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Last of the Red Hot Lovers – MBT Summer Rep in the Walton Theatre

July 21st, 2014

Hot Hot Hot by Marla Bronstein
Classic Neil Simon at his best is presented by The MBT Summer Rep’s performance of Last of the Red Hot Lovers.
Walbeck plays Barney Cashman, the poster child for all schlubs. 47 year old Barney owns a fish restaurant, and except for 15 minutes with a 44 year old hooker when he was 18, is lamenting the fact that in the middle of the sexual revolution, the only woman he has ever had sex with is Thelma, his wife of 23 years.
I had seen the publicity photos, and yet had to see for myself. Local icon Sean Walbeck wearing a tie (three ties) the correct way. Sigh. Miracles do happen.
We watch Barney enthusiastically, incessantly, frustratingly painfully, and unsuccessfully attempt to change this status. Using his mother’s apartment, he has a few hours to “get-er-done” before his mother gets home from work at 5pm.
First we meet Elaine Navazio, played by Seattle’s Imogen Love, a brash, whiskey slugging redhead with a smoker’s cough that could choke a horse. Barney gets to first base, drawing blood in the process and practically breaking a hip.
A second attempt is months later with a different girl, Barney thinks he’s going to score with Bobbi Michele, performed by local Shelby Windom, a pot smoking wanna be actress he picked up in the park. When he gets too stoned to round the bases, they end up doing no more than singing pop songs and primal screaming before the evening ends.
A few more months of screwing up courage, and Jeannette Fisher appears at the door, played by Portland’s Kim Bogus. Jeanette happens to be a friend of Thelma`s who is trying to get back at her husband for cheating. Jeanette’s deadpan delivery demanding that Barney identify at least three people who are decent, loving and kind, made my stomach ache from laughing.
As is expected by Simon, Barney delivers the best straight lines to the women, each of whom was completely different yet equally strong in their performance and hit every mark with a one two punch.
Walbeck is funniest at his physical comedy…whether it’s trying to get the smell of fish off his fingers or being stoned to the point of experiencing primal scream therapy. Every cast member had their time to cause the audience to roar with laughter.
Director Ken Michels used every inch of the stage as set in the round to his advantage. Directing a director (Walbeck) can be a challenge, yet Michels never breaks a sweat.
Barney`s mother apparently never taught her son to not jump on the furniture. The set design was perfectly reminiscent of my grandmother’s apartment in the late 60′s which she, too, kept decorated as if it were the 40′s. I was a bit thrown by the Bloomingdale’s Little Brown Bag which didn’t actually appear in the store until 1973, a few years after the play’s 1969 setting.
My compliments to the lighting and sound designers, who kept a careful eye on the actors as they opened and shut window blinds and rang doorbells.
Last of the Red Hot Lovers plays:Jul 16th, 19th, 22nd, 25th, 31st, Aug 6th, 9th, 7:30PM, Aug 3rd, 3:00PM
Venue: Walton Theatre
Price: Tickets $25.00 adults, $12.50 students w/ valid i.d. plus applicable fees. Group discounts available – call (360) 734-6080

Talley’s Folly – MBT Summer Rep in the Walton Theatre

July 21st, 2014

Summer Lovin’ by Marla Bronstein

Every summer the Mount Baker Theater produces the Summer Rep Series, treating patrons to performances that allow both equity and non-equity actors to play together on stage. This summer, along with Becky’s New Car and Last of the Red Hot Lovers, is Talley’s Folly which earned a 1980 Pulitzer Prize for author Lanford Wilson as part of the “Talley Trilogy.”

The “Folly” is the dilapidated boat house in Lebanon, Missouri, built by elder Talley, as described eloquently by Matthew, an accountant visiting from St. Louis. He is there to tell us about what happened way back in the summer of 1944, when he went to court Talley’s niece Sally. Matthew, a nice Jewish boy, and Sally, a former Methodist Sunday school teacher, had a tryst the summer before, and while Matthew can’t get over Sally (he’s been sending her letters every week) Sally is playing hard to get, and only accidentally admits that she’s read more than one of them.

When the lights first come up on Robert Pescovitz (Matthew) he tells us we will be his audience for 97 minutes to tell his story. Pescovitz has a long list of stage and screen credits behind him. As if he’s having a casual conversation with us, he sets the scene for us. At the completion of the exposition, he offered to repeat himself in case anyone in the audience missed something. I personally and immensely enjoyed his repetition of his opening, which he performed at break neck speed. The audience seemed to appreciate it as well.

Part of the joy of this Rep series is that we are treated to performances by actors and actresses who were, at one time, part of the local theater scene. Laura Engels returns to Bellingham and brings depth to Sally’s angst and heartbreak.

Matthew is not without his demons. As a child, he had suffered great personal loss, and, until meeting Sally, felt no hope.

