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Posts Tagged ‘dramatic license productions’

The Odd Couple (Female Version)
by Neil Simon
Directed by Alan Knoll
Dramatic License Productions
April 25, 2015

The Cast of The Odd Couple (Female Version) Photo by John Lamb Dramatic License Productions

The Cast of The Odd Couple (Female Version)
Photo by John Lamb
Dramatic License Productions

Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple has had many incarnations over the years. It’s been a play that’s seen several revisions and revivals, as well as a film and a popular TV show, along with several attempts at remaking the TV show. The latest production at Dramatic License, of Simon’s 1986 female version of the play–reflects the company’s new focus on women.  An ingenious and entertaining re-invention of the play, this version is a fitting first venture on the company’s new track.

This isn’t just the male Odd Couple with women subbing for the men. Having never seen this version before, I’m impressed with how well Simon has translated the material, especially since the dynamics of female friendships are often very different than those of male friendships. The basic situation is similar, but the overall effect is quite different. The play tells the story of laid-back, somewhat slovenly Olive Madison (Kim Furlow), who lives alone but hosts a regular evening playing Trivial Pursuit with her group of friends, including Sylvie (Kirsten Wylder), police officer Mickey (Carmen Larimore Russell), Renee (Christine Alsop), and Vera (Mara Bollini). Soon into the evening, the friends are informed that their fastidious friend, Florence Unger (Colleen Backer) has gone missing after splitting with her husband. Eventually, Florence turns up at Olive’s place, and Olive offers to let Florence move in.  This sets off the inevitable conflict, as their personalities couldn’t be more different, and Florence is dealing with her own issues of insecurity over her failed relationship. The usual comedy ensues, including a situation involving a pair of romantically inclined Spanish brothers (Paul James as Manolo, Phil Leveling as Jesus) who live in their building and who Olive invites over for dinner.

This story plays out both similarly and differently than its male-centered counterpart. The situation is similar, as are some of the conflicts, but the personalities come across much differently in this version. For instance, I always found the Felix character in the male version to be somewhat unbearable, but in Florence, the neurotic neat-freak characteristics appear much more sympathetic, especially here, as played by the excellent Backer.  She lends an endearing quality to the character that isn’t quite as apparent in the male version, and her interactions with Furlow’s Olive are still combative, but there’s an underlying affection there that’s easier to see in this version. Furlow gives an equally strong performance as Olive, who portrays an effective air of vulnerability in the midst of her character’s outward bravado. The two leads are what really make the show here, although they get some good support from the rest of the cast as well, especially Bollini as the somewhat naive Vera, Wylder as the sarcastic Sylvie, and Leveling and James as the charmingly goofy Costazuela brothers.  There’s a strong sense of energy throughout the ensemble, as well as some good moments of physical comedy.

The production maintains the 1986 setting of this version’s first staging, and that atmosphere is maintained well through the use of 1980’s music played between scenes, as well as Lisa Hazelhorst’s costumes. The set, designed by Kyra Bishop, is sufficiently detailed and also appropriately rearranged between scenes to reflect Florence’s influence after she moves in.

This is a very funny show, reflecting the importance of friendships among women, as well as the need for individual independence. I find the characters of Florence and Olive easier to relate to than their male counterparts, and even though the male version of this show is more famous, I think I actually prefer this version.  It’s been given a lively and hilarious production at Dramatic License Productions that’s well worth seeing.

Kim Furlow, Colleen Backer, Carmen Larimore Russell, Kirsten Wylder Photo by John Lamb Dramatic License Productions

Kim Furlow, Colleen Backer, Carmen Larimore Russell, Kirsten Wylder
Photo by John Lamb
Dramatic License Productions

The Odd Couple (Female Version) is on stage at Dramatic License Productions, in Chesterfield Mall, until May 10th, 2015.

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Rembrandt’s Gift
by Tina Howe
Directed by Annamaria Pileggi
Dramatic License Productions
October 23, 2014

Greg Johnston, John Contini, Kim Furlow Photo by John Lamb Dramatic License Productions

Greg Johnston, John Contini, Kim Furlow
Photo by John Lamb
Dramatic License Productions

Rembrandt’s Gift is an intriguing little play.  I say “little” because it’s surprisingly short and concise, and I say “intriguing” because it’s not easy to categorize. It’s a domestic drama, a comedy, and a fantasy all rolled into one, involving the famous 17th Century Dutch painter acting as a combination catalyst and counselor for a troubled present-day couple. It’s a fast-moving play with an interesting concept, and the biggest strength of Dramatic License Productions’ latest presentation is its excellent cast, along with some wonderful technical elements.

