Tim Sagges

The Man Who Came to Dinner at Haddonfield Plays and Players

Who hasn’t had a guest who overstayed his or her welcome? Playwrights Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman took this premise to a new level with their comic masterpiece The Man Who Came to Dinner. The unwelcome guest in this case overstayed not just a few hours or days. He didn’t leave their house for several weeks; and this extended stay occurred during the Christmas Season. The visitor in this story also happened to be an obnoxious, arrogant journalist, radio personality and worst of all a critic. He also had a penchant for meddling in other people’s affairs. The hosts may not have enjoyed his visit, but the audience at Haddonfield Plays and Players delighted at watching the ensuing mayhem. I attended the opening night performance on May 10th.

The dramatic version of The Man Who Came to Dinner premiered in 1939. The film version followed in 1942. Hart and Kaufman included numerous cultural references from the time period in the play. Because of these outdated examples, some of the references from the 30s and 40s may go over the heads of modern audiences just like the bluebirds flying over the White Cliffs of Dover. (I wrote that example and even I had to look up the reference.)

In the playbill Director Shannon Gingell included a website to consult. It provided a good summary of the era to aid theatregoers in understanding the play. The analysis also included details about the real life people upon whom the playwrights based their characters.

For those who enjoy watching eccentric characters interact on the stage, The Man Who Came to Dinner is a must see. While walking up the steps to Mr. and Mrs.  Stanley’s (Wes Anderson and Phyllis Josephson) Ohio home, Sheridan “Sherry” Whiteside (played by Pat DeFusco) fell on the ice. Dr. Bradley (Tim Sagges) diagnosed that Sherry fractured his hip and couldn’t leave the Stanley’s house for several weeks. While there, Sherry tormented his hosts, his nurse, Miss Preen (Gina Petti Baldasari) and his secretary Maggie Cutler (Sarah Blake).

Local reporter Bert Jefferson (Joe Godley) arrived and talked Sherry into giving him an interview. In the course of their discussion, Bert mentioned he aspired to be a playwright. He gave Sherry a copy of his play to read.

Following that development, Bert and Maggie became romantically involved. Maggie told Sherry that she’d planned on quitting her job to become Bert’s wife.

Good administrative assistants must have been hard to find circa 1940. In order to keep Maggie working for him, Sherry came up with a plan to break up the relationship through Bert’s literary aspirations.

Sheridan Whiteside was not a likable character. To use contemporary references, his personality melded that of a pompous radio host with the mindset of a self-help guru who received an Ivy League education. Director Shannon Gingell selected the legendary Pat DeFusco for the role. Mr. DeFusco captured all these components of Sherry’s personality while keeping the role funny.

Mr. DeFusco introduced the character brilliantly. From his wheelchair, he ordered the Stanleys that he was taking over their home. Later he sarcastically informed them that he would be suing them for his broken hip. When Mr. Stanley (Wes Anderson) complained out the $700 plus phone bill, Mr. DeFusco said he would pay it. With sardonic wit he informed Mr. Stanley he’d deduct the cost from the money he’d win in the lawsuit.

And then there were Sherry’s bad qualities. The Stanley’s daughter June (Taylor Kellar) explained in her uniquely emotional way that she wanted to marry Sandy (Victor E. Martinez). The gentleman worked at Mr. Stanley’s factory. He was also a union organizer. Carl Sandburg once said, “Beware of advice: even this.” Mr. DeFusco’s character proved that statement’s veracity by nonchalantly advising the two to marry.

But there was more. The Stanley’s son Richard (Zach Martin) longed to become a photographer. Sherry recommended he leave home to follow that pursuit.

Mr. DeFusco and Gina Petti Baldasari played well opposite one another. Mr. DeFusco shouted insults at her every time she (as the nurse Miss Preen) tried attending to him. Ms. Baldasari made Miss Preen more neurotic with every interaction the two had. By the end of the show, she transitioned her character into a bitter, cynic with a hatred of humankind: all thanks to Sherry. Ms. Baldasari also showed tremendous imagination through her enactment of a penguin attack victim.

