"Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s production of Sister Act, directed by Clare Shaffer, is a funny spectacle of a musical... it combines wonderful music and singing with excellent directing, lighting, costumes, and set design – a perfect way to kick off the theater’s 50th season."
"great humor... high energy... toe-tapping... priceless... powerful... heartfelt... hilarious... beautiful... an enchanting evening of musical comedy under the stars that will have you clapping along in the end."
"With contagious jubilation, these sisters are beckoning people in straight from the boats in the harbor to hear the praises of one phenomenal Sister Act... fine direction... wonderful singing... clever design work... disco-party lighting... striking moments... emotional tethers... a torrent of energy and elation... full of voices that are vivacious and personalities that pop... Director Clare Shaffer pushes the joy like she pushes the tempo: hard and fast... All together the production generates a groove; there is a palpable pulse of shiny happiness and smooth sailing all across the board and that can be well attributed to Shaffer and Paige Austin Rammelkamp."
"Annapolis' take on this musical is bold, spanning diverse social and religious viewpoints — from sheltered nuns to hardened mobsters... Every woman becomes stronger... this production traces that growth of the nuns — each profoundly changed by Deloris's Sister Mary Clarence as she is also changed by the sisters' acceptance of her...
The convent is brought to life by director Clare Shaffer, who says she recognizes "the beauty and harmony in the differences more than in similarities," reminding us we can learn from people who are different from ourselves."
-THE BALTIMORE SUN
MARYLAND THEATRE GUIDE'S
TOP 5 SHOWS OF THE WEEK:
"Engaging... professional... lovely... incredible... resonant... poignant... surprising... exceptional... gorgeous...
Director Clare Shaffer puts it best when she said '(“La Mancha”) is about the power of communal storytelling-- why and how we tell stories, and the way they shape the communities we live in… they are what unite us, what drive us and what inspire us to dream.' Especially when that dream is an impossible dream." ★★★★★
-Stephanie House, MD THEATRE GUIDE, CLICK TO READ FULL REVIEW
"Layered... Passionate... Heartwarming... Terrific... Elaborate... Beautiful... The Arlington Players' production of 'Man of La Mancha' is filled with exceptional performances and is quite inspiring. Don't miss it...
When the cast comes together in the end to sing “The Impossible Dream,” I did find myself quite moved. I also found myself looking at the musical in a different light. This isn’t a musical about a man telling a story. It’s about an artist and how his work brings a community together, as both Cervantes and Quixote bring a community of people together with their stories." ★★★★★
-PJ McMahon, DC METRO THEATRE ARTS, CLICK TO READ FULL REVIEW
"It’s been 33 seasons – half the troupe’s existence – since the Arlington Players staged “Man of La Mancha,” and the opening production of the 2016-17 season proved worth the wait."
-Matt Reville, INSIDENOVA, CLICK TO READ FULL REVIEW
RANKED #1 BY MD THEATRE GUIDE IN TOP 5 SHOWS OF THE WEEK
Celebrate the Pulitzer Prize: Staged Readings of Six Pulitzer Prize-Winning Plays/Musicals Tonight Through Sunday at Olney Theatre Center
By Nicole Hertvik on September 30, 2016
Happy Birthday, Pulitzer Prize!
This weekend only, Olney Theatre Center and Maryland Humanities celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prizes with Celebrate the Pulitzer Prize: Staged readings of six Pulitzer Prize-winning plays.
The festival kicks off tonight, September 30th at 8:00 PM with Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire directed by Amber Jackson.
Saturday, October 1st’s selections are D.L. Coburn’s The Gin Game, directed by Patrick Pearson at 1 PM; August Wilson’s Fences, directed by Michael Bobbitt at 4 PM; and Fiorello! (Jerome Weidmann and George Abbott, music by Jerry Bock), directed by Christopher Youstra at 7:30 PM.
On Sunday, October 2nd audiences can see Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Water by the Spoonful, directed by Clare Shaffer at 1 PM; and Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey, adapted and directed by Derek Goldman at 5 PM.
The staged readings at Olney Theatre Center are part of the national Pulitzer Prizes Centennial Campfires Initiative celebration of the centennial of the Pulitzer Prizes.
