Review: Noises Off at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with two intermissions (one 15-minute and one 10-minute)

Doors and sardines! Doors and sardines! Apparently, that’s what life is all about… right? Well, maybe not, but it’s always exciting (and a little voyeuristic) to take a peek behind the scenes to see how a show is produced. I don’t know about you, but when a film or an album tickles my fancy, I always enjoy seeing a “Making of…” that particular project and Everyman Theatre‘s latest and last offering of their 2016-17 season, Noises Off by Michael Frayn, Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi, gives us a humorous, frantic peek into what it takes to get a show off the ground and that the show must go on… no matter what.

L-R Deborah Hazlett, Megan Anderson, Carl Schurr, Beth Hylton, Bruce Nelson, and Eric Berryman. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Noises Off is a “show within a show,” meaning the show itself is about putting on a show called Nothing On and Everyman Theatre has even provided the audience with a program for Nothing On, which adds to the authenticity of the piece. The show is given to us in three acts with breaks in between each act. Act I consists of the final dress, Act II takes place backstage a few months into the tour with the play still going on in the front with problems upon problems going on in the back, including cast love triangles, real and imagined, and Act III shows a performance during the last leg of the tour when everyone has lost all give-a-fuck and have stopped being nice and have started getting real, making for some interesting choices onstage. The comedy comes from the slight changes in each Act as the character flaws come to surface off-stage causing everyone to undermine their on-stage performances with A LOT of slapstick. The contrast between the fictional characters of the play Nothing On and the fictional actors playing those characters is also a great example of comic dissonance.

It’s worth mentioning that Noises Off was made into a film in 1992 and starred heavy-hitters such as Carol Burnett, Michael Cain, John Ritter, and Christopher Reeve, among other big names of the time, and, though it was a box office flop, it has since become a favorite (for those who love theatre, anyway), and has gained a sort of cult-ish following. I’m proud to say I’m a part of that group and I LOVE this film.

BACK: Bruce Nelson and Beth Hylton. FRONT: Danny Gavigan, Deborah Hazlett, and Carl Schurr. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

That being said, the production at Everyman Theatre is definitely one to contend with. With Director Vincent M. Lancisi at the helm, Everyman has made this production their own and it is difficult to compare, which is a feat in itself. Lancisi has a complete comprehension of this piece and the farcical comedy with which it comes. He keeps the action moving and the pacing, for the most part, is spot on. Most of the casting is spot on and Lancisi was wise to use the Everyman Theatre Resident Company to fill all but one role as they were splendid in the roles. Though Act I seems a bit subdued, I was at a matinee performance, so, that may have been a factor but, overall, Lancisi does a superb job presenting the never-give-up essence of this piece and brining to the audience an example of putting on a show and what happens behind the scenes as opposed to what we, the audience, sees as the final product.

L-R Beth Hylton, Bruce Nelson, Danny Gavigan, Deborah Hazlett, Emily Kester, Eric Berryman, and Wil Love. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

I would not do any favors for this review or do the production justice if I didn’t mention the set for this production. I’ve stated in the past that Everyman Theatre has yet to disappoint when it comes to their sets and this production is no different at all. Set Design by Daniel Ettinger is exquisite and complex but absolutely appropriate for this piece. Ettinger has an amazing attention to detail and from the stylish woodwork to the knick-knacks, every set piece is befitting and seems to have been carefully chosen. As the three acts require a “flipping” of the set to represent both the front of the set as well as backstage, Set Design must be handled carefully and Ettinger is on point with is design. During the breaks between acts, the set is flipped completely and while most theatres who produce Noises Off have the luxury of a revolve on the stage, Everyman Theatre crew has to manually flip individual set pieces and they do so with great precision and speed so a major shout out and kudos to Stage Manager Cat Wallis and the stage crew of this production.

Emily Kester as Brooke Ashton and Danny Gavigan as Garry Lejeune. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Costume Design by Eric Abele is appropriate as Director Vincent M. Lancisi wisely decided to keep the play set in the 1970s and all the actors were dressed in the general styles of the day with nothing too modern, and all looked comfortable, even the poor actor playing Garry Lejeune with his plaid pants and matching coat and the actress playing the scantily clad Brook Ashton running around in her underwear for most of the show. Abele’s overall Costume Design helped the setting of the piece added value to it rather than distract from it.

Lighting and Sound Design by Jay Herzog and Phillip Owen, respectively, is impressive with an acute attention to detail that added extra authenticity to the production. The slight differences between the front of the set to the back of the stage lighting is realistic as there are certainly different levels of brightness and darkness and the difference in sound is exceptional. Being familiar with being backstage during a production, it’s uncanny how Herzog manages to bring that sound to the audience – a sort of muffled, but understandable speaking to which one must pay close attention to hear what is being said. Both Herzog and Owen are to be commended on their work for this production.

