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Musical Theatre: The Mikado at Artisan Center Theater

Musical Theatre: The Mikado at Artisan Center Theater

by Christopher Soden

Ah the lofty hi-jinks of Gilbert and Sullivan. The insouciant erudition. The crafty wink and tongue set firmly in cheek. Certainly these two brought comic opera to new heights, spoofing grandiosity and tortured melodrama. They had a flair for poking fun at the pompous and the precious, the vain and the quaint. Their genius lay in their ability to celebrate and yet deflate their subjects, all with a completely straight face, and all in good fun. Their operettas felt light, and yet something nudged them to realms beyond cleverness. Not that they ever lacked for wit. Perhaps it was the simple strategy that each character took themselves seriously, with gusto, even in the context of a world that makes them seem absurd.

A possible exception is the “Three Little Maids” from The Mikado who understand their role in society includes : “girlish glee” and the detachment of a line like : “Life is a joke that has just begun.” While they gamely understand that life is far too important to be taken at face value, they too, understand their function is key. Even if that function is to be wise and foolish (the definition of sophomoric). After admittedly seeing The Mikado for the first time, I wasn’t altogether sure that Japanese culture and Gilbert & Sullivan were a neat fit. To put it differently, you don’t always know where G & S are coming from (those sly boys) and they probably loved it that way.

It’s one thing to exploit the foibles of your own culture, quite another to risk condescension towards one that may seem (in some ways) inexplicable. I’m not suggesting xenophobia here, only that Gilbert & Sullivan’s habit of working up the eccentricities of a character or culture might not work as well here. Seems when you give your characters names like Nanki-Poo, Yum-Yum and Pish, Tush and Pooh-Bah you’re sending signals to the audience, but again, G & S were certainly never hesitant to skewer British culture in shows like H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance. The Mikado then would seem to be a concoction comprised of fantasia, congenial musical comedy and social whimsy. Trust me, I’m just trying to keep score.

As I have tried to explain, G & S often transcends the genre of comic opera, but every component : delivery, demeanor, tone, orchestration, has to be meticulous and contingent on the others. It’s a lot more difficult than it appears. There is a lot to enjoy and appreciate in ACT’s Mikado, the staging (and choreography?) by Director John Wilkerson, the playful, sometimes lavish, humor is fun and the proceedings are kept lively, jaunty and personable. The canned music (used for practical reasons I’m sure) is not successful here, though the timing of the performers is fine. I got the impression some of the cast members had a more intuitive grasp of the loopy, deadpan content. I daresay even when the waters are choppy Mr. Wilkerson’s instincts are good.

Artisan Center Theater’s production of The Mikado has been double cast, so I will list the actors I saw Saturday night, September 5th, below. (Illness has kept me from providing them with a prompt review and for this I am humbly begging their pardon.) The Mikado features a valiant, diligent cast. Especially noteworthy were Lauren Morgan (Yum-Yum), Amira Sharif (Pitti-Sing), Bob Beck (Pish) and Jonathan Kennedy (The Mikado). Brian Hales as Ko-Ko, The Lord High Executioner and Chelsea Duncan as Katisha, were quite delightful, bringing lots of wry gumption and mastery to their characters.

The set design, by John Wilkerson and Jason Leyva was practical, but still imaginative and eloquent, with a bridge, brook and fountain, a palace and turntable stage, as well as delicate, tranquil murals. Jennifer and Nita Cadenhead’s costumes were wonderfully varied and appealing to the eye, whether using elaborate weaves and patterns, or bold, striking monochromatic fabrics. These ladies knew how to incorporate the outlandish and other-worldly in their designs, which only enhanced the jubilant aspects of the show. Special praise must go to Ryan Smith for the hair and make-up design. Considering the need for numerous wigs and exotic cosmetic creations, Mr. Smith’s job must be painstaking indeed.

Artisan Center Theater of Hurst presents; Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, playing September 4th – October 10th. 418 East Pipeline Road, Hurst, Texas, 76053. 817-284-1200. http://www.artisanct.com. Box Office Hours: Monday-Friday : 10AM – 6 PM, Saturday : 10 AM – 2 PM.

