Month: September 2020

Love, Loss and What I Wore: COVID Edition at Haddonfield Plays and Players

Trendy theatre is back on display at Haddonfield Plays and Players. After fashioning an outdoor stage, the company returned Love, Loss and What I Wore to the HPP house. To keep the show from seeming retro, the producers appended “COVID Edition” to this sartorial fan favorite. This hot number sold out the evening of September 26th when your correspondent attended.

The production team took an avant-garde approach to the arts during the pandemic. Many community theatre companies now produce shows online. Haddonfield Plays and Players opted to go outside. A 24-Hour Build a Stage project replaced their 24-Hour Play Festival this summer.

The company took the proper measures to ensure audience safety. A staff member took everyone’s temperature at the entrance. Another checked-in spectators through a no touch transaction. A representative directed the patrons to their “seat” and measured six feet between spaces. Everyone wore face masks, brought their own chairs or blankets and their own snacks. No programs were distributed, either.  

Playwrights Nora and Delia Ephron adopted a Bohemian style when crafting this play. The structure consisted of a collection of vignettes shared by six women who performed as separates. The show’s foundation entailed the characters tying in the clothes they wore to key moments of their lives. The performers showed contrast through the melange between the script’s distressing moments and humor very well.

Director Tami Funkhouser ensured the performance wasn’t a knock-off, imitation or kitsch version of HPP’s original 2018 production. Ms. Funkhouser decreased the cast size from seven to six performers. Veterans of the original performance Lori Clark, Susan Dewey, Jenn Kopesky-Doyle, Nicole Lukatis and Annie Raczko returned to reprise their roles. Newcomer Lisa Heney joined the ensemble for this special performance.

The show contained a minimalist set. All the actresses dressed in black gowns. They each sat on chairs distanced six feet apart and recited their lines from a script. A rack containing multiple dresses positioned at stage left. Visual maestro Pat DeFusco projected images onto the wall of the building behind the stage.     

The clothes might not make the person, but they help to dress up a great story. The actresses delivered a series of monologs on various aspects of female attire. They ranged from clothes as a representation of one’s identity, Madonna’s influence on style, jewelry, jump suits, wedding dresses, purses and colors. The color black received its own individual section. As the director billed this as the “COVID Edition” of the Ephrons’ work, the cast performed an encore in which they reflected on masks.

The group worked as a chorus during certain scenes. After each performer explained she had “nothing to wear,” everyone shouted “nothing” in unison. They did the same when addressing the opposite dilemma: “I can’t decide.”    

All the performers delivered their lines with panache. Reprising her role as “Gingy,” Susan Dewey again showed why acting is her line. Other cast members also perfected the characters they played during the show’s original run. Lori Clark delivered a gripping reflection on her character’s breast cancer diagnosis and how it led to an interest in hats. Annie Raczko contemplated the parallels between her character losing a love and a favorite shirt at the same time. Jenn Kopesky-Doyle explored the disillusionment that accompanied her character’s fracturing marriage. Nicole Lukatis described how the miscellany one keeps in a handbag shows why “the purse is you.” (Her analysis made your male correspondent tremble at the thought of opening the trunk of his car.) The new addition to this team, Lisa Heney, delivered a horrifying tale centered on boots.  

Omi Parrilla-Dunne and Kalman Dunne managed the show’s sound. Evan Brody and his team built the stage.

This limited edition run at Haddonfield Plays and Players, Love, Loss and What I Wore concluded this weekend. It guaranteed the show will always be chic there. Some trendy styles never become deadstock. The cast ensured this classic performance will become a vintage one at HPP.

Constellations at the Masquerade Theatre

Theatre has inspired philosophical rumination throughout the ages. It led Aristotle to craft his ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ concept. Perhaps stimulated by this author of the ancient treatise Physics, playwright Nick Payne adapted principles from contemporary physics and applied them to the stage. Mr. Payne took both a creative and innovative approach to drama in 2011’s Constellations. The Masquerade Theatre presented a virtual production of the show the evening of September 25th.

Constellations well suited the company’s mission of “exploring the humanity behind the masque.” The limited setting required the characters in this piece to wear many of them. All of the action occurred in the “multiverse”: “a theoretical reality that includes a possibly infinite number of parallel universes.” The show contained just two characters: Roland (played by Andrew Spinosi) and Maryanne (Julie Roberts).

The story followed Roland and Maryanne’s relationship beginning at the time they met through its myriad joys and vicissitudes. The playwright avoided the trite “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back” formula through the multiverse setting. In some of these worlds, their relationship blossomed. In others, it ended badly. The most interesting synthesized both possibilities.

Director Megan Knowlton Balne aspired to make every multiverse a unique one. The dialog made this a challenge. As the same events took place in different multiverses, the text contained many repeated lines. The script contained two characters. Both actors performed in front of the same black canopy decorated with stars the entire show. Mr. Spinosi explained that he and Ms. Roberts analyzed and broke down the text in order to make every scene distinctive.

The story’s complexity put both characters through the entire range of human emotions. Both Mr. Spinosi and Ms. Roberts brought these feelings to the audiences’ screens. Ms. Roberts showed bursting excitement when Mr. Spinosi stumbled through one of his proposals. Her yawning during Roland’s bee lecture was both believable and understandable. She both expressed and showed intense anger when describing a person’s reaction to a cancer diagnosis. During a heated marriage proposal, Ms. Roberts leaned back and showed uneasiness.   