I plan to see as many of these gems as possible! Join me?
Celebrate the Pulitzer Prize (Staged Reading Series) plays September 30-October 2, 2016, at Olney Theatre Center – 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, in Olney, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 924-3400 or purchase them online.
"BEST OF THE 2016 CAPITAL FRINGE!" ★★★★★
by Nicole Hertvik on July 10, 2016
DC METRO THEATRE ARTS
Love in Ruins is the third Capital Fringe show written by playwright Paul Handy. Handy’s Cry for the Gods and and Carry a Big Stick appeared at the festival in 2011 and 2013 respectively.
Handy would appear to specialize in historical plays, and he didn’t have to look far from home for inspiration for his latest play. In Handy’s words, Love in Ruins is “the true story of my in-laws (Mayte and Guillermo in the play), who met and fell in love in Valencia during the Spanish Civil War. They were truly survivors of all the deprivations that occurred during the war as Franco’s troops advanced slowly toward Valencia. This is a story of people surviving and seeking love when all conditions for love appear to be hopeless.”
Mayte and Guillermo meet in 1936, the first year of the Spanish Civil War. They come from two different worlds: Mayte is a liberal peasant, a student of literature and supporter of the Republicans while Guillermo is from the conservative upper crust of Spanish society, believes in order and tradition, and is a Franco supporter.
The cast was led by Thais Menendez as Mayte and Calvin McCullough as Guillermo. Both turned in solid, convincing performances. Daniel Santiago and Sheila Blanc rounded out the cast as Vicente and Josefina.
Calvin McCullough’s Guillermo experienced the most character growth as a man who starts out full of staunch convictions and must come to terms with change as the world falls apart around him.
Menendez played Mayte as a strong woman, able to handle whatever the world throws at her. The fact that Menendez is a bilingual English/Spanish speaker lent to the play’s authenticity.
Director Clare Shaffer paid great attention to detail in preparing the show. She spoke to the actual surviving “Guillermo” and several of the props onstage, including a Spanish Republican flag, were owned by the couple. The show involves numerous changes in locale (a library, a coffee shop, a bull ring and two homes) and Shafer impressively staged this with minimal props and without letting the changes be confusing or distracting to audiences.
Mark Platenberg’s music and sound design was a great asset to the show. We hear the crowd as the couple attends a bull fight and when Franco finally wrests control of Spain from the Republicans, it becomes a visceral moment onstage through an authentic sounding radio broadcast of a Franco speech (voiced in Spanish by Daniel Santiago).
Jessica Aimone deserves attention for the beautiful cover art she created for the show’s program which depicts the lovely Thais Menendez in traditional Spanish attire in front of the Spanish Republican flag.
I felt that Handy’s script could benefit from tightening up and enriching the dialogue. The story was entertaining but it plodded along at times and lacked a certain zing that one hopes would occur during moments of deep human connection.
That said, Love in Ruins is a very beautiful story and all the more so knowing that it was created by people with close ties to the fascinating lives it depicts.
Running Time: 75 minutes with no intermission.
RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ BEST OF THE 2016 CAPITAL FRINGE!
"Left to the expert hands of director Clare Shaffer... a beautiful exploration of love, grief, and the healing process played out against the backdrop of the Spanish civil war. Based on the true story of the playwright’s parents-in-law, this is a gripping tale of love and loss." ★★★★
July 10, 2016 by Christian Sullivan
DC THEATRE SCENE
Love in Ruins is a beautiful exploration of love, grief, and the healing process played out against the backdrop of the Spanish civil war. Based on the true story of the playwright’s parents-in-law, this is a gripping tale of love and loss.
Following the love shared between fine arts major Mayte (Thais Menendez) and her true love Vicente (Daniel Santiago), we watch as strong feelings blossom between the young couple. After Vicente is killed protecting a bridge, Mayte has to figure out how to carry on in a world that seems intent on leaving her in misery. She becomes entangled with Guillermo, (Calvin McCullough) a man who is being manipulated by his mother (Sheila Blanc).