Wes Anderson and Phyllis Josephson portrayed their characters’ contrasting personalities well. Both harbored different attitudes towards their “guest.” Ms. Josephson exhibited Mrs. Stanley’s star struck attitude towards Sherry. She gushed over the celebrities who called and sent Sherry Christmas presents. Mr. Anderson showed increasing agitation with Sherry’s annoying behavior.

As one can tell by this point, Sherry was not the person one would want stuck in his/her home. In addition to his abrasive personality, he liked to entertain guests.

Sherry received a series of visitors at the Stanley’s home for the Christmas Season. To put it politely, they were not the Three Wise Men. Professor Metz (played by Rob Repici) would be the closest. With his emphatic German accent Mr. Repici raved over the gift he presented. The professor gave Sherry a cockroach village; think an ant farm, only with actual buildings. It included a speaker so Sherry could listen to the bugs.

Other intriguing guests included the hyperactive movie star, Banjo (also played by Rob Repici). The overly histrionic actors Beverly (Jim Bloss) and Lorraine Sheldon (Julia Terruso) wished Sherry a Merry Christmas in person. Prison Guard Baker (Victor E. Martinez) brought along two convicts (Andrew Chaput and Kacper Milkus).

Although she already lived in the home, Mr. Stanley’s sister, Harriet, (Sheila McDonald) proved Sherry’s most intriguing visitor. Ms. McDonald spoke in a quiet voice and talked enigmatically. I’d suggest audience members pay close attention to Ms. McDonald’s eccentric behavior while watching the show.

Sarah Blake made Maggie into the strongest character in the cast. Ms. Blake played the role of someone falling in love during her scenes with Mr. Godley. She made Maggie into a tough counterpart to Mr. DeFusco’s bullying. Ms. Blake portrayed Maggie’s indomitability very believably.

I enjoyed The Man Who Came to Dinner more for the performances than the script. Hart and Kaufman based some of the characters on real people. The playwrights developed them as caricatures for this comedy. The depictions fit the show and made it much more entertaining. The performers conveyed the essences of the roles they brought to the stage.

Taylor Kellar played Sarah as a highly emotional and dramatic teenaged girl. Jim Bloss portrayed Beverly as an actor who put the “drama” into the word dramatic. Julia Terruso presented Lorraine as a self-absorbed stardom addicted actress willing to do anything to remain popular. Rob Repici brought tremendous energy to the stage in his performance as the colorful actor Banjo. Tim Sagges added his comedy skills to the wannabe author Dr. Bradley. All these performers selected excellent voices to suit their roles.

One line from the show grabbed my attention. Mr. DeFusco introduced one of the convicts as a murder named “Stephany.” My great-uncle John Stephany lived in Stockton, California during the 1940s. It’s doubtful he ever encountered either Hart or Kaufman, however. By all accounts my great-uncle was a well behaved gentleman. For these reasons, I suspect my surname didn’t appear in the original script.

In addition, Mr. DeFusco is familiar with my writing. I’m sure he’s well aware that the only thing I’ve ever “butchered” is the English language. I do have to acknowledge that particular slaughter will continue for years to come.

I’d also credit performers Gary Werner (who also worked as Technical Director while designing and building the set), Lisa Croce, dee Stenton-Litchford and Andrea Veneziano for their contributions to the performance. Omi Parrilla-Dunne made her debut as producer. She also stage managed and designed the lighting. Pat DeFusco served as Artistic Director, Renee McCleery designed the costumes, Anna Diaczynsky handled the properties. Sound Engineer Kalman Dunne worked on the set design, as well. Jen Tracy served as the Scenic Artist.

