Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Mountaintop

What really happened on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee?   Did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sense that he would soon die?  Did he struggle with the guilt whether he should be at his home in Atlanta with his family or continue with what he believed was his purpose in life as a civil rights leader?  Did he feel torn between the two?   Could he rest at night with death threats to his family or himself?
The Mountaintop is an Olivier Awatdwinning play showing a fictional possibility of what could have happened the night before Dr. King’s death beginning at his room at the Lorraine Motel the night before he was assassinated.   Previously that day, Dr. King had delivered his speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” to the people of Memphis.
The Mountaintop opens with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. entering his hotel room, exhausted from his speech and a day of marching with the sanitation workers of Memphis.  One of his friends is suppose to be purchasing him some cigarettes.   Between the exhilaration of the day, the physical and emotional tiredness, and a little guilt for not being with his family, he can’t sleep even though he needs it.
Donte Plunkett masterfully portrays Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Catie Zaleski is Camae, the maid.  Both of these performers are superb and it is difficult to realize that they are saying their lines, not just talking.  Denise Chapman is the director who somehow manages to make each individual in the audience feel as if they are in the motel room also.  Assisting backstage in the stage manager, Gabi Rima, costume designer is Amanda Fehlner, sound designer and electrician is John Gibilisco, composer is Alfonzo Lee Jones, properties is Darin Koehler, lighting designer is Herman Montero with scenic designer being Jim Othuse with numerous other assistants, staff, and volunteers.
The setting is Dr. King’s motel room, rather ordinary, a little dirty with a little seediness that almost creates a musky smell.
Once in a while I see a play that is perfect.   There are likely flaws that the audience doesn’t recognize, but the play somehow communicates with every person in the audience, creating a special intimacy between the audience on stage and off.  The Howard Drew Theater at the Omaha Community Playhouse is the perfect venue for this production.
The play is aimed at a mature audience with adult language, racial tension, and talk of the inequities of society, violence and societal inequities along with the concepts of mortality, destiny and legacy.  The play lasts about ninety-minutes without an intermission.
The Mountaintop continues at the Omaha Playhouse through May 27th with performance on Thursday’s through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 2 p.m.   Tickets can be purchased at the Omaha Community Playhouse Box Office located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, by ball (402) 553-0800, or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com or www.TicketOmaha.com.   Single adult tickets are $24 with $14 being the student rate.  Ticket prices can change based on the date, seat, and demand.  Special group rates are available for 12 or more.  Contact the Box Office for any questions.
See The Mountaintop to relive the event of fifty-years ago of a man struggling with his mortality, his destiny, and his legacy.




Fools and Mortals

Fools and Mortals
Bernard Cornwell
ISBN; 978-0-06-225087-2
Harper Collins Publishers
New York, New York
Originally published: Great Britain
2017
$ 27.99
370 pages

Are all mortals foolish?  In Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the character Puck is quoted as saying, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
Yes, we have all done innumerable foolish things in our past.   William Shakespeare revealed the true nature and foolishness of people of his time period through his keen eyes of observation.   Whether death, romance, love, stupidity somehow he was able to develop his characters into real people in his comedies or tragedies.  Even though Shakespeare wrote years ago, the time and place is different, but people are still the same. Surprisingly, even though the setting is different from four-hundred years ago.
Bernard Cornwell also wondered about the brilliant author, William Shakespeare.  In Fools and Mortals, Cornwell explores the world of theater in London with Shakespeare during the late 1500s.  The story is told through the perspective of William’s younger brother, Richard, who is an actor in his brother’s company.
Unlike Cornwell’s other books, Fools and Mortals reveals the backstage theatrical world of William Shakespeare.  He is the writer and partial owner of his numerous, well-respected plays favored by Queen Elizabeth.  
Since Richard was ten-years younger than his brother William, the brothers were not close.   Richard ran away from him due to his father’s brutality and arriving in London required additional financial obligations for the writer.
Fools and Mortals excels in allowing the reader a sense of time and place.   In Shakespeare’s time, the printing press was not available to him.   The scripts were copied by hand.   The complete script was prized with often only one complete copy.   The actor’s script consisted only of their own lines.  These scripts were hidden from rival theatrical companies in the hopes that they would not be stolen.
 Fools and Mortals are very different from Cornwell’s other books which consist of historical battles and struggles for power.   This particular book does have some battles, but most of them are on stage or in small fighting situations.
Bernard Cornwell is a masterful storyteller.  He specializes in historical fiction utilizing the well-known and little-known facts about the people, time, place as well as the accepted results and actions weaving into a memorable, logical and readable and thrilling stories based on facts.   He has numerous stand alone and series of historical tales, including his The Saxon Tales with ten novels, The Sharpe Novels with twenty-one novels, The Grail Quest Series with three, The Nathaniel Starbucks Chronicles with four, The Warlord Chronicles with three, The Sailing Thrillers with four and one non-fiction book, Waterloo.  I highly recommend to read the series books in order.
Fools and Mortals is exceptional reading.   The little known life of the theater at the time made me feel that I was actually witnessing the stress of being part of the theatrical world.
To all readers, I found myself wanting to watch a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” again.   After Fools and Mortals, I feel that now I understand Shakespeare’s writing and enjoy it much more for the humor and the capture of real personalities.
Maybe you are not a Shakespeare fan, after reading Fools and Mortals, you will feel as if you want to embrace every play and poem written by the master and described by the masterful story teller, Bernard Cornwell.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Shakespeare in Love

