Friday, September 23, 2011

Millbrook: "A Bad Year for Tomatoes"

John Patrick's comedy A Bad Year for Tomatoes is the Millbrook Community Players' current offering this season, playing to almost full houses, and entertaining audiences with the antics of eccentric characters & silly siutations.

Director Stephanie McGuire sensibly changes the script's setting from New England to "somewhere in the South" to accomodate the actors' natural Southern accents, ones which fit so well in the mouths of the local sheriff, bumbling simpleton, and town gossips. And, she has changed some references to actual events and off-stage celebrities to suit the new location in both place and time.

Myra Marlowe [Shea Jackson] is a well-known television actress noted for playing a "granny" on a popular sitcom, who escapes from Hollywood to "search for something real" in her life, winding up in the rural village of Beaver Haven where she believes she can remain incognito to plant tomatoes and write her memoirs. The only person who knows of the pretense is her long-time friend (and potential love-interest), Tom Lamont [John Chain], who swears to keep her secret, as she introduces herself to everyone by her real name, Myrtle Durdle.

No sooner has she arrived, however, than the locals descend on her from all points nearby in the small neighborhood. The "Hospitality Committee" is comprised of Cora Gump [Rae Ann Collier] and Reba Harper [Nancy Power], who proceed to interrupt virtually any sense of privacy. Though Reba often claims "I don't like to gossip...", hardly a word from her mouth is anything else...and Cora backs her up in warning Myrtle/Myra about Willa Mae Wilcox [Ginger Collum], a strange flamboyant person they call a witch among other things.

While the women continually intrude on Myrtle's attempts to dictate her memoirs, a local handyman named Piney [John Collier in a role he perfectly underplays] provides some of the best comic moments in the play as he speaks in monosyllables and takes everything literally while bargaining the cost of his handyman services, much to Myrtle's frustration.

In a desperate move, Myrtle invents a crazy sister named "Sis Sadie" who, if she escapes from her locked room upstairs, will wreak havoc in the community...and winds up disguising herself as "Sis Sadie" on several occasions in her attempts to be left alone.

The cliche-filled plot contrives to insinuate a murder has been committed when "Sis Sadie" mysteriously disappears, and the truth will be revealed through the intervention of a well-meaning Sheriff [Mark McGuire] only after a lot of confusion, accusations, and silliness.

It is too bad that all the action of the play is performed upstage of the proscenium curtain, distancing the actors from the audience; segues between scenes need to be tightened up to avoid long gaps of time in the dark; and more assured delivery of lines and characters will hopefully come in time...but the show is otherwise easy on the eyes and ears.

Friday, September 16, 2011

WOBT: "The Complete Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged)"

Although any one of William Shakespeare's 37-or-so plays would take over three hours to perform in its entirety, in less than two hours, Prattville's Way Off Broadway Theatre is delighting their all-too-small audiences with a merry romp through all the plays [plus the 154 sonnets and other occasional poems by the Bard]: The Complete Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged).

Devised some years ago in England by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield -- who call themselves the R.S.C., the "Reduced Shakespeare Company", not to be confused with the Royal Shakespeare Company of Stratford-upon-Avon which they call the "other" Shakespeare Company -- this show has been entertaining audiences around the globe with its irreverent approach to Shakespeare's canon, and its topical references to whichever community where it is performed.

Though it helps to be familiar with Shakespeare's works, it is not a prerequisite to enjoyment of this piece...and if you ever get lost or feel out of place, one of the three energetic and self-effacing actors who play all the roles is there to guide you through.

First-time director Matthew Givens is fortunate in having three capable actors to bring this piece to life: veterans Joshua Diboll & Wes Milton have been performing in and around Montgomery for several years, and newcomer Kalonji Gilchrist demonstrates a good deal of talent to match (and spar) with them. -- Imagine, for example, the complete telling of Shakespeare's English History plays (about a dozen of them) as a football match in which the crown instead of a football is passed from one king to another while other characters are often "slaughtered" on the fields of battle.