The Man Who Came to Dinner affected me on a personal level. After the curtain call I didn’t want to leave the theatre. It wasn’t just because of the hospitality I received from Phyllis Josephson, Lisa Croce, Rob Repici and Omi Parrilla-Dunne, either. Theatre fans have until May 25th to see this show at Haddonfield Plays and Players. After that HPP will do to Sherry what the Stanleys couldn’t.

Oliver! at the Ritz Theatre Company

The Simpsons character Krusty the Clown cynically stated, “I don’t use my A-material for charity.” The cast and crew of Oliver! took a much more professional philosophy towards aiding those in need. McMagical Productions sponsored this benefit performance that runs from February 21st through February 23rd and is hosted by the Ritz Theatre. I attended the February 22nd show.

Prior to the show, McMagical Productions President Donna Krier addressed the audience. Mrs. Krier explained that McMagical Productions is a non-profit organization created to honor the memory of Barbara McKinsey, a young dance teacher who passed away from lung cancer in 2013.

According to the organization’s website:

McMagical Productions serves those suffering from chronic diseases by raising money, raising awareness and raising their spirits through the performing arts.

Our focus has primarily been on raising funds and awareness for lung cancer research through donations to the Lung Cancer Research Foundation (formerly Free to Breathe,) but we are also working to support other causes as well. For each of our production events, we choose one of the charities close to our hearts, and all the proceeds from that event go towards a donation for that charity. The charity that is supported will be listed on each flier, and additional information about the charities will be available at our events.

Proceeds from this February 21 – 23 run of Oliver! will benefit the Lung Cancer Research Foundation.

I’ve noted before how the Ritz Theatre possesses an unparalleled capability to transform itself. Their casts and crews have converted the building into settings such as the magical world of Disney, a medieval forest and a Christmas wonderland. For this run they took a much different tack. It seemed that they converted the facility into Burlington County Footlighters.

Fans of the Cinnaminson based group would be well-served taking the trip to Haddon Township. Numerous big name performers typically associated with Footlighters contributed their talents to this show. Alan Krier (as Fagin), Lindsey Krier (as Nancy), Buddy Deal (as Mr. Bumble), Tim Sagges (as Mr. Sowerberry) , Gabrielle Affleck (as Mrs. Sowerberry), Bailey Shaw (as Charlotte/Rose Seller), Matt Becker (as Noah Claypole/Knife Grinder), Kevin Esmond (as Bill Sikes) and Stevie Neale (as Mrs. Bedwin) performed. Another BCF legend, Valerie Brothers, directed.

Ms. Brothers didn’t limit the cast to Footlighters alumni. In the lead roles, Jack Barkhamer played Oliver Twist and Naomi Serrano performed The Artful Dodger.

The Ritz Theatre contains much more space than the theatre at Footlighters. Ms. Brothers utilized the opportunities it provided for her. The ensemble employed the entire room for the opening number. While singing “Food Glorious Food” the performers entered though the back and walked down the aisles. During a chase scene Mr. Barkhamer ran through the room after picking Mr. Brownlow’s (played by Steve Phillips) pocket. Matt Becker in the role of a policeman pursued.

Playwright Lionel Bart achieved every songwriter’s dream with Oliver!. It contained a host of catchy songs; just about all possessed some kind of earworm. I’d keep hearing them over-and-over in my head until the next one began. Music Director Peg Smith and the orchestra provided spectacular accompaniment.

“Consider Yourself” made for one of the more memorable numbers. Naomi Serrano delivered phenomenal vocals while performing an excellent dance routine; the latter choreographed by Liz Baldwin. Mr. Barkhamer accompanied her on this number very well. He delivered an excellent solo number on the moving “Where is Love?”

Tim Sagges and Gabielle Affleck performed “That’s Your Funeral” together. It was a pleasure to hear such talented actors combine for a duet.

One of Oliver!’s songs even included a four part harmony. Credit goes to Bailey Shaw, Lisa Krier, Marisa Lazar and Matt Becker for their respective deliveries on “Who Will Buy?” The added reverb gave the number a haunting quality.

