Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A fine adventure on and near Broadway.

We've just returned from a New York City adventure. It has been a while, to our dismay. It's not an inexpensive undertaking, of course, but this time we had a special reason for going. But as usual, we crammed as much theater-going into our time as possible, along with celebrating our birthdays.

We got up to the Apple on a Thursday afternoon, though there were some weather-related delays. We still had plenty of time to hit up the TKTS booth to see "Peter and the Starcatcher" as our first stop. What a fine time that was. Prior to the Tony Awards, I knew little about this show other than some kind of connection to the Peter Pan story. I came to understand that two writers I enjoy, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, had created the original young adult book (and now, several sequels), and that this was a prequel for Peter Pan somewhat like "Wicked" is the prequel to The Wizard of Oz.

It's a very inventive "play with music," using some somewhat simple tools to help define set and place. It also won the play-side Tony for lighting design, and for good reason. Very fun stuff indeed.

On Friday night, we took advantage of a connection for our birthday celebration. Our son, Andy, is in a master's degree program, studying lighting design with Tony-award-winning Brian McDevitt, who won for "The Book of Mormon" last year. We were able to acquire house seats with Brian and Andy's help - fourth row, center. Pretty darn nice.

It's a very funny show and by some people's standards, probably tasteless at times. (I suspect most Mormons don't get a kick out of it either.) We had a special bonus in that the guy sitting next to us was raised Mormon - never quite got whether or not he still is. But he laughed with the rest of us. We didn't see the original two leads, but that didn't matter to me, anyway. Well performed and technically fine, too.

Based on some recent friend reviews and the Tony performance, we had pre-bought our Saturday afternoon tickets for the musical "Once." This for me was the high point of the shows. One friend referred to it as a chick-flick of musicals, and heck, he might be right. But we did not care. It was sweet, touching, sad, very well performed, musically delightful, very talented cast who acted, sang and played instruments -- and two lead characters who were written to be very interesting, and they were played very well by the actors. Excellent. Now I have to see the movie on which it was based!

From there, TKTS set us up for the play "Clybourne Park," which won the Pulitzer Prize. I liked the play, interesting concept and questions being asked -- but I have to question the Pulitzer. I don't know what else was up that year, but it didn't quite glue together at the end. Well done, though, and worth the time.

We also adventured by our standards on Sunday afternoon. We'd never been to the alphabet streets (Avenues A, B and C), which was the real-life setting of the musical "Rent." There's a relatively new rep company in its third year of doing two shows in rep during the summer (Sink or Swim Rep is their name). I just happened to find that one of those shows this year was "An Ideal Husband," the Oscar Wilde dramedy. (I guess, really, a comedy by classical definition: no one dies.)

Since that play is the play-within-a-play of my last full-length script, "Rehearsals," and I've never seen it on stage (only the movie, which was excellent), we made the taxi-trek and generally enjoyed the production (considering it was an $18 ticket, it was certainly worth it, compared to the $155 ticket price for the Bwy. musicals). It was also located in a neat old theater revitalized for stage theater purposes.

We wrapped up our stay with our first time to see an off-Broadway play in preview. It's a comedy co-written by Woody Harrelson and his friend Frankie Hyman, based on their summer of 1983 working construction in Houston, TX. A fair amount of it is fictional, but the characters are entirely based on reality. They are quirky, different, fun and funny.

Why this show? Truth is, we wouldn't have known about it if our son, Andy, hadn't been the assistant lighting designer and also in town while we were there. We got to hear a lot of back-stage stories and spend some time with Andy while we were at it. "Bullet for Adolf" was fun to see, especially knowing some of the back story.

So six shows, and not really a dog in the group. Nice!

Monday, July 30, 2012

The shows of early summer.

June through mid-July were busy times, in part because Kathy was directly involved in a show and we took a road trip in early July. But that doesn't mean there wasn't time for theater!

I caught the one-night staged reading of "Bleacher Bums" at Theatre Alliance and enjoyed my time with the baseball fans in the bleachers. That was followed by seeing Kathy's show, the upbeat, slightly jingoistic musical "Kilroy Was Here." KLT produced it at the usual school auditorium setting, but used the space nicely and made for the type of show that, if you have the slightest sense of patriotism, was going to bring a few tears to your eyes. I enjoyed it both times.

We also fit in an interesting show, "The Illusion," at Triad Stage, and I went by myself to see the amusing and well-done "Xanadu" at Theatre Alliance. The latter one would not mistake as an intellectual exercise, but a lot of laughs can be fun, too.

While on the road, we had an outdoor-play experience in Chillicothe, Ohio. Our young actor friend, Carson Elizabeth Gregory, is up there this summer as part of the cast of "Tecumseh!". We had no idea until we read the souvenir program that she was one of the leads. Awesome! Even if it was 94 degrees and just a few days after the big storm that blew through Ohio, West Virginia and other places, we had a lot of fun there.

