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Dallas Observer Review: NOISES OFF

NOISES OFF

The Sound You Hear is Laughter

by Elaine Liner

Call a play a farce and it damn well better be funny. Michael Frayn’s Noises Off is far and away the farciest of all modern farces. Full of slamming doors, sexy girls, mistaken identities and stray plates of sardines, Noises Off has been setting the standard for feather-light theatrical comedy for three decades now. …

Laughs, big ones, belly-crunching, thigh-slapping, gasp-for-oxygen laughs, are what you want from a farce. You’ll get the giggles, guaranteed, at Theatre Arlington’s whizbang Noises Off, directed by Andy Baldwin, star of many of Circle Theatre’s broad comedies over the past few seasons.

Frayn’s brilliant play is a paean to stage props and crack comic timing. With characters running up and down stairs, bobbing out of doors and windows like cuckoos out of clocks and intentionally tumbling over couches, tables and their own dropped trousers, any slip-ups could be dangerous. The play then shows what happens when all goes wrong.

The first act of Noises Off finds a ninth-rate company of players in the final moments of a prolonged dress rehearsal for a typical British sex comedy called Nothing On. Their director (played by the delightfully wry and rumpled Ben Phillips) is at the end of his tether. If he can put Nothing On on, he’s off to direct Richard III. But first he has to get over the hump of a bad play and the bad actors in it.

Doors and sardines: Mikaela Krantz, Shane Beeson, Brad Stephens and Sherry Hopkins star in Theatre Arlington's NOISES OFF through January 29 at Theatre Arlington. Call 817-275-7661.

In the second act, we see what happens backstage as the six performers in Nothing On try to act comedy out front while keeping an ongoing feud between cast members from erupting into violence behind the curtain. (Jack Hardaway’s two-story scenery at Theatre Arlington turns its back on the audience for this part.) For the third short act, the Nothing On bunch, turned around to face us again, is winding up their long road tour, with cues blown, relationships soured and the play-within-the-play reduced to a shambles.

It has to move at a breathless pace to achieve maximum farce-ity, and Baldwin keeps his cast jumping like the stage is on fire. Shane Beeson makes some hilariously swift moves as the dim-bulb male ingénue, Gary Lejeune, who speaks in incomplete sentences and, like, well … you know. Like that. Playing the dim bim opposite him is Mikaela Krantz, built like a beautiful, pale stick insect and, costumed in tiny triangles of green lingerie, the funniest undressed actress of the year so far.

All the others — Krista Scott as the actress playing the sardine-juggling maid, Sherry Hopkins as the gossipy leading lady, Brad Stephens as a method actor given to nosebleeds under stress, Michael James as the dipsomaniacal old Shakespearean, Robin Daniel as the crazed stage manager and Eric Dobbins as the sleep-deprived stagehand — are the top of the tip of comedy goodness. (Their mispronunciation of the English town “Basingstoke” is a tiny but fixable flaw. It should take the long “A.”)

Other productions of Noises Off around here have suffered from size problems. Too often they were spread across a big stage (like the one at WaterTower Theatre), which ruins the tight timing needed for comedy choreography. Theatre Arlington’s small-ish space fits the play to a farthing, putting the audience close enough to catch all the subtle tosses of props and angry looks in the pantomime-heavy second act, but far enough away to take in the whole picture.

Frayn, hailed as the master of English farce after Noises Off premiered in 1982, would go on to write more brilliant plays; one about physicists, Copenhagen, and then the drama Democracy, about German chancellor Willy Brandt. But it’s this comedy that’s performed most often. Hardly a season goes by without a production of it in a Dallas or Fort Worth theater, and it’s a rare treat to see it done as well as they’re doing it in Arlington.

Noises Off is so efficient and smart, commenting on the silliness of British sex-coms but showing how hard it is to do one. It’s all so complicated, says Noises Off character Gary Lejeune: “We’ve got bags. We’ve got boxes. Plus doors. Plus words.”

Giving Frayn his due, let’s move words to the top of that list.

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Column Review: NOISES OFF

Noises Off is a glorious opportunity to watch seven slamming doors, one breaking window, 10 trips up and down stairs and 17 false entrances, while listening to 73 flubbed lines, 46 miscues, one dramatic highlight, 22 double entendres, 6 regular entendres and a million laughs all while trying to find a missing plate of sardines.”

