Review: M. Butterfly at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 30 minutes with two intermissions

(l-r) Brett Messiora, Vichet CHum, and Mika J. Nakano. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

When East meets West, mysterious things can happen and though, some stories are too incredible to be true, Everyman Theatre‘s latest offering and first show of the season, M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang, is indeed incredible and very true (at least most of it), and the gut-wrenching love story it tells is as mysterious as many parts of Asia itself. Directed by Vincent M. Lancisi, this production is not one you want to miss.

Vichet Chum as Song Liling. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

M. Butterfly gets it’s name from the popular Puccini opera Madame Butterfly about a U.S. Naval officer who marries a young Japanese girl, Cio-cio (Madame Butterfly), out of convenience, but plans on leaving her once he finds a suitable American wife. Cio-cio falls deeply and hopelessly in love with this Naval officer who leaves her flat, with a child. When she discovers he has remarried in the USA, she becomes so distraught that she commits suicide all because of her love for this man. Whoo, nelly!

Vitchet Chum as Son LIling. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

In a nutshell, M. Butterfly is somewhat the same story, but in reverse. In this story, a French Diplomat, Rene Gallimard (played by Bruce Randolph Nelson) falls in love with a Japanese actress, Song Liling (played by Vichet Chum) and plays out over a span of 20 years. It’s a breathtaking piece of theatre with a near perfect script. David Henry Hwang does a magnificent job in telling this 20 year story in two and a half hours but there is no confusion as all the gaps are filled in nicely. Hwang masterfully takes the highlights of the story and presents them while explaining, not glazing over the not so important stuff through dialogue and action. His script is very easy to follow, perfectly blends humor and comedy, and the transitions are seamless.

(l-r) Bruce Randolph Nelson, Bernard Boursicot, and Vincent M. Lancisi. Credit: Kirstin Pagan/Everyman Theatre

Set Design by Yu-Hsuan Chen is cleverly minimal with a beautiful cut out screen across the back of the stage with simple set pieces coming in and out to represent different locations. It’s clean, precise, and fits with the story quite appropriately. Chen is careful not to muddle the stage with too much and it keeps the attention on the story being told which is a wise choice and his design is superb and working in tandem with Chen is Lighting Designer Jay Herzog. The Lighting Design is truly and undoubtedly one of the stars of this piece. With the set being minimal, it’s all in the lighting and Herzog steps up to the plate and hits a home run. His design easily sets the moods and puts the audience in each location being represented, taking the audience on the journey with deep-feeling characters and complex story.

Deborah Hazlett as Helga and Bruce Randolph Nelson as Rene Gallimard. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Director Vincent M. Lancisi takes the reigns of this production and his vision and execution for putting this story on the stage are praiseworth. Pacing is on point and the action keeps the piece moving nicely and his casting is impeccable.. It’s worth noting, Mr. Lancisi, as well as some others included in the production, took a trip to France and was able to speak with the man on whom the character of Rene Gallimard is based, Bernard Boursicot, and that meeting seems to have made an impact. Lancisi definitely has a deep comprehension of this piece and does a marvelous job presenting Hwang’s script in an all-around astonishing production.

Mika J. Nakano and Brett Messiora. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Moving into the performance aspect of this production, Every actor in this ensemble is an important part of telling this story, including Everyman Theatre Company member Deborah Hazlett, who takes on the role of Helga, the traditional and conservative wife of Rene Gallimard, and she gives a strong, confident performance with a natural, elegant air for which the character calls.

Bruce Randolph Nelson as Rene Gallimard. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Another supporting actor needing to be mentioned is Tuyet Thi Pham who tackles various roles, including the communist, Comrade Chin. Pham gives an authentic, strong performance and seems to grasp this character wholly, embodying her with every word.

Bruce Randolph Nelson, an Everyman Theatre Company member, as Rene Gallimard, the lovelorn French diplomat, is spectacular, emoting all the confusion and emotion this character requires. His natural performance brings the audience into the story and his knack of storytelling just takes this performance over the top, in a fantastic way.

