Marjorie has been helping Waterloo Arts with PR services so that local artists know what the organization is up to!
The New Musical “Freaky Friday” a Funny, Touching, Fast-Paced Sparkling Gem
Cleveland Play House’s current production of the musical “Freaky Friday,” with book by Bridget Carpenter, music by Tom Kitt and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, is a funny, touching, contemporary update of the classic book by Mary Rodgers and the subsequent two classic Disney movies.
When Chicago mother Katherine (Heidi Blickenstaff) and daughter Ellie (Emma Hunton) wish upon a magical hourglass, “How I wish you’d understand and see the world my way,” a temporary curse of sorts is placed on the two of them. For the next 24 hours, the two of them swap bodies and live out the life of the other. Naturally, the process is incredibly stressful and yet enlightening as the two are surprised by both the challenges of the other’s life and their own strength under pressure.
“Freaky Friday” doesn’t just swap the bodies of a mother and daughter – it does so on one of the most exciting days of their lives. While Katherine is hosting her wedding rehearsal and plans to marry the kind, wise Mike (David Jennings) in the morning, Ellie pines for teen heartthrob Adam (Tony Neidenbach), who is hosting an epic scavenger hunt in which she hopes to prove herself special in the eyes of her peers.
Blickenstaff and Hunton both display great physicality, precise vocal chops and practiced comic timing. It is satisfying to watch Hunton showcase her amazing pipes in the Janis Joplin-esque “Bring My (Baby) Brother Home,” which segues from uptempo to a poignant, slower ending. Blickenstaff elicits belly laughs looking at in her face in a mirror as seen through the eyes of her daughter, and has a lovely rock quality to her voice à la Pink in “After All of This and Everything.”
The actresses spend just enough time developing their original characters to make the body switch rewarding. We feel Blickenstaff, the awkward teen in a 40-year-old’s body trying to act like an adult, breezing in and finding out that life isn’t that easy, her unease palpable and then her anger bubbling as she feels adult pressures. We feel Hunton, the 40-year-old mom in a teen’s body, trying to over-manage her life when given the chance to be her daughter for a day.
The emotions audiences feel watching “Freaky Friday” are very real and raw, from empathy at Blickenstaff trying to navigate her way through the tortuous adult world she is unprepared to handle, to laughing out loud at some of the awkward moments, to unexpected genuine sadness at a side story involving sweet, creative little brother Fletcher (Tommy Bilczo).
Director Christopher Ashley has assembled a flawless cast and ensemble that exceeds expectations. Scenic Designer Beowulf Boritt allows the focus to be on the acting, singing and choreography through the use of rolling, two-sided set pieces featuring lockers on one side and tasteful pillars on the other, or using a simple kitchen island or bus stop bench for a scene, making for easier set changes. Choreographer Sergio Trujillo brings energetic youth dance numbers (plus P.E. class) and keeps it contemporary, especially by including Neidenbach’s spins on a hover board during “Go.” Music Director Andrew Graham’s orchestra were tight and supportive of the action on stage.
“Freaky Friday” is a fast-paced sparkling gem of a musical full of hummable tunes which can be enjoyed by audiences from tweens through adults. “Freaky Friday” contains some teen themes.
“Freaky Friday” runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays evenings at 7:30 p.m. and matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through May 20th in the Allen Theatre at the Cleveland Play House at Playhouse Square. For tickets, call (216) 241-6000 or (866)546-1353 or visit www.clevelandplayhouse.com.
America’s largest interactive murder mystery dinner show has hired Marjorie Preston. She can’t tell you any more about her role with the show, or she’d have to kill you. Make your reservations here: https://www.thedinnerdetective.com/ for the Cleveland shows. It’s dinner and a murder! All the Angry Ladies of Improv (Marjorie’s improv troupe) are involved in this show. See you there!
Cleveland Public Theatre’s “Lines in the Dust” Powerful, Meaty Drama About The Educational System
By Marjorie Preston
Cleveland Public Theatre‘s current production of “Lines in the Dust” by Nikkole Salter delves behind the scenes in the lives of three New Jerseyans: a school principal, a parent and an investigator hired to investigate “district hopping.” The script is meaty and gets right to discussion – as there is much to discuss – and there is some occasional comic relief.
