By John Patrick Shanley
Directed by Denni Don Hunting
Reviewed by Wayne Erreca (2-15-17)
When I was a very young lad when visiting my grandmother’s house at Mission Bay in San Diego, California, my ears would always perk alert from the two voices coming from the kitchen. My great grandmother Myrtle Glass and her daughter would be sitting across from each other exchanging a spirited conversation that sounded like music to my ears. They both shared the same blood from the lyrical and witty heritage of Ireland. I would sit nearby listening to their feisty clattering arguments that weren’t hateful, but vigorously contentious, with a cackle, and a laughing roar, and with their satisfied conclusion that was never resolved, they would turn and embrace me, and ask me if I was hungry. The words they spoke were like no other, they were lively, and cutting, then soothing, with sadden reminiscing, but never boring.
Playwright John Patrick Shanley who authored the marvelous play Doubt, now has his new production of Outside Mullingar staged at the Studio Theatre @ the Depot. It first opened at the Samuel Friedman Theatre on Broadway on January 3, 2014. It’s a lovely play, showcasing four Irish souls living in the farmlands of Ireland. There is old man Tony Reilly (Rick Korndorfer), who is not in good health, and counts the days of sunrises that awaken him each morning. He has a troublesome situation as to who shall receive the inheritance of his precious farmland once he picks his last four leaf clovers. Actor Rick Korndorfer has deeply submerged himself within the inner soul of Reilly, and his words ring true, wrapped tightly and convincingly, and his facial expressions come from the heart in the making of a seamlessly flawless performance.
Tony Reilly’s son, Anthony Reilly (Geoff Wallace) is a shy and quiet Irish lad, but with a deep heart of love for his father, and for a special someone by the name of Rosemary Muldoon (Colleen Hill-Rakunas) who has been around for many years, but seems oceans apart, from becoming anything more than a passing wave, and “Good day!”. Wallace and Hill-Rakunas when together have a poetic verbalizing waltz that takes you over the Irish rainbow, where their words of love eventually discover the leprechaun’s hidden pot of gold. Once again, it’s those Irish words of magical wit and fancy that ties a colorful rainbow around these two that brings a welcoming delight to one and all.
The last character in this play or we can say the fourth clovers leaf is Aoife Muldoon (Bernadette Groppuso) who banters long and wonderfully with old man Reilly. These two old souls who have known one another for too many years to remember confess and speak true without scolding the other for digging too truthfully, and painfully, for they know their shortcomings, and easily let the Irish winds to blow in whatever directions it wishes. Groppuso with her priceless facial expressions and thick Irish accent, and her pan faced reactions bring the reality of the rolling green hills of Ireland to life.
As for the director, who happened to become the perfect director for this Irish production, Denni Don Hunting, I wasn’t surprised to see a marvelous performance from her four clovers leafs. This sort of play suits her very well, for she directs in love, and offers great respect to her actors, and this is why this particular play is a priceless Leprechaun’s gem.
Well, there are a few other gems in the pot of gold that supported this terrific production by investing their many talents, being: Wizard (Stage Manager), Jeanie Gifford (Asst. Director), Kerr Anderson (Set Design/Construction), Kathy Verstraete (Costumes), Michael Binstead (Hair/Makeup), Harriet Mittelberger (Properties/Set Dressing), Cinder Conlon (Light Design), Gary Bolton (Sound Design), and June Neal (Producer).
One of my favorite playwrights of all time is George Bernard Shaw, one of the most prolific writers of drama, and comedy to set foot on this great green Irish earth. Did I just say ‘green Irish earth’? Yes, I guess I did, but there is a reason for it, because Mr. Shaw was born on July 26, 1856, and spent his early days living in Dublin, Ireland. An Irish lad he was! Getting back to my great grandmother Myrtle Glass, she was truly the major shining influence in my Uncle Victor Buono’s acting career. It was she, with her marvelous diction, and wit, and lyrical tone of voice that inspired him into becoming the Oscar nominated ‘Best Supporting Actor’ in 1962 in the motion picture of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. So, you see, the Irish are known for their luck, and my Uncle Victor Buono benefited by it. Who knows, perhaps in watching this marvelous production you too will benefit a little, or a lot, from Irish luck that may sprinkle upon you, that is, if you’re sitting in the first row. After all, there are exceptions even for leprechauns, you know!
