Eyeball magnet illuminates Wtd production

 I Take Your Hand In Mine
A play suggested by the love letters of Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper
by Carol Rocamora
 
Directed by Benedicta Bertau
at Space 360, Hudson, NY

The radiant face of Bethany Caputo is an eyeball magnet; it sucks all eyeballs to itself. The face has beauty, but the important quality is its ability to take instantaneous cues from her imaginative brain. It allows the character of Olga Knipper, actress, lover, and wife of Anton Chekhov, to roll out with amazing vividness.
     Caputo is so accomplished that it is probably ungrateful to notice that her inner ingénue sneaks through just often enough to make one question that she could play Arkadina in The Sea Gull  or Masha in The Three Sisters, an appropriateness that Olga’s life and this script demand. It is also probably ungrateful to notice an irritating nasality that creeps into her voice at certain decibels and the few extra pounds that may keep her from being cast in roles she is otherwise right for. But what an actress! I, for one, remain largely grateful.
     For many minutes of this play we are watching Chekhov in his consumptive years, so if a person knew nothing of the playwright’s life, s/he wouldn’t suspect the large amount of quality writing that he packed into his few decades on this earth. We are mostly treated to the playwright’s affection for Olga–his almost uxorious attachment to her, and David Anderson delivers it with humor and warmth. Chekhov’s pet names for her that pour out of the letters could be condescending, but not on Anderson’s tongue.  (The “pet” in pet names is not metaphorical. A number of them are extravagantly borrowed from animal species!)
    It is fun to be told or reminded that Chekhov was often at odds with Stanislavski, his director at the Moscow Art Theater, and that the playwright insisted that The Cherry Orchard  is a comedy. But I Take Your Hand In Mine  is not about literature or theater; it’s about a loving relationship enjoyed by two extraordinary individuals. In the main, it is Olga’s story.
   The set by Katie Jean Wall (red walls with a few velvety, dark-patterned strips, and minimal furniture) takes us quickly to the period. Deena Pewtherer’s lighting transforms the 360 space and subtly underlines the feel of each letter. Transitional music by Jonathan Talbott might appear more frequently, but, as usual, it demonstrates his sensitive ear for the drama.
   Even though I Take Your Hand In Mine could be pruned in some spots, we are surprisingly happy to sit watching the same two people in a single setting for a full hour and a half. The play is well-constructed, and where the language of the letters leaves off and Rocamora’s begins, it is smooth. Director Benedicta Bertau has brought the whole to stage in the typical Walking-the-dog manner. In other words, in a sort of poetic shorthand. A little standing for a lot. Because the lovers are often many miles apart, she divides the stage and allows them to speak to each other facing straight front, vividly “seeing.” This has the effect of making us cherish the times when they address each other directly or touch. The moment in which Olga teasingly pulls Chekhov’s beard says more about their intimacy than an athletic sex scene; the moment in which they grasp arms and take one long unison step toward the audience says all about their decision to marry; and the moments in which he directs her acting and she responds with intuitive accuracy are all a telling shorthand. Walking the dog Theater, particularly when either Bertau or Anderson is directing, makes art of it.
   The show runs through November 29, with two shows on Saturday, November 28. Call 1-800-838-3006 for tickets or visit wtdtheater.org.

At 9 she dances a timeless role

TAGHKANIC–More than any other ballet, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, a 19th century tale of Christmas fantasy and intrigue, seems to capture the hearts of ballet’s youngest dancers. These children, mostly female, begin to study the art form at an early age after becoming captivated by the Nutcracker’s magic, and for a lucky few who rise to star in local productions, it’s a dream come true.

Nine year old Grace Howard of Churchtown saw her first ballet performance at the age of three at SPAC, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and lobbied her parents for ballet lessons until they consented. This Saturday, November 21, she will dance the in the starring role of Clara in the Albany Berkshire Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker in the 1 p.m. performance at Taconic Hills School in Craryville. A girl from Albany will perform the role at 4 p.m.

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Playhouse showcases over-30 actresses in Belles

Belles; a play in two acts or 45 phone calls
by Mark Dunn
at the Ghent Playhouse,
Ghent.
 
