple neutral set with a bar and shelves of glasses and bottles as the symbolic focal point. Laurel Maughan has found some attractive costumes with interesting period accents. Running time:  2:05

 

THE POINT: While this production may be therapeutic for those who can relate to the subject, there’s too much message and not enough emotional connection to create consequential theatre.

 

2 Stars (2 / 5)

 

At HATTheatre thru 2/25

 

Watch the SIFTER interview with Chris Hester about the show.

 

Ken Moretti, Patricia Alli, Audra Honaker, Grey Garrett, Chris Hester

The Compleat Wks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) (review)

The Compleat Wks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) (review)

THE PLAY: Three male actors zip thru highlights of the Bard’s work using physical comedy and irreverent setups like a cooking show, football and even rap.

 

THE PRODUCTION: One advantage to a show like this: There are so many gags and punch lines…even if one falls flat, the cast zips on to another. This exuberant trio mines every opportunity with broad physicality, shameless puns, naughty innuendo, topical adlibs and viewer participation. They’re comfortable with the language, the jokes and the audience (although sometimes they try too hard). Director Maggie Roop has kept them on their toes with fast-paced action and clever bits. Even though it feels loose, the comic precision keeps it tight. Running time: 1:50

 

THE POINT: Whether you’re a fan of The Bard or not, this high-spirited trio provides the rollicking energy and comic skill to make Shakespeare spirited fun.

 

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

A Quill Theater production at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen

 

Dixon Cashwell and Joseph Bromfield (Photos by Aaron Sutten)

Buffalo Soldier (review)

Buffalo Soldier (review)

THE PLAY: This historical drama tells the story of the black soldiers who fought in the Spanish American War, especially 106-year old vet Jones Morgan.

 

THE PRODUCTION: Once a year (usually Black History Month) this theatre mounts a show that’s more educational than fun. Although the scenes are brief and the pace is lively, this sturdy production has more informational narrative than action. Still, the young audience seemed attentive. The actors play various roles and turn in reliably capable performances. The three musical moments are simple and effective. Director John Moon has added some action and personality to enliven the script’s informational aspects. Running tme: 1:00

 

THE POINT: The lively cast and simple staging of this historical drama result in an informative and ultimately stirring story.

 

3 Stars (3 / 5)

 

A Virginia Rep Children’s Theatre production at Willow Lawn thru 3/26

 

Background far left: Adrian Grantz. Front: Anthony Cosby, Jim Bynum, Josh Marin, Thomas E. Nowlin. Photo by Jay Paul.

The Boatwright (review)

The Boatwright (review)

THE PLAY: An unhappy man decides to build a boat to help him cope with his wife’s death. The film student next door starts videotaping the endeavor, but becomes more deeply involved.

 

THE PRODUCTION: In the titular role, David Bridgewater is always authoritative, but also resorts to his familiar mannerisms. Fortunately, they work effectively for this portrayal. Following up on his Artsie Award for “Best Newcomer,” Tyler Stevens once again exhibits an eager energy and emotional distress that are thoroughly captivating. He never seems to be acting, but inhabiting the character. Local playwright Bo Wilson peppers the easy dialogue of their interactions with the elder’s curmudgeonly comments on culture (some of which garner knowing laughter). He saves most of the drama for Act 2, which abruptly dives into despair, forsaking much of the enjoyable energy of their earlier interactions with extended solos of angst. Director Gary C. Hopper has created a genuine connection between the men, although the spotlighted narrations take us out of the moment. The scene changes are ingeniously covered by video projections that extend the monologues. Rich Mason has designed a perfect workshop (just needed a faux cement floor to complete the effect). Michael Jarett’s lights are effective. Running Time: 2:00

 

THE POINT: The inter-generational interaction between the two excellent actors creates a scrappy relationship that develops into an emotional bond.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

At Firehouse Theatre thru 3/4

 

Tyler Stevens, David Bridgewater (Photos by Bill Sigafoos)

Grand Concourse (review)

Grand Concourse (review)

THE PREAMBLE: Richmond is blessed by a relatively large number of strong theatre companies. Unfortunately, most of them want to do new work and there are only so many good new plays available. As a result, we see quite a few productions that are better than the play itself. This show is yet another example. (A less-successful script can cost half a star in the rating.)