L-R Danny Gavigan as Garry LeJeune, Deborah Hazlett as Dotty Otley, and Bruce Nelson as Frederick Fellowes. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

The ensemble for this production of Noises Off is top-notch and all are dedicated, committed performers who understand the piece and the comedy/farce that goes along with it.

Though all of the performances were on point, Carl Schurr’s take on the role of Lloyd Dallas, the helpless director of the runaway train of a production, falls a little flat for me. The character has peaks and valleys of frustration, calm, anger, and resignation, but Schurr doesn’t seem to invest enough emotion to show the contrast between the feelings this character is experiencing. His frustration could be much more which would make the instant switch to calm much more comedic. I can see where he is going with the character, trying to keep the calm and being a British gentleman, of sorts, but I would still like to see the desperation of the character trying to make the show work. That being said Schurr’s comedic timing is absolutely marvelous and he has great chemistry with his cast making for an fine performance.

FRONT: Bruce Nelson as Frederick Fellowes. BACK: Emily Kester as Brooke Aston. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Bruce Randolph Nelson takes on the role of the dim-witted Frederick Fellowes who is prone to nose-bleeds and isn’t a very good actor at all. In this sense, Nelson is such a good actor, he has this character down pat and certainly makes the role his own as he hits the ground running. The spirit of show is improvisation and Nelson is a hands-down expert in this area. However, there may have been times he took it a bit far, this could just be me being stuffy, but he does such a fine job with the script, too much addition takes away from the performance. This isn’t to say Nelson doesn’t do a great job because he most certainly gives an impeccable performance that will have you belly-laughing throughout his performance.

Megan Anderson as Poppy NOrton-Taylor and Eric Berryman as Tim Allgood. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Tackling the roles of the poor over-worked Stage Manager, Tim Allgood and Assistant Stage Manager, Poppy Norton-Taylor, are Eric Berryman and Megan Anderson, respectively and these two actors completely embody these roles and make them their own. In real life, the behind the scenes folks are sometimes the most dedicated to a production and Berryman and Anderson evoke that spirit in these characters flawlessly, frantically trying to keep the show on course and doing whatever they can to help. Anderson’s portrayal of the skittish, emotional Poppy makes you feel for this character from the get and Berryman’s take on the easily flustered Tim, is funny and authentic.

Danny Gavigan takes on the young Garry Lejeune, a good enough actor with a jealous streak, who involved with the older Dotty Otley and can’t finish a sentence to save his life, unless it’s scripted. Gavigan does a bang up job in this role. His contrast between the two characters he plays (the actor and the character in the play Nothing On) is clear and concise and his physical work a could be a tad more frenetic and fluid but he does a superb job, looks comfortable in the role, and has a very good command of the stage.

L-R Megan Anderson as Poppy NOrton-Taylor, Wil Love as Selsdon Mowbray, and Deborah Hazlett as Dotty Otley. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Wil Love is hilarious as Selsdon Mowbray, the aging, heard of hearing, alcoholic actor who seems to be on his own time and script, but manages to shuffle along with the rest of the show. Love’s comedic timing is spot on and he completely embodies this character making him real and a joy to watch. Emily Kester takes on the role of Brooke Ashton, the ditsy, by-the-script bombshell blond actress, and holds her own with the Resident Company members and they seem to welcome her with open arms. Running around in her unmentionables for a majority of the show doesn’t seem to faze Kester and she gives a strong comedic performance having great chemistry with her cast mates.

Beth Hylton tackles the role of Belinda Blair, the upbeat, positive (for the most part), peacemaker of the troupe and gives a beautiful performance. She’s confident and graceful as this character but also plays the comedic bits superbly, as well. Hylton’s portrayal is believable as the positive one in the group who sees the glass as half-full and is enough to get on your nerves, but also as the one who is able to keep it together when things start falling apart. She gives a committed performance that is a joy to watch.

Deborah Hazlett as Dotty Otley. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Deborah Hazlett as Dotty Otley is absolutely believable and likable in this role and her comedic timing is outstanding. She seems to start off cautious at first, kind of like a slow burn, but then she starts to let loose and by the second act, she lets it go, especially with her quiet interactions with Gavigan who, as Garry, is the love interest to her character, and the relationship is rocky. She may lose her accent here and there, but for the most part, she has it down. Her facial expressions and mannerisms as this character are excellent and make for a very successful performance.

