Theater Review

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.

 

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.

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?

 

Seussical Presented by McMagical Productions at the Ritz Theatre Company

Why do we have such a love of Dr. Seuss? Director Megan Knowlton Balne inquired. Why is Dr. Seuss so universally loved by children and adults, generation after generation? Why is a Dr. Seuss book the perfect gift for a child entering adulthood or an adult embarking on parenthood?

Ms. Balne embarked on a voyage of her own in order to answer these questions. She did so by directing McMagical Productions’ presentation of Seussical at the Ritz Theatre Company. Your correspondent attended the February 14th performance.

With all the rhyming couplets and colorful characters, the true message of Dr. Seuss’s work can get lost. Not with Ms. Balne. In the Director’s Note, she observed:

When I think about Seuss, I think about stories that go beyond the children’s literature. Dr. Seuss’s books teach us about imagination and show us how to see the world in a different light. When we are blinded by technology and can’t go through the day without looking at our smart phones, we need to take a moment and look around and remember that imagination and looking beyond the noise will help us make better decisions and become better people.

Ms. Balne applied her own ingenuity and made good choices towards bettering the show. They started with Seussical’s beginning. During the opening number, the performers placed copies of Dr. Seuss’s books into a milk crate. Another actor entered the stage and perused them. The Cat (played by Haley Melvin) then made her entry. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, your reviewer won’t elaborate on this delightful sequence.

Through the power of her own imagination, Ms. Balne created a wonderful spectacle of the world of Seuss. The performers she selected to bring this magical realm to the stage applied their own inventiveness in bringing their characters to life.

For her sixth run of Seussical, performer Haley Melvin played the Cat in the Hat for the first time. Ms. Melvin approached the role like someone inspired.

Ms. Melvin captured the Cat’s high energy through her prancing about the stage. When JoJo (played by Gracie Brown) ordered her to leave, she would pout while slowly exiting. Then she would quickly turn and add a cheery, “Let me say one more thing.”

Ms. Melvin performed the unforgettable vocal numbers with skill and humor. She captured the ironic essence of “How Lucky You Are” through her upbeat delivery.

So be happy you’re here.

Think of life as a thrill.

 It could get worse

 As we all know it will.

In May of 2019, Sid Maycock turned in a comedic tour de force playing the Cat during the Village Playbox’s presentation of Seussical. For this production he changed hats and took on the role of Horton the Elephant. Mr. Maycock applied warmth, tenderness and humor to the role of the poignant pachyderm.

Mr. Maycock delivered his portions of “Solla Sollew” and “Alone in the Universe” with the sensitive vocals the songs required. For the latter he performed a powerful duet well accompanied by Gracie Brown as JoJo. Fans of Mr. Maycock’s comedic work will be delighted by his interaction with Suzanne Tuttle (as Mayzie La Bird).

While already known as an outstanding choreographer, Lindsey Krier showed her extraordinary skills as an actress and vocalist. Ms. Krier captured Gertrude McFuzz’s lovelorn frustration in “Notice Me, Horton.” She showed comedic prowess during her scene with the Pillberry Bush. She followed with a hysterical delivery of “Amayzing Gertrude.”

Ms. Melvin’s, Mr. Maycock’s and Ms. Krier’s stage presences gave the impression that they were playing roles they’d longed to perform for their entire lives. That’s not to take away from any of the other actors. These three just seemed passionate about the opportunity to portray their characters.

Your correspondent sat in front of the director during the performance. Ms. Balne laughed throughout the show. As familiar as she was with Seussical, the cast still entertained her.

All of this demonstrates just how committed everyone was to making this production successful. It also shows the pride they took in their work and the professionalism of the finished product.

For their “revitalized and reimagined” version of Scrooge: The Musical in December, the Ritz production staff removed the pageantry that appeared in earlier productions. The pomp returned to the Ritz stage for Seussical.

The show featured dance spectacles choreographed by Elizabeth Baldwin. Both the Adult Ensemble (Kayla Disibio, Rachel Insley, Amber Kusching, Alexa McClean-Maynes and Chris Valkyria) and the Children Ensemble (Caspian Aicher-Roberts, Sophia Bianco, Alexis Finkelstein, Annalise Griffin, Sophia Leone, Piper Loughlin, Gracie Sokoloff, Nora Ragonese and Max Ruggles) performed sophisticated routines. The Wickersham Brothers’ (Adam Bretz, Zach Capone and Zach Palais) added some comical monkeyshines to the dance sequences as well.