Directed by John Wilkerson, The Mikado stars : Brad Stephens (Nanki-Poo), Lauren Morgan (Yum-Yum), Amira Sharif (Pitti-Sing), Arlette Morgan (Peep-Bo), Bob Beck (Pish), David Priddy (Tush), Gary Payne (Pooh-Bah), Jonathan Kennedy (The Mikado), Brian Hales (Ko-Ko, The Lord High Executioner), Chelsea Duncan (Katisha), and The Chorus : Jessica Peterson, Jennifer Cadenhead, Randal Jones, Mary Kreeger, Amy Jones, Lori Jones, and Traysa Waak. Set Design : John Wilkerson and Jason Leyna, Costume Design: Jennifer Cadenhead and Nita Cadenhead, Hair and Makeup Design, and Set Dressing : Ryan Smith. Lighting Design : Jason Leyva

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Theater Review: The MIKADO

Theater Review: The Mikado

by Clyde Berry of John Garcia’s The Column

Jonathan Kennedy, Lauren Morgan, Brad Stephens, Chelsea Duncan

Having been out of town all summer, I was excited to return to the Metroplex for a brief period where I was able to review Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in Denton. I was equally excited to be able to return to the Artisan Theater Center in Hurst. Sadly, I was not back in time to be able to see what I heard was a very good West Side Story. So it was with delight that I requested to review their The Mikado.

I admire Artisan for their company’s mission principles, and do think they are successful in producing an incredibly full season of programming for both adults and kids, of both musicals and straight plays. After all, there I was, sitting in a space that a week earlier had been a completely different production. That sort of turnaround is not easy. I also rarely see empty seats at Artisan when I go there.

While I’m not convinced that their double casting really works, I do appreciate the fact they’re doing it offers opportunities to a great deal more folks to be involved on stage, which I do like. I’m also not a fan of scrubbing a script for content, but am very cognizant that you have to grow your target audience and not offend them with content that is not the family friendly programming you guarantee that you have.

That’s why The Mikado is an excellent choice of show for Artisan. This operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan is a delightful tale full of witty banter and lovely singing. There is no content that is offensive, and there are lots of great messages to be found. The Mikado was written to satirize English politics and manners. By setting their tale in Japan, the authors made it safe to poke fun at their own society without offending. You’ll also recognize many of the tunes, such as “Three Little Maids,” “Tit-willow,” and “A Wand’ring Minstrel I.”

In Mikado, Nanki-Poo, the heir to the throne of Japan, has fled the royal court and an arranged marriage. He ends up in Titipu where he falls in love with Yum-Yum, who is already engaged to Ko-Ko. Ko-Ko is the town executioner, also condemned himself to be executed for flirting. Unable to kill himself first, he cannot execute anyone else, therefore keeping the town safe. When Ko-Ko receives word from the Emperor that he must carry out an execution, or the town is doomed, complications emerge. Who will get executed? Will Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum get together?

This is a beautifully designed production! The entire space has been lovingly covered in murals by Michelle McElree and Lilly Strapp. Their color pallet and images are quite striking and do well to set the scene and generate excitement about where we will be transported to in the story. Jennifer Cadenhead, Nita Cadenhead, and Ryan Smith have the daunting task of creating numerous elaborate Japanese period costumes, which they successfully accomplish. Each performer looks wonderful in their outfit, and the choices of color and character touches are entirely appropriate and fun. No one seems to have received the bad or leftover pieces, a testament to a thorough design.

Ryan Smith’s hair and make-up designs are well researched, period appropriate, and quite delightful. I’m sure his wigs have to serve multiple performers, no easy design task. His make up design, as fun as it is, could use a supervisor on sight, as there was not uniformity in its execution amongst the cast members.

John Wilkerson and Jason Levya’s set and light designs are simple and fun. The Artisan challenge is, as always, staging in the round. This is never easy, and these gentlemen have put together an effective design that should serve the production well. There are two buildings in corners, a lovely garden bridge in another, and a simple circular platform unit at center. This unit also works when it was used as a revolver a few times within the show.

As to the execution of the story, I was disappointed. While I am not a fan of musicals done to tracks, I understand the inability to afford a pit. I don’t understand the lack of a musical director for an operetta. One was neither listed in the program, website, nor acknowledged as being overlooked in the curtain and intermission speeches. Almost every song had difficulty, mostly with performers missing the first line of a song and coming in late. Diction was also inconsistent. There were also several instances where folks were ahead or behind the track, or forgot lyrics altogether. That is not to say there were not good vocal performances in the piece, but a great deal of cleanup, would really help sharpen things.

A decision could also have been made for folks to either affect British accents or not, since there’s a mix of British and Texas accents.

