Thursday, May 17, 2012

Show reviews for the week of May 14, 2012

Thinking Cap Theatre presents Love Burns by Cherie Vogelstein.  Directed by Nicole Stodard and featuring: David Michael Sirois, Ashley Price, Mark Della Ventura, and Shira Abergel . Design Team: Lighting Design – Christopher Michaels;  Sound Design – David Hart; Set Design - Chastity Collins.

Christine Dolen reviewed the show for the The Miami Herald:

Choosing two short relationship plays by Cherie Vogelstein, Stodard creates an environmental evening that gets its own umbrella title, Love Burns. The director sets the plays, Date With a Stranger and All About Al, in a Starbucks-like coffee place called Hip Sip. The observant barista is played by Shira Abergel, who strums a ukulele or guitar as she croons songs about love and its flip side before, between and after the plays. The coffee and pastries that are part of the action in each play are available for sale during intermission. Wine, too, if nighttime caffeine isn’t your thing.

The first play, Date With a Stranger, is the crazier and quicker of the two.  Clark (David Michael Sirois), a health club sales guy who looks like he belongs in the 1982 Jane Fonda workout video, stands creepily close to the pretty Paula (Ashley Price) as they wait in line to order their brew of choice. Once they start talking, they take us through a relationship on fast-forward, from the flirting and white lies of a beginning to the explosive breakup that means the end. A customer reading his newspaper at the next table (Mark Della Ventura) tries to ignore them, though drama queen Paula isn’t about to let that happen. Sirois and Price find moment-to-moment truths in Vogelstein’s absurdist look at a relationship that sparks and then dies, all in the course of 20 minutes.

In All About Al, Price plays Allison, a woman who has been in a relationship with Gil (Sirois), though she’s also alluring to Lenny (Della Ventura). Lenny is Gil’s friend or acquaintance (who knows?), a mess of a guy as unlucky in love as Gil is blessed. Not that Gil, whose impulse is to end things when they get too emotionally intimate, chooses to focus on his good fortune. He’s waiting for Allison, or “Al,” intending to break up with her. The recently dumped Lenny won’t hear of it – unless Gil would give Lenny the thumbs up for a rebound relationship.
Rod Stafford Hagwood reviewed the show for the Sun-Sentinel
If you're the kind of person who has trouble with commitment, then "Love Burns" at Empire Stage is the double feature for you.

First, you won't have to commit too much of your time, since the two one-act comedies in this Thinking Cap Theatre production clock in at 60 minutes that seem to fly by.

Second, the comedies are profoundly funny, and they slip in a few truisms on romance by shining a sliver of light on the ids of commitment-phobes.

"Love Burns" is an umbrella title for two works by New York-based playwright Cherie Vogelstein. They are playfully directed by Thinking Cap founder Nicole Stodard, who has set them both in a coffee house called the Hip Sip and paced them as breezy, quick-witted pastiches of urban relationships.

Here again, Vogelstein isn't interested in writing sitcom gags a la"Seinfeld"as much as whole riffs on relationships and sex, which the cast knows just how to pitch, playing it the way guys really talk. In the process, they are hilarious in unexpected ways.

Actors Playhouse presents Becky’s New Car by Steven Dietz.  Directed by David Arisco and features: Laura Turnbull, Ken Clement, Ryan Didato, Allan Baker, Francisco “Pancho” Padura, Anne Chamberlain, and Kim Ostrenko.

Christine Dolen reviewed the show for the The Miami Herald:
Becky Foster is a middle-aged woman with a busy life that seems, to her anyway, stuck in idle. She has a car dealership job that demands long hours, though maybe not as many as she routinely gives. Her roofer hubby is a nice guy who wishes she’d make it home for dinner more often. Her grad student son is a psychology major who hasn’t yet mastered independent adulthood.

Lately, Becky’s thought have been like that song made famous by Peggy Lee: Is that all there is? A colleague’s late wife used to tell Becky that when a woman says she wants new shoes, she really wants a new job. A new house is code for a new husband. A new car means that Ms. Restless is really craving a new life.

The play also seems, for much of its two-hour running time, to be an observant, richly funny comedy about the existential reevaluation so many of us put ourselves through at midlife. Yet at the moment Becky leans into a kiss from a guy who mistakenly thinks her husband is dead – a moment that actually earned some gasps on opening night – it’s clear that Becky’s New Car is going to take some serious turns, popping that bright bubble of comedy to examine the consequences of choices.