Okay, I stole that quote from another program but it beautifully spells out the show. Noises Off has been called the funniest farce ever written. Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration but not much of one. The show has also been done by virtually every professional and amateur theater company in the English speaking world. And it has been made into a movie. All of this might be both good and bad for this show.

Before the show I heard various audience members saying things like, “How many times have you seen it?” And after the show I heard comments like, “They changed a lot of lines from the way we did it.” Instead of just enjoying it, they were comparing it to other productions. Considering that and “the funniest farce” put a whale of a burden on the director and actors. I’m going to review only this performance.

Noises Off is non-stop action. Its pacing and frenetic blocking leaves the actors with little time to breathe! A problem here is that, while learning all the intricacies, it’s easy to forget to develop a character.

For the most part the Theatre Arlington cast establishes solid beginnings for their characters.

Especially strong are: Krista Scott (Dotty), who makes us believe her “dotty” character is real. Not an easy task. Mikaela Krantz (Brooke) who rides her character hilariously throughout. Her solo seduction in Act 3 is worth the price of the ticket! Brad Stephens (Frederick) who continually says, “I see that,” when we all know he doesn’t. And how often do you laugh at someone with a nose bleed? Eric Dobbins (Tim) who tugs at our sympathy as he is being run ragged by the actors.

Sherry Hopkins (Belinda) has the double duty of being funny (her dazzling smile accomplishes that) and carrying what little serious stuff that does happen. Somehow she pulls it off. I think, as the show matures and the actors get more comfortable with their scenes, the pacing and the character development will settle in. Hopefully, this will be especially true for Michael James (Selsdon). In the opening night performance he latches on to a stereotype drunk and plays that one level throughout. His credits in the program lead one to believe he’s capable of much better work.

One cannot see Noises Off without mentioning the set. In 1970, Author Michael Frayn was watching one of his plays backstage and realized that it was much funnier back there. In 1980, Noises Off was the result.

Happily, Theatre Arlington has a revolve on its stage so it’s relatively simple to turn the set around. I especially like the fact that they waited until Act 2 began to turn it around. Jack Hardaway’s set is simple and direct. At least it gives that impression. All doors and stairs, facilitating the action without distracting from it. I was a little concerned that the stairs didn’t have an outside railing, knowing that Gary would have to tumble down those steps in Act 3. Shane Beeson took the fall impressively, to the delighted applause of the audience.

Meredith Hinton’s costumes truly represent the characters; the stuffy are stuffy, the casual are casual and no one will forget (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) Brooke’s lingerie. And Shelbie Mac’s bottles and sardines are right where they ought to be – or are they?

Director Andy Baldwin has done a workman-like job of directing traffic, and has even thrown in a couple of good bits of his own. Again, as with the actors, so much attention is paid to crazy blocking, everything else slides a bit. I believe, the hands of this able cast, the show will tighten and grow as it runs. For sure, as it stands right now, it is a delightful way to spend an evening or afternoon at the theater.

Reviewed by Grant James
Associate Theater Critic
John Garcia’s THE COLUMN

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Star-Telegram Review: NOISES OFF

Theatre Arlington’s Noises Off will leave you in stitches

By Punch Shaw
Special to the Star-Telegram

ARLINGTON – The emergency rooms of Arlington hospitals should add staff and stand by in the wake of the opening of the frenetic farce Noises Off at Theatre Arlington on Friday night.

They are likely to be inundated with patients complaining of sore ribs and maybe even split guts from laughing uproariously for more than two hours without time to even catch their breaths. And after a few more performances, the cast of this extremely physical comedy may need an entire wing of a medical facility all its own.

But a little collateral damage is acceptable in the theater when the show is this funny. Certainly, the lion’s share of the credit for that always has to go to British playwright Michael Frayn, who created this madness about a hopelessly dysfunctional theater troupe’s attempts to present a deeply flawed comic romp called Nothing On. This show is the quintessential British sex farce, and most productions of it keep the laughs coming.