There were questions I had about John Wilkerson’s direction. The overall production struck me as an opportunity to show off “bits.” We move throughout the evening from bit to bit at the sake of the overall story. In fact, during the intermission raffle, the staff person running the raffle spent a great deal of time bantering with the young raffle ticket puller about how it took him numerous times to figure out what the story is, and that he still wasn’t sure. (Joking or not, I’m not sure I’d want the audience to think about that too much.)

These bits often interrupt songs, bringing them to a grinding halt for a moment of shtick. Any sense of pacing is lost for the sake of these bits, which more often than not, are not successfully pulled off. The best example of this was the audience participation madrigal in Act II. Three volunteers were brought out of the audience to sing. No one readily volunteered to go, and those that did couldn’t read the music and did not know the song. So we awkwardly watch them stand and politely smile until the number is over.

The overall pace of the show is just slow enough to prevent laughs from the witty back and forth in the dialog, and many scripted jokes are lost, or not set up properly because of inserted material. Odd that for a show that has so much inserted into it, I was surprised that no significant changes were made to “As Some Day It May Happen” the “list song,” especially with the current political craziness. Then again, the style of presentation had little to do with making this a mock play of manners, which again, was the author’s intent.

For example a line about “The Japanese don’t use pocket handkerchiefs!” is said after several cast members have been using them to blot their faces, and someone is holding one at that exact moment. The cast, however, is able to move along without problems. They jump in and out of the songs as best they can, not letting frustration show for late vocal entrances or synching problems. They execute the bits they are staged to do, and could pull off many more of them, getting the laughs they are shooting for, by speeding up. People seem to be enjoying themselves and having a good time.

While there was no men’s chorus (two men does not a chorus make), several leads sing the opening number “If You Want to Know Who We Are.” Why not have the double cast male leads serve as chorus on their non-lead nights? The ladies of the women’s chorus are quite good at being enthusiastic and attentive. They move through their repetitive blocking (there was no choreographer) energetically and their “Comes a Train of Little Ladies” was one of the best numbers in Act I. They also do well reacting to the events around them in the end of each act.

For a production that was severely short of men, I was curious as to why the character of Pish-Tush was split into two roles: Pish and Tush. The men were neither “twins,” nor spoke in unison, thought they did split lines occasionally in quick succession. Bob Beck as Pish and David Priddy as Tush go above the call of duty filling in chorus singing and completing business that a gentleman like Pish-Tush would never do in other productions. Their pitching in gives them a lot more to do in this show, and they do it well.

As the Mikado, Jonathan Kennedy leers and sneers as he should. Chelsea Duncan’s Katisha is well matched to Kennedy, however it would have been more fun to see more of the rivalry between their two characters, especially during their joint entrance. Duncan sounds nice, and is well prepared for her solos.

Playing two of the three maids are Amira Sharif as Pitti-Sing and Arlette Morgan as Peep-Bo. These ladies are bright and work nicely as a group with Yum-Yum. They have some cute moments teasing Pooh-Bah and the other men.

On my evening Bill Sizemore played the officious Pooh-Bah. Sizemore is well cast in this role and has created a nice all around performance. His low voice was fun to listen to, and he is solid as the snob. He has some challenging dialogue, rolling off all his titles, and this will likely become a scene stealing moment by the end of the run.

Playing the lovers Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum are Craig Moody and Lauren Morgan. There is good chemistry between them, and they do well capturing their character’s youthful innocence. Morgan does a particularly fine job in her Act II solo “The Sun, Whose Rays Are All Ablaze,” bringing a nice moment of simple solid characterization.

Brian Hales plays Ko-Ko at every performance. His Ko-Ko is a lovable doddering goof. Hales is comfortable as the anchor in this production; and his standout moment in this production is the hilarious and desperate proposal of marriage to Katisha.

If you’re keeping a little list of shows to see at the end of your summer, The Mikado runs at the Artisan Center Theater through October 10.

The Column

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The MIKADO Review

The Mikado at Artisan Center Theater

John Wilkerson

John Wilkerson

by  Joy Donovan

John Wilkerson takes his bow, a deep Japanese bow, as Artisan Center Theater’s new artistic director by successfully bringing “The Mikado” to the Hurst theater for a multi-week run.

Wilkerson has assembled a talented lineup of actors to play an array of Japanese parts in this famed musical operetta written by Gilbert and Sullivan. Set in the town of Titipu, “The Mikado” features characters with such fanciful names as Yum-Yum, Ko-Ko and Peep-Bo.