While this all sounds pretty heavy, this show is not without its comic relief. Matthew and Laura banter like an old married couple. What people in 1944 thought it might be like in1980 is always funny. And who would have thought there could be ice skating on an indoor stage in the middle of July?

Esteemed guest director Lamby Hedge makes full use of the theater in the round and the simply designed stage. She’s outfitted a hexagonal wooden platform with a few set pieces consisting of crates, barrels and boxes. Hidden within are old ice skates and a working (electric) lantern. Hedge gives equal time to every patron in the theatre for face to face time with the actors, whether they are chatting, arguing, wrestling, dancing or ice skating.

Designers Alison Terry (sound) and Sara Kaiser (lighting) keep everything understated, so as to not distract from the work of the actors.

In the end, Matthew proved to be the mensch every mother would want to have marry her daughter.

Jul 15th, 18th, 24th, 30th, Aug 2nd, 5th, 8th, 7:30 PM
Jul 27th, 3:00 PM,
Venue: Walton Theatre
Price: Tickets $25.00 adults, $12.50 students w/ valid i.d. plus applicable fees. Group discounts available – call (360) 734-6080. Website http://www.mountbakertheatre.com

Becky’s New Car – MBT Summer Rep in the Walton Theatre

July 18th, 2014

By Teri Grimes

Originally commissioned and produced by ACT Theatre in Seattle, the 2008 comedy Becky’s New Car by Steven Dietz is a paean to the dubious joys of the mid-life crisis. This rollicking ride with Becky Foster, played with depth and great sympathy by Bonnie Brennan Hollingsworth, is a masterful, heartfelt comedy that sparkles with witty dialogue, an utter lack of fourth wall, and moments of touching pathos.
Directed by WWU’s Beth Leonard, the show is staged in the round, and the script works delightfully with the intimate setting as the actors acknowledge and address the audience throughout the play. At various times, Becky asks the audience to help with a leaky roof, collate paperwork, and help her with an important decision in her personal life. The simple set gives us locations vital to Becky’s life – her home, her office at the car dealership, and the terrace of Walter Flood’s mansion. Becky races from one locale to another with increasing difficulties as the plot escalates.
The theme of Becky’s New Car is a line that Becky delivers – that when a woman says “she wants a new car, she wants a new life.” Well, Becky wants a new car. And when millionaire, Walter Flood stumbles into Becky’s office late one night to buy nine cars as gifts to his staff – Becky’s new life commences. In fact, her new life tumbles into a series of deceits so tangled that Becky’s life becomes absolutely Shakespearean in its machinations. Oh, it is a tangled web she weaves! The lies and silences practiced by Becky nearly make her the villain in her own story, but Dietz never lets Becky off the hook, thereby making a truly funny comedy into something a lot deeper.
The cast of the show is stellar. They deftly handle the challenge of balancing farce with true emotional depth. Hollingsworth is delightful and completely believable in the title role, and she is supported by strong performances from the entire cast. Local theatre guru, Sean Walbeck, plays Becky’s blue collar husband, Joe. Walbeck’s honest-to-the-bone acting makes us both laugh and cry for his long-suffering character. Becky’s new love interest, Walter Flood, is played with devastating and quirky charm by Curt Simmons. Simmons comic timing is absolutely masterful, and we hope Bellingham audiences get the opportunity to see more of him. Shae Hughes, a recent Western grad, plays car salesman Steve, a self-involved widower. Hughes’ energy is contagious and he has a delightful monologue that left the audience gasping from belly laughs. Western theatre students, Sam Schultz and Shelby Windom play the twenty-something’s who meet and fall in love. The twist in the plot is that Kenni (Windom) is Walter’s daughter, and Chris (Schultz) is Becky and Joe’s son. Oops. Sam Schultz’ grasp of his characters psycho-babble is very funny, and Windom gives a smaller role unexpected depth. Seattle actress, Imogen Love, sizzles in the role of Ginger, who has recently lost all of her trust-fund wealth, and now works as a bartender, giving an entirely new meaning to the phrase “mid-life crisis.”
Becky’s New Car is a wonderful ride. Dietz has created a disarmingly thoughtful comedy that will live with the audience long after the lights go down.

July 15 – August 10, 2014
Becky’s New Car plays 7/20 and 8/10 at 3:00 p.m.
7/23, 7/26, 7/29, 8/1, and 8/7 at 7:30 p.m.
$25.00 general admission/$12.50 Students

Much Ado About Something

July 11th, 2014

by Marla Bronstein

This is only the second time I have attended a play performed as part of the Skagit River Shakespeare Festival, a program of Shakespeare Northwest. The 2014 season features “Much Ado About Nothing,” directed by Diana Farnsworth and “Macbeth,” directed by Trey Hatch. Full disclaimer, “Much Ado About Nothing” is one of the few Shakespeare plays I had not ever seen or read or studied. From my previous experience with the Bard, I knew I would need to diagram the characters and relationships so that when I arrived at the performance grounds I could just pay attention to the story. It helped me enjoy the play thoroughly.

