Report from Monday, September 7th – the concluding day of Page-to-Stage:
In J.T. Burian Theatricals’ southern comic gem, Stonewall’s Bust, nervous New Yorker Paul Striker bites off more than he can chew when, while visiting his wife’s hometown deep in Dixie, he breaks a priceless Confederate heirloom and lies about it. Paul’s attempt to save his own skin with a dubious story involving moans, chains, and a supposed poltergeist sets off a string of hilarious and dire events that threaten his career, his engagement, and his very life. There were some awkward scenes and dialogue in the beginning of the show, but the acting and script quickly pick up, building to an uproarious climax with the funniest exorcism you’ll ever witness. Even in the limited staged reading format, Stonewall’s Bust delivers moments of pure hilarity, while the narrated stage directions hint at delicious slapstick that would be provided by a full staging of the show. I heartily recommend you seek out this little bit of comedic genius by John Morogiello, creator of DC Fringe Festival favorite “Jack the Ticket Ripper”, whenever and wherever a complete production is offered. (Directed by Juliana Avery).
Here’s Rosalind Lacy’s report from her Page-to-Stage experience on Monday.
You could breathe the excitement exhaled from the actors and Inkwell’s dramaturg Anne M. McCaw, who set the stage for reading four Plays with a Political Bent in the North Atrium Foyer. These are new plays still in incubation stage by eager playwrights in need of feedback. The “bite-size pieces” or excerpts hit on explosive issues close to our nerve-centers.
Island of Outcasts by Fengar Gael forwards us 20 years into a future of reverse evolution. On the island of Delfina, a microbiologist, Gwendolyn (in a snappy portrayal by Lindsay Haynes) awakens to find her body covered with a silvery iridescence. Worried about pollution and climate change, Gwen injected her womb with her own DNA to give birth to a child “…smarter than we were.” Now six months pregnant but flat bellied, Gwen can only keep the fetus from violently kicking her by swallowing fish whole and swimming daily in the ocean. A Caribbean midwife, Mirabella Fontaine, (projected by dynamic-voiced Danielle Drakes) lightens the ominous tone by observing that even though Gwen smells like a fish, she radiates like “the angel for the Christmas tree.” End of excerpt. This play raises troubling questions of long-range effects and the ethics of scientific medical experimentation. I really want to know the outcome and I hope Island of Outcasts will make Inkwell’s cut for further development.
In a magical dreamscape of hero worship and references to world literature, Empire of the Trees by Adam Kraar, explores a time period before 1963 and President JFK’s assassination.
Joseph is a book salesman, who carries around a diverse collection of classics in a crate and sings the praises of JFK as a leader who made people believe that life is far better than it seemed. He convinces idealistic Deborah, whose husband has met JFK, to help his unfortunate sister, whose feet are swollen from stepping bare-footed on a rusty nail. Deborah thereafter walks into a magical forest and confronts a talking Banyan Tree, a Cobra, and a vulture, (three characters hypnotically read by actor Frank Mancino). Thereafter Deborah, even though filled with fear and awe, feels compelled to follow the sounds of rustling leaves and the strange voices wherever they take her.
A fascinating third offering, i put the fear of mexico in ‘em, by Matthew Paul Olmos, explores the barriers between people of different cultures and our irrational fears of confrontation. Playwright Olmos originally from East Los Angeles, and winner of several prestigious playwriting awards, comes from a family of Mexican heritage. Yet in a post-show discussion Olmos told us that his mother, who spoke only English, instilled him with a “fear” of traveling in Mexico.
Two couples confront each other in a back-alley bar in Tijuana. The Mexican couple, Efron and Juana, taunt, challenge and ridicule an American couple, Jonah and Andrea. Juana carries an assault rifle slung over one shoulder for “equal rights.” But there’s a sense that Efron, himself a human machine gun, is more assertive than Jonah. In the verbal crossfire that ensues, word play from the Mexicans connotes the distancing created by cultural and language differences. The Spanish word “guera,” meaning blond, for example, can be interpreted as “a white woman who is not welcome.” Also the Spanish word “guerra,” a close sound-alike, means war. The two couples are at war with each other. When certain barriers are crossed, whether it’s physical boundaries between countries, or in personal or sexual relationships, the situation grows dangerous. At the close of the excerpt, the American woman goes off with the Mexican man. The end of this bite-size piece leaves us hanging from the cliff with suspense. A chance to see what happens next will occur at a staged reading at the GALA Theatre in Washington D.C. in October.
