Corrine Hower-Greene

Neil Simon’s Rumors Presented by Burlington County Footlighters

I heard a rumor that Burlington County Footlighters were putting on a show that featured a series of misunderstandings, slapstick humor and numerous comedic antics. Much to my relief they didn’t present a stage rendition of a Three’s Company episode. On Friday night I experienced the pleasure of attending the opening night showing of Neil Simon’s Rumors directed by Scott Angehr.

The title served as a good summation of this show’s content.  Upon arriving for a dinner party hosted by the Deputy Mayor of New York and his wife, guests Ken Gorman (Played by Gary Werner) and Chris Gorman (played by Corinne Hower-Greene) discovered him bleeding while his wife and servants were missing. They suspected he attempted suicide. They then called a doctor. When Chris got him on the phone, Ken then told her to say everything was fine. It turned out the Deputy Mayor only shot off part of his earlobe. Ken thought it best to discover what happened before contacting anyone else. He didn’t want his friend to get involved in a scandal.

Following that, more guests started arriving. Lenny Ganz (played by Paul Sollimo) and Claire Ganz (Megan Shafranski) entered the house. Ken and Chris used a series of stories to explain why the Deputy Mayor, his wife and the servants weren’t at the party. After they discovered the truth, more guests showed up. The four of them decided not to tell the new arrivals, Ernie Cusack (Greg Northram) and Cookie Cusack (Valerie Brothers), what had happened. This turned in to quite a challenge as Mr. Cusack worked as a psychoanalyst.

Gossip swirled around the characters’ romantic peccadillos. That led to even more misunderstandings. Are you following the plot at all? Well, it doesn’t matter. What is important is that all these antics made for an enjoyable evening of comedic mishaps from a series of quirky characters played by talented thespians.

The true highlight of the evening took place in the interplay between Glenn Cooper (played by Dan Brothers) and his wife Cassie (played by the omni-talented Rachel Comenzo). In the past I’ve watched Mr. Brothers perform serious dramatic roles. Most recently I saw him play the grief-stricken father in Footlighters’ production of Rabbit Hole. I’ve also attended several performances featuring Ms. Comenzo. She’s a gifted actress, but I’ve always thought her a stronger singer and dancer. When I read the cast list, it interested me to see how the two of them would play a married couple in a comedy. They both delivered performances well in excess of my expectations.

There’s an old adage about Hell having no fury like a woman scorned. Ms. Comenzo showed that Humorous Heaven has a special place for one, too. She did a phenomenal job of balancing anger and comedy in her opening argument with Mr. Brothers. I liked the way she could raise her voice in the context of an emotional conversation while still speaking clearly. Following this outburst, she admired herself in the mirror. These mannerisms provided great insight into the character.

Mr. Brothers did a fantastic job playing the “innocent” husband in the face of his wife’s accusations. In addition, he handled the physical comedy very well. In the hands of most performers slapstick becomes caricature. Mr. Brothers demonstrated that he isn’t “most performers.” He convincingly handled falling down after getting hit by a door. The most memorable moment of his performance occurred after his wife assaulted him with a phone. Mr. Brothers has a natural bass voice. With cotton stuffed up his nose he spoke in a high-pitched nasal squeal. Like his counterpart, he talked very clearly.

Proficiency at physical comedy must run in the family. Mr. Brother’s real-life wife, Valerie Brothers, got in on the act in her role as Cookie Cusack. Her character suffered from back problems that prevented her from both “walking” and “sitting”.  The audience roared as she made her way across the stage on her hands and feet with her body at a 90 degree angle. In order to do that she first had to lift herself out of a chair using only her upper body.

As readers if this blog are aware, in the past I’ve been attacked for making “troubling” and “disturbing” comments about female costuming. During this show I did have an observation about one of the actress’ attire. In the interest of artistic integrity I’m going to state it.

Corrine Hower-Greene played Chris Gorman, very well. From the trembling voice, the facial expressions and stumbling around the stage with a wine bottle she displayed the appropriate mannerisms of a neurotic woman. I thought some of her attire too distracting, though. While the plain black evening gown she wore contrasted well with the solid white background, my eyes kept getting drawn to her shoes. I agree that glittery silver shoes would be appropriate attire for a dinner party. I could imagine her character wearing them to such an occasion. For me, they stood out and kept diverting my attention. With the exception of Valerie Brothers, whose character wore a white dress, all the other actors wore dark colored shoes. As I wrote, Ms. Hower-Green is an exceptional performer with great stage presence. Audiences should be watching her performance, not staring at her shoes.

