Sunday, May 5, 2019

ASF Fellows: "Winnie-the-Pooh"

On their penultimate day on Saturday, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival Fellows Company presented a delightful production of the A. A. Milne classic Winnie-the-Pooh in a musical adaptation (first seen at ASF about a decade ago) by Le Clanche du Rand, with music by Allan J. Friedman and lyrics by Milne, Kristin Sergel, and Ms. du Rand.

Milne's original 1926 stories are telegraphed into a 60-minute entertainment that is a treat for both the intended children's audiences and the adults who accompany them. -- With its coloring-book set by Charles Eddie Moncrief III and inventive costumes by Jeffrey Todhunter, it pleases the eye as it tells the tale of Christopher Robin [Dane McMichael] and his treasured companion Pooh [Tyshon Boone] as they engage in a number of adventures and misadventures with Rabbit [Katrina Clark], Eeyore [Chris Marth], Piglet [Sigrid Wise], Owl [Tony Pellegrino], Kanga [Eduardo Ruiz] and Roo [Toree Alexandre]. Take your pick on a favorite character; there's enough in each one to beguile anyone.

AUM faculty member Neil David Seibel directs this ensemble with keen attention to character, movement, inventive staging, and the thematic lessons that people of all ages can agree on. -- The action moves swiftly from moment to moment interspersed with songs mostly from the original text; accompanied by Mr. McMichael on the guitar, and occasionally half-spoken/half-sung, the simple tunes are in keeping with Milne's simple messages.

Never out of fashion, Milne's overriding theme of getting along with one another couldn't be more important than today. We watch in childlike wonder how the characters learn to accept strangers who are different from themselves, how to rely on friends in times of need, how to admit when we are wrong or fearful and to apologize (and to move forward when apologies are accepted), and how the least among us ought to be respected.

Though some of the intimate connection between actor and audience was challenged by the play's being staged in the large Festival theatre, this Winnie-the-Pooh preserved the author's intentions and charmed the enthusiastically responsive audience.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

WOBT: "Pride and Prejudice"

The Way Off Broadway Theatre in Prattville is playing to enthusiastic full houses with their pleasant  production of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Adapted by Jane Kendall from Austen's 1813 romantic novel, this version is true to its major plot elements, and director Pamela Trammell keeps her acting company focused on storytelling and character relationships for the two hours running time.

As one of the world's literary masterpieces, and with many stage and film adaptations to secure its popularity, Pride and Prejudice is familiar territory. We are taken to early Nineteenth Century England, where melodramatic Mrs. Bennet [Catherine Barlow] is most concerned with finding good husbands for her five daughters, especially since Mr. Bennet's [Will Skelton] inheritance can't be passed on to them; his cousin Mr. Collins [Michael Mims] would take over the estate on Bennet's death.

With the arrival of wealthy and charming Charles Bingley [David Shelnutt] and his sister Caroline [Emma Crockett] to the neighborhood, Mrs. Bennet schemes to make a match with eldest daughter Jane [Sarah Staton]. Accompanying Bingley is the moody and aloof Mr. Darcy [Josh Williams], who immediately seems to insult the Bennets, much to the ire of second daughter, feisty Elizabeth [Lauren Norris]. -- And the younger daughters: bookish Mary [Kenna Shields] remains aloof, and giddy Catherine [Rebecca Schannep] and Lydia [Cadence Potter] are more concerned with parties and soldiers in uniform, particularly the dashing Mr. Wickham [Josiah Lamb] who isn't what he seems.

When Elizabeth refuses Mr. Collins's marriage proposal, he turns to Charlotte Lucas [Ameila Robbins] whose mother Lady Lucas [Diane Garfield] is a social climbing gossip.

Many misunderstandings and confusions about people's intentions ensue, and messages are delivered by household servant Hill [Abigail Bonebrake]; but the result is well known, and as "opposites attract", it is clear that Elizabeth and Darcy will be together by the end, despite the interference of Lady Catherine de Bourgh [Pamela Barnes],  as will Bingley and Jane.

The ensemble handle their roles with conviction and admirable English accents; lovely period costumes by Dani Porter and her team enhance their behaviors and provide an appropriate look to the surroundings. And though some blocking upstaged important action and the pace needed some variety, and it sugar-coated the relationship between Lydia and Mr. Wickham, this production of Pride and Prejudice is an endearing romantic foray into the Nineteenth Century. Well done.