Vichet Chum as Song Liling. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Vichet Chum taking on the difficult role of Song Liling is the gem in this piece. His versatility is clearly seen as he tackles this role and his understanding of this character is obvious. The chemistry between him and Nelson is on fire, helping Chum give a brilliant, confident performance that brings this mysterious, incredible character to life. You don’t know if you want to love or hate him but that’s what makes the performance so thrilling. He’s definitely one to watch in this production.

Final thought… M. Butterfly is an absolute must-see and a great way to start off the Everyman Theatre season. Not only is it beautiful aesthetically, the performances are superb, and the story is profound with a near perfect script to tell that story. Do yourself a favor and get your tickets now!

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

M. Butterfly will play through October 8 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase them online.

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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.

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Famed Farce Noises Off to Receive Resident Company Treatment With Comically Chaotic Revival at Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre

If you’re a theatre lover, you don’t want to miss this show wherever and whenever it is playing! This hilarious farce shows the real-world problems that can and inevitably arise during any production and relatable to every actor who has tread the boards! So excited for this production!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 25, 2017

 

Theatre’s Season Wraps with Sardines, Silliness and Split-Second Timing

Baltimore, MD – Everyman Theatre’s Resident Company of actors transforms into a British company of actors during the 1970s in this hotly anticipated revival of Tony Award-Winner Michael Frayn’s side-splitting farce to end all farces, Noises Off, directed by Founding Artistic Director Vincent M. Lancisi and running from May 17 through June 18, 2017.

With this love-letter to the thrilling unpredictability of the stage, Everyman Theatre ends its 2016/17 season on a zany note, joined by eight of its Resident Company members portraying a cast of bumbling British thesps (starring in the fictitious play-within-a-play, “Nothing On”) whose backstage buffoonery threatens to steal the show. With their opening night on London’s West End just hours away, can the cast pull their act together before lost lines, love triangles and flying sardines upstage the production?

Punctuated with wall-to-wall wackiness, carefully timed/choreographed hijinks, and spiked with color-popping 1970s pizazz and sight gags galore, Noises Off considers what happens when everything thatcan go wrong, does go wrong, earning laughs-a-minute from its talented cast.

“We’ve all heard the saying that ‘dying is easy, comedy is hard,’ but working within a Resident Company provides a level of family-like comfort for the actors that paves the way for hilarity of the highest caliber to ensue,” said Lancisi. “When audiences recognize our Resident Company members shifting between the characters they play, and the characters that those characters play (in the play within the play), it only adds to the infectious mayhem – literally tripling up on the fun.”

Resident Company members Deborah Hazlett (The Roommate, Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire, An Inspector Calls) and Danny Gavigan (A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman, Ghosts, Deathtrap) lead the show-within-a-show cast as Dotty Otley, the top-billed star ofNothing On and Garry Lejeune, her leading man. They are joined by fellow Resident Company members Bruce Randolph Nelson (Great Expectations, Wait Until Dark, Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire) as Nothing On co-star Frederick Fellowes, Beth Hylton (A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman, Outside Mullingar) as actress Belinda Blair, and Wil Love (Death of a Salesman, Outside Mullingar, Deathtrap) as Selsdon Mowbray, a veteran actor with a weakness for the bottle. The show-within-a-show cast is rounded out by Emily Kester, making her Everyman Theatre debut as the naïve actress Brooke Ashton.

Other featured Resident Company actors in Noises Off include Carl Schurr (Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire, Blithe Spirit) as Lloyd Dallas, the director of Nothing On, with Eric Berryman(Red, Topdog/Underdog, A Raisin in the Sun) and Megan Anderson (Dot, Wait Until Dark, Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire), respectively, as stage manager Tim Allgood and assistant stage manager Poppy Norton-Taylor.

The Noises Off design team includes Resident Designer Company members Daniel Ettinger (Set Design), Jay A. Herzog (Lighting), Gary Logan (Dialects), Lewis Shaw (Fight Choreography) and Jillian Mathews (Props Master). Costume Design is provided by Eric Abele and Sound Design by Phillip Owen.