Everything that I had read about the story indicated to me that it was about about Hero and Claudio, sweetly played by Lydia Randall and Danny Herter. And that it was about Hero’s mother Leonata, a cross-gendered casting strongly played by Beth Greatorex) and Claudio’s friend Don Pedro, deftly played by Bjorn A. Whitney who are the catalyst for their meeting and, inevitable falling-in-love and getting-engaged-to-be-married. It’s also about Hero’s cousin Beatrice and Claudio’s friend Benedick, who are well-played, well-matched and well-married in real life Akilah Williams and Christopher C. Cariker. Benedick and Beatrice banter and word spar when they are in each other’s presence, which tells Hero and Claudio that Benedick and Beatrice are perfect for each other.

Don Pedro’s evil brother, Don John, played by Trey Hatch, is one of those people who is annoyed by the happiness of others. He’s what my mother would have called an Alter kocker. He decides to use Borachio, one of his two henchmen to create the ruse of Hero’s infidelity to Claudio on the eve of the wedding. The unfaithful act is reported to Claudio and when he confronts Hero at the alter, she drops dead in shame.

Well, she’s not really dead, but she is to Hero. And to her mother. This is the moment the feminist in me got annoyed.

In fairness, I decided to let Mr. Shakespeare finish telling his story, to give him a chance to redeem himself.

Hero being dumped at the alter resulted in Beatrice and Benedick finally declaring their love for each other. Benedick loves Beatrice hook line and sinker, like the John Legend Song “All of Me.” Benedick is a keeper. Beatrice tells him to avenge her cousin, and off he goes.

Enter the constable, Dogberry, a very funny and acerbic portrayal by Michael Wallace. Because Borachio is a pompous ass, he has bragged about his successful ploy within earshot of the constable’s associates, and is promptly arrested.

Happy ending, Borachio brings the truth to light, everyone learns that Hero is really innocent, and Claudio, who now declares his love for his “dead” Hero, grieves for her. (IMHO Too little too late buddy.) Leonata tricks Claudio into marrying “Beatrice” who is really Hero hidden under a veil. If I were Hero, I would have walked away when I had the chance.

Directed with a simple set of platforms and a table and chairs, Farnsworth used every level and bit of space, and even had actors working on some weeding of the grounds.

Christopher C. Caricker as Benedick is natural and funny and at times a cross between Jerry Lewis and Jim Carey. He can also throw a grape in the air while walking and catch it in his mouth. He delivers a performance that is not to be missed.

I’ve already mentioned Michael Wallace, who appeared to be having the time of his life. David Cox is a fixture around these parts, and one of the steadiest actors around.

I can’t say enough about Carolyn Travis and Trey Hatch, who are the pillars of this theatre company.

This supporting cast of strong actors also includes James Brown, John Roberson, Cassandra Leon, Elizabeth Lundquist, and Claire Hardt Andrews who will make the evening fly.

I would be remiss if I neglected to make comment on the costuming. Director Farnsworth set the time period in the roaring 20s, and even a silent music party scene was a stunning sight to see. I’m a stickler for shoes and dresses, and the costuming team sold the authenticity of every last one of them.

Ok, so I’m not a fan of the story itself. Yeah, there are bugs and an occasional plane (there were six that I counted during the performance.) What’s important here is that you will enjoy stellar performances in one of the most beautiful acting spaces around.

The Rexville-Blackrock Amphitheatre is an old rock quarry and a stunning natural theater space. Look for Shakespeare Northwest at www.shakesnw.org. Picnics, lawn chairs and blankets are welcome but, sorry, no dogs.

Much Ado at the Rexville-Blackrock Amphitheatre
19299 Rexville Grange Road, Mt Vernon, WA
Regular tickets $12/$10 with student ID
July 12,18,24, 31 August 2,8,14,16 7:00pm
13 Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival – Much Ado @ 4pm Volunteer Park
July 20, August 10 2:00pm
26 IRON MAN – All three shows plus a commemorative t-shirt! $30
1:00 pm Much Ado,
4:00 pm To Be or Not TV2 (Touring Show)
7:00 pm Macbeth