Left to the expert hands of director Clare Shaffer, the actors move through the limited space of the Logan Fringe Arts upstairs: transforming the space from a college library to people’s homes. The actors speak in English with a peppering of Spanish that makes the lingual transitions far less awkward than many productions. The Spanish is not forced, but is used to remind us of where we are. Shaffer keeps the pace quick, leaving little time for the audience to rest on its laurels.
The troupe is quick and tight, a fantastic ensemble of actors with quick wits and good heads on their shoulders. Though the script starts both Mayte and Guillermo out as cold and distant, the two actors quickly found their strides. Menendez in particular makes strong choices to humanize a character that could be read as cold and calculating. Two scenes, one in which Guillermo reads a pair of letters to Mayte and another in which our cigar-smoking leading man takes her to a bullfight, stand out as especially moving.
The stars of the show, however, are Santiago and Blanc. A newcomer to Fringe, the young Santiago plays Vicente with the bull-headedness of youth and the passion of new love. Maryland-native and veteran of the DC theatre scene, Blanc is wonderful as a mother trying to protect her two boys the only way she knows how. It is refreshing to see a strong matriarchal character, despite her shortcomings as a compassionate woman.
I would be remiss if I were to ignore the technical elements of this show, specifically: Costumes and Sound. Costumer Joan Lawrence makes use of simple layering and accent pieces to turn the usual Fringe-standard of “everyone only has 1-2 costumes” into a far more interesting world. Adding a piece, removing a jacket, or slightly altering the look for a suit help the audience demarcate shifts in time and place. Mark Platenberg has done an exquisite job of underscoring the show with beautiful music and a lively soundscape. It is not often that a show at Fringe so extensively uses the sound system.
Unfortunately, the space itself works against Platenberg and the actors. The wonderful sound design was undercut many times by the band playing downstairs, giving this reviewer flashbacks to seeing shows at the Gypsy Tent. The music sounded fine, but was jarring set against the show and sounds already being played out in front of me. Fringe would also benefit from purchasing some carpet, as we are privy to every single footfall made by an actor backstage. It is almost comical to listen to the sound of an actor approach, and then watch as they hit the stage and their shoes go silent.
This is another production, however, that sometimes is done few favors by the script itself. The language reads almost as if it was written in Spanish and then Google translated back to English, often adhering awkwardly to the rigid grammar and sentence structure that can make language feel unnatural.
Love in Ruins has the same pitfall of many shows here, in that the time and movement needed for transitions has to be done in ghost lighting for safety. Due to the limitations of the space, the transitions take just more time than is comfortable to watch.
If you are looking for a sweet romance, a stirring period piece, or a heart-warming true story, this is the show for you. Heavy themes with moments of levity, “Love in Ruins” is certain not to leave your evening in ruins.
"an ambitious, glorious, gutsy, sexy and delightful production, ending in a spontaneous packed audience sing-and-dance along to "The Time Warp" and a standing O... Magical direction from a rising pro"
-Jack Marshall, Georgetown Gilbert & Sullivan Society Founder
I'm pretty sure if I had told the late Prof.Richard Alan Gordon, whom I was trying to talk into playing the Judge in my production of "Trial By Jury" at Georgetown Law Center 42 years ago, that I had used my DeLorean to go forward in time to 2015 and found that the tradition he made possible would lead to an uncensored law student production of "The Rocky Horror Show," complete with near nudity, simulated sex acts of all kinds, cross-dressing and more,...like LASERS!... Dick would have backed out.
Saw the GG&SS production's opening tonight, and what an ambitious, glorious, gutsy, sexy and delightful production, ending in a spontaneous packed audience sing-and-dance along to "The Time Warp" and a standing O.. Magical direction from a rising pro who was able to get her cast to trust her sufficiently to expose nearly, all, grope almost anything, and use theatrical sexuality for all it's worth. Brilliant lights, marvel of a set, witty costumes, what there was of them, and the fact that a law student Tim Curry surfaced who could belt and walk in 9 inch heals didn't hurt a bit. I was so proud of the group tonight, and all I could think about was how much Mitch Dale and Myron would have gotten a kick out of it.