What has a dog, a leading lady dressed as a man, men dressed as women, women acting as men, sword fighting, leather pants, sexual liaisons, low-cut dresses (on women and men), Queen Elizabeth 1 and is a hilariously funny play?
The Omaha Community Theater has the answer with its newest production of Shakespeare in Love.   No, this was not a play William Shakespeare wrote, but a play about the playwright.
Did William Shakespeare ever experience writer’s block?    With the immense number of his plays recognized today, it almost seems unlikely.  Being human, though he likely was always searching and modifying ideas to become a play.   Remember, over four hundred years ago, plays in England were hand written with only one complete hand written copy. Each actor’s script only consisted of their lines.
Shakespeare in Love opens with a young Shakespeare (Jacob Roman) being encouraged to write with a welcoming crowd awaiting his every word.   During this time period, Queen Elizabeth adored plays.   An already established playwright, Christopher “Kit” Marlowe (Jeremy Earl) encourages Shakespeare with the struggles of writing.
In Shakespeare’s time, women were not allowed to perform in theaters.   That was illegal.   All the female parts were usually played by young men having little facial hair.
The business of a theater is extremely competitive and seems to be on the verge of being closed by the government.
Being Shakespeare, naturally, an unattainable female, Viola de Lesseps (Alissa Hanish) catches his eye and immediately distracts him with her beauty.   Um....does fiction imitate life?
Viola is also fascinated by Shakespeare and looks for an opportunity to be close to him.  Her solution is simply to dress as a man and audition for the role of Romeo creating hilarious comedy.
The leading roles of William Shakespeare (Jacob Roman) and Viola (Alissa Hanish) are phenomenal. These talented individuals created characters who were confident and even lovable in their roles. This is a show where every performer is outstanding.  Certain roles are notable such as ChristoperMarlower (Jeremy Earl), Queen Elizabeth (Janet Macklin), Lord Wessex (Sydney Readman), Sam (Will Rodgers), John Webster (Chloe Irwin) and unquestionably Nurse (Julie Fitzgerald Ryan).   Yes, the Nurse is absolutely delightful.  Also on stage are many multi-talented ensemble members Bradley Alexander, Kevin Barrett, Craig Bond, Ron Boschult, Jenna Hager, Olivia Howard,  Sean Johnson, Samantha Johnson, Michael Leaman, Caitlin Mabon, Alex Nilius, Pamela Scott, Danielle Smith, Dennis Stessman, and Catherine Vazquez.
An unusual actor throughout the production is the singer and music director (Zach
 Kloppenborg).  His countertenor songs are hypnotic while singing in his delightful falsetto voice as well as his expert direction with the madrigal and various music backgrounds.   The madrigals were light, comical and expertly performed complete with beautiful and precise voices.
The scenic design is marvelous with the set movements moving quickly while being maneuvered by those on stage.
The costumes are beautifully elegant and true to the time period.
No production can be successful without the support of the crew and volunteers.
Directing the show is Jeff Horner, who is phenomenal with his contributions to the show while also being the owner and trainer of Apollo, his dog who is also cast in the show.  Unfortunately, Apollo does not always appreciate how much the cast assisted his show contribution.   Assisting him is Suzanne Withem.
Courtney Stein creates time appropriate choreography.   Erik Diaz is the scenic designer while Wesley Houston is the stage manager.   John Gibilisco is the resident sound designer and production electrician with Aja Jackson is the lighting designer.  Darin Koehler is in charge of properties and Lindsay Pape is the costume designer. Also assisting are numerous crew members, interns, as well as Playhouse volunteers and staff.
All of us need a little sunshine in our lives with the weather lately, Shakespeare in Love is guaranteed to lift your spirits while awaiting a spring that seems as if it will never arrive.
Act One consists of 13 scenes in ninety minutes.  Act Two is shorter after the fifteen minute intermission.
Shakespeare in Love continues through May 6th on Wednesday’s through Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2pm.
The cost of the tickets is $24 for adults and for students at $24 on Wednesday performances and starting at $32 for adults and $22 for students on Thursdays through Sundays.   Tickets can be purchased at the Omaha Playhouse Box Office, online at OmahaPlayhouse.com or by calling (402) 553-0800.  The Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha.
Granted, I was a little skeptical about a play based on an Academy Award winning movie.  While I did enjoy the movie, I adored this performance greatly enhancing the story.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Urinetown: The Musical

