Archive | October, 2012

Dobama Theatre’s “A Bright New Boise” Takes on Religion with Equal Parts Comedy and Realism

29 Oct

Dobama Theatre’s “A Bright New Boise” Takes on Religion with Equal Parts Comedy and Realism
By Marjorie Preston
Brava!
www.marjoriepreston.com/brava

Dobama Theatre’s current production, “A Bright New Boise,” by Samuel D. Hunter, confronts religion’s effect on each of the characters working at a Hobby Lobby in Boise, Idaho. Religion may be a coping mechanism, but in this drama that is also heavily comic, it is an escape from the harsh realities of life.

Newcomer to Boise, Will (Tom Woodward), hopes to start a new life and leave behind a church scandal in the Coeur d’Alene area as he seeks out the son put up for adoption against his wishes over a decade ago. Will finds his son, no longer named William, but now called Alex (Andrew Deike), and working in a Hobby Lobby with the angry Leroy (Brian Devers), another teen being raised in the same home as Alex. Will also encounters his new boss, hard-working, chatty, frustrated Pauline (Kristy Kruz), and his shy bookworm coworker Anna (Kim Krane).

Samuel D. Hunter paints with a broad brush full of cliches here. Of course, the agnostic Pauline is self-absorbed and more interested in consumer culture than her soul. Of course, the Lutheran Anna is meek and unassuming. Of course the evangelical Will is convinced he’s right to the exclusion of facts from the outside world. And that leaves confused, distrustful teenage boys Alex and Leroy unclear who to turn to, sensitive Alex having panic attacks regularly and Leroy, a bright art school student working in a retail store while raging against consumerism.

But the script is also deeply funny: in act two, becoming achingly personal in its treatment of religion, as Will admits out loud the reason he clings to his faith: to keep from confronting the realizations that he has abandoned his kid and works at a Hobby Lobby.

Director Nathan Motta has a smart script the actors can sink their teeth into, and they do, from the very first scene where the ever-funny Kruz, as the hiring manager, does more talking than interviewing but still manages to note the one inconsistency in Woodward’s resume, and continuing on to stilted conversations in scenes between Woodward and Deike, who as Alex, overloads easily. Deike plays him as fevered, squirrely, and nihilistic.

Scenic Designer Connie Hecker has decorated a Hobby Lobby break room with the requisite employee information board and inspirational posters to go with the TV and soda machine. Lighting Designer Marcus Dana’s industrial fluorescent lighting, flickering between scenes, adds the perfect touch to this tidy, mundane office setting. The break room set crumbles away at its edge into a parking lot set with a light pole in a large cement block.

The cast of “A Bright New Boise” rises to the occasion and delivers a thoroughly engrossing, thought-provoking and funny evening of theater.

“A Bright New Boise” plays at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road in the West Wing of the Cleveland Heights Main Library, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through November 18. Tickets are available at www.dobama.org or by calling (216) 932-3396. The play contains adult language and situations.

Insanity Intrigues in River Street Playhouse’s Uniquely Twisted “Veronica’s Room”

29 Oct

Insanity Intrigues in River Street Playhouse’s Uniquely Twisted “Veronica’s Room”
By Marjorie Preston
Brava!
www.marjoriepreston.com/brava

The Chagrin Valley Little Theatre’s production of “Veronica’s Room” by Ira Levin, now at the River Street Playhouse, is a thriller that takes audiences on a bumpy ride through a world of insanity.

In a Massachusetts mansion in the year 1973, two elderly Irish caretakers of an estate have brought a young girl (Natalie Dolezal) on a date with a young man (Brendon Berns) to see a painting in the room of a girl said to have passed away of tuberculosis in 1935. Once the girl is in their home, the woman (Lisa Freebairn-Tarr) and man (Craig Gifford) tell the girl that she bears a striking resemblance to Veronica (the girl they say passed away). But “Don’t you worry,” says the woman, “Everything is safe.” The man adds, “It’ll be a breeze.”

They ask her help in easing the guilt of Veronica’s sister, Sissy, who they say is slipping into dementia as a result of terminal cancer. The couple tell the young girl that if she would just pretend to be Veronica and have a conversation with Sissy, she can make her last days more peaceful. However, the caretakers are not who they claim to be. Veronica is alive, and she is insanely murderous. In the meantime, the girl begins to question her own sanity.

Freebairn-Tarr is perfectly creepy as the woman, and her distant eyes bring to mind Bette Davis in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” when she reveals herself to be something other than an Irish caretaker. Dolezal plays sweet naif as a counterpoint and watching her question her sanity is disturbing and compelling. Berns switches easily from skeptical love interest to cold and calculating. Gifford ‘s Irish accent is a miss, but he is otherwise believable in his role.