The Bird Girls performances reminded this reviewer of the Supremes. Tori Tatulli, Lisa Krier and Erika Dorsett combined soulful vocals with elaborate dance moves on “Horton Hears a Who,” “Biggest Blame Fool” and “Egg, Nest and Tree.”

Choreographer Liz Balwin contributed her own R & B stylings to the production. Ms. Baldwin entertained with her brand of soul on “Biggest Blame Fool” and “The People Versus Horton the Elephant.”

The other cast members included: Don Toal, Lisa Toal, Tracy Brycem Will Young and Sammy Balne. The following individuals rounded out the production team: Musical and Vocal Director Kendra Hecker, Stage Manager Jeanette Carden, Lighting Design Jennifer Donsky, Costumes Rachel Theibault Grodzielanek. and Spot Operator Bridget Bryce. Sam Tait, Anastasia Swan and Natasha Swan managed the Sound. Jay Capone, Al Krier, Scott Palais, Eric Dorsett, Greg Laughlin, Will Young, Zach Palais and Zach Capone worked on Set Construction.

McMagical Productions was created to honor dance instructor Barbara McKinsey; a young woman who passed away from lung cancer in 2013. The organization describes its mission as to serve: those suffering from chronic diseases by raising money, raising awareness and raising their spirits through the performing arts. This run of Seussical will benefit the Lung Cancer Research Foundation. More information is available at: www.mcmagicalproductions.org.

 Fans of Seuss should take a trip

To the arts district of Haddon Township.

There they will find theatrical bliss

In the form of McMagical’s production of Seussical at the Ritz.

The rhyming couplets are infectious. So is the joy the team at McMagical Productions imparted to the audience.

Al Krier opened the Valentine’s Day performance by stating that the cast would “win your heart.” He asked the audience to “feel the love.” They sure did.

Seussical runs through February 15th at the Ritz Theatre company. McMagical Productions and the Ritz Theatre Company will team up again to present Hairspray, Jr. That show will take place April 3rd and 4th.

The Tin Woman at Bridge Players Theatre Company

The Bridge Players Theatre Company is commemorating Valentine’s Day with heart this year. They are doing so through their presentation of Sean Grennan’s The Tin Woman. Alice Weber directed this absorbing reflection on loss and second chances. Your correspondent attended the Saturday, February 8th performance.

Director Weber has a reputation for selecting thought-provoking projects. The Tin Woman is her most captivating to date.

For those unfamiliar with Mr. Grennan’s drama, think David Lindsey-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole, only with much more tension. Joy (played by Gina Petti) recently received a heart transplant. The experience of coming so close to death led her to reflect upon her life. Failed relationships, a mediocre job and lack of fulfilment made it an unpleasant recollection. She became plagued by guilt that someone had to die so that she could live.

Meanwhile, Jack’s (Francis B. Pedersen’s) family endured their own sorrows. His parents Hank (played by Alex Hraur) and Alice Borden (Regina Deavitt) along with his sister Sammy (Bethany Sketchley) struggled to cope with his tragic death from a car accident. As the family’s mourning turned to anger, they received an unexpected letter. Joy, the woman who received Jack’s heart, asked if she could meet them.

The playwright crafted a script that provided a host of challenges for the cast and crew. It began with an unconventional opening: silence and stillness. The show opened to Ms. Petti lying in a hospital bed with Jack standing nearby. Then the scene shifted to Mr. Hraur sitting in a lawn chair at stage left drinking from a thermos. Jack walked over and observed him. Even without the benefit of activity and movement, the performers made the scene a gripping one.

For such an emotional story, the dialog included some humorous quips. Ms. Deavitt and Mr. Hraur delivered the witty banter between husband and wife effectively. Ms. Sketchley made Sammy’s misunderstanding of the word corn witty, also.

The play included nine different scenes and five separate sets. The cast and stage crew managed the quick changes they necessitated without flaw.

The dialog contained the most demanding transitions. Some scenes involving Jack combined the past and present. Throughout most of the show Francis B. Pedersen remained on stage. Mr. Pedersen reacted to the things happening, but didn’t participate. The script included two exceptions. While sitting around the dinner table, the Borden family reminisced about his sense of humor. Mr. Pederson took a place at the table and told a funny story. When Mr. Hraur began talking about an argument the character had with his son, Mr. Pedersen entered the scene and delivered his lines with white hot rage.