"I imagine Tim Curry would be proud." ★★★★★
DC METRO THEATRE ARTS
Wednesday night was the opening night of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the Hart Auditorium of the Georgetown University Law Center. Wait, you didn’t know that the Georgetown Gilbert & Sullivan Society (GGSS) had a law school? Shame on you!
First, a history lesson. In February 1973, a group of intrepid Georgetown University Law School students, family, community members, and professors undertook a performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s one act comedic opera Trial by Jury (get it?). And afterwards, they decided to just keep performing. Simple? Lawyers, the surliest of beasts, well known for their truckloads of free time, have lovingly and defiantly preserved GGSS for themselves and their community for over 40 years. How do they do it? Perhaps Hogwarts does exist and they’ve gotten their hands on Hermione’s Time-Turner. Yes, I like that scenario!
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a ‘70’s musical horror film satire about a goody-goody, newly engaged couple that end up at the castle of an alien scientist from Transsexual, Transylvania. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a cultural phenomenon whose traditions have made their way into the fabric of our culture. For many, their first live performance is a right of passage. I saw my first live performance when I was 16.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is hands down my favorite musical ever in the history of the whole wide world. In the case of GGSS, it requires a diverse cast of unpaid actors who are willing to hang out partially naked onstage for at least two hours. Happily, GGSS opted to courageously confront the sexuality and ostentation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. See-through lace leotards and a wide range of exposed undies graced the stage for almost two hours. The cast exhibited true professionalism and remained in character for the entire performance. As my dad would say, they have gumption.
Now we need to talk about Jimmy Gatliff (Dr. Frank N. Furter). He left me antici…pating more, more, more. His demeanor, vocal work, and acting chops are professional level, a sympathetically crafted creature of the night. And he does it all in 5 inch heels. I imagine Tim Curry would be proud. I’d also like to thank Gatliff for singling out my husband for a titillating moment of crowd interaction.
Justine Summers (Riff Raff) is a double threat, her comedic timing and vocal work always on point. Lauren Mike (Eddie) is a wicked rocker chick and Hershel Kleinberg’s (Dr. Scott/Narrator) is a deadpan gem. Brandon Fullenkamp’s (Rocky) charming smile and goofy demeanor keeps Rocky in the spotlight.
Emily Krulewitz (Janet!/Usherette) (Brad!) has one of the strongest presences and voices on the GGSS stage. Whether dancing in his underwear or fully clothed, Alex Bassett (Brad!) (Janet!) had me in stitches. Everyone, from the agressively sexual Magenta (Rachel Kuenzi) and the tap dancing glitter-bomb Columbia (Sara Collins) to a chorus member who was featured doing a lovely pirouette, had their moment in the spotlight.
No doubt, GGSS’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show is at its best when the entire cast is assembled onstage. Ensemble numbers, particularly “Time Warp” and “Rose Tint My World,” sizzle and pop with GGSS’s unique brand of eccentricity and charisma.
With limited resources, Director Clare Shaffer, Set Designer Jeffrey Asjes, and Lighting Designer Jonathan Zucker (among so many others) have created a fully functional, multi-leveled laboratory. The cast nimbly scampers between levels, most of them in heels. Strobes and haze effects are effectively employed to create an eerie and other worldly atmosphere.
If you’ve missed The Rocky Horror Picture Show make your way over to the Georgetown Law Center this 2015/16 season. Support GGSS, a society who can truly thrill and chill.
Running Time: Approximately 120 minutes, one intermission.
Advisory: Sexual content, partial nudity, haze, strobe, and laser effects.
Rocky Horror Picture Show runs through November 14th at the Georgetown University Law Center Hart Auditorium at 600 New Jersey Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001. For tickets click here.
THE SILVER SPRING VOICE • BY STEVE LAROCQUE
You’ve got to love it when a theater takes a risk.
In its production of Romeo and Juliet: Love Knows No Age, which opened last weekend at the Randolph Road Theater in Silver Spring, Unexpected Stage has bet that flipping the age relationships in one of the greatest stories of all time will pay off. For the most part, it does.
This is an essentially intact version of Shakespeare’s tragedy: the feuding Capulets and Montagues are there, the balcony scene, the dueling deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt, Romeo’s exile, the potion, the poison, and the climactic scene in the Capulets’ vault – all there. The only difference is that the young people are old, the parents are children . . . you get the idea.