Mr. Spinosi portrayed the more emotional of the two characters. He cried during pivotal scenes; including great sensitivity in one where Maryann broke up with him. Mr. Spinosi showed excellent nerves and awkwardness during a chance encounter at a ballroom dancing class. Then he performed a scene that will be remembered as legendary in the annals of community theatre. While preparing to ask Maryanne to marry him, he realized that he forgot to bring the ring with him. He erupted. His temper tantrum developed into the most creative proposals ever enacted on either a virtual or physical stage.

Mr. Spinosi’s unhinged performance rivaled that of Marnie Kanarek’s portrayal of Catherine in The Heiress. Haddonfield Plays and Players produced that show in May of 2015.

Maryanne may have been a self-described “honey philistine,” but Ms. Roberts brought one sweet interpretation of her to the virtual stage. In addition to performing repetitive scenes, Ms. Roberts delivered a number of lines with repeating words herself. They included, “If you don’t want to see me again, you don’t have to see me again.” And “We have all the time we’ve always had.” Ms. Roberts made every delivery of these sentences sound as fresh as the original. Later in the show, Ms. Roberts performed Maryanne’s speaking issues both credibly and respectfully.

It seemed fitting that Andy Spinosi portrayed a beekeeper. Audiences will be buzzing about his performance for some time to come. He portrayed all his character’s complex facets very well. Mr. Spinosi brought out the nuances between a “happy drunk” and an “angry drunk” in different scenes. That showed the depth of his skill.  

The director and the actors understood the effective use of silence. The long pauses added tension to already intense scenes.

Corona made a clever cameo during the show. Ms. Roberts used a beverage of the same name during one of the restaurant scenes.

As the play took place via Crowdcast, the actors didn’t perform in the same place. Ms. Roberts played from her Chicago home as Mr. Spinosi acted from his in Philadelphia. Both showed authenticity in their interactions with one another. Using the Ask a Question button, your correspondent inquired whether or not the two performers could see one another during the show.

Ms. Roberts said that they could see each other on their screens. As she played to her webcam, Ms. Roberts could glimpse Mr. Spinosi in her peripheral vision.

She added that both she and Mr. Spinosi had worked together on other projects. They also attended the same college and received the same theatrical training. These factors aided the rapport between the two performers.

Ms. Balne said that the actors adjusted to this unconventional set-up. They heightened their listening skills in order to perform on this platform.

In one affecting scene, both actors communicated via sign language. Director Balne debated whether or not to include translations using the Crowdcast chat feature.  She made the artistic decision not to so that the audience would continue looking at the characters.

Abhinav Dani served as the project’s American Sign Language Consultant.

An original development for virtual theatre transpired during Constellations. The production team made lighting a key component of the show. Two lights shone on each performer. They positioned one in front and another one above where they sat. Lighting Designer Molly Jo Gifford used an app on her phone to control them. Director Balne described her elation over applying this feature. She said it made her, “Glad to be bringing real theatre back.”

Tommy Balne provided Stage Management, he and Ms. Balne managed the Sound Design and Ms. Roberts worked on the project’s marketing.

Ms. Balne wrote in the playbill: Constellations embodies the core of Masquerade’s mission — the exploration of our common humanity. She added that Mr. Payne’s work: served as a beautiful example of how art and science complement each other.Aristotle couldn’t have said it better.

Constellations runs for one more performance on September 26th at 8:00 PM. The Masquerade Theatre will next present a virtual performance of Great Expectations in December of 2020. More information is available on their website at: https://www.masqueradetheatre.org/.

Battles: New Plays about Conflict at the Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center

The Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center took the concept of conflict to a further stage this September 22nd. As part of the company’s Tuesday night readings on Zoom and Facebook, they featured three 10-minute shows in which characters didn’t just clash: they battled. To the delight of theatre afficionados and the consternation of hockey fans, most of the combatants confined their fighting to the verbal variety.

            The evening opened with Matt Levy’s Just Jokes. To add authenticity to the piece, comedienne Erica Spera wrote the play’s quips. The show featured a verbal duel in which each character (Russell Dolan and Samantha Mishinski) took part in a roasting competition versus the other. Political campaigns seemed civil by comparison. As a twist, the playwright crafted a surprise ending that gave the piece heart. Matt Maran, Nick Endo and Justine D’Souza supported the cast.

            Show Me State playwright Deborah Tagasz showed writers how to innovate. Mr. Tagasz may have written the first play to include the trio of a 90s soft drink, a Yuletide gathering at a gas station and the town of Cloverdale, Indiana. Can of Surge and the Spirit of Christmas introduced the audience to two sisters (played by Justine D’Souza and Amanda Padilla). While traveling to a family gathering on Christmas Eve, they encountered car trouble. The hospitality of the gas station attendant (Susan Roberts) couldn’t prevent these sisters from engaging in that honored Holiday tradition of letting out their repressed anger at one another.