Macbeth at Shakespeare Northwest

July 9th, 2014

By Teri Grimes

The Blackrock Amphitheatre serves as a perfect backdrop for Shakespeare’s haunting and bloody masterpiece, Macbeth, opening on July 10th this week. The Amphitheatre is an enormous curve of black sandstone set in a field next to the Rexville Grange. Starting its fifth season in this venue, Shakespeare Northwest will present the 14th annual Skagit River Shakespeare Festival in this outdoor space from July 10 through August 16, 2014. The festival will include Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth.
Macbeth is directed with a sure hand by Trey Hatch, and the setting of the Amphitheatre sets us very squarely in the Scottish Highlands. The set is a simple arrangement of platforms and tents which is traditional for Shakespearean stages. And it works beautifully for this production. Natural lighting, and a simple drum and thunder sheet set the mood as the show commences. This production has been assembled with much care and detail. The costumes are an eclectic mix of Scottish kilts interspersed with an amalgam of suggestive pieces that blend into a nicely unified look. Period broad swords and knives add realism to the visceral fight scenes.
Our first glimpse in the production is of the creepy, prophecy-bearing witches, played with earthy nastiness by Beth Greatorex, Cassandra Leon and Carolyn Travis. The witches hail Macbeth as king, and Banquo as a father of kings to come. Banquo is played with understated vulnerability by James Brown, and he gives a nice counterpoint to that vulnerability when he returns as a blood-soaked ghost seeking vengeance.
We sense that the people of Scotland are immersed in constant civil wars. Michael Wallace plays a testy and aged King Duncan who is about to welcome Banquo and his great general, Macbeth, back from the plague of battle.
Bjorn A. Whitney gives us a Macbeth who is essentially most comfortable as a soldier. Though he is not without ambition or the urge to rule, he needs a catalyst to command him to act on his desires. Enter Lady Macbeth, the voice of unreasoning ambition. Whitney’s performance as Macbeth is spot on – tightly well-paced and focused, his performance is given with verve and energy. His diction is flawless, and his physicality solidly martial. Jaime Mastromonica gives a nicely layered performance as Lady M, although her innate sweetness tends to negate some of the necessary sexual overtones needed for the role. However, she really shines in her final sleepwalking scene when guilt overrides her passion, and leads to her ultimate demise.
The opposing heroic characters of Macbeth have an uphill battle competing with the wonderful badness of Macbeth and his lady. However, this cast is equal to the battle and never allow their characters to become stiff or boring. John Roberson as Malcolm the true heir, is especially good and makes us worry for the future of Scotland. Thomas Beirne as the noble Macduff has some very nice moments of internalized acting; Zoe Bronstein as Lady Macduff, and Scott Alan Andrews as the Earl of Northumberland give polished and intentional performances. I greatly enjoyed the performance of Raido McComas as the drunken porter who provides the only comic relief in this dark world.
Macbeth’s henchmen, nobles and servants round out a solid cast of characters that obviously know their stuff. As for those witches, they scurry and skulk about with the help of Hecate, played to creepy, zombiesque perfection by Glynna Goff, determined to cause havoc and enjoy the fruits of their mischief.
If you go, look for Shakespeare Northwest at www.shakesnw.org or on Facebook for dates, times, tickets and more information. Picnics, lawn chairs and blankets are welcome – and bring the bug spray!
Shakespeare Northwest, 2014 Skagit River Shakespeare Festival, shakesnw.org

Macbeth at the Rexville-Blackrock Amphitheatre
19299 Rexville Grange Road, Mt Vernon, WA
Regular tickets $12/$10 with student ID
Iron Man on 7/26 with 3 shows for $30
Macbeth plays July 10, 11, 17, 19, 25, 25 and
August 1, 7, 9, 15 at 7:00 p.m.
August 3 at 2:00 p.m.


Border Songs at the Firehouse and Claire vg Thomas

June 21st, 2014

by Zoe Bronstein

Border Songs, the story of unlikely hero Brandon Vanderkool and his community in the midst of US/Canada border tensions, drug smuggling and small-town gossip opens at the Firehouse Performing Arts Center this weekend. Jim Lynch’s award-winning novel of the same name is adapted for the stage by Bryan Willis and presented by Bellingham Theatreworks, headed by director Mark Kuntz and producer Steve Lyons.
Brandon (played by Kyle Henick) is an awkward young man who works as a US Border Patrol officer. Almost too tall to be allowed, and dyslexic to the point that it sometimes handicaps his speech, Brandon has lived his life as a quiet and shy observer. He seems content recognizing bird calls, creating wood sculptures (with his artwork covering a good portion of the stage) and pining for Madeline (Linnea Ingalls), the only girl who was ever nice to him in school. Brandon discovers an inexplicable and dangerous talent for catching people trying to cross the border.
Meanwhile, Brandon’s father Norm (Tim Tully), a dairy farmer, has his own problems beyond his overgrown son. His cows are sick. His wife Jeanette (Beth Wallace) is showing signs of dementia. He can’t stand his often stoned Canadian neighbor Wayne (Jim Lortz) who happens to be Madeline’s father and lives on the other side of a shallow ditch that serves as the national border. He is contemplating an offer to allow his land to be used as a shortcut for drug traffickers willing to buy his silence. And he is growing more and more obsessed with the mysterious and attractive masseuse who just moved into the house nearby (Jessica Young).