The story takes place entirely in the cluttered New York City loft apartment of married couple Walter (John Contini) and Polly (Kim Furlow), who are dealing with a multitude of issues, including Walter’s OCD and hoarding, threats of eviction, and Polly’s regrets over the stagnation of her once-celebrated career as a photographer.  Walter, once a successful actor, has become increasingly housebound and attached to his large, unwieldy collection of theatrical costumes and other memorabilia, and Polly is increasingly frustrated with his life-dominating rituals and his unwillingness to help her clean up the house in preparation for a meeting with their landlord.  When an argument erupts surrounding Polly’s favorite framed self-portrait of Rembrandt, the two are shocked to find the painter himself (Greg Johnston) standing in their hallway, after having apparently been transported via a mirror on the wall.  Rembrandt, who speaks in a style reminiscent of Shakespearean English, is understandably bewildered by his sudden arrival in 21st Century New York. Meanwhile, Polly–who seems to have had something of a historical crush on the painter–is thrilled, and Walter is suspicious.  As Walter, Polly, and Rembrandt struggle to make sense of their situation, events transpire that challenge the strength of Walter and Polly’s marriage, as well as challenging all three to confront their own life goals, dreams and regrets.

This is a very quickly paced play, with some witty dialogue and a lot of historical background. It’s obvious that playwright Tina Howe did a lot of research about Rembrandt’s life, and all three characters are richly drawn. There are a few surprises along the way as Rembrandt’s role in Walter’s and Polly’s lives evolves into something unexpected, and the conclusion is upbeat if a little bit simplistic.  Still, the real strength of this play is in its characters, and they are ideally cast here with excellent local performers.  Contini’s portrayal of Walter is especially noteworthy, in showing the full range of emotions of this proud, aging actor who is being forced to confront his own fears and limitations, as his sense of devotion to his beloved costume collection is contrasted with his devotion to his wife, with the surprising antagonist being the out-of-place Rembrandt.  Johnston plays the painter with a charmingly baffled air and a sense of renewed wonder, as the transplanted artist is forced to discover a new world of sights, sounds and people.  Both actors play well against one another, with an intense confrontation in the second act that includes a dynamic and at times hilarious sword fight choreographed by Erik Kuhn. Both also display strong chemistry with Furlow, whose wistful Polly is torn between her commitment to Walter and her star-struck enchantment with Rembrandt.  All three performers do excellent work here, carrying the weight of the story on their shoulders and managing to maintain sympathy and energy.

The technical elements are especially well done here, as the small performance space in Chesterfield Mall is transformed into a cluttered SoHo loft that looks like a cross between a theatrical costume shop and an attic.  The set design, by Cameron Tesson, is richly detailed, as are the ideally suited costumes by Teresa Doggett.  From Rembrandt’s robes to Walter’s conglomeration of theatrical garb, the costumes help create and maintain the tone of both confinement and whimsicality at the center of this story.  There are also some fantastic lighting effects by lighting and sound designer Max Parilla.  This is the kind of show in which the setting is almost a character in itself, and the production values are very impressive here.

This is a play about relationships. It deals with a husband and wife’s relationships with one another, as well as artists with their fans and with their art.  Although the story can be bit simplistic at times, it’s full of funny and poignant moments, as well as strong dialogue. Ultimately, Rembrandt’s Gift at Dramatic License is  worth seeing for the quality of the  physical production and, especially, the first-rate cast. It’s another great reminder of the sheer depth of talent in the St. Louis theatre community.

Kim Furlow, John Contini, Greg Johnston Photo by John Lamb Dramatic License Productions

Kim Furlow, John Contini, Greg Johnston
Photo by John Lamb
Dramatic License Productions

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The Great American Trailer Park Musical
Music and Lyrics by David Nehls
Book by Betsy Kelso
Directed by Alan Knoll
Dramatic License Productions
September 6th, 2014

Cast of The Great American Trailer Park Musical Photo by John Lamb Dramatic License Productions

Cast of The Great American Trailer Park Musical
Photo by John Lamb
Dramatic License Productions

Welcome to Armadillo Acres!  In their latest offering at their location in Chesterfield Mall, Dramatic License is hosting this over-the-top tribute to life in a Florida trailer park, complete with all the characters one might expect, and few real surprises. Still, while this show may not be for all tastes, it certainly draws a large, enthusiastic audience.  With a great, highly energetic cast and strong production values, this show manages to entertain despite any shortcomings in the script.