Director/Producer Laurel Bryant has been drawn to this play for years and her passion for the piece shows. The audience may think they’re getting a quaint Massachusetts drama and instead is jolted into a dark thriller by the author of “Stepford Wives” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” Technical Director Edmond Wolff’s set is a lovely country mansion complete with antique wooden furniture and Victrola.

“Veronica’s Room” is sure to keep you guessing and may even make you squirm as you try to figure out which, if any, of the characters is sane. The play itself, and everyone in it, appear to spiral into madness – how perfect for the Halloween season.

“Veronica’s Room” runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through November 10th at the River Street Playhouse, 56 River Street, Chagrin Falls. For tickets, call (440) 247-8955 or visit www.cvlt.org. All tickets to the River Street Playhouse are $10. The play features violence, adult language and content.

Sun Messenger Interview with Marjorie about “Emmaisms” Book Now Online!

23 Oct

Marjorie was interviewed by the suburban Cleveland paper the Sun Messenger about the July release of the book she edited, “Emmaisms,” available here at amazon.com. Marjorie’s daughter Emma was quoted for over two years and the quotes were compiled into a humorous, thought-provoking book. The article, from Thursday’s Sun Messenger newspaper, just went live today and can be seen at http://www.cleveland.com/lyndhurst-south-euclid/index.ssf/2012/10/south_euclid_mother_gathers_he.html.

A snippet of the article, by Jeff Piorkowski:
Emma Preston’s way with wordplay, sometimes whimsical, sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes humorous, caught the attention of her mother’s friends on Facebook. Marjorie Preston began when her daughter wasn’t quite 2 years old, including Emma’s sayings in her Facebook posts under the heading, “The Truth According to Emma.”

“I started to see that my friends were more interested to read what Emma had to say than what I was saying,” Preston said.

“She makes up words with a comical tone. Like, she calls brown bananas ‘rusty bananas.’ Instead of saying ‘selfish’ she said she is ‘friendish.’ She’s just different.”

One of Marjorie’s Jokes Chosen as Joke of the Week in Comedy Newsletter!

23 Oct

Marjorie’s joke was chosen as Joke of the Week in the How To Be A Working Comic & Humorous Speaker newsletter published by Dave Schwensen!

Dave is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy, and Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works. His credits include Talent Coordinator for the television show A&E’s An Evening At The Improv, the Hollywood and New York City Improv Comedy Clubs, and Assistant to Improv founder Budd Friedman.

Dave currently manages the Cleveland Improv comedy club. Marjorie used to do standup in the mid-90s, and she took Dave’s full standup comedy writing workshop once and went back a couple other times to work with him and his class on some new material from time to time. Dave’s advice helped her hone her material.

The newsletter can be found at this link.

“Modern Terrorism” at Second Stage Theatre Funny, Touching and Slightly Disturbing

17 Oct

Marjorie Preston
Brava!
www.marjoriepreston.com/category/brava

“Modern Terrorism,” the current offering at Second Stage Theatre in New York, NY, is a dark comedy exploring the lives of three aspiring terrorists, Rahim (Utkarsh Ambudkar), Qala (William Jackson Harper) and Yalda (Nitya Vidyasagar) and their neighbor, Jerome (Steven Boyer).

The play shows the human foibles of the crew in a failed attempt to detonate a crotch bomb at the Empire State Building. “Modern Terrorism” is by turns laugh-out-loud funny, touching and slightly disturbing in its matter-of-fact presentation of several days in the lives of the terrorists next door.

Chagrin Valley Little Theatre’s “God of Carnage” Tempers Intensity with Humor

7 Oct

Chagrin Valley Little Theatre’s “God of Carnage” Tempers Intensity with Humor
By Marjorie Preston
Brava!
www.marjoriepreston.com/category/brava

The Tony award-winning “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza, translated from the French by Christopher Hampton, is currently opening the mainstage season at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre (CVLT). “God of Carnage” is an intense play and this CVLT production wisely plays up the dry humor, much to the delight of its audience.

Because eleven-year-old Benjamin Raleigh has hit his classmate, Henry Novak, in the face with a stick, literally knocking two of his teeth in, the boys’ parents meet to draft a joint statement about what happened – for the insurance company, it is assumed – and the veneer of civility falls hard.

The aggressor’s father, Alan Raleigh (David Malinowski), a lawyer with his head glued to a cell phone, objects to the phrase “armed with a stick,” and the victim’s mother, Veronica Novak (Dawn Hill), a writer focused on Africa, offers to change it to something less inflammatory. Unfortunately, the gauntlet appears to be thrown down. The two sets of parents soon dig their heels in against each other, including Annette Raleigh (Evie Koh), wealth manager, and Michael Novak (Mark DePompei), owner of a retail store.

