Friday, September 21, 2007

So, not only did I lose Internet connection at home, but I also became ill, leaving me completely cut off from the world for most of the week.

There's so much I'd like to catch up on, but I should first throw out the warning that with all the medicine I'm on right now, my brain is somewhat foggy. Earlier this week I was rather embarrassed that I didn't recognize someone that I just saw in The Full Monty, especially since I was particularly impressed with her performance.

The Full Monty

This is a show I recommend seeing--if there are still tickets to be had.

In fact, I really wish I weren't feeling so poorly and could write a genuine review of this show. Right now, I can hear the mocking echoes of my high school English teacher who would disparage any paper turned in that consisted of nothing more than "I liked it. It was good. I will tell my friends about it."

Instead, I'll just toss out a few general observations and make my apologies that I'm not bringing them together into a more coherent treatment:

  • All of the male voices were very strong. It was a pleasure to listen to them.
  • Ethan Link and Tony Sump were fantastic as Jerry and Dave. Given how animated Sump usually is on stage, it was fascinating to watch him play a droopy, depressed character who couldn't shake the weight off his shoulders for most of the story.
  • The interactions between Jeff and Jennifer English were also delightful. Jennifer played the wonderfully exuberant wife who is blissfully unaware of her devoted husband's distress.
  • Kari Surbrook was marvelous portraying the woman who was both the animated organizer of the Chippendale strip show and the wife who desperately wanted her husband's attention back.
  • I became teary-eyed in the reprise of "You Rule My World" when the wives finally show their husbands exactly what they're made of.
  • A pet peeve of mine: Yes, the music was very good, but given that it was synthesized, it might have been nice if they'd turned the volume down a notch or two so that the actors didn't have to strain so much to be heard. Or, at the very least, if the actor mikes could have been turned up during the musical numbers. There were moments when it was just too difficult for them to push above the music.
  • Overall, the musical was a fun way to spend an evening. It took the audience on a full range of emotions from tears to laughter to stomps of approval.
As Bees in Honey Drown

I had originally planned to go see this show on Tuesday, but I was too sick to make it (and I don't think they would have wanted an audience member with a hacking cough sitting through the performance). So I'll be going tonight instead.

Jane Falion went and recommends it. I'd offer to write about it tonight, but I still don't have Internet connection, so it could be awhile.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Posting delay

I'd meant to blog about Full Monty and other theater stuff over the weekend. However, we were supposed to have implemented an "upgrade" in our high-speed Internet connection (AT&T offered faster speed for less money--who would pass up that deal?). Instead, we lost connection. So I have no connection from home right now and it's busy at work, so I can't really do more than post this.

More as soon as we fix the problem.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Weekend shows

Want to see theater this weekend? Try one of these:

  • Scenes from an American Life, Ledges Playhouse, Thursday through Sunday
  • Plaza Suite, Lansing Civic Players, Friday through Sunday
  • The Full Monty, Riverwalk Theatre, Thursday through Sunday (and next weekend)
  • Mrs. Warren's Profession, BoarsHead, Wednesday through Sunday (through Sept. 30)
  • Streetcar Named Desire, Owosso Community Players, Friday and Saturday
Oops! I'd planned to go see Streetcar on Sunday, but I now see that they don't have a second Sunday show, only a first weekend Sunday show.

Tonight I'm going to go see The Full Monty.

On another note, thoughts have been brewing in my head about an entry on why a critic needs to be honest and the value in saying critical things. So I appreciate the link that was sent to me this morning to an article written by a Baltimore theater critic. He really does capture many elements of being a critic in a town where people know each other--because the theater community is pretty tight wherever you go.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Talking about my colleagues

My original goal for tonight was to write a little about Plaza Suite that I saw the Lansing Civic Players perform last Sunday. I'll do that, but not quite in the way I had planned. Instead, I want to talk about what some of my colleagues are saying about last weekend's shows.

Mary Cusak at the City Pulse reviewed Plaza Suite. It's the first time that I've read one of her reviews and I'm quite impressed. Regardless of whether I agree with her or not (and I do on many, though not all, points), I like the way she writes. It's an excellently constructed review that is both interesting and fair. She supports each point with details and puts the show in a context that is relevant to people outside the theater community.

I look forward to reading more reviews by her--I hope she writes often.

