Archive for July 30th, 2013

Theater at Monmouth: “The Knight of the Burning Pestle” (REVIEW)

Posted on July 30, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

Insane hilarity and delicious fun. If no one else, in reviewing TAM’s production of “The Knight of the Burning Pestle”, doesn’t use phrases or flavor along these lines, they need to go back and start over in their analysis.

Simple as that. Really, it was THAT well done…

Okay, from the top. Deep breath…

bill graceThe first clue one gets that this show is NOT going to be a slow starter or predictable appears before you even get to your seat, as local grocers “Citizen” (Bill Van Horn) and his wife (Grace Bauer), along with a handful of other actors similarly attired come up through the hallways of Cumston Hall with the audience.

Dressed in full 17th century English garb (Francis Beaumont’s play was originally set at London’s Black Friar’s Theatre in the 1600s), complete with tankards of ale, they chat and sit among the audience to await the beginning of the play. With them is their much-admired apprentice “Rafe” (Max Waszak), squires “Tim” (Ambien Mitchell) and “George” (Ryan Simpson)- and the back doors/ exits of the theater are … um… protected… by a pair of large and menacing, unnamed soldiers (Josh Carpenter and Luke Couzens).

Seeing this set-up before the play even began, I quickly scurried to an available seat at the far right of the theater, as to be able to fully witness what was about to unfold. All indications were that this was to be immersive/ interactive theater at its best- and I didn’t want to miss a single second of it.

Even as producing artistic director Dawn McAndrews was welcoming those assembled and asking that we “shut off all devices that bing, beep, ring or shine lights to the stratosphere” , the ever-friendly, likable and amiable Citizen was speaking up and quickly getting chuckles- as such gizmos were completely foreign to him and his wife, equally chatty and familiar with the audience.

What fourth wall?

The original play onstage began. Called “A London Merchant”, its storyline was barely introduced by Simon Kiser‘s soon to be long-suffering narrator “Prologue” with the initial opening act commencing before Citizen and wife “Coney” were interrupting the production, demanding more action and better acting, as well as a show that celebrated their city and the common folk- and story lines and inclusion for their dear apprentice Rafe as an important part of the cast. Money talks, as do enough shillings given to the poor acting company, and in short order young Rafe and the two awkward squires join the original acting professionals on stage.

theater_rafe_mainQuickly what had started as a tale of two suitors, Jasper (Alexander Harvey), elder son of the musically inclined and well-named Master Merrythought (Mark S. Cartier) and the more dour Mistress Merrythought (Janis Stevens), and Sir Humphrey (Mike Anthony) for the hand of the beautiful Luce (Aislinn Kerchaert), daughter of the wealthy Venturewell (James Noel Hoban), as well as the Merrythoughts’ complicated division of wealth for their sons (Jasper the favorite of his father and Michael/ Mick, as played by Simon Kiser, the apple of his mother’s eye) became even more so with the addition of Rafe and the grocers’ squires. The acceptance of the money meant that some quick improvising had to be made- and so in the blink of an eye, the show included new subplots unconnected to the original script to sate Citizen and his wife, as grocer boy turned knight-errant Rafe (or now “The Right Courteous and Valiant Knight of the Burning Pestle”, as he insisted upon being evermore addressed by his squires) such as taking on a dragon and winning the heart of a princess of a faraway land. Giving long-winded monlogues of describing the glory of England and in particular the working class, as well as his beloved (and never seen) love Susan, and finally in his uproarious deathbed scene.

While attired wearing the Golden crest of the Burning Pestle- a ridiculous phallic-shaped tool emblazoned on his chest and the ever-present weapon of choice in his hand throughout the rest of the show.

That the original cast did not HAVE enough members to cover such additional roles needed to be immediately addressed- and as such, the local barber (Josh Carpenter) was quickly enlisted to play a bit part, the shy and not at all made for theater “Tim” pressed into double-duty as the newly added “Princess of Maldonia” (how Ambien Mitchell, an extraordinarily talented actress, was able to not only act BADLY as the very nervous, stumbling and untalented “Tim”- but then portray “Tim” as a badly acted caricature of a royal damsel as “Princess Pompiona” so perfectly is a true credit to her great range as an actress and comedic talents) and a local young woman for hire/ of ill-refute “Tapster” (Hannah Daly) chosen to play a … “Boy??” (a repeated, running gag throughout the bawdy show).