Noises Off first premiered in 1982 in London and opened in 1983 on Broadway where it received a Tony Award nomination for Best Play. Performed nearly nonstop ever since, Everyman Theatre’s production follows a recent Broadway revival produced by Roundabout Theatre Company.

Tickets for Noises Off are now on sale online (www.everymantheatre.org), by phone (410.752.2208), or at the Everyman Theatre Box Office (315 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21201).

Event Listings

Pay-What-You-Can Performance
May 16, 2017 at 7:30 PM
Pay-What-You-Can (suggested minimum donation: $5) to see the final dress rehearsal of Noises Off. Tickets are sold on a first-come, first-serve basis at the Box Office beginning at 5:30pm. Tickets must be paid for in cash. Seating is general admission.

TNT: Theatre Night for Teens
May 16, 2017 at 6:00 PM
Students in grades 9-12 can enjoy dinner from Noodles & Company, an artist meet-and-greet withNoises Off prop master Jillian Matthews, and the 7:30 PM performance, followed by post-show discussion and dessert. Tickets: $10 each.

The Show Must Go On! A Stoop Storytelling Event
May 22, 2017 (Drinks/music at 6:00 PM; Performance at 7:30 PM)
Everyman and Stoop Storytelling partner to present an entertaining evening of hilarious-but-true stories about the unexpected pitfalls and pratfalls of the stage. Tickets: $20 each.

Taste of Everyman: Wacky Mix-Ups
June 1, 2017 at 6:00 PM
Mix and mingle with other theatre lovers during a pre-show social, this month featuring unique cocktail concoctions combining the most unexpected ingredients, and paired with hors d’oeuvres by The French Kitchen. Tickets: $60 each for show and event.

World of the Play
June 3, 2017 at 5:00 PM
Take part in an in-depth panel discussion on the themes and topics of the show, hosted by Marc Steiner (WEAA’s The Marc Steiner Show). Tickets: $5 each (free for subscribers).

Salon Series: Women’s Voices: Trouble In Mind
June 5, 2017 (Cocktails at 6:00 PM; Performance at 7:00 PM)
A reading of Trouble In Mind by Obie Award-winning African-American playwright Alice Childress, directed by Resident Company member Dawn Ursula. Tickets: $15 each ($5 for students).

Cast Conversations
Jun 8, 2017 at 9:30 PM
Talk about the play with the members of the cast after the show. Free.

About Everyman Theatre

Everyman Theatre is a professional Equity theatre company celebrating the actor, with a Resident Company of artists from the Baltimore/DC area. Founded in 1990 by Vincent M. Lancisi, the theatre is dedicated to engaging the audience through a shared experience between actor and audience seeking connection and emotional truth in performance. Everyman is committed to presenting high quality plays that are affordable and accessible to everyone. The theatre strives to engage, inspire and transform artists, audiences and community through theatre of the highest artistic standards and is committed to embodying the promise of its name, Everyman Theatre.

Noises Off is presented by production sponsor University of Maryland, Baltimore. The 16/17 Season is generously sponsored by LifeBridge Health and Neil & Ellen Meltzer. Everyman Theatre’s Pay-What-You-Can nights are supported by Dr. E. Lee & Bea Robbins. Everyman Theatre is proud to have The Baltimore Sun Media Group and WYPR Season Media Sponsors. MSAC provides financial support and technical assistance to non-profit organizations, units of government, colleges and universities for arts activities. Funding for the Maryland State Arts Council is also provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

Everyman Theatre is a proud member of the Bromo Tower Arts and Entertainment District and the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance.

Vincent M. Lancisi is the Founding Artistic Director of Everyman Theatre; Jonathan K. Waller is the Managing Director. For information about Everyman Theatre, visit www.everymantheatre.org or call 410.752.2208.

