Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘gary wayne barker’

Intimate Apparel
by Lynn Nottage
Directed by Gary Wayne Barker
New Jewish Theatre
January 26, 2017

Jacqueline Thompson, Julie Layton Photo by Eric Woolsey New Jewish Theatre

Jacqueline Thompson, Julie Layton
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

A corset is an interesting garment. Its function is to be shaping, constraining, but it can also be seen as a thing of beauty and a vessel for self-expression. In Lynn Nottage’s insightful Intimate Apparel,  the playwright explores the ideas of social restriction as well as the desire for self-expression in early 1900’s New York City. Currently on stage at New Jewish Theatre, this play is a well-cast, fascinating exploration.

The play’s central figure is Esther (Jacqueline Thompson), a 35-year-old single African-American woman who lives in a boarding house run by the gossipy but well-meaning Mrs. Dickson (Linda Kennedy) and makes a living sewing “intimate garments” for ladies. Esther can’t read or write, but she is a gifted seamstress with dreams of opening a beauty parlor someday, and who stashes away her earnings in a quilt that she has made. The play is structured in segments that are mostly named after articles of clothing that Esther makes or fabrics that she uses. She purchases the fabrics from Mr. Marks (Jim Butz), a kind Jewish shopkeeper with whom she shares a friendship that, in another time, might blossom into something more. Her main clients that we see are Mrs. Van Buren (Julie Layton), a rich white society woman who’s trapped in a loveless marriage with a man who is increasingly disappointed in her inability to produce children; and her longtime friend Mayme (Andrea Purnell), who works as a prostitute in a nearby saloon and who serves as a contrast to “good girl” Esther, who has played by the rules in hopes of achieving her dream of a good life. There’s also George (Chauncy Thomas), a laborer from Barbados who works on the construction of the Panama Canal, with whom Esther exchanges letters–with the help of Mrs. Van Buren and Mayme, who write them for her–with the increasing promise of marriage. But what happens when George arrives in New York? Will he be the same kind, charming man of his letters or will he be something different? And what of Esther’s dreams, and those of her friends and those around her?

This is an extremely well-structured play with richly developed characters, incisively examining the strict social confines of the society it depicts, and also casting some light on the expectations of women in society even today. Racial, class, and gender differences and expectations are all explored, as well as the ideas of dreams vs. reality and personal agency vs. social pressure. The cast is uniformly strong, led by Thompson in a sensitive, courageous portrayal of the hopeful but conflicted Esther. Her scenes with Butz as the kind Mr. Marks are a highlight, as are her scenes with Purnell’s vivacious but somewhat self-deluded Mayme. There are also strong performances from Kennedy as the nosy but caring Mrs. Dickson, Layton as the refined, confined and curious Mrs. Van Buren, and Thomas in an impressive portrayal of two versions of George–the idealized form in the letters, and the much more complex George of reality.  It’s an extremely cohesive ensemble with no weak links, and all the performers display excellent presence and chemistry in their scenes together.

As is usual for NJT, the technical aspects of this production are truly excellent. The troupe’s black box theatre has been arranged in a more traditional proscenium set-up reflecting its early 20th Century setting, and Peter and Margery Spack’s set is impeccably detailed and period accurate. It’s like being transported to a different time and place, and the well demarcated performance areas also reflect the show’s theme of social restrictions and “boxes” into which its characters are expected to fit, although the staging allows the performers to wander into the other areas of the set as they explore and sometimes test the boundaries into which they are confined. There’s also excellent, meticulously accurate costume design by Michele Friedman Siler and intense, atmospheric lighting by Sean Savoie. This is a play set in very specific time and place, well-represented here and augmented by Amanda Werre’s sound design and era-specific ragtime music.

Intimate Apparel is a play that veers from optimistic to heartbreaking to stubbornly hopeful, and all those aspects are well-portrayed in NJT’s first-rate production. As I’ve come to expect from this ambitious company, excellence is on display here. It’s a journey to the past richly portrayed but also an exploration of some issues that are still very much in the present. It’s an exquisitely constructed theatrical experience.

Jacqueline Thompson, Andrea Purnell Photo by Eric Woolsey New Jewish Theatre

Jacqueline Thompson, Andrea Purnell
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre is presenting Intimate Apparel  at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until February 12, 2017.