Few presentations, however, realize the full potential of this hysterical material as well as this one. Director Andy Baldwin puts the pedal to the metal as soon as the curtain goes up, and he never lets off. He can do so because he has such a wonderful ensemble of players. They are every bit the unit they need to be for this brilliantly structured bit of nonsense.

It is almost unfair to single out any performer, but it would also be a travesty not to acknowledge the bitingly humorous performance by Ben Phillips as Lloyd, the director of the show’s play-within-a-play. His comic timing is even sharper than his character’s withering wit.

And it would a major oversight not to call your call your attention to the nuanced performance by Shane Beeson as Garry. His perfectly measured portrayal can easily get lost in the chaos of this show’s action, but his work in the third act is as strong as Phillips’ efforts in the first act.

The second act belongs to the cast as a whole. During that section, we move behind the scenes of Nothing On thanks to a fabulous set by Jack Hardway that spins on a turntable to change the audience’s perspective. All sorts of high jinks are played out as the actors silently try to kill one another without interrupting the show out front. Krista Scott, Brad Stephens, Eric Dobbins, Robin Daniel and Michael James turn in great performances in this act just as they do in the other two.

The only flaw in the show, though, is a major one. Sherry Hopkins as Belinda and Mikaela Krantz as Brooke both do excellent jobs with their lines. Hopkins is especially good with the acting-within-acting she has to do, and Krantz scores often with visual humor. But, unfortunately, they have been cast in each other’s roles. It is a tragic blunder in an otherwise perfectly plotted undertaking.

But there is so much else going on in this relentless comedy that it can survive even that obvious misstep. Many of its noises may be off (stage), but this production’s comedic chops are spot on.

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Behind Dressing Room Doors

Theatre Arlington raises the tabs on their production of Noises Off, written by Michael Frayn and directed by Andy Baldwin.  Cast is a sampling of veteran DFW performers including Krista Scott (Dotty), Ben Phillips (Lloyd), Shane Beeson (Garry), Mikaela Krantz (Brooke), Brad Stephens (Frederick), Sherry Hopkins (Belinda), Michael James (Selsdon), Eric Dobbins (Tim) and Robin Daniel (Poppy).

Mikaela Krantz, Shane Beeson, Brad Stephens and Sherry Hopkins

Called the funniest farce ever written, this play within a play provides a hysterical glimpse of what happens backstage while rehearsing a flop of a farce called “Nothing On.” An intriguing and side-splitting glimpse into the behind-the-scenes world of theater.

Noises Off opens January 13 and runs through January 29, 2012 at Theatre Arlington.  Curtain rises at 7:30 PM on Thursdays, 8 PM Fridays & Satrudays and 2 PM on Sunday afternoons.  A reception catered by BlackFinn American Saloon will be held in the lobby following the opening night performance.  Tickets are $19 with discounts for students, seniors and groups of 10 or more.  Tickets for the Thursday, January 12, 2012 preview performance are only $5.  For more information or to buy tickets online, visit www.theatrearlington.org.

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Theater Review: Panto Draws Laughs

Panto at Circle Theater Draws Laughs From Young, Adult Audience

by Peter Simek
December 12th, 2011 9:18am

Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks have built reputations of late by wowing the youngins with candy-colored spectacle while tickling adults with inside jokes and pop culture references. A much, much older iteration of this kind of humor is British Panto, which includes singing, horseplay, slapstick, dancing, and audience participation that draw on well-known folktales. Theaters typically perform these plays around Christmas for families, so it is entirely appropriate that Circle Theater offers Randy Sharp and Axis Company’s Seven in One Blow or The Brave Little Kid during the holidays, even though the subject matter does not directly relate.

Robin Armstrong (Becky’s New Car and Boeing-Boeing) directs her third show in Circle Theatre’s 30th Anniversary Season with a delicious sense for the form’s madcap spirit. The off-kilter fairytale story (an updated version of the German folktale The Valiant Little Tailor, collected by the Brothers Grimm) begins with Frankie and Mack (Eric Dobbins and Shane Strawbridge), a pair of Flatbush-sounding street folk who weave a fanciful tale to stave off their hunger and cold. A city child, The Kid (Mikaela Krantz), kills seven flies in one swat and celebrates the auspicious event with a wrestler-style belt that reads, “Seven in One Blow.” The fact that The Kid does not specify “flies” on the belt leads to hilarious assumptions by others.