In Monkey Adored by Henry Murray, Sonny, the monkey, is a terrorist about to blow up a human laboratory to protect the world from a thermonuclear war. Brown Spot, the Dog, who loves Sonny but who still feels his deep sense of loyalty to humans, who aren’t loyal to him, tries to stop Sonny’s sacrifice-suicide. But on the night before Sonny acts out his belief that only violence brings about change, a large white puppet appears at the door and speaks gibberish. Sonny’s plot has been discovered by humans. This is an ironic twist that asks us to turn our human thinking upside down and see the world through an animal’s eyes. Monkey Adored is a delightful piece about a terrifying subject—nuclear holocaust.
Inkwell also presented a reading of a full-length play, The F Word.
F stands for “fat,” not for an expletive. In the version of The F Word, the Page-to-Stage audience saw last night, author Melissa Blackall served up a series of satiric vignettes that resonated with familiarity. Seven actors, assuming the roles of Belly, Toothpick, Stout, Voluptuous, Lean, Huge and Blimp, announced their births as infants by calling out their weights from the back of the North Atrium Foyer. From that point on, one of the themes developed implied that there’s a vast difference between cuddly, cute babies and adults who go through agony to stay lean and voguish. At the end of that segment, “I’d rather be dead than fat,” rang like a stinging truth. Perhaps one of several memorable moments occurred when an actress, as one of the characters, told us how she lost 150 of her 352 pounds. Her post-op psychological battle was far worse than going under the knife for a liposuction. “If I wasn’t the fat girl anymore, then who was I?” The F Word, in process for 18 months so far, will be featured in the Inkwell’s Inkubator Festival 2009, in its final form as a fully-produced production from October 13-18. The play covers an immense amount of territory as it currently stands and may have to go under the knife itself before reaching final form.
Rosalind also looked at Diagram of a Paper Airplane, a Carlos Murillo play done by Forum Theatre
By far the stand-out play reading of the day was written by Carlos Murillo and directed by Forum Theatre’s Michael Dove. Diagram of a Paper Airplane is an emotionally wrenching, multi-layered, play that deserves to reach a larger public audience. A once gifted playwright, Javier C., who mysteriously disappeared several decades before, drowns in a flash flood in New Mexico. Three of his once closest friends, now at odds with each other, network the news from their separate New York City tenement apartments.
Before his death, Javier sent separate pieces of Diagram of a Paper Airplane to the three friends dictating that his play, like a puzzle, could only be made whole if the pieces are read together. But Murillo builds the complexity by layering the frame story with a post-mortem delivery of a father’s letter to his only daughter. “The greatest danger to a child is the father and mother that brought you into the world.” In reaction, as the individual mourners retell their personal memories, that’s when the true reasons for the break up of family and friends becomes clear. What made this particular reading magnificent were actors Jennifer Mendenhall as the wife, Valerie; Kimberly Gilbert as the daughter, Lila; Hebert Mitchell as best friend, Herman; and Jim Jorgensen, as Alvaro, a former college professor, as well as Michael Dove as Mario, Lila’s fiancé and the Fed Ex messenger.
Signature Theatre’s offering was called Signature Theatre: The American Musical Voices Project. The program featured songs from their American Musical Voices Cabaret, which was performed at their Open House on August 8th. Some songs were removed from that program, while some new songs were added, and fortunately, the same brilliant and talented cast from the Open House – Felicia Curry, Sam Ludwig, Stephen Gregory Smith, Bayla Whitten, Weslie Woodley, and Rachel Zampelli – were joined by Signature regulars James Gardiner and Stephanie Waters. The very energetic Gabriel Mangiante returned as their accompanist. I simply do not have the space to do this show justice, but here are some of the highlights.
