Monday, July 23, 2012

Do-it-yourself theater

I stopped in at Civic Theatre recently to meet with the kids in the Summer Repertory Program while they painted and sanded sets and got the costumes ready for Friday's opening performance of "Ramona Quimby", followed Saturday with "Schoolhouse Rock Live."  The kids, ages 14-19, seemed to be having a blast. They understand that their work behind the scenes won't get much recognition, but they know it takes more than actors to put on a good play. I always think a play's success depends on the enthusiasm of those involved, which should make SRT an award winner. Go ahead; you don't have to be a kid to enjoy these shows.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Lookin' for laughs

"An Inspector Calls," which opened this week at Hope Summer Repertory Theatre, is not one of those door slamming British farces. On the contrary, it's a drawing room drama, a moral dilemma constructed entirely of conversation. But the show does have a few moments of unintended humor. It's set in 1912 at the home of a wealthy mill owner, Arthur Birling. It's a new age, Arthur says, an exciting time, when business and scientific advances combine to create such a perfect world that there will never be another war. Of course, we know this glorious prediction is just a few years before the first of two devastating World Wars, and skirmishes around the globe too numerous to count. The audience can't help but laugh at Arthur's misguided optimism, even though we'd all give anything if he had been right. Check out the rest of the review on Encore Michigan.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Love story with laughs

Okay, those of you who missed a chance to accompany me to Tuesday's performance of The Wedding Singer at The Barn Theatre: Eat your heart out. It is '80s madness. The music, the fashions, the hair. And oh, the technology. Imagine thinking a bag phone is cool. And no one even knows what a CD is!Can't exactly say it was a simpler time, but it brings back funny memories. You'll find my complete review at Encore Michigan.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tragedy tonight! (and tomorrow!)

I'm not reviewing Heritage Theatre Group's production of "Medea" for any paying client, but it sounded intriguing, and since my good friend Sherryl Despres performs the title role, I had to take in Wednesday's dress rehearsal.  OMG. That's one intense experience. You can't expect a Greek tragedy to be fun, though Diane Rayor's translation is so down-to-earth in spots that Jason (Michael Dodge) made me laugh in his casual description of how a wife might feel if her husband takes a new lover. The Greeks weren't trying to make us laugh, their goal was catharsis, a purging of all those negative feelings, which they figured was almost as healing as a good laugh. They wanted to create a situation so revolting  that it would churn your insides and then expel it all in a freeing gush at the end. "Medea" certainly achieves that goal. The depth of Medea's seething anger is hard to comprehend, though Sherryl's performance did give me a few flashbacks to my own murderous thoughts as I went through divorce thirty years ago. Although her horrifying revenge takes place off stage, the detailed description of the deaths of her victims created the desired revulsion, topped by Medea's almost orgasmic delight at hearing the news. The obligatory Greek Chorus is particularly well done with CJ Namenye, Amy Groen and Stacy Schram singing the lines, in harmony, to original music by Todd Lewis. Unfortunately, most of the lines spoken off stage, before Medea enters, are lost, and even the off-stage interchange with her children later, though amplified, lacks believability. The costumes are beautiful and the set provides a variety of levels to keep the action moving. Kudos to director Karen Libman, all the cast and translator Diane Rayor for a truly tragic production.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Now that's a tragedy!

Should the translation of a classic Greek play like "Medea" be accurate or actable? Talk about a  to-be-or-not-to-be question. But Grand Valley State University Professor Diane Rayor has the answer. "My translations do both," Rayor told me. Good thing Rayor is writing the new translation of  "Madea" which Heritage Theatre Group will premier next week. Rayor has been fine tuning her translation after rehearsals trying to make the language more understandable and readable while preserving the accuracy. Although director Karen Libman and her actors are excited to be part of the process of honing the script, they've had to call a halt to any further changes with opening night less than a week away. See it at 8 p.m. July 12-14 and July 19-21 at Spectrum Theater.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Legally Laughing

The sky is exploding ever since they made fireworks legal in Michigan. And ever since the Augusta Barn made the next show legal .. that is, "Legally Blonde." ... the stage is exploding with a huge cast and more rollicking rock music than seems possible for a small pit band.. This is one of my favorite shows. Snappy songs with witty lyrics, and lots of heart in the story. The Barn's production bubbles with energy (see review) Besides, who doesn't root for the underdog? And this show has two dogs and plenty of ooos and ahhhs from the pooch fans in the audience.