These four capable actors do not miss a beat in their portrayal of parents teetering on the line between discussing the actions of their kids and defending their unique perspectives and way of life. They confess their own struggles with balancing marriage, children and work, and end up in a candid group therapy session with no clear leader.

Malinowski is lizard-like as the darty-eyed lawyer, while his on-stage wife Koh is enjoyable as the tightly wound wife who comes unglued while drinking rum. DePompei is fun as the working man who turns crude when pushed and Hill, the writer incredulous at injustice, when under stress she can be more concerned with appearances and books than with the people in her life.

Director David Malinowski, in addition to stepping in to fill the role of Alan due to a family illness of another actor, ably directs the show and serves as set designer as well. He wears all hats well, as his cast is strong and his direction has brought out the dry humor in a play about an unfortunate and tragic event. His design of bright blue and red offsets the tasteful, modern Brooklyn home’s black and beige, and echoes the efforts to play up the lighter side of this drama.

With this play, Reza appears to be asking if, in fact, we are civilized at all, and her answer to that seems to be that humans are hopelessly selfish. But in this well-cast CVLT production of “God of Carnage,” we can laugh through our angst.

“God of Carnage” runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through October 20 at Chagrin Valley Little Theatre, 40 River Street, Chagrin Falls. For tickets, call (440) 247-8955 or visit www.cvlt.org. The play contains adult language and themes.

Ensemble Theatre’s Powerful “The Normal Heart” Examines the Beginnings of AIDS

1 Oct

Ensemble Theatre’s Powerful “The Normal Heart” Examines the Beginnings of AIDS
“Brava!”
www.marjoriepreston.com/category/brava

Ensemble Theatre’s current production, “The Normal Heart” by Larry Kramer, examines the early 1980s beginnings of the plague that is the continuing global AIDS crisis. Ensemble’s powerful and sobering production, filled with amazingly talented actors, is harrowing and unflinching, and shows humanity at its most vulnerable.

In 1981, when the esteemed Dr. Emma Brookner (Derdriu Ring) begins to discover cases of AIDS among gay men in New York City, she can’t get cooperation from government officials or agencies, the media, the general public or the gay community to raise awareness of the disease or make efforts to curtail it before it spreads.

Jewish writer and actor Ned Weeks (Brian Zoldessy) stumbles into the story at Brookner’s office and begins to enlist the help of everyone who could effect change, including journalists, government officials and gay men. He even founds Gay Men’s Health Crisis and begins to speak out on the reasons why gay men should come out (of the closet, even) and fight to get the disease studied and cured. His brother, Ben (Jeffrey Grover), a lavish-living, high-powered lawyer, gives him legal and financial aid but refuses to consider his firebrand gay brother an equal, claiming Ned is coming off too radical: “People don’t like to be frightened,” Ben says.

Many gay men volunteer to run an information hotline and distribute pamphlets, lobby the mayor’s office and alert the media, but Ned is the most active member. Unfortunately, his tactics, including public defamation of those who might help his cause, turns some in the organization against him. The disease becomes very personal for Ned when dozens of his friends die. Even his lover, New York Times Style writer Felix Turner (Scott Esposito), becomes sick with AIDS.

Zoldessy capably plays Ned as thoughtful, passionate and articulate, though his character is seething with anger and zeal. His monologue explaining why “weakness terrifies me” is inspired, filled with reasons why people should fight injustices and not allow themselves to be overlooked.

Grover is perfectly cast as the stoic, conservative Ben. Watching Esposito as Felix turn from stylish, smart and flirty to feeble and pitiable is heartbreaking. Ring, nostrils flaring, is powerful and angry as the polio-stricken Brookner, though she gets a laugh when she suggests that we just “tell gay men to stop having sex.”

Director Sarah May has a very intense, meaty play with “The Normal Heart,” and has a wonderfully strong cast, put to great effect at Ensemble. Set Designer Ian Hinz has created an appropriately stark, minimalist set with abstract painted floor and center panel in the rear with bold angular paint strokes in grey, brown and white. Three video screens hang in the back and keep a portentous count of the steady uptick of AIDS cases from 41 cases in 1981 to 75 million men, women and children at last count.

“The Normal Heart” is heartbreaking, but thirty years later, the story of the men who were at the front lines of the AIDS crisis still needs to be told. The secrets of the 80s are out in the open now, but that silence that pervaded society, as they remained “practical,” or “conservative” or claimed it was “tricky” for them to come forward at that time to publicly support research for a cure for a marginalized societal group, was deadly.

“The Normal Heart” runs through October 21, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. at 2843 Washington Boulevard, Cleveland Heights. For tickets, call (216) 321-2930 or visit www.ensemble-theatre.org. The play contains adult language and themes.