Border_Songs_1_small Wayne (Jim Lortz) and Norm (Tim Tully) admire Sophie’s (Jessica Young) laundry in Border Songs.

There is a timely undertone of voyeurism and suspicion in Border Songs. Young’s character, Sophie, seems a little too interested in the personal stories of her neighbors, even going so far as to interview them on camera for an unknown purpose. Brandon expresses discomfort at the CCTV cameras popping up all over the border he must protect.
Director Mark Kuntz pulls all the threads together in this stylized story. Featuring a cast of twelve playing almost twice as many characters, the script is seems to be ripped word-for-word from Lynch’s book. Actors transition between dialogue and third-person narration in the same breath, often cutting each other off to finish the line. It took a few minutes to adjust to this style at the top of the show, but once the brain got used to it, the show flowed well enough.
There are a number of endearing performances to be seen in Border Songs. Goofy and charming Kyle Henick carries the show.

Border_Songs_5_small Border Patrolman and avid birdwatcher Brandon (Kyle Henick) waits for a flock of barn swallows to carry him away.

Tim Tully effectively shows off the comedic and tragic sides of Norm. Beth Wallace owns one of the best and more tense moments, when Jeanette is pressured to take a dementia test from a patronizing doctor played by Becky Byrd. Linnea Ingalls is engaging and sweet as the pot-growing girl next door.
The intimate space at the Firehouse is filled with tall, narrow flats and an abstract scrim, all designed by Dipu Gupta, to suggest many locales that characters pass through. This way the space can quickly become the woods, the farm, the Border Patrol office, and more. The sound design by Zack Pierson and Angela Kiser uses bird calls and storm effects throughout, creating an appropriate Pacific Northwest score. Cassandra Leon, with assistance from Corrine Schaible, costumes the show in uniforms and hipster plaid. The lights, designed by Gupta with assistance from Savannah LeCornu, help break up the small Firehouse stage into a multitude of settings.
Border Songs will play at the Firehouse Performing Arts Center June 19-21 and July 3 and 5, all at 7:30pm, and June 22 at 2pm. The show will also perform at the Claire vg Thomas Theatre in Lynden on June 26, June 28, July 10-12 at 7:30pm and June 29 at 2pm. The June 22 performance will include a post-show Q&A with playwright Bryan Willis, and the June 29 performance will feature a similar event with author Jim Lynch. Tickets are $15 and are available at the door (cash only), Katz Coffee & Used Books (Lynden), and at Village Books (800-838-3006). Border Songs runs just over two hours with intermission. For more information, call 360-296-1753, or visit the Bellingham TheatreWorks website at http://www.bellinghamtheatreworks.org.

Chorus Line at Bellingham Theatre Guild

June 15th, 2014

by Zoe Bronstein
“A Chorus Line” is an ambitious show, on its own merit. Requiring a cast of seventeen triple-threats of various ethnicities who can pivot-step and belt through a full-length performance with almost no entrances or exits is by definition ambitious. Producing the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical in a mostly white town at the Bellingham Theater Guild, which tends to produce more traditional and unoffending stories? It’s more than intimidating. It’s terrifying. But not terrifying to director Julie Marantette and her co-directing husband Ed Marantette. And thank God for that. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
“A Chorus Line” is an ensemble show about dancers auditioning for a Broadway production, first produced in 1975 with music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Edward Kleban and a book by James Kirkwood, Jr. and Nicholas Dante. The director, Zach (Gerent Gerrity) narrows down the hundreds of auditionees to seventeen, after hours of waiting, dancing, and deliberation. He and his assistant choreographer, Lori (Emma Delaney) announce that they will make one final cut – and only hire eight of them. As a rather cruel experiment, Zach gets the dancers to open up to him about their lives. He reasons that if they can be vulnerable, they can act, too. Why he doesn’t give them scripts to read to see if they can actually act is a major flaw of the story. But then it wouldn’t be the beloved show it turned out to be, so I must move on.