Fans of Alan Krier need to see Oliver! And people not familiar with his work will be his fans after this run. Audiences get the full Al Krier experience with this show.

Mr. Krier built upon his reputation for his unique approach to costuming. While nothing will compare with his The Fox on the Fairway wardrobe (incidentally, designed by Valerie Brothers) he used notable attire in Oliver!. He came out wearing a hat. The brim partially covered his face. He wore a raggedy looking trench coat. I’ve watched Mr. Krier perform for several years. I’ve even spoken with him a number of times. I didn’t recognize him. It wasn’t because of the fake beard, either. Mr. Krier is just that talented an actor.

Mr. Krier entertained with his usual comedic prowess. He did a routine with jewelry that printed words cannot adequately describe. Suffice it to comment that Mr. Krier behaved hysterically.

Fans of Mr. Krier’s vocal stylings would be pleased, as well. He contributed his singing skills to several numbers including “I’d Do Anything”, “Be Back Soon” and the ironically titled “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two.” I used the word ironic because audience members won’t feel like their pockets were picked after hearing Mr. Krier’s crooning.

I’ve referred to Mr. Krier as the patriarch of the Krier Royal Family of South Jersey Community Theatre. Two of his children, Lindsey and Lisa, performed in this show with him. Lindsey’s performance gave this reviewer the impression that she’s ready to take over as leader of that family dynasty NOW.

To share a personal anecdote with readers: the first community theatre show I reviewed was a performance of Avenue Q at Burlington County Footlighters. It took place in May of 2014. Lindsey Krier delivered a moving rendition of “It’s a Fine, Fine Line.” I still remember her singing it even though I heard it once and that occurred almost five years ago. I didn’t think it would be possible to her to improve as a vocalist, but Ms. Krier has developed into a much stronger performer now. Based on how talented she was back then, that’s quite an achievement.

Ms. Krier treated the audience to her exceptional singing ability. “As Long as He Needs Me” contained emotional angst. Ms. Krier captured that sentiment through her vocal inflections and added facial expressions. In addition to her solo numbers, she sang an excellent duet with Abby Swaney.

When I interviewed Alan Krier back in July of 2017, I asked him what it was like to share the stage with Lindsey in Tommy. He said, “We’ve done a few shows together, but we really haven’t had any scenes together.” In Oliver! the two performed together on the “I’d Do Anything” and the reprise of the “It’s a Fine Life” numbers.

 

Al and Lindsey Krier

Alan and Lindsey Krier backstage at Oliver!

Lindsey Krier also displayed remarkable acting ability throughout the evening. Her struggle to save Oliver (Jack Barkhamer) from the evil Bill Sykes led to an excellent confrontation scene. She and Kevin Esmond performed it with uncomfortable realism.

Other performers in the extensive ensemble included: Abby Swaney, Lindsay Deal, Steve Phillips, Michael J. DeFlorio, Susan Dewey, John Sayles, Nicky Intrieri, Liz Baldwin, Christa Campisi, Zachary Capone, Nick French, Paul Huntington, Robert Repici, Chris Valkyria, Noah Bantle. Abigail Bradshaw, Tristan Cogdell, Emily Ferry, Sabrina Gipple, Lizzy Holland, Meghan Lex, Joey Lieberson, Zachary Palais, Nora Ragonese, Maezie Ruggles, and Rebecca Seligman. Caspian Aicher-Roberts played Oliver Twist at the Saturday matinee show.

The final performance of Oliver! will take place on Saturday, February 23. McMagical Productions and the The Ritz Theatre Company will next present Disney’s The Lion King, Jr on April 19th and April 2oth, 2019. For more information, please consult www.mcmagicalproductions.org and http://www.ritztheatreco.org.