The Kid journeys about Clare Floyd DeVries’ clever set of back alley bricks and graffiti meeting a variety of interesting characters. There is The Ogre (a towering Jim Johnson), The Witch (a striking Sherry Hopkins), December (a funky Michael James), a princess (Hannah McKinney), and a pea (Amy Elizabeth Jones) to name a few. Krantz (Talking Pictures and Jeeves in the Morning both at Stage West) as The Kid pulls plenty of big-eyed faces with a slightly curious, sing-songy stoner dialect, but she has an incredibly sweet singing voice and a lovable personality that are perfect for this show.

Kevin Scott Keating as The QK, a king with a hand puppet, provides some colorful wackiness. Jones’ A Pea is delightful and cute with her PSA type song about how we should all love peas. Brad Stephens (Much Ado About Nothing at Stolen Shakespeare Guild) as The Scarlet Pimpernel is “more than just an 18th century story.” McKinney as the “irritating” Princess Fartina plays a spoiled brat with wonderful, over-the-top skill.

Strawbridge is the real star of the show here, though. There is seemingly nothing this man cannot do, from ushering the audience into the theater in character, singing, performing sound effects, dancing, telling stories, connecting with the kids in the audience, to writing additional music and lyrics for the play. Bravo, sir!

Dance choreography by Sherry Hopkins is a hit, especially the Ogre’s “dance break” and the company finale. Armstrong’s campy costumes of tights, Chuck Taylors, and white Nehru jackets are awesome. Lighting and sound by John Leach and David H.M. Lambert add to the fairytale nature and ingenious effects of the show.

SEVEN IN ONE BLOW or The BRAVE LITTLE KID runs through December 17, 2011 at Circle Theatre, 230 West Fourth St., Fort Worth, TX 76102 in Sundance Square.  Call the box office at 817-877-3040 to reserve tickets or visit www.circletheatre.com.

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The Column Reviews SEVEN IN ONE BLOW

SEVEN IN ONE BLOW or THE BRAVE LITTLE KID
by Randy Sharp & Axis Company

Reviewed Performance 11/19/2011

by Danny Macchietto, Associate Critic for John Garcia’s THE COLUMN

I took my almost 12 year old nephew, Douglas, to the official opening night of Seven in One Blow or The Brave Little Kid. Douglas is one of my back-up critics that I rely on for children’s plays in the event that I discover that I’m out of touch with the “common kid”. Despite the fact that Douglas is at the age where he is capable of acting like he doesn’t care about anything or much at all, he loved the show. It was easy to see why as this show did not touch my inner-child; it touched my outer and existing adult, instead.

Circle Theatre’s production of Seven in One Blow is an enchanting, rollicking, and joyously hip alternative to DFW’s holiday themed theatre-going season already underway. The nimble actors of a well-rounded ensemble are impeccably cast by director Robin Armstrong, creating an experience that all members of the family will enjoy.

The story follows a “Kid” who is adorned with a gold belt buckle that marks the Kid’s accomplishment of swatting seven flies “? in one blow”. The Kid travels freely amongst the discovery of characters that have popped out of Brothers Grimm fairytales, both faithful and irreverent, as an Ogre, a Princess, and other literary characters such as the Scarlett Pimpernel. Each character The Kid encounters interprets the buckle as something heroic, so gallant challenges are dared upon to the young kid.

This voyage is told through the storytelling device of the theatrical art form called the “panto”, Great Britain’s version of the pantomime, only it is the exact opposite of silence and performed with a heavy flourish of Commedia del’ Arte. In a panto the audience is relied upon frequently to be a willing participant in the story.

The high audience participation factor can be disastrous for any theatre company as there is an easy temptation for actors of a children’s play to overcompensate with their energy level. That is simply not the case here as each of the performers uses a deft hand when transitioning from scene work to audience interaction within seconds. There’s no stitching to be seen as it all feels very organic, and through it all the material never plays down or condescends to its core audience. Much of the credit for this belongs to Shane Strawbridge and Eric Dobbins who play Frankie and Mack, two bumbling, homeless guys who open the show and immediately put the audience to work as Mack tells Frankie of this wonderful adventure.

