Saturday, March 25, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Thorton Wilder's Our Town at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Thorton Wilder's Our Town at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Our Town
Written by Thorton Wilder
Directed by Frank Dispigno
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Reviewed 3/24/17

We all know the dates of major historical events and sometimes we are lucky to have books available written by those who were involved providing context and perspective to those moments that influenced the society in which we currently live. But it is rarer to obtain glimpses into the daily lives and struggles of everyday people facing challenges, dreams, and the eventuality of death. The Stage Manager tells us Our Town is such a story. It is divided into three basic parts. In "Daily Life," the Stage Manager introduces us to the fictitious town of Grover's Corners, New Hampshire (population 2,642 people), telling us where the main buildings of the town are located and who some of the people are who reside there. The second part entitled "Love & Marriage" occurs a few years later when George Gibbs and Emily Webb are preparing to get married. They suffer from marriage jitters and we learn about the moment they acknowledged their love for one another. The third part of the play, "Death & Dying," takes place in a cemetery. We come to understand that most people do not appreciate life. They spend and waste time as if they had a million years to live failing to appreciate the joy that can be found in simple everyday activities. The Stage Manager intends to place the book Our Town into a time capsule so future generations will know how we lived.


Our Town was first presented on January 22, 1938 at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, New Jersey before opening on Broadway on February 4, 1938 at Henry Miller's Theatre (later moved to the Morosco Theatre) and closing on November 19, 1938 after 336 performances. Thorton Wilder won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for this work in 1938. There were four subsequent Broadway revivals of Our Town at City Center (January 10-29, 1944 - 24 performances), ANTA Playhouse (November 27-December 27, 1969 - 3 previews and 36 performances), Lyceum Theatre (November 9, 1988-April 2, 1989 - 27 previews and 136 performances), and Booth Theatre (November 22, 2002-January 26, 2003 - 15 previews and 59 performances). The 1989 Broadway Revival won the Tony Award for Best Revival. An interesting side note is that in 1946, the Soviet Union prevented a production of Our Town in the Russian sector of occupied Berlin "on the grounds that the drama is too depressing and could inspire a German suicide wave." That fact raises the issue of whether the message of this play is, in its essence, uplifting (enabling those who see it to better appreciate every moment of their lives and to truly pay attention to those people sharing it with you), or depressing (people are so busy distracting themselves with worthless, time-consuming endeavors they think are meaningful until the day they die). Mrs. Gibbs never did get to spend her legacy money on a trip to Paris, France because Doc Gibbs was concerned seeing Paris might make him discontent with Grover's Corners. I guess, in the end, the choice is up to you. You can appreciate the sunrise and the birds and see where a strawberry ice cream soda will lead or you can become depressed at the monotony and sameness of everyday existence. Millions of ancestors setting out to live two by two leading boring lives, which the Stage Manager as Minister (and perhaps The Mind Of God) says is entertaining "once in a thousand times."  

The strength of this production lies with the very powerful performances of Evan Donnellan as George Gibbs, and Nicole Intravia as Emily Webb. They have a great rapport and their bonding at the ice cream parlor is an extremely tender moment. In anticipation of showing us how their relationship got started, the Stage Manager tells the audience, "I want you to try and remember what it was like to have been very young. And particularly the days when you were first in love; when you were like a person sleepwalking, and you didn't quite see the street you were on and didn't quite hear everything that was said to you. You're just a little bit crazy. Will you remember that, please?" In deciding to take over Uncle Luke's farm now and not go away to State Agricultural College for three years, George reflects that "new people aren't any better than old ones" and that there is no reason to risk losing a possible life-partner you love by going away to college. He asks Emily if she might be able to love him if he stops being conceited and stuck-up to which Emily confesses she has always loved him. George reflects, "I think that once you've found a person that you're fond of...I mean a person who's fond of you, too, and likes you enough to be interested in your character...Well, I think that's just as important as college is, and even more so. That's what I think." At the end of their conversation, George realizes he doesn't have the money to pay for the strawberry ice cream sodas and asks the store owner to give him a short time to run home to get the cash. Reflecting the trust existing in a small town where nobody locks their doors, the store owner tells George, "I will trust you for 10 years - not a day more!"

Gail Merzer Behrens is outstanding as the adventurous Mrs. Julia Gibbs, who sings in the Choir of the Congregationalist Church (They leave LOUD to the Methodists) and believes that "once in your life before you die you ought to see a country where they don't talk English and don't even want to." Frank ("Doc") Gibbs, well-played by Gary Tifeld, has a very moving moment with his teenage son explaining to him how his actions have caused his mother to be unduly burdened. Kathleen Eberhardt is a fine actress, who as Mrs. Myrtle Webb, has trouble having "the birds and bees" discussion with her daughter. When Emily asks if she is good-looking enough to attract boys, Mrs. Webb tells her, "you're pretty enough for all normal purposes." Michael Cesarano more than holds his own as Charles Webb, Editor of Grover's Corners Sentinel, which comes out twice a week. Rob Gold was hilarious as Professor Willard, and Daniel Schinina was quite charismatic as Joe Crowell and Sam Craig. Also worthy of note are Tina Lauro, who played Mrs. Carter, and Becky Neuhedel, who as Mrs. Louella Soames, provided a bit of comic relief at George & Emily's wedding. Scott Hofer, a very respected presence in the Long Island Theater Community, was the Stage Manager, and Tom Brown, another talented local actor sold concessions during intermission so we were surrounded by talent all around. There wasn't a weak link in the cast. Everyone performed to perfection. 