            The battle rolled into the emergency room compliments of Jane M. Lee’s Family Emergency. The premise fused the hostility of a Jerry Springer program with the warmth and irony of an O. Henry story. It also featured an unusual setting for a family get-together. A patient (Ann Gripps) entered the ER because of a head injury. Another one (Haneen Arafat Murphy) arrived due to a broken nose. In the course of treating these women, the doctor (Seema Shahane) figured out that they were both sisters. The physician could have swapped her stethoscope for a referee’s whistle when Ms. Gripps said, “I only get into altercations once a week.” Instead, the doctor opted to counsel the siblings.          

            Anna Paone introduced the show by warning the audience that it contained some “spicy” language. This seemed superfluous. As residents of the New York and New Jersey areas: isn’t that the only kind of language we understand?

            The actors in these pieces played outstanding opposites to one another. These approaches amplified the conflict. In Just Jokes, Ms. Mishinski’s Steven Wright-esqe demeanor contrasted well with Mr. Dolan’s animated approach. Ms. D’Souza, Ms. Padilla and Ms. Roberts all delivered strong performances that allowed Ms. Tagasz’s dialog to drive Can of Surge and the Spirit of Christmas’ story. During Family Emergency, Ms. Grippo delivered her lines a bit slower than normal speech whereas Ms. Murphy spoke at an accelerated pace.

            The characters engaged in vigorous skirmishes during the three pieces. Interestingly, all three playwrights crafted positive endings for their work. If only life could imitate art more often.  

Lettice and Lovage at Virtual Studio Players

A play about a histrionic historical tour guide seemed a fitting addition to the Peter Shaffer catalog. During his career, the playwright crafted work that explored a range of topics. One delved into the lives of two classical composers; one sought to destroy his adversary as a vehicle to wage a war against the Almighty. Another of his plays related a story rife with religious themes about someone who blinded horses. It may seem odd that the same author wrote a show about a docent with a flair for creative license. Then again, why not? This was Peter Shaffer. Virtual Studio Players presented his Lettice and Lovage on September 20th

            “Without danger, there is no theatre,” Lettice proclaimed. Nevertheless, the company decided not to take unnecessary risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. They presented this show on-line via the Zoom platform.

            England has a rich and fascinating history dating to back to the Upper Paleolithic Age. Unfortunately, none of it occurred at Fustian House. One would expect a haunted house would attract curious visitors. Not this one. It happened to be “haunted by the spirit of nullity.”

Lettice Douffet (played by Phyllis Josephson) had the challenging task of guiding tours through “the dullest house in England.” Douffet decided to take creative liberties with the past. She entertained guests by embellishing the home’s role in British history.

            These colorful accounts failed to stimulate the public’s interest. They did, however, get the attention of her employer. After joining one of the tours, Lotte Schoen (Jeanne Haynes) from the Preservation Trust informed Lettice that her services were no longer needed.

            The two then formed an unexpected friendship. Drama along with wacky hijinks resulted.

            Virtual Studio Players Co-Producer / Artistic Director Greg Northam along with Co-Producer / Audio and Visual Director Peter Artale crafted an outstanding visual spectacle. The life-like backdrops appeared multi-dimensional. The Fustian House exterior with a flock of birds flying over the roof made for the most spectacular. The image of the infamous “Staircase of Enoblement” impressed much better than its history. 

Lettice admitted that she “exaggerated when history needed it.” There’s no need to embellish the quality of Phyllis Josephson’s performance. She thrilled viewers with her animated interpretation of Lettice Doufflet. Ms. Josephson added a gift for storytelling to her already extensive repertoire. She enhanced her character’s fabulist tendencies. She spoke with emphatic deliveries in a genuine British accent. Her descriptions made an uneventful building surrounded by unimpressive architecture sound as enticing as Windsor Castle. 

             Ms. Josephson engaged in hysterical hysterics upon reading Lottie’s letter of reference. Showing the full range of her considerable skill, she later dazzled with her dramatic prowess. At the show’s end, she exhibited warmth and affection towards Lottie through her tears and staggered speaking.

            Jeanne Haynes played the level headed Lotte; a person “more interested in buildings than the people who inhabited them.” To quote Lettice, Ms. Hayes showed her character to be “kind in a ruthless way.” The performer captured the persona of an impersonal bureaucrat. She knit her brow and gazed with incredulous fascination as Lettice spun her creative yarns. Ms. Hayes maintained that stand-offish personality while informing an emotional Lettice that her services were no longer needed at the Trust.Following a draught of Lettice’s special alcoholic concoction, known as Lovage, she became garrulous. Ms. e Haynes delivered a passionate summary of Lottie’s unrealized dreams. She steadily portrayed her character as less inhibited as the show progressed.   

            The cast of Lettice and Lovage reminded this reviewer of actors from the silent film era. Each performer showed immense skill in expressing themselves non-verbally. In his cameo as a tour member, Peter Artale showed the same fascination with Lettice’s lectures as a person watching someone do their taxes. The appropriately named Sam Surley (Bernard Mirandi) and Shirley Surley (Terry Bliss), Elizabethan scholars themselves, winced and knit their brows in response to the tour guide’s stories. In spite of carrying a child, the Woman with a Baby (Charlene Schmedes) seemed the most engaged.

            Susan Fowler gave Lottie’s assistant Miss Framer an interesting quirk of her own. She had the habit of finding witty sayings much more comical than their substance would warrant. She found the expression “Victorian varicose” particularly amusing. The exaggerated gasp Ms. Fowler used when Lettice described Mary Queen of Scot’s blood red dress made Miss Farmer even funnier.