Set in a retirement community (cleverly called Verona Village), the scenes take place on various floors of the main building, with an impressively functional elevator conveying the characters from one locale to another.
Much of it works extremely well. The principals are outstanding. Romeo (Elliott Bales) and Juliet (Clare Schoonover) are the elegant, impetuous, headstrong, doomed characters that the story requires. And their principal scene partners – Kecia Campbell as the nattering, protective Nurse; Ted Schneider as patient Friar Lawrence, endlessly explaining things; and Karen Fleming as Romeo’s devoted sidekick Benvolio – effectively move the story along; there’s never any doubt where we’re headed.
Some scenes are cleverly re-imagined. The balcony scene begins with Juliet in front of the TV after the masked ball (in this version, a 70th birthday party, with dancing). As she channel-surfs, Juliet exhales frustration that her new love is a hated Montague. When Romeo, listening in a darkened doorway, breaks in on her meditations, she throws a slipper at him. It actually works pretty well.
What doesn’t work? The feud between the Capulets and the Montagues. The play begins with a cartoonish fight scene, with septuagenarians brandishing dinner forks, followed by a round-up of weapons, including nunchucks, fireplace pokers, and all kinds of knives. It’s fun – I heard a joke in the audience about metal detectors – but we never really feel the menace of the feud that underlies the tragedy.
The reversed age (and power) relationships give new meanings to familiar words; some are pretty hard to take. In the scene where son Capulet insists that his mother Juliet marry Paris, unaware that she is already married to Romeo, he threatens to put his mother out of his house. It seems incredibly cruel. In the final scene, when he holds the dead Juliet in his arms and says “with my Mom my joys are buried,” the turnabout is just too abrupt. Josh Adams does his best with the role, but this particular age reversal might be too big a stretch.
On the whole, though, it’s a win. This generation-flipping production shows that love between people of a certain age can be impetuous, giddy, desperate, and – let’s face it – hot. When she arrives for her wedding to Romeo, stepping out of the elevator in a spectacular floor-length dress, Claire Schoonover’s backlit presence is amazing. No teenager could possibly pull this off.
And Elliott Bales as Romeo makes hilarious use of the same elevator as he tumbles out of it after his first night with Juliet, looking like a suit of clothes with a man attached to it, tossed down a laundry chute.
Also noteworthy is Justus Hammond as a buoyant, energetic Mercutio, who mocks Romeo unmercifully in his Queen Mab speech, illustrating his jibes with frank physicality. And Kim Curtis is sooo creepy as the Apothecary who slithers into Romeo’s field of vision, sells him the forbidden substance that will seal his doom, then slinks into the shadows.
Bottom line: most things work in this reimagined R&J; some don’t. Get beyond the things that don’t work; enjoy the ones that do, because they are really, really good.
By William Shakespeare; directed by Christopher Goodrich; co-produced by Christopher Goodrich and Rachel Stroud-Goodrich; set by Kristen Jepperson; costumes by Briana Manente; lighting by Peter Dowty; sound by Sean Doyle. At Randolph Road Theater, 4010 Randolph Road, Silver Spring, MD. July 16 – August 9. Thurs-Fri, 7:30 pm; Sat, 2 & 7:30 pm; Sun, 2 pm. Running time: 2 hr 30 min (including one 15-min intermission). Order tickets online or by phone at 800-838-3006.
Cast: Josh Adams (Capulet), Elliott Bales (Romeo), Kecia Campbell (Nurse), Kim Curtis (Tybalt), Karen Fleming (Benvolio), Tiffany Garfinkle (Montague), Justus Hammond (Mercutio/Prince), Ken Lechter (Paris), Ted Schneider (Friar Lawrence, Claire Schoonover (Juliet), Rachel Stroud-Goodrich (Lady Montague) and Dawn Thomas Reidy (Lady Capulet)
By Nelson Pressley, THE WASHINGTON POST April 20, 2014
The “if” in “Carousel’s” famous “If I Loved You” smolders with tension in the Olney Theatre Center’s big, thoughtful, musically rich production. In the muscular Tally Sessions, director Jason Loewith has found an emotionally combustible and powerfully voiced Billy Bigelow, the carnival barker with a deadly nose for trouble — but, of course, even this hair-trigger Billy doesn’t scare the curious Julie Jordan. As played and gorgeously sung by Carey Rebecca Brown, Julie has understated allure: She’s simple yet mysterious and unflappably composed.