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Directed by Debbie Hershey
Review be Wayne Erreca (1-16-17)
I love discovering the backstage stories behind stage productions. Company was supposed to be known by the world as Threes, but whoever came up with the bright title of Company should be applauded. Its conception came from the imagination or lifetime experiences of Playwright George Furth who had written eleven one-act plays, and for a period of time he was only lingering around, and looking for a theatre to produce it at. I can identify with that very lonesome feeling, having written a two-act play in 1991, titled The Servant’s Ring. Furth, eventually, in the late 1960’s, had the good fortune of when Producer/Director Harold Prince, and Composer Stephen Sondheim found interest in his one-act plays, and envisioned that the storylines would make for a captivating musical of five New York married couples, and three girlfriends, who are in attendance at their mutual friend’s 35th birthday. What makes this musical production deliciously exciting is the fact that their bachelor friend, they call Bobby, has always had a bad habit of shying away from relationships. So, with this description of the play, Bobby has the opportunity to converse, and evaluate each of the five couple marriages, and reminisce with his three prior girlfriends. Sondheim’s music is lively and colorful, and his lyrics are energetic to ones ears, that immediately perk you up, and lift you through its many snappy comedic and romantic scenes of sheer joy!
Director Debbie Hershey was spot-on in casting each and every single actor in Company! Couple number one: David (Britton Dennis) and Susan (Laura Ann Johnson), Couple number two: Peter (Chad Hall) and Jenny (Psaira Dennison), Couple number three: Larry (Daniel Bruining) and Joanne (Terri Heffron), Couple number four: Harry (Patrick Gillespie) and Sarah (Christy Burich), and Couple number five: Paul (Zachary Watson) and Amy (Meaghan Jameson). Along with Girlfriend number one: Marta (Kate Kilpatrick), Girlfriend number two: April (Sarah Hartley), and Kathy (Allix Geiger). This marvelous cast performed wonderfully with all the right touches, energy, timing, and constantly were fused together with a spirited and delightful chemistry!
Bobby, portrayed by Jeremy Hogue, is perfectly cast, with his handsome features, carrying himself calmly, soulfully, and with his strong and pleasant singing voice, allowing you to easily drink in every syllable, and feel every nuance, the way Sondheim expects it. The five couples each have their own relationships that share jolly laughs, and heartfelt feelings, and each were performed with perfection. Bobby’s three ‘left behind’ girlfriends have golden moments with him, bringing back the strong feelings they once felt for one another, and adjusting to their present realities, as they walk away again into the future.
Director Debbie Hershey was given a tremendous gift in having an extremely talented staff, who are: Assistant Director (Katie Trzaska-Miller), Stage Manager (Haley Bowker), Music Director (Sam Clark), Vocal Director (Mel Stoll and Chad Hall), Choreographer (Melissa May), Lighting Designer (Bill Fishburn), Karate Fight Coordinator (Zach Miller), Producer (Kate Cosentino), Props (Karen Gardner and Sheri Wallace), Costume Designer (Kathy Verstraete), Set Designer (Matt McCormick and Kerr Anderson), and Sound Designer/Production Resource Manager (Gary Bolton).
Company was first produced on Broadway in New York City on April 26, 1970 at the Alvin Theatre. It had a successful run of 705 performances and was nominated fourteen times and winning six of the Tony Awards. It’s amazing what can happen to a playwright who is in search of a composer, especially, if that composer’s name is Stephen Sondheim. In 1991, I too, grabbed the golden ring on the merry-go-round of life by bumping into Composer Jill Costanzo who happens to be the daughter of the legendry bongo musician Jack Costanzo, known as “Mr. Bongo”. She composed an incredible score for my musical book of The Servant’s Ring and the musical won the Eastie Award for Best Musical of the Year in 1999. Good things do happen!
