Month: June 2020

All My Sons Directed by Taylor Kellar

Director Taylor Kellar has reimagined Arthur Miller’s All My Sons for the twenty first century. Not only did this director choose to present this masterpiece on a virtual platform, Ms. Kellar took creative liberties with the playwright’s description of the show’s time period. Arthur Miller set his 1945 work in “August of our era.” Ms. Kellar transformed America during the Second World War into:

The great America Donald Trump promised us. We are set back to an era where women were property to man, human beings were restricted of rights, and you had a problem with a neighbor who wasn’t the same skin color as you.

The director modernized Miller’s characters. As she explained in the playbill:

What if the Kellars were a heavily Republican family? MAGA ran in their veins – hence Larry’s choice to serve in the military? What if Joe finally saw the errors of his evangelist ways, hence his decision to sell faulty parts, even if that meant putting lives at risk? What if the Deever family were black? What if Kate Kellar had implicit bias, not only having problems with her (Annie) dating her elder son Larry, but then again choosing to pursue Chris—so she blames it on the infidelity and not because of an interracial couple? Why would Joe Keller, a white man, be exonerated over Steve Deever, a black man? What if Chris was a member of the resistance, yet constantly lives in white guilt?

Quite an original interpretation of Mr. Miller’s work. Your correspondent witnessed the virtual performance on Saturday, June 13th.

In addition to the play’s larger themes, Mr. Miller included a serious family drama. Kate Kellar (played by Bridget Reilly Beauchamp) refused to accept that her son Larry had been killed during his military service. Joe Kellar (Greg Northam) and his son Chris (Joe Godley) struggled to deal with Mrs. Kellar’s non-acceptance. They described her as being “ill.” The situation became more complicated when Chris became engaged to Larry’s former fiancée Ann Deever (Danielle Lee James).

Ann also happened to be the daughter of Steve, an associate at Joe’s manufacturing company. Steve received a prison sentence for shipping faulty cylinder heads to the US military. The latter having caused the deaths of 21 pilots.

The story became even more tense when Steve’s son George (Elijah Jones) arrived. He had just visited with his father in prison. George informed Ann of some information his father shared with him. This news had the potential to destroy the Kellar family.

Drama this intense required some solid actors to bring it to the stage; or cyberspace in this case. Ms. Kellar selected an excellent team to animate her unique take on Mr. Miller’s story.

Greg Northam delivered a sobering performance as Joe. He captured the multiple facets of this complex character. Mr. Northam portrayed a man submerged in a world of denial and moral relativism. He displayed the same assurance while defending Steve from charges of being a murderer as he did when explaining his own reprehensible actions. His conniving assault on Steve’s character when talking to George gave an insight into Joe’s true personality.

Joe Godley brought passion to the role of Chris Keller. He expressed his character’s feelings for Ann with tenderness. During his heated exchange with Mr. Jones he, captured the Chris’ transition from incredulity to doubt. Mr. Godley’s cynical declaration that he had become “practical” concretized his character’s change.

Bridget Reilly Beauchamp performed an outstanding Kate Kellar. Her passionate expressions that Larry would still come home showed that her character believed it. Her declaration that if Larry didn’t come home, “we killed him” showed Kate’s complexity. Ms. Beauchamp delivered a moving monolog about a dream about her son and the destruction of “his” tree.

Danielle Lee James portrayed an excellent Ann. Her warm voice well suited the character. She performed gripping interactions throughout the evening. Ms. James brought out the tension in the conversations with Ms. Beauchamp regarding Larry’s death. The performer showed coyness in response to Mr. Godley’s advances. Ms. James shared a tense conversation with Ms. Croce regarding Chris’ idealism.

Elijah Jones delivered an inspired performance as George Deever. Mr. Jones displayed his character’s anger over the injustice committed against Steve. The performer’s sly eye squint showed it. He also brought out George’s heartbreak over Lydia’s (Chelsea Best) marriage to Frank (Antonino Baldasari). The way he declined Lydia’s invitation to meet their three children showed George’s misery.