            As the attorney Mr. Bardolph, Jeff Parsons showed extraordinary skill exaggerating the character’s expressions. He expressed great shock when Ms. Josephson described the incestuous charges Marie Antoinette faced. His did an awesome extension of the one syllable in the word please. Mr. Parsons added delightful comedy when pretending to play “the most dreadful drums in England.” Mr. Parsons even found a way to use a legal pad as an outstanding prop.

            “All good actors are instructors,” Ms. Josephson’s character said. Without the benefit of a classroom, she and the other cast members taught their audience how to spend an entertaining afternoon. That’s no exaggeration. The “tokens of appreciation” the audience owes the Virtual Studio Players may not be the same ones Lettuce preferred, but they are just as dear.   

            Next the Virtual Studio Players will present Tim Kelly’s Bloody Jack on October 18th.

This is Not a Play — A Play at the Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center

“Everything that is so is not so,” said Feste in Twelfth Night. That sentiment could describe playwright Robert Pranzatelli’s absurdist world in This is Not a Play – A Play. This work transcended the boundaries between reality and the stage. The theme explored the need to put aside life’s rational and minutiae in favor of the mystical. Pretty heady material for a comedy. Your correspondent attended the Zoom performance presented by the Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center on September 15th.

The script contained outstanding conflict between the main characters. James (played by Lawrence Paone) had some unusual beliefs. Eartha (Emily Niemeyer), to put it politely, didn’t care for his worshipping a tuba, adoration of lettuce nor for his special fondness for artichokes. While listening to James’ metaphysical meditations such as, “If tuba worship were rational, there’d be no reason to worship it,” Eartha became frustrated with his unwillingness “to take life seriously.”

A critic named Mr. Peek (Thom Boyer) participated in the play. While he introduced the story as a narrator would, he then became one of its performers. In his quest to discover the show’s theme, he used a telephone to place an order for a deux ex machina. Delivery woman (Anna Paone –who better to deliver the drama?) dropped it off later in the show.  

A Gorilla (Anna Paone) and a Girl (Laura Paone) also joined the story. Their appearance delighted Mr. Peek. The critic found the premise of a gorilla and a woman whose relationship is condemned by society a needed addition to the play.

Perhaps, the most difficult thing to believe about all this: the Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center presented the entire show in about half an hour.

The actor scheduled to play James experienced technical issues and could not perform. Unexpected understudy Lawrence Paone stepped in to play the role. His performance exceeded what one would expect from a cold reading. His casual delivery well suited the character’s relaxed personality.

Emily Niemeyer captured Eartha’s aggravation. Her heated tone of voice and tense facial expressions provided an outstanding contrast to Mr. Paone’s demeanor. Ms. Niemeyer’s character also possessed traits of the absurd. During one scene, Eartha struggled to find her vocabulary. She couldn’t speak more than two syllables until she placed something in her mouth. The performer enacted the scene wonderfully.

Thom Boyer played a splendid Mr. Peek. With pedantic pretention, he instructed the characters what literary techniques the play needed. Mr. Boyer’s best moment came with his hysterical reaction to the deux ex machina.

Catherine LaMoreau read the stage directions. They aided in understanding the world of the play. The playwright described props scattered about the stage. The expression Life is Absurd appeared on the back wall.  

The premise of This is Not a PlayA Play may remind audiences of Luigi Pirandello’s work. During the show’s talk-back session, the playwright said that he hadn’t read him when he wrote the play in 1983. While attending college, he learned about early 20th century modernist movements. That era gave rise to the “anti-novel.” It inspired him to write an “anti-play.”

Mr. Pranzatelli didn’t split the play’s comedic and dramatic parts. He explained that he, “Wanted to have comedy all the way through with the seriousness in the background and seeping through.”

He shared his process of crafting this piece with viewers.

The need to kindle a light in a person’s existence. James knows how to do this; jump past the rational to the mystical. Eartha is drawn to the minutiae. It has a philosophical theme underneath the comedy.

 James observed, “The world is full of contradictions. The world isn’t full of contradictions.” Whether or not any of that is true, theatre fans can be sure that This is Not a Play – A Play offers comedy that makes one think. There’s nothing absurd about that.

The Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center presented this virtual performance as part of its Tuesday evening live play readings. More information is available at their website www.dragonflyartsnj.com.  

Oz.Org at the Philly Fringe Festival

It’s difficult to imagine an original take on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It’s already well known as a beloved novel, an inimitable film and by its subsequent theatrical adaptations. It has also inspired fan fiction and musicals. Is it possible to come up with an original spin on this 120-year old franchise? Playwright and director Amber Kusching believes she has.

This September the Philly Fringe Festival is taking her concept to the cyberstage. As part of their September program, they are presenting Ms. Kusching’s twenty first century vision of L. Frank Baum’s classic tale. Oz.Org reimagined Dorothy’s journey to the Emerald City through a world of bits, bytes and pixels. Your correspondent booted up his hard drive and logged on down the road for the evening of September 12th.

A storm rocked Dorothee’s (played by Megan Nutt) Kansas home. While on her laptop known by the acronym TOTO, she found herself drawn into a magical computer world known as Oz.Org. There she encountered a good glitch. Glinda (Meg Foley) informed Dorothee that her arrival caused the destruction of an evil malware known as the Wicked Glitch of the East.