On our way home, we stopped through Shepherdstown, WV to see four of the five plays being offered at the 2012 version of the Contemporary American Theater Festival. I've previously reported on my two earlier visits to this always at-least-interesting event. (I skipped last year.)

Of the four shows, "Barcelona" and "In a Forest, Dark & Deep" (a recent Neil LaBute) were quite good, but not as compelling as the other two. "The Exceptionals" and "Gidion's Knot" were both outstanding in their own way. The first delved into the intriguing issue of children being born to carefully-selected women using sperm-bank donations by male geniuses - and the divide that it would create. "Gidion's Knot" is tough to describe without giving away the story, but it was intense and challenging, the way I often like 'em.

Andy and Sarah were able to join us for two of the shows, and we visited with Kathy's senior-year-of-college roommate, Lissa, who used to work at CATF and still lives in the area.

We moved along through July with two other shows: a nicely-done teenaged cast version of "Into the Woods" done at the new space for Open Space Cafe Theatre in Greensboro, followed by an impressive Triad premiere of the musical "Spring Awakening." Another young friend actor of ours, Mike Shapiro, played the male lead, Melchior, and did a fine, fine job of it!

Then after a fairly long absence, we took off for New York City. And that's my next report. Soon.

A well-rounded and inspirational Spoleto Festival.

Our annual visit to Charleston, SC and the combination of Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto Festivals over Memorial Day was perhaps one of the best of our seven times to spend a weekend there. In addition to a good outdoor jazz concert and a fine indoor gospel choir concert, we did our usual rounds of theater outings we could fit in. And what a wide range it was.

Three of the performances we attended were one-person shows. One was essentially non-fiction: a fine ramble by Charleston's own, Jack Hitt, called "Making Up the Truth." Two others were solo performances by women: "Becoming Harriet Tubman" and "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe." In both cases, especially the latter (originated by Lily Tomlin), the women played multiple characters, and in very convincing fashion. Strong acting that was interesting to watch in both cases.

We also caught a fine production by Dublin's Gate Theatre of the Noel Coward play, Hay Fever. Quite well performed by all involved, if not perhaps likely to be my most favorite play ever.

The most intriguing and inventive of our shows, however, for me, was by a company from London called, simply, 1927. A fascinating dark children's tale that seamlessly (other than a brief technical glitch) blended scenery with live actors with creative projections, "The Animals and Children Took to the Streets" definitely qualified as spell-binding, not a description I often use. Quite, quite fascinating. It's always neat to see the boundaries of what can be done being stretched.

For good reasons, we're not sure we'll be able to visit Spoleto next year. If that's how it turns out, we'll miss it. For sure.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Not sitting still ... unless in the theater.

My time with the reading of "8" turned out to be quite nice, if the two readings were a little lightly attended. It was a great pleasure to me as one who is usually an audience member to be working with folks whose performances I have long admired. It was nice to be able to play with the pros.

After "8," it was time to see some more plays (of course). We went to Clemmons Community Theater's rollicking production of "The Drunkard," with Cameron Williams and Mark Walek and others in a Victorian-style melodrama with music. That was a lot of fun!

More recently, we backed up two musicals on a Saturday night and a Sunday afternoon. Well, if you really can term "Ain't Misbehavin'" at Triad Stage a musical -- I would put it more in the musical revue category. But that did not detract from the fine music and musical performances. The NC A&T Jazz Ensemble was especially impressive throughout.

We followed that with delightful performances and lots of laughs at Twin City Stage's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum." As is so often the case in recent years, we know at least some of the cast personally -- and what a hoot to see Ken Ashford, Neil Shepherd, Gray Smith, Mary Lea Williams, Brad Phillis and others prancing around in togas and the like (not to mention a wedding dress). Perhaps the idea of accepting front row seats instead of way back wasn't the brightest choice, but we had a blast anyway.

MOST recently, we took in an outdoor performance by a new group, the Triad Shakesperience, doing "Much Ado About Nothing" at the Miller Park Amphitheatre. Considering the circumstances (Bill S. and his drama company probably didn't have to deal with helicopters, Harley Davidsons and car alarms in the early 1600s), we thought they did a fine job. We especially liked Carlos Nieto as Claudio, Chad Edwards and Sally Meehan as Benedict and Beatrice, and the ever-dependable Ken Ashford as the problem-causing Borachio. (How on earth does he learn all these lines for back-to-back shows? Envy is me.)

In the meantime, I continue with writing projects. I finished a first draft of one-act play Patent a while back - and then came across a one-act play contest that wanted small-cast shows running 30 minutes or less. So I did a fairly strong downsize edit on the draft and sent it in. Now I'll have to decide if I want to have a "long" version (probably 45 minutes) and a "short" one, too. Ah, decisions.