Lisa Croce added her trademark comedic quips to the show. In the role of Sue Bayliss, she commented, “I should have been a woman. Men are always introducing me to beautiful women.” Ms. Croce expressed an emphatic “please” when asking Dr. Jim Bayliss (Josh Keiter) to take a phone call.

Not even virtual performances are immune from the unexpected. Ms. Beauchamp’s dog made a cameo during one of her scenes. At least that was how it seemed in real time. The canine may have served as a clever bit of foreshadowing for Joe’s speech on a “great big dog.”

The production team presented All My Sons as a “fundraiser for groups fighting for social justice.” A list is available on the Facebook page: Arthur Miller’s ALL MY SONS Virtual Reading.

Ms. Kellar observed that: …the themes of guilt and blame, justice and judgement, lies and deceit, morality and ethics, and courage are still relevant in Trump’s America, maybe more so. Her interpretation of All My Son showed just how trenchant that interpretation is.

American Son at Dead Playwrights’ Society

“It’s hard, but important to watch,” Erik Ransom of the Dead Playwrights’ Society said at the conclusion of American Son. You’re correspondent concurred when he attended the reading on June 7th.

The Dead Playwrights’ Society featured a reading of Christopher Demos-Brown’s American Son. This 2016 drama explored the complexities of race in society. It also viewed it through the conflicts of an estranged mixed-race couple worried about their missing son.

Kendra Ellis-Connor’s (played by Carla Helene Ezell) son didn’t come home. She went to the police station to report it. There she encountered Officer Paul Larkin (played by Brian Keith Graziani). The policeman feigned any knowledge of what happened to her son, Jamal. He insisted that she had to wait for the AM liaison officer, Lt. John Stokes (Darryl Cury), to tell her. Larkin subtly released information showing that he knew more than he would reveal.

When Scott (played by Chris McGinnis) arrived at the station, he established a rapport with Office Larkin. He explained that he worked for the FBI. The two men shared a common bond because of their service in law enforcement. Larkin also played to the characters’ shared heritage by informing Scott, that she (Kendra) went from “zero to ghetto” rather quickly. Scott, a white man, then informed the officer that he and Kendra were married.

As Kendra and Scott awaited news of Jamal, a tense discussion of their son and their failed marriage ensued. It segued into a deeper evaluation of racial disparity in American society.

In keeping with social distancing guidelines, the reading took place via Zoom. All the performers played their roles from their own homes. Eric Ransom, the founder of the Dead Playwrights’ Society, hosted the event.

From a writing standpoint, the story contained a lot of conflict. Most of it came from Scott’s and Kendra’s relationship. Ms. Ezell and Mr. McGinnis did extraordinary work showing it in their scenes (and screens) opposite one another.

Carla Helene Ezell brought depth and passion to Kendra. Ms. Ezell portrayed her character’s anxiety, anger and guilt over an argument she and her son had with gripping realness. The performer played the role so well, it didn’t seem she was acting. Ms. Ezell even cried during the emotional scenes. That’s quite a performance for a “reading.”

Ms. Ezell played the most race conscious character in the show. The performer delivered her lines with conviction. She explained to Scott that the students in her son’s prep school view him as the “face of the race.” He was one of only three African Americans who attended it. She added that during a conference in Atlanta, she saw a bumper sticker that read: Don’t Blame Me – I Voted for Jefferson Davis. She became lachrymose when lamenting that her estranged husband currently dated a white woman. Ms. Ezell also showed her character’s complexity when correcting Scott’s “white trash” language.

Chris McGinnis brought the same intensity to his performance. His emphatic deliveries while putting up his arms showed the character’s frustration. Mr. McGinnis also displayed tenderness in the scenes where he and Ms. Ezell recounted better times from their relationship.