Jim Fordyce also does an excellent job of getting out to see most of the shows in town and on providing some commentary on them. This is no small task. I found myself respectfully disagreeing with his comments this week on Scenes from an American Life, specifically with his criticism of the script. He wrote: "While the scenes are loosely tied together, this play is a little disjointed and while some scenes are compelling and/or funny. Others are confusing and pointless. "

While I would agree that the show is purposefully disjointed and that it is a matter of personal opinion what is compelling or confusing, I disagree that any of the scenes are pointless. One of the things that I found particularly compelling about the show as a whole was the way each and every scene underlined the overall theme. It wasn't always apparent immediately how they fit into the theme, but by the end of the play you could step back and see that each individual puzzle piece did indeed form a full picture, one whose effectiveness relied on the audience not getting the pictures in order.

I'd be curious how others feel about this who are familiar with the work.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Scenes from an American Life

While most local theaters are starting their season in early September, the Ledges Playhouse is ending its season. They're doing A. R. Gurney's Scenes from American Life.

I've always been fascinated by Gurney's work--I like non-linear shows and Gurney has a wonderful way with satire. Nor does it hurt that I agree with most of his politics. Scenes is one of those non-linear, political plays. Granted, the politics are sometimes subtle, though if you miss the metaphor at the end, then you might be snoozing.

In fact, Gurney suspects that most of us are snoozing; it's a major theme in his play. He does, though, manage to avoid preaching with the same blunt instrument that he does in O Jerusalem. Of course, this is an earlier work. He might have had more faith in subtlety in the days when he wrote it.

One of the things that is interesting about this particular play is how quickly the scenes change. They change far faster than they did even in The Dining Room. It quickly becomes obvious that Gurney doesn't want you to connect with the characters as individual characters. He never gives you that much time. Rather, he's created a series of archetypes, each of which speaks to a certain message. They aren't real people; they're real ideas.

Perhaps I'm making the play sound heavier than it is. There are plenty of humorous moments in the show; I'd just be disinclined to call it a comedy. Yes, you're meant to laugh, but Gurney wants you to think as well.

In fact, if I had a criticism of the show, it would be that there were some moments where some of the actors chose funny instead of fear or horror.

However, those really were just moments and perhaps I shouldn't mention the one criticism before the greater amount of praise that I have for the show. In a production where actors had to switch characters more often than a campaigning politician changes positions, there was a lot of highly skillful acting taking place on the stage. It was especially interesting to watch actors play ages far removed from themselves and to change their ages by decades in a matter of seconds.

At this point I should make a disclaimer--my husband was in this show, so I'm not an impartial observer. And yes, if you ask, I do think he did a wonderful job. It was also enjoyable to watch him perform with actors he'd worked with in the past: Laura Croff (Macbeth at Michigan Shakespeare Festival, Truculentus at Icarus Falling), Marni Darr Holmes (Dearly Departed at Lansing Civic Players), and Kevin Knights (Twelve Angry Men at Bath Community Theatre Guild and others at BCTG that aren't coming to mind right now).

All of the faces on stage were familiar ones--in addition to those above there were also Ben Holzhausen (and I've done it again--I'm writing a blog entry without the program near by to check spelling), Tanya Canady Burnham, Jane and Mark Zussman, and Kevin Burnham.

I'm planning to catch this show again this coming weekend (though, gone are the days when I can catch every performance Richard has. I make it to each show, but there are too many other competing shows to be able to see every single performance of his shows). It's a thought-provoking show that is worth seeing more than once.

That said, it was a little disappointing to see so few people turn out. I didn't count, but it seemed like there were only 30 to 40 people in the audience. I hope there will be more this weekend because it really is an interesting and intriguing show. Last Saturday night's show was an appreciative audience--and very much a theater crowd. Many of the people in the audience have been on stage themselves at one time or another.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mrs. Warren's Profession

I always feel like I should start these entries with a disclaimer--I'm not reviewing, I'm rambling. Mind, I don't say "just" rambling, because I think rambling is one more facet of the conversation and has value in its own place. However, the rambling doesn't have the structure of a review or the in-depth insight of a critique.

That said, shall I start rambling about BoarsHead's production of Mrs. Warren's Profession by George Bernard Shaw?