Control of the show shifts back and forth, between the original players telling the tale of Jasper and Luce’s rather classic Shakespearean-like troubled romance with the subplots involving the Merrythought clan, Sir Humphrey and Venturewell, and the jovial Citizen and wife Coney- who rather than sit quietly and watch the play unfold, speak directly to the characters and offer encouragement, information or advice directly to the players. Hilariously performed is an ongoing flirtation that develops between “Sir Humphrey” and the Citizen’s wife, who takes a fancy to him, as well as how Citizen and his wife hiss and boo whenever “Jasper” appears, throwing the actor off his original focus, time and again. The actors vary between being annoyed with the grocers, long-suffering, amused, confused, bemused… it’s all there and after awhile, it becomes clear that the show has taken on a insanely funny life of its own, as even the original cast cannot control their mirth.

Wicked, delicious fun… and hard to believe that this is a 400 year old play, as the timing and humor translate so well and seem reminiscent of the much more modern humor of a “Monty Python” or “Saturday Night Live” comedy troupe. Well done!

CAST (in order of appearance):

Prologue/ Boy/ Michael: Simon Kiser
Citizen: Bill Van Horn
Citizen’s Wife: Grace Bauer
RAfe: Max Waszak
Venturewell: James Noel Hoban
Jasper: Alexander Harvey
Luce: Aislinn Kerchaert
Humphrey: Mike Anthony
Tim/ Pompiona: Ambien Mitchell
George: Ryan Simpson
Mistress Merrythought: Janis Stevens
Master Merrythought: Mark S. Cartier
Captive/ Tapster: Hannah Daly
Host/ Greengoose: Frank Omar
Barber/ Hammerton/ Soldier: Josh Carpenter
Servant/ Knight/ Captive/ Soldier: Luke Couzens

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Theater at Monmouth: “Our Town” (REVIEW)

Posted on July 30, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

“It goes so fast; we don’t have time to look at one another.” Hannah Daly, “Emily”

our town

Thornton Wilder’s classic “Our Town” opened on July 19th and is set in a fictional town called “Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire” in the early 1900’s. It is impossible not to see striking similarities between that location and so many other small New England towns- in fact, the cast photo used for the play’s online promotion was taken in the large Monmouth Center Cemetery which borders Cumston Hall, the Theater’s home. Within that cemetery lie the remains of many generations of families eerily similar to the Gibbs, Webbs, Herseys, Crowells and Newsomes of Grover’s Corners, right down to those who served and died in the Civil War, and no doubt some of their lives mirrored those of the characters in this play.

TAM’s exceptional cast and crew worked their magic with transforming the past back to life in the telling this simple tale; it was surreal during the intermission to step outside for those few minutes and into what appeared to be a future version of the tale currently being told inside.

Mark S. Cartier ("Stage Manager") speaks with TAM audience members before the beginning of the play.

Mark S. Cartier (“Stage Manager”) speaks with TAM audience members before the beginning of the play.

From the moment the narrator “Stage Manager” (Mark S. Cartier) lays the initial groundwork of the three act play, introducing the audience to the town by verbally painting the layout and imagery of Grover’s Corner, one quickly envisions a rather nondescript, sleepy little hamlet about to awaken with the rising sun. But rather than leave one simply seeing the immediate, the Stage Manager is key throughout the production to showing the audience that more lies below than what one sees immediately upon the surface of the town- there are layers here, of time and human existence, in which the present occupants play their part but are but a piece of a continually changing and ever-forgotten tapestry of ordinary individual human existence.

As the day starts (this first act being called “Daily Life”), a young boy Joe Crowell (Alexander Harvey) expertly delivers the newspapers and Howie Newsome (Ryan Simpson) the milk along with his Bessie to the townfolk. (Note: the lighting and sounds effects utilized are especially important here and well used; one clearly sees the town “wake up” as it goes from quiet dark silence to a busy, bustling typical morning full of light and activity.)