Mr. McGinnis showed his character’s lack of racial sensitivity; an interesting quality for someone who wanted to name his son “Seamus.” When talking to Kendra about their child, he argued, “His world is my world.” In spite of Kendra’s discomfort with it, he always referred to Jamal as “J.” He also criticized their son for looking too “gangsta” by having “cornrows” and wearing “baggy pants.”

Brian Keith Graziani portrayed Officer Paul Larkin. Mr. Graziani exhibited both the character’s inexperience and his racial insensitivity. He displayed both when prodding Ms. Ezell for information about her son’s personal nature and social behavior. Mr. Graziani’s incredulous facial expressions added insights into his character’s mindset. So did Larkin’s confusing Emily Dickinson’s work with that of Charles Dickens.

Darryl Curry played Lt. John Stokes. Even performing from his own home, Mr. Curry conveyed the character’s tough- guy attitude. This actor took an “in-your-face” approach to playing this character. Literally. He positioned his head close to the camera when he barked orders at the other performers. His authentic Southern accent added a good detail to the role. The deadpan fashion in which he recited a generic police announcement chilled this reviewer.

Connor Twigg read the script’s stage notes. It allowed the audience insights into the playwright’s original vision.

The Dead Playwrights’ Society made an excellent choice in presenting American Son this weekend. Sadly, this piece has even more relevance today that it did when it first appeared in 2016. “I can’t breathe,” Scott said. After this reading, neither could the audience.

Alice in Etherland at No Dominion Theatre Company

The No Dominion Theatre Company took theatrical fans down a virtual rabbit hole this weekend. The team known as Chaotic Good Collective gave the beloved Lewis Carroll classic, Alice in Wonderland, an update for the twenty first century. They did so while observing proper social distancing. Kaitlin Overton directed this journey of Alice in Etherland through Zoom. Your correspondent witnessed the June 6th performance.

It’s difficult to imagine making Mr. Carroll’s timeless story more creative. Chaotic Good Collective showed extraordinary innovation by executing this challenge. Wonderland became Etherland. The conflict resulted from the machinations of the Jabberwock corporation. This entity eliminated the capability for wireless internet connectivity.

The show began with Alice (played by Meg Foley) addressing the audience on their computer screens. Frantically she explained her plan to restore wireless access to the internet. It entailed a journey through a virtual wonderland that included interactions with eccentric characters. The scheme also allowed those watching to participate in the story.

Myriad boxes appeared on the screen. They showed both performers and audience members. The latter had a variety of ways in which they could watch the performance. Individuals could set-up their screen so that it showed either the person speaking or multiple people; at times this included the members of the on-line audience.

The website included a “chat” box. It allowed the audience to respond to Alice’s questions. It also permitted them to comment during the show. Due to the nature of this performance, the production team kept this function on throughout the entire show.

This feature added an attribute to virtual theatre that live performances lack. It allowed both audience members and the performers to know what everyone thought of the show in real time.

The virtual format didn’t eliminate the types of distractions that occur during live theatre, however. While the Caterpillar (Eric Mackowski) smoked his pipe, a wasp flew into his face. Mr. Mackowski calmly swatted it away and continued delivering his lines. It helped to remind the audience that real people were performing live.

Taking advantage of the virtual format, the production team added a special effect. They made it seem that the Cheshire Cat’s (played by Eric Craft) head floated in space. The scene appeared very sophisticated for a virtual play.

Outstanding camera work enhanced Anthony Paglia’s performance as Tweedle. Mr. Paglia told his eccentric stories from between two mirrors. The way he positioned himself gave this scene a unique visual effect.

Multiple screens and audience interactions gave the show a futuristic vibe. One element of the costuming made it more contemporary. For the Cheshire Cat’s iconic smile, Mr. Craft wore a facemask with the famous grin.