Who would go see a musical about urine?    I did.
Added to that, I would enjoy seeing it again.
The story begins in a dirty, grimy city where people are in line waiting for their turn to use the public bathroom.  Unfortunately, the first person in line doesn't have enough money to pay.  So he is not allowed inside.  Law enforcement takes him away to the mystical Urinetown where people are sent for not obeying the rules.  Simply put, you have to pay to pee.
The music is enthralling.  The tunes combines gospel, blues, jazz, bluegrass, and just fun songs masterfully sung, danced and played.   Urinetown is a delightfully funny show with a dark, uneasy feeling, not just legs being crossed, of what could happen in the near future where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
On the side of the rich are Hope Cladwell (Madison Hoge) and her father, Caldwell B. Cladwell (Ryan Eberhart). Caldwell owns the facilities and Hope has just graduated from school and is being hired into the family business to take over.   Assisting Mr. Cladwell are the policemen Officer Lockstock (Jon Flower) and Officer Barrel (Marcus Benzel) as well as Penelope Pennywise (Carrie Beth Stickrod) and Bobby Strong (David Ebke).  Who really understands the loyalties of the employees?
As the other cast members Brenda Smrdel, Erich Swartz, Luke Glaser, Bob Gilmore, Sara Finley-Willis, Kaitlin Carlson, Cathy Bass, Chris Witt, and Alice Swartz, all were fantastic.   I loved every character, especially Cathy Bass as Josephine Strong.
The music is great, especially under the direction of Jerry Brabec with his ensemble consisting of Stanton Harper, Noel Johnson, Michael Frederickson, and Jon Myre.
Those on stage know well that they cannot be successful without the support of those people not seen whether making the sets, creating the costumes, selling the tickets, arranging for the rights, plus more than can be listed, these people are each responsible for the success of the production.  These people include Gary Blankenship as director, Jerry Brabec as musical director, Kim Alger working as stage manager with Johnnie Richards as her assistant, Jason DeLong is the phenomenal choreographer, Ibsen Costume being responsible for the clothing, Darrin Golden for the lighting design and Maddy Adkins on the light board with JaimeKatzenstein and Sean Kelley running the spot lights, Dave Podendorf planning the sign design with Jaycee Wetenkamp being the sound board operator, Joey Lorincz is responsible for the scenic design with the set construction being completed by Joey Lorincz, Mike Jones, and Bob Putman, Rhonda Hall is handles the props design and the theater manager, Bob Putman.
Also, all the volunteers who usher, work the box office, and supply the food for the opening, each one deserves a special appreciation.
The timing of the show is about sixty-five minutes for the first act with the usual intermission and concluding the second act in approximately forty minutes.
This show continues through this weekend on Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m.
The price of the tickets is $20 for adults; $16 for seniors over the age of sixty; and $10 for students.   The musical is expected to have an adult audience as children would probably not understand the innuendos throughout the show.
The Chanticleer Community Theater is located at 830 Franklin Ave.   Tickets can be reserved  by calling the box office at 712-323-9955.
Urinetown: The Musical is an example of the best of this talented community.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Ripcord