Millburn, New Jersey is a desirable suburb for its high-performing schools and safe streets. But underneath it is a latent racism that is challenged when a student at Millburn High School is shot and the student is found to actually be from Newark. The school district sets out to find out how many of its students have been similarly “district hopping,” living in one school district, but illegally sending kids each day to a different district.
Principal Beverly Long (Kimberly Sias) is charged with the task of compiling a report to the school board with the help of Michael DiMaggio, Private Investigator (Skip Corris). A parent at the school, Denitra Morgan (Nicole Sumlin), who has close ties to the principal, has been falsifying records to the school for a year when it is found that she and her daughter live in Newark and are trying to get out of sub-par schools there. They aren’t the only ones.
Sias capably plays the frazzled yet competent principal struggling to make sense of a new city and new job where her role has shifted to keeping people out. Her strong and caring portrayal of the professional with a conscience illuminates the battle she is fighting internally as well as externally, to come to grips with her own desire for upward mobility.
Sumlin plays her character nimbly, flying just under the radar, dismissing the red flag on her daughter’s account as a clerical error in an attempt to stay in the district. She is selflessly working for her daughter, and her struggle is palpable just under the surface, to help her daughter see things with hopeful eyes. We feel that while she is breaking the law, she is learning to have confidence and fight for a different future for her daughter than she had.
Corris, skillful in a role he inhabits seamlessly, works because he expects a suburb to have a certain character and he fears the “outside element.” His cloaked racism and entitlement is challenged, and as he works on his presentation to the school board, he shows his character begins to change as he understands why kids don’t want to go to school in a district with such concentrated poverty.
Director Beth Wood has assembled a stellar, perfect cast for “Lines in the Dust.” The drama is chock full of thought-provoking opinions which change as the characters learn more background on the subject they are living daily. The script allows for the characters’ slow transformation from selfishness to confidence in a greater purpose, and this is visible and palpable to the audience. Set Designer Douglas Puskas has created an island of education surrounded by a high fence and the audience can’t miss the symbolism. There is also great use of projection surfaces for the presentation to the school board. Sound Designer Daniel McNamara has set the story to a thoughtful mix of jazz and rap.
“Lines in the Dust” asks the question: how can we transcend race and class and create great schools for everyone? Hopefully, we all can work to do that in our own lives.
“Lines in the Dust” runs at 7:00 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday through June 18, at 6415 Detroit Avenue in the James Levin Theater. For tickets, call (216)631-2727 or visit www.cptonline.org. The play contains pejorative language and adult themes.
None Too Fragile’s “A Kid Like Jake” Intense, Smartly Written, Weighty with a Sense of Humor
By Marjorie Preston
None Too Fragile’s current production of “A Kid Like Jake” by Daniel Pearle gives voice to the private lives of the parents of New York City Pre-K student Jake as the couple struggles for acceptance into the über-competitive world of NYC private schools. The script is intense and smartly written, and although it addresses weighty subjects, there is humor suffused throughout.
New York City-based parents Alex (Rachel Lee Kolis) and Greg (Geoff Knox) are working with Jake’s preschool admissions coordinator Judy (Laura Starnik) to navigate their Pre-K student son Jake’s entry into the extremely competitive world of NYC private schools. As a side plot, Alex is newly pregnant following a previous miscarriage, and is balancing some concern for her health, whereupon we meet a Nurse (Katie Wells) who, in a dual role, returns in a dream sequence to discuss Cinderella.
Alex, a lawyer turned stay-at-home-mom, has shifted all her attention to play dates and preparing Jake for tests and interviews for private schools. While Alex is hyper-focused on Kindy prep, Greg, a therapist, doesn’t get much time with his son or much affection from his wife. Their communications with each other are so focused on this transition for Jake, they have lost sight of caring for themselves and each other. It is when Judy mentions Jake’s “gender-variant play” outside their home that the couple begin to dig into unexplored feelings and unchallenged assumptions.