Dorothee inquired how she could return to Kansas. After Glinda provided her with the Ruby Ram Card, she told Dorothee to follow the Yellow Brick Wall and see the Wizard (Christian Dilks). He would be able to help her.

Along the way, Dorothee encountered other characters who also needed the “Powerful Oz’s” assistance. The avian Mayor Crow (Dante Brattelli) sought a brain. The 10-Man (David Grice) wanted a heart. Lyman (Brian Wayman) longed for courage.

In the course of their travels the four encountered other colorful figures. They included a Munchkin Woman (Katherine Herbert), a Lullaby League Rep (Kate Bove) and a Lollipop Guild Rep (Emma Scherz).

Foul ransomware known as The Wicked Glitch of the West (Melynda Morrone) sought to take Dorothee’s Ruby Ram Card and foil her plans. The Wizard complicated matters by offering to grant everyone’s wish on the condition that they deliver the witch’s dead pixels to him.

Oz.Org showed immense creativity on the part of both the playwright and the production team. Ms. Kusching took ideas from a book written in 1900 and applied them as though written for the Information Age. The show itself combined the drama of theatre, the high-tech visuals of cinema and the interactive features of a video game.

Several times during the performance, actors solicited audience participation. Both Ms. Nutt and Mr. Brattelli took questions from audience members submitted via Zoom’s chat feature. During Mayor Crow’s press conference, an audience member asked Mr. Brattelli, “Who let the dogs out?” Without cracking a smile, he provided a better answer than one would have expected a brainless politician to offer.

Breakout sessions occurred when the characters went in for private meetings with the Wizard. Audience members entered private rooms with individual cast members. Your correspondent found himself in the one with Dorothee; one of his rare meetings with A-listers these days. The production team broke the fourth wall by unmuting and putting one of the audience members on video. Performer Megan Nutt spoke with the surprised spectator by asking what the Wizard wanted from her.     

Technical Director Tony Gonzalez opened the show by providing a brief tutorial on how to navigate the Zoom functions. Throughout the evening, he coordinated the sophisticated backdrops without flaw. The grids and schematics appeared just as elaborate as what one would see in big-budget movie. The metallic timber to both the voices of the 10-Man and the Wicked Glitch of the West enhanced their theatrical personas.

There’s a myth that if one plays Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon backwards it becomes the soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz. To this reviewer’s ears, McKinley Foster’s musical accompaniment to Oz.Org adopted qualities from a different progressive rock masterpiece. The sonic qualities of Yes’ Tales from Topographic Oceans fused with elements of Techno and Alternative. In homage to the original, Mr. Foster’s score included melodic phrasing from the music Harold Arlen wrote for the 1939 movie.         

To add to the visual experience,the performance contained costuming that rivaled the famous film’s. A green grid stretched across Ms. Foley’s Glinda face. Underneath the 10-Man’s terminator style eyepiece, Mr. Grice wore a facsimile of a UPC code. Lyman’s hirsute face gave Mr. Wayman’s the appearance of a lion’s mane.

The production team added some outstanding special effects. In order to enter the Emerald City, all the characters had to wear spectrum glasses. A rainbow shaped rectangle appeared on all the characters faces while in the city. It added to the sense of fantasy.

Director Kusching included a throwback scene that will appeal to Oz originalists. Dorothee experienced a dream in which she found herself in a world reminiscent of the one in the movie. In another example of creative costuming, Ms. Nutt along with Mr. Brattelli, Mr. Grice and Mr. Wayman found themselves in a dream world. They all wore garb comparable to their counterparts in the movie. Ms. Nutt even let down her Leiaesque pom-poms and wore braided pig tails for the scene.

Ms. Kusching added some clever uses of language to her script. Lyman mentioned suffering from a bout with “clicken pox.”He later said that the group’s situation “megabytes.” The 10-Man sardonically described the Wizard as, “Great and powerful my cache.” In a clever bit of topical humor, the newscaster (Danielle Korte) referenced “fake news” reported from Emerald City.  

While the show’s writing, creativity of concept and technical features exceeded expectations, the performances made for the show’s true highlight. To cite a few examples: Ms. Nutt used a bit of a Judy Garland voice for Dorothy while still making the role her own. Christian Dilks portrayed the Wizard as a Bill Gates style character. Mr. Wayman brought enthusiasm to his portrayal of the cowardly Lyman. Meg Foley’s combined the ethereal with the digital as Glinda.    

Other members of the cast included: Tony Gonzales, Alanna Monte, Betty Mitchell and a brief cameo by Amber Kusching.

Danielle Korte co-directed, Jon Balagtas served as Stage Manager and Rachel Genovese provided dramaturgy for the Production Team.      

Fans will never view a computer “Glitch” in the same way. Ms. Kusching’s high-tech vision showed that there truly is “no place like the home page.” The show runs through September 20th hosted by the Philly Fringe Festival. For more information, visit https://fringearts.com/event/oz-org/.

Love Letters at Burlington County Footlighters Back Stage

Love, the written word and fresh air. Burlington County Footlighters is employing this winning trifecta this September. Utilizing Jim Frazer’s latest innovation to South Jersey community theatre set design, the company is presenting AR Gurney’s Love Letters in the great outdoors of Cinnaminson, New Jersey. Your correspondent attended the September 11th performance.