It’s amazing how fresh and lively Company has remained over these many years. The relationships shared within its dialogue are as contemporary to marriage couples today as when everyone else was wearing bell-bottom pants, and wore fringe leathered vests, and saying, after a long and steady toke, “Heeeyyy, man, that’s groovey, and out-of-sight, you want some?” Some things just don’t grow old or spoil, but are just as fresh today as yesterday. If you want to feel forty years younger (of course, I’m addressing all of you oldsters) and feel like you could pick up a guitar again, and strum a tune, and even let your plastered hair down, and rolling out (I’m not implying any dobbie’s) a Jimi Hendrix record of “Wild Thing”, you can get all of the above in one entertaining package by attending a performance of Sondheim’s fabulous musical production of Company at the Old Town Playhouse. Dobbie, huh? Well, leave that until after Company’s curtain call is over, and drive home safely with your windows down. Company is a real gas, man!
Peter and the Starcatcher
By Rick Elice and Music by Wayne Barker
Directed by Josh Thomas
Reviewed by Wayne Erreca (11-30-16)
A young boy, by the name of Peter, came into being as one of the most beloved boys in the entire world. He was first born through the telling of innocent stories of a magical place, where fairies, mermaids, and jolly pirates roamed in Neverland. After sharing many exciting adventures of Peter to his friend Sylvia Llewelyn Davies sons before she passed away, British Playwright J. M. Barrie, eventually published a play about him in 1904, titled “Peter and Wendy”, and followed it with a novel by the same name in 1911. I was born in 1952 and grew up with the 1954 musical version of Peter Pan, starring Mary Martin as Peter Pan, and Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook. One of my favorite film versions of Peter Pan and his Lost Boys in the magical world of Neverland was the 1991 Steven Spielberg “Hook”, starring Robin Williams as Peter. This wonderful story has not yet grown weary or outdated, and in 2004, Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson wrote the novel “Peter and the Starcatcher”. Soon thereafter, not being able to pass by a charming story, Creative Consultant for Walt Disney, Rick Elice adapted Barry’s novel in 2006, into a new play, along with Wayne Barker’s music, opening under the same title as “Peter and the Starcatcher” at my old stomping grounds at the La Jolla Playhouse in California, in 2009. With all the bugs worked out of Peter and the Starcatcher it travelled to Off-Broadway in 2011, and then, polished, and ready, opened on Broadway in April 15, 2012, at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Thus far, Peter has done quite well, remaining in the imaginations of young children, and grownups that refuse to leave the simplicities behind that allow children to believe, and wonder what glorious adventures awaits on the waking mornings of tomorrow.
The Old Town Playhouse has brought Neverland to its stage, under the flying banner of “Peter and the Starcatcher”, directed by Josh Thomas, with a fantastic cast of players: Geoff Wallace (Boy), Psaira Dennison (Molly), HT Snowday (Black Stache), Harold Kranick (Smee), Kellen Blackburn (Ted), Kevin Klockzien (Prentiss), Josh Thomas (Slank/Hawking Clam), Cindy Lyons Miller (Mrs. Bumbrake), Toby Lucius (Alf/Teacher), Paul Jarboe (Lord Aster), Ed Mulcahy (Captain Scott), and Eldon Horner (Grempkin/Mack/Sanchez/Fighting Prawn). Musical accompaniment is performed by Susan Snyder (Piano) and Roland Woodring (Drums/Percussion).
This magical production has a heavy load of twenty separate scenes throughout the play demanding the creative staff to address many different light changes, bringing on and off properties, multiple quick costume changes, special sound effects, and numerous choreographed routines, all marching to the musical beats of the drums, and tinkling piano keys. Here are a few names of those tiresome warriors who mustered up its magical realm of Neverland, starting with Katie Trzaska-Miller (Choreographer), Bill Fishburn (Lighting Design), Kath Verstraete (Costume Design), Kristy Jackson (Sound Design), and Erin O’Malley (Set Design).