Final thought… Noises Off at Everyman Theatre is a madcap farce that will tickle the most stubborn of funny bones. With a witty script and a dedicated cast, we are given a peek behind the curtain of putting on a production and all that goes with it, good and bad. The entire production is well put-together and the cast has a superb comprehension of the piece. Noises Off has been popular in its own right but contending with a beloved film version (in theatre community, anyway) comparison is always a challenge. However, this production knocks it out of the ballpark. The pacing is frantic, as it should be, and the comedy is spot on making this a must see this season. I couldn’t think of a better way to end out a season so… get your tickets while they last!

This is what I thought of Everyman Theatre’s production of Noises Off… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Noises Off will play through June 18 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For  tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

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PRESS RELEASE: A Deeper look at STEREO Akt, the Hungarian Company behind Promenade: Baltimore

Single Carrot Theatre’s World Premiere of Promenade: Baltimore coming on June 2nd!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

BALTIMORE, MD – The ambitious international collaboration and world premiere, Promenade: Baltimore, opens next week at Single Carrot Theatre. Interviews and outreach to local community members continue to influence the shape of the show, a new element in the model first conceived by the ensemble of STEREO Akt, the Hungarian company whose Budapest-based show, Promenade: Urban Fate Tourism, served as the inspiration for this new endeavor. When Single Carrot’s Artistic Director, Genevieve de Mahy saw the show in 2015, she was inspired by the way the relationship between audience and city was changed and enhanced by the performance and began the process of collaborating across oceans.

STEREO Akt is a theatre production workshop based on the continuous collaboration of director Martin Boross and produce Anikó Rácz. Founded in 2011 and based in Budapest, the company’s work is focused on the – often silent – interaction of performers and viewers; they mount a diverse mix of stage performances, site-specific projects, and social actions with the help of an ever-growing group of artists and volunteers from the local community. Each STEREO Akt performance begins with a simple questions: what will happen to the viewer? This unique emphasis on experience – rather than text – provides the opportunity to move out of traditional theatre spaces allowing the magical and ordinary to blend against a backdrop of everyday life.

Amonst those who have traveled to the United States to collaborate on Promenade: Baltimore are Julia Jakubowska and Martin Boross, both of whom were involved in the original STEREO Akt production. Jakubowska, who is originally from Poland, first performed in Promenade when she was a newcomer to Hungary and spoke virtually no Hungarian. “I felt back then that I was an audience member more than a performer,” she recalls, adding that her original character – a woman contemplating suicide – was drawn from Jakubowska’s own feelings of loneliness and isolation. “Being here in Baltimore is much different… getting to know the city through the eyes of our actors, who are my first guide and teachers in the city. It’s an exciting and rich experience.”

Boross, who serves as director for both versions of Promenade, added that interviews with local community-members have been particularly inspiring: “One of our interviewees said that Baltimore either gives you a hug or punches you in the stomach. The city is full of paradoxes, and it has many faces… by getting in touch with the communities here, it becomes clear that there are an incredible number of citizens who want to act, who can articulate the problems of the neighborhoods, and are able to choose the right tools to move things forward.”

“Working with STEREO Akt on a project about Baltimore has been a process of exchange,” said Single Carrot Artistic Director Genevieve de Mahy. “They see Baltimore with fresh eyes and notice things I had forgotten about. I show them things that you would not see on the surface.”

“We’d like to make something that is entertaining and provocative at the same time,” Boross stated. “To create a plot that avoids the cliches, that is not harmful, but honest, and gives room for dialogue. To create something that makes people feel that they see themselves truly. Even if it’s a fragile state that image reflects, they can still be proud of this image.”

This immense international collaboration opens on June 2nd and runs through June 25th.

Show Synopsis:

Grab your buss pass and get ready to ride! Single Carrot Theatre and STEREO Akt present Promenade: Baltimore, a boundary-breaking production that invites its audience to board a bus and traverse the city, passing through neighborhoods both familiar and unknown. Audience members watch through the windows as actors on the street present poetic expression of everyday life in Baltimore, complimented by a live-mixed soundscape of music, narration, and stories based on and told by neighborhood residents. Promenade: Baltimore celebrates and explores all that is Baltimore: highlighting it’s complexity, struggles, treasures, and, ultimately, its undeniable  beauty. World Premiere.

WHEN:

June 2-June 25, 2017

Thursdays & Fridays at 6:30pm

Saturdays & Sundays at 2pm & 6:30pm

 

WHERE:

Single Carrot Theatre

2600 N. Howard Street Baltimore, MD 21218

Entrance on 26th Street.

Free parking available in adjacent lot and on the street.