The story takes us to Stark, Florida, where the Armadillo Acres trailer park is populated by a range of colorful, if somewhat stereotypical, characters. There’s a Greek Chorus of sorts, consisting of the park’s owner Betty (Kim Furlow); perky teenager Pickles (Stephanie Benware), who may or may not be pregnant; and the brash Linoleum (Stephanie Merritt), whose convict husband is on Florida’s Death Row.  These three serve as our tour guides throughout the play, directly addressing the audience and occasionally playing a variety of other characters as the scenes require.  The main plot revolves around the troubled marriage of the agoraphobic Jeannie (Jamie Lynn Eros), and her husband Norbert (Jeffrey Pruett), a toll collector who is increasingly frustrated at Jeannie’s inability to leave the trailer (she’s been in there for 20 years).  When feisty stripper Pippi (Leah Stewart) moves into town, a smitten Norbert is torn between his sweet but anxious wife and the available new neighbor. But wait–maybe Pippi isn’t so available after all, as her enraged, glue and marker-sniffing ex-boyfriend Duke (Luke Steingruby) is determined to win her back or else. In the course of the plot, loyalties are tested, secrets are revealed and many, many jokes are told.

I have to admit this is not really my type of show, but in the hands of the excellent cast members who all seem to be having a wonderful time, I often found myself laughing along with the packed audience. There are certainly problems with the script, some of the jokes go just a little too far in their outrageousness, and it’s not always clear whether this parody is affectionate or belittling. The plot is also fairly predictable, and one very big revelation toward the end of the play is telegraphed in the first few minutes.  The music is very energetic, though, with a great little band and the strong voices of the talented cast, and some clever lyrics (such as “make like a nail an press on”).  Most of the music is country-styled, but there is one hilarious foray into disco at the end of Act One that is among the highlights of this production, as well as showing off the great costuming by Lisa Hazelhorst, energetic choreography by Zachary Stefaniak, and Max Parrilla’s wonderful lighting effects.  There’s also a very colorful, atmospheric set designed by Kyra Bishop that enhances the overall energy of the production.

The real highlight of this show is its wonderful cast.  Most of the characters here are very broadly portrayed and don’t seem to have much depth, although the performers seem to be having a lot of fun, and manage to bring some substance when there isn’t much in the script.  Furlow, Benware and Merritt make excellent guides through the proceedings, with lots of charm and energy, and there’s also a fun comic performance by Steingruby as the deranged and determined Duke.  Pruett has a difficult role as the vacillating Norbert, although he manages to find some sympathy for the character, and he has good chemistry with his two rival leading ladies.  The real standouts here, though, are Eros as the anxious but earnest Jeannie, and Leah Stewart as the new neighbor, Pippi. Eros gives a thoroughly winning performance, displaying a lot of guts and a strong voice, making the audience cheer her on in her efforts to overcome her agoraphobia and sympathize with her as she deals with the challenges to her marriage. While Jeannie is definitely the character with the most depth in this show, Stewart manages to find a lot of substance to her role as the conflicted “other woman”, and she also has a great big voice that she shows off to great effect throughout the show. There’s also a very strong finale in which all of the cast members get to show off their voices as all of the plot’s loose ends are tied up in various hilariously improbable ways.

Ultimately, a show like this is about entertainment. Even though it does have its issues plot and script-wise, it certainly does succeed in being entertaining. Some people will like it more than others, but I’d be surprised if anyone would be able to see this show and not laugh at least a little. Thanks to the great cast that Dramatic License and director Alan Knoll have assembled, this show manages to succeed in eliciting an uproarious response from its audience.