Our Town was the Seinfeld and reality television show of its day. It's Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb asking the milkman for more bottles than they originally ordered because relations are unexpectedly coming over. It's George Gibbs throwing soap at his sister Rebecca when both are getting ready to go to school. It's Doc Gibbs returning home late after delivering two babies in Polishtown (across the tracks where the new Catholic Church was built). It's gossip over how Simon Stinson (the choir director and church organist played by Eric Clavell) continues to have drinking problems and has been in "a peck of trouble." Although the play is basically about nothing except people living their everyday lives, it will still give you much to think about and have a lasting impact on how you view life. Two different reflections on life are provided by Simon Stinson and Emily Webb from their final resting places. Simon says, "That's what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years. To always be at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another." After having re-lived a portion of a single day of her life, Emily observed, "It goes so fast. We don't have time to look at one another. I didn't realize all that was going on we never noticed...Wait! One more look. Good-bye, Good-bye world, Grover's Corners...Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking...and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths...and sleeping and waking up. Oh Earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you."

Whether or not you leave agreeing all human beings are blind people walking around in a cloud of ignorance unaware of the preciousness of life, you will be thoroughly entertained by this production of Our Town, which plays at Studio Theatre Long Island through April 9, 2017.  Tickets are $25.00. Reserve them by visiting www.StudioTheatreLI.com. For more information, call 631-226-8400.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical 
Based on the novel "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde"
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Conceived for the stage by Steve Cuden & Frank Wildhorn
Book & Lyrics by Leslie Bricuse
Music by Frank Wildhorn
Directed & Choreographed by Paul Stancato
The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport
250 Main Street
Northport, New York 11768
Reviewed 3/19/17

Some people who appear to be moral and upright have a dark side they don't reveal to others for fear of being shunned, condemned and/or ostracized. Secret thoughts, attractions, and fetishes are not often shared in public but are kept undisclosed behind a facade. The Bishop who visits prostitutes and the Priest who has a special relationship with his altar boys are not likely to announce their indiscretions to their congregations. Poor delusional Dr. Henry Jekyll thinks he may be able to chemically separate the good from the evil in human beings and discover how to banish all evil from the planet. He had hoped to experiment in a controlled setting but when the Board of Governors of St. Jude's Hospital turns him down, he decides to use himself as the so-called guinea pig. The potion of chemicals he ingests brings out a murderous side of Dr. Jekyll, who he calls Mr. Edward Hyde. That man, by his own admission, "walks with Satan" and is "more dangerous than any animal stalking his prey." Mr. Hyde increasingly becomes the dominant personality and even though the transformations are now taking place more often and without notice, Dr. Jekyll still believes with a slight adjustment in the chemical formulation of his potion, he will be able to control Mr. Hyde's murderous rampages. However, Mr. Hyde knows the truth. He tells Dr. Jekyll, "Can't you see, you are me! I'll  live inside you forever. They'll never be able to separate Jekyll from Hyde." Jekyll becomes increasing concerned Hyde might be right and says, "Have I lost my mind. Will I lose the day?" Jekyll fears he will disappear forever and instructs his attorney, in the case of his unexplained absence for three months, to give his entire estate to Edward Hyde. But even that is insufficient. After Jekyll realizes Hyde has killed Lucy Harris, an entertainment specialist and the main attraction at The Red Rat, he knows Hyde must be stopped at all costs, and in the last moments of his self-consciousness as Dr. Henry Jekyll, he releases his fiance, who Hyde had taken hostage, and begs his best friend, John Utterson, to take his life while he still can. 

Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical is based on Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde." It was first presented at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas, where it ran from May-July, 1990. After embarking on a national tour of North America, the show premiered on Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre on March 21, 1997 (previews) and officially opened on April 28, 1997. The musical played an almost four-year run and became the longest-running show in the history of the Plymouth Theatre, closing on January 7, 2001 after 1,543 regular performances. There was a Broadway revival of the musical at the Marquis Theatre, which opened on April 5, 2013 and closed on May 12, 2013 following 29 regular performances and 15 previews.  

This production is another huge success for The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport that maintains a reputation for putting on Broadway quality shows. Nathaniel Hackmann is superb as Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde. He carries off his alternative personalities with aplomb and uses his hair, voice, hand gestures and body language to signal the arrival of evil and the return of good. Caitlyn Caughell is extremely impressive and exhibits her extraordinary talent and singing ability in the role of Lucy Harris. I particularly liked her renditions of "Sympathy, Tenderness," "Someone Like You," "A New Life," and "In His Eyes," her duet with Emma Carew, Dr. Jekyll's fiance, played to perfection by Liana Hunt. Emma's duet with her father, "Letting Go," was emotionally moving and extremely well down. Jeff Williams had a hard task trying to remain supportive of his future son-in-law while looking out for the welfare of his daughter and maintaining his own reputation at the same time. I thought Mr. Williams handled that challenge well making Sir Danvers Carew a believable, real person. Also worthy of note is Tom Lucca, who played John Utterson, Dr. Jekyll's best friend and attorney. Jekyll deeply respects his friend and noted that even Hyde warned him of the danger when Utterson happened to come upon Hyde one day in Dr. Jekyll's laboratory. The remaining stellar cast was top-notch. I particularly enjoyed the entire ensemble when they sang the two big production numbers, "Facade" and "Murder, Murder." Lucy Harris and the Ensemble were amazing when singing "Bring On The Men." The funniest line in the musical was when Lucy said, "Triple sandwiches are my favorite ones. I'm also partial to buns."

Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical plays at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport through April 30, 2017. Tickets are $76.00 on Saturday evenings and $71.00 all other shows. The performance schedule is as follows: Thursdays at 8:00 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Some Wednesday and Sunday evenings are available. You can purchase tickets by calling 631-261-2900, going online at www.EngemanTheater.com 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Maggie's Little Theater production of Something's Afoot at St. Margaret's Parish Hall by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Maggie's Little Theater production of Something's Afoot at St. Margaret's Parish Hall was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Something's Afoot
Book, Music & Lyrics by James McDonald, David Vos & Robert Gerlach
Additional Music by Ed Linderman
Direction & Choreography by Whitney Stone
Musical Director: Sarah Glassman
St. Margaret's Parish Hall
66-05 79th Place
Middle Village, New York 11379
Reviewed 3/18/17

Something's Afoot premiered at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta, Georgia in 1972. It eventually made its way to Broadway opening at the Lyceum Theatre on May 27, 1976 and closing on July 18, 1976 after 61 performances and 13 previews. It subsequently ran in 1977 in London at the Ambassadors Theatre for 232 performances and was nominated that year for the Olivier Award for Best Musical of the Year. It is a murder mystery musical that spoofs detective stories in general and the works of Agatha Christie (i.e. And Then There Were None a/k/a Ten Little Indians), in particular. 


This production of Something's Afoot is charmingly performed by a dedicated cast of talented actors. The show is quite entertaining and I strongly recommend you see it. While there will be murder, as you might expect, the play also features love (lost and found), bravery, greed, infidelity, gruesome dismemberment, sexual assault, and more than a few cups of tea consumed (after all, the show is set in England in the late Spring of 1935). Between deaths, you will hear some lovely musical numbers, my favorites which included "A Marvelous Weekend," "Something's Afoot," "Carry On," "I Don't Know Why I Trust You (But I Do)," "Suspicious," "Problematical Solution (The Dinghy Song)," "I Owe It All," and "New Day." Miss Tweed, the elderly amateur detective, will do her best to help you solve the mystery and during intermission, you can speculate who might be doing what to whom while you consume reasonably priced baked goods, hot dogs, and refreshments. The set is beautiful and well-constructed, and the six live musicians add to your enjoyment of the show. All is all, if you attend, you will have quite a delightful time!

As for the plot, a number of people start to arrive who have been invited to spend the weekend at Lord Dudley Rancour's mansion, which is surrounded by a lake. When the wealthy lord is found dead, a storm prevents the remaining guests from leaving. A mysterious lad appears and we start to learn more about the backgrounds of the staff and invited guests. The only thing I can tell you (because I have been sworn to secrecy) is that Clive, the butler, played by Jim Gillespie, did not do it. That would have been too much of a cliche. The remaining staff includes Lettie, the saucy maid (Amelia Johnston) and Flint, the caretaker (Jason Kell), who is also a "gripper" (Ladies Beware!).  Guests include Dr. Grayburn, the family doctor (Rich Feldman), Nigel Rancour, the black sheep nephew (Navin Das), Lady Grace Manley-Prowe, The Grande Dame (Beatrice Miranda Holman), Colonel Gillweather, the old army man you can call Shirley (Mark York), Miss Tweed (Shana Aborn), Hope Langdon, The Ingenue (Kaitlyn Alexandria Abdul), and Geoffrey, the college student who is the only uninvited guest (Ryan Hiers).  

Miss Tweed is given the best lines in the show, which included, "Nothing is simple when murder is involved" and "Even the hardest criminal can, on occasion, display charm." She also gets to say "Something's Afoot" while literally holding a shoe, the only remaining piece of clothing belonging to one of the dearly departed. Shana Aborn excelled in the role of Miss Tweed even though her voice may not be as strong as it once was. The standout performers in this production were Kaitlyn Alexandria Abdul, who played Hope, and Ryan Hiers, who played Geoffrey. Ms. Abdul moved well on stage and was quite engaging. Mr. Hiers is very charismatic and talented. I look forward to seeing more of his work. The remaining cast members all did a fine job. If I were to nit-pick, I would say that Mark York was about twenty years too old to play the part of Col. Gillweather and that Navin Das, who sang "I Know What I Am Looking For" left a lot to be desired. But overall, the cast carried out their respective roles well and the production turned out to be a huge success.