 

TICKETS AND ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Tickets: $10-$45

Web: singlecarrot.com

Phone: 443-844-9253

Email: boxoffice@singlecarrot.com

Twitter: @singlecarrot

Instagram: @singlecarrot

“The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.” -Paul Cezanne

Review: Jazz at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

The Jazz Age held different experiences for different folks and Harlem, in New York City, became a cultural mecca in the 1920s. Author and activist James Weldon Johnson called it “the greatest Negro city in the world” as there was a predominant African-American population, but underneath the music, dancing, and good times, many experienced the hardships and tribulations of the African-American community or, in general, just trying to get by. Baltimore Center Stage‘s latest offering, The world premiere of Jazz by Nambi E. Kelley, Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah gives us a glimpse into those hardships that transcend race but are relevant to all human beings throughout time.

Jazz covers a story of generations spanning from the late 1800s through the 1920s and follows Violet, a woman how lost her mother when she was young and sent off into the world to make her own. Along the way, she meets Joe, an eager young man who seems to want the same things in life she wants and they settle in Harlem, in New York City. After years of a seemingly good marriage, Joe strays and falls for the very young Dorcas but, after a short affair, Dorcas falls for another young man and leaves the older Joe with fatal repercussions. After the affair and a quite unfortunate incident, Violet’s life seems to spiral out of control and she tries to find the reasons why it happened while also trying to find answers from the past to explain her current state.

Production value at Baltimore Center Stage is always stellar and Jazz is no different with a minimal but very effective Set Design by Tim Macabee and Projection Design by Alex Basco Koch. The set consists of four large windows that drop in and out and various set pieces to cleverly represent different locations. The simple design helps move the story along and the representation is just enough to help tell the story and crowd the stage with unnecessary set. With help from the cast, scene changes are smooth and it’s easy to determine where each scene is taking place. Koch’s projections add much to the production and help with determining time. His use of what looks like old newsreel footage and vintage photographs gives the piece a surreal feel and moves the story along rather than distract from it. Kudos to Macabee and Basco for the Set and Projection Designs for this production.

Costume Design by David Burdick is spot on representing the styles of the eras this piece covers. His attention to detail is superb with the low waist skirts for the younger ladies and the more conservative look of the older folks. It’s worth mentioning that Burdick does a great job showing the contrast between the fashions of the generations and he understands this piece does not require the glitz and glamour of the Jazz Age, but has managed to put together a wardrobe portraying the middle to low class residents of Harlem and all of his choices give the entire piece a very authentic feel.

This script jumps through time periods and points of view and if I didn’t have the program to give me a timeline of the story, I may have been lost so, I can tell it’s a challenging piece. Through his Direction of this piece, Kwame Kwei-Armah tries to keep it all together, and does for the most part, but the disorienting script is difficult to reign in and the story seems to spill out all over the place. Kwei-Armah keeps the action moving and he seems to have a good comprehension of the material but his choice of using the cast to make the minimal scene changes with no real blackouts to separate scenes might have added to the confusion concerning time periods and points of view. I totally understand his reasoning as it is a 90-minute show with no intermission so, you’ve got to keep the action moving, but perhaps at least a few projections or markers to keep the audience on track may have been helpful. Overall, Kwei-Armah does an admirable job and tells the story as best he can with the material given to him.

The entire ensemble of Jazz is committed and dedicated to this piece an, aside from the material, they all do a commendable job telling this poignant story and work hard to get the message across. Among the able ensemble, Michele Shay takes on the role of Alice Manfred and Leon Addison Brown portrays an older Joe Trace. Shay, though a bit scripted, does a fine job portraying the elderly, more wise female figure with down-home common sense and compassion. She clearly understands her character and keeps it consistent throughout the production. Brown, as older Joe, is also a bit stiff at times, but his comprehension of the character is clear and the emotion he exudes of a man yearning for something more than his lot is impressive.

Warner Miller is comfortable playing the role of Young Joe Trace, an ambitious, go-getter, and gives a believable and confident performance. Miller has a good command of the stage and makes the character likable from the get. Meanwhile, Jasmine Batchelor tackles the role of Dorcas, the young, beautiful “other woman,” and she is the epitome of a young woman in the 1920s. She’s authentic and assured, playing the character with just the right balance of naivete and rebellion that the character requires.

A couple of highlights of this production are Jasmine Carmichael as Young Violet and Shanesia Davis as the older Violet, the character around whom the story revolves. The character of Violet is the most complex and has obvious emotional problems that are not necessarily explained aside from past losses and issues but both of these actresses play the character well and with an intensity needed for the role. Carmichael is outstanding as the Young Violet and seems comfortable and assured in her objectives playing a young girl starting out while Davis portrays the character a little more beat down by the world but who is a survivor and getting by as best she can, while fighting the emotional unbalance in her. Both bring an authenticity to the role that makes the audience feel for their plight and, in the end, root for this character. Both actors have great chemistry with their counterparts (Warner Miller for Carmichael and Leon Addison Brown for Davis), and they work well with their cast mates making for exquisite performances.

