Wednesday
Jul172013

Powerful Performances of Menagerie at Stage Door Theatre Company

Sturgeon Bay’s Third Avenue Playhouse (TAP) presents a compelling production of The Glass Menagerie, an American classic by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Tennessee Williams in the intimate Studio Theatre for Stage Door Theatre Company. Co-Founder, Managing Director of TAP and now Director James Valcq adds his considerable talents to this commanding production that concludes on July 19.

Valcq directs this drama with palpable warmth, adding more reality than memory, even when Tom Wingfield ruminates from an alley about his former home life. In another brilliant directorial decision, Valcq composed a haunting original score to accompany the production with the tinkling of bells heard throughout his delicate melodies, themes for Laura Wingfield and her tiny menagerie of glass animals.

While the audience realizes the Wingfield family suffers personal internal and external conflict, Valcq imbues the cast, and Williams’ script, with characters that seem to genuinely care for each other instead of merely tolerating each other. This apparent affection substantially heightens their abandonment fears and relational dysfunction the audience comes to experience during the evening’s evocative performances.

Williams was known to a have a loose pen where he often combined fact and fiction in his literature. His The Glass Menagerie, written in1944, believed to be his most autobiographical play, where the character of Tom Wingfield, or “the son” from the playbill, personified Williams whose actual name was Tom. Laura resembled Williams’ own sister Rose, a sibling with mental incapabilities during an era in the early 1930’s when the country understood very little about such illnesses. A physical defect replaces Rose’s defect in Williams’ character Laura from his play, a more visible, yet also misunderstood imperfection connected with human fragility.

Under Valcq’s direction, the gifted cast accomplishes what Williams might have intended his play to accomplish. Including how the Stage Door Theatre’s adjacent aisle space was used to good effect as a fire escape or alley for the depression era apartment where a square oak table takes center stage to develop the action.This underscores empathy because Valcq, also the scenic/sound designer, sets William's scenes under telephone wires in the St. Louis tenement, emphasizing that the charming Mr. Wingfield left his family for another life spoken about in that famous quote from the script: “He was a telephone man who fell in love with long distance.” 

Ryan Schabach’s Tom seethes with frustration and eventually guilt in a gritty performance tinged with genuine love for Laura, and in some measure, for his over protective mother Amanda. As Tom’s counterpoint in the home, Kay Allmand’s nuanced Laura seems to rely on survival instead of pity in her portrayal of a young woman at odds with herself and her minor disability, emanating more from a hip deformity than what the play calls a crippled leg.

This portrayal deepens Laura’s sensitivities to engage sympathy from the audience, especially when she glows in the attention from Tom’s friend, Jim O’Connor, an understanding Ryan Patrick Shaw. O’Connor becomes Laura’s only gentlemen caller, a man somewhat secretly attracted to her delicate, shy personality through his attempts to strengthen her self confidence. Where their resulting kiss also reflects a glow symbolized by candlelight. 

As the woman who rules the family in the role of matriarch, Claire Morkin’s Amanda dreads another male abandonment, insufficient finances to survive without her son’s employment and acute anxiety for her children’s success in life, very real fears for any mother. All her emotions complicated by the loss of a husband now gone who she might have actually loved. 

In Morkin’s portrayal, Amanda’s neurotic nagging and caring seem to naturally arise from this anxiety and insecurity, instead of a completely wayward personality, even if detrimental for her children. In the second act when Amanda reminiscences her youth, Morkin again shines, so the audience revels in her stories, believes Amanda was the Southern Debutante she left behind to marry her husband.

Also incorporated into TAP's Glass Menagerie would be nationally known Sturgeon Bay artist Jeremy Popelka’s hand blown glass animals. At intermission, step closely to the stage, and without touching, marvel at their transparent beauty, or purchase a larger one for sale in the lobby, or at the theatre’s fundraiser in September. Popelka generously donated his artwork to the theater for this production.

Stage Door’s second season unveils multiple casts of talented Midwestern actors and hidden treasures behind this beginning theatre company, all for the benefit of residents and tourists who find their way to these exceptional theatre experiences. If one misses TAP’s The Glass Menagerie, there will be three more productions this season, anxiously awaited after this show: Greater Tuna, House of Blue Leaves and 39 Steps. Stop by soon to support great live theatre for an evening to enjoy in Sturgeon Bay.