Something's Afoot will be at Maggie's Little Theater through March 26, 2017. Tickets cost $20.00 for adults, $15.00 for seniors, and $12.00 for children. You can make your reservations by visiting www.MaggiesLittleTheater.org. Don't miss this show or forget to say, "God Bless You, Agatha Christie!"

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Schoenberg Spotlight Review of Kong: Skull Island by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

This review of the movie Kong: Skull Island was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in The Schoenberg Spotlight.

Kong: Skull Island
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein & Derek Connolly
Produced by Warner Bros. Pictures & Legendary Pictures
Reviewed 3/18/17

I watched Kong: Skull Island on Saturday, March 18, 2017. It was an action-packed movie in search of a logical and believable plot. It is radically different from the three original King Kong movies that basically follow the same plot. In the three movies, a movie maker goes in search of a mysterious creature on an unknown island. While on the long voyage, the actress falls in love with the first mate. She is offered up as a sacrifice by the natives to King Kong who falls in love with her and protects her. The crew successfully captures the beast after losing some of their number to prehistoric creatures. The great ape bursts out of an entertainment center in NYC, goes on a rampage, and climbs the highest building with our heroine before being killed. As the movie maker declared in the original 1933 film, "Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast."


The first still holds up with some of the best special effects of the time. It also birthed a sequel, The Son Of Kong, the same year. Both were critical and commercial successes. As Wikipedia notes, "The original King Kong is especially noted for its stop-motion animation by Willis O'Brien and a groundbreaking musical score by Max Steiner. In 1991, it was deemed 'culturally, historically and aesthetically significant' by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry." The 1976 version directed by Dino De DeLaurentiis was highly successful at the Box Office despite mixed reviews by the critics. The sequel, King Kong Lives! was a failure at the Box Office. The 2005 version was both a commercial and critical success acclaimed for its state of the art special effects, excellent acting, and its sense of spectacle. King Kong has also starred in various Japanese movies but since I have not seen them, I will not review them. The latest instalment of the King Kong franchise lacks the logical continuity of the original plot. In the three King Kong movies, you actually have three plots: a romance between the actress and someone on the ship, King Kong's infatuation with the actress, and the capture, rampage (or escape), and death of King Kong.

In the latest version, we lack one simple logical plot. Out of nowhere, a scientific expedition is organized under cloak and dagger to go to a mysterious island. It is never clear what the expedition is supposed to achieve because its objectives keep on constantly changing. No one falls in love with anyone. There is no chemistry between the female photographer and the private tracker. The human beings are stick figures - not real live persons - the actors cannot bring to life. A nerdy geologist can shoot a big gun during the fighting without any training and hit the target every time. In the end, you get a lot of action but no interaction to bring whatever the plot is together, to life, or to a believable reality. The expedition invades the turf of King Kong who fights back at the invaders. The six or eight helicopters on the ship become fifteen before all are destroyed by Kong. There appear to be about twenty survivors as they land on the island but despite losing fifty or sixty people, there are still about ten left to return home.

In the threesome, you care about the characters because the movie took the time to develop the relationships and show them intimately together. On the island, we see King Kong as a gentle creature that falls in love with a girl while surviving in the jungle. King Kong dies tragically, but heroically, a creature trapped in a world not of his making, defending his turf and someone he loves. We care about the romantic couple, the actress and her lover, who will go on to make a life for themselves. In this new version, everyone is an action figure of superhero dimension. You enjoy the thrill but you don't really care what happens to them.

Where a couple of bullets brought down the mighty King Kong in the original threesome, the multitude of awesome weapons cannot lay a finger on King Kong who also battles a prehistoric monster. Samuel L. Jackson, the military leader of the expedition, decides to battle King Kong in order to punish him for killing some of his men even though this makes no logical sense. He would have been court-martialed in the real world for putting his people at risk once it was clear that anyone that he wanted to rescue was already dead. Toward the end, Kong bonds in a few seconds with the female photographer, protects her from an awesome prehistoric monster, and lets her go. The expedition leaves King Kong respectfully behind as they are rescued.

There is a lot of action in Kong: Skull Island but no coherent plot to tie stuff together. Our sympathies are muddied so we don't know for whom to cheer. You may enjoy the slaughter and the special effects but you will leave asking yourself, "Why should I care?"

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of It Shoulda Been You at the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of It Shoulda Been You at the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

It Shoulda Been You
Based on a concept by Barbara Anselmi
Book & Lyrics by Brian Hargrove
Music by Barbara Anselmi
Additional Lyrics by Michael Cooper, Will Randall,
Carla Rose Fisher, Ernie Lijo & Jill Abramovitz
Directed by Ronald Green III
Musical Director: Melissa Coyle
Choreographer: Allison Carella
Set Design: Timothy Golebiewski
Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts
2 East Main Street
Smithtown, New York 11787
Reviewed 3/11/17