Review: Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

We are introduced to Charles Dickens at a very early age, especially around the holidays and, namely, Christmas, with his crazy-popular A Christmas Carol (which, incidentally, is the “scary ghost stories” in that Christmas standard “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,”… in case you’ve always been wondering) but that is not his only work. Many schools also use his novels in standard curriculum and, as an English major in college, I was yet again exposed to his labors and I’ve got to admit, right here and right now… I was not and am not a fan of Mr. Dickens or his writing, but I do appreciate his stories, which helps… a little.

The Cast of GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

The Cast of GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

However, that being said, the latest offering at Everyman Theatre, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, Adapted by Gale Childs Daly, Directed by Tazewell Thompson, with Set Design by Yu-Hsuan Chen, Lighting Design by Stephen Quandt, Sound Design by Fabian Obispo, and Costume Design by David Burdick has absolutely given me a reason to be a fan and thoroughly enjoy the work of Charles Dickens. Regardless of your familiarity with this tale, you won’t be disappointed with Everyman Theatre’s production.

In a nutshell, Great Expectations (the novel) is a self-narrated coming-of-age story an (abused) orphan named Pip, and his life journey from poverty to wealth, the people with whom he meets and parts ways, some good, some bad, and some in-between, love, lost love, and his inevitable self-realization and humbling.

The Cast of GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

The Cast of GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

As I have stated in previous reviews for Everyman Theatre, they never disappoint when it comes to Set Design and Yu-Hsuan Chen pulled out all the stops for this production. Chen’s use of the space is spectacular, giving the actors ample space to move around to keep the action interesting and the attention to detail is second to none. The set alone sets the mood for this piece and the artistry of this faded, derelict setting is superb. Kudos to Yu-Hsuan for a job well done.

The Cast of GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

The Cast of GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Lighting Design by Stephen Quandt and Sound Design by Fabian Obispo worked nicely in tandem to create a subtle but effective visual and auditory sensory presentation to move the story along, giving the audience perspective of time and space while not confusing the plot and situations therein.

Pulling together the production side of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is David Burdick’s excellent Costume Design. Designing for a period piece can be challenging but Burdick really has a grasp on the Dickens era and his design is spot on and authentic, adding great value to the production as a whole.

(l to r) Drew Kopas, Elizabeth Anne Jernigan, and Franchelle Stewart Dorn.  Credit: ClintonBPhotography

(l to r) Drew Kopas, Elizabeth Anne Jernigan, and Franchelle Stewart Dorn. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Taking an old classic and making it new for new audiences is tough, especially when it comes to Charles Dickens stories or anything in stuffy, staunch Dickens/Victorian era, really, but Tazewell Thompson takes the reigns and masterfully weaves this for a 21st century audience without really changing the setting or the story, but giving it a fresh look by getting back to basics of story-telling. Thompson gives us a mix of broken-fourth-wall story-telling and re-enactment that meshes perfectly to tell this story in a way that is easy to follow and understand. I will admit, at first, it took a moment to get into the rhythm of this mix but once you are settled in and connect with these storytellers, the story unfolds effortlessly. More importantly, Thompson seems to really understand these characters and their objectives, moving them smoothly through the story.  Working with Gale Childs Daly’s able adaptation, Thompson gives us an entertaining, accessible piece that makes for a genuinely enjoyable evening of theatre.

(l to r) Drew Kopas and Franchelle Stewart Dorn. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

(l to r) Drew Kopas and Franchelle Stewart Dorn. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

The ensemble work in this piece is outstanding and all of these actors work well with each other and play various roles to tell this tale. Gerrad Alex Taylor and Elizabeth Anne Jernigan, listed as Narrator #2 and Narrator #4 in the program, respectively, also take on the very important roles of Pips friends such as Herbert, Pip’s ever faithful friend and confidant (played by Taylor) and Estelle, Pip’s love interest and main inspiration for acquiring a higher status in life (played by Jernigan). Taylor’s portrayal of Herbert makes him a very likable character and Jernigan plays Estelle with a coldness and bitterness befitting of the character and her presentation of the character’s change is authentic and heartwarming. Both of these actors are very comfortable with their characters and give admirable performances.

Drew Kopas as Pip is charming as he takes his character from boyhood to adulthood. It is easy to connect with this character from the start and Kopas keeps that connection with the audience throughout the entire production. His subtle voice and manner change as Pip grows and journeys through life is quite impressive giving the feel of this young man growing up right before our eyes. Taking on the main character of this piece, Kopas gives an outstanding and intelligent performance that is to be commended.

(l to r) Gerrad Alex Taylor and Brit Herring. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

(l to r) Gerrad Alex Taylor and Brit Herring. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Brit Herring as Joe is absolutely heart-warming. In the program, he is listed simply as Narrator #5 but, like his cohorts, he tackles multiple roles in this piece but his portrayal as Joe, Pip’s warm and loving brother-in-law, is stellar. His ability to switch between completely different characters and keep them separate makes his performance a joy to watch.

Among the talented and dedicated ensemble, Bruce Randolph Nelson and Franchelle Stewart Dorn are definite highlights.

Bruce R. Nelson and Drew Kopas. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Bruce R. Nelson and Drew Kopas. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Bruce Randolph Nelson (an Everyman Theatre Resident Company Member) is listed as Narrator #1 but also takes on the role of Magwitch, a raw, crude convict who happens to run into a very young and helpful Pip and he absolutely nails this character both in physicality and vocality. He also gives a brilliant performance in the role of Uncle Pumblechook, who has a part in moving Pip along during his journey. Unlike the sloth-like, slow, heavy character described in the novel, Nelson makes the choice to take this character in another humorous and flamboyant direction that is making for an undoubtedly successful performance.

Franchelle Stewart Dorn as Miss Havisham. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Franchelle Stewart Dorn as Miss Havisham. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Franchelle Stewart Dorn is credited as Narrator #3 but takes on the very important roles of Mrs. Joe, Pip’s much older sister, and Miss Havisham, the bitter, jilted, and wealthy old lady who lives in the very large house down the street. Dorn is an absolute pleasure to watch. As Mrs. Joe, she’s forceful, crude, and loud, as the character requires and as Miss Havisham, she oozes bitterness and contempt, but Dorn manages to get the audience to pity this character she embodies. It’s worth noting, I could listen to this woman talk for hours. Dorn’s voice is smooth and booming as it resonates through the entire theatre and every word is crystal clear allowing for an impressive and superb performance.

Final thought…Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations at Everyman Theatre is a brand new take on an old classic. It’s refreshing, entertaining, and accessible that it opens up to a new generation that may have otherwise let it sit on the bookshelf to collect dust. This adaptation handles the many subplots and twists beautifully with a perfect blend of old-fashioned story-telling and re-enactment while the production itself is well thought-out and the impeccable casting of a very capable ensemble make this a show you want to check out. Whether you’re familiar with Charles Dickens’ work or not and whether you’re a fan or not, this production will introduce you to this story either again or for the first time with a fresh and energizing telling.

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

Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations will play through March 5 at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or purchase them online.

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New Backstage Banter for Wait Until Dark at Everyman Theatre

Backstage Banter Title Update 061716

Check out the Backstage Banter for Wait Until Dark at Everyman Theatre!

“… throw in Greenwich Village, NYC in 1944 and a basement apartment and you have a fast paced, intelligent story that has you writhing in your seat and wanting to jump up on stage to yell directions to the protagonist.”

Everyman Theatre

Review: Wait Until Dark at Everyman Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.

I’ve always been a fan of a good thriller. The nail biting, the jumps, the wondering what’s going to happen next, the edge-of-your-seat stuff… everything! I also love it because it accelerates the heart rate and you don’t even have to step on a treadmill, and we could all use some good cardio every now and again! The latest offering and opening production of the 2016/2017 season at Everyman Theatre, Wait Until Dark by Frederick Knott, Adapted by Jeffery Hatcher, and Directed by Donald Hicken is two hours of excitement, intrigue, and entertainment that gets the heart racing and will have you leaving the theatre with shorter nails and when you walked in.

