Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Malcontent by John Marston

Benjamin Curns in The Malcontent. Photo by Tommy Thompson.
We attended the second "pay what you will" performance of John Marston's "The Malcontent" at the Blackfriars Playhouse. I read the play in anticipation of seeing it and really enjoyed it. It's classed a revenge tragedy but it seems more of a revenge comedy. Benjamin Curns stars as Malevole/Duke Altofronto, who was overthrown and banished thanks to the machinations of John Harrell's Mendoza. Harrell, who is so good you sometimes take him for granted, is outstanding as the conniving minion/lover of Aurelia played by the fabulous Sarah Fallon. Jeremy West is fantastic as Duke Pietro who takes over after Altofronto is banished. Altofronto disguises himself as Malevole and schemes on how to take back power. The plot is reminiscent of "Measure for Measure" with some "Hamlet" thrown in. Malevole provides a running commentary on the sorry state of the Genoan Dukedom and the many minions, bawds, and adulterers that parade through the stage. Curns, as always, is flawless as a performer. The chemistry between he and Harrell is at its peak in this play. They always play well off of each other, particularly when Harrell is playing a sneak. Fallon is also wonderful in this type of role. She's great when she plays a bad girl. Another standout performer is Paul Jannise as the overblown Bilioso. I was really looking forward to seeing this performance after reading the play. His interactions with Malevole are priceless. On top of it all, Jannise's costume is amazing. Allison Glenzer, playing yet another old trollop, is fantastic as the bawdy, lascivious Maquerelle (get it, Mackerel), Jeremiah Davis makes for a pretty bearded girl as Emilia, and Patrick Midgley's Ferneze is a sight to behold. Tyler Moss plays Bilioso's fool, Passarello and turns in a great performance in that role and as Equato. He's equally impressive in the musical interlude dancing away and moonwalking on the mash-up Nirvana/Michael Jackson "Smells Like Billie Jean." Speaking of music, there are some fantastic musical performances in this production including covers of "Overkill" by Men at Work, "Go to Sleep" by Radiohead, "And It Spread" by The Avett Brothers, and "No Regrets" by Forest Sun. Also, be sure to look for the pre-show/Induction. Poor Daniel Burrows is pestered by an audience member (John Harrell) who finally takes to the stage and is joined by another audience member (Chris Johnston) as well as other cast members. The Malcontent is a fabulous play, both funny and exceedingly nasty with lots of delicious double entendres and sexual overtones. Make sure you check it out!

The Actors Renaissance Season continues with "Look About You" by anonymous, a play based on the Robin Hood story. From what I've read so far (and that is no easy task, getting a hold of the text that is), it will be wonderful.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An Evening of Jazz in Staunton

My friend and owner of Shenandoah Pizza and Shenandoah Hops, John Huggins, is promoting another night of music in Staunton, this time a jazz concert. The concert, "An Evening of Jazz," will be held February 26th at 6:30 pm at ShenanArts at the nTelos Theater. Featured performers are The S.P.L.A.A.A.T. Quintet (Society for the Preservation of Live American Aural Art Traditions) and Chaise Lounge. The dress is semi-formal and the cost is $25 and will include hors d'oeuvres presented by Chef Drew Buzik.

S.P.L.A.A.T. features Tom Harbeck on guitar, Lew Morrison on bass, Marlon Foster on drums, Tim Weir on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Brett Kirby on saxophone. S.P.L.A.A.A.T. specializes in standards from legends such as Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. Chaise Lounge features five of the Washington area's best jazz musicians fronted by the vocals of Marilyn Older. They specialize in original tunes and standards and have an early sixties vibe.

For more information on the show see the event Website. I'm sure the night will be one to remember, as John and Cheryl work hard and always do their best to make people happy.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Comedy of Errors- 2011 Actors' Renaissance Season

We attended two pay what you will performances of "The Comedy of Errors" to open the 2011 Actors' Renaissance Season at the Blackfriars Playhouse. In 2009, we saw the Rough, Rude and Boisterous touring troupe's version of "The Comedy of Errors," so that production was fresh in my mind. I'm not sure which version I prefer. Both were excellent, though this one seemed to have a lot more "emphasis added" humor to Shakespeare's shortest and most slapstick play.