It Should Been You premiered at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, New Jersey on October 4, 2011 closing on November 4, 2011. It eventually made its way to Broadway opening at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre with previews from March 17, 2015 with an official opening on April 14, 2015. The show closed after 31 previews and 135 regular performances. It is a highly entertaining play with an enjoyable score and a well-written book. Brian Howard, a Christian, is marrying Rebecca Steinberg, a Jew, and their parents couldn't be prouder except for a few reservations given their different religious beliefs. But as it turns out, Brian and Rebecca have more in common than is at first apparent. The web of deceit and chicanery is being aided and abetted by Greg, Brian's Best Man, and Annie, Rebecca's Co-Maid of Honor. They, too, harbor secrets. Clueless and out of the loop are Jenny, Rebecca's sister, and Marty, who was friends with both sisters and was accidentally told about the wedding. After some delays, second-thoughts, and disruptions, the wedding goes on as planned and the first act ends with a pair of unlikely kisses. The second act is far more interesting and humorous than the first. No matter what you think of the first act, don't leave! Every song, joke, and interaction in the second act will capture your attention as the book takes you on a roller-coaster ride that leads to three more wedding ceremonies and the announcement of a pregnancy. But who could the father possibly be?


This production of It Shoulda Been You features an extremely talented cast, live music, and some memorable show tunes. The impressive lead actress in the show is Katie Hoffman, who plays Jenny Steinberg, the bride's sister and Co-Maid of Honor. She has a marvelous voice and is given plenty of opportunities to show it off when singing "I Never Wanted This," "This Day" (with the full company), "Perfect" (with Rebecca & later with Marty), "Who" (with Marty), "Beautiful," and "Jenny's Blues." The Jewish Steinberg Parents, Judy (Emily Nadler) and Murray (Joe Morris) are stronger than the Christian Howard Parents, Georgette (Anne-Marie Finnie) and George (Mark T. Cahill) but all do a fine job. The parents' performance of "That's Family" is quite memorable. Judy also nails "What They Never Tell You." Brian Howard (Joey Mele) has good chemistry with Greg Madison (Bobby Peterson) as does Rebecca Steinberg (Katie Ferretti) with Annie Shepard (Alicia Bagley). Brian and Rebecca are also believable as having been long-time friends. Rebecca raised important issues while singing the lyrics of "A Little Less Than" and the most hilarious number was "Love You Till The Day," a duet sung to the new bride and groom by Greg and Annie. You have to see this number performed to fully appreciate it. Scott Johnson was particularly believable as Marty Kaufman and I was emotionally moved by his rendition of "Whatever." If I was so inclined, I might even have said yes. Mark Decaterina was forgettable and uninspired in the role of Albert, the Wedding Planner. Jodi Saladino was fine as jealous, spiteful, inebriated Aunt Sheila (she also was Mimsy) while Carl Tese was too old to be cast as Walt, the Busboy (he was also Uncle Morty).

Jenny's best line was when she told her mother she thought she saw a rat, "It came out of the closet but I think it went back in." Annie's best line was "I think it's easier to be black than it is to be gay. I never had to tell anyone I was black." Giving grief to his dad, Brian told his father, "Nature or nurture - it's your fault." Albert's best two lines were "It's time for the wedding deception" and "I didn't see that coming!" Murray Steinberg responded to the line "You can't imagine how shocked we were when we found out" by saying "Yes, I think I can" and when someone was hesitating about revealing yet another secret, Georgette Howard said, "Please! That horse has left the barn!" Georgette turns out to be one happy camper when she finds out her son is gay (for reasons I shall leave undisclosed) while Brian's father George is thrilled his son scored a home run for their team. 

It Shoulda Been You is the third show in the 15th season of the Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts. It is a delightful and funny musical I highly recommend you see. "Once you start coming out" to see shows at this theatre, you will be quite impressed with their quality and will find it "hard to stop." Just don't throw up in the Ladies Room and make sure you don't unintentionally reveal any secrets there while Aunt Sheila is having sex with the Busboy in the next stall. Oh, and as a lawyer, I highly recommend you have your future life partner sign that prenuptial agreement. The trajectory of love is quite unpredictable and it is not all wine and roses. 

This production of It Shoulda Been You at The Smithtown Center For The Performing Arts runs through April 15, 2017. Tickets cost $35.00 for adults, $32.00 for seniors, and $20.00 for students with valid identification. You can make reservations by visiting www.smithtownpac.org. For more information, call 631-724-3700.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird Of Youth at The Gallery Players by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird Of Youth at The Gallery Players was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

Sweet Bird Of Youth
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Jesse Marchese
The Gallery Players 
199 14th Street
Park Slope, New York 11215
Reviewed 3/11/17

I had the pleasure of attending Sweet Bird Of Youth at The Gallery Players in Brooklyn. They have a little bit of a gymnasium feel, but it is offset by charming decor, refreshments, and seating almost on top of the stage. The show was sold out and the crowd was lively during the intermissions and after the play. 

Sweet Bird Of Youth, written in 1956 and first performed in 1959, was the last critically acclaimed play by Tennessee Williams before drugs and alcohol destroyed his productivity. He was considered among the three foremost playwrights in 20th-century American drama. When he wrote this play, Tennessee knew exactly what he was doing. Sweet Bird Of Youth showcased his skill delivering a masterclass in dialogue and story development. He used characters and actors to portray both simple and complex metaphors for both love and careers. The play is timeless except for a few dated jokes only some of the audience members caught.