Or witness Romeo & Juliet with Three Stooges and WWF references; or Shakespeare's most gruesome telling of Titus Andronicus [in which the bad-guys are killed and served to their mother in a pie] as a Southern Cooking TV Show; or Othello told as a very clever "rap"; or the Scottish play [never say the name Macbeth in a theatre because the play is "cursed"] in terrible Scottish accents...or: well, you get the picture.

Add to this some good-natured audience participation; plenty of cross-dressing [after all, someone has to play the women's roles, and in Shakespeare's theatre there were no actresses allowed on stage]; and Hamlet played three times in succession, each one briefer that the one before; several "ad-libs" and "takes" and "editorial asides" to the audience, and you have an enjoyable evening's entertainment, emerging with a knowledge of Shakespeare too.

These talented actors are to be commended. They have quite a physical workout in the two-hours' playing time, and they have entertained. Good show!

Friday, September 9, 2011

AUM: Unseen

Hard on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Theatre AUM is producing the World Premier of Unseen by the university's Provost, Jeffery Scott Elwell. The play recounts the devastating effects of the death of one Roy Gibbons [Neil David Seibel] on his wife, sister, and young of many a story that likely unfolded in thousands of households here and abroad.

Montgomery is hosting several tributes and observations memorializing the 9/11 victims, and this study of its impact on an ordinary family caught up in bureaucratic insensitivity and psychological therapy is effective in its treatment of events and issues that continue to haunt us.

At its opening, a powerful slide-show of the construction of the World Trade Center Towers culminating in photos of the September 11th attacks had the audience in rapt attention; at its end, Mike Winkelman's set was revealed: an arrangement of platforms depicting the play's various locations placed amidst the grey-ash rubble with iconic skeletal frames at the rear...and the audience response was a visceral intake of breath.

Director Val Winkelman handles Elwell's episodic structure by finessing the breaks between scenes with La'Brandon Tyre's effective sound scoring. -- With hardly a sustained scene in it, the cinematic storytelling relies on moments that connect us to the lives and conflicts of its individual characters.

Young Roy "Junior" Gibbons [AUM freshman Nik Smith] "sees" his father at a memorial service, despite the fact that Roy Senior's body has not yet been found after the collapse of the building where he worked. Convinced that his father is still alive [though no one else can see him] Junior's insistence concerns his mother Helen [Sarah Worley] and sister-in-law Susan [Alicia Fry], beginning a series of sessions with a psychiatrist [Michael Krek] for both the boy and later his mother.

Roy and Junior each need one another, and their lives are unsettled. Roy can not rest nor completely die while someone believes he lives, and his son relies so heavily on his father's presence that he can not accept his death.

Compounding the immediate issue of grieving is the bureaucratic handling of insurance claims by an Investigator [Daniel Brown], who, though not completely lacking in compassion when he hears of Junior's absolute conviction of his father being alive, delays the insurance process till Roy's death can be verified.

Elwell's script is a work in progress that evokes the time and various understandable human responses & reactions to the catastrophic events of 9/11. Lacking some concrete details of the lives and relationships among its characters, we are given a touching picture that could draw us in more with fleshing out these elements and extending scenes to develop them.

The AUM ensemble actors are credible in their portrayals under Ms. Winkelman's tutelage, and there are some especially effective moments when hardly a word is spoken or needed.

Newcomer Nik Smith is particularly convincing as Junior, capturing many of a budding-teenager's vocal & physical behaviors. Ms. Worley's depiction of the distressed wife & mother shifts gears from concern to grief believably, though she often speaks very quickly and softly, rendering her words almost inaudible. Mr. Krek's psychiatrist mixes the script's gentle humor with a professional demeanor meant to soothe or at least not disturb his patients. And Mr. Seibel lends a comfort to his role that is an admirable lesson for the student actors.

Fitting so well into this week's commemorations, AUM's Unseen might also have a life of its own afterwards.