Theater at Monmouth: “What The Butler Saw” (REVIEW)

Posted on August 8, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

A few notes:

  • Theater at Monmouth now has a blog. The first post, “Made in Maine: Local Talent in TAM’s Summer Company” features discussions with actors Isabella Coulombe, Anna Doyle, and Michael Dix Thomas- all Maine natives. Check it out!
  • In celebration of TAM’s 45th season and the British Invasion theme, Gritty’s in Auburn has created “A Hard Day’s Pint”, an ale available through August with a portion of the proceeds going to support the theater.
  • The huge annual Silent Auction is going on now in Cumston Hall Library’s Reading Room; many items upon which to bid from area merchants and donors. The auction concludes August 21.


Who knew a job interview could go so terribly, terribly wrong? Orton's What the Butler Saw is for mature audiences only! Call the box office at 933.9999 for tickets. — with Anna Doyle and James Noel Hoban. (from TAM's Facebook page)

Who knew a job interview could go so terribly, terribly wrong? Orton’s What the Butler Saw is for mature audiences only! Call the box office at 933.9999 for tickets. — with Anna Doyle and James Noel Hoban.
(from TAM’s Facebook page)

The infamous yet never identified “They” remark frequently that in regards to acting, “tragedy is easy; comedy is hard.” When one thinks about this old saying, it has some grains of truth- but what is perhaps an even harder task is making great comedy seem utterly effortless.

TAM’s opening night performance of Joe Orton’s “What The Butler Saw” does exactly that- they nailed it. From director Brian P. Allen’s notes:

    “I think ‘Butler’ lends itself well to TAM. Trust and familiarity among the cast are necessary in order to make the split-second timing of the show work. The six actors need to breathe as one, and while that isn’t always easy to accomplish in a short summer repertory rehearsal period, TAM’s resident company atmosphere generates the environment required to pull off such a delicious farce.”

Yup. What he said.

Set in a private London clinic circa early 1965, the play begins innocently enough- an established psychiatrist (Hoban) is interviewing a beautiful young woman (Doyle) for employment as his secretary.

Or so she thinks. It quickly becomes apparent that more lecherous intentions lurk in the doctor’s plans… but there is also an old cliche about the best laid plans… Cue the wife!

Who is quickly revealed to be not as innocent as SHE could be, either!

Cover ups, misunderstandings, government official and police investigations, costumes and quickly made-up excuses and stories start flying, faster and faster- by the perfectly timed suspenseful cliff-hanger moment of “A-HA!” discovery marking the break for intermission, one can barely breathe for the aching ribs. And immediately as the audience comes back in, the onstage madness picks right back up where they left off. When eventually everyone’s stories all sort out and the play concludes, tears of laughter are just rolling down one’s cheeks.

Oh, what fun!

Lewd, naughty, clever and definitely an “adult situation” sort of play- but omigosh, what a fantastic ride. To use a few more cliches, this was a grand slam- together, the team hit this one over the wall and out of the park.

Cast (in order of appearance)

Dr. Prentice: James Noel Hoban
Geraldine: Anna Doyle
Mrs. Prentice: Denise Cormier
Nicholas Beckett: Graham Emmons
Dr. Rance: Mark S. Cartier
Sergeant Match: Max Waszak

Production Team

Set Designer: Dan Bilodeau
Costume Designer: Kathleen P. Brown
Lighting Designer: Cecilia Durbin
Sound Designer: Rew Tippen
Stage Managers: Jeff Meyers, Melissa A. Nathan

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Theater at Monmouth: “As You Like It” (REVIEW)

Posted on July 15, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

Sometimes, it is hard to pinpoint why one doesn’t particularly care for a play, even when the performance itself was well acted, entertaining and an enjoyable venture out of the house on a pleasant summer’s evening. And yet that is where I find myself, trying to write about “As You Like It”.

Apparently mine is not a singular reaction along this vein to this rather popular Shakespearean work; others have panned it too. So I find myself somewhat consoled that the likes of Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (who in discussing it called the work “As YOU Like It”, stressing the fact that he himself did not) also came away thinking that Ole Bill had phoned it in on this effort.

Please don’t get me wrong- the complexities were well built as there was great character development with clear understanding of each’s motivations. From the beginning introductions of the main characters, we see what drives them and the challenges they will face, the bonds they share of love and friendship, and the overall tempo of the play moves right along well enough.

