Sunday, September 7, 2014

Hamlet: ASC's Method in Madness Tour

Ben Gorman as Claudius and Patrick Earl as Hamlet in HAMLET. Photo by Michael Bailey.
We saw the American Shakespeare Center's Method in Madness Tour preview of Hamlet on September 7, 2014 at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton. This is the third ASC production of Hamlet that we have seen and this one stands tall with the others. Patrick Earl does a masterful job with the moody Hamlet, conveying a sense of madness that is often missing. Earl, who always turns in memorable performances, does perhaps his best work in his four-year run with the ASC in this production. The version we saw for this performance was the First Quarto version. You might also get to see the Folio version--depends on an audience member involved pre-show coin toss.

Susie Parr, a newcomer to the ASC, is wonderful as a sweet but mentally fractured Ophelia. She might just be the best Ophelia I've seen. Stephen Brunson turns in a great performance as the overblown Polonius and Patrick Poole is fantastic as Laertes. The gravedigger scene with Andrew Goldwasser (Guildenstern, Gravedigger, Marcellus) and Josh Innerst (Ghost King, Player King, Fortinbras, Gravedigger) is also very well done. The rest of the ensemble includes: Alexandra Leigh as Voltemond & Player Villain, Stephanie Holladay Earl as Gertrude, Ben Gorman as Claudius, Emily Joshi-Powell as Reynaldo, Bernardo, & Rosencrantz, and Tim Sailer as Horatio.

The music for this tour is going to be fantastic, with a great selection of tunes that showcase the multi-talented performers.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Christmas Carol starring Patrick Earl

Patrick Earl as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.
Photo by Michael Bailey.
OK, first of all, I really enjoy Dickens' A Christmas Carol and I really enjoy the staged version at the ASC. I do not especially like attending the shows though because it is not the typical Blackfriars audience. Very rarely do you see any regulars in attendance and there are always a lot of children and people unfamiliar with the style and etiquette of the Blackfriars. I was not going to attend this year, but I decided I would because I wanted to see how Patrick Earl's Scrooge would differ from the three previous ones (Keegan, Harrell, Thornton, Jr.). Earl, who always delivers, quite capably lives up to the performances of his predecessors, and the fact that he is significantly younger than the typical Scrooge never comes into play. He's not the meanest Scrooge I've ever seen, but he perhaps makes the most joyful transition to a being in possession of human kindness with a philanthropic bent of the performances I've seen at the ASC.

Patrick Midgley does a masterful job spinning the play's yarn as The Narrator (and gives the ladies something to smile about in the pre-show). Rick Blunt makes Scrooge's nephew Fred a more boisterous, gregarious character, a good trait for the "in the holiday spirit" Fred. Andrew Goldwasser has the audience's sympathy as the overworked, underpaid Bob Cratchit. Russell Daniels is hilarious as the Ghost of Christmas Present, as is Joey Ibanez as the Plump Sister, and Emily Joshi-Powell ably plays everybody's favorite Tiny Tim.

If you like A Christmas Carol or just want a bit of holiday cheer, then I'd recommend seeing the ASC's version--get your tickets quick--they are going fast as this show is always in demand.

The Twelve Dates of Christmas starring Allison Glenzer

I've seen every run of The Twelve Dates of Christmas at the ASC. The first two were performed by the writer: ASC veteran Ginna Hoben, and the last two by Allison Glenzer. While the story remains the same, both actors bring their own nuances to the role. Glenzer's performance this year is a bit more emotional than Hoben's, whereas Hoben excelled with the comedic bits. That's not to say Glenzer doesn't follow through with the laughs; the crowd was howling all night, but they were also ooing and awwing and shedding a few tears as well. All in all, this is a really good production (I personally think it holds up much better than the greying at the temples Santaland Diaries and is a better play in general) and Glenzer turns in yet another masterful performance.
Allison Glenzer as Mary in The 12 Dates of ChristmasPhoto by Michael Bailey.