As this event took place on the nineteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks upon our country, everyone observed a moment of silence for those lost.  

Community theatre legend Alice Weber is directing this run of Love Letters. While known for cerebral and thought-provoking shows such as Dr. Cook’s Garden, Coyote on a Fence and The Tin Woman. Ms. Weber’s recent projects have focused more on interpersonal relationships. Last month she performed opposite her real-life husband John in Bridge Players Theatre Company’s Zoom presentation of the Sean Grennan comedy Couples. In October of 2019, she directed Driving Miss Daisy on Burlington County Footlighters’ 2nd Stage.

Love Letters combined both of Ms. Weber’s artistic interests. It surveyed the relationship of Andrew Makepeace Ladd III (played by Rick Williams) and Melissa Gardner (Jocelyn Mitchell-Williams) from childhood through middle age. As a twist, the playwright used letters, cards and postcards as the means these characters used to communicate with one another. They never interacted directly. In a sense, the script explored whether two people could maintain a strong emotional bond through only the written word.

The set framed the story excellently. Ms. Weber and Jim Frazer positioned a solid blue desk at stage right and a pink one at stage left. The latter contained an opening in front of Melissa. It reflected her willingness to expose her feelings contrasted by Andrew’s more reserved nature. That trait may have explained his preference for expressing his thoughts to a blank page instead of by speaking them directly to someone.

The two scenic designers selected outstanding props to enhance the story. Several thick books set upon Mr. Williams’ desk. The one where Mrs. Williams sat contained a desk lamp. It takes a special kind of talent to give a light significant impact on a performance. The performer and director utilized it for maximum effect.

The outdoor stage allowed for types distractions that actors aren’t accustomed to confronting. Sudden wind gusts, fluttering moths and cheering from the softball game at adjoining Wood Park all intruded. Mr. and Mrs. Williams delivered such engrossing performances that these environmental factors had negligible impact on the show. Had it not been for your correspondent’s renowned attention to detail, he wouldn’t have noticed them, either.       

Directing a show such as Love Letters creates unique challenges. It lacks scene changes and contains two characters who remain seated the entire time. The “action” entails the performers reading the script to one another for 90 minutes. This format could bore an audience. Ms. Webber along with real life husband and wife Rick Williams and Jocelyn Mitchell-Williams found creative ways to keep everyone engaged.

As with Driving Miss Daisy, Ms. Weber selected Rick Williams to play the male lead. Mr. Williams showed that his familiar baritone is but one trait among the many in his talented repertoire. He delivered his lines in the convincing voice of a youngster during the first act. Mr. Williams showed a penchant for comedy through his expression of lines such as, “(They) took my temperature the wrong way.” He also related the witty, “They had us compare all four Gospels. It’s hard to believe they’re all about the same guy.”

The performer showed that there’s much more to his abilities than a smooth voice. When Mrs. Williams related that she’d drawn naked pictures of the two, he responded with hysterical facial expressions. His limping to illustrate a groin pull brought out laughs from the audience; as did Mrs. Williams’ riposte, “I think Jenny Waters stretched your groin.”

Mr. Williams showcased the range of his dramatic capabilities. The dismissive manner in which he refused to describe Andy’s breakup with a Japanese woman showed Andy’s reluctance for expressing his feelings. Mr. Williams keen use of pauses at the performance’s conclusion made the scene more tragic than words can describe.

Jocelyn Mitchell-Williams portrayed Melissa; a difficult role. Whereas Andy’s star ascended into the stratosphere, Melissa’s life came unraveled. The family issues, substance abuse problems and career failures channeled her character into a downward spiral. Mrs. Williams gave this role the intense treatment it required.

Mrs. Williams spoke in a charming and endearing child’s voice during the show’s opening act. Her tone and presence reflected the privileged upbringing that surrounded her character.

Then things got real real quick.  

Mrs. Williams nonchalantly related how, “Mommy says I’m a self-destructive person.” Throughout the first act, she expatiated on this observation. She got in trouble at one school for smoking. Another one expelled her for drinking gin. Bad relationships and career failures followed.

This empathetic figured deteriorated into a tragic one during the second act. Mrs. Williams nipped from a glass whenever her character wasn’t speaking. She enacted the effects of depression and substance abuse with gripping realism. The performer delivered her lines with a slight slur in her voice. She still spoke clearly enough so the audience could understand her.

Mrs. Williams also played the character’s comedic side with the same passion. Mrs. Williams ripped a series of papers as Mr. Williams said he’d hoped she wasn’t mad at him. She followed this by placing the ripped sheets into an envelope that she mailed to him. This reviewer also enjoyed her yawning as Mr. Williams recited lines from Paradise Lost.

The best scene occurred when the two characters argued. They did so via their letters to one another. The clever uses of silence and pauses made the exchange believable.    

Other members of the production team included the omni-talented Jim Frazer on lighting design. John Weber managed the sound design which Peg Smith operated.

Life imitated art at the show’s conclusion. In homage to one of the references in the story, Mr. Williams’ son handed him a bouquet of red roses. Mr. Williams then presented it to his wife.   