Brian Hales as Ko-Ko“The Mikado” centers on Nanki-Poo, a young man who has banished himself from the town of Titipu. Nanki-Poo has fallen in love with Yum-Yum, a beautiful young lady unfortunately engaged to be married to her guardian, the tailor Ko-Ko. The plot twists and turns through circumstances that could only happen in a town where flirting is considered a capital crime.

Stealing the show is Brian Hales, who deftly plays Ko-Ko as a breathless buffoon in the mold of the late comedian Red Skelton. Artisan Center Theater’s production is double cast, but every audience will be treated to Hales’ droll wit since he takes the part for both casts.

Katisha and Nanki-PooAlso a bright spot was Gary Payne in the role of Pooh-Bah. For a character who defends his personality with the line “I can’t help it; I was born sneering,” Payne is appropriately and amusingly haughty. Other standouts were the strong-voiced Brad Stephens as Nanki-Poo, the soprano Lauren Morgan as Yum-Yum and the droll Jonathan Kennedy as The Mikado.

In addition to the comedy that borders on a delightful silliness, highlights included musical numbers, especially the very feminine “Three Little Maids From School are We,” featuring the trio of Yum-Yum, Peep-Bo and Pitti-Sing, and the amusing “I am So Proud,” spotlighting a humorous male quartet. The two-act operetta features dozens of songs, so casting requires strong vocalists to carry the show. For the most part this worked well, but occasionally voices were overwhelmed by the musical accompaniment, and that musical track presented some distracting technical problems.

CostumesCostumes featuring kimonos, kabuki-style makeup, Asian wigs and pretty parisols help transport the story to another time and place. The set features Asian images, too, surrounding the Artisan’s theater-in-the-round with this foreign culture.

“The Mikado” is an old, old tale. The show premiered in March of 1885 in London, and it opened later that same year same year in New York. But the humor stands up well, even more than 100 years later. Artisan Center Theater’s current production, continuing through Oct. 10, will bring a smile to your face, and that’s worth a Japanese bow or two.

Bill Sizemore (Pooh-Bah), David Priddy (Tush)

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12 ANGRY MEN: The Column Review

The ColumnThere’s enough anger for twelve men, with plenty of emotion to spare, in a steamy 1950s jury deliberation drama presented in the Castle Ballroom of the Sterling Hotel in Dallas. This famous relic from half a century ago, 12 Angry Men, is the debut presentation of Poor Man Productions, and the venue offers dinner, bar, and theater in the round.

The set is simple — a conference table, twelve chairs, water pitcher, and a window. The cast of twelve is anything but simple. Although uncolored by gender or racial diversity, this group of men represent a wide range of types, each skillfully written and portrayed with just a few words of dialogue. This is the kind of writing that gave us the Golden Era of television in the 1950s in which meaningful themes were explored and memorable characters created in surprisingly limited time and space.

Director Joey Folsom stays true to the roots of this classic, and in this small, stuffy room filled with angry men, we are transported back in time with their mannerisms, dialects, everyday business suits with 1950s accessories, fedoras, and Clark Kent glasses.

I remember a director once gave this advice to the cast of a very cheesy Christmas story: “If you commit to the cheese, this will be fantastic.” I don’t think “cheesy” is the right word for this play, but “hokey” definitely fits at times, and the director and cast all committed thoroughly to the hokey-ness, with impressive results. Despite its clunky, predictable moments and soupy melodrama, the story is engaging and remarkably relevant to audiences today. The characters are all boiled down to their type element somehow without coming across as stereotypes. They retain their humanity in the way they interact with one another, whether shouting in anger or chatting aimlessly.

The beleaguered young jury foreman, played by company co-founder Nathan Autrey, wrestles with the frustrating task of directing deliberations toward a final verdict. Harry Listen is the senior citizen who touchingly expresses the loneliness and loss of esteem that might motivate another to give false testimony. The juror played by Francis “Hank” Henry is the icon of success in his impeccable suit and unflustered manner. Bryce Sharp grapples with class-ism as the only member of the jury who relates to the defendant’s tenement upbringing in the violent urban ghetto. Adrian Godinez is the European immigrant who pushes the patriotic buttons of the others with his soft-spoken good manners and his clear thinking and refuses to be provoked into defending his right to be there.