The antics and misunderstandings continued until the final curtain. The surprise ending left open the possibility of a sequel. If someone writes one, let’s hope the cast of Burlington County Footlighters’ production is available. They had such fantastic chemistry working together that I’d welcome the opportunity to see them reprise these roles. And that’s a fact, not a rumor.

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Theatre Review – Rabbit Hole at Burlington County Footlighters

It seemed appropriate that a man named Al Krier would make his directorial debut with David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole. The drama explored how two parents, a grandmother and aunt coped with the accidental death of a four year old child. In an interesting spin, it also showed this tragic event’s effect on the 17 year old boy who drove the car that hit him. The realistic performances the cast delivered made the audience criers.

Rebekah Masters (as Becca) and Dan Brothers (as Howie) turned in phenomenal performances as the grieving parents. They animated Lindsay-Abaire’s dialog in a way that made me feel like part of the conversation.

Ms. Masters brought great depth to a character who internalized her pain. This role allowed her to show the range of her skills. The performance began with her folding laundry and talking with her sister, Izzy. (Played by Corrine Hower-Greene.) Several minutes into the conversation she revealed with composure that they had belonged to her deceased son. She’d washed them before donating to charity.

Later in the show Ms. Masters displayed anger in response to Becca’s mother Nat’s (played by Susan Dewey) references to her own son’s passing. (Ms. Dewey’s character had a habit of telling Becca the worst things at the worst times.) Ms. Masters assertively snapped at her. She pointed out the difference between a 30 year old heroin addict hanging himself and a four year old child getting hit by a car. I thought that an interesting response from a character talking about her brother’s death.

Ms. Masters also showed vulnerability when cleaning out her son’s bedroom. She asked Nat (Susan Dewey), “Does it (the feeling of loss) ever go away?” Ms. Dewey showed great tenderness in her explanation of how the grief process changes over time.

The most intense scene in the show took place when Becca met with Jason, the boy who drove the car that killed her son. Max Farley played Jason on the night I attended. He took on arguably the most challenging role in the show. Performing with Ms. Masters, Mr. Farley kept his head down and expressed remorse without being consumed my guilt. That’s a difficult balance. He also showed calm and poise when Ms. Masters cried; the only occasion in the show when her character did.

Dan Brothers’ performance impressed me the most. He started out playing Howie as a relaxed, laid back man trying to coax his wife out of her grief. Then his character became emotional: really emotional. I liked his facial expressions as he watched a video tape of Howie and his son. He managed to weave those of a proud father with a grieving man very well.

Mr. Brothers has such a soothing bass voice that he’d make an exceptional nighttime disc jockey. That is until he yells; and boy did he yell in this show. I’ve been to numerous sporting events in Philadelphia. I’ve never heard yelling quite like his brand. I thought the building was going to rattle.

I also liked the way he could play an unhinged Howie and still bring himself down to a calm demeanor within minutes. He did this best in the scene where he discovered Becca erased the tape of Howie and his son.

In a story this somber, comic relief becomes the sine qua non of the show. Most of the humorous lines went to Becca’s sister, Izzy. (Played by Corine Hower-Greene.) I enjoyed the deadpan way she delivered the line, “we’ll have to do it again next year” after Izzy’s birthday party disintegrated into fighting. She did an entertaining job describing a bar fight that wasn’t really a bar fight in the beginning, as well. Because of the immense sadness in the show, had Ms. Hower-Greene not delivered the catharsis so well, this play would’ve been unwatchable.

Just about every performance I attend encounters some sort of technical difficulty. Much to Footlighter’s credit, this one didn’t. Al Krier and Bob Beaucheane did a great job with the sound. While Howie watched the video of him and his son, I could understand all the pre-recorded dialog without any trouble. It came through loud enough to hear and very clear.

While I’ve been “cautioned” not to comment on costuming, I’m going to do it, anyway. Everybody dressed in accordance with the way I imagined the characters would when I read the play. It helped me to suspend my disbelief that much more. I felt like that this was an average American family living in Yonkers.

My only criticism of the show involved the audience, of all things. No one applauded between scenes. After the show I heard someone tell a cast member that he “didn’t like the show, but liked the performances.” These responses probably stemmed from the uncomfortable subject matter in Rabbit Hole. It shows how intense the drama and how convincingly the actors performed when people thought it inappropriate to applaud.

