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.
Mercury Summer Stock’s “Shrek” A Lively Journey Full of Surprises
By MARJORIE PRESTON
Mercury Summer Stock’s current musical production, “Shrek,” with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on the DreamWorks film and book by William Steig, tells the tale of an ogre who embarks on a quest that will change the lives of many. A talented group, principals and supporting cast all, make “Shrek” a lively journey full of surprises.
The green-skinned ogre Shrek (Pat Ciamacco) lives alone in a swamp believing that “real life is grossly overrated” until Lord Farquaad of Duloc (Brian Marshall) banishes so many of his citizens that they begin to show up in Shrek’s neighborhood. On his journey to rescue a princess (in order to get Lord Farquaad off his back), he actually begins to make friends, including a Donkey on the run (Justin Woody) and the Princess Fiona (Sara Masterson), thrilled to be rescued from a tower after thirty years, even if it is by an ogre.
Ciamacco’s Scottish accent is wonderful, he is confident, pleasant and humorous to watch. Ciamacco gets his moment to show his singing skills in “Who I’d Be,” the first act closer. Marshall brings a sly, delicious quality to his short-statured Farquaad, with innovative choreography in his introductory number in the first act in a strong section between Woody’s toe-tapping “Don’t Let Me Go” and Masterson’s skillful mood-changing in “I Know It’s Today.”
Every number involving Woody is peppy and infused with soul, including “Travel Song.” His comic abilities are sharp. Masterson shows great versatility in the plum role of Fiona, including comic timing, great pipes and tap skills in her cheerful ode to daybreak, “Morning Person.” The major characters all come from storybook-bad childhoods, but the audience can sympathize and laugh at their foibles. In fact, the schadenfreude is one of the guilty pleasures of enjoying this show.
Director and Choreographer Pierre-Jacques Brault has assembled a wonderful cast and slipped in a few Cleveland references for fun. His hard work on the choreography shines most in Farquaad’s introductory piece and “Morning Person.” Set Design by Falcon Productions uses multifunctional rolling, rotating and hinged wooden set pieces painted tastefully to depict the grass and rocks of a swamp or high castle walls.
“Shrek” plays at Mercury Summer Stock, Regina Auditorium at Notre Dame College, 1857 South Green Road in South Euclid. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. through June 29. For tickets visit www.mercurysummerstock.com or call (216) 771-5862. Parental guidance is suggested due to some crude humor and general naughtiness.
Marjorie will be doing the press outreach for local kids’ music classes by Sing & Swing, the local arm of national music program Music Together. The latest news is that Sing & Swing will offer a new class in Cleveland, Ohio’s Tremont neighborhood for all the hipsters’ kids! More info at www.singandswing.org.
“The Momologues” at Jackson Community Theater-Ohio Honest and Hilarious
By Marjorie Preston
Jackson Community Theater Ohio’s (JCT-Ohio) production of “The Momologues” by Stefanie Cloutier, Sheila Eppolito and Lisa Rafferty is a homespun, yet sharp production of a baudy, hilarious show aimed at moms and others looking to laugh at the challenges of motherhood.
The four actresses, Bridget Bazzinotti, Denise Dawson Geissinger, Chanda Marie Schmidt and Tawnya Schlabach Sutton, three of whom had never been on stage before, turn in a true-to-life performance. The show rarely feels like complaining, and though it’s not a traditional play with a plot line, it is a series of humorous monologues about mommy-hood book-ended with some equally funny group discussions.
Topics covered include the aches and pains of pregnancy and labor. The ladies ask: why take a pregnant woman’s blood pressure right after she gets off the scale? They discuss pregnant “charity sex” and the “access challenges” of pregnant sex. A late pregnancy baby is like “a guest that has stayed too long.”
Schmidt gets a laugh with her comeback to the doctor who tells her not to push: “Stop pushing? Fuck you!” Sutton suggests perhaps the doctor ask questions during labor of someone other than the pregnant woman – “Ask my husband – does he look like he’s busy over there?”