Cast of The Great American Trailer Park Musical Photo by John Lamb Dramatic License Productions

Cast of The Great American Trailer Park Musical
Photo by John Lamb
Dramatic License Productions

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The Nerd
by Larry Shue
Directed by John Contini
Dramatic License Productions

May 2, 2014

Jason Contini, Taylor Pietz, B. Weller Photo by John Lamb Dramatic License Productions

Jason Contini, Taylor Pietz, B. Weller
Photo by John Lamb
Dramatic License Productions

Sometimes comedy is just comedy.  It doesn’t have to have any deep meaning or sharp social commentary, although some comedies do. Comedies can be complex or simple, as deep as a canyon or as light as a feather. Regardless of tone, however, the ultimate purpose of a comic play is to make its audience laugh, and Larry Shue’s outrageous and fast-moving The Nerd does that, and does it well.  One of two popular and hilarious comedies that serve as the late and gifted Shue’s artistic legacy (the other being The Foreigner), The Nerd is full of broad humor, strong performances and sharply paced action.  This latest production from Dramatic License Productions, performed in their converted storefront space in Chesterfield Mall, provides all the expected laughs and then some.

The plot is relatively simple, set in 1980s Terre Haute, Indiana and revolving around mild-mannered architect Willum Cubbert (Jason Contini), who is preparing to celebrate his 34th birthday, assisted by his semi-serious girlfriend Tansy (Taylor Pietz) and their best friend, acerbic theatre critic Axel (B. Weller).  Willum’s life is comfortable, if not especially fulfilling as he deals with Tansy’s plans to move out of town for a job, and working on a lucrative-but-frustrating job designing a hotel for a particularly demanding boss, Warnock “Ticky” Waldgrave (John Reidy), who has been invited to Willum’s birthday party along with his nervous wife (Nicole Angeli) and unruly young son (Hayden Benbenek).  The birthday plans, and Willum’s life in general, are disrupted in spectacular fashion with the arrival of Rick Steadman (Mike Wells), who is credited with saving Willum’s life years before when both were serving in the Army in Vietnam.  Rick is unusual, to say the least, with an off-the-chart degree of social awkwardness and distracting habits like practicing his tambourine at all hours, making  the birthday guests uncomfortable with his strange stories and unusual party games, and completely imposing on Willum’s good manners and hospitality by moving in and basically taking over Willum’s life.  Confronted with the dilemma of how to get rid of Rick without hurting his feelings, Willum is forced to examine his life in various areas and ultimately make a choice between living according to his own convictions or living primarily to please those around him.

Although this isn’t a particularly deep play and it majors on outrageous characterization rather than intricate plotting, it is reasonably well-structured, with efficient use of foreshadowing as well as some clever jokes about theatre critics that I found especially ironic, being there to review the show myself.  Shue has done a good job of placing a few hints to the play’s somewhat surprising conclusion throughout the script, as well, and director John Contini and the excellent cast have managed to keep up the pacing and deliver all the jokes with utmost outrageous effect. The detailed and characterful set by Kyra Bishop and the well-suited costumes by Lisa Hazelhorst (particularly Rick’s goofy getup), along with the great use of some old standard songs before and during the show, helps to set and maintain the whimsical atmosphere.

The casting is excellent across the board, although the focus of the play is on Jason Contini’s determined nice-guy Willum, Weller’s charmingly snarky Axel, and Wells’s magnetically infuriating Rick. Contini plays the exasperated “everyman” role proficiently, while the increasingly wacky Wells commands the stage with geeky gusto, and Weller quietly steals several scenes with his precisely delivered witticisms and perfectly controlled curmudgeonly charm.  These three carry most of the action while the rest of the players lend strong support.  Pietz in particular plays well alongside Contini and Weller, and Reidy as the stuffy Waldgrave, Angeli as his high-strung wife have some great moments, as well, with young Benbenek displaying some strong slapstick abilities as the Waldgraves’ initially bratty and increasingly terrified son, Thor.

The Nerd is another good example of the quality work that can be found in theatre companies all around the St. Louis area. I’ve noticed that there seems to be an inherent reluctance among those who live in the city (myself included) toward making the long trek to Chesterfield because the city already has a lot to offer in terms of arts, restaurants and nightlife, and a theatre company based in a mall does sound kind of strange at first. Still, the professional atmosphere and overall quality of the productions at Dramatic License, and this current production in particular, makes the trip very much worth the extra effort.

