Tuesday, November 23, 2010

ASF: "Peter Pan"

Just in time for the holiday season, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival is bringing back a lively musical production of Peter Pan, the beloved story by James M. Barrie in the Jerome Robbins adaptation with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden & Adolph Green, and music by Mark Charlap & Jules Styne.

Played on John Iacovelli's evocative fairytale set with its bright colors and exaggerated comic-book inspired shapes & sizes, and aided by Patrick Holt's delightful costumes that distinguish between the real world and Neverland, the script and its familiar musical numbers ["I Won't Grow Up", "I Gotta Crow", "Tender Shepherd", and "I'm Flying" among them] moves along at a steady pace that sustains interest & engagement of the audience.

The 1904 story of the boy who lives in Neverland where he never has to grow up and take on adult responsibilities, and who spends his time in adventures with the Lost Boys fighting Pirates and Indians, appeals to children of all ages -- young ones who can actually play all day and older ones who would like to relive their carefree youth.

Peter Pan, played here with impish charm by Sarah Litzinger, visits the nursery of the Darling family where he has been enthralled by various bedtime stories he overhears Mrs. Darling [Lynna Schmidt] tell her children. The kids are soon in bed with Mr. Darling's [Rodney Clark] admonition to have "a little less noise". Peter soon arrives searching for his shadow that got left behind, and meets Wendy [Emily Kinney] and her younger brothers John & Michael [played alternately by Greyson Hammock/Tyler Lewin & Joseph Sims/Crispin South], who are so infatuated with his life that he teaches them to fly and they go with him to Neverland where Wendy will be "mother" to the boys and tell them stories. They are accompanied by the fairy Tinker Bell, who is jealous of the attention Peter gives to Wendy.

Once in Neverland, adventures come fast & furious. The Indians, led by Tiger Lily [Eleni Kanalos] and the Lost Boys await Peter's return and are interrupted by the arrival of the dastardly pirates. Rodney Clark, now transformed from Mr. Darling into the effete Captain Hook, is Peter's arch-enemy, his devious plans against Peter accompanied each time in the play by music -- a march, a tatantella, and a waltz -- that inspire him in assorted and increasingly comic ways as he poses and prances his way through them.

Wendy takes her new role as "mother" very seriously, and conscripts Peter into the role of "father" -- one which he reluctantly plays with the proviso that is is only in play, and not for real. After all, he "won't grow up".

When the pirates capture the Lost Boys and the Darling children, it is up to Peter to come to their rescue, abetted by Tinker Bell and the Indians...and though the pretense has been fun, John & Michael & Wendy all want to return to their home, to their loving parents, to the real world -- to grow up. Pretending has been enjoyable, but it is time to leave Neverland.

Peter promises to come back once a year to bring Wendy back for Spring cleaning, but "time" in Neverland passes ever so swiftly that when he does return, Wendy is grown up and has a child of her own who takes her place with the eternal child: Peter Pan.

For audiences, the journey too is fun. For a while, we revel in the pretense and adventure of childhood, vicariously duel with pirates, and transport ourselves to Neverland with the assistance of Tom Griffin's adept musical direction and Karen Azenberg's energetic choreography.

Director Geoffrey Sherman has put together a production that, while a bit tentative and rough around its technical demands at the opening performance, should settle into a solid show for the holidays.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

AUM: "A Delicate Balance"

Theatre AUM's challenging season continues with a student directed and designed production of Edward Albee's 1967 Pulitzer Prize winning "A Delicate Balance", once again bringing to the local stage a play that no other theatres in the area are willing to mount, and the large opening night audience welcomed it enthusiastically, leaving the theatre eagerly talking about its often puzzling themes and situations.

With an ensemble of faculty, staff, and student actors, director Sarah Worley deftly guides them through their paces, recognizing both the serious and comical elements Albee is noted for -- absurd situations and contradictory facets within individual characters, unexplained conflicts, and recognizable human emotions and behavior.

Welcome to a dysfunctional family: Agnes [Katie Pearson] and Tobias [Mike Winkelman] are a well-to-do couple who have become so accustomed to each other's foibles that they tolerate oddities at any time. Agnes fears she is going mad, and Tobias pays scant attention. Agnes's sister Claire [Laura Bramblette's superb comic timing and in-your-face interpretation of the role is a standout] an alcoholic harridan, upsets the equilibrium of the household, as does the return of their grown up and spoiled daughter Julia [Tina Neese], on the brink of her fourth divorce.

That not being enough for Albee, Tobias and Agnes's "best friends" Harry [David P. Wilson] and Edna [Janice Wood] show up on the doorstep seeking refuge; they are afraid of something unnamed, and depend on their friends for help. -- These interlopers set family issues on fire as they move in, apparently to stay, and begin to exercise their new "rights" by ordering people around and assuming theey have a new home.

Of course, avioding the real issues is a talent most of these characters have developed over time. What is not said is just as important as direct statements, and the presence of "outsiders" prompts the more direct discourse, with Agnes as the "fulcrum" that holds the family together, maintaining a delicate balance between reality and appearance, truth and fantasy, honesty and hypocrisy, inaction and determined action. -- Mix with this a lot of drinking, and defenses are down, making for both an entertaining and provocative production.

Ms. Pearson & Mr. Winkelman are a good match for one another; her determination is balanced by his tacit acceptance. Mr. Wilson's wimpish excuses are balanced by Ms. Wood's deadly persistence. Ms. Neese's screeching tirades and pouting are balanced by Ms. Bramblette's no nonsense unapologetic directness.

Maddie Bogacz and Sarah Fish have provided costumes that suit each character well; Mickey Lonsdale's lighting provides ample illumination but little variety; Frank Thomas's sound elements are integrated into the production to punctuate the action; and Jason Huffman's scenic design of an upper-class home has appropriate architectural elements but few decorative touches that would establish ownership by a person or family, and looks unfinished.

This is a challenging script that is managed pretty well by the student team who show promise of future endeavors. Theatre AUM has placed a lot of trust in these individuals; the payoff is a solid production.