 

True West at Burlington County Footlighters 2nd Stage

There’s a saying in sports that, “you don’t see a lot of big plays involving two rookies.” After Burlington County Footlighters’ 2nd Stage production of Sam Shepard’s True West no one can apply that expression to theatre. It featured the debut of both a director (Edwin Howard) and a leading man (Darin DeVivo) when I attended the opening night performance on April 13th.

The show featured a creative script. Screenwriter Austin (played by Kevin Roberts) house sat for his mother (Regina Deavitt Beaucheane) during her sojourn to Alaska. His hermetic brother Lee (Darin DeVivo) ended up visiting. Austin worked on a story that he’d been pitching to a Hollywood producer. Lee discussed his travels. During the course of their conversation, Austin agreed to help Lee write a story he had in his head. Complications ensued when the producer, Saul (played by Chuck Klotz), arrived. He decided that he liked Lee’s story more than Austin’s. He wanted Austin to abandon the one he’d been working on and help his brother with his.  Perhaps as a bit of homage to Eugene O’Neil’s Beyond the Horizon, the brothers came to realize they’d been living each other’s dreams.

Edwin Howard did a superb job with Sam Shepard’s material. He ensured True West hooked the audience’s attention from the moment the lights went up.

Most theatrical shows focus on visual elements. This one placed much more emphasis on sound. It opened with an unconventional scene. Mr. Roberts sat at a kitchen table clacking on an old typewriter. Crickets chirped in the background. Mr. DeVivo walked about the stage. He used a gait that allowed his boots to tap percussively against the floor.

I first thought it brave of both the playwright and the director to begin a show with neither character speaking for several minutes. Then I realized the various sounds compensated for the silence. The performers established the mood through their actions.

Mr. DeVivo and Mr. Roberts displayed extraordinary chemistry working together. During the first act Austin’s dialog contained a lot of questions. This writing approach could have made the story drag. These two performers ensured that it stayed interesting.

Mr. Roberts looked the part of an intellectual. I thought it clever how he kept his collar buttoned through most of the show. His choice of voice sounded like that of an erudite Ivy League educated intellectual. When his character became intoxicated, he adjusted his delivery and played the scene convincingly.

Mr. DeVivo made his stage debut at Lee. He delivered such a strong performance that I have to believe the playbill contained a misprint. One has to respect his selection of such a demanding role to begin his career. He brought the character to life through both his dialog and mannerisms.

The character experienced a range of emotions during the play; the most memorable of which was anger. Mr. DeVivo portrayed the character’s temper so realistically that I flinched whenever he raised his voice. Whenever he became upset I felt uncomfortable watching him. In perhaps a theatre first, he hit a plate loaded with toast so hard that he sent the bread several feet into the air.

As memorable as I found the toast toss, my favorite scene was much more low- keyed. During one discussion, the two men stood across from one another. They each placed their hands on their hips and struck the same pose. While showing the characters’ similarity as brothers, they drew attention to the physical contrasts between them.

Chuck Klotz portrayed, Saul, the Hollywood producer. He selected the perfect voice for the role. He attempted to persuade Austin into working with Lee like a true Tinsletown dealmaker.

Even with the limited stage time afforded her, Regina Deavitt Beaucheane turned in a fine performance as the mother. The laid back approach she took towards the role contrasted well with the tension occurring on stage.

Both Edwin Howard and Jim Frazer played multiple roles behind the scenes. Mr. Howard worked with Mr. Frazer on the set design. Mr. Frazer and Tim Sagges teamed up to handle the lighting and sound.

Earlier in this review I mentioned the importance sound played in True West. Those with sensitive hearing should be aware that the show contained a lot of noise. Aside from Mr. DeVivo’s hollering, it included pots and pans getting tossed onto the floor, aluminum cans either getting thrown into a sink or being hit with a golf club and pounding on a table.

Those with an aversion to getting hit by toast may not want to sit in the front row, either.

To see newcomers perform so well with material this challenging, one wonders what kind of show would suit them for their sophomore efforts. Just a thought: are Mr. Howard and Mr. DeVivo familiar with Buried Child? Until then, True West runs through April 21st at Burlington County Footlighters 2nd Stage.