Bazzinotti delivers her line with aplomb about her emergency C-section: “She’s got the perfect C-section head. It’s not like those others…” and is immediately drowned out by peals of laughter from those familiar with natural birth and squeezed babies’ heads. A running gag has her repeatedly calling her mom with news, like her hemorrhoids or the sweet smell of a baby’s head. Finally she says of her baby daughter, “I think I finally forgave her, so we’re starting over now.”
The women commiserate over loss of privacy, the chance to eat lunch alone, and reading adult level literature. They discuss pregnancy tests, sick kids, and the cost of a date night for parents. Schmidt steals a scene with Geissinger by sliding – in slapstick fashion – out of a high stool while having coffee with her friend.
Director Holly Ellen Roby has put in the work to make scene transitions smooth, and the actresses genuinely seem comfortable and warm around each other. The cast and crew, acting as set designers, have pulled together a simple, no-frills set with wing chairs, pillows, childrens’ books and toys, plus a small coffee shop set to the side.
“The Momologues” finished its run on May 12, Mother’s Day. The production contained adult language and situations. For info on JCT-Ohio’s offerings, visit www.JCT-Ohio.com.
“Motherhood Out Loud” at Actors’ Summit An Eye-Opening Look at Mothering
By Marjorie Preston
The regional premiere of “Motherhood Out Loud” at Actors’ Summit, conceived and developed by Susan Rose and Joan Stein and written by a team of successful and prolific writers, runs the gamut from laugh-out-loud funny to moving and sad, while remaining for the most part a relatable and heartfelt show. The first half is mostly funny and relatable while the second half delves more into moving, and at times sad, subject material before returning to a touching and funny finale called “My Baby.”
Fourteen writers – Leslie Ayvazian, Brooke Berman, David Cale, Jessica Goldberg, Beth Henley, Lameece Issaq, Claire LaZebnik, Lisa Loomer, Michele Lowe, Marco Pennette, Theresa Rebeck, Luanne Rice, Annie Weisman and Cheryl L. West – have collaborated to create a collection of nineteen scenes depicting the struggles of mommies throughout their journeys. The topics include surrogacy by gay parents, mothering a boy who challenges gender identity norms, being the odd mom at the park and many other slices of life from birth to great-grandmotherhood.
The cast includes Shani Ferry, Paula Kline-Messner, Gabriel Riazi and Sarah Grewitt. Ferry’s sparkling, bubbly personality works best in her new-mom-with-sick-husband role in “Next to the Crib.” Moms will remember their worry over their newborn getting sick, questioning whether they are up to the task, and fierce protectiveness while trying to sleep on the carpet next to their baby’s crib. She humorously calls her baby “a sleep terrorist.”
Kline-Messner is consistently good and shines in “Queen Esther” about a son who likes to wear dresses and in “Stars and Stripes” about a mother’s anguish over not being able to protect her adult soldier son in a dangerous world. She brings a believability and a matronly gravity when inhabiting her roles. She delivers words of wisdom as the great-grandmother in “Report on Motherhood”: “Children do not like washing their hair; that is why they need less of it.”
Riazi misfires in two of his roles as some of his lines came off too perky for the material, but hits his stride in “If We’re Using a Surrogate, How Come I’m the One with Morning Sickness?” which surely will enlighten others explaining the process of a gay couple seeking surrogacy so they can be a family.
Grewitt is fun to watch as the cool, snarky mom of a rowdy boy in “New in the Motherhood,” the patient mom in “Baby Bird” and the empty-nester we see in “Threesome” and “My Almost Family.”
Director Constance Thackaberry brings this collection of different voices together nearly seamlessly, though the scene entitled “Elizabeth” seems oddly forced and out of place. Other than this speed bump, the rest of the pieces flow well and evoke reactions such as knowing laughter and nods of recognition as well as feelings of sadness at what time has taken away. Set Designer Neil Thackaberry has tacked a collection of childhood memorabilia to the back wall, giving a sort of homey, “cluttered attic” feel. These reminders of childhood – from the classic baby buggy to the wooden sled and teddy bear – remain constant throughout the production. The show will inform the unenlightened and bring recognition to the faces of others, but the scenes are a reminder of the growth process that kids and their parents go through.
“Motherhood Out Loud” runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. through April 21. For tickets, call (330) 374-7568 or visit www.actorssummit.org. The show contains adult language and subject matter.
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