Brad Stephens as Juror 7 is unruffled and sophisticated. He turns his vote without the drama most of the others require. Brad Smeaton gives a delicious performance as the obnoxious bigot whose impassioned pleas disgusts the others and turns them away rather than rallying them to his racist philosophy. He does something very macho and interesting with his eyes when offering an unspoken challenge to one of the other men, something I find funny and kind of scary at the same time. It’s kind of a chilling “You want a piece of me?” smirk with the eyebrows raised, and Smeaton delivers it masterfully.

Advertising executive Juror 12, played by Andrew Maggs, gets laughs with his “throw it on the stoop” line among others, but it is the timid Juror 2, Alex Worthington, who delivers the most memorable comedic moments with his cough drop and the second hand on his wristwatch.

The point of the story is not the verdict but the deliberation that leads ultimately to a showdown between jurors Number 3 and Number 8. Juror 8 is a thoughtful, patient man, who resists the tide of reactionary instinct that almost carries the jury to an automatic conviction without deliberation. Andrew Kasten expertly portrays this man’s quiet control, his persistent and persuasive logic, and his unflinching courage to stand alone to face a roomful of angry men. He knows when to quietly allow his ideas to settle into the room to be digested and considered by the other men and when to raise his finger and his voice to call a man out for what he is.

His antagonist, Juror 3, played by Terry Yates, only gradually emerges as the unbalanced personality who refuses to yield to the simple logic of “reasonable doubt.” Yates does a nice job of bringing this character down a path — starting out as a willing though reluctant participant in the deliberations and offering reasonable support for his “guilty” vote. He even offers an apology for losing his temper and makes a noticeable attempt to maintain control of his emotions and to use calm logic and rational discussion to support his position.

As he loses supporters one by one and finds himself standing alone in opposition to “reasonable doubt,” his control breaks, and his passionate speech can be felt in the gut. “Geez, I can feel the knife going in my heart!” he cries, describing the pain a father feels when his son has turned on him, whether he deserved it or not. 

Folsom keeps the story moving forward at an energetic pace with carefully considered movements and well-delivered dialogue. Though the air conditioning in the Castle Ballroom was on full blast, I felt the heat of that tiny jury room and the suffocation of the men when they made for the window in a futile gesture of escape.

— by Gina Robertson of John Garcia’s The Column

 

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Theater review: ALL MY SONS

NOTE: The following review incorrectly reports that I am playing the part of Dr. Jim Bayliss.  My part is that of Ann’s brother, George Deever.  Due diligence aside, though, it is a fairly decent review.  — Brad

The ColumnICT Mainstage tackles Arthur Miller’s classic All My Sons this month in the Dupree Theater at Irving Arts Center. Though a few audience members did not return to their seats after a slow first half, they missed out on a very finely handled climax and conclusion.

Though it first debuted on Broadway in 1947, All My Sons has plenty to say to a contemporary American audience. The year is 1946 and the Keller family is entertaining a visit from Ann Deever (Catherine DuBord), a childhood friend of son Chris (Jordan Willis) and former girlfriend of his brother Larry, who went Missing in Action during World War II. Chris and Anne would like to marry, but must overcome the disapproval of mother Kate Keller (Diane Truitt), who believes her son Larry will return any day. More importantly, they must deal with the truth about their fathers’ former business partnership, during the course of which several U.S. war pilots lost their lives due to faulty parts Keller and Deever delivered, which landed Anne’s father in prison.

The first act (of three, though there is only one intermission and rightly so) is largely expository – which is more Arthur Miller’s doing than anyone else’s – but director Marco Salinas does little to keep the act moving. Brad Stephens, as the Keller’s neighbor, Dr. Jim Bayliss, proves himself a competent actor, but he has difficulty finding his timing and brings the action to a crawl at the top of the play. The first act relies heavily on the Kellers’ neighbors, most of whom won’t be seen much later on; as Dr. Bayliss’s wife Sue, Diana Gonzalez brings the strongest stage presence in the cast, along with a clear grasp of the play’s time period.