Read Full Post »

The Diary of Anne Frank
by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
Adapted by Wendy Kesselman
Directed by Gary Wayne Barker
New Jewish Theatre
October 12, 2014

Samantha Moyer, Bobby Miller Photo by John Lamb New Jewish Theatre

Samantha Moyer, Bobby Miller
Photo by John Lamb
New Jewish Theatre

It’s easy to think of history with a degree of detachment. World War II was a long time ago, and to many people nowadays, it’s mostly represented by names and dates in books.  As important as the lessons of history can be, especially with events as world-changing and horrific as what transpired in Nazi Germany and its occupied areas, the study of such events can easily become simply academic or philosophical.  New Jewish Theatre, in opening its new season with a profoundly affecting production of The Diary of Anne Frank, has brought history to life in an immediate, intensely compelling way that serves to remind us that these people are not just names in a book. They were real, and what happened to them is not only important to remember–it’s essential.

Anne Frank’s story is a familiar one, with this play having won a Pulitzer Prize and having been filmed several times for both the big and small screens.  This version, a revision of the orginal play that includes more of Anne’s writings, was performed on Broadway in 1997. This is the first time New Jewish Theatre has produced this play, and this remarkable production is definitely worth the wait. Focusing on young Jewish teenager Anne (Samantha Moyer) and her family–father Otto (Bobby Miller), mother Edith (Amy Loui), and older sister Margot (Taylor Steward)–as they hide from oppressive authorities in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, the play details the struggles of the family as they spend two years living in close quarters in a secret section of Otto Frank’s office building, being aided by sympathetic employees Miep (Stefanie Kluba) and Mr. Kraler (Eric Dean White).  The Franks share their very small space with another family, Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan (Jason Grubbe and Margeau Steinau) and their teenage son, Peter (Leo B. Ramsey), as well as a local dentist, Mr. Dussel (Terry Meddows).  Personality conflicts and a shortage of supplies add to the already tense situation, as everybody waits, hopes and prays for the war to end and the Nazi government to fall so that the Franks and their friends won’t have to hide anymore.

Anyone who knows this story knows how it ends, but the power of this production is in the fact that the suspense is still there.  Even with the inevitability of the conclusion looming, we are left hoping against hope.  The characterizations are so vivid and real, and the staging is immediate and personal, with very little detachment between the audience and the performers.  The incredibly detailed set by Jim Burwinkel creates a believable environment and extends it with little separation from the seating area, allowing us in the audience to feel as if we are in this confined space with the cast, and their sense of confinement is made even more real as a result.  The costumes, designed by Michele Friedman Siler, are also meticulously detailed and period-specific, lending more authenticity to the production along with excellent lighting design by Maureen Berry, sound design by Zoe Sullivan, and properties design by Jenny Smith.  Technically, this is an impressive and immersive production, which adds to the overall drama of the play.

The performances here are very strong all around, with SLU student Samantha Moyer as the bubbly, energetic Anne and veteran performer Bobby Miller as her beloved father Otto forming the emotional center of this production. Their bond is very real and affecting, and their scenes together are among the dramatic highlights. Miller’s last scene is simply devastating.  Loui, as Anne’s concerned mother Edith, and Steward as the more quiet, reflective Margot are also excellent, as are Steinau and Grubbe as the Van Daans.  Meddows brings a lot of sympathy to the nervous Mr. Dussel, and Ramsey is charming as the reserved young Peter, who gradually develops an attraction to Anne. He and Moyer have some very sweet moments together, displaying good chemistry as the smitten young teens.  Kluba and White lend strong support as allies Miep and Mr. Kraler, as well.  This is a top-notch cast, portraying the characters as eminently relatable, bringing an immediate sense of reality and poignancy to the proceedings. We hope the best for these characters as they struggle to stay alive and cling to their hopes and their memories, and as they huddle around the radio listening to news and hoping for freedom. Getting to know these people adds to the inevitable sense of tragedy.

Artistic Director Kathleen Sitzer notes in the program that we will soon be in a time in which the Holocaust will no longer be in living memory, as the last survivors are currently in advanced age.  Soon, nobody will remember this story first-hand, and it falls to books and plays like this to remind us of the horrific reality of the Holocaust and the millions of real people who were affected by it.  Kudos to all involved in this outstanding production for reminding us that these are not just names on a page. Anne Frank, her family and friends were real people facing a real tragedy that needs to be remembered.  This production effectively emphasizes the real human lives involved, and the remarkable young girl at the center at it all who had the heart, courage and wisdom to write down her experiences for generations to remember.  It’s an important production, impressively staged and remarkably realized.

Cast of The Diary of Anne Frank Photo by John Lamb New Jewish Theatre

Cast of The Diary of Anne Frank
Photo by John Lamb
New Jewish Theatre

 

Read Full Post »