Final thought… The World Premiere of Jazz at Baltimore Center Stage is a bit deceiving by name alone as it really does not concern itself with the music style but is a story of love, love loss, and how different humans deal with that loss. The script is a bit trite and jumps around between points of view with no real definition between time periods making the transitions a bit confusing, but most of the performances are top notch and it tells a good story. That being said, the script may need work but the overall production has a beautiful look with its design and complimenting projections and is well-thought out and well put-together, telling a complex story that transcends race and is just as relevant to the 21st century as it was to the early late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This is what I thought of Baltimore Center Stage’s production of Jazz… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Jazz will play through June 25 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 N Calvert Street, Baltimore, MDFor tickets, call the box office at 410-332-0033 or purchase them online.

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Review: Psycho Beach Party at StillPointe Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

So, we’re just about smack dab right in the middle of Maryland, and if you’ve been here for more than a year, you know how crazy the weather can be. It’s summer time and it feels like the middle of autumn… today… tomorrow might feel like the beginning of winter, who knows? However, seeing that we’re in the summer months, if you ever wanted to be a hep cat or a cool chick and ride the waves on the warm, summer beach, StillPointe Theatre has just the ticket for you with their latest production of the kooky Psycho Beach Party by Charles Busch, Directed by Courtney Procter with Set Design by Ryan Haase, Costume Design by Nick Staigerwald, Lighting Design by Lillie Kahkonen, and Sound Design by Todd Mion.

Briefly, Psycho Beach Party is about Chicklet Forrest, a teenager with a personality problem who desperately wants to be in the “in crowd” at Malibu Beach in 1962. Her biggest problem is her personality problem… she has too many of them! These include a Safeway checkout girl, Steve, a male model, and the entire accounting firm of Edelman and Edelman. Her biggest problem, among others, is her alter ego who is a sexual vixen leaning toward Fifty Shades of Grey who wants nothing less than world domination. Along for the ride are some beach bums, the adorable Yo-Yo and Provoloney, the dashing catch and medical school dropout Star Cat, and the King of the Beach, the surf God, Kanaka. Throw in a promiscuous Marvel Ann and Chicklet’s best friend, Berdine, and Mrs. Forrest, you have a twisted tale that’s a cross between the Hitchcock psychological thrillers, Gidget, and a Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello beach party all bunched up in an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-little-polka-dot-bikini.

Once again, Set Design by Ryan Haase does not disappoint. Though a little more minimal than his usual flare, his design is perfectly befitting for this piece, cleverly using the natural levels available to him in this intimate space and using more representative rather than a literal design. Haase’s creativity is impeccable with using material like laminate flooring to represent a sandy beach, which works surprisingly well. It’s minimal, but Haase trusts his actors and artistic team to tell this story and his design does not hinder the storytelling in any way, but enhances it. Kudos to Haase for another job well done.

Rex Anderson, David Brasington, and Jess Rivera. Credit: StillPointe Theatre

As this is definitely a period piece, costuming can be challenging but Costume Designer Nick Staigerwald seems to have no problem with taking us back a few decades to a Malibu Beach with authentic early 60s style swimsuits that help this piece move along. From the modest but bright and printed bathing suits of the ladies to the not-so-modest, barely-there pastel shorts of the men (which absolutely need to make a comeback), the wardrobe is totally appropriate and adds to these characters adding value to this production.

StillPointe’s Mercury Theatre space is interesting and quite intimate and seems a bit tricky for production but you wouldn’t know it with Light Design and Sound Design by Lillie Kahkonen and Todd Mion, respectively. Kahkonen’s use of isolated lighting for important points in the script is spot on and moves the story along and she cleverly uses the general house lighting, as well, to clearly light the space to make sure we see all the action. All the while, Mion’s well-suited and well thought-out Sound Design is reminiscent of the aforementioned beach movies, utilizing the guitar heavy surf-rock music of the era during the transitions that brings the entire production together.

Courtney Procter takes the Directing reigns and has a clear vision for this curious, wacky piece. She doesn’t take the piece too seriously but just seriously enough that the camp isn’t overdone and the story is clearly told. It really is like watching an early 60s teen beach movie and the pacing is on point. She knows the space well and uses what’s available to her. With great casting and intelligent blocking, Procter gives us an enjoyable evening of quirky theatre that’s perfect for Baltimore.

Moving toward the performance aspect of this production, the entire ensemble deserves props for their work in this piece. Playing 1960s beach teens is a feat in itself but all of these actors found their characters and played them well.

Andy Fleming, John Benoit, Christine Demuth, Rex Anderson, and David Brasington. Credit: StillPointe Theatre

Jess Rivera takes on the role of Marvel Ann and Bevin Keefer tackels the part of Bettina Barnes. Both of these actresses gave quite admirable performances and take the roles to heart as the vixen of the beach (Rivera) and the movie star who wants to be an actress (Keefer). Vocal choices and mannerisms drive these characters home nicely to help move the story along.

