Jun 112010
 

As has become the tradition here on my little ol’ blog, I am posting up links to all three major reviews that have come in for Dead Man’s Cell Phone. For the most part, they are overwhelmingly positive. There are some quibbles about the script itself, but even with those caveats all three critics had tons of lovely things to say about our little production.

A fine production of Dead Man’s Cell Phone, an imaginative if flawed play by the ubiquitous Sarah Ruhl” – Mark E. Leib, Creative Loafing, June 9th, 2010

“‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’ starts out strong, then fades out” – Marty Clear, The St. Petersburg Times, June 10th, 2010

“‘Cell Phone’ message is loud and clear” – Kathy L. Greenberg, The Tampa Tribune, June 10th, 2010

I’ve said it before, but I’ll emphasize here again. I don’t do what I do just to get a nice review, but I sure as hell don’t mind it when that happens. All three of these reviews are awesome, and two of them are especially complimentary to me personally. Mark says that it might be my best performance, and Marty refers to me as “always excellent.” I’ve heard similar comments from some of my peers who have seen the show.

Is this my best work? I honestly don’t know. I can tell you that it’s some of my most honest. I can tell you that the things that have been praised about the show are things that the cast and crew consciously worked on and that they were not “happy accidents.” I can tell you that the audiences that have seen the show so far have seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves and that we’ve been getting lots of positive feedback on Facebook and Twitter.

Another show that I got high praise on, personally, was Playing with Fire : After Frankenstein. Unfortunately, in the realm of ticket sales, not a lot of people came to see that show (despite great feedback and positive reviews). I hope that doesn’t turn out to be the case again.

Please, if you can possibly spare the time, give us an opportunity to entertain you for an evening. I promise you that you won’t regret it. If money is an issue please contact me directly. We have several means to get discounted tickets available and can possibly work something out to help you get into a seat.

If this sounds a little early for me to be all desperate and pleading…It’s only because I’m proud of the work and I want to share it with you. I have had people tell me that they “wished they could have” seen one of the shows so many times it makes my head spin. Don’t be that person!

Nov 212008
 

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to preface this particular entry by reminding my readership that I am ensemble member of the Jobsite Theater.  All this really means, in the grand scheme of things, is that I have worked with Jobsite in the past and they do not need to see a monologue from me at the beginning of their casting season.  They know what I’m capable of, and if they think I might fit a role they call me for that specific show.  I am not involved in the business end of Jobsite at all.  I am not on the Board of Directors.  I have no financial stake in Jobsite beyond the shows that I do with them, and my interest in their health and future only impacts me directly in that if they were to fold I’d actually have to actively seek roles with other companies if I wanted to keep acting.

I mention this only because what I’m about to write is going to be fairly critical of another local company, American Stage, and I do not want you all to think that my words are in any way motivated by a desire to see them fail.  The truth of the matter is that any company that does well here is good for the community at whole, and that’s kind of why I felt the urge to make this post.

Continue reading »

Apr 092008
 

Dead brilliant : Jobsite gives Tom Stoppard’s play a near-perfect staging – Mark E. Lieb, Creative Loafing, April 9th, 2008

 

If ever a playwright was well served by a theater company, that playwright was Tom Stoppard and that company was Jobsite Theater. The current Jobsite production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is the best version of the play I’ve ever seen.

All of Stoppard’s themes — the confusion of life, the terror of death and, most of all, the sense of being swept up in a story out of one’s control — are there in the Jobsite production, and every problem the play has is brilliantly solved by director Katrina Stevenson and her four main actors: David M. Jenkins, Shawn Paonessa, Paul J. Potenza and Matt Lunsford.

I used to have doubts about R&G — itstoo-obvious borrowings from Waiting for Godot, its moments of stasis and then of redundancy. But after seeing the Jobsite version, those doubts are history: This play works. It may owe a lot to Beckett, but it has virtues all its own and existential concerns that Vladimir and Estragon barely touch on. In the Jobsite production, all its glories are in evidence.

In case you’re not much of a Shakespeare maven: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are two minor characters in Hamlet. In that play, they’re called to Elsinore by Hamlet’s uncle King Claudius to try to find out what’s troubling the young prince. Hamlet quickly determines that their visit is a set-up and generally refuses to make their mission a pleasant or successful one.

Finally, Claudius (of Denmark) sends Hamlet to England, and has R&G travel with him, bearing his death sentence in a sealed letter. Hamlet switches the note with one saying that R&G should be executed instead, and that’s the last we hear of the luckless pair until a messenger announces that they are, indeed, finished. By that time, there are so many corpses on Shakespeare’s stage, the information hardly registers.

