Author: kevsteph

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.

 

Proof at the Masquerade Theatre

Given: The Masquerade Theater solved a complex problem. The company showed itself equal to the combination of making a Friday evening watching a literary masterpiece of a play about mathematics exciting. In addition, they proved they could function virtually. With infinite interest, your correspondent attended the on-line performance of Proof this May 22nd.

Prove: David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama provided prime material for this theatre’s debut show. In sum, the content fulfilled the Masquerade Theatre’s mission by using theatre to unveil our masques and explore our common humanity. This reviewer found it a good sine that the production team selected a show so equal to the expectations of this company’s base audience.

Statements:                                                   Reasons:

Originally intended as a live performance, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cast and crew to experiment. They decided to perform if and only if they received the appropriate permissions from the publisher and the cast agreed to do it. The former and the playwright himself concurred. The cast members delivered a uniform positive response.

The production team had only three weeks to come up with a formula for a convergence between the live show and a virtual one. The velocity of the time limit made that combination a stretch. For a team of people having no experience with camera work, one would postulate this an impossible event to complete. The odds against a successful performance exceeded the odds for a flawless one. The chance of a perfect production seemed as nil as an imaginary number.

The flawless function of the end result showed the amount of work the cast and crew applied to this product.

The technological aspects of this production became Masquerade Theatre Managing Director Tommy Balne’s domain. After researching multiple on-line platforms, he determined that Crowdcast would become the dependent variable t0 differentiate this performance from others. This outlier production was set to become an historical one in the annals of community theatre.

Director Megan Knowlton Balne selected an excellent set of performers to animate Mr. Auburn’s text. Each of the actors completed excellent transformations into their roles. It made their interpretations of the characters distinct.

Due to the lockdown prohibiting the bonds of integration, the cast members each performed alone in their own homes. They didn’t act as if mutually exclusive, however. During each segment with multiple characters, the scene’s performers all appeared on camera. Their faces would point to the audience as though either speaking to or looking at those watching. This connection added power to their performances.

The drama encompassed multiple dimensions. Catherine (played by Courtney Bundens) became the root of all the conflict in this complex plot. Following the passing of Catherine’s father, the brilliant mathematician Robert (played by Tony Killian), sister Claire (Emily Brennan) pressured Catherine to move away from Chicago to live in New York. One of Robert’s former pupils, Hal (Jake Hufner), pestered her for access to Robert’s notebooks…and perhaps Catherine’s affections.

Catherine also suffered through intense internal conflict. During the years caring for an ailing father, the character’s identity evaporated. Catherine sacrificed hopes, dreams and ambitions for Robert’s wellbeing. The mathematician’s death forced a self-reflection; and a struggle with the fear that Robert’s psychological disorder was genetic.

The playwright gave performers with the courage to play Catherine an atypical hero’s formula with which to work. The amplitude of Courtney Bundens’ performance met this demanding role’s challenges. Courtney showed a nontrivial range of skills to bring this troubled character to life. The actor’s facial expressions conveyed this character’s emotional journey.

Courtney delivered the lines with harsh realism. Courtney’s heated exchanges with Emily became even more unsettling with Courtney and Emily looking into the camera. Courtney’s reading of Robert’s “proof” was absolutely heartbreaking. Courtney’s and Tony’s performances allowed the devastating nature of this scene to transcend the barrier between actor and audience.

In a pre-performance interview, Jake Hufner reflected that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Through that understanding, he delivered an inspired performance as Hal. Jake satisfied the character’s function as Catherine’s antagonist and, at times, love interest. Jake brilliantly showed Hal’s development from his first meeting with Catherine to their interaction years later. Jake expressed a brilliant translation of Hal’s awkwardness, indecisiveness and later the character’s confidence. Jake also showed the character had heart in Hal’s interactions with Courtney.

Emily Brennan played Catherine’s relation, Claire. The latter is one of the more controversial theatrical roles. It’s difficult to determine whether Claire’s motivation to sell her sister’s home is in Catherine’s best interest or just mean. Emily’s stern facial expressions and curt dialog made it difficult to determine. In doing so, the performer achieved a much more interesting Claire.

Tony Killian portrayed Robert, a man of eccentricity. Tony’s face kept a rational expression to reflect the academic icon being portrayed. While the character’s “machinery” may have deteriorated, the performer’s histrionic level was well above average. Tony’s disordered hair added a nice touch to the pivotal scene between Robert and Catherine.

Crowdcast did have limits of integration.

The platform couldn’t ensure that the actors would come up in the same order on the screen. Because of that, everyone played to the camera. Megan developed a bit of a corollary to Nora Desmond’s (as played by Gloria Swanson) axiom: “We didn’t need dialog. We had faces.” The camera centered on head shots as the performers faced the screen. Tangential to this, they delivered Proof’s text like they talked directly to the audience. Your correspondent enjoyed this unique theatrical innovation.