Though they are fine actors, it is a sense of time period that is lacking in Willis’s and DuBord’s performances. Some of the youngest in the cast, they play their scenes with overly contemporary movements and line readings. Too, they never quite move beyond the brother/sister relationship to find the strong romantic chemistry that would justify their rehashing of such dark issues within and between their families. Still, the entire cast does fine work in the second and third acts, each of which is shaped quite nicely. Both Willis and DuBord move from innocence to jaded understanding at a clear and appropriate pace, and both McNiel’s Joe Keller and Truitt’s Kate unravel piece by piece. The intensity is fairly high after intermission and continues to build in such a compelling way that Miller’s genius shines through beautifully. Salinas has created a particularly riveting final half hour, during which a good deal of game-changing information comes forth. It is often far too easy for a director and production to lose control and lose the audience in the face of this much revelation, but Salinas develops the play’s final actions with both power and precision.

Wade Giampa’s scenic design, while nicely conceived and realized, is at times a bit of a distraction. Giampa creates a strong sense of suburban America in the 1940s, but it is perhaps too strong. There is a certain genius in the painfully bright yellow he chooses for the exterior of Keller’s house, the cheery nature of which so strongly contrasts the darker secrets that live within its walls; the brightness of the scenery, however (and especially under an equally bright lighting design by Sam Nance), is at times overpowering. From time to time, the actors fade away and the action is lost as the looming, yet ever so slightly cartoonish scenery takes center stage. Nance’s lighting design draws equal attention to itself; though they are always functional and appropriate, the lights often seem to change mid-scene with little or no apparent reason.

Costumes, hair and makeup are hit and miss. The women fare better in Suzi Cranford’s costumes, many of them vintage dresses and ensembles, though some of these items could use a little attention; several audience members commented in the middle of the third act about the loose threads hanging several inches from the hem of DuBord’s beautiful party dress. The men, however, receive less care, each outfitted with slacks and a somewhat ill-fitted sweater vest that looks generic beside the women’s sweater sets and seamed stockings. Too, great pains have been taken to give the women distinctly 1940s hairstyles – all except DuBord, whose flatly dyed blonde hair is absently pinned up at the side.

Flaws aside, though, ICT Mainstage’s All My Sons is an earnest production that recognizes and honors one of the most significant playwrights of the American theatre. In a theatre world often more interested in contemporary voices and big musicals, productions like this one go a long way to remind us why an Arthur Miller or a Eugene O’Neill is still so highly respected. ICT brings a fantastic play that has become somewhat peripheral to a contemporary audience in an interesting, relatable production.

— by Dennis Sloan of John Garcia’s The Column

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Edge Dallas Reviews ALL MY SONS

All My Sons - ICTSet in the turbulent summer of late August, 1946, the year after World War II ended, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons is a study in false values and their resulting devastation. Joe Keller (Michael McNiel) the patriarch of a prosperous, upper-middle class home, is trying to persevere after calamity and upheaval has shaken his family nearly to pieces. His elder son, Larry, has died in the war, a fact his wife, Kate (Diane Truitt) has refused to confront. In a scandal involving his factory and defective airplane parts, his neighbor, friend and business partner, Steve Deever, has been sent to prison.  As the play opens, his younger son, Chris (Jordan Willis) has brought home Steve’s daughter, Ann, with the hope of getting married. But doing so would mean getting Kate to admit that Larry is never coming home, because in her mind, Ann is still Larry’s girl.

Diane Truit, Michael McNeil

Diane Truit, Michael McNeil

“All My Sons” begins with great frantic energy and resolve. Despite the fact that the mother, Kate, verges on hysteria, she hangs on vigilantly to the version of truth that sustains her. The Kellers are good-hearted folks, and they have held up in the midst of personal and public catastrophe, even when they are vilified and harassed. The younger son, Chris, hasn’t an aggressive bone in his body; he sees the good in everyone. Ann has assumed the courts have convicted the right man, subsequently cutting off all ties with her incarcerated father, and falling in love with her dead fiancé’s younger brother. As one by one, each character’s defenses are knocked down, horrible revelations and recriminations are brought to light. Where once tranquility and contentment prevailed, instead there is chaos and confusion.

Miller’s story involves the extended family of humanity, as well as the immediate, nuclear family. There is much talk about growing up together, memories of childhood and yearning for a bright future. A central metaphor for unexpected destruction appears in the shape of a tree split open and destroyed by a lightning bolt, obviously by forces beyond their control. Miller goes to great lengths to show us it’s not only about looking out for your own, but taking responsibility for the more pervasive impact of your actions. That we needn’t succeed to the detriment of others. The quintessentially American suburban dream-home the Kellers occupy (designed by Wade Giampa) looks sunny and serene at the beginning, but by the end it has acquired a pall.