Amiens (aka James Noel Hoban) and Company in the Forest of Arden in TAM's 2014 production of As You Like It. Directed by Catherine Weidner. Photo by Rene MInnis.  (Via TAM FB page)

Amiens (aka James Noel Hoban) and Company in the Forest of Arden in TAM’s 2014 production of As You Like It. Directed by Catherine Weidner. Photo by Rene MInnis. (Via TAM FB page)

The TAM cast was magnificent, the production crew did some terrific stuff (I especially liked the silly magical “PING!” with accompanying bright light flash, signifying an instant falling in love by various characters) and truly did wonderful work with the play itself, which tells a complicated and multi-faceted tale of struggles within families, differences within classes and how those differences reinforce one’s view of the world and its participants, heroes and heroines fighting for justice while others overcome human failings such as jealousy to become more good-hearted and generous, with many intertwining love stories folded in for good measure.

There is adventure with challenges, disguised characters and intrigue, plenty of dancing and period music with lyrics that help tell the story, and some of the most iconic and well known Shakespearean lines ever uttered (“All the world’s a stage- And all the men and women merely players…”) (“I met a fool i’ the forest,
A motley fool”
), and the character of Rosalind/ Ganymede (Erica Murphy) serves as an emotional and purposeful examination of gender roles that is thought provoking.

And maybe all of that, when smooshed together as it was, is part of why this play just didn’t click for me.

Setting aside obvious recycled snips lifted from his own previous work, Shakespeare slung together a play with just so much action, so many plots, so many characters with their own quandaries and unrequited love issues that weren’t always necessary to drive the story, making their late additions appear superfluous. The eventual resolution of all the convoluted layers and predicaments happened so quickly and too easily- to “wind it down and call it a day”. What should have felt clever instead felt forced, with an epilogue that rather than clarify could have been interpreted as an apology by the author for his haste.

Eh. Move over, Mr. Shaw…

Cast (in order of appearance)

Orlando: Michael Dix Thomas
Adam: Wendy Way
Oliver: Leighton Samuels
Sir Martex: Max Waszak
Celia: Lindsay Tornquist
Rosalind: Erica Murphy
Touchstone: Graham Emmons
Madam LeBeau: Janis Stevens
Duke Frederick/
Duke Senior: Mark S. Cartier
Duke’s Man/
Musician: Turner Frankosky
Jaques: Will Harrell
Phebe: Lisa Woods
Silvius: Ryan Simpson
Hymen: Bill Van Horn
Amiens: James Noel Hoban
Audrey: Denise Cormier

Production Team

Set Designer: Dan Bilodeau
Costume Designer: Jonna Klaiber
Lighting Designer: Cecilia Durbin
Sound Designer: Rew Tippen
Fight Director: Paul Dennhardt
Fight Captain: Max Waszak
Stage Managers: Jeff Meyers
Melissa A. Nathan

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Theater at Monmouth: “Tales From The Blue Fairy Book” (REVIEW)

Posted on July 1, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

After last year’s debut assignment reviewing performances at Theater at Monmouth (TAM), I was quite excited to take the task up again for New Maine Times. It was nice to be able to meet the extended family of young local actress Isabella Coulombe, performing for the first time with TAM, chat with Dawn McAndrews (who adapted the play from Andrew Lang’s 1889 “The Blue Fairy Book”) and “Welcome Home!” long-time TAM actors and favorite honorary Monmouth natives Bill Van Horn, Mark Cartier and Janis Stevens.

photo (2)The play, TAM’s 45th season opener and this year’s Family Show production, opens with a bored young girl named Violet (Coulombe) in her grandmother’s attic on a rainy and stormy day, trying desperately to get some sort of cellphone signal- certainly a frustration many in Maine can relate to! Her grandmother (Wendy Way) finds her there and the two discuss Violet’s “antsiness” wanting to find something to do. So Grandmother digs out from a stack of dusty books one that she tells the girl “was one of your father’s favorites, when he was a boy”. The two sit together and Grandmother starts to read the first tale to Violet, “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”, as the characters from the book appear and act out the tales as narrated.

As the grandmother reads more stories,“The Bronze Ring” and “The White Cat”, Violet finds herself getting more and more drawn into the wonderfully fanciful stories- she loses her skepticism and her boredom fades quickly as she is drawn into the imaginative worlds within the book, discovering despite herself the same simple love of the adventures within the volume that her grandmother and father shared years before.