John Benoit as Kanaka, a little older and King of the Beach, is believable and has the surf tone down pat. He gives a confident performance if a bit scripted, at times, but that’s more the script itself rather than Benoit’s performance choices. Meanwhile, Andy Fleming takes on the role of Star Cat, the medical school drop-out who might have more to offer than he thinks and he plays the role with a self-assurance that is befitting of the part.

Character-wise, the cute-as-a-couple-of-buttons David Brasinston as Yo-Yo and Rex Anderson as Provoloney have to be my favorite. Did I mention the shorts? I did? I’ll say no more about it then. Brasinston and Anderson make a perfect comic team and exude a certain innocence and naivete that is spot on for these young coming-of-age characters. They play their homo-erotic subplot to the T and are hilarious in the process with their asides and quiet background interactions. The seem comfortable in these roles and look like they’re having a blast which, in turn, makes their characters even more lovable and helps the audience have just as much of a good time as they are. Kudos to these two for brilliant, funny performances.

Kathryn Falcone as Mrs. Forrest is impressive as the uptight, 50s/60s mother who seemingly only wants what’s best for her daughter and may or may not have a sordid past. Her character is already an anomaly for being a single mother in the time period but she plays it to the hilt. Mrs. Forrest does go through a comical, complex transition but Falcone plays it seamlessly giving an authentic performance and she is absolutely dedicated to the role.

Though the entire ensemble gives commendable performances, a couple of highlights of this production are June Keating as Berdine and Christine Demuth as Chicklet.

The Cast of Psycho Beach Party. Credit: StillPointe Theatre.

Keating shines as the good-goody, nerdy, but extremely intelligent Berdine portraying this character with a gentleness and purity that makes you root for her. Her subtle facial expressions and movements make her performance natural and totally believable. She’s a joy to watch and I hope to see more from Ms. Keating in the future.

As Chicklet, the most complex character in this piece, Demuth delves into this character and, for as kooky as Chicklet is, Demuth doesn’t play it too absurd and finds a good balance between camp and sincerity. Her transition from personality to personality is flawless (and quite comical, at times) and she has a great comprehension of this loony girl. Her dedication and commitment to this role make her performance a highlight to this production and a treat to experience.

Final thought… Psycho Beach Party at StillPointe Theatre is a fun, nostalgic, and comedic romp through an era when Frankie and Annette ruled the waves… in the movies, anyway, and everyone wanted to be a hep cat or a cool chick. StillPointe Theatre has managed to embody and represent this era in their intimate space with a colorful set design, authentic costumes, and, overall, a well put together production. The script is quirky and a little zany, but the cast is committed and give their all making for an enjoyable evening of theatre. If the crazy Baltimore weather is getting you down, check out Psycho Beach Party and join the grooviest kids in town for some fun in the sun!

This is what I thought of StillPointe Theater’s production of Psycho Beach Party… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Psycho Beach Party will play through June 16 at StillPointe Theatre, 1825 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MDFor more information or tickets, log on to stillpointetheatre.com or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

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Dear Friends at Just Off-Broadway: They May Not Be There For You

By Mark Briner

DISCLAIMERPlease note, one or more persons directly involved in this production are members of the staff of Backstage Baltimore. This individual or persons did not write or participate in writing this review. The only editing performed on this piece was for grammar, punctuation, and organization. No content editing (adding, changing, or omitting words) were completed without the expressed permission of the author.

Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission

In this internet age of 2017, there is not one person reading this column that does not have that ubiquitous, annoying friend or relative who bemoans all the woes of their lives to them personally—the sexless bedroom, the kids’ classroom struggles, the anger, hate, and silence on a daily basis—then logs onto Facebook and posts picture after picture of the perfect Osmond-like family moments, the spouse who is the love of their life, the all-American perfect 2.3 golden children who excel at everything, the blessings of family they gratefully thank God for on a daily basis, the entire “life is beautiful and I’m so thankful” package. As we find in the east coast premiere of Dear Friends by Reginald Rose, presented this weekend only at Just Off Broadway, it’s actually a tale as old as time. Except fifty years ago, the fraud was generally confined to suburban cocktail pleasantries and the annual fake Christmas card letter.

Originally a screenplay written for CBS Playhouse as part of a live television series of plays in 1967 starring such luminaries as Rosemary Harris, Eli Wallach, James Daly, Pernell Roberts, and Hope Lange, the saga opens at a dinner party for eight longtime dear friends hosted, secretly, in efforts to stage an intervention in concern for two of their group, Michael and Lois (Jason Crawford and Tracy Dye) who have recently separated. The ambush however backfires when we soon find that, like in real life, their efforts are not totally altruistic. The fact that one of their own marriages in their close-knit group could fall apart suddenly threatens each of the couples’ not so solid as they would have the others believe relationships.