For information on Third Avenue Playhouse or tickets to their current 2013 season, please call 920.743.1760 or visit www.thirdavenueplayhouse.com.                                  by Peggy Sue Dunigan

 

Sunday
Jun172012

AFT’S WORLD PREMIERE “VICTORY FARMS” DELIVERS SWEET MEMORIES AND MUSIC

The night threatened with rain showers and thunderstorms on Thursday, June 14 at American Folklore Theatre’s World Premiere performance of Victory Farms. Then the stage lights shone on the set, the stars shimmered in the sky and the seats were filled with well-wishers for composer, lyricists and writers Emilie Coulson, Katie Dahl and James Valcq. An experienced Valcq partnered extensively with the two young writers to bring the musical to production. Then, in a moment before the play’s first notes began, Valcq presented these newcomers to professional theater with aprons decorated in cherry motifs to honor the play’s success.

Victory Farms represents six years of planning and research courtesy of the Fred Alley New Musical Fund. AFT Co-Founder Alley, who died too young in 2001, will be continually remembered with this delightful selection, a nod to his unique storytelling abilities. This musical relates the tale that German POW’s were assigned to the Wisconsin peninsula in 1944 to help bring home the cherry harvest. A humorous yet sensitive memory retelling how music can be the universal language understood by anyone and what signifies one's “home.”

Home initially defines Door County where Edna (Molly Rhode) and her 18-year old daughter, Dottie (Allie Babich) worry about harvesting their cherries. Dottie signed up through a special government program for 25 German POW’s to help with the work, while Edna resists the Germans because her husband was killed earlier in World War II. When Edna eventually surrenders to using the POW’s on the orchard, Dottie teaches them to properly pick the cherries. 

A commanding officer and former schoolmate of Edna's named Jack (an AFT favorite Doug Mancheski) oversees the three POW’s who have reluctantly traveled to Ellison Bay: The pessimistic Wolfgang (Steve Koehler), the optimistic baker, Josef (Dan Klarer) and handsome young Karl (Chad Luberger), who has a sweet eye for Dottie. Or could that be a “sweaty” eye for Dottie? The musical affectionately misconstrues the Germans struggling with the English language to create laughter within the story. Director Jon Hegge’s choreography comes to brilliant life in a number performed by the trio of prisoners, “Sweaty Pies,” which delectably states, “a pie can brighten up a dark and dreary day.” 

Numerous musical numbers will be memorable, including “Hand Over Hand,” “What is the Color” and “When I Look At You.” Victory Farms harbors Alley’s superb ability to uncover charm and warmth in simple humanity, stories taken from the history of his own Door County. Coulsen and Dahl grew up watching AFT as Door County residents, volunteered during their summers and Victory Farms proves their labor of love and perseverance resonates with AFT’S mission. Perhaps best understood by the people who learned to appreciate the theater in the park, including the actors and production staff who return year after year and pay tribute to this determined effort to produce new plays. 

Mancheski and Koehler have played in AFT productions either in the park or around the state with great success for several seasons. Rhode, a familiar Milwaukee actor and First Stage Theater Academy alumnus, finds a summer home at AFT. Babich’s debuting voice beautifully floats to the sky in the outdoor theater while adding dimension to Dottie, deepening the entire story. Her role brings another Milwaukee actor to AFT from the First Stage Theater Academy and the Sunset Playhouse, a former Rising Star in their cabaret series. 

Without revealing too many details an audience would want to discover for themselves, AFT’s new musical captures an appealing and timely theme that people from all over the world are more similar than strange. In this story, a lyrical song from Germany triggers memories from one hurting heart to another. Because many Germans settled in Door County before World War II, there were definitely familiar cultural pasts. 

Ultimately, Victory Farms celebrates the meaning to home and what can sustain the human spirit when separated from loved ones. AFT again performs that powerful message to anyone who has or will visit Peninsula State Park and often calls AFT a summer theater home, with admirable reasons. After more than 20 years, AFT’s voice and Alley’s legacy remain alive and well with Victory Farms, a story guaranteed to sweeten an audience’s memories this summer. The production honors one of the most poignant lines in the musical: “My home is the someplace where I put my heart.”