 

 

 

Theatre Review – ‘night, Mother at Burlington County Footlighters 2nd Stage

Intense. Marsh Norman’s drama allowed an audience to share the final hour-and-a-half of a young woman’s life with her. Jesse (played by Stevie Neale) accepted her impending passing with quiet reservation. ‘night, Mother began with her informing her Mama (played by Phyllis Josephson) of how quickly her end approached; opting to share her last moments with her. This set-up alone would have made for a powerful dramatic performance. The cause of Jesse’s death made it intense: she’d planned on committing suicide before the evening’s end.

In my experience with theatre, I’ve found that the fewer the characters in a given performance, the more challenging the roles. With only Jesse and Mama in this case, ‘night, Mother proved it. Fortunately for theatre fans, director Tim Sagges, selected two extraordinary talents for this Burlington County Footlighters 2nd Stage production. I attended the opening night performance this October 7th.

Stevie Neale deserves immense credit for playing the role of Jesse. The character had failed as a wife, raised a criminal son and couldn’t keep a job due to poor health. She explained various household miscellanies to her mother such as the arrangement of silverware, the location of spare fuses and how to order groceries from the local store while discussing terminating her life. That’s quite a challenge.

Ms. Neale selected an exceptional voice for Jesse. She used a calm, almost whisper-like tone containing a trace of anger. It really conveyed Jesse’s emotional state, or lack thereof. She described suicide with the same passion as someone reciting passages from the National Electrical Code book. This inflection demonstrated how Jesse viewed life as a bus trip that she “wanted to get off.”

But Jesse’s character possessed more dimensions than the surface showed. When Mama brought up Jesse’s ex-husband, Ms. Neale stared into the distance. Her facial expressions displayed a pining for the past coupled with immense sadness for the present. It illustrated why taking care of Mama just “wasn’t enough” to inspire an interest in living.

Upon getting to know Mama through Phyllis Josephson’s exceptional interpretation, I could understand why. I credit the playwright for pairing a suicidal character with the worst possible person to talk her out of it. It made for great conflict. When Jesse asked Mama if she’d loved Daddy, a pause and a matter-of-fact “no” followed. While Jesse believed a fall from a horse in adulthood caused the epilepsy which thus fractured her marriage, Mama rebutted that she’d had “fainting spells” since childhood. (She’d never thought to take Jesse to a doctor because of them.) Then she expressed jealousy towards Jesse’s relationship with her father, a man Mama admitted she didn’t love. I wrote that this show was intense, right?

I’ve watched Ms. Josephson play comedy as Grandma in the Addams Family Musical. I also attended a performance of the dramedy Kimberly Akimbo, in which she played the title character. I really enjoyed watching her take on a role this much more complex. Mama ran the entire range of grieving emotions from denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance in less than 90 minutes. At the same time she struggled to give her troubled daughter reasons to live. In the course of doing so, she reflected on her own life. That’s a very demanding role and Ms. Josephson portrayed it brilliantly.

In terms of the play itself, I thought the playwright could have written it better. While an intense drama I thought it lacked emotive depth. Jesse had already resigned herself to her, if self-inflicted, fate. Mama experienced myriad emotional states during the show, but they passed quickly. By the time I understood her feelings she’d already moved on to another. No doubt, the show’s time frame necessitated this. It encompassed a consecutive 90 minutes of these two characters’ lives. It also lacked an intermission which required the drama to progress quickly. With that acknowledgement, both performers and the director did an exceptional job with the material.

At the show’s conclusion the audience sat silently for several moments. No one seemed exactly sure how to respond until the woman next to me cried. Due to the unsettling subject matter ‘night, Mother may not be for everyone. The phenomenal performances by Ms. Neale and Ms. Josephson certainly made it worth seeing, though. I can summarize the quality of their performances in one word: intense.