Jordan Willis, Brad Stephens and Catherine DuBord

Jordan Willis, Brad Stephens and Catherine DuBord

ICT MainStage’s production of “All My Sons” is an inspired, intense, enervating drama. Bleak and absorbing, implosive and heartbreaking, it is a domestic tragedy of meaningful proportions, carried out with authenticity and dedication by director Marco Salinas, and his extensive, talented cast. Jordan Willis was mesmerizing and deeply touching as the passionate, altruistic Chris Keller. Fred Patchen, as Dr. Jim Bayliss, was wry and reflective, if not always easy to understand. Catherine DuBord, a knockout in earlier productions of “Proof” and KDT’s “The Pillowman”, is poignant and affecting here as Ann Keller, caught between her family and devotion to Chris. Diane Truitt was splendid as Kate, overcome by grief but still holding fast to sanity as best she can. Truitt was simultaneously frail and courageous, exquisitely genuine and wistful. Michael McNiel was powerful and overwhelming as Joe Keller, the bombastic, troubled, steadfast father of the Keller family, driven to provide and insure their security and prosperity. McNiel has navigated a balance between optimism and ferocity, creating a role that is marvelous, stirring and implacable.

The rest of this extraordinary cast includes : Brad Stephens (George Deever) Diana Gonzalez (Sue Bayliss) Paul Arnold (Frank Lubey) Lyzz Broskey (Lydia Lubey) and the engaging Drew Smith as Bert.

ICT MainStage Presents: Arthur Miller’s All My Sons playing May 29th – June 13th, 2009. Irving Arts Center, 3333 North MacArthur Blvd.Irving, TX 75062. 972.252.ARTS. www.irvingtheatre.org.

by Christopher Soden, EDGE Contributor

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GILLIAN Reveiws Published

Two reviews of To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday were published this week, providing this director with a mixture of joyful praise and bitter-tasting yet necessary critical feedback.  Both reviews can be found online at www.pegasusnews.com.

north-dallas-gazette1The more positive review comes from Rick A. Elina, Theatre Critic for the North Dallas Gazette.  Mr. Elina’s background as a playwright is evident in the way he pens his review, making even his rebukes a pleasure to read.  Fortunately, rebukes are few and far between as he presents his experience of a joyful evening of theater and giving insightful and poetic perspectives on the story and each character’s journey.  While taking issue with a few key scenes, for the most part Mr. Elina praises the cast, calling particular attention to Larry Jack Dotson (“superb”),  Rebekah Kennedy (“extraordinary”) and Arlette Morgan (“divinely inspired”).  Lastly, I was humbled to have a critic of Mr. Elina’s reputation consider my work to be “remarkable direction.”

column-onlineEqually humbling, Clyde Berry of John Garcia’s The Column, a major online daily entertainment-related column in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, provided honest criticism from his perspective.  He gives kudos for the set (decorated to perfection by David Jetre), lighting design (props to Gillian producer, Scott Croy) and Larry Jack Dotson’s “delightfully created” performance.  He also grants that the story moves “at an effective pace, and the piece moves quickly.”  Beyond that, Mr. Berry has a lot to say about what he didn’t like about the play.  Some of his views clearly sprout from a clash in theatrical style; other opinions were a bit befuddling; but some of what he wrote was good criticism, a teaching aid for which I am grateful.

The polarized nature of the reviews might lead one to think Mr. Berry got stuck viewing an “off-night” for the production.  However, both critics attended the very same performance.  Such is the subjective nature of the critic.  Often, our own preferences and expectations color our perception of any work we view with critical eyes.  Who’s right, who’s wrong?  The truth is each reviewer gave an honest interpretation of their experience of the show.  One liked it, the other did not.  Simple as that.

Meanwhile, there were many other critics whose opinions go undocumented.  These are the kind people who came to our opening weekend, laughed and cried in all the right places, and left our show thanking the performers for a great time.  If you have seen our show, I’d be interested in your feedback as well.  If you haven’t yet come out to Mesquite, I invite you to do so and leave your insights, good and bad, here on this blog entry.

To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday runs for two more weekends with shows tonight and tomorrow at 8 PM, a Sunday matinee at 2:30 PM, and 8 PM shows next Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.  Only six performances left!  More information can be found at www.mctweb.org.  For reservations,  e-mail reservations@mctweb.org or call 972-216-8126.

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Filed under Review, Theatre