American Folklore Theatre presents Victory Farms throughout the summer on selected evenings. Also on stage for the 2012 season, attend the AFT hit productions Belgians in Heaven and Cheeseheads, the Musical. For more information, please call 920.854.6117 or click the link to the left.  By Peggy Sue Dunigan, who fondly recalls all the memories AFT has given her in the past, present and future. An avid theater-goer who treasures another premiere when Fred Alley, Jeffrey Herbst, Fred Heide and Doug Mancheski produced Lumberjacks in Love for the very first time, along with the outstanding “kid,” Karen Mal. Thank you for continuing AFT's legacy. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday
Jun162012

PENINSULA PLAYERS FINE TUNE MICHAEL HOLLINGER’S OPUS

In Michael Hollinger's 2006 play Opus, performing chamber music resembles a beautiful girl and lovemaking. With music that “rises, floats together, falls back and arches," claims Dorian, the viola player performing in the world renowned Lazara String Quartet. Indeed, the classical music, the tedious rehearsals and the musicians’ personal struggles reverberate in Hollinger's drama, written by an award winning playwright with a degree in viola performance from Oberlin Conservatory. 

Peninsula Players Theatre fine-tunes Hollinger's 90-minute drama on their Fish Creek stage to open their 77th season with passion and production skill. Including synchronizing the actors’ stroking their instruments with precision to the recorded music that accentuates the play’s rhythms. So that the audience believes these five actors possess the ability to make this string music with refined movement throughout the performance.

Musical movements and interplay drive the production’s structure, where the play’s action alternates between past and present with seamless fluidity. Sometimes the actors face the audience, repeating the dialogue similar to a chorus. At others, the action represents inner emotional turmoil, a practice session. These musicians, First Violin, Elliot (Tom Mula), Second Violin, Alan (Lee E. Ernst), Viola, Dorian (Greg Vinkler) and Cello, Carl (Tom Monison) find the quartet in a compromised situation when they fire Dorian for being unreliable. The quartet needs to prepare immoderately for a televised White House performance when the young prodigy Grace (Cassandra Bissell) auditions. And impresses the remaining string musicians with her profound ability on the viola.  

After the quartet hires Grace, their rehearsals unfold to reveal Dorian’s mental instability and his longstanding love relationship with Elliot. Which then combines with Alan’s loneliness, Carl’s confrontation with cancer and Grace’s insecurity. How this string quartet maneuvers to be “like four instruments playing with one bow” and master Beethoven’s monumental Opus 131 uncovers insight into the inner workings of the performance process with intelligent wit. To examine the arguments, the decisions and dedication required of these, or any other, world class musicians. Gifted individuals that consider interpreting the music and stage performance their supreme passion in this life, often achieved with personal sacrifice. 

Hollinger’s script hints at distinctions between an artistic genius that might border on madness. Ability Dorian represents when his visionary talents allow him to push beyond the excellent into the extraordinary. When does stability become preferred over the irrational behavior that sustains brilliance, for Dorian and the other quartet members in their music? 

This unlikely mix of characters’ flaws and personalities performed by these five stellar actors create an interesting harmony in Opus, even when discordant, for a memorable experience. Bissell holds her own when playing the quirky yet charming Grace and stands strong amid these four dominant men. 

Especially when viewed on Scenic Designer Jack Magaw’s stage that might reflect the interior of any string instrument, elegant and striking, which turns into a surprise when Opus 131 is eventually performed. If the final scenes that concern a priceless Lazara violin overstretch credulity, the audience will already be mesmerized by the music and each character’s drive to play their best, every event an ultimate performance. Carl explains this when he says, “One never desires to be perfect, just closer.” 

Similar to the beautiful women's curves these string instruments can reference, their musical measures and rhythmic movements the actors inhabit on stage performed almost to perfection on opening night. Be sure to catch the Peninsula Players production before it disappears from Door County forever. Similar to the theatrical notes in Hollinger's intriguing Opus, an ephemeral summer pleasure.  

Peninsula Players Theatre opens their 77th season by presenting Michael Hollinger’s Opus through June 24. For information, individual tickets or season tickets please call: 920.868.3287 or click the link to the left   by Peggy Sue Dunigan