To those not familiar with the story, the play is about a New York City based actor in her mid-30s, from Ohio named Mary. Mary loves the holidays (especially Thanksgiving) until she sees her fiance passionately kissing his sluttish co-worker during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. To further the humiliation, she sees the betrayal on national TV while attending Thanksgiving lunch at her parent's house in Ohio and receives an alarming number of phone calls and texts about the televised tryst. Mary dumps her fiance, deposits her engagement ring in a Salvation Army kettle, and attempts to get on with her life. She's set-up on a series of comically bad and bizarre dates by friends and family (Exercise Sally and Aunt Cathy are the best) for the next year.

Joining Alli on stage are Bridget Rue and Stephanie Holladay Earl as the "Doo Wop Girls." They and Chris Johnston provide the musical entertainment before and during the play. You'll even get to hear a couple of original holiday songs by Johnston ("Come Back Home (this Christmas)" is available on iTunes). If you like a little sass with your holiday stories, then this play is the one for you.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Newly Relocated Shenandoah Hops

Owner John Huggins at Shenandoah Hops.
A few months ago, John and Cheryl Huggins relocated their beer/wine/local groceries shop to the Wharf District in Staunton (29 Byers St.). The huge selection of beers made the old spot on New Street too tight of a fit, so they moved to their new shop which has much more elbow room and more browseability. The beer selection is better than ever- anything from Natty Boh to high end local ciders, kombuchas, over 50 IPAs and many traditional English and Scottish ales. As for regional selections, they stock all the Virginia favorites (Blue Mountain, Legend, Starr Hill, Devil's Backbone, Parkway, Roanoke Railhouse, Wild Wolf, Bold Rock, etc.), and several from Maryland (Duclaw, Heavy Seas), North Carolina (Natty Greene's, Highland, Foothills), Delaware (Dogfish Head), and Pennsylvania (Weyerbacher, Stoudts, Lionshead, Troegs, etc.) not to mention other brews from all over the nation and the world. Every Friday night they feature a beer tasting, featuring a couple of their many offerings. And to make things even more comfortable, they've installed a big leather sofa so you can sit back and converse with the always genial Huggins family or other patrons.

Hops is not just a beer and wine store, but a local specialty grocery store as well. You can get local handmade soaps, Virginia peanuts, locally made crafts, sauces, and canned jellies and jams. If you visit, and don't find what you're looking for, just ask and they'll do their best to make sure you get it. I always recommend a visit to Hops for tourists and locals alike. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

All's Well that Ends Well

Benjamin Curns as Parolles in All's Well That Ends Well. Photo by Pat Jarrett.

I am a big fan of Shakespeare's All's Well that Ends Well. I realize many people don't like the play, ostensibly because Bertram is, for lack of a better term, kind of a dick (and then the moralists don't like Helena and Diana's bed trick/rapey thing). I think, however, that Dylan Paul plays him perfectly-- he plays him, in my mind, like a typically fickle, self-absorbed, self-aware coming-of-age young man who cares more about his reputation and societal standing than anything else. Of course, with Helena being played by the beautiful and talented Tracie Thomason, you sometimes want to smack Bertram and ask "what are you thinking, that girl's hot- who cares if she's not titled?!?" a sentiment that John Harrell's King of France essentially expresses. Thomason, who is clearly in "the zone" this season, turns in another masterful performance as a love-sick, but much more mature and wiser (than Bertram or Juliet) girl.

Tracie Thomason as Helena in All's Well That Ends Well. Photo by Pat Jarrett.
All's Well, in my mind, is one of the funnier comedies. Harrell is brilliant as the King, and his interpretation of the King's suffering from an anal fistula is priceless. I snicker every time he attempts to sit. Greg Phelps kills it as Lavatch the clown, making his idiocy seem exceedingly sharp. Benjamin Curns' Parolles is exceptional and is his best performance of the season thus far. Curns brings a great deal of physical comedy to this role--from his attempts to break free from the stockade to his huffing and puffing while on march. Curns, known mostly for leading-man roles, is an exceptionally talented comedic actor- this performance ranks right up there with his Face and Sir Toby Belch. Another great comedic turn is given by Rene Thornton, Jr. as Lafew. He and Curns have several comedic run-ins with Lafew always besting the blow-hard Parolles.