No one likes to think about grief until they’re forced to. The play showed how different people cope with it in different ways, not always healthy ones. We all confront grief and loss in our lives. Watching the show got me thinking about some I’ve experienced. It led me start reexamining how I dealt with them. In spite of that, I still enjoyed the play. It brought out an unpleasant facet of the human experience. Isn’t that what great drama is supposed to do?

After the show I joked with Mr. Krier. I mentioned how he selected an “easy” play for his first outing in the director’s chair. He explained that the script and the great cast made it easy. The cast members with whom I spoke expressed their admiration for the dialog in Rabbit Hole. It came through in their performances.

Theatre Review – Ten Times Two at Burlington County Footlighters’ 2nd Stage

Burlington County Footlighters’ 2nd Stage Productions treated me like royalty last night. They sat me so close to the production that I felt like I was on the stage with the actors. It gave me the same sensations of importance I imagine an aristocrat at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre experienced. In addition, I got to sit next to the performance’s director. Initially, I didn’t recognize her. When Ms. Deal arrived I got up to offer her my seat. It had a better view of the stage. She told me to stay where I was since she’d “seen it (the play) before.” This group took VIP treatment to a whole new level!

David Belke’s Ten Times Two: The Eternal Courtship told the story of Ephraim’s (played by D. J. Hedgepath) 676 year pursuit of Constance (Corrine Hower-Greene) with the Host (Paul Sollimo) acting as a sort of matchmaker. As one can guess from the time frame, which began in 1399, this love affair possessed an unusual twist to it. Ephraim spent his life in pursuit of evil which led to his being cursed with immortality. The Host made a bet with him: if Ephraim could win Constance’s love, he’d lift the curse. This quest would lead Ephraim back to the same inn every 75 years to woo her various reincarnations.

Elizabeth Deal made her directorial debut with this three-character comedy. What a job she did. Each thespian delivered such outstanding performances that I thought I was watching community theater’s equivalent of an all-star game.

D. J. Hedgepath delivered a stellar performance. Mr. Hedgepath is on his way to being known as “The James Brown of South Jersey Community Theatre.” He played a key role in Burlington County Footlighters recent production of Bonnie and Clyde. Once Ten Times Two wraps, he’ll be starring in The Addams Family at the Maple Shade Arts Council. This thespian could claim the title of “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business” right now.

Mr. Hedgepath’s passion and commitment to his craft really came through last night. He delivered his lines in a flawless British accent. I found his character’s transition from selfish thug to sensitive romantic very believable through his interpretation. The way he broke down while telling Constance’s 2000 incarnation he was “giving up” nearly brought me to tears. He managed to deliver exceptional comedic chops while still bringing delicacy and tenderness to the role. That’s quite an accomplishment. After all, at the audience’s first introduction to his character, Ephraim was malicious and unlikable.

Corrine Hower-Greene delivered a strong performance as Constance. She showed exceptional range as an actress. Every reincarnation entailed playing a completely different character; each with a totally different accent. She transitioned into each role flawlessly. I especially enjoyed the humor she brought to the country farm girl. While speaking in a cockney accent with her mouthful I could still understand her. That impressed me. With all the European characters she played, I was very surprised at how convincingly she performed the role of the drunken American flapper.

Paul Sollimo presented the Host role extremely well. He made a great artistic choice with the soft-high pitched British accent he used. It served as a neat contrast to the malevolent nature of his character. The Host addressed an imaginary audience in a few scenes. It took a lot of courage to be the only performer on stage and speaking to pretend characters. He did so very believably. In a number of scenes with Ephraim and Constance, the Host character kind of drifted off into the background. Mr. Sollimo remained relevant to the action through his deft facial expressions.

Burlington County Footlighters’ 2nd Stage Productions take place in a much smaller room than the main stage. The seating capacity is probably around thirty. Because of the size of the room and the time I got there I sat far to stage right. Because of the angle there were times when the performers had their backs to me. With that acknowledgement, my location meant there were times when the action took place directly in front of me. Since the director sat directly to my left, I don’t think it appropriate for me to raise too much of an issue about my own seating.

The air conditioner droned few feet behind me to the right. While all the performers broadcast their voices very well, there were times I had trouble hearing. As with any show, there were times when the actors’ vocal inflections needed to become quieter. When that happened I did struggle to understand the dialog.

I’d classify Ten Times Two as a theatrical version of a “chick flick”. While I’m not a big fan of light-hearted romantic comedies I did enjoy this show. The fact I can write that is a true testament to the cast and crew’s skill. The show runs through June 27th. See it while you can. I don’t know if Footlighters plans to host it again every 75 years starting in 2090.