John Reidy, Nicole Angeli, Mike Wells, Jason Contini Photo by John Lamb Dramatic License Productions

John Reidy, Nicole Angeli, Mike Wells, Jason Contini
Photo by John Lamb
Dramatic License Productions

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Shirley Valentine
by Willy Russell
Directed by Lee Anne Mathews
Dramatic License Productions

February 28, 2014

Teresa Doggett Photo by John Lamb  Dramatic License Productions

Teresa Doggett
Photo by John Lamb
Dramatic License Productions

Teresa Doggett is Shirley Valentine.  In Dramatic License Productions’ current presentation of Willy Russell’s one-woman comedy-drama, Doggett is the undisputed star. She takes a role made famous in the 1980’s by Pauline Collins and makes it her own in a fully committed, confident performance that is the centerpiece of this engaging production.

Shirley Valentine Bradshaw (Doggett) is a working class housewife in 1980’s Liverpool, England.  Having married and had children at a young age, Shirley has spent much of her adult life at home raising her kids and looking after her demanding husband. Now, at 42, she is starting to wonder if life has passed her by.  When a friend invites her to join her on a vacation to Greece, Shirley is forced to confront her regrets and make a decision, and the results of that choice have profound effects on her life and her very perception of herself and those around her.  

Russell’s play is very much of its time, with a lot of the humor and drama revolving around the predicament of middle-aged women in England at the time.  Some of the material has dated to the point where it really can’t be updated and it needs to be treated as a period piece, but it works very well as such.  What the play absolutely demands, though, is a dynamic actress in the role of Shirley, and this production delivers that in Teresa Doggett.

Doggett brings Shirley to life with all her humor, warmth and complexity.  The wonder of this performance is that Shirley is such a multi-faceted character, and Doggett’s energy portrays all those facets to the fullest.  Shirley is an engaging personality, warmly greeting the audience (and the wall of her kitchen, which she frequently addresses) and seemingly cheerful about the day as we first meet her and she recounts stories of her kids and her reflections on changing attitudes in the world toward women, aging, sex and other issues.  She’s full of broad humor and an enthusiastic storyteller. As the performance continues, however, we begin to see Shirley’s dissatisfaction and regret, about her family’s, and  society’s, expectations of her in contrast to her own hopes and dreams from when she was a young, energetic teenager before her marriage.  She’s faced with an identity crisis between Shirley Bradshaw, the worn-out housewife, and Shirley Valentine–the young, free-spirited person that she used to be and wishes she can be again.

Doggett’s strengths are her great energy and engaging characterization as she brings the audience into Shirley’s world so completely, and takes us along on her journey of self-discovery. Her Liverpool accent, while not perfect, is consistent  and Shirley’s big personality is fully realized. Also, even though this is a one-woman show, it’s not exactly a one-character show, as Doggett portrays the various people in Shirley’s life as she describes them. That’s another great aspect of this performance, in that all these characters, from Shirley’s husband and kids to her various friends and people she meets on her trip to Greece, are fully realized. Doggett adjusts her voice and mannerisms accordingly as Shirley tells her story, and even though Shirley is the only character who actually appears on stage, we are allowed to really “meet” these other people, as well.  

This is a show very much of its era, and the time and place are set well by Doggett’s performance as well as her costumes and the sets by Matthew Stuckel.  We see the very realistic interior of Shirley’s kitchen in the first act, as well as the exotic Greek villa of the second act, and the 1980’s music that plays before the performance also helps to set the mood.   The only real misstep was a somewhat clumsily-executed scene change in the middle of act one that made many in the audience wonder if it was intermission. The performance recovered very well after that, though, and Doggett’s determined Shirley brought us back into the story very quickly.

had never seen this play before, but  I remember hearing about the celebrated performance of Pauline Collins in the London and Broadway productions  in the late 1980’s, and also in the subsequent film.  It also became something of a cultural touchstone for middle-aged women at the time. I was a teenager then, but now I’m closer to the protagonist’s age, and I think watching the show is probably a different experience now than it would have been when it was first produced. The perception of age and the roles of women in society have changed significantly in the last 25 years, to the point where Shirley’s situation seems like it would have happened to someone at least ten years older in today’s world.  Still, it’s a fascinating character study and a portrait of a time and place that’s valuable to look back on, and this production provides that and, in Teresa Doggett’s confident and remarkable performance, something to celebrate.

Teresa Doggett Photo by John Lamb Dramatic License Productions

Teresa Doggett
Photo by John Lamb
Dramatic License Productions

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