Chorus Line

At first, the dancers are reluctant. But slowly, they do tell their stories. Stories of how they got into dancing. Stories about puberty. Sex. Identity. Broken homes. Abuse. Plastic surgery. Feeling boxed in, or freed, by their racial backgrounds. By the end of the show, all the dancers do end up sharing a part of themselves. But only half of them are rewarded for their honesty, while the other half must move on to yet another grueling audition to chase their dreams. The entire cast all had moments of dealing with more controversial subject matter than usually seen at the Guild, and it was refreshing to see.
Julie Marantette’s casting choices is one of her biggest strengths as a director. Some actors are screamingly perfect for their roles, while unlikely choices rise to the challenge. Paul Henderson as the show-off, Mike, makes tap dancing, moon walking, and a singing voice that fills the room seem effortless. Conner Vis and Corinne Charbonneau as Al and Kristine, a married couple, are adorable and charming. Their “Sing!” lamenting Kristine’s inability to find, let alone hold, a note shows off some fantastic comedy from Charbonneau, with unfaltering support from Vis. Robin Becar, as Sheila, may look a little young to be the “aging beauty” she is described as, but her deadpan delivery more than makes up for the age discrepancy.
Candice Lundy came into the show as a replacement three weeks before opening to play Zach’s ex-lover Cassie. A talented chorus girl who moved to Hollywood, who’s “been in the business 15 years” and left him an unknown number of years ago, comes back to beg for a job. At just 19, Lundy doesn’t seem like an obvious choice for the part, but she ably performs a stunning solo number for Zach that is physically, vocally, and emotionally demanding.
Abrah Friberg as Diana Morales, a sassy Puerto Rican girl with insecurities about her acting, is enchanting. Her strong, clear belt was made for the comedic “Nothing,” and the sentimental, penultimate number “What I Did For Love.” This role could fall easily into the stereotype trap, especially when played by an actress who is not actually Latina, but Friberg walks that line without crossing it.
Bryce Bernal as Paul stays quiet through most of the show, and when he finally tells his story to Zach in confidence, it’s worth the wait. Paul’s daunting speech reveals how he cannot face his past, his identity, or his art without some shame. Bernal’s scene with Gerrity is one of Chorus Line’s strongest non-musical moments.
The Guild’s space is used to its fullest capacity by stripping the curtains all the way back to show the visible pipes with just a mirror in the background. The simple set designed by Ed Marantette keeps the story of A Chorus Line right where it belongs, in a theatre that is in between shows. However, the stage is still a bit too small to accommodate all the dancers, and more than once, the energetic musical choreography by Gayle Staker and ballet by Lynda Purdie has the dancers fighting for space.
The show is set in the 1970s, and while the costumes by Colleen Harper subtly echo that, they also have a timeless quality. References to Robert Goulet and Troy Donahue date the play more than the outfits do, and the fancy gold-and-black uniforms tie the entire cast together at the end. The simplified orchestra is expertly led by musical director TJ Anderson. The lighting design, integral in adding variety to the unit set, is by Ryan Goelzenleuchter with assistance from Dee Dee O’Conner.
“A Chorus Line” plays June 13th-29th on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. General admission is $14, with $12 tickets for students and seniors and $8 for children. The show runs about two hours and fifteen minutes with intermission. “A Chorus Line” features adult language and themes, and is not suggested for children.

The Outsiders at Lincoln Theatre

May 4th, 2014

by Zoe Bronstein
When I arrived at the Lincoln Theatre to see the play adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s coming-of-age novel, “The Outsiders,” the cast had already run through the show once and were taking a break.

“The first run, I had them going seventy-five miles per hour,” Lindsey Marie Bowen, the director, said. “For you, it’s gonna be sixty.”

I never would have guessed they were tired. From the moment the lights came up, the cast of “The Outsiders” possessed a blast of energy that lasted the entire evening. There was not a dull or slow moment in either of the two acts. For “The Outsiders,” there can’t be. Life moves quickly for Pony Boy Curtis and his friends, completely out of their control. It’s 1967, and Pony Boy, played by Aengus Cronin, is orphaned at fourteen, and raised by his not-that-much-older brothers, Darry (Pavel Kaparchuk) and Soda Pop (Lincoln Douglas). But as turbulent and unpredictable as their lives are, they are also stuck – stuck in their Oklahoma slum, stuck in their socioeconomic class, stuck at the bottom of the food chain where the “Socs” attack the “Greasers” for sport.

When Pony Boy and his friends Johnny (Jonathan Herrera) and Dallas (Gabe Guevara) get too close to a Soc girl, Cherry (Kaytlyn Rooney), tragedy follows. It’s a heavy piece that addresses child abuse, gang violence, classism, and hormones, all executed by an incredibly young cast between the ages of 12 and 19 years old, with cameos by some older and younger actors. There simply is not time or space to note every cast member, so I apologize in advance for having to leave out some much-deserved acknowledgments.

Cronin’s Pony Boy is a difficult role, with many long monologues and a huge range of emotion, and Cronin pulls it off with a committed accent and lots of juvenile delinquent-esque hair mussing. Kaparchuk’s Darry, unwillingly caught in the parenting role and working two jobs, swings between lashing out in violence and towering over his brothers in one scene, and breaking down in vulnerability for his love for them in the next. Herrera delivers a stunning monologue and overall wonderful performance as Johnny, a young Greaser with a savior complex that ends up being his doom. Guevara’s performance can only be described as charismatic as the swaggering, girl-crazy Dallas. Rooney is pivotal yet coolheaded as Cherry, a well-meaning Soc, and has one of the most soothing Southern accents I have ever heard.