What Stoppard does, in keeping with the modern shift of focus from royals to “common” folk, is give us this same story, but as lived by R&G. From their point of view, the tale is impossible to get a handle on. Like the protagonists in Godot, they hardly know who they are or exactly what their purpose is. But R&G also have issues that don’t turn up in Beckett: an obsession with death, with the idea of destiny and with the feeling that the story they’re enacting is just a sideshow to someone else’s Main Event.

Helping them worry about death are the Tragedians. For R&G, these actors, led by the eloquent Player, offer proof that real, unperformed death is unthinkable. As Guildenstern says, in anguish, to the Player: “I’m talking about death — and you’ve never experienced that. And you cannot act it. You die a thousand casual deaths. … and no blood runs cold anywhere. … But no one gets up after death — there is no applause — there is only silence and some second-hand clothes.”

R&G are similarly concerned about the possibility of destiny — that their lives are rushing to a terminus that is beyond their ability to avoid. So at the start of the play, the two flip a coin — and 92 times in a row it comes up heads. The implications are terrifying: Have R&G left a part of life where there was freedom and randomness and entered an area where all is pre-ordained? And then what about their momentary glimpses of Hamlet, and their fragmentary encounters with the other members of the court? Is it possible that our lives are marginalia on someone else’s text? What if the story in which we live and die bears some other character’s name?

Encouraging us to ask these questions is an exceedingly strong cast, led by Jenkins and Paonessa as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. In modern black suits and bowler hats, Jenkins and Paonessa come off as longtime friends so close and familiar that they’ve nearly become a single organism. Jenkins is the sillier one, more likely to register the absurdity of things with a clownish look or a rueful laugh. But Paonessa is the also-necessary other side of the coin, the one who feels pain more deeply and is more troubled by his inability to know the meaning of his suffering. Challenging both men is Potenza as the head Player, who can order his Tragedians to do death or sex or whatever people will pay for. I’ve admired Potenza’s work before, but his performance as the Player is so definitive, I can no longer imagine anyone else in the role. Potenza’s Player is mean, depraved, needy, flamboyant, tough and earthy. He’s Stoppard’s constant reminder that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is just a play, that even the most successful theatrical experience can’t prepare us for our lives and deaths. As Hamlet, Matt Lunsford is just what he should be: a leading man, more glamorous than anyone else on stage. His brief mad scenes remind us that most actors who play the role could benefit from the courage to appear ridiculous.

As the Tragedians, Michael C. McGreevy (also Claudius) and Jason Evans (also Polonius) are fine; only Kari Goetz seems miscast as the hapless Alfred and Queen Gertrude: She’s the wrong sex for the one (players in Shakespeare’s time were all male) and too young for the other.

But Brian Smallheer’s excellent set, representing the outside of a castle, makes the Shimberg Playhouse seem twice its size, and Spencer Meyers’ costumes are wonderfully eclectic.

And finally a word about Katrina Stevenson’s accomplishment as director. She was superb as an actor in Hurlyburly; I’ve regularly praised her work as a costume designer, and now she’s successfully staged one of the most complicated plays in the contemporary repertoire. Her intelligence is everywhere in this profoundly satisfying production.

 

Mar 242008
 

I have a giant pimple on my face that has, to date, refused to develop a head.  It is painful and I really wish it would go away.

This is probably the most exciting thing I’m going to post about as far as my personal life is concerned in the post that follows.  I apologize for the mundane nature of my existence but I can’t always have a life that one would want to live vicariously through.

I guess the most exciting thing I could post about this morning is the fact that my nephew, Fred (currently in the Army and on tour in Iraq) is going to be a father today.  His wife, Jennifer, went into labor late last night or early this morning and we should be welcoming his daughter Victoria into the world any time now.  It’s got to be rough for him, knowing that he’s missing out on all of that, but knowing Fred I’m sure he’ll do his best to make up for lost time when he’s done with his duties overseas. 

For my part, it was a pretty busy weekend. 

and I went out on Friday night to see “ranney” at Studio@620 in downtown St. Petersburg.  He’s working on a new one man show and was trying out material in front of an audience.  It was great to see him on a personal level, and it’s always a treat to watch him perform.  It was also nice to finally get a chance to go to Studio@620.  I’ve heard a lot of good things about the space, and I was pretty impressed by what I saw.  There are some really nice folks running it, and it is a joy to see art happening on this side of the bay.  Tampa gets a lot of the artistic attention in this area, and it’s really cool to see that there’s a place doing some stuff outside of the mainstream that doesn’t require those of us who live over here to drive 45 minutes or more (thanks to all the wonderful traffic recently) to take part in it.