The production is not a musical, yet there are musical numbers in it; in fact, only three numbers are written for the show, but two original tunes are added by cast member Shane Strawbridge, which are very welcome as every song is a delight. I tip my hat off to Jim Johnson who gives a credible rap performance as the Ogre. Mikaela Krantz as The Kid is also very effective in her one solo number that is presented as an ode of longing for the child’s mom and dad. It was not until this moment that I fully appreciated the full range of Ms. Krantz’s skill, as well as her demanding, physical commitment to the role.

All the design elements cohesively meld together to create a visual and aural experience that is pleasing both to the eyes and ears. The set design by Clare Floyd DeVries is refreshingly open, taking place in an alleyway behind a loading dock. The lighting design by John Leach and the costume design by Robin Armstrong are complementary of each other.

Ms. Armstrong’s choice of colors is rich in palette but never too bright. Many of the costumes, thankfully, are creative in simple and suggestive ways. The perfect example is her design concept behind A Pea, played by Amy Elizabeth. Having the actress sport a pregnancy pouch in green layers is an inspired choice.

Properties Designer John Harvey, Sound Designer David H.M. Lambert, and Dance Choreographer Sherry Hopkins deserve a special round of applause for their collaboration in pulling off the nifty centerpiece of The Kid’s plight with a swarm of flies, set to the music of Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee. The effect of this effort is nothing short of magical and so is this production.

Given the reactions that I saw from kids ages 4-12 in the theatre, opting to see Seven in One Blow versus a 3-D animated family entertainment, such as Happy Feet 2, would be a wise investment in your child’s imagination. You don’t even need special glasses to be a part of the action.

Director – Robin Armstrong
Stage Manager – Sarahi Salazar
Set Design – Clare Floyd DeVries
Lighting Design – John Leach
Costume Design – Robin Armstrong
Properties Design – John Harvey
Dance Choreography – Sherry Hopkins

CAST

Frankie – Eric Dobbins
The Witch – Sherry Hopkins
December – Michael James
The Ogre – Jim Johnson
A Pea – Amy Elizabeth Jones
The QK – Kevin Scott Keating
The Kid – Mikaela Krantz
Princess Fartina – Hannah McKinney
The Scarlet Pimpernel – Brad Stephens
Mack – Shane Strawbridge

SEVEN IN ONE BLOW or THE BRAVE LITTLE KID
Circle Theatre, 230 West 4th Street, Fort Worth, TX 76102
Runs through December 17th

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 3:00pm
Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for students and seniors, $12.50 for children. All tickets purchased online have a $3 service fee.
For information and tickets, go to http://www.circletheatre.com or call 817-877-3040

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Review: “Plenty of Holiday Fun”

Circle Theatre’s new show offers plenty of holiday fun

By Mark Lowry
Special to DFW.com

FORT WORTH — In the States, we like our holiday theater with a heavy dose of Dickens. But in his homeland, they prefer it with corny jokes and singalongs in a daffy fairy tale retelling, otherwise known as panto.

Fort Worth gets a taste of the form at Circle Theatre with Seven in One Blow or The Brave Little Kid by New Yorker Randy Sharp and Axis Company. Sharp and her colleagues were at Saturday night’s opening at Circle, and they have every reason to be pleased with the second professional production of their confection.

The anchor story is the Brothers Grimm tale of the Kid (a terrific Mikaela Krantz) who killed seven flies with one swat and then bragged about the feat without mentioning that the victims were insects.

That led others to think the kid had slain something much larger. Re-imagined as an urban tale, it’s narrated by homeless guys Mack (Shane Strawbridge as the most motivating emcee you’ll ever encounter) and Frankie (Eric Dobbins). The fly-slaying kid’s journey includes an Ogre (perfectly ogre-the-top Jim Johnson) and Scarlet Pimpernel (a hilariously stiff Brad Stephens).

Directed by North Texas’ maestro of farce, Robin Armstrong (who also handles costume design), Circle’s production takes some liberties with the British panto style and with Sharp’s original version. For instance, the role of the QK is meant as a “dame” role, or a man in outlandish drag. Here, Kevin Scott Keating is dressed as a foppish king, holding and voicing a sharp-tongued rod puppet for the Q part of that equation. The swap works.