The cast sang songs by composers Ricky Ian Gordon, Joseph Thalken, Matt Conner, Adam Gwon, and Adam Guettel, who are all developing musicals which will be produced at Signature Theatre through the generosity of the Shen Family. They also sang songs by Michael John LaChiusa, whose musical Giant graced the Max Stage this past season. Ricky Ian Gordon’s production of Sycamore Trees will be seen at Signature from May 18-June 20th.
Three Ricky Ian Gordon songs opened the program. Then Rachel got the audience laughing in the first of two songs by Joseph Thalken called “Billions of Beautiful Boys” – where one boy/man is never enough! Three songs by Michael John LaChiusa followed. Felicia burned up the joint, swaying her hips and acting sassy with “Black is a Moocher”, while Weslie and Stephen united to sing the – ‘you both definitely belong together’- “People Like Us“, both from The Wild Party. But my favorite performance was Bayla’s gorgeous rendition of “He Wanted a Girl” from Giant. I loved Katie Thompson’s performance of the song earlier this year, but what Bayla did with it today was amazing! It blew me away!
Adam Guettel’s Floyd Collins is one of my all-time favorite musicals, and I was so glad to hear two of the songs from the show performed by three extraordinary singers. “Heart An’ Hand”, a gorgeous but aching lullaby was sung by Weslie and James, while Sam’s powerful “How Glory Goes” showed why I have become such a fan of this incredible singer/actor.To end the performance, the entire cast joined forces in singing, “This Is What it Is”, from Michael John LaChiusa’s The Wild Party. The future of musical theatre is in great hands!
Bouncing Ball Theatrical Productions Director Shirley Serotsky and Book writer Shawn Northrip joined forces with composer and lyricist Christian Imbodenn to create a zany love letter to musicals, parodying The Producers, Guys and Dolls, Annie, Gypsy, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt’s Mirette, and some others I probably forgot.
The creators describe It Closed on Opening Night as “a revival of the 1977 Broadway belly-flop When I Just Can’t Say It Anymore, The Musical!”, in which a showgirl misses her chance to leave the stage and lead a decent life. Plagued by multiple book writers, overzealous producers, and a fading diva, Just Can’t Say It proves “nothing is scarier than a bad musical.” Closed, however, is on a very good start down the road to becoming a really good musical. The music is hummable and tap-able, and the lyrics are funny and silly. At times there may be too many recurring references to male and female body parts, but I must admit I did laugh at this: “Let’s go to my place\You can sit on my face/I don’t bite/I’ll help you through the night”.
Who couldn’t love a musical that had these song titles: “Get Yer Hands Off My Horn”. “Legs”, “Babies Suck”, “Ladies Love The Stocking Man”, “Get Yer Hands Off My Corn”, “It Happens Quickly In New York”, and “Awkwardly Going To Heaven”? What’s there not to like? It doesn’t “hoyt” when you have a great cast having a great time, and what a cast we saw! Michael John Casey played Roger, the inept artistic director. Tim Lynch was the nebbishy Simon the composer, whose claim to fame is being known for writing the musical version of Jaws called Shark Attack. Pistol Lauren Williams made you want to strangle her Netta – the mother who hated being a mother, who loved herself and money more than her kid. Michael Grew played the guy with the big heart ever so sweetly, while Amy Kellett looked properly clueless as Abigale, the talentless daughter, and tap dancer from hell, who likes to “singa, singa, singa and dance, dance, dance!” Katie Molinaro and Toni Rae Brotons – playing a housewife and Gabriella – rounded out the excellent cast.
But, it’s Matthew A. Anderson, this week receiving raves from all the local critics, including DCTS’s Steven McKnight, for his outrageous performance in MetroStage’s The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!), who burns up the stage as the pimp-ish bully Paulie. His trumpet playing in “Get Yer Hands Off My Horn” is so outrageous that it sets the mood for the rest of the show. We know then that we are in for a crazy ride.
Where else could you hear a song where “loin of pork” rhymes with “New York”, or a show that ends with, “To heaven!/To heaven!/Together to heaven!/We’re only a day away”? With some workshops, and some more development, this show could run way past opening night!