Saturday started off very early.  Alex and I went to Weight Watchers first thing and then rushed over to the park for a baseball game.  Fortunately the weather didn’t turn sour until around 11:00 so he actually got a chance to play.   They lost, but it was a really good game and they came back from a 6 run deficit to take the lead at one point before the other team rallied and ended the game five runs ahead.  After that I came home and got in a 15 minute workout in before heading over to Tampa for a Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead rehearsal.  It was our first time on the set, which is HUGE.  Easily the largest set I’ve worked on in all of my performances with Jobsite.  What’s really funny is that we’ve been rehearsing with a much smaller playing area in mind so bits that we thought might be hard to pull off are actually working quite well.  All in all, I’m really excited about seeing this one go live (which is happening in just over a week!). 

After I left rehearsal I stopped by the grocery store, spent the bi-weekly small fortune on food, and came back home.  I thought about logging into World of Warcraft but the living room was free for a change so I took the opportunity to jump on the XBox 360 and play some Bioshock.  6 hours later I finished the game.  What a truly amazing game.  I understand that the endings were a bit of an afterthought and the the designer didn’t necessarily want to have 3 different static endings, but I thought that my particular ending was pretty satisfactory (I got the “good” ending due to not killing any of the Little Sisters).  I’m tempted to play through the game again and try to catch the other two endings, but I’ll probably end up just checking them out on YouTube.  I liked the game well enough, but I’m not sure if I really want to spend that much time playing it again for a few more achievements and some different cut scenes. 

I actually got to sleep in on Sunday, which was nice, but I didn’t get a workout in because I made the mistake of logging into World of Warcraft.  Two of my guildies got me a present that required me to do a little bit of material gathering to create, and as I’m a sucker for instant gratification I had to do so right then and there.  After doing that I got a quick shower in and we popped over to my sisters house for Easter (which, for my fairly non-religious family, is essentially an excuse to get together and eat a bunch of food).  Several thousand calories later we left (avoiding the requests to take home plates of evil foodstuffs) and came home long enough to change and head up to Clearwater to see Spamalot with our boys,

, [info]kungfugimp,

,

,

 and “The John”,

, Drew,

, and

.  Was great to see that particular gang and get out of the house with the whole family for a change (let’s face it – we spend a lot of time together in the house without actually spending time with each other).  The
show was ok, but not nearly as good as the last time we saw it.  Most of the cast on the national tour has changed since that production (in fact, the only holdovers were Patrick Heusinger as Lancelot and Christopher Sutton as Prince Herbert, both of whom where excellent in their multiple roles and easily the two best performers in the cast.  I was particularly disappointed in Esther Stilwell, who took over as the Lady of the Lake from Pia Glenn.  Her voice was fine and she did an admirable job, but she didn’t have the presence that Ms. Glenn had and as a character that is supposed to be a Diva presence is kind of important.  Case in point – during the second act the character as a number called “The Diva’s Lament.”  When Pia Glenn came on stage at the beginning of that number the audience erupted into applause which works wonderfully with the number.  When Ms. Stilwell came on last night she was greeted by expectant silence.  Overall, the original tour was considerably better and I’m glad I got to see it first.

That’s pretty much it for our wild and wacky weekend.  As of tonight I’m back into rehearsals and pretty much non-stop until we open next Wednesday.  If you’re at all interested in getting tickets to the show I suggest you do so quickly because they are selling fast and as of yet we have not decided if we’re extending to a fourth weekend or not.

Oct 242007
 

A Bit Too Gorey : A little goes a long way in these macabre, if well-performed, tales. Mark Leib (Creative Loafing.  October 24th, 2007)

 

The best moment of Gorey Stories is its very first, when the lights come up on one of the most visually stunning group of creeps ever to wander onto a Tampa Bay area stage. Nine ghoulish humans, all dressed in elaborate, black-and-white 19th-century outfits out of Kipling by way of Poe, stare out at us from their whited faces with the bemused expressions of aliens suddenly beamed down onto an unknown planet.

On Brian Smallheer’s spooky gray set, these ghostly creatures, brilliantly costumed by Katrina Stevenson, are more than characters about to inhabit a play: They’re a work of art themselves, a mesmerizing, tantalizing visual experience, the likes of which Bay area theater, with its incessant realism, has seldom — perhaps never before — offered.