Other writing has mostly been other fiction -- promoting the detective novel, trying to work on a follow-up to it, and equally editing and adding to a long-term serial killer novel. I did write one other short (10-minute) play that I like, but will need to cast about to see if there's an appropriate place to submit it. Sooner or later, it will go someplace.

So, in addition to the short travel pieces I have been writing for Yahoo!Voices and the occasional other writing task, I have not been sitting still, as the headline suggests. One of these days, one of these projects will break out, and along with the enjoyment from the initial work, more will come along. Looking forward to it!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Looking at the audience for once

It has been a long time indeed since I have been on the part of the stage that looks out at the audience, but that will change briefly on Friday night. I volunteered to be one of the readers for a staged reading of the play "8" at Theatre Alliance in Winston-Salem. It transmuted into TWO readings, back to back, with a discussion after each one. It's a very timely subject, given that North Carolina is voting on Amendment One, seeking to deny rights to anyone other than a man and woman combo in legal marriage. Tsk. Unconstitutional, as the courts are slowly determining.

Anyway, I'm "playing" the lead defense attorney, who starts the play seemingly in control and ends it way short of a convincing argument. It's a fine cast and a worthy cause. I'm enjoying my short time on the stage and using my voice in pursuit of a good cause.

But that won't be the end of it -- Theatre Alliance has chosen to do a series of one or two night readings in its upcoming season (yay!). I've been cast in one in January -- and for the first time ever, Kathy and I will be on stage together in another in April, 2013. Truly looking forward to that!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A little DC play going!

Since the last missive, we ran off to Washington, D.C. to visit with son Andy and daughter-in-law Sarah -- and, of course, see a couple of plays.

Last Friday night, we were able to see Arena Stage's production of Eugene O'Neill's sole comedy (and even at that, there were a few down moments), "Ah, Wilderness." While the three of us who attended generally agreed that it won't be on our list of top 25 favorite plays, for me, it was still a fine evening. Many of the plays I read and admired in my youth have not been frequently presented in productions I could see. But now "Long Day's Journey into Night," "Wilderness," "Touch of the Poet" and, most memorably, "The Iceman Cometh" have been checked off my must-see list. (I've seen several very good "Moon for the Misbegotten" productions now.) I thought they did a fine job with this particular play, and it was a pleasure to sit through even if not the greatest script ever written.

Then, on Saturday afternoon, we went to see some of Andy's work - he was lighting designer for the Adventure Theatre's production of "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day."

When I see we got to see "some" of Andy's work, that would be accurate. We were unaware that we were going to be attending a special-needs performance, which is a fine idea indeed to allow those children to experience theater. No problem there. But if you're going to see the full scope of a lighting design, as we had planned to do, it's not the best plan. For very good reasons, special effects such as strobe lights are left out, and house lights are left on throughout. We had a good time, but not really the full experience.

There was also this one actress who either didn't know where her special light was, or didn't care, and some less-than-enthusiastic performances in general, and well, it could have been better. But we got there!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Trying something new-ish

And now, for a slightly different angle on "playing with plays": I'm going to be in one. Well, sort of. It's not really a play production, it's a one-night staged reading, so I'll have a script in front of me and be surrounded by a lot of talented people I really like. But still ....

Anyway, on Friday night, April 27, at Theatre Alliance over in Winston-Salem, a good-sized cast will be reading the play "8," which uses interviews and trial transcripts to illuminate the trial over California's Proposition 8. It's a good and timely subject, given North Carolina's May 8th voting situation over trying to make a definition of marriage part and parcel of the state's constitution. As for me, with a few historical exceptions (most of them overturned), constitutions are meant to protect peoples' rights, not deny them. So I'm a strong "no" vote person. Kathy has stepped into an ASM role on the KLT musical, which leaves me time to do other things - and this is one that I chose.

It's not that I've never been on stage before -- just not much. "Music Man" as a member of the quartet in high school. "Trial by Jury" as a member of the jury in college. And a bartender in a one-act after graduation. My problem is, and has always been, memorizing lines. I'm just no good at it. It's a shame that the woman in black in "The Woman in Black" is a woman. I'd be good at that role! NO lines!

At any rate, it's a reading. A lot of people I know or know of are part of the cast, too, so looking forward to spending a little time on-stage. I guess I took Carson Kreitzer's advice to heart - if you're going to write for theater, it's good to be part of theater in different fashions as much as possible, both behind and on the stage. I tend to agree.

Now I just have to make time to do some more of the writing part!

Anyway, on Saturday night, we saw George Bernard Shaw's "Man and Superman" at UNCG. It was a master's degree project for the lead female, who was excellent, and included our young friend Mike Shapiro as the one American in an otherwise British cast (and one Irish-American). As was the way in its time, it's not a short show. But very enjoyable!