Reviews - Sept 2019
Living Drama Theater is now into it's second production ever, and this was my first visit to the space - and what a space! The program proudly references the stage as the only Broadway-sized theater in Lake County, and that's certainly believable; the seating is more than generous and stage area goes forever. The theater owners have outlined great plans for the future for the building, and if complete the site would be one of the premier locations in Lake County for theater and events.
The production of The Outsiders was a rare show for me. I'm outside the age range mentioned in the pre-show as the age range for whom the book version of 'The Outsiders' was required reading; I've also never seen the stage or movie productions. But that's not why it was rare.
'The Outsiders" (for anyone else who is unaware) is the story of conflict between two 'gangs' - the Greasers (the poorer kids in the area) and the Socs (pronounced So-ches, short for Socials or Socialites, the town rich kids), seen through the eyes of a Greaser named Pony Boy. There's a Romeo and Juliet-like thread woven here, with smaller stories carefully outlined for several characters, in general well-scripted and with depth. It tells a story of modern day tribalism that (unfortunately) still needs to be told, most likely again and again. But that's not why it's rare.
The cast, individually and as a group, appeared to understand the context, grabbed it with both hands, and for better or worse ran with it. Pony Boy (Austen Stanley) is portrayed with depth and feeling - mostly awkward, sometimes earnest, and always having a sensation that he's looking on the horizon while his friends and family can only see the length of their arms. Pony Boy's older brothers Dary (Joshua Jefferys) and Soda Pop (Adam Riggs) watch over and watch out for Pony Boy like macho Mother Hens - the family is believable if not quite as detailed a performance as Stanley's. The rest of the gang members - Dallas (Mario Guitierrez), Johnny Cake (Rhyse Silvestro) and Two-Bit (Tom Goldstein) - all have interesting character arcs and are well-played. This is Goldstein's second production, and he appears a natural; Gutierrez manages to be annoying, trashy and loyal to his gang to a fault. Silvestro has an impressive resume, and steals the show with his performance of Johnny Cake - he is absolutely perfect in the role, his tone, mannerisms and delivery pitch-perfect. Silvestro's Johnny is the lynch pin for the story, more so than the lead oddly enough. Rhyse Silvestro's performance as Johnny is one of the best I've seen this season, anywhere.
The female lead Abbigail Wade as Cherry - a Soc who just wants everyone to get along. Her character needs to be sympathetic yet strong, and Wade accomplishes this while being a stiff and uncomfortable with the Greasers. It's a fine line walked well. Her apparent BFF is Kenyatta Edwards as Maria, another Soc. I have no idea of the script says 'Maria punctuates each sentence with a squeak' - if so, well done; if not, it was a great choice that solidifies her character into reality - people have these quirks - and it made Maria relatable. It was extremely cute, honestly, and the chuckles in the theater after each as the show progressed reinforced that I wasn't the only one thinking that!
Still - this wasn't why the show was rare.
Technically, it was spot-on. You didn't notice the tech: it was there, it was used, and the story moved on. Lately that would be a award-winning performance for a tech crew! The only complaint I have is the cast/crew whoever on the left side need greater awareness of how much noise they make behind the scenes - not talking, just walking and moving things in the wings. Still, that's not rare either.
The show had flaws, have no doubt - given the age of the characters, pimples would probably be the appropriate metaphor: Some lines were flat, some scenes uncomfortable when they shouldn't be, the stage almost too large to be elegantly at times, stage-fighting isn't part of anyone's resume and it showed, the direction of the characters sometimes a bit muddled.
But the show was rare for me because these pimples did not matter. Sometimes the flaws help define a character, and provide a resonance with the audience. By the end of the evening, the show WORKED, and worked well.
I've said for quite awhile that I look to theater and movies to escape, to be entertained, and to get beyond myself for a little while. I've always associated that with humor and comedy. Tonight I left the theater a little sad but definitely provided a window on a world different than my own, and better for the experience.
Go see this show. LDT, keep up the great work - the theater you're building isn't just physical.
Grade: A - parts of the show not friendly to 11 and under; teens encouraged to attend.