With everyone performing from their own home, it created an unusual challenge regarding staging. The cast and crew made the lack of a set into a superset. All the actors performed in front of a similar brick backdrop. The format allowed the audience to focus on the players themselves without any external distractions. For an intense character driven story such as Proof, this added power to the viewing experience.

The team addressed the divergent series of events in the script through creative costuming and prop passes. The actors executed the switching of notebooks and bottles between characters believably. Even the incidents when Courtney’s and Jake’s characters kissed came across the screen as lifelike.

The Masquerade Theatre added the opportunity for audience participation to the production. Crowdcast included a chat feature. The virtual spectators wrote comments before the show, during intermission and at the concluding question and answer period.

The team ensured that Proof included something that would please theatre purists. The show still had a 15-minute interval at its midpoint.

After the virtual curtain call, the actors and production team participated in a question and answer session. The most popular question submitted by an audience member was, “Why is Jake Hufner so cute?”

While not answered during the session, the obvious response is that Jake understands the importance of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has led by example and practiced his craft in a safe environment which limited the spread of a contagious disease. In that sense, all the performers in Proof are adorable.

The company’s two principals, however, sat together on a couch in the same room. It should be noted that the Balnes celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary this May 16th. It’s a testament to the strength of their relationship that they are willing to face these uncertain times together.

In all seriousness, I wish Tommy Balne and Megan Knowlton Balne a belated very happy anniversary and the best of success in all their future personal and creative endeavors. I’ve watched them perform on numerous occasions and am a great admirer of their work.

Following the performance, actors Jake Hufner and Emily Brennan allowed the audience to see their home sets. Emily showed infinite creativity in designing hers. Perhaps in a tangential reference to the ongoing pandemic, she may have wanted to infer the importance of good hygiene. Emily converted her shower into a stage. Compliments to both her ingenuity and excellent sound quality.

Based on the original presentation of Proof, the Masquerade Theatre should experience exponential growth. The company scheduled a live presentation of Great Expectations this December. This performance will have an audience in the building’s interior. They are also planning to shift Proof to the live stage in May 2021. The same cast is slated to perform.

That will be a solid solution to equal the expectations of those interested in the Masquerade Theatre’s function.

Q.E.D.

 

Quaran-Mean Girls: The Virtual Musical

The spirit of American ingenuity thrives among South Jersey Community Theatre performers. While the COVID-19 outbreak has postponed all live theatrical shows, a group of dedicated performers didn’t allow the pandemic to keep them from practicing their craft and entertaining audiences. The production team of Alix Vitarelli, Amanda Adams and Mike Gibbins created the internet piece: QuaranMean Girls: The Virtual Musical. Your correspondent attended the virtual premiere on Saturday, April 25th.

In a time of social distancing, the production team took the adage “safety first” to another level. All of the performers recorded their parts in their own homes. The editors arranged the footage so it appeared the actors performed together. The combination of strong acting and professional production values facilitated this fan’s suspension of disbelief.

This story of a high school student coping with a crush, wanting to fit in with the popular kids while struggling to find one’s identity spoke to this reviewer. Part of that may have had to do his current situation. Sitting home alone on a Saturday night with nowhere to go put him took him back to his high school years. A bigger reason had to do with the quality of the production itself.

 QuaranMean Girls told the story of Cady (played by Alix Vitarelli). The character grew up in Africa where her parents studied wildlife. A lack of funding forced them to move back to the United States. Cady then found herself in an even harsher environment: the social jungle of an American high school.

Two groups competed for Cady’s friendship. Flamboyant Damian (James Lim) and Goth-girl Jamie (Shannon Harkins) approached her at first. Then the popular crowd, known as The Plastics, invited her to join their clique. Led by Regina George (Nicolette Palombo), they included the insecure Gretchen (Amanda Adams) and the dimwitted Karen (Shannon Forbes). More conflict resulted as Cady discovered that she and Regina competed for the affections of Aaron (Mike Gibbins).

It’s pretty much a theatrical law that any show regarding high school must have an underlying bildungsroman. As the story progressed, Cady needed to determine if she wanted to hide her mathematical aptitude or be her true self.

Alix Vitarelli’s fans will love QuaranMean Girls: The Virtual Musical. This project served as the perfect medium for Ms. Vitarelli’s multiple talents. It allowed this entertainer to showcase her abilities as a producer, editor, actor and vocalist.

Ms. Vitarelli possesses an outstanding aptitude for non-verbal communication. Even though she wasn’t in the same room with the other people in the scenes, Ms. Vitarelli always displayed the proper expressions at the perfect times.

The quality of Ms. Vitarelli’s vocal tracks sounded professionally recorded. It allowed the audience to hear her stellar vocals with near MP3 quality sound. Her beautiful performances on “Stupid with Love”, “Fearless” and “I See Stars” are well worth a listen.