Cast of Dear Friends. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

The play alternates between the events of the soireé on the traditional mainstage with flashbacks to each of the four couples in private on a satellite platform on the audience floor. In these transitions, we learn the cracks beneath each of their perfect veneers they wear for each other. In an attempt to contemporize a dated script (an affair—shocking!), director Patrick Jay Golden shakes up the gender balance (the four heterosexual white suburban couples in the script are now two straight, one lesbian, and one gay) and utilizes a welcome diverse cast of interracial relationships.

Penny Nichols and Tom Piccin. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Mature couple Lenny and Charlotte (Tom Piccin and Penny Nichols) encourage Michael and Lois to think of their children. But after a late night of Lenny “entertaining a client”, we find their marriage to be a farce fueled by a toxic cocktail of alcohol and anger. The darkest of the relationships, as they pour from a never-ending super-sized bottle of Canadian Club, they heap emotional and physical abuse upon each other in proportion to the alcohol they down. Yet the stay together because they can’t think of a better option to satisfy their individual selfish needs. Think of the children. Piccin and Nichols range from volatile to downright terrifying as the night carries on until these traits publicly unveil themselves at the gathering.

Sarah O’Hara and India Palmer. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Lesbian couple Gigi and Vivian (Sarah O’Hara and India Palmer) actually seem to have a genuine loving relationship. Their only flaw, albeit a critical one, is their disparate views on starting a family. Vivian longs for the experience of motherhood; Gigi isn’t interested. However, they have an extra dimension to their deception. Whereas all the other couples lies are ones of (significant) omission, Gigi and Vivian add a layer of active duplicity, inventing medical complications including a fake cancer scare to justify Gigi’s refusal to have children. Palmer is sweet, gentle, and loving to a fault, burying any disappointment her wife’s decision evokes behind her radiant façade. O’Hara mines an addition layer to her character, so quick to be vocally “honest” regarding the flaws and fallacies of her friends, all the while perpetuating the biggest lie that caused everyone genuine concern and unwarranted worry.

Brad Angst, Joyanne Gohl, and Emmanuel Vickers. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

As the hosts of the evening, gay couple Douglas and Sal (Brad Angst and Emmanuel Vickers) are perhaps the most stereotypically comic in their personal scenes. Angst is the gay trifecta of precision, polish, and perfection, while Vickers is hyper-emotional and tending towards the dramatic. However, when Douglas does the math and deduces that Sal has been unfaithful, the couple draws deep on restraint and inner strength to consciously maintain that perfection they apparently consider so important to their public image. Their scenes are a cool complement to the bombastic, burn the house down Albee-esque theatrics of Lenny and Charlotte.

Tracy Dye and Jason Crawford. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

All the couples in the engaging cast have strong, well defined bonds between themselves, and hide these from the group in their own manipulative ways. But it is Crawford and Dye as the couple in the center of the storm who excel. True, they are aided by the strongest storyline in script, being the only couple who is completely honest with their friends and each other. But their private scenes are not about lies and resentment, instead they are about harsh honesty and unpleasant choices. Ironically the couples with all the secreted problems manage to stay together while these two drift apart not from issues and betrayals, but from simple stagnation. Yet in the midst of the histrionics of the dinner party aimed at saving them, they actually draw closer together, defending their privacy and each other, observing the dislikeable facets of their friends which makes them appreciate the qualities they admire in each other that initially drew them together. We leave the evening in doubt about the future of every couple in the piece, but these two with their amiability and genuine respect for each other, despite actually being separated, may actually be the strongest bet for the duo to be left standing down the road.

Though Theresa Bonvegna is the Resident Set Designer for Just Off Broadway, Jason Crawford and Patrick Jay Golden take the lead on this one and do an admirable job on the main dinner party set creating the ambiance of Douglas and Sal’s gay tastes, utilizing sleek lines in the furniture and fun accents like framed Broadway playbills and a Warholian shrine to Audrey Hepburn across the back wall. Their secondary set on the floor employs sometimes extravagant touches to set the tone of locales from an Atlantic City hotel room to a garden patio brunch. Sometimes his attention to detail on the secondary set leads to extended set changes between scenes. Perhaps they could have chosen a more generic design that could flex into different locations, or have collaborated with Golden to stage them in a common room in everyone’s house. However, having seen a press preview early in production week, these lengthy set changes could have very well ironed themselves out by opening night. Lighting designer Alex Powell gives contrasting effects for the chaotic party and the more intimate scenes on the floor.