Lifelong resident Mrs. Gibbs (Grace Bauer) greets her exhausted husband Dr. Gibbs (James Noel Hoban) at the end of a long early morning house call delivering newborn twins before awakening their children, George (Luke Couzens) and Rebecca (Aislinn Kerchaert) and getting ready to go to school. Next door, the Webb household is also getting ready for their day, as Mrs. Webb (Ambien Mitchell) prepares breakfast for her family, “Grover’s Corner Sentinel” editor husband Charles (Mike Anthony) and their children, Emily (Hannah Daly) and Wally (Simon Kiser). George and Emily are seen to be typical and ordinary young people, beloved by their families and friends- he wants to be a baseball player and she is among of the brightest children in school- and one sees that they are, even as teenagers, interested in each another. Mrs. Gibbs dreams of going to Paris and over chores, tells her friend Mrs. Webb of some money she came into that could be used for the journey, but it is not to be.

With the second act (“Love and Marriage”), the story takes the audience to three years later. Not much has changed, as the town wakes on this stormy morning- Howie and Bessie still deliver the milk, but now Si Crowell (Max Wasnak), Joe’s younger brother delivers the papers. It is the wedding day of George and Emily, having fallen in love, and we see the families prepare the two to wed and in doing so, take their places in the town’s society as a married couple. There are moments of sheer terror and panic for both young people, as they see the path before them and fear what lies ahead- but ultimately with encouragement and support of their families, all fears are conquered. They wed with the entire town in attendance and bearing witness, including neighbor Mrs. Soames (Janis Stevens), who mentions to the audience about “how lovely a wedding it is”, as she cries- a staple participant in these ceremonies.

Monmouth Center Cemetery

Monmouth Center Cemetery

The third act (“Death and Eternity”), set nine years later, takes place at the large town cemetery and predictably deals with the end of one’s life as a natural conclusion to the cycle- and yet is full of rich depth and classic dramatic elements. The Stage Manager speaks at some length, telling of the Grover’s Corners townsfolk buried there whom the audience met earlier and what caused their passings: Mrs. Gibbs (pneumonia while travelling to Ohio to see Rebecca), Wally Webb (burst appendix while camping in North Conway), Mrs. Soames and Simon Stimson (Josh Carpenter), the church’s alcoholic and tortured organist (suicide by hanging) are among the newly dead and they speak to one another throughout the final act.

The town’s undertaker Joe Stoddard (Frank Omar) and Sam Craig (Max Wasnak) a young man returning home to Grover’s Corners for his cousin’s funeral appear. The audience soon learns that the cousin is Emily, dying in childbirth to her and George’s second child. After the funeral, Emily joins the dead, asking them about if it is possible to go back to be among the living. Mother-in-law Mrs. Gibbs tells Emily that they “must forget the life that came before and wait”. Emily refuses to do so and despite the warnings of the dead, she decides to return for just one day, picking her 12th birthday. But it is soon too painful for her, as she realizes just how much life should be valued, “every, every minute” and Emily returns to the cemetery. Before finally taking her eternal spot, she asks the Stage Manager whether anyone living realizes the value of their lives and life while they live it, to which he replies, “No. The saints and poets, maybe – they do some.”

CAST (in order of appearance):

Stage Manager: Mark S. Cartier
Dr. Gibbs: James Noel Hoban
Joe Stoddard: Frank Omar
Howie Newsome: Ryan Simpson
Mrs. Gibbs: Grace Bauer
Mrs. Webb: Ambien Mitchell
George Gibbs: Luke Couzens
Rebecca Gibbs: Aislynn Kerchaert
Wally Webb: Simon Kiser
Emily Webb: Hannah Daly
Professor Willard/ Warren: Bill Van Horn
Editor Webb: Mike Anthony
Joe Crowell: Alexander Harvey
Simon Stimson: Josh Carpenter
Mrs. Soames: Janis Stevens
Si Crowell/ Sam Craig: Max Waszak

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...

%d bloggers like this: