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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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