Tim Treanor files this report:
I was late getting out of Majorca, so I missed the first fifteen minutes or so of KT For Prez!, Charter Theatre’s latest offering in its New Plays for Young Audience series. No worries, though, since the charm of Jessica North Macie’s play is evident throughout the production. In it, KT (Ursula Anderman), a six-year-old first-grader, decides to take on doubletalking US Senator Spike Spinning (Doug Wilder) for Presidency of the United States. With the assistance of her mom (Ashley Batten) and her guitar-playing, speech-writing, campaign-managing brother Gene (Paul Fidalgo), she forces the slick Senator to tell the truth – and in the process learns another truth: it’s more fun to be a kid than to run for President. (Of course, if you’re Bill Clinton, you can do both). Anderman and Wilder are great fun as the poles-apart candidate, and Fidalgo – who used to wow them at the American Shakespeare Theatre in Staunton, VA – is fabulous, both as the brother and as the composer of the smart score. You might think that these themes would be too sophisticated for the younger end of Charter’s 4 to 14 target market, but the young kids at the reading I saw were really into the production.
It is a bold man who stages a reading of a dance piece, but that is exactly what Artist Bloc’s Colin Hovde did with his Hall of Mirrors. It worked, too; Hovde’s vision of what he wants to do is developed enough for his audience to understand and – as they did on Monday – comment usefully on it. Hovde’s subject matter is in the process by which we construct masks and how we use them. To judge by his presentation at the Kennedy Center, he is well on his way to saying something salient on the subject.
Rorschach Theatre’s Karl Miller, one of the area’s leading naturalistic actors, brings us a glossy comedy, Eat Me, or What You Will. We saw only the first Act, but it was stuffed – arguably overstuffed – with comic possibility: the bachelor-party stripper (Marissa Molnar) who turns out to be groom Aaron’s (Joe Isenberg) high-school love; the bride-to-be (Jenna Sokolowski) who tries to realize her true self by lying in what appears suspiciously like a 1950s Orgone Box; the Buddhist priest (Amy McWilliams) who is suddenly called upon to officiate a wedding in Christian, with unfortunate results (she calls Jesus “the love Prince”, among other things). But the funniest, and most compelling theme, is identity dissection for commercial purposes. Aaron’s best friend Rory (Dylan Myers) has actually been feigning friendship so that he can study Aaron’s purchasing habits. His job done, “Rory” (not his real name) leaves Aaron in the lurch without a best man. But not to worry; Rory’s company sends an actor (the hilarious Jay Saunders) to pretend to be Rory for the wedding ceremony and reception. There is more of this sort of outrageousness, all of which is all uncomfortably close to being true to life. Isenberg put on a drunk scene that was so good that the other actors on stage were laughing helplessly.
Though I have seen but a small slice of the Page-to-Stage offerings, I am certain that I saw the Festival’s strangest show when I viewed Forum Theatre’s A Brief Narrative of an Extraordinary Birth of Rabbits, by C. Denby Swanson. Riffing on an astonishing hoax perpetrated by a young Englishwoman, Mary Toft (c. 1701-1763), Brief Narrative follows the history of Joe (Cliff Williams), his wife Kitty (Rose McConnell) and her younger sister Mare (Clementine Thomas), who has agreed to serve as a surrogate mother on behalf of her sister. As we first meet Kitty we clearly understand that she is a selfish harridran who would be a disaster as a mother. Fortunately, Mare gives birth to rabbit babies instead of humans — twenty-four of them, voiced by the astounding Erika Rose. A discursive stork (Jim Zidar) provides much of the historical perspective, describing not only la Toth’s trickery but the mindblowing potential of genetic manipulation and the imperiled state of the modern stork. He also delivers the rabbits. Periodically, the principal investigators of the Toth claims — midwife John Howard (Zidar) and doctors Nathaniel St. Andre (Rose) and Sir Richard Manningham (Andrew Honeycutt) — emerge as sock puppets from Mare’s body. Honeycutt also plays a man who has had a testicular transplant with a rat.
As with the original hoax, there are plenty of surprises in this narrative, not the least of which is that Joe may actually be a large dog. You will be able to enjoy this one if you do not cling too tightly to a need for narrative continuity. I had not seen Zidar’s work before, but he definitely belongs in the Scott McCormick/James Konicek category of big-voiced actors. The entire cast was excellent, and I give special props to McConnell for convincingly playing someone whose character goes through a lot of changes.
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