On most occasions, directors are limited by the space on the set. The team took advantage of the freedoms a virtual setting allowed them. The use of the pumpkin motif that transitioned into the club scene during Shannon Forbes’ “Sexy” ode to Halloween and world peace made the song even more memorable. Superimposing Nicolette Palombo’s face on wildlife during the “Apex Predator” number showed phenomenal creativity.

All of the cast members displayed great imagination working on this project. As they weren’t in the same location when they performed, the performers needed to show that they were either talking to or listening to another person in the scene. All the actors executed this challenging task very well.

The show featured a wide range of genres for a musical. Shannon Hawkins sang a moving exploration of Gretchen’s insecurity on “What’s Wrong with Me.” Nicolette Palombo delivered sultry soulful vocals on “Someone Gets Hurt.” Charlie Barney kicked it old school on “Who’s House is This?” accompanied by Ms. Vitarelli, Ms. Hawkins, Ms. Forbes and the ensemble. Shannon Forbes delivered a gripping “I’d Rather Be Me.”

While the virtual setting expanded the project’s creative boundaries in many ways, it did limit the opportunity for sophisticated choreography. James Lin didn’t allow it to confine his abilities. Mr. Lin preformed several superb routines. He executed an excellent pirouette at the end of “Where Do You Belong.” Mr. Lin added solid dance moves to the jazzy “Stop.”

The production team still managed to put together a solid opening dance sequence for “It Roars.” Once again through skillful editing, Ms. Vitarelli performed while accompanied by a group of dancers. Several performers played multiple ones in the sequence.

The most memorable scene in the show occurred when Ms. Vitarelli and Mike Gibbins performed a duet on “More is Better.” In addition to the tender vocals, the scene included a kiss between the two characters. Mr. Gibbins and Ms. Vitarelli made it seem realistic.

While most of the editing showed excellent attention the detail, the background of the school hallway contained a glitch. Due to the tape loop, your correspondent saw the two gentlemen wearing gray tee shirts more often than he’s seen the people he lives with during the shutdown. Other than that one minor shortcoming, the production team employed the backgrounds exceptionally well.

The performers also deserve tremendous credit for their work on hair and makeup. All the salons had been closed for close to a month prior to the show’s premiere. One wouldn’t know that from watching QuaranMean Girls.

Other members of the cast included: Crystal Clear, Gregory Drey, Sydney Johnson, Ellorah Maeve, Rebekah Adams, Zac Bacaro, William Reid, Allyssa Winkelspecht, Caroline Piotrowski, Aaron Wachs, Elizabeth Bove, Kirk Slingluff, Kathryn Pepe, Gina Petti Baldasari, JR Fitzgerald, Israel Orengo, Kori Rife, Lauren Craven, Sophie Manglass and Jeff Rife.

Those who missed the premiere can still see QuaranMean Girls: The Virtual Musical. It’s available at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgNAoxOXu5Eh8f9n9QrBEiA.

The team announced that its next project will be 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. After the quality of this show, audiences will no doubt anticipate that production.

Even more we all anticipate the opportunity to see all these performers back on stage in a physical theatre again. Virtual theatre has its own merits, but there’s something special about live performances that no media can substitute.

The Lion in Winter at the Ritz Theatre Company

The Ritz Theatre Company selected an appropriate play for the second show of its 35th season. The production combined the viciousness and devious nature of COVID-19, the blood sport of the Democratic Presidential primaries and the perils associated with the Ides of March. That’s quite a trifecta for a story that took place in 1183. Dr. Elisabeth Hostetter directed James Goldman’s take on courtly manipulations and machinations: The Lion in Winter. Your correspondent attended the Saturday, March 7th performance.

While approaching the Ritz Theatre, your correspondent became nostalgic for the elaborate Holiday display that decorated the building in December. The company managed to keep the spirit of the season alive with the set. As the action in Lion in Winter occurred between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the trappings of a Medieval Holiday celebration filled the stage. The festivities during this Yuletide celebration, however, would not be merry ones, however.

Fifty-year old King Henry II (played by John Jackowski) Plantagenet realized he no longer possessed the energy of a young man: as he explained to his 23-year old mistress Alais Capet (played by Elizabeth Darrell). He needed to select a successor from among his three surviving sons to maintain his kingdom. The oldest, Richard (Michael J. Pliskin) had a strong disposition. Geoffrey (Jack Sharkey) possessed keen intelligence. John was a fatuous lad of 16 with a fondness for drink.

To add to the complications, Henry’s wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (Judy Morris) sought vengeance against her husband. Their marriage had suffered since he imprisoned her for the previous decade. Showing that he had some heart, the king allowed his estranged queen to visit the family for Christmas. Through a series of reindeer games involving each of her sons, she conspired to destroy Henry’s aspirations.

The Plantagenet family’s Holiday guest, King Phillip II (Robert Repici) compounded the intrigue. In a bit of a twist on Napoleon Bonaparte’s maxim that, “When your enemy is destroying himself, don’t do anything to distract him,” this monarch created many more diversions.