Belles is likely to supply lifetime income for playwright Mark Dunn as long as community theaters must search for plays that offer juicy monologues to their best over-30 actresses. There are some good ones in this production—monologues and actresses.
   However, this story involving six sisters sharing by telephone their frequent woes and occasional wins has a familiar, old aroma about it, rather like the pictures on one of their walls. (Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and two pen-sketched children who appear to be opening their pants to inspect their own genitals.)
   This play is too young to be a period piece and too old for sharp, contemporary realities. In other words, dated—in spite of the fact that narratives involving siblings damaged by damaged parents will not go out of style entirely until parents stop damaging children, which is never.
   Each sister has chosen/succumbed to a radically different maladjustment.  We have the dutiful stay-home-to-care-for-mama sister, Peggy, played with convincing simplicity by Sally Dodge; and Paige, a college student with dating issues, played unconvincingly by Leanne Wilensky; and the handsome, loner, alcoholic Aneece (who unfortunately must deliver her touching emotional breakdown to a photograph), well-played by Jackie DeGiorgis; and the round, sweet-faced Eileen Johnson as Audrey, who is extremely distressed by the loss of “her boy,” a wooden puppet! Denise Rubio offers a delightfully outrageous, promiscuous, Sherry/Dust, a not-so-free spirit. (Her frequent name changes have lately turned to “Dust.” Maybe because she so frequently gets swept away.) The most nuanced character is Cathy Lee-Visscher’s Roseanne, a minister’s wife whose husband has flown the sanctuary as well as the coop. (It is a pleasure to watch Lee-Visscher over the years bringing more and more understanding and imagination to each new role.)
   The emotional malfunctions of these sisters are so deliberately contrasting that they verge on cartoon. It is a difficulty inherent in the play, though director Nancy Wilder has done what she can with it. Wilder must keep every actress attached to her phone and thus in one area of the stage; but she has given them all such a variety of physicalities (sitting, stretching, lying, lounging, dancing, sitting on the floor, with both movement and stillness) that the piece always seems fluid and alive. For example, Lee-Visscher/Roseanne is standing–just standing serenely in her kitchen, having matured before our eyes; and it tells all about the life-place she has reached.
   Tom Detwiler’s sets are nearly always marvels of realistic good taste, even beauty. This time he was required to create six separate spaces, one for each sister, and though the levels and side-stage spaces work well, they feel a bit overstuffed.
   If, early in the play, the transition music and regional accents make you wish to see Texas returned with apologies to Mexico, be patient. Later sounds become more northerly.
   Is it a coincidence that one sister intones “Adieu…to yieu!” just as Judy Holliday intoned it many years ago in Bells Are Ringing?
Belles plays Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through October 25. Web site: www.ghentplayhouse.org; Telephone (518) 392-6264.

Play by Play Crossroads is a terrific evening

Play by Play Crossroads

Stageworks

Hudson

 

 

It won’t rescue your soul, change the course of your life, or awaken your sleeping genius, but Play by Play Crossroads at Stageworks is a terrific evening of intelligent, lively theater.

The poverty of regional theater companies is often obvious in their productions; but here everything seems scrubbed down to what is truly expressive for clarity and art’s sake rather than for budget’s sake.

Each of the seven mini-plays is introduced with a lovely, spare image on a huge screen at the back of the stage. Besides being visually delightful, the screen is a fast, useful shorthand for “where,” and it leaves a nice actor-centered stage.

 “Spare” is one of the many virtues of this production, thanks to directors Abby Lee and Laura Margolis and their actors and designers. The space is clean, the lines cleanly delivered (if occasionally pointedly besmirched in content), the shape of actors’ movements is etched cleanly. Did I say that nothing is extraneous?

The plays follow a pattern of leaking out significant information in satisfying sequences that usually build toward a final smack in the style of O. Henry or theater-song buttons.  The subjects range from Peter I. Tchaikovsky’s coming suicide (he faces disgrace due to his predilection for sex with young boys) to marketing discussions about a virus invention that can be implanted in brains–in order to tune in to other people’s experiences. (Ooo, sex with movie stars!) The sexual foursome in Swing Factor may make your stomach queasy at the start, but you are soon sucked in (sorry!) by author Rich Orloff, who gathers you to his bosom with snappy dialogue and hilarious humanity. The delicious tantrums delivered by Ryan R. Katzer and Angela Rauscher are a particular joy.

Sometimes at Stageworks one may feel lobbied by apologists for tired 1960s sexual mores; but fortunately the plays almost always offer good writing and good acting. (You are unlikely ever to see a bad actor at Stageworks. Margolis knows actors.)

It is icky, during Sweethearts (by Rebekah Lopata,) when a middle-aged woman announces that she really wanted to become a lawyer. That she gave up everything for her son, who has had the bad taste to commit suicide. But good actors can rescue a spate of unfortunate dialogue, and dialogue spoken by Linda Roper and Richard Vernon is in good hands. (Good throats? Good brains?)

Watching Roper morph from an attractive, upscale lady in Sweethearts, to the shuffling, mordant-tongued crone in William Borden’s Gunning for Life is by itself worth the price of admission to Play by Play. At her husband’s approaching death, she fires shots of black rancor and black, “what-should-we-do-cry-in-our-beer?” humor.Yet, at the end, morphine appears to counter the bravado.