Gina Petti brought the psyche of a haunted woman to the stage. She portrayed the character’s myriad emotional states realistically. Ms. Petti became playful when flirting with the man in the café and showed despair as she lay on the couch while drinking wine from the bottle. She cried in the emotional scenes. When reciting the letter Joy sent to Jack’s family, Ms. Petti captured the character’s vulnerability.

Ms. Petti used the scenes opposite her counterparts to demonstrate Joy’s nature. Lisa Croce played the cheery, bubbly Darla; all decked out in her Sarah Palin style glasses. Ms. Petti became reserved and guarded during their time on stage together. The contrast between the two personalities showed why the name “Joy” proved an ironic description of her character.

Ms. Petti played an outstanding scene when her character met Mr. Hraur’s. She managed to show how Joy’s personality shared both Jack’s artistic interests and his father’s bitterness. The priceless look on her face when she asked for “bourbon” will go down in South Jersey theatre lore.

Anyone studying the craft of acting would be well served to watch Francis B. Pedersen during this run. Throughout most of the show, Mr. Pedersen played a ghost; expressing Jack’s feelings non-verbally. His character couldn’t speak or interact with the other performers. Director Walker did make one powerful exception when he placed his hand in Ms. Sketchley’s.

Most of the scenes from Jack’s life began in media res. Mr. Pedersen jumped into the scene and played it naturally. He sounded like he’d already been engaged in the conversation for several minutes.

With the strong performances Ms. Petti and Mr. Pedersen delivered, it’s easy to overlook Regina Devitt’s own powerful performance. Ms. Devitt portrayed a woman struggling with the loss of her son and her husband’s increasing withdraw into alcohol. She served as the force trying to keep the Borden family together. Her portrayal made her character a figure well deserving of empathy.

Alex Hraur showed the father’s descent from grief to anger convincingly. He made the character’s scenes difficult to watch, but yet, he still gave the audience reasons to sympathize with him.

Assistant Director Shelby Tibbetts completed the cast. Ms. Tibbetts played the nurse.

Other members of the Production Staff included: Producer Lindsey Kilchesty, Production Assistants Diana Dohrmann and Pat Marotta, Stage Manager Amy Miele, Technical Producer and Light Designer Bob Beaucheane, Sound Design John Weber and Set Construction Casey Barrett.

Each performance of The Tin Woman includes a talk back. Members of the Gift of Life Donor program will be on-site to address the audience. They will share personal stories regarding organ and tissue donorship.

In the playbill, Director Weber wrote that, “We all have regrets.” Don’t let missing The Tin Woman at Bridge Players Theatre Company be one of them. The show runs through February 22nd.

The Hotspurs!: Spur of the Moment at the Ritz Theatre Company

Your correspondent experienced literal chills as he stood outside the Ritz Theatre on Friday night. Inside, South Jersey’s premiere improv troupe, the Hotspurs!, were about to end their three month hiatus from the stage. In retrospect, the brisk winds, frigid temperatures and alcohol withdraw may have had something to do with those shakes, too. At any rate, John Hager, Evan Harris, Sean O’Malley Brendan Rucci and Andrew Snellen returned to perform a Valentine’s Day comedy extravaganza on February 7th. Love and laugher from the audience resulted.

Mr. Rucci opened the show by singing a lugubrious love song while playing the piano. In the backdrop, hearts and red streamers adorned the Ritz stage. The rest of the group then made an obstreperous entrance as music blared over the loudspeakers.

The members expressed their confusion as to whether they were performing a Valentine’s Day or President’s Day show. Mr. Harris needled Mr. O’Malley by making a reference to President Taft. The latter, of course, is the only American President to also serve as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. This abstract allusion to the current President’s reputation for being law abiding in the wake of the impeachment trial was pretty slick. Either that or Mr. O’Malley is the most legal minded of the five. Either way, the addition of topical humor worked.

The members of the 1960s psychedelic rock group Cream said that they rehearsed the beginning and ends of their songs. Everything in the middle they improvised. The Hotspurs! plan out even less of their shows. They script the opening and plan the sequence and participants of the improv games. Everything else that happens on stage is “spur of the moment.”