The Lion in Winter would show Machiavelli that even his ideas could get taken to extremes. Every character had his/her own personal agenda that he/she pursued without impunity. All of them showed an uncanny ability to agree with the last person with whom he/she spoke. With all these similar personalities, the performers still gave their characters their own unique personalities.

John Jackowski brought both Henry’s strengths and weaknesses to the stage. While dragging his leg as he walked, he still carried a commanding presence. Mr. Jackowski balanced the demands of appointing a successor to rule an empire with the challenges of being a father. After imprisoning his wife, he still showed Henry’s respect for her. As ruthless as Henry conducted himself, Mr. Jackowski displayed his human side. His discussion with Ms. Darrell about staring a family of their own served as the most poignant example of this quality.

Judy Morris’ stage presence reflected both the queen’s dignity and her drive for retribution against her husband. She expressed her lines with the elocution of royalty. Yet, her tone contained palpable vitriol. Ms. Morris also showed Eleanor’s frustration when her plans failed. A desire to “win” motivated her character. She even sought to enlist her husband’s mistress in her machinations. Only a love of her family tempered her determination to punish her husband.

Ms. Morris performed an outstanding scene with Jack Sharkey. The two performers showed that issues beyond power politics plagued the family. As Geoffrey, Mr. Sharkey confronted Ms. Morris about his childhood. He explained that she and the king treated him with indifference during his upbringing. This scene provided some much-needed humanization for the Plantagenet family.

Robert Repici played King Phillip II as a cunning conniver. In a brilliant scene opposite Michael J. Pliskin, Mr. Repici showed just how calculating Philip could be. Mr. Pliskin expressed his character’s tender feelings towards Philip. The clever way he and Mr. Repici slowed down their conversation enhanced the scene’s impact. Mr. Repici later explained to Henry that he behaved as he did with Richard in order to annoy the king.

When each of the king’s sons asked for Philip’s assistance, he agreed to aid their efforts to secure the crown. When they realized that all of them approached Philip with the same request, Mr. Repici sat back in his chair sporting an impish grin. He seemed as entertained as the audience watching Henry and his sons attack one another for their scheming.

Mr. Repici performed another excellent display of Philip’s ruthlessness. Ms. Darrel implored him to stop her wedding to one of Henry’s sons. “I’m your sister,” she yelled. Mr. Repici gently stroked her face and then thrust her towards the altar.

Elizabeth Darrell’s character served as a pawn in the Plantagenet’s family’s myriad manipulations. By the end of the story Alais Capet transitioned into an uncouth political practitioner herself. Ms. Darrel made her character’s change credible.

Joseph Colasante showed the essence of the crown’s heir apparent: John. Adopting the diction of a spoiled child, he whined about his right to ascend to the throne. After developing an intense passion for brandy wine, he stumbled about the stage like a drunkard.

Jackie Spence designed stellar costuming for this production. The purple shirt with the fleur-de-lis Mr. Repici wore befitted a French monarch. Mr. Jackowski’s red robe enhanced his royal persona. Their crowns also appeared authentic. Ms. Morris’ green blouse with golden embroidery aided in transforming her into a Medieval monarch.

Matthew Gallagher managed the sound design. Matthew Weil served as the Lighting Designer. Alyssa DeLuca stage managed. Nathan Kunst worked as the show’s Technical Director. Melissa Harnois managed the properties. Bruce A. Curless served as the Producing Artistic Director.

With all the intrigue, family issues, and relentless ambition, The Lion in Winter will appeal to fans of films such as The Godfather and Goodfellas. Those with an interest in Dr. Henry Kissinger’s tomes on realpolitik will find it enjoyable, as well. The show runs through March 22nd. With the amount of conflict in this story, it’s doubtful this lion will go out like a lamb.

Noy Marom: The Critique Compendium Interview

Noy Marom by Rotem Barak

Noy Marom photo by Rotem Barak

Noy Marom is an Israeli actress based in NYC.

She was born and raised in Israel and moved to New York to pursue acting.

Noy is a graduate of The Stella Adler Studio of Acting, class of 2017.

Other training and workshops include: Grace Kiley Acting, The Barrow Group and The Nissan Nativ Acting Studio (Israel).

Theater credits include: Dian in Escape from Happiness, Sara in God of Vengeance, Eva in Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, A in the short play Kiss That Frog and The Letters Project.

Film credits include: What Would Nova Do?, Date Night, Shidduch, Crush and Once More Time with Feeling.

Noy is a founding member of the Virago Ensemble, an International all-female theater company, striving to empower women’s voices by sharing old and new works created by female-identifying writers.

Noy has also co-produced and acted in the short film A New York Moment, that was recently announced as a Semi-Finalist of the Variety International Film Festival.

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Ms. Marom graciously agreed to an interview with The Critique Compendium. It took place via email from February 25, 2020 through February 29, 2020.