Megan Anderson as Susan. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Megan Anderson as Susan. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Wait Until Dark is cleverly crafted with a ruthless gangster-type, an ousted NYPD detective, an army buddy, a bratty neighbor girl, an absent husband, and a seemingly helpless blind housewife who are all intertwined in a deadly game of hide and seek and catch-me-if-you-can. If this isn’t intriguing enough, throw in Greenwich Village, NYC in 1944 and a basement apartment and you have a fast paced, intelligent story that has you writhing in your seat and wanting to jump up on stage to yell directions to the protagonist.

Set Design by Daniel Ettinger is authentic, very well thought-out and compliments the story beautifully. Being a unit set and a basement apartment, Ettinger uses levels and, working along with the blocking of the piece, keeps the action moving and interesting. The set was so realistic, I really felt I was looking in through the window of a 1940s apartment in Greenwich Village so Mr. Ettinger has absolutely and superbly accomplished his set designing goals.

Eric M. Messner as Mike and Megan Anderson as Susan. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Eric M. Messner as Mike and Megan Anderson as Susan. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Costume Design by Ben Argenta Kress is spot on for the 1944 New York City setting and each actor’s wardrobe is seemingly researched and well though-out. Also, the costumes did not only fit the piece, the actors seemed to be very comfortable in what he or she is wearing, adding to the natural feel of the performances. From the saddle shoes of the upstairs neighbor girl to the uniform of a WWII soldier back from Italy, everything was in place and was matched impeccably with the piece.

Continuing with the technical aspect of this production, I couldn’t call this review complete without mentioning Lighting Design by Jay A. Herzog and Sound Design by Patrick Calhoun. Along with the Set Design and Costume Design, the Lights and Sound make this production a standout in current-running Baltimore theatre.

Megan Anderson as Susan. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Megan Anderson as Susan. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Many folks have different theatre tastes – traditional, minimal, spectacle, etc. – and I am more of a traditionalist, overall, but this production is truly impressive for the fact that I felt as though I was sitting in a movie theatre watching a film because of the Light and Sound Design. The cinematic feel was just want this production needed and every cue was chosen wisely.

Patrick Calhoun’s choice of incidental music and dramatic string chords were not overbearing but used seamlessly with the scenes playing out on the stage. The attention to detail is absolutely remarkable from the footsteps in the hall, the locking of doors, and the city sounds to the ticking clock, that emphasizes the suspense and has your heart beating just as loudly and in rhythm. Calhoun’s design is extraordinary and is a major part of the success of this production.

In 1967, Wait Until Dark was made into a successful film starring Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, and Richard Crenna using the film noir style. The “noir” bit was a huge part in making the film successful (not to mention Miss Hepburn, of course), and this fact does not go unnoticed by Jay A. Herzog. His Lighting Design was near perfect for this production and completed the aforementioned cinematic feel of this piece. His use of lighting through the windows and through the open doors is realistic and added to the action. The prop lighting, such as lamps, flashlights, and the like fit in flawlessly, as well, adding subtle practicality to the entire production. The piece is dim, as all noir pieces are, but Herzog found a happy medium between the dark scenes and brightly lit scenes that did not take away from or hinder the action or story, but helped it along making for a very effective design.

The technical aspect of this production took this piece to the next level and Ettinger, Kress, Herzog, and Calhoun are to be commended for their impeccable technical work.

Taking the helm of this production, Director Donald Hicken’s vision for Wait Until Dark is genuine and well examined. He keeps the piece in its traditional setting, which is ideal for this piece, and his blocking keeps the actors moving through the various entrances and exits and keeps the action exciting. All of the technical and performance elements mesh together wonderfully and the tension is clearly present throughout but Hicken keeps the piece entertaining, as well, as to not overload the audience with horror and suspense. Overall, Hicken does a tremendous job in guiding this production.