Friday night the 21st was opening night for Footloose at Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center (WDPAC), and there was basically a full house - which is what you want to see opening night! It was a very friendly crowd for the most part, which was a good thing because this show really needed another week of rehearsals, and an indifferent group not filled with family and friends would have made for an ugly evening.
Truth is, this show has a cast of 25 and about 6 adults; the rest of the cast is a mix of high school, college and recent college grads. So when I say the production was of general high school quality, it's partly the cast makeup and partly the effort shown on stage. I avoid reviewing children's theater because criticism of those shows doesn't really help the actors, and provides a feeling similar to kicking puppies - nothing good comes out of that. So reviewing a community theater production that's basically a high school group (in age at the very least) is borderline; I feel committed to the review - that's the idea, after all - but I'll be keeping an eye out for this sort of 'review trap' in the future. I'll be highlighting the positive performances by name.
Footloose (if you're unaware) rotates around the fish out of water trope, a teenage boy moved from the big city to a small town which has had a tragedy, one that caused a knee-jerk reaction - specifically outlawing dancing. Cue new teen bucking the system and fixing the town in the process. The music is generally well known, the story understandable when heard (more on this in a moment), and expectations are straightforward.
The issues with the production fell into three areas: character commitment, desire, and technical issues.
Character commitment: The leads (Ren, the new-in-town teen rebel played by Adourin Owens; Ariel, the Pastor's daughter who enjoys bad boys played by Madison Gilleon; and Ariel's parents: featuring Mike Yebba as Reverend Shaw Moore and Jenny Congiardo as Vi Moore) all took their character and wore it as a skin (or armor in the case of Gilleon's Ariel). Their characters were visibly different on stage from the rest, with the exception of Willard Hewitt (Max Wadley), the comic-relief best buddy of Ren, who used the uncomfortable-ness of Williard very well on stage. The other cast members felt as though they had leg irons and handcuffs handed to them with their costumes - especially in the large dance numbers, the lack of focus and care was obvious, both in character and choreo.
Desire: this show has a number of BIG moments, or GOOD moments, and gives multiple characters chances to shine. If you drop the first line of a song, lose the words, miss the lyrical entrance, are frequently trying to find the key or are flat, more rehearsal was probably needed, OR you were content with your performance level in rehearsal. First night nerves, you say? Perhaps.
Technical issues; these were BAD, and frankly (right or wrong) I expect much better from WDPAC. Mics being activated after the first full line spoken on sung by that actor on stage occurred several times; in the first act one actress' mic wasn't cut off after she left the stage, and her ongoing conversation offstage while changing was louder than the conversation on stage; sound levels in general were MUCH TOO HIGH - more than half a dozen people in front of me had fingers in their ears during songs being belted on stage - for the second time recently, a Compressor is a dire need here. (For more info, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_range_compression - in short, a Compressor or Limiter keeps loud sounds from getting TOO loud); along with the sound issues, Act 2 had lighting problems - significantly two lights behind the grand valance that are meant to spin during some of the dance numbers. From the first eight rows it fired towards a valance curtain behind the grand and appeared in the corner of the eye are a fire or flashing police-type light; in the next scene (which had very nice 5 point men's harmony) two lights left and right were doing this; from the light board in the balcony these wouldn't have been seen, but they were VERY frustrating for the front half of the audience.
Owen's Ren showed skill and maturity as an actor, full of nuance and fun while his righteous anger developed on a slow burn. his romantic interactions with Gilleon's Ariel were touching and believable. Yebba's anger and upset as the Reverend generally went painfully loud (again needing a compressor/limiter) but he DID make you dislike his character, to the point that his turning away from his path against dance seemed abrupt and unnatural. Congiardo's turn as Vi goes from doormat to velvet-lined steel over the course of the production, and her character arc is the most comfortable. There were tears and sobs around me over the reconciliation the Reverend and his wife achieve onstage, and in that, the two adults brought more of an emotional response than almost the entire rest of the show;the other stand out was 'Almost Paradise' duet sung by Owens and Gilleon, which also drew out catches of breath and light sobs from the rows behind me - in my opinion they wrestle with a song that has been run into the ground and give it new life in their own styles.