Sweet Bird Of Youth at first glance and after the first act appears to be a play centered on the male lead, a young actor named Chance Wayne. However, he is used in contrast to the female lead, Alexandra Del Lago, an older female character. Tennessee wrote the play for Tallulah Bankhead, a close friend and one of the premier actresses on stage and screen during the 20th century. The genesis for the play was essentially a confession game in 1956 where she said, "I wish always, always, for death. I've always wanted death. Nothing else do I want more." In response, Tennessee threw in not so subtle lines in the first act for Alexandra Del Lago such as "It is not death, but life I wish for. Life." While Chance, a young hapless actor, appears to dominate the first act with his vitality and youth, the stage is set quite literally for Alexandra Del Lago, an older female star, to steal the show and at The Gallery Players on Saturday night, steal it she did. Nancy Rich played the part exceptionally and delivered captivating soliloquies and well-timed jokes that showed her blossom into vibrancy and life beside the devolution of Chance Wayne. Tennessee may have hoped to cast Tallulah in the lead role, but she never did appear. The female lead in 1959, Geraldine Page, won a Tony Award for her performance.

The devolution of Chance is the main plot driver of the play. Chance is a 29-year-old actor who never quite made it big and seeks to reunite with a lost love, Heavenly Finley, in his hometown of St. Cloud, Minnesota. Adam Fontana excelled in the role as Chance. He started out a little bumpy with delivering a southern accent, but in the end delivered it consistently and showcased his skill to emotionally deliver his lines. At the same time, the role may have originally been suited better for a Broadway actor nearing the end of his youth who viewed this part as his last chance to achieve something more. Researching this further, I discovered that this play originally starred a 34-yea-old Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke & Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid) and launched him to his own historic film success. At the beginning, Chance brags and boasts about his upward career trajectory, parts played and hearts won, saying he even dropped out of the Navy to keep his path to stardom alive while he was young enough to become a star. This sparks a conversation between Chance and Alexandra about youth where Chance answers Alexandra's pining for lost youth, beauty, and glory days with the lines "nobody's young anymore" and "nobody grows old."

This begs us to ask the question, what is youth? A mindset or a time in life when a person was successful, young, and beautiful. The play consistently discusses virility and sexual ability as more obvious metaphors casting the young Heavenly Finley, Chance's one-time lover and current obsession, as a seemingly old woman after having a hysterectomy at age 27. However, Alexandra states early on that time does that to a woman too (Menopause) and yet that she still pines for the sexual satisfaction of a young man such as her current companion Chance Wayne. 

More subtly, it seems Tennessee wants to contrast this typical vision of youth with how each character views their career. Each character worries that their career as an actor is over, but while Alexandra Del Lago speaks of diving into acting as an art, Chance Wayne speaks of getting his big break. She states that one "can't retire with the heart of an artist" while he parades a contract in front of his hometown friends. Much like Shakespeare had Hamlet give stage instructions, so too does Tennessee warn a young actor in Chance, through the voice of Alexandra, to devote himself entirely to his art and not to merely cling to the hope of making it big on one show. For example, Alexandra doesn't feel successful even after having performed on the biggest stages for years (without mass critical approval) while Chance feels successful after merely getting his first contract or appearing as a bystander. His main goal seems merely to be able to tout his "success" as an actor in front of his hometown peers who took steady jobs and earn a respectable living. In the end, he sacrifices a chance at his dream and loses his sexual ability through castration at the hand of Heavenly's brother, Tom Junior. While Chance's descent is completed, Alexandra completes her ascent by leaving St. Cloud to return to the glory of incomparable box office success.

Ultimately, the play delivered an entertaining spectacle. The actors and actresses performed their parts with emotion and passion. The play was funny, moving, and at times, unpredictable. Megan McDermott did a particularly wonderful job as Miss Lucy in the second act and I also really liked Benjamin Russell as Tom Junior. These characters appeared in the second act as obstacles to Chance Wayne resuming a life in his hometown. The actors all enunciated their lines well and their superior acting skills kept the full attention of the audience through three acts. Even when the lights fell on another part of the stage, they never took a moment off. I often wondered whether they would even take the time to blink. The Gallery Players did an awesome job on a well-written play. The only thing that surprised me is that we didn't at least give them a standing ovation as a courtesy for a job well done.

Sweet Bird Of Youth runs through March 26th at The Gallery Players in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Tickets cost $25.00 and can be purchased online at www.GalleryPlayers.com.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Marsha Norman's 'Night Mother' at Studio Theatre Long Island by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of Marsha Norman's 'Night Mother' at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

'Night Mother'
Written by Marsha Norman
Directed by David Dubin
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Reviewed 3/5/17

'Night Mother' was written by Marsha Norman in 1981. It was developed by Circle Repertory Company and premiered in 1982 at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It transferred to Broadway at the John Golden Theatre opening on March 31, 1983 and closing on February 26, 1984 after 380 performances. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1983 and received four Tony Award nominations. The Broadway cast was transferred Off-Broadway for a continued run of 54 performances at the Westside Theatre in 1984. "Night Mother' was revived on Broadway at the Royale Theatre on November 14, 2014 closing on January 9, 2005 after 65 performances and 26 previews.