Performers Jamie Stapel (as the Mad Hatter) and Colin Carter (the March Hare) performed in the same room together. All the other actors worked from separate locations. Even with the added distraction of comments from the chat feature, the team executed all the transitions seamlessly.

Technology and the novelty of “virtual theatre” make the modern viewing experience different. One element of a production that never changes is that a good show requires strong acting. All the performers in this production delivered spectacular performances.

Meg Foley played Alice as a frenzied woman struggling to solve perplexing puzzles. Eric Mackowski performed a low-keyed Caterpillar. Kat Hebert contrasted him through the bubbly personality of Flower. Jamie Stapel and Colin Carter played a wonderful Mad Hatter and March Hare. Anthony Paglia did stellar work bringing Tweedle to the stage. Mike McQuade took peculiarity to another level in his dual roles as the White and Red Queens. Eric Craft displayed serious skill at his own craft as the Cheshire Cat.

Characters this eccentric required some fancy costuming. As the White and Red Queens, Mike McQuade wore a simple gown with either a white or red heart on his cheek. Anthony Paglia added glasses and a long, black bow tie to Tweedle’s look. In addition to the mask with the grin, Eric Craft wore headphones and feline ears in the guise of the Cheshire Cat.

Amber Kusching and Mason Beutler added their talents as dramaturges to this impressive ensemble. In addition to playing the Mad Hatter, Jamie Stapel also serves as Chaotic Good Collective’s Artistic Director. Antoinette Fasino is the group’s Technical Director.

The characters and story line made Alice in Etherland seem fantastic. However, in 2018, the Federal Communications Commission voted to eliminate net neutrality. Alice’s adventures through the Ethernet might not be as unbelievable as Chaotic Good Collective suggested.

Part of the No Dominion Theatre Company’s mission is to: produce original theatre that is visceral, engaging, and utilizes unconventional storytelling with a collaborative ensemble. Their collaboration with Chaotic Good Collective achieved it.

For more information on the No Dominion Theatre, visit www.nodominiontheatre.org. Chaotic Good Collective’s web address is: www.chaoticgoodcollecive.com.

 

Reaction to the George Floyd Murder

There is a distinction between a protester and a looter.

I join the protesters in their advocation for equal treatment of all before the law. It’s a national shame that in spite of the protections embodied in the 14th Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that our nation has failed to live up to the standard of everyone being granted the same rights before the law.

The NAACP is demanding:

  • A ban on the use of knee holds and choke holds as an acceptable practice for police officers.
  • The Use of Force Continuum for any police department in the country must ensure that there are at least six levels of steps, with clear rules on escalation.
  • Each state’s Open Records Act must ensure officer misconduct information and disciplinary histories are not shielded from the public. Recertification credentials may be denied for police officers if determined that their use of deadly force was unwarranted by federal guidelines.
  • Implementation of Citizen’s Review Boards in municipalities to hold police departments accountable and build public confidence.

The looters have no interest in any of this. They are cynically exploiting a national tragedy for their own selfish financial gain. Their conduct is an insult to the memory of George Floyd and to everyone who is appropriately protesting for positive change.

Looters are also providing reactionaries with an opportunity to denounce the protests as “anarchy,” “lawlessness” and “vandalism.” The looters are doing immense economic destruction to the communities they victimize. The damage from the perverted propaganda they are allowing for could become even more detrimental.

We as a society must do more to heal the wounds exposed by Mr. Floyd’s killing. The way that the police and the protesters have joined together in solidarity and marched in places as diverse as Haddonfield, NJ, Camden, NJ and Flint. MI is a cause for optimism.

In a recent speech, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, described the state of systemic racism in his country. I concur that we all must be cognizant of its existence. As a white man, I cannot understand firsthand what it is like to suffer from its effects. I can only listen to and sympathize with those who have. With a better understanding of this issue, all of us can work together to create not a better tomorrow, but a better today.

Our society has made significant progress in combating the cancer of race discrimination. As recent events have shown us, we have much farther to go than we should.