The play ends as Violet decides to read a story to her grandmother, “The Stars in the Sky” and in the narration, becomes the girl within the story who immerses herself within a magical brook and the light of twinkling stars reflecting upon the grass, trying to reach up and to be within the very stars in the sky. As she asks, “What is a dream, without a challenge?”, she “climbs stairs without steps” and finds herself surrounded with the joy and bliss of the stars.

A lovely, fanciful play- well acted and a true pleasure.


Cast (in order of appearance):

Violet: Isabella Coulombe
Grandmother: Wendy Way

  • East of the Sun/ West of the Moon

    White Bear/ Horse 2/ West Wind/ Prince: Ardarius Blakely
    Father/ Horse 3/ South Wind/ Old Servant: Michael Dix Thomas
    Daughter: Anna Doyle
    Old Woman/ North Wind: Wendy Way
    Horse 1/ East Wind/ Long-Nose Troll: Graham Emmons

  • The Bronze Ring
    Wise Woman/ Rag Woman: Wendy Way
    King/ Sultan: Graham Emmons
    Prime Minister/ Minister’s Son: Ardarius Blakely
    Gardener/ Gardener’s Son: Michael Dix Thomas
    Princess/ Herald: Anna Doyle

  • The White Cat
    Queen: Wendy Way
    Oldest Princess: Ardarius Blakely
    Middle Princess: Michael Dix Thomas
    Youngest Princess: Graham Emmons
    White Cat/ Prince: Anna Doyle

  • The Stars in the Sky
    Fairy Queen: Anna Doyle
    Young Girl: Isabella Coulombe
    Mill Pond/ Big Fish: Michael Dix Thomas
    Babbling Brook/ Dappled Horse: Ardarius Blakely
    Fairy Man: Graham Emmons

    Adapted by Dawn McAndrew
    Directed by Luke Bartholomew

    Production Team:

    Set Designer: Tricia A. Hobbs
    Costume Designer: Stephanie Peters
    Lighting Designer: Jim Alexander
    Sound Designer: Rew Tippin
    Stage Manager: Katie Moshier

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  • 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

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    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

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    Theater at Monmouth: “The Year of Magical Thinking” (REVIEW)

    Posted on July 28, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

      “Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you knows it ends.”
      Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

    joan d“The Year of Magical Thinking” under the direction of TAM’s producing artistic director Dawn McAndrews, has been one of the most extraordinary performances I have yet to witness (others would agree), as Janis Stevens performed this critically acclaimed one woman play. Days later, I am still struck by the deeply personal and tumultuous nature of the play itself, Janis’ extraordinary ability to convey the words of Ms Didion into a place beyond her solitary journey and personal connections and to an overarching reach for all, as death is a part of life and how we grieve, how we mourn the loss of those to whom we are closest, is a deep thing within us all, quite often something hard or nigh impossible to adequately describe in mere words.

    The Theater at Monmouth is now Ms. Stevens’ third venue for performing “Magical Thinking”, written and set in 2003-4, and it was striking how well a single actor was able to tap into the depths of her considerable talents to tell such an emotionally-driven and personal tale, as Joan went from a confident world renowned writer to worried mother and grieving widow with the sudden loss of husband John Gregory Dunne, questioning herself and the life they shared (“Why do you always have to be right. Why do you always have to have the last word. For once in your life just let it go.” ), a woman who had great grasp of words and ability for gathering facts (“Information is control.”)- yet unable to process fully the events that were rapidly spirally beyond her control.

    Janis makes one believe it was HER story being told, with masterful utilization of her body and voice through the varied moments of the one act play, be it in Joan’s frenzied focus on minute details and daily schedules, her practiced rituals to stave off “the vortex” of doubts and fears that threaten to consume her if she allows or breaks from her stringent daily course forward, her physical and mental exhaustion, the internal battles for control of Joan’s thoughts and emotions, of joyous memories of the past, and her outwardly projected confidence as she urged and willed daughter Quintana to live. Of paralyzing fear, not knowing what was the “right step” forward- and of finally starting to come to accept (“I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us.” ) her losses.

    shellsEqually dramatic and compelling to the play was how the deliberate choices of a simple seaside dock as the stage, dark background lighting as to emphasize Joan’s solitude and usage of sound effects throughout the 90 minute performance were effectively utilized, as the story being told switched from an apartment in Manhattan, to the coasts of Malibu and Hawaii or a Parisian sidewalk, inside hospital ICUs and ERs on both coasts and even a Kansan cornfield, as Joan’s year went from the rapidly changing demands of the current situations to scarcely allowed moments of past reflections. This vortex of overflowing emotions and memories was one she tried desperately to avoid, as not to deflect her from her desire to “fix” what had “gone wrong”, to be able to cling to a belief that she could change the outcome of what had already transpired.