Jessie Cates has made what she believes is a rational decision to commit suicide and has told her mother Thelma of that decision, which she intends to carry out in a few hours using her deceased dad's revolver. She sees her life as a failure and doesn't believe there is any prospect of it getting better. She views this act as the ultimate means of asserting control over her life. She made a decision once before when she chose smoking over her husband Cecil, who left her, but she suspected he was getting tired of her anyway (even though she still loved him). As Jessie said, "I wasn't what he wanted to see, so it was better if he wasn't looking at me all the time." Jessie suffers from epilepsy and Thelma has tried to protect her all her life by keeping her close to home. She hasn't been able to keep a job and believes "the kind of job I could get would only make me feel worse." Her mother hired Cecil to build a porch she didn't need for the purpose of introducing her daughter to him. They had a child named Ricky, who has become a delinquent. He has stolen two rings from Jessie, uses drugs, and is a lost cause as far as she is concerned. She says, "I'd turn him in myself if I knew where he was." On the other hand, Jessie tells her mother, "If I thought I could get through to Ricky, I'd stay." She'd also stay if there was something she really liked, such as rice pudding or corn flakes for breakfast but taking care of her mother when she doesn't really need the help, isn't enough. Even the dog she loved got run over by the tractor and Agnes, her mother's best friend, won't visit the house anymore because her hands are so cold she believes "Jessie has shaken the hands of death like a corpse." Cecil even cheated on her by sleeping with Agnes's daughter. Jessie is so pissed off at life that she even gets annoyed when her brother Dawson calls her "Jess" instead of "Jessie." Instead of just leaving a suicide note, Jessie decided to tell her mother about her decision in advance so there would be no unanswered questions. However angry and upset Thelma gets, she still appreciates her daughter explained things to her because as she says, "I might not have thought of all the things you said." The decision to commit suicide is explained by comparing life to a bus ride. Jessie says, "Mama, I know you used to ride the bus. Riding the bus, and it's hot and bumpy and crowded and too noisy, and more than anything else in the world, you wanna get off. And the only reason in the world you don't get off is it's still fifty blocks from where you're going. Well, I can get off right now if I want to. Because even if I ride fifty more years and get off then, it's still the same place when I step down to it. Whenever I feel like it, I can get off. Whenever I've had enough, it's my stop."

Thelma doesn't accept Jessie's decision without a fight and for 95 minutes played out in real time, Thelma implores, pleads, shames, and argues in a valiant, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to get her daughter to change her mind. Thelma first blames herself questioning what she might have done differently. Perhaps she should have been more honest with her daughter about her epilepsy and not have sheltered her too much from the outside world. Maybe she shouldn't have set her daughter up with Cecil or allowed her daughter to move back in with her after he left. Telling Jessie "people don't kill themselves unless they're retarded or deranged," Thelma makes sure Jessie took her medicine. Jessie says she did and is feeling fine admitting she has thought about committing suicide on and off for 10 years. Thelma then tells Jessie that death may not be "restful" and that she has no idea "what being dead is like. It might be like an alarm clock going off." Focusing on her son, Thelma says, "What kind of example are you making for Ricky?" Jessie has an answer for everything. As to Ricky, Jessie says, "It's only a matter of time until Ricky kills." As for suicide being a sin, Jessie said she thinks Jesus' capture and crucifixion was a suicide. Frustrated she can't call the police or her son Dawson because Jessie has promised to simply accelerate the timetable of her suicide, Thelma argues "Good times don't come looking for you. If you've got the guts to kill yourself, you've got the guts to stay alive. You can be brave and try something else. Something might happen and it might be worth waiting for." Jessie's response, "I can't do anything about my life to make it better. It's going to stop and I'm going to stop it. Like turning off the radio." Thelma begs, "Don't leave me Jessie" and eventually threatens to physically block the door leading to her bedroom in a last-ditch attempt to stop her ("You're going to have to knock me down to get past me!"). 

Thelma tells Jessie, "I can't just sit here and say it's O.K. - go ahead and kill yourself" especially since Thelma herself loves her life. As she says, "I don't want things to change. I like me just the way things are. I like candy and tuna. I don't like things to think about. I like things to go on. I like it here and I am going to stay here until they drag me off kicking and screaming. " But eventually, Thelma realizes her arguments are having no impact on Jessie's resolute decision to end her life. Thelma says, " Who am I talking to? I can't stop you because you're already gone!" to which Jessie responds, "There wasn't anything you could say to change my mind. I didn't want you to save me. I just wanted you to know." Thelma says, "But you are my child!" to which Jessie responds, "I am what became of your child. I found an old baby picture of me...and it was somebody else - not me. It was somebody pink and fat. Who never heard of sick or lonely...That's who I started out. And this is who's left. So that's what this is about. Somebody I lost all right: my own self. Who I never was. Or who I tried to be and never got there. Somebody I waited for and never came - and never will. So see, it doesn't matter much what else goes on in the world or even this house even. I'm who I was waiting for. I didn't make it. Me! Who might have made a difference to me. I'm not gonna show up - so there's no reason to stay." While Thelma resolves to tell the family the reason for Jessie's decision to commit suicide was "something personal," her grief is inconsolable. As Jessie says 'night Mother', walks into her bedroom and locks the door, Thelma says, "Jessie don't do this! I was here all the time. How did I not know you were so alone!" The play ends with the sound of a gunshot and Thelma's grief-stricken call to her son. Her daughter-in-law Loretta answers the phone and Thelma says, "Let me talk to Dawson, honey."