One of my early infatuations in theatre came in the whimsical images of Indian Magic, a San Diego street theatre group in 1973, who performed in the Zorro Gardens of Balboa Park. Their thoroughly enjoyable performances were in the stylish form of Commedia dell’arte that heavily lies upon its comical physicality, and razor sharp quick wit. This, you will see, in the performances of HT Snowday as Black Stache and Harold Kranick as Smee, reminding me of those glorious sunny days, under the pepper trees, watching the silly rambunctious, and loveable foolish lads, making the audiences bellow, and laugh. The entire cast is well fitted and their chemistry is nicely suited. There is a word of warning for those who have sluggish minds before taking on this wild madcap adventure. It might assist your comprehension if you google, Peter and the Starcatcher, and read the synopsis of both Act One, and Act Two. If you have a remarkable quick wit and are nearly genius, then by all means, shrug my kind words of warning, and hold on to the yardarms, as the wild winds of, Peter and the Starcatcher, joyously propels you into Neverland!
Dinner with the Boys
by Dan Lauria
Directed by Wizard®
Review by Wayne Erreca (10-16-16)
When I first heard these unforgettable words, “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse”, from the 1972 motion picture The Godfather, I was captivated for a lifetime. I soon ran out and purchased Mario Puzo’s book by the same title and thoroughly devoured every word, character, and scenario within. And, who can ever forget the late James Gandolfini in the HBO series The Sopranos? Or, how about when Marlon Brando was sitting in the back seat of a car in a dark alleyway with his brother Rod Steiger, mumbling, “I could have been a contender.” These were classic moments that will last forever in the minds and hearts of those who cherish Italian Mafia stories. There is something about the primal quality and rawness of character that radiates from these many Italian personalities from the other side of civil society that reaches out and embraces you. For a short period of time in my life, I had the privilege of living with my Uncle Victor Buono, who had touched shoulders with Frank Sinatra, while acting in two of his film productions, ‘4 for Texas’ and ‘Robin and the 7 Hoods’, and my visit with Dean Martin in his dressing room on the set of ‘The Silencers’. This was as close as I ever got with those who really did know the ‘Wise Guys’.
The Dinner With The Boys by Dan Lauria is one of those fun Italian Mafia stories that grabs you by the neck and forces you to watch, and listen to every single dirty, filthy, and shameful word that’s mumbled out of their crude, and dangerous mouths. Lauria gives his story a special twist by turning it into a Dark Comedy. He wants to make you laugh even while someone’s ear is being chewed off or having you chuckle when a limb or two fly across the room. Of course, neither of these two vicious scenarios is in his play, but I’ll keep it a secret, for what horrific dilemma does splatter against the wall. You have to remember this is a Dark Comedy and not for sissies, you got that? No cry babies allowed in this production, but it offers some terrific performances by Joe Kilpatrick as Charlie, David ‘Aggie’ Stuble as Dominic, Andres Parvel as Big Anthony Jr., and Steve Morse as Uncle Sid. These ‘wise guys’ will keep you on the edge of your chairs and make you laughably squeamish when you find out the recipes ingredients. After all, these are not nice guys, but you’ll soon find yourself shamefully feeling guilty, because you really do like them! That’s the way Mafia guys are, notorious, but sweetly charming in a brash sort of way.
Director Wizard, yes, this isn’t a typo, he’s the real thing, Wizard cast a great foursome of actors! Balancing a Dark Comedy isn’t the easiest of productions to handle, because if they go too far into drama or too deeply into comedy, it just won’t be considered a Dark Comedy. It’s dealing with real subject matter and, on the other hand, isn’t swimming in absurdities. Ma Greeny designed a nice setting for the boys and it works handsomely well. Jeanette Mason’s Costume Design has them looking, keen and slick, even with the appropriate rings, golden necklaces, and wristwatches. Michael Binstead had their hair and makeup looking sharp. There’s one thing that troubles me though, they listed Brett Nichols as Leo. Was I sleeping or something? I never saw the bum, so keep your ears, and eyes open, you might find him hiding somewhere in the kitchen!