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Critique Compendium:  What first interested you in the performing arts?

Noy Marom: For as long as I can remember, I loved to perform and from a very young age, my twin sister and I used to design costumes and perform in front of friends and family.

As I grew up, I discovered the magic and power of how actors tell stories through theater and cinema.  I remember watching actors on stage and in film, and just thinking how amazing it is that you can move people and make them feel different emotions by telling important and compelling stories. I remember being intrigued by it and saying to myself “Wow, this looks like the greatest job in the world. That’s what I want to do when I grow up”. Today, I still see it like that, but I also feel that as artists we also have great responsibility to try to make a difference through our art and I look for projects that focus on telling important stories that I feel  a special connection to and that I feel can make a difference and bring up issues that are important to me as an artist and as a human being.

Critique Compendium: What makes you want to play a role?

Noy Marom: I like to take on roles that are challenging and that can help me develop and refine my craft.

The work that I’m most passionate about is definitely female-driven projects.

I was fortunate enough to take part in many projects that centered around strong, interesting and complex leading female characters.

I always look for characters that are somewhat different from me, that takes me out of my comfort zone. Acting is also an opportunity for me to let loose and let out different sides of myself which are not usually out there. I feel like I always learn so much about myself in the process.

I was lucky enough to take part in many projects that shared the views that I believe in and care about. I only do work that I feel a personal connection to and that speaks to me as an artist. I think it’s important to use the stage we’re given as artists and raise awareness to different issues and to tell important stories that need to be told.

Noy Photo by Kenneth Shook

Noy Marom in God of Vengeance photo by Kenneth Shook

Critique Compendium: You’ve performed both on-stage and in film. Which do you prefer?

Noy Marom: I love both equally. The magic of the cinema and the power of the camera and also the excitement of performing in front of a live audience.

I feel very lucky to have had the training that allows me to do both.

I have been lucky enough to take part in wonderful productions with some of the most talented artists in the industry and I will keep focusing on being the best actor I can be, on camera and on stage.

Critique Compendium: Which is more challenging: performing on-stage or on film?

Noy Marom: There are different challenging aspects to both.

While on camera, you have to beware and conscious of many things, like your facial expressions and how you project your voice, since everything is way more noticeable on camera. There are also many challenging things you have to pay attention to that have to do with continuity and working on set with many staff members at any given time, which can be difficult when you’re working on very demanding scenes.

You also have to repeat the scene many times while filming and it can take the spontaneity out of the work and it can be pretty difficult to stay “fresh” after doing the same scene over and over again.

With theater, there are also many challenges.

Besides the obvious fact that it can be very stressful to act in front of a live audience (though it definitely gets better with time and the more you do it, the more you enjoy it and use this excitement in a positive way), you also have to be conscious of many things: again, the way you project your voice (and you always have to do a vocal warmup, which can be time consuming), the way you carry your body and your overall physicality and not to mention the amount of lines you have to memorize when your performing in a full length play.

I have to say that on some level, I do find theater to be a bit more challenging, since it is performed in front of a live audience and there are no second chances and you can’t just stop and go like you can while working on camera. On the other hand, I find it exciting for the exact same reasons.

Critique Compendium: You’re a founding member of the Virago Ensemble. Could you tell us about that organization?

Noy Marom: Virago Ensemble is an International all-female theater company, striving to empower women’s voices by sharing old and new works created by female-identifying writers.

I co-founded with a group of fellow actors from Stella Adler.

“Fresh” out of school, we wanted take charge of our careers and our artistic journey in NYC and we decided to produce our own work, while also continuing to work on other projects and going on auditions.

We started working together and found our voice as female international artists in NYC.

We’ve produced a number of very successful sold-out events, including a staged reading of the one-act play Last Summer at Bluefish Cove by Jane Chambers, and a theatrical movement piece of the short play Kiss that Frog by Serena Cates, both took place at the Artists Co-op in Manhattan and were directed by the accomplished actor and director Angelita Esperanza.

It was a wonderful experience and it taught me so much about working in an ensemble, which can be quite challenging, but I got to do it with amazing women who also happen to be amazing artists.

Critique Compendium: You both co-produced and acted in the short film A New York Moment. What’s it like to perform in a project you also co-produced?

Noy Marom: A New York Moment is a project that is very dear to my heart.

The short film tells the story of two good friends, Dana and Molly, both facing the struggles of pursuing their dreams in the Big Apple.

The story takes place in a park in NYC and it gives us a look into their journey as individuals and as friends, their hopes and dreams, love affairs, friendships and struggles.

We had an amazing crew and it was a wonderful experience.

I loved the experience of co-producing and also acting it, since I definitely allowed me more artistic freedom in the process, and it taught me so much about producing and managing a project from different aspects.

Critique Compendium: According to your resume, you’ve performed in 12 films. You played the lead in ten of them. How are you so successful at landing lead roles?