This production is contemporary whereas the previous production was set in the original time period. The whole play (with the exception of the oddly tragic opening scene) is a slapstick farce with the classic mistaken identity theme played to the hilt. Tyler Moss and Greg Phelps are fantastic as the Dromios. They play them more as clowns than Dennis Henry and Rick Blunt did in 2009. Moss and Phelps employ lots of physical comedy in their roles. Their masters, the Antipholi, are played by John Harrell and Patrick Midgley, respectively. Harrell is at his frustrated best, and Midgley is impressive as the more confused, stranger in town. Be sure to watch for how other characters differentiate between the two- very funny. Two performances in lesser roles very nearly stole the show for me. Chris Johnston, who I believe is one of the best performers at the ASC, is fantastic as the Geisha inspired Courtesan (and is a sharp dressed man as the offended and calming merchant Balthazar). The other show stealer is Jeremy West as the doughnut eating Officer. I had never seen West before and I thought he did a fantastic job. I look forward to seeing him in the meatier role of Richard, Duke of York in "Henry VI, Part 3." Benjamin Curns, as always, is flawless in the dramatic role of Egeon. He sports a nice suit as well (made by ASC Costume Designer Erin West for a 2007 production of Winter's Tale and brought back to life for this role). Sarah Fallon and Miriam Donald are terrific as Adriana and Luciana. Throughout the play Miriam has one of those "always worried, always concerned" looks that had me kind of cracking up. Also watch for Allison Glenzer's fantastic cameo as "Fat Nell," it will have you rolling.

The pre-show and interlude music was fantastic, though a bit short at this point (the troupe is still learning songs, I imagine, they'd only had three days of rehearsals to get this production going). Songs include John Sebastian's "Welcome Back," made famous in "Welcome Back, Kotter," Weezer's "(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To," Katrina and the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine," Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music," and an excellent rendition of Walter Egan's "Magnet and Steel."

The Actors' Renaissance Season continues with John Marston's "The Malcontent," opening January 20.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Santaland Diaries starring Richard Blunt

Rick Blunt as Crumpet the Elf in Santaland Diaries. Photo by Michael Bailey.
I had the pleasure of sitting on stage for two performances of "Santaland Diaries" this season. The first performance was the day after Christmas (I also saw "A Christmas Carol" and the penultimate performance of "The Twelve Dates of Christmas"), and the second was the final performance on New Year's Eve. For both shows' pre-show entertainment Daniel Jimenez and Aidan O'Reilly were joined onstage by the great Chris Johnston. Some of the songs featured were a cover of Sufjan Stevens' "Star of Wonder," (Amazing, blows Stevens' version away), Jimenez's version of Adam Sandler's "Hanukkah Song," a mash-up of Brand New's "70 times 7" and "Mixtape," and The Arrogant Worms' "Santa's Going to Kick Your Ass."

Blunt kicked off the show by walking out and dropping a bag and saying "Marley was fucking dead!" The first crowd seemed to get the joke, the second one didn't, with Blunt chiding them "It's a little Christmas Carol humor, people." Despite this faux pas, the second crowd was livelier and more energetic than the first one and Blunt is a performer who definitely feeds off the energy of a crowd. In the first show it seemed the only people he had to play with were my wife and I. In the second one, he had lots of willing participants and he was able to ad lib a bit more.

Blunt took over the Elf costume from John Harrell who had played Crumpet the past several years (along with Christopher Seiler one season- I'm sorry I missed his performance). Blunt is a more lovable, albeit pissed off Elf, whereas Harrell is a more bitter, snarky Crumpet. Blunt's take on the Jersey pilgrims to Macy's Santaland was terrific. In one memorable scene in the first performance we saw, Blunt was changing into his elf costume and having a hard time bending over to get his shoes on. As he struggled he said, "I should have gotten a job as a Santa." Maybe next year, Rick :)

Following the show the Reckless Ecstasy troupe sans Dennis Henry (he acted as MC) and Blunt (who helped out on a couple of songs) staged a two and a half hour concert and countdown to 2011. It was a great show with tons of songs and much revelry. Chris Johnston even joined the band on the banjo for one song. Most of the ASC Resident Troupe were in attendance and Sarah Fallon dropped a glass of red wine on me from the balcony (I was wearing all white). All in all it was a night to remember!
Rick Blunt in The Santaland Diaries. Photo by Michael Bailey