FOUR PLAYS IN FOUR DAYS
1-12-16Lucky me. Oh, the joys of being a critic. To see four utterly satisfying and important plays, four days in a row. Here’s what I saw. I urge you to go see them all.
Play #1- TheaterZone, Naple’s, production of the musical “The Sweet Smell of Success” is a smash hit. Truly a superb piece of theater. It’s based on the film that starred Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. Mark Danni, Artistic Director and his staff, amazingly working on that miniature stage, brought to life a Broadway musical that had garnered 7 Tony Award Nominations. I was truly dazzled by the outstanding performances, the brilliant choreography, the delightful music of Martin Hamlisch and the right- on lyrics of Craig Carnelia. You sensed every performer was thrilled to be on that stage. They certainly put out enormous energy, vitality and dedication to their craft. It’s worth going down to Naples for that joy alone.
The story is about celebrities being bought and sold, and the 60 million people among us who eat up the columns of gossip and scandal the way Walter Winchell coughed it u p. The evening had all of us in the audience gripped and hanging on as the plot thickened, thanks to a superb book by John Guare. You’d have to go to Broadway itself to see something equal to this production. It’s not necessarily a frothy feel- good evening. It’s more than mere entertainment. It demands something from an adult audience. The people portrayed are often ugly, manipulative and violent. It is solidly contemporary, a mirror to the greed and avarice running through the society right now. You sit there thinking, “What would I have done in that situation?”
There’s not a bad performance. Kudos go to: Gerritt VanderMeer, Daniel Schwab, Lana Neuman, and Tim Russell. They make makes this an evening worth every moment you give to the play. You will remember Ms. Neuman’s heartfelt rendering of “What If?” and the angst of Tim Russell’s “I Cannot Hear The City.”
Don’t miss this show. Sadly, it only runs until the 17th. The box office number is: 1-888-966-3352 or buy online at: TheatreZone-Florida.com
Play #2 The Laboratory Theater of Florida. This play is “The Velocity of Autumn” by Eric Coble. It is a two character play, an aging mother, and one of her sons. Off stage there are two other children she bore. The story is so real, you ache for each of them, and wonder if there can ever be a solution to what to do with an aging parent. Putting them out on an ice flow or sending them up a mountain to be eaten by bears isn’t an alternative, not in Brooklyn.
The utterly marvelous Louis Wigglesworth plays the mother. She told me that when she read the play a year ago, she said to herself, “That is me.” And oh how she embraced that role on opening night. She found every nuance in a fine script, and gave it all of herself. One marvelous monologue was about the journey to the Guggenheim Museum. She was a perfect museum mom.
The son, Chris, played by Mark D. Haffner has some torturous terrain to deal with as he got himself into the house with all the fireworks and a woman with a will of iron. He certainly earned my respect. When you see him, you will remember for a long time his powerful monologue about the “Girl on a bicycle and the woman with the blue scarf.” Memorable moments.
The play opens with the mother ready to spark a Zippo lighter and one of many bottles of something like gasoline that she has set up to burn down the whole house and her with it. Two of her kids are clearly ready to drag her against her will to assisted living, or worse. She wants to die alone where she is. She won’t give in to the greedy offspring.
The playwright knows what he’s doing. It is in the deep, dark lines he’s written. But, the play is not without humor and irony or even hope. Not a person in that audience could dodge what has been their own experience, either dealing with their own kids as they’ve gotten older, or remembering where they came down when their parents aged and become incapable of taking care of themselves.
There’s no place in real time to pretend not to know what you know at tho
se moments in our lives. Annette Trossbach, Artistic Director at “The Lab,” went to New York to see the play, and did some tricky negotiations to be able to give us a regional premier of this courageous play. Come support her vision, call the box office and make “The Velocity of Autumn an important piece in your season’s plays. It runs only until January 23. Call 239-218-0481. Or www.laboratorytheaterflorida.com
Play #3 FLORIDA REP
Florida Rep has a 4 Star show on the boards. They have truly done justice to A.R. Gurney’s best play, “The Cocktail Hour.” You’ll know it from the minute you enter the theater and see the set.
What other theater puts so much into the production values? Where else would you see such columns in the living room, an heirloom Secretary desk and hutch, and a stuffed couch and chairs worthy of the Antiques Road Show? Perfect to create the time and place of the play.
Then we get four actors who mine the depths of this intense play like the pros they are, and make it one of the most satisfying evenings in my season so far. This is one you will not want to miss. Full houses are making tickets go fast. Don’t waste time. Call the box office immediately. 239.322.4488.
The writing is to be celebrated, certainly. There’s not a wasted line in it. There is glorious wit and humor. And a courageous facing of things that rip families apart.
The content is something that matters. Families. Siblings. Pecking order. And always the privileges, servants and where money comes into that carefully drawn WASP conventionality these people live in.
There is a father who is confronted by one of his sons. Peter Thomasson and Brendan Powers nail the roles. There’s not a dull moment as they face the issues of what separates them. The son, John, has written a play that clearly opens up some things that shake up what’s covered up. Then, there is some of Gurney’s best writing reserved for the mother, played by Carrie Lund for one of her most winning roles. The sister played by Kate Hampton is right up there with the superb quality of the rest of them. No one in that audience will fall asleep at this play.
My final kudos go to the absolutely brilliant direction of Chris Clavelli. Given a great script he produced a superb, absolutely thrilling rendition that could serve as a model for any future showings of “The Cocktail Hour.” How he moves the actors, physically, how he stages all those cocktails, and builds to the one liners, just thrilled me. You will always remember what he had Carrie do with her bracelet, and how he gave Kate that center stage moment where she says “I will.”
I’ll say this to close. They gave me what I go to theater for. Top flight pe
rformances and direction in a play by a gifted playwright that addressed important issues, with believable confrontations and an absence of any cuteness or farce, and still, laughter a plenty. Go see for yourself. Other people have agreed. They’ve had to extend the run. Call, fast. And enjoy it the way I did.
Play #4 GULF SHORE PLAYHOUSE
Well, this was the most totally satisfying of the four glorious plays I saw in four days. It’s title, “Informed Consent” tantalized me. I had never heard of the playwright, Deborah Zoe Laufer. But, I will never forget her. She says in her bio:
“I’m drawn to that place where science and religion bump up uncomfortably against each other.” And that’s just what the play does, but, above all, it bumps up for all of us that question: “Do the ends justify the means?” How the play we saw gave the playwright, the director and the cast a resounding standing ovation. It truly was that good.
Simply told, the play is about a passionate and determined ambitious “Geneticist” who worms her way into a diabetes study on Native Americans deep in the bottom of a place in the Grand Canyon. DNA is a sixth character in the play. But what a five person cast Kristen Coury, the Artistic Director, pulled together to make it all work. It is a most deeply moving play, and I passionately urge you to get tickets as soon as you can. It will be a sell out. Word of mouth will pull in half of Naples.
Liz Hayes plays the geneticist and gives what I would nominate for the Best Actress in a leading role in all of S.W. Florida. Wait until you see her yourself.
She is ably supported by Edward O’Blenis, as her husband. The conflicts that rise between them had to make everyone in that audience look deep inside their own conflicts. The writing and the acting did just what a great play has to do to win my highest praise, it held up that mirror. I could rave on an on about the whole cast, and you won’t forget them. I am limited to too few words for this review.
Clearly what Ms. Coury, the director, hath wrought may well be a long time highpoint in her career. High praise to the whole technical crew, too. What a set, count those file boxes when you go see it! Call the box office ASAP.
(866) 811.4111. Or www.gulfshoreplayhouse. org I may see you there. I can’t wait to see it again.