Noy Marom: I have to say that I’ve been very lucky in my journey as an actor. I really had many opportunities to explore many wonderful leading characters and take part in great productions with amazing artists.

I guess I just really try to do the work and to come prepared.

There is so much that is out of your hands when it comes to auditions, but you can control how prepared and professional you are in the process.

I do my best in the audition room and then I just try to breathe and let it go and move on to the next thing.

The secret is also to create as many opportunities for yourself to be seen and to reach new artists in the field that you can find a shared language with.

Noy Maram by Holly Thiel

Noy Marom in What Would Nova Do? photo by Holly Thiel

Critique Compendium: In the films Once More Time with Feeling and What Would Nova Do? you play characters who are either alone or isolated from the people around them. How do you prepare yourself to play roles this emotionally demanding?

Noy Marom: I really take my time with the character work. I focus on the character’s back story and I try to personalize it as much as possible. I also have this thing that I try to not interact so much with other people on set/ backstage before a very demanding and dramatic scene. I do my best to zoom-out and focus on the circumstances and be present and in the moment when I have to deliver a dramatic performance.

Critique Compendium: Once More Time with Feeling contains no dialog. What Would Nova Do? has very little. Did the lack of speaking concern you that you wouldn’t be able to tell the story in a way the audience could understand?

Noy Marom: I knew that it would be a challenging task, but I felt like I could make it work.

I’ve done many roles that involved a lot of dialogue in the past and I’m comfortable with that, so I saw it as a healthy challenge.

I guess that from an outside perspective, it can seem easier since you don’t have a lot of lines to memorize, but I actually think it’s more challenging, since you can only relay on your physicality and your facial expressions in order to tell the story. It was a challenge that I believe has made me a better actor.

Critique Compendium: Have you approached performing for Israeli and American audiences any differently?

Noy Marom: I approach every character and every performance with the highest level of dedication and professionalism.

The only difference that I can think of is that when I’m performing in front of an American audience, I’m focusing more on the vocal warm up and the accent work prior to the show, to make sure that I feel comfortable and that I won’t have any issues with the sounds and the speech, since I’m not originally from the US and it takes some work.

When I do that, I feel very comfortable with my speech and I’m ready to go.

Critique Compendium: You’ve received theatrical training in both Israel and the United States. Are the programs in both countries similar?

Noy Marom: I had the privilege of attending different institutes and classes in both countries.

From my experience, it’s true that every institute has its own philosophy and its own different approach towards acting, both in Israel and in the US, but the important main guiding lines regarding the technique, are actually usually pretty similar, even if they’re taught through a different vocabulary.

Critique Compendium: You served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Did your time as a soldier influence your acting career in any way?

Noy Marom: I think that serving in the IDF has taught me mainly that I am stronger than I gave myself credit for.

I’ve learned so much from my service and I think that I am better at dealing with things that can be challenging in general and also specifically in the industry, thanks to going through this experience.

Critique Compendium: What’s been your favorite role that you’ve performed so far? Why?

Noy Marom: I love so many of the roles that I’ve played and it’s very difficult for me to choose one, but if I had to choose, I have to mention a role that I’ve really enjoyed working on, Sara from God of Vengeance.

It was such a special role to take on. It’s such a strong and fierce character on one hand and such a vulnerable and delicate character on the other hand.

It was also the first time that I ever played the character of a mother and since I’m not yet a mother myself, it was quite a complicated personalization process in the beginning, but I really felt that I found “her” in the end and I loves every minute of working and breathing this character.

Noy Photo by Kenneth Shook 2

Noy Marom in God of Vengeance photo by Kenneth Shook

Critique Compendium: What’s the most difficult role you’ve played? What made it so challenging?

Noy Marom: There were many challenging roles that I can think of, but one especially comes to mind. When I was working on The Letters Project with the No Frills Theatre Collective, I had to take on a character that had to say a very deep and vulnerable monologue while dancing freely on stage. It created a very silly and amusing scene and the contrast between the heavy material and the light and amusing physical activity, while trying to stay focused and avoiding the expected laughs from the audience, was extremely challenging to do.

It was a wonderful process and I got to work with amazing actors and to learn so much from them.

Critique Compendium: What actors have influenced you? Why?

Noy Marom: I’ve always loved Natalie Portman. She’s also originally from Israel like me and I followed her career from a very young age.

I think she’s an amazing actress with an amazing career.

She takes on very versatile roles and she played many very memorable characters.

I also really admire the fact that she seems to have a really nice balance and separation between her private life and her life as a movie star.

She seems to really have it figured out: a successful career, a quiet family life and just an overall healthy approach to a balanced, positive life.

Critique Compendium: You list snowboarding and skiing as two of your hobbies. How do you balance the demands of performing with taking the time to enjoy those activities?

Noy Marom: It’s definitely challenging to find time to do those activities when you’re constantly busy auditioning and working on projects, but I always try to find time for the things that I love. As an actor, being in such a demanding field, it’s easy to lose balance at times and I find it very important to make time to enjoy the things you love in order to stay balanced and to renew your energy.