Others in the cast having too much fun include Sherry Hopkins (as a formalwear Witch), Michael James (as December) and Amy Elizabeth Jones as a green vegetable kids normally don’t like.

For about the first half of Circle’s existence, it produced silly melodramas at Christmastime. It makes sense that, to close its 30th season, it would return to a delightfully bonkers way of making merry.

SEVEN IN ONE BLOW or The BRAVE LITTLE KID runs through December 17, 2011 at Circle Theatre, 230 West Fourth St., Fort Worth, TX 76102 in Sundance Square.  Call the box office at 817-877-3040 to reserve tickets or visit www.circletheatre.com.

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Review: Magnificent SEVEN

Time flies and you’ll have fun as Circle Theatre jumps into British panto with Seven in One Blow.

by David Novinski for Theater Jones

About the time when the desire to travel great distances to see your family is being replaced by a stronger desire to get away from them, you really start to appreciate the concept of “family friendly” entertainment. One well-placed excursion can make or break a visit with those the in-laws.

When the time comes to get everyone out of the house during this holiday season, consider Circle Theatre’s Seven in One Blow or the Brave Little Kid by Randy Sharp and Axis Company as the destination for your vacation from vacation.

It’s a British panto, a theatrical tradition that combines the free-wheelin’ festival feel of vaudeville with the charming familiarity of folk tales. There’s song and dance, audience interaction, lessons for the kids and laughs for the adults. Director Robin Armstrong keeps the action brisk and lively letting her cast playfully gambol through.

Seven in One Blow‘s a retelling of the folktale about a tailor who, upon killing seven flies in one smack, makes a belt proclaiming as much. Only, he leaves out the word “flies.” Naturally this is before strict legislation concerning truth in advertising. So, people assume he means that he has killed seven men in one blow. You can imagine the adventures that result.

In Circle’s version, this tale is retold by a homeless man, Mack, (Shane Strawbridge) to his friend, Frankie (Eric Dobbins). In Mack’s version, the tailor is a latchkey youth referred to as “The Kid” (Mikaela Krantz). Upset that his parents are so often away from home, he leaves his lonely apartment for parts unknown. On designer Clare Floyd DeVries’ city street set passersby are transformed into folk tale characters. An irate businessman becomes an Ogre (Jim Johnson) who The Kid befriends after besting him in a test of squeezing water from a stone and rock throwing by substituting cheese for a rock and a bird for the stone.

Accompanied by the Ogre and his former captive, The Scarlet Pimpernel (Brad Stephens), The Kid travels to a kingdom with tax revenue issues: scared citizens don’t pay up. The ruler, QK (Kevin Scott Keating) who is a King with a hand puppet Queen needs the money to buy their daughter, Princess Fartina (Hannah McKinney) everything she wants. In exchange for her hand in marriage and half the kingdom, The Kid promises to free a witch’s captive, conquer a beast and “do something about the heat.”

The witch (Sherry Hopkins) is keeping December (Michael James) hostage. Her weakness is a fear of music. With the audience’s help the witch is scared away freeing December. The monster turns out to be a Pea (Amy Elizabeth Jones) who is just frustrated that nobody likes her. When The Kid returns to the kingdom, QK plans to welch on the deal but Princess Fartina stands up to him. The Kid is only interested in the kingdom half if it means his parents don’t have to work so much and be gone all the time.

The cast all shine in one moment or other but the evening on the whole belongs to Shane Strawbridge who serves as the storytelling, song-writing, ringmaster. He performs Mack like a Nathan Lane version of Riff from West Side Story. He’s streetwise but knows how to deliver a laugh line. Mikaela Krantz’s The Kid begins a bit like a tipsy Sandy Duncan but will win you over quickly with her beguiling earnestness. She and Jim Johnson as the Ogre have the most fun with the stilted storybook language that obscures the violence of the tale from the younger audience members. A special mention goes to the whole cast for their finale step dance. But most impressive was Sherry Hopkins who did it in an evening gown without missing a step, slap or stomp.

In order to thoroughly market test the show, I took two of my sons, six and nine. They enjoyed the entire evening, including the snacks at intermission. The nine year old declared it “good,” which is high praise from him. The six year old continues to revise his choice of favorite part. These reactions indicate that Seven in One Blow has the kid entertainment potential of Puss in Boots.