Kolis plays the all-too-familiar “mom trying to do it all” with strong commitment to the role. She plays mom Alex capably on an arc from concerned to anxious to full-blown anger and back down through despair. Knox commits equally well to his role, beginning as supportive, turning exasperated and then truly ugly as he scratches under the surface to regain some control of family decisions he had relinquished to his wife. Though very believable and strong actors, the script places them almost in separate worlds at this point in their lives, so they very rarely seem to be connecting as a couple.
The talented Starnik maintains her composure as a professional in a tense confrontational scene. Her body language and delivery make for a very realistic feel in the office of a woman who constantly deals with frantic parents. Wells is compassionate and smooth in her dual roles.
Director and Set Designer Sean Derry keeps the action moving, directing the close-knit group to talk over each other, indicating the interweaving of their lives as caretakers for such a special boy. A simple set utilizing rehearsal cubes is all that fits, though this quickens the pace of the set changes. Props are minimal and all costume changes take place in front of the back curtain, with actors changing in the blackouts. It’s interesting to watch, but may pull some audience members out of the story briefly. Sound Designer Brian Kenneth Armour’s ticking clocks, buzzing phones and Grey’s Anatomy-style slow jams about innocence and sacrifice add a sense of urgency and depth.
Preschool test prep and gender-variant play in children are definitely conversation sparkers. While audiences may disagree about their approach to the issues raised in this play, there is no doubt that None Too Fragile’s performance of “A Kid Like Jake” is superbly written, strongly acted and thought-provoking.
“A Kid Like Jake” runs through March 26, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., Sunday, 3/20 at 2:00 p.m., Monday 3/21 at 8:00 p.m. and Thursdays 3/17 and 3/24 at 8:00 p.m. at 1835 Merriman Road, Akron, Ohio. Entrance is through Pub Bricco. For tickets, call (330) 962-5547 or visit www.nonetoofragile.com. The play contains adult language and themes.
Marjorie is gearing up to be Assistant Editor on the Index to Jewish Periodicals for a tenth year. She started this project in 2005 and only took 2008 off for the birth of her first child. Marjorie enjoys the unique challenges of editing a periodicals index and it is always a learning experience. This project happens in January and February of every year. Hopefully she’ll be done with it by mid-February!
Beck Center’s “Mothers and Sons” Capable Acting Can’t Overcome McNally’s Penchant for Monologue
By Marjorie Preston
The Beck Center’s Studio Theater’s current production of the funereal drama “Mothers and Sons” features strong acting but long-winded and implausible writing.
Frosty recent widow Katharine (Catherine Albers), now living in Texas, plucks up the courage to visit her late son Andre’s ex-partner, Cal (David Bugher) several years after her son’s death. She arrives in New York City and begins a stilted conversation with Cal, where she refuses to sit down, take off her coat or have anything to drink. It becomes clear that she is afraid and frustrated by the mere presence of gay people while simultaneously wanting to connect over her son’s death. Once Cal’s new partner, Will (Scott Esposito) arrives, she assents to a drink, but does not shake Will’s outstretched hand. She is surprised to learn that the two live successful lives as money manager and writer, and further taken aback to learn that they are raising a son, Bud (Ian McLaughlin).
The world has been changing around these characters, leading Cal and Will to be happily legally married with a child and Katharine to assess who she is if she is not “Andre’s mother.” Katharine questions why her life has gotten progressively worse and why Cal’s has gotten better in the ensuing years following Andre’s death.
Albers’ thoughtful portrayal of the unstable widow conveys the beliefs of some in the Silent Generation who disapproved of homosexuality and judged others for it. Her struggle with loving someone she didn’t understand during his lifetime comes across as a yearning for happiness. Bugher as Cal plays the father figure with gravitas, as the encounter leaves him realizing, now that he is a father, that he was judging Katharine all these years. Esposito plays the writer Will as the more emotionally-charged younger man now in Cal’s life, and he does so with a malleable physicality. The adorable McLaughlin shows range, though his lines get lost in the space at times. It’s simply implausible that Katharine would “just drop by” and indeed Will says this out loud in the play.