So even before the first word is spoken, we’re prepared for something special. Jobsite Theater has over the last few years become one of the most exciting, innovative companies anywhere in Florida. Is Gorey Stories going to take its artists — and us — to yet another height?

Then the play begins — and for 20 minutes or so we’re delighted. The macabre Edward Gorey tales that it illustrates — about murder, kidnapping, enslavement and other agonies — are funny in their hyper-gloomy way, so fraught with distress, pain and woe that we have to laugh as people do in really good haunted houses. Healthy minds don’t dwell on morbid subjects, right? But here’s Gorey and his pack of sufferers to tell us that the world is a torture chamber with a cemetery out back, that most lives end badly, that little Charlotte Sofia was just run over by her father, who didn’t recognize her and drove away. Macabre, yes, but fun — for about 20 minutes.

And then it starts to repeat itself.

No, it’s not that we see the same tale over and over; the problem is the subtext, the implied message about human reality. Gorey’s stories, as they first appeared decades ago in the New Yorker and elsewhere, were always uncomfortably enjoyable for a good three or four minutes, and then you could move on to that serious profile of Willy Brandt. But now we’re asked to sit in the Shimberg Playhouse for almost two hours, to watch 18 or so anecdotes, one after the other, with virtually no character development, just one improbably dreadful plot after the next.

And what was at first fresh and entertaining becomes more than a little tedious. “The Wuggly Ump” was fun at the start: “How uninviting areits claws!/ And even more so are its jaws.” But by the time of “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” — “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs/ B is for Basil assaulted by bears” — we’ve gotten the joke, more times than we can remember. Even the fine acting of the nine-member crew, and the splendid direction by David M. Jenkins, can’t rescue us from the feeling that we’re running in place.

Some of the sketches are more memorable than others, of course. For example: “The Hapless Child,” in which Summer Bohnenkamp-Jenkins plays Charlotte Sophia, whose parents die young, and who is placed in a school “where she was punished for things she hadn’t done.” She escapes this unjust institution only to be sold to “a drunken brute” who feeds her scraps and tap water. Charlotte nearly goes blind and, after her captor dies, runs into the street and is killed by a car. Sound dismal? Yes and no: All these tales are narrated tongue-in-cheek, with silly, exaggerated poses by both the victims and the perps. And in fact, Bohnenkamp-Jenkins is hilarious as Charlotte Sophia, wearing an eloquent frown from misfortune to misfortune and making it plain all the while that she’s not in any real distress. What’s true of “The Hapless Child” is true also of all the other sketches — it’s cleverly stylized and, in itself, a success. The problem, once again, isn’t quality but quantity.

And then there’s the most uncharacteristic of the stories, “The Curious Sofa.” This is Gorey’s take on old-fashioned pornography, and it’s ridiculously suggestive without ever becoming explicit. The heroine this time is Alice, who’s led by a series of strangers to engage in sexual acts repeatedly represented by euphemisms (and shown in silhouette behind a screen). So in a taxi cab “they did something Alice had never done before” and then Lady Celia “requested the girl to perform a rather surprising service.” Alice is helped to bed by a French maid “whom she found delightfully sympathetic” and next morning is “wakened in a novel fashion.” Meanwhile, we keep meeting men who are “extremely well-endowed,” “unusually well-formed” and “exceptionally well-made.” The star of this segment is Michael C. McGreevy who, as Albert the Butler, seems to have walked into the play from some Hall of Victorian Smut, and who apparently knows better than anyone that depravity is serious business. But Katrina Stevenson is very funny as Lady Celia, and if we never quite figure out what “terrible thing” Gerald did with a saucepan, it’s still refreshing to watch a Gorey tale that’s not ultimately about mortality.

There are other outstanding performers (and sketches): Jason Evans does a fine job as the easily distracted novelist C. F. Earbrass, and Steve Garland is superb as opera fan (and asylum escapee) Jasper Ankle. The other actors — Roz Potenza, Jaime Giangrande-Holcom, David J. Valdez and Spencer Meyers — all turn in topnotch work, and the three-piece band, consisting of piano, cello and flute, is about as professional as one could want. There’s also some admirable, if not terribly relevant, singing.

But when playwright Stephen Currens decided to adapt Gorey’s stories for the stage, he must not have realized that, at the core, they were mostly the same: tales of mayhem and star-crossed destiny taken to a ludicrous extreme. The challenge, then, was to keep us interested in this subject for almost two hours. Unfortunately, this challenge wasn’t met.