I went Friday night, their official opening. It was easily the best house of the shows I attended this weekend, with all of the middle sections well-sold. Many of the people you see in the Boarshead audience aren't people that you see anywhere else--they are very loyal, long-time patrons of this theater.

This production marks the third Shaw that has been done in recent months locally. Sunsets with Shakespeare did St. Joan and Lansing Community College did Back to Methuselah. All three productions are very different in tone and approach despite being the same playwright. Of course, that was part of Shaw's strength--his versatility.

I suppose it is also worth noting that the play contains two celebrities--names that would be known outside of Lansing. Playing the two lead roles are Paula Prentiss and Prentiss Benjamin. I'm not one who can talk much about movies or those who star in them. I didn't go see movies while growing up and as an adult I've been too busy seeing live theater to catch many movies. Nor do we have a television on which I could catch things on video. When I do go see movies, they tend to be on the geeky side. In fact, you could rightfully say I have pretty low taste in movies. :)

So I don't know much about Paula Prentiss can't tell you whether her stage acting compares favorably with the other work she's done. I can say that I enjoyed the dynamic of mother and daughter on stage. There also seemed to be more than a few winks over the scandal of the mother's profession.

Now, my ignorance must assuredly did not spread to the rest of the audience. When Paula Prentiss first made her entrance as Mrs. Warren, she did so to applause. Director James Glossman must have anticipated this because her first entry was an extremely long cross.

Generally speaking, there were a lot of long crosses in this show. It made the set seem huge as people had to tramp back and forth.

BoarsHead can be pleased with its opener--it's a solidly performed show that has been received warmly by its audiences. There is a great deal of charm and warmth between the mother-daughter team and the rest of the cast provides numerous comedic moments. The play was at its best when it was being comic. The dramatic moments were challenging because of their portrayal of mores that are mostly foreign to us now.

When you go, leave yourself a little extra time. Construction downtown makes the theater extremely difficult to get to. It's doable--but you need to give yourself time to make those extra turns to circle through the neighborhood. Consider it a pre-show adventure.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Promoting theater

Anyone who does anything to help promote local theater (especially those who write press releases), might want to check out Don Calamia's blog entry here.

2006-2007 Theater Season is open

There's no doubt about it. With Labor Day behind us, the theater season is officially open.

Four shows opened in the area this weekend:

  • Scenes from American Life at the Ledges Playhouse in Grand Ledge's Fitzgerald Park
  • Mrs. Warren's Profession at BoarsHead in downtown Lansing
  • Plaza Suite at Lansing Civic Players in the Hannah Community Center
  • Streetcar Named Desire at Owosso Community Players in...ooh. In one of the middle schools. I'll try to update with the exact location--especially since I want to get out there next weekend.
I saw the first three shows on the list this weekend--BoarsHead on Friday, Ledges on Saturday, and Plaza on Sunday. One of the things that was enjoyable about all three was seeing some of the same people each night. Theater really can be a wonderful social occasion in a world where we have fewer and fewer opportunities to connect with people on a social level. It's one reason I hope theater never fully does away with intermission. Intermission is a great time to talk to people and to form deeper connections with a community.

I'll plan to blog about each of these shows this week. Perhaps that will keep me motivated to make daily entries this week.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Lansing Symphony Orchestra Day

The Lansing mayor declared today to be "Lansing Symphony Orchestra" Day. There was a dedication at City Hall in the morning and ensembles performed throughout the city during the lunch hour.

The LSO is another one of those organizations that really seems to be thriving. They have patrons who are genuinely excited about their performances. In fact, they're more than just patrons, they're advocates.

I've been working on a guest service chapter for a freelance book that has to be done by the end of the year. Two of the resource books for that have been Shaun Smith and Joe Wheeler's Managing the Customer Experience: Turning Customers into Advocates and Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore's The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage. Reading both those books, I found myself frequently thinking about the local arts scene and why different organizations manage to thrive regardless of how they advertise.

The LSO is one of those organizations who have figured out how to create a memorable experience for their patrons and how to turn those patrons into advocates who will defend them and be passionate about their importance. They're also good about getting their message out.

There is a concert this Saturday night. It sounds like it is going to be a beautiful, moving concert with an incredible guest cellist.

Personally, I'm going to make it a priority this year to make it out to hear them.