Friday, June 1, 2012

Show reviews for the week of May 28, 2012

Palm Beach Dramaworks presents Proof by David Auburn.  Directed by William Hayes and featuring: Cliff Burgess, Kenneth Kay, Katherine Michelle Tanner, and Sarah Grace Wilson.  Design Team: Lighting Design – Ron Burns; Sound Design – Rich Szczublewski; Set Design – Michael Amico; Costume Design – Erin Amico.

Christine Dolen reviewed the show for the The Miami Herald:
At Dramaworks, ‘Proof’ proves its staying power

In David Auburn’s Proof, a dad and daughter share a home, a professional passion and, just maybe, something far more worrisome. Both are mathematicians, he a professor, she a student who has clearly inherited his gifts and intelligence. But is she also headed toward the kind of mental instability that derailed her father’s brilliant career?

As with each of Dramaworks’ shows in its new Don & Ann Brown Theatre, Proof begins working its magic even before the house lights go down. Set designer Michael Amico inaugurated the space with a richly detailed, period-perfect house and backyard for Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. For Proof, he has created another, smaller home whose details suggest an orderliness that eludes its suffering owner. A rusted metal chair and equally deteriorating glider sit on the deck of the modest house near the University of Chicago campus. The window of an attic bedroom juts out from the roof, overlooking a picnic table and a neatly kept yard.

The look is of a piece with the way the play’s famous math professor, Robert (Kenneth Kay), presents himself. Dressed in autumnal colors, Robert looks every inch the well put together academician in the outfits costume designer Erin Amico has chosen for him. But looks, just like Robert’s very presence, can be deceiving.

Surprises are carefully laced throughout the script, and if you’ve never seen Proof, you deserve to experience them in the moment. What can be said is that Auburn artfully explores the toll that Robert’s mental instability takes on his younger daughter Catherine (Katherine Michelle Tanner), a socially awkward, sometimes depressed young woman who wants to follow the same career path. Catherine’s elder sister Claire (Sarah Grace Wilson), a successful currency analyst in New York, has provided financial support during Robert’s prolonged period of instability. But it is Catherine – the caregiver, the constant, the witness to her father’s pain – who makes the greater sacrifice.

Hal (Cliff Burgess), a young mathematician whose doctoral work was supervised by Robert, arrives as a life-changing possibility for Catherine. Yet his skepticism about the depth of Catherine’s talent, a doubt shared by Claire, may prove life-crushing instead.

Bill Hirschman reviewed the show for Florida Theater On Stage
Dramaworks’ Proof Is Intelligent Examination Of Intelligent People Who Can’t Cope With People Intelligently
The reason some people love dealing with numbers, folks like scientists and social misfits, is that they are precise and reliable. Two plus two never makes seventy-three. Best of all, if you make a mistake adding a column of figures, you can find the error and correct it.

Although set in the milieu of mathematical theorists exploring the abstract mysteries of science, the real truth-seeking is the audience-accessible but far murkier mysteries of the heart.

Auburn’s script, as elegant as the mathematical MacGuffin at the center of the play, includes flashbacks, fake outs and a plot reveal that upends the play in progress. So we have to tiptoe to avoid spoilers.

Director William Hayes is not a showy director. His theater is about serving the playwright more than indulging in theatrical pyrotechnics. This nearly invisible technique, and there certainly is technique at work here, results in a persuasive naturalism that allows the audience a clear view of Auburn’s themes, relationships and plot gyrations.

This is some of Hayes’ best work. Although it’s invisible to non-practitioners, Hayes’ labors are those of a craftsman like a fine cabinet maker. He has uncovered most of Auburn’s meanings, excavated them out of the souls of the cast and physically staged the chess pieces to further illustrate the relationships, such as the sisters sitting as far as they can from each other on a settee/glider.

Michael Amico once again creates an almost photorealistic environment, this time the backyard of a modest home in a Chicago suburb, imbued with a dappled autumnal beauty by lighting designer Ron Burns and scored with a subtle soundscape of neighborhood noises by Rich Szczublewski.