Overall, Gorey Stories, for all its surface inventiveness is … boring.

 

Yet again, Mark likes everything but the play itself.  Heh.  This guy is hard to please.  Still, I don’t personally see this as a bad review.  I think those who would find two hours of “delicious darkness” could be interested after reading this review. 

And I have to admit….The bit he said about me is 100% pure awesome. 

Depravity IS serious business.  For reals, yo.

I’m just wondering if he’s writing about the character or me?

Oct 242007
 

Production Both Clever And Creepy, Marty Clear (The St. Petersburg Times.  October 24th, 2007)

 

TAMPA – It’s hard to call a singularly monochromatic stage production colorful. But it’s hard to call Gorey Stories anything else.

Jobsite Theater has stripped away any hint of color from its stage design for this anthology of works by Edward Gorey, an author of wry, macabre stories, poems and songs and an illustrator of unsettling pen-and-ink scenes. He’s probably best known for his artwork at the opening of the PBS series Mystery.

The production at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center is amply amusing, full of Gorey’s dry wit and benignly disturbing characterizations. But by far the most striking elements are visual.

Katrina Stevenson’s lush pseudo-Victorian costumes are in black, white, gray and silver. Brian Smallheer’s set – “painted” with felt-tip pens – is gray and black, with slightly off-kilter patterns. The actors are in white-face with black accents, and their hair is glistening white or pitch black.

The effect is ghastly, humorous and strangely beautiful. It’s a collision of Dr. Seuss, Charles Addams and Edvard Munch. Combine that look with Gorey’s morbid but jaunty stories, verse and songs, and you end up with a memorable theater experience.

The idea is that guests at a party take it upon themselves to act out or otherwise relate 18 Gorey works. But it feels like being dropped into an alternate universe populated by perverse humanoids with sensibilities askew.

It’s entertaining and deliciously creepy, and the large cast (mostly Jobsite regulars) is wonderful. But the show is not entirely successful. The stylized delivery sometimes makes the dialogue hard to understand, and that problem is exacerbated during ensemble recitations. If the synchronization is off the tiniest bit, the words become muddled and the odd charm of Gorey’s dense writing is compromised.

Also, some of the longer stories are less compelling. Most of that happens in the first act. The second act, a group of pieces that supposedly make up a novel one of the guests is writing, is fast-paced and engaging, and ends with a wonderful, funny alphabet song in which guests gleefully relate all the horrific ways in which their friends have died.

The Saturday show this weekend is now sold out.  We do, however, anticipate having “rush” tickets available for the performance tomorrow night.  Students, Seniors, and members of the Military can get reduced price tickets 30 minutes prior to curtain with proper identification.  Normally $24.50, these tickets sell for $10.  It’s a great deal if you fall into one of those categories.

Jun 042006
 

‘Pay’ comes up short by Marty Clear, St. Petersburg Times

It’s not really a bad review, after you’re done reading it. Especially compared to the title of the article. Sheesh. But yeah – he praises just about every aspect of the show (acting,directing,costumes) but spends most of his time slagging the script. Sheesh. He’s been hanging around Mark Lieb too much.

Meh.

So I had an utterly bizarre dream last night. I was on a Goth Cruise, and I had my son along. We were watching a movie in a casino, and he started to feel low so we were talking about what he needed to do (and joking around a bit while doing so). Some uber-pretentious Goths sitting behind us and to the left proceeded to videotape this conversation with the intention of putting it up on the web in some kind of video montage of “assholes on the cruise” that they were planning to make. I caught wind of this, and got confrontational (i.e. I got up in the pasty while little fuckers grill and started yelling). I can’t remember if his name was Ohio or just rhymed with it, but he definitely said something that sounded like Ohio several times. Anyway, one he realized I had a good foot in height and several more in width on him he decided to go get his friends to deal with me. What friend did he end up with? spud. Needless to say, I didn’t have anything to worry about from the Brute Squad. In fact, when spud found out Alex was involved I do believe that there were threats of violence heading towards Ohio and his other half.

Was a funny dream. Made me want to go on a Goth Cruise AND hang out with spud. Hopefully we’ll be able to find some time to do so at Dragon*Con.

Which, I really need to get off my ass and start budgeting for.

I’m sore, tired and more than a little cranky. It’s been a long assed week, and there was extra drama put on top of it that I just didn’t need. One more performance, and then we have two nights off. Man, I really need it.