Director David Arisco, who has proven his talent at staging all kinds of theater, has an affinity for comedy. In this case, like a master mechanic, he knows how to fine-tune each laugh so that Becky’s New Car just sails along, even over the scattered potholes in Dietz’s script. He blends the slightly different comedic styles of a talented cast into a cohesive, funny, sometimes poignant whole.
Bill Hirschman reviewed the show for Florida Theater On Stage
Steven Dietz’s play at Actors Playhouse presents a mildly dissatisfied suburban Everywoman, barely aware she is ripe for a mid-life crisis, who is suddenly faced with an opportunity to lead a double life.

What she expects to be a brief taste of a fantasy – like Cinderella planning a single appearance at the Prince’s ball before returning to the scullery – becomes a seductive spiral that leads to hard lessons about choices.

Arisco is perfectly at home helming this mixture of gentle comedy and modern angst. He keeps the evening moving smoothly and unerringly toward the quickening climax and the honest aftermath in the morning light.
He revels in Dietz’s erasure of the fourth wall by having Becky talk to us as a narrator as if we were just sitting in her living room for a cup of coffee while she cleans up after her family. Arisco and Dietz have Becky interact with folks in the front row, asking them to pitch in to put a bucket under a roof leak and help her collate some paperwork.

As far as the cast, once again, Turnbull is so bloody good that only her colleagues will appreciate how her seemingly naturalistic style hides so much craft that the result borders on alchemy. Her Becky is so immensely likeable that we happily ignore the fact that she’s flirting with being unfaithful. Turnbull has earned praise for her scathing dramatic turns in Actors Playhouse’s August: Osage County last season and Palm Beach Dramaworks’ The Effect of Gamma Rays… this season. So it’s easy to forget how skilled a comedienne she can be, blessed with flawless technique.

Double that praise for Clement’s portrayal of the steadfastly decent blue-collar husband. Under Arisco’s direction, he exhibits superb comic timing and a deadpan delivery that can wring a laugh out of almost any line he chooses. But belying that doughy clown’s face, his real achievement is communicating Joe’s pain underneath his facile quips and stoic expression.  Once we stop laughing in the last 15 minutes, it’s Clement who brings the betrayal and its price tag on the whole family back into focus.

The rest of the cast is just as solid: Playhouse veteran Padura gets to veer out of control in silly rants, Didato (fresh off Brooklyn Boy) convincingly exudes that unwarranted condescension that young adults feel toward their parents. Ostrenko renders a portrait of a rue-filled Scarlett O’Hara puzzling out a life after Tara. And Chamberlain (who triumphed last month, ironically, as Cinderella in Into the Woods) invests Walter’s daughter with warmth and intelligence.

The Plaza Theatre presents I Am Music: The Songs of Barry Manilow.  Directed by Kevin Black and features: Ben Bagby, Craig Strang, Marisa Guida, and Mimi Jiminez.   Choreography by Black, John Hensley, Isabel Trelles, and Bagby.

Bill Hirschman reviewed the show for Florida Theater On Stage
Barry Manilow is a secret guilty pleasure for a million Boomers and, judging by the audience Thursday, their parents. Manilow is a talented composer, lyricist, producer, arranger and musical director with an unapologetic pop romantic sensibility and a bent for anthems and ballads that echo an earlier era. I admit to having five on my iPod.

All of Manilow’s greatest hits are here; you can make up the set list yourself.  If you really are a fan of Manilow, you’ll miss his particular honey-smooth smooth tone and flawless phrasing. If you just want to hear lovely songs and didn’t make out to his voice on the radio in the backseat, you likely won’t mind.

That raw material was irresistible to creator/ director Kevin Black, who honed his creative teeth, in fact, developing shows for cruise lines. I didn’t know that fact until I Googled him after the show. But I would have bet you all a steak dinner at Ruth’s Chris that was the case even before I turned on the computer.

Black has the formula down cold: four singers, four dancers, large Pepsodent smiles, soulful gazes that rarely meet the audience’s and an endless parade of spangled, sequined costumes that sort of fit. A karaoke feel suffuses the evening since the singers often stand still and hold microphones to their mouths as they croon to a lush soundtrack of canned music, sweetened with digital background singers. There is no scenery, just images projected onto a screen covering the back wall depicting a backstage, snowfalls, etc., etc.

With one exception, the singers are all competent if not inspiring. Ditto for the dancers’ energetic if not always synchronized execution of choreography by Black, John Hensley, Isabel Trelles and Ben Bagby


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