As with all Burlington County Footlighters Back Stage performances, the company enforced COVID-19 safety measures. They conducted temperature scans on audience members prior to allowing them access to the seating area. All attendees brought either their own chairs or blankets to the event along with their own concessions. Everyone sat at least six feet apart from one another. Footlighters required that everyone wear a facemask when not in their own place in the seating area. To limit the touching of objects, the host checked audience members in on a tablet. The playbill is available on-line; no paper copies were distributed.   

Love Letters premiered in 1989. Since then, email, texting and smartphones may have made the concept of letter writing seem passe. Based on the power of AR Gurney’s play, that would the real tragedy. This show runs through September 20th at the Burlington County Footlighters Back Stage. After that, Andy’s inkwell runs dry.      

New Plays about Relationships at the Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center

Relationships provide a fruitful topic for writers graced by the inspiration of muses Melpomene and Thalia. 70 such playwrights submitted their takes on the subject to the Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center. The group’s production team selected their three favorite shows. They then presented them during their most recent Tuesday reading broadcast on Facebook and Zoom. Your correspondent witnessed the latter this September 8th.     

Australian playwright Adam Szudrich’s Rosa and Leo opened the program. Mr. Szudrich’s grandparents influenced this engaging tale about two Nazi concentration camp survivors. They fell in love while imprisoned, lost touch after their liberation then reconnected decades later. This story contained both poignancy and realism. The script included a host of comical counters. Mr. Sudrich showed cleverness through the way he crafted them. He applied these quips so that they balanced the overall story’s somber theme.

The setting worked well with the online format. The characters interacted with one another via a phone call.

Performer Susan Roberts played Rosa. She delivered her dialog with an authentic Jewish accent. She also dropped Mr. Sudrich’s zingers with aplomb. They included memorable witticisms. “Leo, some people make me weak in the knee, you make me weak in the stomach.” And: “There’s a nice place you should live. It’s called reality.”

Ms. Roberts relayed the tragic events of Rosa’s life movingly. The performer delivered a heartrending portrait of her life after the war. She described how the experience of the camp traumatized her marriage.          

Barry Leonard played Leo: a conflicted man. The character possessed sybaritic tendencies while feeling bound by “tradition.” In this complex personality, Mr. Leonard found his character’s heart. The performer expressed it best when he sang with Rosa. 

Playwright Vicki Riba Koestler’s drew inspiration from the recent college admissions scandal. Her show Anything for Addison, allowed the audience to sit in on Dr. Vera Carruthers’ (played by Amada Padilla) meeting with movie stars Jason Larkin (Jimmy Peoples) and his wife Daphne (Shauni Rami). Dr. Carruthers questioned the couple regarding anomalies on their daughter Addison’s application. The piece concluded with an outstanding plot twist.

Mr. Peoples played Jason as low-key. He remained calm under Ms. Padilla’s tough, yet professional questioning. Their demeanors contrasted very well with Ms. Rami’s Daphne.

Ms. Rami portrayed Daphne as a diva who just finished her tenth espresso of the morning. She utilized exaggerated gestures to express the character’s flamboyant personality. The quick flip of her hair from her shoulders and lowering and raising of her eyebrows were spectacular. Ms. Rami utilized her scarf as a prop brilliantly. She also performed a hysterical “Z-movie actress” attempt at a Scottish accent.

The final play in the trilogy also explored a topical subject. As in Mr. Szudrich’s play, the characters interacted via technology. Heidi Mae’s And You’re Bringing? showed the downside of inviting a “technically challenged” person to participate in a Zoom meeting. Sisters Jill (Laura Paone) and Wilma (Anna Paone) discussed the plans for their parents’ anniversary party. Enter exit re-enter and disappear again sister Dylan (Susan Holtz). The latter couldn’t manage the online format. Her screen cut out, she failed to center the camera properly and disconnected the other meeting participants.

As fans would expect from a Heidi Mae play, And You’re Bringing? contained a savory helping of humor. The menu for this party included vegan marshmallows. Wilma described one of the “losers” Dylan dated as getting “PTSD from working in a pizzeria.”  She told her Jill that her kids “live on cereal, mac and cheese and twenty-dollar bills.”

Getting cast to perform in one of Heidi Mae’s plays thrills thespians. The actresses in this one channeled that enthusiasm into their performances. Anna Paone spoke emphatically and used expressive hand gestures the entire show. Susan Holtz and Laura Paone delivered their own animated interpretations of Ms. Mae’s characters, as well.    

Anna Paone read the narration portions of each script to the audience. Since the performers didn’t act from a conventional stage, this aided spectators in understanding each playwright’s vision.

The Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center has been performing online readings since March. Those with better technical skills than Dylan who want to build a relationship with the organization, can also indulge their pleasure-seeking tendencies. Interested fans can apply their time to watching the Dragonfly Multicultural Arts Center’s Tuesday evening readings on either Facebook or Zoom.

Sure Thing and Other One Acts at Burlington County Footlighters Back Stage

Sure Thing was anything but at Burlington County Footlighters Back Stage. Two rain cancellations and a “near miss,” threatened the company’s opportunity to present this series of David Ives’ one act shows. If a pandemic couldn’t stop them from entertaining South Jersey community theatre audiences, what chance did Mother Nature have? Your correspondent attended the Friday, September 4th performance.