    When asked the difference between her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking and the play, Joan Didion answered: “When I was writing the book, I did not know whether or not I would survive. When I was writing the play, I knew that I had survived.”

    CAST: Janis Stevens

    Set Designer: Jim Alexander
    Lighting Director: Lynne Chasse
    Sound Designer: Rew Tippen
    Stage Manager: Melissa A. Nathan

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    Theater at Monmouth: “The Taming of the Shrew” (REVIEW)

    Posted on July 16, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

    NOTE: Due to unforeseen circumstances, I was unable to attend and review TAM’s “The Knight of the Burning Pestle” and as such, am linking to an excellent review.

    BONUS: This MPBN interview in which Dawn McAndrews, Theater at Monmouth’s Producing Artistic Director, discusses this season’s shows. ~AP

    Link to Theater at Monmouth website.

    shrew_web3When Scott Moreau wrote in his review of Theater of Monmouth’s “The Taming of the Shrew” of “those audience members who refrain from Shakespeare’s works due to it’s seemingly foreign language”, he well could have been describing me in years past- works of The Bard and I parted company as soon as high school was concluded and didn’t pick up again for decades.

    Fast forward to my first TAM performance and the 2011’s summer season opener, “Much Ado About Nothing”. Adapted from the classic version and set in post WWII era and yet told in traditional 16th century Shakespearean language, it was the incredible skill of the ensemble in telling the tale that captivated the entire audience and me, as the intimidation barrier quickly faded and I found myself not only thoroughly enjoying the tale- but UNDERSTANDING it.

    So after seeing the familiar names of TAM veteran actors Ambien Mitchell, Mark S. Cartier and Bill Van Horn (who were all magnificent in “Ado”) among the cast, it was with great anticipation that I went to last week’s opening of “The Taming of the Shrew” – and came away even more impressed than ever with the quality of their individual work, the ensemble as a whole and the incredible efforts made by all in transforming Cumston Hall once again into a place of magic and wonderful story telling, as the colorful and distinctive costuming by Kathleen Brown and lighting by Lynne Chase give a clear sense of time and place that enhance the tale well.

    The play, directed by Sally Wood, is set in late 1800’s Italy and tells the tale of wealthy landowner and gentleman Baptista (Mark S. Cartier) of Padua with two very different daughters- the beautiful and friendly Bianca (Aislinn Kerchaert), who is greatly admired and surrounded with potential suitors for her hand- and her sister Caterina aka “Kate” or “Kate the Cursed”. The sisters are quickly established to be polar opposites in temperament, demeanor, conduct and behavior- where Bianca is gentle and the object of many a man’s affections, Kate is feared as her sharp tongue and quickness to physically harm anyone who crosses her- a reputation that is known far and wide. Yet Baptista will not allow for his younger daughter Bianca to be wooed or wed until her older sister has found a match- a prospect that pleases no one, especially Kate.

    "Petruchio" (Josh Carpenter) and "Kate" (Ambien Mitchell); photo credit to Aaron Flocke.

    “Petruchio” (Josh Carpenter) and “Kate” (Ambien Mitchell); photo credit to Aaron Flocke.

    The bold, brash and confident Petruchio (Josh Carpenter) learns of Kate and decides that he will be the one to break through and “tame the shrew” (hence the title); she presents a difficult challenge and he embraces the opportunity to best and win her. Thus begins a clever and highly entertaining tale of complicated intersecting story lines, multiple identity switches and deceptions by not one but two “tutors” who are in actuality suitors for Bianca’s hand, Lucentio (Luke Couzens), a rich newcomer who switches identities with his manservant Tranio (Alexander Harvey) and Baptista’s neighbor Hortensio (James Noel Hoban, brilliant in the lead role of 2012’s hilarious “Tartuffe”), as well as another local, Gremio (Bill Van Horn).