But what really tips the scales in favor of Circle Theatre is its parent entertainment potential. For laughs alone, Boots can’t hold a candle to Blow. The story is for the kids; the jokes are for the parents. And that’s what’s important. After all, who’s paying for the tickets?

SEVEN IN ONE BLOW or The BRAVE LITTLE KID runs through December 17, 2011 at Circle Theatre, 230 West Fourth St., Fort Worth, TX 76102 in Sundance Square.  Call the box office at 817-877-3040 to reserve tickets or visit www.circletheatre.com.

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Review: SEVEN at Circle

Circle Theatre’s current production is a holiday farce high on absurdity.

by Jimmy Fowler for Fort Worth Weekly

One of my favorite theatergoing experiences in recent years was Circle Theatre’s 2008 holiday production of A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant. If you missed that nontraditional and rather biting musical, it featured a cast of children reenacting the story of L. Ron Hubbard’s founding the Church of Scientology as if it were a warm-hearted Christmas show. I’m still not sure how Circle executive director Rose Pearson got approval from the board for that one, which left some audience members cheering and others clapping politely but suspiciously, perhaps fearing they’d been duped. But that show remains my gold standard for artistic bravery during a holiday season when many theaters rely on familiar, comforting cash cows to help fund the rest of their seasons. Audiences are assaulted by so many nutcrackers, Scrooges, and workshop elves during this time of year that any fare that’s significantly different feels like a thrilling daredevil display.

The cast of Circle’s Seven in One Blow is more than game for some adventuresome, nontraditional holiday fare.

Circle’s newest holiday high-wire act is the regional premiere of Seven in One Blow, or The Brave Little Kid. This contemporary urban retelling of a Brothers Grimm story was adapted by New York playwright Randy Sharp and first staged in 2002 by the Off-Broadway troupe the Axis Company. It has since become Axis’ own warped little Christmas tradition, revived each December. Circle handed this interactive show to its unofficial resident director of farce, Robin Armstrong, and the results are just as glorious as I’d hoped. While Seven in One Blow is sweeter and more commercial than Children’s Scientology Pageant, Armstrong –– a self-professed Monty Python fan –– has brought out compelling hues of Terry Gilliam-esque grotesquerie and absurdity that give this show a nice edge. Circle’s staging achieves the impressive feat of appealing to “children of all ages” as well as tired, leather-hearted critics looking for a new reason to cheer holiday theater.

The protagonist of the original Brothers Grimm tale was a mild-mannered tailor who undergoes a series of challenges with monsters and tyrants to become a king. In Sharp’s stage adaptation, the lead character is The Kid (played in the Circle show by Mikaela Krantz), who wanders away from neglectful parents and must overcome various obstacles on the city streets. The title Seven in One Blow refers to The Kid’s recurrent boast that he killed seven bothersome flies with one swat –– he even gets the phrase emblazoned on a huge belt buckle. Full of foolish bravery, he tangles with the eyepatch-wearing Ogre (Jim Johnson, a towering and goofy presence); a king named QK (Kevin Scott Keating), whose queen is a screechy blonde puppet in a black sequined dress; and QK’s greedy, superficial daughter, Princess Fartina (a delightfully vulgar Hannah McKinney). The Kid also encounters the green Pea with self-esteem issues (Amy Elizabeth Jones, who brings surprising tenderness to a despised dinner staple) and the Witch (an icy and disdainful Sherry Hopkins), who has kidnapped the month of December (the aristocratic Michael James) –– she holds him on a glittery leash to keep the land forever cold. The Kid’s sidekick is the dandy-ish, French phrase-dropping Scarlet Pimpernel (Brad Stephens). Through all of this, the audience is encouraged to sing, boo, and cheer by two wisecracking homeless men (Shane Strawbridge and Eric Dobbins, both boisterous and inventive) who serve as the show’s masters of ceremonies.