Roommates can be a problem.   All you have to do is ask any husband, wife, sister, brother or college student with a roommate for affirmation.   Matching similar need and wants into longtime friendships can be tricky. Between shared responsibilities, schedules, cleanliness and unquestionably different personalities, people just don’t always get along.
Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire wrote the script for The Omaha Playhouse’s newest production, Ripcord discovers this special relationship to be true.
For Abby Bender (Carleen Willoughby), this is true.  Abby is purposefully despicable to her roommates in an effort for them to want to move out of “her” shared room.  Unfortunately, Bristol Place Senior Living Facility does not always have the space for single rooms.  Abby enjoys her books, her plants, and her phenomenal view of the park below with her bed beside her large window.  She much prefers the solitude of her books, caring for her plants, and her view for observing nature and people.  Who needs a roommate?    She has all she needs and prides herself in never being scared of anything or anybody.
Marilyn Dunne (Judy Radcliffe) is Abby’s newest roommate.   Marilyn is the opposite of Abby in almost every way.   She is cheerful, outgoing, enjoys walks, and the outdoors with constant involvement and interactions with every living creature.   She is the optimist who is never, ever angry.
Opposites can attract but this one seems doomed for disaster as roommates.
Immediately, the two discover conflict.
After a few days, the two recognize that something has to change.   Their solution is a bet.
Marilyn, the newcomer, in the room with Abby if she succeeds in scaring her in some way.   Added to that, her bed will replace Abby’s as the one by the window so she can view the invigorating day as she awakens.
All Abby has to do is to make Marilyn angry.   Just one outburst of anger and Marilyn agrees to move out, leaving the room to Abby.
Ripcord continues with pranks and spite with Marilyn and Abby attempting to outdo each other in order to win the bet.   While the antics are hilarious, they are also a little sad that anyone would actually consider doing these things to another human.
Both actresses, Carleen Willoughby and Judy Radcliffe are masterful in Ripcord.  The first time Judy and her family arrive on stage, it is easy for the audience to connect with her.  Carleen has the difficult role of the antagonist while expertly portraying her crankiness.  What I find most appealing is how these two grow their characters in an extremely short period of time.
The supporting cast if fantastic.  Sahil Khullar as Scotty, the nursing home employee, is believable in his attempts to have the bet stopped while looking out for the interests of Abby and Marilyn.  Colleen (Kaiatlyn McClincy) also portrays the Woman in White along with her onstage husband (Matt Tarr) who is also the Zombie Butler and the Masked Men are great in their roles as Marilyn’s daughter and son-in-law assisting in the scheme to scare Abby.
Kevin Goshorn is terrific as Benjamin, Lewis and the clown.  He makes the play poignant with his role.
The sets are simple, purposefully and functional.  Everything moves through a rope system which is fascinating to observe as it always remains on stage.
The behind-the-scenes staff are marvelous with Kimberly Faith Hickman directs with Gabi Rima as stage manager, Amanda Fehler as costume designer, John Gibilisco as resident sound designer, Darin Kuehler in charge of properties, Jim Othuse as lighting designer, Paul Pape in change of being the scenic designer, and Tim Vallier as the wonderfully unique and fitting music composer and arranger.
The first act is fifty-five minutes and the second is fifty following a fifteen minute intermission.
The play itself is delightful while the pranks escalate to being over-the-top, the mixture of comedy and humanity are memorable.
Ideally, the play is aimed at those approaching the age of being a senior citizen or those who already are seniors, as well as their families.  This production is not appropriate for children.
Ripcord continues through February 11th with shows at 7:30 pm on Wednesdays through Saturdays and at 2:00 pm on Sunday afternoon.
Prices are $30 for adults and $18 for students.   On Wednesdays, the price for the shows are $24 for adults and $16 for students.  Ticket prices can change based on dates, seat locations, groups, and demands.
To purchase tickets, call 402-553-0800, through the website at omahaplayhouse.com.   You can also visit the theater box office at The Omaha Playhouse, located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha.
For a play that combines comedy with human emotions, see Ripcord.