    A special shout-out must go to Petruchio’s long suffering man servant Grumio (Mike Anthony), who takes his role as the comedic foil and practically steals the scenes with his hilarious presence, timing and presentation- no easy feat with this high caliber cast!

    A politically correct play? Not even slightly. On occasion, Petruchio’s calculated approach and treatment of Kate is nothing short of shocking, as he methodically goes about his pursuit of her, and reveals himself to be as deeply flawed as she. They are equally skilled in viciousness and cruelty towards those in their proximity, verbally and physically abusive, and unpredictable. Yet “Shrew” is a very real and compelling love story- ugly, messy and complicated, showing the intricate foibles of human relationships as the two eventually learn to trust, to be vulnerable, to fall deeply in love and learn to respect the roles of each other both within their society and their relationship with each other.

    CAST (in order of appearance)

    Lucentio: Luke Couzens
    Tranio: Alexander Harvey
    Baptista: Mark S. Cartier
    Kate: Ambien Mitchell
    Bianca: Aislinn Kerchaert
    Gremio: Bill Van Horn
    Hortensio: James Noel Hoban
    Biondello: Max Waszak
    Petruchio: Josh Carpenter
    Grumio: Mike Anthony
    Tailor/ Haberdasher:
    Hannah Daly
    Pedant: Simon Kiser
    Vincentio: Frank Omar
    Widow: Grace Bauer

    *Related: Theater At Monmouth Opens 44th Season With Family Classic: “The Velveteen Rabbit” (REVIEW)

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    Theater at Monmouth Opens 44th Season with Family Classic: “The Velveteen Rabbit” (REVIEW)

    Posted on June 25, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , |

    velveteen coverEvery once in awhile, it’s nice to be able to change gears and do something new. And when it involves a local treasure and an opportunity such as reviewing performances at the Theater at Monmouth for New Maine Times, then it is an especially nice treat.

    Be patient, friendsI have never before written a review in my LIFE. But, I truly love live performances and especially those at TAM.

    This year marks TAM’s 44th season (PDF of the 2013 brochure)- and my third consecutive“Opening Night” show. Every season provides opportunities for a wide range of shows and the selections for each season’s fare are always interesting and varied.

    It’s fun to see how creatively the cast and crew take long-known favorites and standards such as Margery Williams’ “The Velveteen Rabbit (or How Toys Become Real)”, adapted by Dawn McAndrews, and make it fit the small, intimate space of Monmouth’s Cumston Hall- how the setting, backdrops, costuming and acting transform the stage and take the audience into the world being portrayed.

    velveteen rabbit and boyIt takes incredible skill and talent , as well as a true love of story-telling, of watching faces in the audience lose themselves in the tale being told to do the job well. And no more fun for the cast and crew then when relating a story to a child… through the voices of toys. It was readily apparent that the cast enjoyed performing this show, just as much as the audience did watching it!

    With “Velveteen Rabbit”, one is instantly charmed by the beautifully decorated props of giant painted wooden blocks, which first show the nursery of a young boy circa 1920s on Christmas morning and are used throughout the play to great effect as a beloved summer garden, the woods at night and more. The Boy (Nick Sutton) receives presents from his absent parents, given by his caretaker Nana- among them a beautiful, soft stuffed rabbit that he quickly dismisses but later comes to love as his favorite companion and friend.

    velveteen cast 4The Boy takes Rabbit (Hannah Daly) everywhere with him, playing countless games, telling her marvelous tales and imagining wonderful adventures that she later relates to the other nursery toys. But, as she discovers one day when accidentally left outside and met by some wandering live wild rabbits, she is not yet “real”, as described by her friend the old rocking horse in the nursery, even though she knows she is “real” to The Boy. Her journey continues and… well, go see for yourself what happens!

    With creative simple imagery, effective in bringing one back to a simpler time, as well as a wonderfully talented cast who are able to play multiple characters seamlessly and believably, this entertaining tale under the direction of Brooke Edwards is sure to please audiences of all ages.

    CAST (in order of appearance)

    The Velveteen Rabbit : Hannah Daly

    The Boy: Nick Sutton

    The Rocking Horse/ Wild Rabbit/ Gardener: Simon Kiser

    Nana/ The Wood Lion/ Wild Rabbit: Aislinn Kerchaert

    Tin Robot/ Wild Rabbit/ The Doctor: Ardarius Blakely

    (Link to Dates and Ticket Information)

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