The show runs one weekend after this, and I'd hope that by then some of these issues won't be as noticeable - but the sound may need a different touch.
Grade: C - mostly family-friendly, children under 10 might have some awkward questions about a few lines or movements onstage.
Update for the weekend of 9/13-9/15:
After the show I saw on 9-7, the lead actor was dismissed from the production. I don't have the ego to assume the review had anything to do with that - anyone seeing that show would not have been surprised by that unusual yet necessary move.
The review below has been updated to reflect the current productions, which is a far cry from last week's show. I applaud Moonlight for acting quickly and decisively.
Full Disclosure: Moonlight management contacted me about the personnel change and offer to comp my ticket for a 're-review'. I had heard of the change through Social Media and had already purchased another ticket when I received the message. No comps will be accepted from the theater(s) I review to preserve my anonymity and integrity. I thank Moonlight for the offer.
Dial M for Murder is, as Director Nathan Paul writes in the program, a play where 'The mystery becomes not as much "Whodunit', but 'how are they going to catch him' ". And to me, a mystery on stage revolves around three legs: the plot, the twist or puzzle, and the characters. As written, the story works well on all three. I find the story weaving all these together to be a bit slow, but the cast does a fine job pulling everything together and making it work.
As Director Paul indicates, the show is very plain about who is the 'bad guy' - and it becomes a matter of if and how he'll be caught. Ray Palen's portrayal of Tony Wendice has nuance, more than few sly smiles, and injections of character. Per the pre-show introduction and Moonlight's Facebook entry, Palen had had the script for 48 hours before the show, but had performed the play as the character twice before and it showed. Even when he had the occasional line flub, he covered it smoothly and in character; if you hadn't recently seen the show, you'd never have known. This was a VERY good performance by an actor I hope to hear more of in the future. His presence raised the performances of the other actors - most likely simple confidence in his abilities and memories.
On a similar note, as the actor who's entire character is based on interaction with Palen's Tony, Kenny Forthun's Captain Lesgate benefited from an actual background and proper explanation of why he'd be willing to go along with Tony's plans. It was night and day for Forthun as his motivations and relative reluctance made sense to the viewer where it didn't before.
One Mea Culpa from the previous review: I unintentionally maligned the sole female performer (Kayleigh Mollycheck as Margot Wendice), when I included her as part of the cast of 'British' characters whose accents were a bit spotty. Margot is in fact American and so ANY accent she uses would be casually picked up by association (and/or Kayleigh reflects accents accidentally, as many do) - my apologies for the disservice. In this weekend's production, she was much more of a force onstage, almost daring her fellow actors to keep up. Mollycheck's Margot was a real person as opposed to the cardboard cutout of the week before.
Joshua Hernandez's Max Halliday was better, more broadly the ex-boyfriend still unhappy that his feelings weren't returned. As the 'other' American, his character was played with flair, but Hernandez has some verbal issues that are distracting; specifically he speaks in a narrow range of tone, with the only change being one of volume when excited or angry. He's an excellent actor, and this minor issue takes nothing away from the production, but would improve his style and presence to be more believably in character.
Chief Inspector Hubbard (Barry Draper) is played with extreme British reserve, and feels entirely appropriate and well done. Hubbard really doesn't give Draper an opportunity to stretch as an actor, and I hope something edgier is in his future.
One notable change is with the Bobby character played by Reilly Thorrell. Last week, Thorrell's Bobby provided a sort of intermission entertainment, trying to ad-lib with the audience; his accent was all over the board, and he needs to work his improv abilities a bit more. This week, the intermissions were 'Bobby-free' and while I didn't care for the ad-libbing much, I found the two intermissions long and actually thought that maybe having him out on the second intermission might have been a good compromise.
The set was well built - doors being slammed has a very solid sound, and the walls never budged. It's a positive point for the production, and with many Community theaters not even using solid walls (or trying to make flats work as solid walls) it was a pleasant change.
This production now resembles the Moonlight efforts I've seen before, and the initial missteps should not be counted against the new; you've got one more weekend to catch Dial M - don't miss it!
Grade: B - mostly family-friendly except for one brief violent scene; small children might be bored early on.