The climax of this play leaves the audience emotionally drained as we identify with the mother's frustration, anger and inability to change her daughter's mind. The play raises the issue whether a rational human being who is not terminally ill can or should be permitted to make the decision to take their own life. Should Thelma have knocked her daughter unconscious to stop her and then have her committed to a mental institution until she gains perspective and regains the desire to live, or was she right to stop short of using such violence against a supposedly rational human being? 'Night Mother' will give you a lot to talk about over dinner and is not a play you will soon forget. Sheila Sheffield is brilliant in the role of Thelma Cates, and Maryellen Molfetta, is extremely believable as her depressed daughter Jessie Cates. Together they have good chemistry on stage. Both draw the attention of the audience and keep them fully engaged in the drama from the very beginning of the play to the end. 

This production of 'Night Mother' is a must see for everyone interested in why a person might decide to take their own life and the pain that decision causes to those who love them. There are occasional humorous moments when for example, Jessie suggests they clean out the attic and donate some of the stored items. Thelma's response was, "I don't even want the things we have." When Thelma decides that after her daughter's suicide, she will stay in her own home instead of going back with Dawson and Loretta, Thelma's decision to stay turns on the fact that in her son's house, they only have Sanka. In the end, Jessie says no to everything, including hope, and especially the Red Chinese!

'Night Mother' plays at Studio Theatre Long Island through March 19, 2017. Tickets cost $25.00 and can be purchased online at www.StudioTheatreLI.com. For more information, call 631-226-8400.  

Monday, March 6, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of Marsha Norman's 'Night Mother' at Studio Theatre Long Island by Christopher M. Struck

This review of Marsha Norman's 'Night Mother' at Studio Theatre Long Island was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

'Night Mother'
Written by Marsha Norman
Directed by David Dubin
Studio Theatre Long Island
141 South Wellwood Avenue
Lindenhurst, New York 11757
Reviewed 3/5/17

'Night Mother' was a Pulitzer Prize-winning play that found moderate success on Broadway receiving four Tony Award nominations and running for nearly a year. Studio Theatre Long Island, known for edgy and witty entertainment about hot topics along with good family fun (Jungle Book coming soon), put on an emotionally gripping rendition of this tense drama. Studio Theatre is a charming venue in Lindenhurst, Long Island that serves coffee, sweets, and fruit on Sundays for patrons and has delightfully intimate seating with great views of the stage. The actresses, Sheila Sheffield as Thelma and Maryellen Molfetta as Jessie, did a great job of speaking fluidly and clearly which made both the circumstances of the play and the main themes easy to follow.


The play revolves around the suicide of the daughter, Jessie. At the outset of the play, she searches for her dad's old gun and when her mother questions her, Jessie subtly states that "the gun is meant for me." She then clarifies for her concerned mother, Thelma, and the audience that she intends this to be their last night together. I came to the play with only the knowledge that 'Night Mother' had won a Pulitzer, but my personal experience with many of the darker themes addressed during the play kept me intensely interested in how events would unfold.

The strengths of this play appear in both the script and the presentation of the actresses. The two main players handled themselves well and delivered impassioned appeals that helped bring life to a vivid script. The themes were incredibly reflective of the dark frame of mind that can lead people to thoughts of taking their own life. Thelma, the mother, attempts to keep her daughter alive through a desperate reconciliation. Within this comes the slow reveal that some secrets and selfishness with her daughter's time have poisoned their relationship. And yet, Jessie later flatly states her mother should "be more selfish."

Despite a few clean jokes and an acute understanding of the mindset in which victims of depression can find themselves in, there were a few audience members that nodded off early and failed to return to the matter at hand. The play doesn't deliver any truly great overtures of love or warmth and tender affection which serve to make the audience keenly aware of the mother and daughter's struggles. The actresses themselves were often focused on each other and were rarely called to engage the audience. Although they used the stage well, the plot ran in a linear fashion which I think would make it hard for audience members without personal experience from believing deeply in the morality or profundity of Jessie's intended suicide.

I would recommend this play to people who have prior personal experience with or are concerned about someone in their family going through a traumatic life struggle. Additionally, for those curious about depression and interested in the potential warning signs of a person drifting toward a potential depressive episode, this is a worthwhile study of human behavior. However, this is not an example of what you should do in the case that you or someone you know is in this position. The lack of arc to the plot makes it feel like a project written for the sole purpose of shedding light on a serious topic that may have, at one point, been taboo. Because of this, the play suffered from an artistic standpoint. Despite solid performances from the actresses and a script that showcases an understanding and awareness of mental health, 'Night Mother' failed to impress upon me more than a vague emotional response due mainly to the inevitability of Jessie's plans. I felt like I had understood rather than had been wrenched emotionally.

"Night Mother' plays at Studio Theatre Long Island through March 19, 2017.  Tickets cost $25.00 and can be purchased at  www.studiotheatreli.com. For more, call 631-226-8400.