This Is What I Wanted could be even shorter without damage to its impact and its charm, but it is fun to watch Angela Rauscher (of the shapely legs and  Betty Grable poses) tell us and her soldier boy friend what lives she does not want. What she does not want flashes in efficient (clean) shorthand on the screen.

The soldier desperately longs for connection. At the end of this play, the eyes of the two characters meet for the first time along with the guns of war—a possible cure for home-front narcissism.

Costumes by Adrienne Westmore are excellent throughout, but, for the red polka dot sundress Rauscher wears in This Is What I Wanted, Westmore deserves a raise!

Like everything else in this production, the sound is rich, crisp and yes, clean.

All in all, Play by Play Crossroads has got to be the best night out in the county. With a nod to the recession, Stageworks is now offering super-duper admission prices, so buy a ticket and be prepared to get much more than you deserve. There are performances through October 11 at Stageworks in Hudson, after which it transfers to Proctors Theater in Schenectady.

 

 

I know I came in here to review this

I Know I Came In Here For Something

A musical revue by Carl Ritchie and Wayne Moore

Taconic Stage Company

Dinner Theatre at The Lighthouse, Craryville

In its previous incarnation, the Carl Ritchie/Wayne Moore musical revue, I Know I Came In Here For Something, was attended by large, noisy, summer crowds who laughed long and lustily at our familiar, after-40-something woes: forgetfulness, menopause, pot bellies, back problems, erectile dysfunction, etc.

Recently, I attended the dress rehearsal for the show’s reappearance.

I liked it better this time.

Three of the four singer/actors, Cathy Lee-Visscher, Diedre Bollinger, Brian Litscher, are returning, and the long summer run has given their performances stronger, cleaner lines. (Actually Lee-Visscher was strong from the beginning, and it remains her show.) The new guy is Mark “Monk” Schane-Lydon. At the dress rehearsal he was still a bit shaky, but we (all five rehearsal-guests) got a taste of his comedic talents in several of the sketches.

Ritchie’s lyrics are fun, often witty with piles of fresh rhymes and a clever pun tucked in here and there.Where touching is required, he makes that work as well. His songs sometimes end with a single sentence that takes a pleasantly surprising left turn.

The music, on the other hand, is just too unsophisticated for these lyrics. It is probably meant as pastiche, and it follows the revue tradition, with contrasting tempos, major and minor modes, marches, waltzes, Latin beats, etc. But the harmonies are simply too predictable and the phrasing and stylistic devices too familiar. It is possible that this music pleases audiences of a certain age, and no one would suggest that the composer should rock; but he certainly could tickle the ears with some fresher harmonies, rhythms, and settings of the words.

Brian Litscher is a presence. His singing is rich and sure, and he delivers the lyrics with admirable clarity. Litscher gets to sing one of the show’s best songs during which he visits his aged mother in a nursing home. One might wish that he would struggle in a more focused way to reach her—make her a real presence as well.

In the game show sketch, Schane-Lydon makes especially good use of his gigantic stage-eyes and young Jackie Gleason style. His erectile dysfunction number becomes a bit visually boring, but who can resist a situation in which a man takes all the E.D. pills, forgetting that his wife has gone to her mother’s for a week? And who can resist the lyric that bemoans “a Dick without a Jane”?

Although her singing is beset with pitch problems, Diedre Bollinger is effective in her dark, cynical commitment to her dark, cynical, funny material. In one of her numbers, she repeatedly shrinks into a cramped posture, squeezing elbows and witchy hands toward her body, and contorting her face with resistance to the horrors of mid-life bodily functions. We would keep laughing as long as she was willing to repeat it! 

In “There’s More of Me to Love,” one may wonder why this slim, attractive actress was assigned a song about being overweight. Maybe they could pad her, or something.

As mentioned above, the show belongs to Cathy Lee-Visscher. This is the only actress I know who can do “cutesy” and make you love it instead of inviting you to throw up. Her healthy, optimistic, energetic, dumb blonde is irresistible. However, there is much more in Lee-Visscher’s bag of tricks. She never offers you a character or a whole song in which she plays the same note throughout. People in real life seldom express themselves that way, and she doesn’t either. From phrase to phrase, there is always an evolving, very human take on a lyric, and her quick switches in the sketches are hilarious.

Helen Schneider’s costumes for a class-reunion number have more impact than the number itself, and at the end of the show, the four actors look spiffy with men in white tie and women in glamour gowns.

Occasionally, transitions between numbers are uneasy, but mostly the staging and direction of the comedy are well-conceived and smoothly executed. Ritchie wisely keeps it simple.

It’s $30 for a buffet dinner and the show. For reservations call (518) 325-1234.