Critique Compendium: How would you like audiences to remember you?

Noy Marom: As an actress who is dedicated to her craft and isn’t afraid of taking chances and being vulnerable on stage.

It’s extremely important for me to portray characters that the audience can identify with and I want the audience to experience the highest- level of authentic performance.

I see it as an absolute privilege to share my work with the audience, to be able to create art and to reach people and also let them into my artistic world.

Critique Compendium: What advice would you give to young people interested in participating in the performing arts?

Noy Marom: It takes time to find your place in the industry and I think the best advice that I can give young people that are just starting their journey, is to also create their own work.

Find a story you’d like to tell and that you’re passionate about and tell it. Go out there and audition and try to find work and projects that speak to you and that you can contribute to, but also find your artistic voice and create your own work and take charge of your path and your career.

Also, I would advise them to be patient and to believe in what they’re doing. It’s a challenging path but it’s worth it because at the end of the day you’re pursuing the thing you love best.

Critique Compendium: Where can people see your work?

Noy Marom: I make sure to post and update about my work and to inform regarding performance and film release dates.

People can see and learn about my work on my website: noymarom.com.

Critique Compendium: What’s next for Noy Marom?

Noy Marom: I have many exciting projects coming up in the coming months.

I have a few projects with IAP- The Israeli Artists Project, a New York based organization that supports Israeli art and Israeli artists in the city.

We’ll be working on a number of productions together, including wonderful bilingual shows for children (that includes, among others, a production of the show Kef in Israel, that I’ve also acted in in the past) and a production of the renowned Israeli play called Best Friends.

I’ll also be working on an exciting, original one- woman show called Memories of Fire, that will be directed by a wonderful NYC based director and devised theater maker.

Also, I’ll be working on a production of the renowned Israeli play Hefetz, directed by an accomplished Israeli director also based in NYC.

I can’t share more information at the moment, but I’m very excited about what’s to come and will be able to share more details soon.

Film Review – Once More Time with Feeling

Noy Maram Once More Time with FeelingWriter/director Farah Jabir has created a both a topical and powerful piece centering on female empowerment. Once More Time with Feeling explores an abusive relationship between a Man (played by Patrick Ittleman) and a Woman (portrayed by Noy Marom). Through superb artistry Jabir allows the Woman to find her inner strength and liberate herself from his domination.

Once More Time with Feeling contains no dialog. Perhaps in homage to silent film, music plays throughout the movie. Ms. Jabir limits her performers’ storytelling methods to gestures and facial expressions. This artistic choice enhances the tension. A gripping and at times disturbing piece of cinema results.

Beginning in media res, Noy Marom’s character opens the story by making an effort to mask herself, as it were. The audience is introduced to Ms. Marom’s “Woman” as she puts on her makeup. As she does so, memories the man’s denigration flash through her mind.

As the scene shifts through images of past and present, Ms. Marom shows both the Woman’s turmoil and indomitability. Through her non-verbal skills, the performer expresses that the Man cannot destroy her spirit. Ms. Marom projects firm resolve as she stares at her reflection in the mirror.

The director shows the contrast between the Man and Woman’s relationship to that of their friends (played by Tiffany Peach and Laval Alsbrooks). These two performers along with Mr. Ittleman smile, hug and display a fondness for being together. Ms. Marom looks down and expresses sadness. Her heartbreaking countenance aids in amplifying the audience’s empathy for her.

Ms. Marom allows the woman’s intensity to manifest itself through dance. The joy on her face contrasts with both her earlier representations of sadness and Mr. Ittleman’s present countenance of defeat. Ms. Marom shows superb execution during this powerful scene. Mr. Alsbrook maintains a blank look while Ms. Peach smiles; the contrast between the male and female characters’ reactions is telling. The warmth of Ms. Marom’s smile concretizes her character’s victory.

Ms. Jabir has the following thoughts on Ms. Marom’s professionalism.

The moment I met Noy, I knew she was the perfect choice for Lou (The Woman). As a director this is rather rare to feel but Noy possessed such a unique sense of direction and honesty in her performance and this attitude was brought to set at all times. She was both uplifting and understanding, which is surprising given the nature of material that we were working with. Truthfully, she was an absolute joy to work with. *

Ms. Marom’s cites a Joseph Campbell quote as her inspiration. It explains her commitment to her craft.

“Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living.

When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. And when you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”

Noy concludes: “I believe in that, and that’s what I intend to keep doing. To follow my bliss and to enjoy the ride.” **

Once More Time with Feeling is produced by Farah Jabir and Amanda H. Miller. Ms. Miller also plays the Waitres in the film. Jenny Wang is the production’s Cinematographer and Editor. Angie Urrea is the film’s Gaffer / Grip.

Fans of arthouse films will be delighted by Once More Time with Feeling. Its theme of female empowerment will hold a strong appeal for modern audiences.