 

THE PLAY: Life in a soup kitchen: a nun who struggles with her faith, a young woman with issues, an energetic Latino helper and one of the “guests.”

 

THE PRODUCTION: The show pivots around Dawn A. Westbrook’s performance and she brings insightful depth and moving emotional truth to her role (esp. the devastating cat scene). Joshua Gutierrez’s charisma and energetic physicality dominate attention when he’s onstage. He and David Clark’s interesting characterizations add comic warmth without resorting  to punch lines. Katie Ellis perfectly personifies adolescent conflicts and confusion. The staging by Chelsea Burke adds life to the interactions. Particularly interesting was her decision to let the cast handle prop duty in the semi-darkness that segues into the next scene. The set by David Melton makes a remarkable statement in the Lab’s modest space with an almost complete working kitchen. Erin Barclay’s lights add some visual punch, but the offstage illumination fails to identify the time of day. Running time: 1:45 (no intermission)

 

THE POINT: Although this play skims the surface of its central crisis of faith, this excellent ensemble makes the characters appealing with superb skill and wonderful warmth.

 

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

 

A TheatreLAB production at The Basement thru 2/18

 

LISTEN TO MY REVIEW (as aired on WRIR)

 

Dawn A. Westbrook & Joshua Gutierrez (Photos by Tom Topinka)

Chris H. talks about Bill W. (video 2:04)

Chris H. talks about Bill W. (video 2:04)

To anyone familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous, the name Bill W. will be familiar. Add Dr. Bob and you have the seminal story of the organization’s founders. Chris Hester, who plays Bill W. in this show, is best known for his work in comedies and musicals (most recently, his Artsie-winning performance in “The Boy from Oz”), but this production offers him an opportunity to stretch his dramatic muscles. It also presents a subject that’s close to his own experience.

 

Bill W. and Dr. Bob plays at HATTheatre thru 2/25

Watch Video

Airline Highway (review)

Airline Highway (review)

THE PLAY: A chosen family of fuckups gathers in the parking lot of the Hummingbird Motel in New Orleans (where most of them live) to celebrate the eminent death of their matriarch.

 

THE PRODUCTION: That’s pretty much the entire plot. As opposed to a standard story, this is a group character study that features a melting pot of unique individuals. Fortunately, this excellent cast creates a dynamic ensemble (notable performances include Andew Frida, Emma Orelove, Susan Sanford and Anthony Wright). Director Laine Satterfield has masterfully crafted a quirky community and given them verve with overlapping dialogue and genuine interactions. Kate Field’s set is dominated by a delightfully dilapidated 2-story hotel.  Emily Tappan has crafted a melee of funky mismatched costumes and sprinkled in some show outfits for extra dazzle. Running time: 2:05

 

THE POINT: This is more an experience than a traditional narrative: An opportunity to meet a community of unique and interesting characters created by a big easy ensemble.

 

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

At Virginia Rep’s November Theatre thru 2/12

 

Click here to hear the director talk about her all-girl team in this video.

 

LISTEN TO MY REVIEW (as aired on WRIR)

 

 

Kat Collin & Emma Orelove (Photos by Aaron Sutten)

Girl Power Highway (video 1:49)

Girl Power Highway (video 1:49)

Airline Highway is a road that goes from New Orleans to Baton Rouge and it’s also the name of the show opening at Virginia Rep on January 27. Interestingly (and not intentionally) the production designers are all women and so is the director, Laine Satterfield. I sat down with her to hear more about the show and her “girl power” team.

 

Watch Video

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