This production runs longer than most of Shakespeare's comedies, probably because it has a couple of musical numbers included (and this production has some excellent music). Ralph Alan Cohen directed this production and rang all the humor out of it. This production is probably the best interpretation of one of Shakespeare's comedies that I have seen at the Blackfriars since the 2010 Ren Season Twelfth Night. I highly recommend seeing it before the season ends (and you don't have much time!)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Romeo & Juliet

Romeo and Juliet, arguably Shakespeare's most seen, most popular play, is a sure crowd-pleaser. While it is not among my absolute favorite of Shakespeare's plays (it makes my second tier), you have to respect it as one of the upper echelon in the canon. Having seen the ASC Touring Troupe's version of Romeo and Juliet three years ago, I was looking forward to seeing how this version would differ. Jim Warren's version of Romeo and Juliet keeps it pretty traditional, with a somewhat Westside Story feel to shake things up a bit, but it's pretty well in line with the touring troupe version and most versions I have seen on stage.  The comedy and the dirtiness is played up more in this production than most I have seen- a welcome change for me.
Tracie Thomason as Juliet and Dylan Paul as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Michael Bailey.

The show features an emotional, powerful turn by Tracie Thomason as Juliet, in possibly her greatest performance on the Blackfriars stage. Her Romeo is played capably by the talented Dylan Paul. One big takeaway I had from the performance was an epic, nearly show-stealing performance by Alli Glenzer as Friar Lawrence. Glenzer portrays a conflicted, guilt-wracked Holy man, haunted by his bad deeds in aiding the star crossed lovers.

In other stand-out turns, Ben Curns' performance takes the role of the Nurse to a starring level. He is extremely convincing in the role and totally makes you forget the role is played by a man. Greg Phelps' is fantastic in the much favored role of Mercutio and John Harrell is at his best as the snide and sinister Prince of Cats, Tybalt. Chris Johnston's Benvolio is also a favorite of mine in this production.

The production is capped with outstanding costumes by Erin M. West. If you are a fan of R&J, the ASC,  or a Virginia high school student, you should definitely see this production.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Return to the Forbidden Planet

Benjamin Curns as Bosun Arras, Chris Johnston as Lt. Hotlix McShredalot, and Gregory Jon Phelps as Cookie in Return to the Forbidden Planet. Photo by Michael Bailey.
When I first heard that the ASC would be performing Return to the Forbidden Planet I thought the concept was kind of lame. Of course, anything the ASC does is worth seeing, so I was up for it. Also, with conversations I'd had with Ben Curns and others I was told this would be a popular and highly entertaining show. Such praise notwithstanding, I was unprepared for the riotous good time I had at both a dress rehearsal and the opening night performance (sitting on stage, adding to the rollicking trip that is this show). RUN, don't walk to Staunton to see this production-- it is one of the best two hours of entertainment you are likely to ever experience. 

Return to the Forbidden Planet was written in the mid-1980s by Bob Carlton. It is a jukebox musical based on Shakespeare's The Tempest and the 1956 film Forbidden Planet with some Star Trek and other SciFi movies thrown in. Many famous and not so famous lines from Shakespeare's plays also make an appearance.

Dylan Paul is magnificent in his performance as Captain Tempest- I am not exaggerating when I say this was a brilliant, if not perfect, bit of casting. His facial expressions, line delivery, physicality, audience interaction, and stage presence are amazing for this role. I've seen many great performances at the Blackfriars, and Paul's in this role ranks among the very top. 

Rene Thornton plays Prospero, a mad scientist, and he brings tremendous energy to the role. He shows off a great singing voice and plays well against Captain Tempest, the Science Officer (a great performance by Lee Fitzpatrick) and his innocent, if somewhat rebellious virginal daughter Miranda (a very convincing and entertaining Emily Brown). 

Other standout performances were turned in by Greg Phelps as the affable and lovesick Cookie; a roller skating robot named Ariel (the brilliant John Harrell), the all around good guy Bossun Arras (Ben Curns), and Chris Johnston who served as the musical director and played the role of Lt. Hotlix McShredalot. Special shout-outs should go to costume designer Erin M. West and dance choreographer Stephanie Holladay Earl.

I plan to see this production many times this year and already have several folks interested in seeing this as their first play at the Blackfriars.