Dinner With The Boys may not make you hungry, but it will grab you by the throat, shake you up a little, make you burst out laughing like a drunken jackal, and have you wish you never watched the play on a full stomach. Remember, as Charlie would say, “Sit down, shut up, don’t be a sissy, and don’t chew your food with your mouth open!”
The Little Shop of Horrors
Book & Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Directed by Frederick L. Chacon
Review by Wayne Erreca (9-17-16)
My childhood was filled with many films by Director Roger Corman and was pleasantly terrified by his House of Usher, The Raven, and Vincent Price’s The Pit and the Pendulum. Corman not only knew how to scare your pants off, but was more than capable of having you laugh until your ribs hurt. His 1960 film classic The Little Shop of Horrors is a Black Comedy Horror story about a man-eating-plant within a skid row Florist Shop owned by Mr. Mushnik (Kevin Weber) and his two employees, Audrey (Kate Cosentino), and Seymour (Nick Viox). The original concept was based on John Collier’s 1932 story Green Thoughts. Then, after Corman’s 1960 film classic, and two decades later, Howard Ashman wrote the book & lyrics for The Little Shop of Horrors, The Musical, and Alan Menken wrote its music. They soon staged their new musical on Off-Off-Broadway in 1982, and then, surprisingly, moved it to the Orpheum Theatre for a five year run. Their modest musical mimicked the little man-eating-plant by growing into a very large musical ‘money-eating’ success!
The Old Town Playhouse’s production The Little Shop of Horrors, The Musical is solidly entertaining, visually vibrant, and thoroughly amusing! Director Frederick L. Chacon cast a superb ensemble of players starting with Nick Viox (Seymour) and Kate Cosentino (Audrey). Viox has a strong professional voice and nails down Seymour’s wimpy characteristics and Cosentino would easily win a Betty Boop competition with her “Boop-Oop-A-Doop” facial expressions. Their chemistry is perfect! Viox was hilarious when sitting in the ‘mad dentist’ Orin’s (Lars Kelto) dental chair and his many conservations with Audrey II, the man-eating-plant. Consentino had her greatest moment while singing under the lights Somewhere That’s Green. Director Chacon was fortunate to have these two marvelous actors leading the parade.
An absolute high point in the production is Kelto (Orin) assisting Seymour in his dentist chair, while wearing an outer space glass bubble helmet. I’ll leave it here so I won’t spoil your fun! Kelto also makes a terrific impersonation of Elvis Presley for those of you who are obsessive ‘Elvis Fans’! Kevin Weber (Mushnik) is not only a wonderful actor, but he is a splendid singer! He was perfectly cast for the owner of the Skid Row Florist Shop and, by the way, this is between, you and I, but keep it a secret, he gets just a little too close to Audrey II (Man-Eating-Plant) in Act Two. Ok, it’s time for the three fabulous ladies, Grace Zucco (Chiffon), Danielle Pelshaw (Crystal), and Lesley Tye (Ronette), who kept the audience understanding this complex storyline by singing, and dancing their hearts out. There was one amazing voice without a face, because it was the voice coming out of Audrey II, the man-eating-plant. Here is my last secret to you, but you have to promise not to tell anyone. That energetic, bluesy, deep molasses voice is none other than Phil Murphy! If you have to go to the ‘men or women’s restroom’ during the show, be sure it’s not when Audrey II (Phil Murphy) is singing Suppertime! And we won’t leave out talented Ben May (Bernstein, Luce, Snip, Bum) who helps to make all the principles look good.
Puppeteer Audrey II’s are Ian Rakunas & Derek Wooton. They get their own line to themselves!
Here is a standing ovation to the creative staff: Gary Bolton (Sound Design), Melissa May (Choreographer), Joe Rice (Music Director), Tony Bero (Vocal Director), Kathy Verstraete (Costume Design), Kerr Anderson & Jeff Kroeger (Set Design), Bill Fishburn (Lighting Design), Don Kuehlhorn (Projections), Ian Rakunas, Elizabeth Stewart, & Derek Wooton (Puppeteers).
Last, but not least, take the final bow, Frederick L. Chacon, for directing this marvelous, spirited, and totally absurd, and thoroughly amusing musical production! “Bravo!”