*Press release from Thompson Communications

** Retrieved from http://www.cinemanewswire.com/noy-marom-virago.html on 02/22/20.

The Groundling at Burlington County Footlighters 2nd Stage

The ‘garage band’ phenomena may be followed by a ‘garage theatre’ trend compliments of playwright Marc Palmieri. This writer took the concept of ‘home theatre’ to another level in The Groundling. Add a story influenced by Shakespeare to some quirky characters and an entertaining evening of theatre resulted. Your correspondent attended the February 15th performance at Burlington County Footlighters’ 2nd Stage.

A production of Love’s Labour’s Lost inspired Bob Malone (played by Michael Melvin) to become a playwright. He decided to craft a play describing his and his wife Karen’s (Lori Aleixo Howard) courtship. He even hired the director of the show that led him to write, Dodd (played by Nicholas French), to direct it. Bob’s play, however, would take place in his garage and last for just one show.

Bob was no Shakespeare. For that matter, this playwright’s rhyming couplets made the airy lyrics found in popular love songs sound profound by comparison. Add to Bob’s writing “skills” the romantic tension between Dodd and leading lady Victoria (Marissa Wolf) along with the complex personalities of the other actors (Stephen Jackson and Allison Adams) and Mr. Palmieri created a comedy that would have made the Bard laugh.

Mr. Palmieri provided director Edwin Howard with an outstanding attention getting opening. Think ‘Mamet meets Mambo’ for this one. While Mr. Melvin’s and Ms. Howard’s characters engaged in an obscenity filled shouting match, ‘technical director’ Frank (Russ Walsh) proceeded to percussively pound a beam with his hammer. No audience chatter occurred after this curtain rose.

The Groundling contained an extraordinary plot twist. The cast executed Mr. Palmieri’s unexpected, but inevitable conclusion with moving realism. All the performers on stage, especially Mr. French, seemed as surprised by it as the audience did.

Michael Melvin ended a three-year hiatus from the theatre with The Groundling. He captured the full range of Bob’s emotions during his performance. He showed the character’s romantic side when discussing the play with Mr. French. The director recommended he add more “conflict” to the story. Dodd called the relationship “too smooth.” “Nothing happens,” He said. Mr. Melvin became nostalgic as he explained, “That’s how it happened.” The performer balanced comedy with anger during his arguments with Ms. Howard. Mr. Melvin made the hackneyed writer a figure of pity and empathy through his gripping delivery at the show’s end.

In her performance as Karen, Lori Howard brought out the character’s wrath and bitterness. She maintained the persona of an angry woman while providing nuances that Karen deserved sympathy. Ms. Howard measuredly revealed the character’s underlying personality during an exceptional scene opposite Ms. Wolf. The performer showed that Karen possessed heart underneath a harsh exterior.

Marissa Wolf turned in a Marissa Wolf level performance. Ms. Wolf brought out Victoria’s change with subtlety. After starting out as a bit of a diva, she became curious to learn more about the character she played in the ‘play within a play.’ In the process Victoria discovered a personal connection to her role. In the pivotal scene opposite Ms. Howard, she showed skill by adopting Ms. Howard’s tone of voice and mannerisms to play the role of Karen.

Nicholas French portrayed Dodd: a man deeply and passionately in love with his own perceived genius. When Bob expressed his admiration for Dodd’s work, Mr. French delivered a monolog in which he described his approach to Love’s Labour’s Lost. He did so with such passion it sounded like he gasped several times. His exaggerated mannerisms accentuated the character’s high-minded vocabulary. Mr. French’s moving a pencil like an orchestra conductor’s baton during the play’s rehearsal showed his artistic pretentions. The display led Allison Adams’ and Russ Walsh’s characters to mock him during this scene.

The other members of the cast added their own brands of comedy to the production. The irony of Russ Walsh’s character not being able to hear in the presence of so much noise added humor to an already funny opening. Stephen Jackson showed the humor in a composer who couldn’t compose. Allison Adams portrayed a struggling actress struggling to act.

Jackie Duran served as the Stage Manager for this project. Nicholas French became the uncredited Music Director for The Groundling. He composed the play’s music and taught performer Stephen Jackson how to play the keyboards for the show.

Shakespeare even may have influenced the seating for The Groundling. Burlington County Footlighters’ 2nd Stage is an intimate 35 seat venue. Because of the limited room, your correspondent had the opportunity to sit next to Mr. Melvin during one of the show’s scenes. This arrangement hearkened back to the Globe Theatre during the Elizabethan Era. In those days, audience members would pay to sit on stage during the performance.

Playwright Marc Palmieri attended the February 15th performance at Burlington County Footlighters 2nd Stage. During the talkback session he was asked what he thought of this performance of The Groundling. Mr. Palmieri said that he, “Hasn’t seen better.” With the quality of community theatre in South Jersey, is that a surprise?