The most powerful and convincing element of the show was the sense of brotherhood within each gang. From their scenes lounging about in abandoned parking lots to violent rumbles choreographed by Joe Bowen, the us-versus-them mentality created strong chemistry for the Greaser and Soc gangs. Whenever they were pitted against each other, I forgot to breathe.
I was lucky enough to talk to several of the actors after the show, and when I asked what the best thing was about working with Lindsey Marie Bowen, there was one resounding word from the entire group: “energy.” Not only the director, Bowen also designed the set and composed the musical underscore. “She’s so passionate about this play and it just feeds off on us,” said Guevara. “She’s not just a director, she’s actually a friend, she’s a coach,” said Kaparchuk.

The production team’s collaboration created a gloomy atmosphere to call to mind the working-class neighborhoods of Tulsa, with gorgeous nighttime lighting by designer Don Wilcuts. The backdrop used is often just a tall, narrow flat in front of a black curtain to suggest many interiors and exteriors, with art by Betsy Risser and Deirdre Czoberek. Jordan Derouin adds to the story with skillful sound design. Tina Castorena and Lisa Lane, designed the hair and makeup, and lead costume designer Y’hon Frakes has outdone himself with (spoiler) realistic burn makeup.

Presented by Multicultural Educational Theatre Arts, or META, this heartfelt show about friendship, loyalty, and fighting the loss of innocence by “staying gold” is not to be missed.

“The Outsiders,” presented by META Performing Arts and produced by Seth Fine and Karen Pollack, runs May 2-May 17th at the Historic Lincoln Theatre in Mt. Vernon. Running at about 90 minutes not including intermission, it plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm. Festival seating tickets are $16 and available at www.lincolntheatre.org. Pay-What-You-Can tickets can be bought at the door two hours before curtain each night.

Women of Lockerbie at Bellingham Theatre Guild

April 12th, 2014

by Zoe Bronstein
Just before Christmas in 1988, a transatlantic flight was destroyed by a bomb and crashed into Lockerbie, Scotland, killing a total of 270 people. Deborah Brevoort’s play based on the aftermath of the tragedy, “The Women of Lockerbie,” opened at the Bellingham Theatre Guild on April 11th. With a lyricism and rhythm that echoes ancient Greek tragedies, Brevoort’s writing is brought to life by director Shawn Fuller.

The Women of Lockerbie takes place one night in 1995, on the seventh anniversary of the crash. Bill and Madeline Livingston, parents of one of the victims on the plane, travel to Lockerbie from New Jersey in search of closure. There they meet Olive (Sarah Mickelson) and the rest of the Lockerbie residents, who are determined to return the belongings of the dead to their families despite miles of red tape. Madeline (Nicole Winkler), desperate for some sign of her son’s remains, searches the moors, while Bill (Alan Peet) frustrated with his wife’s inability to heal, tries to convince her to move on.

Photo Credit: Jeff Braswell

Photo Credit: Jeff Braswell

Peet’s and Winkler’s performances hinge on how much their characters must disconnect. Much of their suffering, though it comes from the same place, is done alone. While Madeline grieves and demands justice, Bill does everything he can to seem strong and keep himself together, giving way to brief bouts of unaddressed sorrow. Peet, a calm and collected performer, fits well here, while Winkler shows off her wide emotional range. It is a relief to see them connect near the end, when they finally accept their need to grieve together.

The main voice of the Lockerbie women is given to Mickelson’s Olive. Although she stands out as a beacon of strength within her own community, spouting words of hope and love, she is full of pain which, like Bill’s, has gone unaddressed. Mickelson presents us with a heartfelt and committed performance.

Photo Credit: Jeff Braswell

Photo Credit: Jeff Braswell

The Greek tragedy elements of “Lockerbie” manifest in the chorus of a dozen women who fill the stage. They speak mostly in unison, offer support, and host a candlelit vigil. Like a traditional Greek tragedy, they serve mostly as commentary on the main characters’ stories. But the survivors in Lockerbie have stories to tell as well. They are not pretty. They describe the wreckage of their homes and lives in graphic detail, with many moments for individual chorus women to shine with heartbreaking anecdotes.

The tragic tone of “Lockerbie,” though it does not suffocate, calls for a bit of comedic oxygen, and once George Jones (Ben Perry) trudges onto the stage, we can breathe a little easier. Before he even entered, his name is spat like a curse. An American government official trying to toe the line to qualify for a better assignment, Jones responds to the women’s cries with sighs of frustration, insensitivity, and even misogyny. His bickering with his seemingly dotty employee Hattie (Joan Prinz) provides much-needed comic relief.