Megan Anderson as Susan and Bruce Randolph Nelson as Roat. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Megan Anderson as Susan and Bruce Randolph Nelson as Roat. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

At a particularly intense point in this piece, there is a drag-out, knock-down fight between a couple of important characters and though the scene choreographed by Fight Choreographer Lewis Shaw is respectable and passionate, something seemed to be off kilter. Perhaps it is the unbalanced momentum of the scene that seems to be interrupted here and there, giving us spurts of extreme physicality with dark quiet in between. The entire fight scene just seemed a bit forced and not as naturally flowing as the rest of the piece. Still, it was a respectable fight scene and the intensity was definitely there, making the audience gasp and clutch the arm rests while waiting to see who the ultimate victor is.

To comment on the performance side of Wait Until Dark, I’d like to begin by stating that the entire ensemble is impressive from the supporting actors such as Arturo Tolentino who gives a strong performance as the congenial WWII veteran husband, Sam, and Todd Scofield who is a convincing gruff, weathered, and disgraced former member of the NYPD.

Tolentino is confident as the very likable, young newlywed, Sam, who isn’t going to do things for his disabled wife, but wants her to do things for herself and he’s very natural and gives a very pleasing performance.

Todd Scofield as Carlino and Eric M. Messner as Mike. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Todd Scofield as Carlino and Eric M. Messner as Mike. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Scofield takes on Carlino, the first character to whom we are introduced and he sets the tone nicely, giving a robust, accurate portrayal of a character he seems to truly understand.

Bruce Randolph Nelson tackles the role of the old time, tough-guy ganster, Roat. He gives a commendable performance as he not only plays the tough gangster, but has to play a mild-mannered husband, as well as an in-your-face father, all within moments of each other. The contrasts between the characters he portrays and the ease in which he portrays them is evidence of the self-assurance he conveys on stage making for a magnificent, strong performance.

Bruce Randolph Neslon as Roat. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Bruce Randolph Neslon as Roat. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

In this particular production, the role of Gloria, the bratty upstairs neighbor girl who “helps” her disabled downstairs neighbor, is played by two young actresses, Ui-Seng Francois and Shannon Hutchinson. I had the pleasure of experiencing the performance of Ui-Seng Francois and I was not disappointed. Francois’ performance is so authentic, I found myself actually hating this little monster and wishing she’d step out in front of a NY Transit bus every time she opens her nasty flippant mouth. So, needless to say, wishing for her unpleasant demise is a credit to her very strong performance. Also, this character’s change throughout the piece is very interesting and Francois pulls it off flawlessly and she ended up probably being my favorite character in the piece. I’m looking forward to seeing more from this young lady.

Eric M. Messner takes on the role of Mike, a jovial, friendly soldier who’s back from the war on the Italian front but, as with many things and people, never judge a book by its cover. Messner plays the complex character brilliantly and comfortably with a confidence and definite command of the stage. This character is supposed to be likeable from the beginning and Messner accomplishes this nicely with his large stature, his voice – a soothing timber and tone, his gentle mannerisms, and giving off the overall sense of security. He is likened to a gentle giant that you’d like to have around in a pinch.

Megan Anderson as Susan. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

Megan Anderson as Susan. Credit: ClintonBPhotography

A definite highlight of this production is Megan Anderson as Susan, the blind but independent housewife who ends up in the middle of this nerve-racking tale, who has a constitution of steel and discovers exactly how strong she can be despite her disability. Portraying a character with any disability is a challenge for any actor, but Anderson pulls it off flawlessly and authentically. She does not falter or drop her “blindness” at any moment in the production and her dedication and understanding not only of the disability of this character, but of the character herself is clear in superb performance. Her transition from the poor blind woman we feel sorry for to strong blind woman we’re rooting for is gradual, realistic, and seamless. She is an absolute joy to watch and her command of the stage makes for a solid and worthy performance.

Final thought… Wait Until Dark is a suspenseful and extremely entertaining show that will raise your heart rate, have you biting your nails wondering who is friend and who is foe, and rooting for the assumed underdog. It definitely has all the requirements for a good thriller with a twisting story and very talented cast that will have you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

This is what I thought of this production of Wait Until Dark.… what do you think?

Wait Until Dark will play through October 9 at Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. For tickets, call the box office at 410-752-2208 or purchase them online.