That’s a good way to think of this lovingly traditional and intelligent staging. Led by Sessions and Brown, the large cast of sensitive actor-singers is almost always terrific with the sumptuous Rodgers and Hammerstein score, and the 12-piece orchestra (including harp, with strings glowingly anchored by bass and cello) is the biggest the Olney has ever had.
A dozen instrumentalists won’t impress folks who prefer their “Carousel” symphony-sized, of course, and this show’s second act ballet won’t be the envy of legit dance troupes. Yet the 70-year-old musical looks sharp here, and, critically, it nearly always feels right. Loewith and musical director Christopher Youstra rush nothing, and a long ovation greets Dorea Schmidt (crackerjack as Carrie Pipperidge, Julie’s lively friend) once she finally winds up the long, dreamy number “Mister Snow.” Schmidt is surprisingly funny, but it is her full-bodied singing that seals the deal. It plainly thrills a crowd hungry for this confident, velvet-glove handling of both the acting and the music, a standard that is robustly led by Sessions and Brown.
Sessions has a kind of shine to him that allows his Billy to be chesty and rough while revealing glimmers of whatever it is that Julie is attracted to — that slim thread of Billy’s tenderness that only she seems able to catch. (Sessions is on his way to Broadway’s “School of Rock,” so he will be replaced by Cooper Grodin on April 29.) Brown’s Julie is calm and intrigued as Sessions romps around, and their wary but sizzling chemistry is established for good during the time-stopping “If I Loved You.” Coming right after Schmidt’s entertaining “Mister Snow,” you’re sold on the show for good.
Loewith covers his bases pretty well, so the only time buyer’s remorse kicked in during Saturday night’s official opening were the instances when microphones went dead (a glitch that shouldn’t happen at this level) and the few fleeting moments when the roustabout humor and masculine bellowing fly overboard. If you’re looking for a “fix” to the musical’s notorious problem — that Billy beats Julie, who forgivingly explains that violence to her teenage daughter Louise in a way that is hard for us to accept — you’ll be disappointed.
Tally Sessions as Billy Bigelow and Carey Rebecca Brown as Julie Jordan in “Carousel.” (Stan Barouh)
But Loewith doesn’t run from this thorny matter, either, and you can tell the team has thought it through and opted neither to radically reframe the moment nor to gratuitously undermine it. Loewith trusts us to deal with “Carousel’s” complications.
Milagros Ponce de León’s clever set features a spinning carousel under the elevated orchestra, with video projections that help unwind time as the doomed Billy goes through his frustrating paces — falling for Julie, losing his job, banging around with the no-good Jigger Craigin (a surly Chris Genebach), slowly trying to find himself. The stage is open for the cast of two dozen to swirl through Tommy Rapley’s opening choreography and for a heroic J. Morgan White and a feisty Maya Brettell to perform their slow-starting but eventually persuasive second act ballet as Carnival Boy and Louise. The Olney keeps stretching with its musicals — bigger! more challenging! better discipline! — and from last season’s jubilant lark “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” to this rewardingly sober show, the results look and sound more toned all the time.
by Susan Brall, DC Metro Theatre Arts on February 21, 2015
Harvey, currently playing at Laurel Mill Playhoue, and produced by Maureen Rodgers, is a wonderful classic American comedy. It was unique when it opened in the 1940s. First of all, it won a Pulitzer Prize, but even more so, it was written by a woman. There was, until recently, a paucity of women playwrights, but Mary Chase remains one of the few ladies to win the prestigious prize for drama. Harvey was her first Broadway production and was a smash hit. The film version in 1951 was a hit, and won an Academy Award for Josephine Hull who played Veta Louise Simmons, Elwood’s beleagured sister. Although Ms. Chase wrote a few more plays, none was as successful.
