This review of the Riba Theater Company production of "Forgot Cranberries" at Bellmore Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 4 (2014) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
"Another Christmas Story"
A Riba Theater Company Original
Bellmore Theater (222 Pettit Avenue, Bellmore, NY)
The Riba Theater Company describes itself as "a small, home-based group" that meets "2-4 times a week" and for a "monthly fee" its members (mostly teenagers) "have dinner together, camp outs, field trips, souvenir shirts, and even spa days on opening day." Its members "work on vocals, acting, agent classes, and resumes" and in its productions, of which Forgot Cranberries is the second, The Riba Theater Company promises "everyone gets to shine" and that "no matter what your talent is, it will be featured in our show." Having now seen Forgot Cranberries, which links together eighteen Christmas songs with a book that could fit on an index card, I can confirm that the six members of the cast were each given their moment in the spotlight, regardless of the talent they possessed.
You have to keep in mind that The Riba Theater Company is charging a General Admission Fee of $18.00 (20% of which is to be donated to St. Brigid's Pantry), which is comparable to what other theater companies charge on Long Island. This critic was invited to attend and therefore this production and its cast must be held to the same standards of critique I would use for any other show. With that thought in mind, I would advertise this Holiday Special as Chaos Productions presenting A Walsh Family Christmas. Let me explain. First, no one appears to be in charge of the Riba Theater Company. I was told the young actors put the show together themselves and critique each other along the way. There is no Director listed in the program and no one appeared to be responsible for making decisions, such as when to open the house and when to get the actors out on stage. The Sound Engineer should be replaced immediately because the microphones continually failed throughout the production. A planned video presentation that was to kick off Forgot Cranberries failed minutes before the show began, which was at 7:50 p.m. instead of the announced 7:30 p.m. start time. Chaos truly reigned supreme!
As I watched Forgot Cranberries, I got the impression I was watching a show planned and presented by all the children attending a home holiday party, where every child got to participate and perform even if that child possessed little to no talent. In the mix, of course, just given the odds, are a number of very talented children. It was as if the Walsh Family hired four professional musicians (Rebecca Kapica - Piano; Kevin Kapica - Bass; Melanie Fink - Drums; and Brian Watala - Guitar) and told them to work with the children for an hour or two to put together a show they could present to all the adults later in the evening. Since Bailey Walsh played the Daughter and Riley Walsh was the Father in Forgot Cranberries, with their mother, Colleen Walsh, acting as Head Cheerleader in the audience, it just makes more sense to me that this show should have been called A Walsh Family Christmas. If you look at Forgot Cranberries from that perspective, you will understand in advance what you're in for.
That all having been said, there were a number of standout performances in this show. I was particularly impressed with Erin Carlin, who as the Mother sang Blue Christmas. Bailey Walsh hit a home run singing Believe and Riley Walsh, who sang I'll Be Home For Christmas, is a very talented actor with great potential, but someone needs to reel him in when he feels the need to fling himself too far out on that ledge. Jackie Lau, who played a Jewish Corporal, is an excellent dancer, who performed with grace and elegance. Ashley Fusco, who was Grandmother, and Will Kratina, who was Grandfather, had some very funny scenes together. I particularly enjoyed Mr. Kratina's feigned or natural uncomfortableness when his wife started stripping him out of his Santa Claus suit while singing Santa Baby.
The Riba Theater Company needs to get its act together if it is to survive. As a show for friends and families of cast members, Forgot Cranberries achieved its purpose. As legitimate theater, it failed miserably.