Cast of Dear Friends. Credit: Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Director Golden has assembled a very capable and engaging cast through which to interpret his revisionist piece. Golden defends his bold choices of shaking up the genders in the relationships by stating that at the core, all marriages suffer from the same base issues. (Famed gay playwright Terrance McNally might disagree). His able cast gamely embraces the challenge, but with mixed results. For instance, the gender flip of Gigi and Vivian defuses their script. A woman who isn’t interested in adopting or raising another woman’s child doesn’t carry the emotional heft of a husband who doesn’t want to have a child with his wife, the denial of a basic emotional need and betrayal of the very basis of their marriage. In the case of Douglas and Sal, however, the gender flip adds a layer of complexity when a revealed extramarital affair, a common enough issue in the gay community (famed gay playwright Terrance McNally would absolutely agree), transforms a bored bedroom dalliance amongst the group into a lie at the very core of another marriage with its down low implications of closeted homosexuality and an almost direct assault on the boundaries of the group as a corp.

Golden displays proficiencies to be a more intimate director, finding the heart in the scenes between the couples in their private territory, exploring their deceit and flaws while finding their unique pairings. He moves them fluidly through their paces and establishes their inner connections and their outward disconnects. Mechanically, though, his group scenes at the dinner party by contrast are slightly static, lacking blocking movement and physical dynamics. He is not aided by the major flaw in set design, laying out the living room like an actual living room and not a stage (or TV) set space. The sofa is centered and side chairs hug the walls completely across the stage, instead of being drawn into a more intimate central arena in relationship to the sofa and other set pieces. When actors are confined to these seats, the result is a lot of shouted unpleasantries across the room instead of the more personal, in your face assaults the words suggest. This also affects the pacing and emotional dynamics of these encounters since everyone hurls insults from a very safe distance, instead of the lines coming fast and quick, on top of and over each other in the face of the heated, impassioned revelations that unravel the group in the final scenes. Again, however, this was an early dress rehearsal and the cast may improve the pace by merely being more familiar with the scene as the week progressed.

Overall, Dear Friends is an evening of reflection that encourages one to look inward into their own relationships, and reminds us that those daily, awesome, life affirming Facebook posts those dear friends of our own make ad nauseum, usually mask, in direct proportion, the lies and insecurities that are at the heart of the exaggerations. Golden has given us a mirror in which to examine our own exteriors, and the multiple faces covering the various truths and lies that we tell the world, each other, and ourselves in order to get by at the end of the day.

This is what I thought of Just Off Broadway’s production of Dear Friends… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Dear Friends will play through May 21 at Just Off Broadway @ JELC, 4506 Belair Road, Baltimore, MD 21206. For ticket reservation information, email justoffbroadwaymd@gmail.com or purchase them online.

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PRESS RELEASE: East Coast Premiere of DEAR FRIENDS opens at Just Off Broadway

Dear Friends will play ONE WEEKEND ONLY, May 18-21 at Just Off Broadway

Four married couples have been friends for several years and one of the couples, Lois & Michael, decide to call it quits. The other couples, Charlotte & Lenny, Gigi & Vivian, and Douglas & Sal want desperately to help these two see the error of their ways and realize divorce is not what they really want and concoct an intervention, unbeknownst to Lois & Michael. As the evening wears on, problems in all of the marriages and in the friendships themselves start to bubble to the surface. Are these dear friends trying to help Lois & Michael get back together because they truly believe it’s what’s best for them or… are Lois & Michael examples of the raw truth that could shatter the seemingly blissful lives of the others and they want to stop it for their own sakes?

You can purchase tickets online at www.justoffbroadwaymd.wordpress.com/tickets

Tickets also available at the door.

Thursday, Friday, & Saturday – Doors open 7:30PM; Curtain 8:00PM

Sunday – Doors Open 2:30PM; Curtain 3:00PM

Just Off Broadway @ JELC

Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church

4605 Belair Road, Baltimore, MD 21206

(On the corner of Belair Road and Moravia Road)

PRESS RELEASE: Psycho Beach Party Opens at StillPointe Theatre

Psycho Beach Party will be playing May 18 through June 16 at StillPointe Theatre!

A manic party-mix of 50’s psychological thrillers, 60’s beach movies, and 70’s slasher films. The story focuses on Chicklet Forrest, a sixteen-year old tomboy who’s desperate to be part of the in-crowd of Malibu beach surfers. She’s the typical American girl – except for one little problem: her personality is split into more slices than a pepperoni pizza.

June 3rd & 10th have double shows – 7:00PM and 9:30PM

All other performances at 8:00PM

Directed by Courtney Proctor

Tickets available online at: http://events.eventzilla.net/e/stillpointe-presents-psycho-beach-party–2138912517

Located at The Mercury Theater

1823 N Charles Street

Baltimore MD 21201