For those who have never seen the play, it is wonderful comedy which examines society’s treatment of those who may have mental illness but are not dangerous to themselves or others. It also pokes fun at psychiatry, and with the bombardment of the airwaves of pills to make us normal and happy, it remains very relevant today. In the plot the lead character, Elwood P. Dowd, sees a large pooka, which has taken the form of a rabbit. (A pooka can take the form of any animal according to Celtic folklore.) The imaginary rabbit is Harvey.
Harvey is directed by Clare Shaffer who manages to moves the actors around this small stage in an artful way and she lets her wonderful actors interpret their roles in a most credible fashion. Her production team works well to bring us this flawlessly choreographed and attractive production.
Tom Howley, who plays the loveable and iconic Elwood, brilliantly walks that fine-line that makes Elwood believable and loveable and not laughable. We laugh at others reactions but rarely at Elwood. Howley’s Elwood effortlessly deals with being forced into commitment at a mental hospital and the realization that his sister and niece are miserable with his buddy, Harvey. There is no doubt that Elwood is a little strange, but the actor is able to keep Elwood charming and pleasant without making him childish or nutty.
Margaret Condon plays Elwood’s sister, Veta Louise Simmons. She hits the mark with her portrayal of this slightly neurotic society lady who is under great pressure from her daughter to deal with her brother’s abnormality. She always makes us feel she loves her brother, and her scene after her accidental commitment to Chumley’s Rest Home, is a blend of anger, agitation, and concern for her family.
The two young actresses, MerryRose Howley, and the real life daughter of Tom Howley, as Nurse Kelly and Heather Warren who plays Veta’s daughter, Myrtle Mae, both making their first appearance at Laurel Mill Playhouse, have learned the art of playing two-faced characters. Ms. Howley’s character shows different faces to her clients, her boss, Elwood and to the dense target of her romantic arrows. These are subtle changes as Kelly is a sweet and affable character, but Ms. Howley pulls it off. Ms. Warren keeps Myrtle from becoming unbelievable by showing the real frustration she feels as the niece forced to live with her rather odd uncle. Most memorable is the scene where her mother describes her forced and somewhat sexual incarceration. We see the conflict of repressed lust and the emotions we want society to see.
James Raymond, as the dense Dr. Sanderson, keeps him smart but we accept that the young doctor does not understand he unconsciously yearns for Nurse Kelly as well. The chemistry between the two actors works well. Ron Able plays the orderly Wilson with just the right crassness and lechery without making him a stereotype. Having worked five years in a hospital for the mentally ill, I think this portrayal shows an understanding of how these workers are often more aware that their employers are just as wacky as the clients that they serve. Gene Valendo is Dr. William Chumley. We watch as the character slips from therapist to a drunk with his own mental demons. Valendo’s scene with Elwood where Chumley actually becomes the patient is one of his best.
The rest of the cast may have smaller roles, but all make their scenes believable and humorous. Maureen Rogers, as Mrs. Ethel Chauvenet, adeptly plays the kindly but shocked society lady. As Anne Hull, Betty Chumley is perfect as the wife of the doctor who ignores her, but becomes enchanted with Mr. Dowd’s charm and manners. Larry Simmons’ brief appearance as a taxi driver, E. J. Lofgren, shows off the versatility of this seasoned LMP regular. Jon Marget more than competently plays the old family friend, Judge Omar Gaffney.
The set created by Scenic Designer James Raymond and Assistant Scenic Designer Linday Maiorano, is extraordinary. They brilliantly built rotating flats that miraculously turn the library of Dowd into the lobby of the sanitarium. They create illusions of bookshelves and windows. The scene changes are quick, and the actors themselves move the flats and furniture effortlessly.
The costumes are in period and were put together by the actors. The ladies’ hats are excellent examples of a time when the millinery was a statement and a little outrageous.
The lighting design by T. J. Lukacsina and sound design by Larry Simmons meld nicely with the set. Final kudos to the backstage crew who help the audience “see” Harvey by the end of the production.
I urge you to hop right over to Laurel Mill Playhouse and buy tickets to this hare-raising classic.
Running Time: Two and a half hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Reviews, previews, and other coverage of Shaffer shows.