Friday, October 23, 2009

Greetings and BOO to you

Fine Print on a Saturday? Yup, I'm launching this two days early since I will be at a trade show on Monday. Better early than late, I guess. This way, I avoid the call from an unnamed reader. When the post is not up by noon on Monday, I receive a call inquiring "When?". The tone of speaker varies. Often it is something wrong? But, there have been days of annoyance...will I be seeing it yet today? downright rudeness...if I don't see it in an hour, I'm not reading it again.
I have no idea who it is. I cannot recognize the voice, and caller ID onlh reads "cell number." So, here's to you, dear, unknown reader. sip your coffee, read on, and please know there will not be a fresh post on Monday. Live with it.

Masquers, Manitowoc's awesome community theatre group opened its season last week with "Greetings." Since the HTR no longer reviews shows (a fact I stand and applaud), I have decided to toss around some theatre thoughts from time to time.

Let's begin! Great job Jamie! Jamie Strutz directed, and, for a new, young theatre leader. she has much to offer. Her theatre studies in college provided a nice bag of tricks, and she complements that with solid instincts, an ability to play on nuances, and good old fashioned intuition.

Jamie put together a powerhouse cast, loaded with experience and, and artistic respect. Great seeing Chris Kornely back on stage in a major roll. Chris is a rock, a director's dream. Once she locks in her part, you know she will be consistent and strong. Corrie Skubal and Justin Knapp make a fine team as the star-crossed lovers at the center of the show's conflict . They were comfortable with each other, lending a level of naturalness to their scenes. (I enjoy that on stage, as opposed to the school of theatre that promotes "acting".) Their scenes demanded control, and emotional range. (Lotta kissing for you in this roll, huh, Corrie?)

Each actor found a character, eased into his/her skin, and stayed there throughout the performance. For me, the shining stars on opening night were Rick Gerroll, and Giovanni Navarro, who deserved the starring curtain call position. We all know Rick. No one does curmudgeon better than Rick. He cracks me up. Where most pauses between lines drive me batty, Rick knows exactly how long he can hold out before delivering. I heard a some lobby talk comparing him to Archie Bunker...too easy. Sure, the similarities were there, but theatregoers can always count on Rick to add personal style, and playfulness.

Who knows where this Giovanni Navarro fellow came from, or why he turned up in Manitowoc, but let's hope he stays. The guy has chops. He knows it; you can tell. Giovanni could easily have taken the show and run with it, but he knows how to be an ensemble player which is admirable. His performance reminded be of Leonardo DiCaprio's character in "What's eating Gilbert Grape " but because it was live, the impact was amplified. At first his portrayal of the mentally challenged Mickey troubled me, but then, is that not one of the charges of the arts? Do they not encourage us to take fresh looks at the world, the people around us, and our relationship and reactions to them?

The concept of challenge becomes one of the themes of Dudzick's play -challenge of ideas, traditons, mindsets, and beliefs. Dudzick is hailed as the "Catholic Niel Simon, " but, from my perspective, he has a long way to go to reach Simon's level of artistry. "Greetings" is a derivative show, combining elements of Simon's "God's Favorite" with characteristics of Medieval mystery plays (a little comedy, some Bible references, and a lesson intended to get us to change our evil ways). Throw in a little "ET" (you know, the stranger lands to show us how to be better people) and "The Wizard of Oz" (an unlikely character unites a diverse group ) and you have the makings of a not too original script. Despite that, I enjoyed every minute of it.

As a director (and as a former actor) would I have done things differently than Jamie and her cast? Sure. Theatre is all about choices, and that is one of the attractions. Theatre folk join together to commit art, and the product of their choices - the show that hits the boards - bears the mark crafted by the individuals who had the courage to take on the task. That is the beauty. That is the magic.

Personally, I can do without the curtain talk before the show. I just want the play to start - like it does at the Rep, the Guthrie and other pro companies. No commercials. That's what the program is for. I also get a little distressed when group members hoot through the curtain call, and, in their enthusiasm, initiate the standing ovation. Please, wait. Share the pride in a job well done at the cast party. Let the audience have that last moment to show its appreciation. What a gift for the cast to know the thank-you's are spontaneous and sincere, rather than helped along by "mom and dad" who love them no matter what. But, having been at the back of the house watching shows I have directed, I know that jumping out of your skin with happiness for the cast feeling.
That ends the snarky portion of the review. Not too bad, huh? Oh, here's a little more snarkiness....the Capitol Civic Centre should have been filled. We need to support our local groups; we need to respect the tradition that Masquers has established for arts in the Lakeshore. You have three more chances this year to catch their work...."A Christmas Carol," in December, "Some Enchanted Evening," a musical review, in spring. Their middle show is an Agatha Christie mystery. Boy or boy! Mysteries are had to pull off on stage, but if anyone can do it, Masquers can. Get there if you can.

What am I reading: Alice I Have Been, a new book by Melanie Benjamin. There's a glut of spin-off novels out right now and this one tells the back story of Alice Liddle, the girl who inspired Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

What have I been up to? Last weekend I got a chance to read with Hatrack Storytellers at the Lester Library in Two Rivers. We read Halloween stories to an appreciative audience of about 30. It has been years since I have done any sort of performing. Hatrack was fun, and I got a little reminder of why, long ago, I enjoyed a few trips across a stage. Stacey, Damon, and the lovely little Olivia also read. The mother-daughter team were first time readers, but got the hang of things quickly. I hope we get to read together again.
Damon is an experienced Hatracker. Reading with him is a challenge. He's sneaky, and funny, and gives me the giggles. Once that starts, I can't quit. Damon has a elfish quality that emerges when least expected. Reading with him brings back fond memories of readin with another playful character...Jimmy Mellberg!

On Friday, our book group celebrated our annual Halloween-pizza-movie-and costume extravaganza. Check out Jess as Sophia from the "Golden Girls," Angie as Kate Goslin, and Valerie as Angelina Jolie. Angie even brought a brag book with pictures of her kids. We also had James Patterson, a real housewife of Manitowoc County, and a Little Edie Beale who never quite made it to the gathering. We had lots of chocolate, wine, and other goodies while we discussed "Grey Gardens." I went home still chuckling about the fact that either Nancy's mind is a steel trap for useless information, or she is an adroit lyer skiller at making "facts' up on the fly. Just ask her. She knows everything there is to know about lady bartenders in Colorado. Really! My stomach ached from laughter, and too much pizza.
Thanks for stopping by!

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