And welcome back costume designer Erin Amico whose eye for fabrics and styles that communicate character is simply dead on. The best is Catherine’s slovenly clothing in the first scene: a well-worn flannel-checked shirt, faded pants, house slippers and an over-sized cardigan that likely belonged to her father. But the real grace note is the shapeless blue bathrobe she wears later on in the play, tied off with a brown belt from another robe altogether. This utilitarian combination speaks eloquently of Catherine’s depression and lack of concern for the corporeal world as opposed to the internal one.

The Adrienne Arsht Center presents Disney’s The Lion King

Christine Dolen reviewed the show for the The Miami Herald:
A director’s artistry elevates ‘The Lion King’
Newly crowned as the highest-grossing production in Broadway history, The Lion King is paying its third visit to South Florida, though this is the show’s first time in Miami after runs five and 10 years ago at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. At Thursday’s official opening night performance, the cast still seemed to be finding its way in its newest home, as a zebra bumped into Rafiki (the playfully commanding Buyi Zama), the stage sometimes looked chaotically crowded and the sound mix in certain spots muddied lyrics. Did the enraptured crowd care? Not a bit.

Taymor, the first woman to win a Tony Award for direction of a musical thanks to her work on The Lion King, is the visionary who transformed a hit 1994 animated movie into a resonant piece of theater that people of all ages still clamor to see. She designed the show’s costumes, co-designed its striking masks and puppets, drawing on traditions ranging from Japanese Bunraku (such as the meerkat Timon, a life-sized puppet operated by the clearly visible and very funny Nick Cordileone) to Indonesian shadow puppetry. She even wrote a few of the lyrics in a score that blends Elton John-Tim Rice pop songs and ballads with the rich, African-flavored work of Lebo M, Mark Mancina, Jay Rifkin and Hans Zimmer.

Through that music, dialogue and dazzling modern dance choreographed by Tony winner Garth Fagan, the cast tells a familiar coming-of-age story, one full of laughter, tragedy and triumph. Like all caring fathers, the majestic lion king Mufasa (Dionne Randolph) tries to teach his cub Simba (Zavion J. Hill and Adante Power alternate in the role) the life lessons that will one day allow his boy to become a confident king. But treachery intervenes in the form of a wildebeest stampede orchestrated by Mufasa’s envious, devious brother Scar (the deliciously villainous J. Anthony Crane), and little Simba must literally run for his life. Scar’s ruinous reign plays out over many years until the restless grown-up Simba (Jelani Remy) is found by his childhood friend Nala (a radiant, cat-like Syndee Winters) and summoned to reclaim his destiny.

Roger Martin Atca reviewed the show for the miamiartzine:

This extraordinary musical opens with the animals parading down the aisles to the music of Elton John and Tim Rice's lyrics and just gets more oohy and aahy as the show progresses. It's the usual tale, the benign King is murdered by his bad, bad brother and the young Prince, taking the blame, flees the kingdom in despair, only to return with true friends and take his rightful place as King and consign his thoroughly rotten uncle to the pits of hell. And, of course, they're all lions, with lion wives and lion girl friends. A warthog, a meerkat and a hornbill are the Prince's best buddies and three hyenas are the lickspittle minions of Uncle Evil.  

According to my research assistant, Chrome, there are 25 different species of animals and birds portrayed in The Lion King utilizing 100 puppets. Just think about that a moment.

Things that stayed with me after the show: the living sea of grass, the wildebeest stampede, the very professional acting of the two young children, the music, the dancing, the singing and the sense of the African veldt and its inhabitants. The wonder of it all on that stage at the Arsht Center.  

And one more thing that really stuck: Granny's bloomers being blasted right off her skinny shanks by the incredible loudness of it all. Of the dozen or so songs and chants, I could understand not one word of those in English. “Excess volume distorts.” Is that a trade secret purposely withheld from the sound men who travel with these road shows? Or it simply that having heard the songs hundreds of times over they are so familiar with the words that having a gorilla belch them through a banana would to their ears be the purest of renderings? I always believed that God gave us stage managers to take care of this sort of thing. Rant over.


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