Director Sarah May might have created more interest had she slowed the pace occasionally to emphasize specific moments, but the play had only minor changes in pacing or volume. McNally’s characters go on so long that one of them even says in the middle of a long monologue, “I’m almost done.” The few bits of comic relief from the tension were highlights, as Cal’s “maple syrup does not recognize state lines.” Scenic Designer Richard Gould has laid everything out in the open, as NYC apartments generally go, with muted Christmas paint colors, tasteful furniture and framed Haring and Cezanne prints on the walls.
“Mothers and Sons” shows us a glimpse of life after a loved one’s passing from AIDS. Those affected by AIDS will be forever scarred by the devastating effects of the disease, which was once a life sentence with no cure in sight, particularly for gay men and their families. Unfortunately, despite capable acting, the pathos McNally was attempting to convey is muddled and timeworn and the characters, while sympathetic, become lost for all the telling. It is sad indeed, however, that perhaps the characters, on their journey, have not arrived at the introspectiveness needed to express it to us fully.
“Mothers and Sons” runs 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through November 15 at the Studio Theater at Beck Center for the Arts. For tickets, call (216) 521-2540 or visit www.beckcenter.org. The play contains adult language and themes.
Marjorie is gearing up to be Assistant Editor on the Index to Jewish Periodicals for a ninth year. She started this project in 2005 and only took 2008 off for the birth of her first child. Marjorie enjoys the unique challenges of editing a periodicals index. This project happens in January and February of every year. Hopefully she’ll be done with it by mid-February!
Marjorie penned an article for Northeast Ohio Parent about switching schools. We discuss public school, private school, Montessori, open enrollment… check it out at http://northeastohioparent.com/. It’s in the August 2014 edition available now wherever parents gather (try your local library)!
Mamaí Theatre Company’s Inaugural Production “Medea” is Haunting and Fearless
By Marjorie Preston
New Cleveland Heights-based theater company Mamaí has brought as its inaugural production the U.S. Premiere of Brendan Kennelly’s translation of “Medea” by Euripides. This production of “Medea” is dark, fearless and haunting.
Medea (Tracee Patterson) is betrayed by her husband Jason (Jason Kaufman), when he beds another woman, princess Glauce, the daughter of King Creon (Robert Hawkes). Patterson is powerful as the grieving, forsaken wife facing exile from King Creon’s land, making her a lonely refugee. This prospect, coupled with her shock at her husband’s broken oath, sends her reeling into hatred.
Medea’s vengefulness doesn’t stop at anger toward her husband or his new bride-to-be. The mother of two makes plans to kill the princess with poison. Her poison also kills the king. Knowing the authorities will come for her, and fearing the way her daughters will be treated when the scandal breaks, and perhaps extending her revenge to the people her husband loves most of all, she murders her own children (Grace Hoy and Julia Ashkettle) in cold blood. “Nobody on this earth will call me weak,” Medea insists.
Patterson is riveting and her Medea is multifaceted, by turns stunned, cold, proud, consumed by hatred and deeply hurt. She communicates sly looks to the audience and embodies cunning during the scene where she is selecting a weapon. Kaufman deftly shifts from an arrogant liar to a broken, destroyed man.
The supporting cast carry their parts deftly. A lovely comic relief comes from Sarah Doody as a naïve, mouth breathing barista obsessed with moderation like some sort of new age cult.
Director Bernadette Clemens has assembled a fiercely talented cast that, coupled with the fresh script, breathe new and stinging life into this tragedy. Set Designer Trad Burns has covered the stage with AstroTurf, practical for catching fluids, and bedecked the set with simple pieces like the picket fence and plant boxes of a homestead or cafe tables and chairs of a Starbucks. Set changes are quick and punctuated with dances from cast members.
Whether Medea has gone mad is for the audience to decide. Her murders are cold and vicious, and yet it’s hard not to feel she achieved payback in a way her husband never anticipated. Euripides writes about a murderer and asks us to see her as a victim. Kennelly’s update of “Medea” is bold and substantive, and the production is populated with talented actors.
“Medea” runs through June 30, Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at 2843 Washington Boulevard, Cleveland Heights in residence on Ensemble Theatre’s main stage. For tickets, call (216) 570-3403 or visit www.mamaitheatreco.org. The play contains adult language and themes.