The Back Stage is the latest of Jim Frazer’s myriad contributions to South Jersey community theatre set design. It’s also his most important. This outdoor venue allows fans to witness live theatrical performances during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Frazer personally designed and built the stage located in the rear parking lot at Burlington County Footlighters. He also acquired the appropriate permits from Cinnaminson Township in order to do so. Fans of the arts owe him a great debt of gratitude for his efforts.

In order to ensure audience safety, a representative from Footlighters performed temperature checks prior to allowing access to the seating area. All attendees brought either their own blankets or chairs with them. The company marked off the seating area in order to ensure proper social distancing. Everyone in attendance wore face masks as required. To limit physical contact, the hostess checked your correspondent’s ticket on her tablet. The production team made the playbill available on-line.  

For the first theatrical run on the Back Stage, Footlighters selected a series of one act plays written by David Ives. Lori Alexio Howard directed.

Ms. Howard made an interesting choice to follow-up on her last directorial outing. In June of 2019, Ms. Howard directed The Laramie Project at the Maple Shade Arts Council. It’s difficult to imagine a show with more disturbing subject matter. Disturbing would be the last word one would use to describe David Ives’ works. Nevertheless, Ms. Howard proved herself quite the versatile director. She showed she is just as adept at bringing comedic material to the stage.  

Because of COVID-19, South Jersey community theatre performers have been on hiatus from the live stage for over five months. Edwin Howard, who also produced the show, made his return to acting following a 20-year break. These actors played like people inspired. Mr. Frazer’s stage allowed them a much a needed catharsis.

Jerrod Ganesh and Julianne Rose Layden opened the show with the title piece, Sure Thing. They portrayed the playwright’s vision of a date that included “do overs.” Every time one character said the wrong thing, a bell dinged. They then had the opportunity to correct themselves. Witty exchanges resulted.

The dialog contained a lot of repetition. Both Mr. Ganesh and Ms. Layden made each delivery of the same lines sound as fresh as they did the first time they said them.               

Next, performers Russ Walsh, Edmund Howard and Gina Petti Baldasari presented Mr. Ives’ pessimistic take on the City of Brotherly Love, The Philadelphia; an interesting choice of concept from a Chicago native. Mr. Howard’s character found himself living in an alternate universe. Mr. Walsh’s character sardonically called it “the Philadelphia.” As the latter lived in one called “the Los Angeles” even the bad things in his life became positive. Mr. Howard, however, always received the opposite of the things he wanted.

Mr. Walsh selected excellent attire for his character. The sunglasses, shorts and short-sleeve shirt matched his boyant personality. Mr. Howard performed an entertaining interpretation of how his character adapted to his bizarre circumstances. Ms. Baldasari delivered the show’s funniest line by describing life in “a Cleveland” as, “Death without the advantages.”

It bears repeating: Mr. Ives hails from the Windy City.              

In the program’s next show, Mr. Ives reimagined the assassination of a Bolshevik revolutionary. In Variations on the Death of Trotsky, Shawn O’Brien, Marissa Wolf and Jerrod Ganesh provided a comedic interpretation of the demise of Stalin’s nemesis. Similar to Sure Thing a bell rang following each of the protagonist’s deaths.

Shawn O’Brien kept the comedy coming throughout the sketch. He had the added challenge of performing with a replica of a mountain climbing axe stuck to his head. Marissa Wolf cleverly referenced it through her delivery of, “Get it through your skull.” Jerrod Ganesh killed it as the assassin.

The actors shows the range of their skills towards the piece’s conclusion. They performed a wonderful Mexican dance routine.

Performers Antonino Baldasari and Gina Petti Baldasari introduced the audience to The Universal Language. As a real life married couple, this doesn’t sound difficult on the surface. The text, however, provided a twist. The “Unamunda language” was a product of the playwright’s imagination. It didn’t exist.

Mr. and Mrs. Baldasari kept the audience’s attention through their expressive deliveries of words that sound like English terms, but aren’t quite. The pair delivered passionate performances that led to a heartwarming twist. They worked in a touching dance routine that appealed to the sentimental.

There’s an old adage that a group of monkeys could write Hamlet given enough time. Mr. Ives crafted a comedic vision into Words, Words, Words. Actors Nicholas French, Lisa Croce and Stephen Jackson went bananas. They got the monkey of theatre withdraw off their backs through their energetic performances. The three appeared to have more fun than a barrel full of monkeys. So did their audience.

Mere Mortals concluded the program. The show seemed ironically titled as it included a triumvirate of talent: Antonino Baldasari, Alan Krier and Alex Levitt. They performed with superhuman passion. These actors portrayed three construction workers conversing during their lunch break. In the course of their discussion, they revealed secret identities to each other. What they couldn’t keep secret was the humor.  

Jim Frazer also handled the lighting during this show. Production Assistants Lisa Palena and Jackie Duran managed the sound.

To paraphrase Mr. Ganesh’s character in Sure Thing, “You have to hit these things at the right time.” Following their journey into “a Chicago” of dismal weather, Footlighters found their way into a “South Jersey.” One of Gina Petti Baldasari’s roles noted that, “language is the opposite of loneliness.” So is experiencing live theatre with an audience. The spectators at this show went ape for these performers. These actors killed in the house.

Audiences still have one more chance to do so. Sure Thing and Other One Acts ends its run this Saturday, September 5th at 8:30 PM. South Jersey community theatre fans should take this opportunity. After that, the bell goes silent. There won’t be any “do overs” this time.