On a dark stage that was nearly bare save for two sofa-sized rocks and a low backdrop suggesting rolling hills, Fuller’s design is fittingly desolate and cold. When the women do flood in with their warm-toned costumes, candles, and welcoming air, the stage feels almost cozy thanks to the costume design of Marie Wildfield. Taking place in one night, the lighting design by Dee Dee O’Connor is simple yet dynamic. With a nod to Eileen Squires and Connie Bauer, the Scottish accent work is clear and constant.

“Lockerbie,” in the end, turns out to be a sensitive yet stark reminder that in the face of the ugliest tragedy, the best choice one can make is to respond to it with love. Whether that love is for family, community, or an outsider, that choice can make all the difference between continued suffering or beginning to heal.

“The Women of Lockerbie” runs at the Bellingham Theatre Guild at 1600 H Street from April 11-12, 17-19, & 24-26 at 7:30 PM, and on April 13, 20, & 27 at 2:00 PM. It runs 90 minutes long with no intermission. For tickets, visit the Theatre Guild Playhouse or call 360-733-1811 between Tuesday and Saturday, from 1 to 6 PM. Tickets are $14 for adults, $12 for seniors & students, or $8 for children.

Put ‘em up!

March 5th, 2014

BHS does the wild, wild west
by Lily Olason

What better way than plaid shirt, foot-swingin’, toy-gun totin’, rip-roarin’ fun to show off the formidable chops of a student ensemble? Not much. Bellingham High School serves up a shiny and startlingly fun arrangement of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic Oklahoma! to the tune of acrobatic choreography, crystalline vocals, and spot-on casting.

Photo Credit - Christopher Key

Photo Credit – Christopher Key

Detailing the romance between good-guy cowman Curly and spirited farm girl Laurey, this musical broadcasts some serious talent. AJ Russo and Gabrielle Neufeld delight as the leading pair, trading lines and harmonizing wonderfully. Neufeld launches herself high into the soprano-sphere like it’s cake and the notes come out just as sweet, while Russo’s swelling tone proves perfectly pure. Both Neufeld and Russo’s twangy, “People Will Say We’re in Love”, and “Surrey With The Fringe On Top” (also featuring Allegra Ritchie as Aunt Eller) particularly enchant.

Photo Credit - Christopher Key

Photo Credit – Christopher Key

Ritchie’s artfully crafted a top-notch, down-to-business, don’t-mess-with-me Aunt Eller will make the cheekiest among us sit down and eat our broccoli. She acts great, oversees a rambunctious crew of cowboys with ease, and brings a healthy dose of heart to the role that comes through with both edge and warmth.

Photo Credit - Christopher Key

Photo Credit – Christopher Key

The subplot of kind cowboy Will Parker (Aidan Glaze) and fast-talking flirt Ado Annie Carnes’ (Gabi Gilbride) relationship also splits sides as Annie’s uncertainty draws her towards equally fast-talking, less-than-loving Persian peddler Ali Hakim. Hakim’s double-casted with Curly, and Ian Slater’s bitingly accurate East Coast accent is to die for. If you see Russo in the role, I would predict the same.

Photo Credit - Christopher Key

Photo Credit – Christopher Key

The Slater-featured, big cast number, “It’s a Scandal! It’s an Outrage!” brings out some more fabulous voices and the choreography (Kelsey McHugh) is done excellently.

As Laurey navigates her feelings for protagonist Curly, mischievous and sly Jud Fry slips in the picture and becomes enthralled with her. Luke Robinson takes on the role fearlessly and effortlessly, his voice absolutely, positively fabulous, clear and warm and expansive, his character insidiously more villainous in every scene.

“Pore Jud is Daid” features both Russo and Robinson on a fairly dark (yet musically brilliant) tangent about Jud’s future funeral. Later, Laurey’s dream sequence has the cast doing ballet choreography (again, amazing work by McHugh) under a complex lighting scheme (designed by Ettienne Olivier) and the rather heavy workings of Laurey’s inner psyche.

Oklahoma! at Bellingham High has also amassed a lovely cast of supporting characters, including, but not limited to, the great work of Chris Nakatani as Ike, Choji Yamamoto as Fred, Isaak Henson as Slim, Hunter Dunn as shotgun wedding coordinator/father Carnes, and Lucy Evans as Gertie Cummings, whose wonderfully perfected, obnoxious laugh should win some sort of award.

And of course, some other supporting characters find themselves in the orchestra pit with conductor Nick Strobel and under the direction of Linda Short and Steve Barnes. Providing the blessing of live music for a show, the orchestra does fun and fantastic work for their friends onstage.

This classic American musical is fun for all and ties in pretty much anything you’d want to see in a show. Teri Grimes directs marvelously, and brings a fresh and talented cast to an already legendary work.

The show runs March 6 -16 and you can see precise dates and times at the website. All tickets are $10, and may be purchased at the Bellingham HS ASB office, 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and also at Village Books in Fairhaven. You just “Cain’t Say No” to this show!

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