The show at the Ritz Theatre lasted an hour longer than the other shows they’ve performed. It allowed the group the opportunity to bring more of their classic routines to the stage. They included their standard improv games: “Half Life,” “Pan Left,” “Twists,” “Director,” “Infomercial” as well as others. In all cases they solicited either settings, emotions or character suggestions from the audience. When someone recommended a character they had played before, Mr. Rucci asked for another idea. The original ideas the audience presented gave the traditional routines a fresh edge.

Adding to the originality, the Hotspurs! added some new games to their repertoire. They included: “Best Date / Worst Date,” “Oscar Winning Monolog” and “Start Every Sentence with a Letter of the Alphabet.”

Some Hotspurs! routines include audience participation. “Best Date / Worst Date” featured something unique. The group invited community theatre performer Michael Pliskin and his girlfriend Lauren to come up to the stage. The pair discussed some activities they like to do together. Building off of their stories, the group then performed two sketches. One enacted a perfect date between the couple, the second showed a horrible date between the two.

Your correspondent has written that no one can tell a story like Mr. Pliskin. It appears that no one can inspire a story like he does, either. Mr. Hager played him. Mr. Harris performed as Lauren. The two brought exaggerated caricatures of the couple to the stage. They acted out comical references to alcoholism and the teaching profession. “We’re teachers,” Mr. Harris said with a slur. “People trust us to work with and teach children.”

Local writer Thomas Halper expressed a theory about humor and national tragedies. He told your correspondent that the greater the tragedy the more extreme the jokes are in response to it. (A particularly gruesome one circulated after JFK’s assassination.) This reviewer found that interesting as he’d never heard anyone tell a joke referencing the events of 9/11.

Until now.

The group performed a game called “Oscar Winning Monolog.” The audience provided the “sexy occupation” of firefighter. Mr. Harris and Mr. Snellin delivered an improvised scene. At a crucial point, Mr. Rucci stopped them. He informed Mr. Harris, “Evan, this is your Oscar winning monolog.”

The spotlight shone on Mr. Harris. He improvised a speech about a fireman’s picnic that took place every year on September 11th: “except that one year.” While the group asked the audience “not to take to Twitter,” the way Mr. Newlin made the reference wasn’t offensive or in bad taste. The soliloquy about a firefighter who saves a clown, but not the children at a party however…

Comedian Bill Hicks observed: “It’s only funny until someone gets hurt. Then it’s just hilarious.” The Hotspurs! may have blazed a comedy trail regarding that one. They certainly scorched a few throats.

The “Start Every Sentence with A Letter of the Alphabet” routine required Mr. Hager, Mr. Harris, Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Snellen to deliver sentences that began with the next letter of the alphabet. In other words, if one person said something that began with the letter d, the next person would start a sentence with the letter e. But, being the Hotspurs!, the group added a twist.

Before beginning this improv game, Mr. Rucci held up a bottle of hot sauce. The label instructed that it be diluted before use. Being the rebels they are, the Hotspurs! ignored the warning. Each member of the group took a spoonful of scalding seasoning. With each other’s screams in the background, they managed to complete the exercise. The four members crafted the requisite 26 sentences.

As of this writing, one hopes everyone is okay.

Each member of the group had his own stand out moment. People will be talking about Mr. Harris’ “Oscar Winning Monolog.” During the Dating Game, John Hager performed a dramatic rendition of Spider-man’s demise. While playing the director, Mr. O’Malley instructed Mr. Hager to put bleach in his eyes. “It’s my vision,” He said. “You don’t get to have any.” Mr. Snellen crafted the best one liner of the evening. An audience member suggested the question, “What’s something you could say to a hooker and your grandmother?” Mr. Snellen replied, “Take your teeth out.”

This reviewer had one criticism of the show. It began 15 minutes after the scheduled 8:00 PM start time. Some performers like to build dramatic tension by delaying their entry. This was a comedy show. The delay wasn’t necessary.

Obviously, audiences should leave the young children at home before attending a Hotspurs! performance. Of course, if a parent thinks it’s a good idea to take a child to see comedy improv, their kids will grow up with worse problems than seeing a Hotspurs! show.

The Hotspurs! have sold out Burlington County Footlighters multiple times. They sold close to 200 tickets for this gig. They will return to the Ritz Theatre on Friday, March 27th. Those interested in attending that show are strongly encouraged to purchase tickets now. If the group decide to give it an Easter theme, they may all come out dressed as bunnies. The seats in the back will sell fast.