Set designer Clare Floyd DeVries and costume designer Armstrong have apparently borrowed ideas from sources as diverse as Sesame Street and The Who’s Tommy. The look of Circle’s show veers from utilitarian ghetto chic to Bob Mackie fabulous. Similarly, the performances are comically gritty and elegantly subversive, achieving a lunatic pitch that allows each actor to carve a memorable character from what could have been a hallucinatory mishmash of random Alice in Wonderland-style types. Saturday’s opening-night performance (which was attended by playwright Sharp and several members of the Axis Company) had a couple of problems with pacing as the show alternated between songs and comic vignettes, but those will likely be worked out as the run goes along. All of the performers had inspired command of their roles, but a special nod should go to Keating for making his shrewish queen puppet an authentic and bizarre cast member.

Krantz tied Seven in One Blow together with a marvelous turn as The Kid. Though she’s in her mid-20s, she could easily pass for 14, and she infused her character with the unsentimental tomboy charm of child actors like Tatum O’Neal and Jodie Foster. The gender-bending twist at the end of the show wasn’t much of a surprise, but by that point Krantz had successfully created a universal child hero who drew a bit from both genders. Circle’s Seven in One Blow pulls from a crazy menagerie of inspirations but, beyond all odds, finally comes together as a bold and sophisticated holiday adventure.

SEVEN IN ONE BLOW or The BRAVE LITTLE KID runs through December 17, 2011 at Circle Theatre, 230 West Fourth St., Fort Worth, TX 76102 in Sundance Square.  Call the box office at 817-877-3040 to reserve tickets or visit www.circletheatre.com.

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PROOF Opens at MCT

Proof, the 2001 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play by David Auburn, opens this weekend at the Mesquite Arts Center, running through June 25, 2011.

Directed by Doug Luke, the Mesquite Community Theatre production boasts a wonderful cast including Jeni Rall (Catherine), Cory Wornell (Claire), Gary Anderson (Robert) and Brad Stephens (Hal).  This is the third production Stephens has mounted at MCT, previously performing as Chris Keller in All My Sons (2008) and directing To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday (2009).

On the eve of her twenty-fifth birthday, Catherine, a troubled young woman, has spent years caring for her brilliant but unstable father, a famous mathematician. Now, following his death, she must deal with her own volatile emotions; the arrival of her estranged sister, Claire; and the attentions of Hal, a former student of her father’s who hopes to find valuable work in the 103 notebooks that her father left behind. Over the long weekend that follows, a burgeoning romance and the discovery of a mysterious notebook draw Catherine into the most difficult problem of all: How much of her father’s madness – or genius – will she inherit?

PERFORMANCES:

  • Friday June 10 – 8:00 PM
  • Saturday June 11 – 8:00 PM
  • Sunday June 12- 2:30 PM ($12.00)
  • Friday June 17 – 8:00 PM
  • Saturday June 18 – 8:00 PM
  • Sunday June 19 – 2:30 PM ($12.00)
  • Thursday June 23 – 8:00 PM ($12.00)
  • Friday June 24 – 8:00 PM
  • Saturday June 25 – 8:00 PM

BOX OFFICE OPENS ONE HOUR BEFORE SHOW TIME
(House opens thirty minutes before show time.)

**********ADMISSION**********

  • $15.00-Adults
  • $12.00- Students, Seniors Over 55 and S.T.A.G.E. Members (with ID card)*
  • $8.00- Children 2-6 years old

Adult admission for Thursday evening and Sunday matinee performances are $12.00.

CASH OR CHECK ONLY NO CARDS! You may purchase your tickets using your CREDIT CARD by visiting http://www.mctweb.org/ and clicking the “Tickets On-Line” tab.

Though not required, RESERVATIONS are recommended to assure your seat for this performance. For Reservations call (972) 216-8126 or E-mail: Reservations@mctweb.org

Be sure to include your FULL NAME, PHONE NUMBER and the number of $15.00, $12.00 and $8.00 tickets you wish to reserve and the PERFORMANCE DATE & TIME

Cut off time for reservations for evening performances is 5:00 PM on the date of the performance and 12:30 PM for Sunday matinee performances on the date of the performance.

Reservations will be honored until 15 minutes before show-time. After that time, the reserved seats will be offered to our walk-in patrons.

NO ONE WILL BE SEATED AFTER THE PERFORMANCE BEGINS.

*Society for Theatrical Artists’ Guidance & Enhancement

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