Sunday, September 13, 2015

Annapurna Scales the Heights at the Jungle

Annapurna is the name of a mountain in Nepal. It's also the title of Sharr White's new play, set in a decrepit trailer at the base of another mountain in Colorado. But the largest peak in this play is the distance separating the two characters.

Ulysses lives in the trailer, isolated from the world and most human contact. His ex-wife, Emma, shows up unannounced, hauling a pile of baggage both literal and metaphorical. Emma left Ulysses 20 years ago, taking their young son with her, and they haven't been in contact since. So why is she suddenly here on her ex-husband's sad excuse for a doorstep?

All images (c) Dan Norman Photography
Well, that's the play. I don't think one needs to know anything more going into it. I knew it was a new play, a great director, a wonderful set, and a terrific cast, and that was enough to get me to the theater.

Terry Hempleman looks terrible as Ulysses, which is perfectly appropriate for a cranky hermit who is facing his imminent demise. Angela Timberman's Emma starts as an enigma, both to the audience and to Ulysses, who learns about her motives at the same time the audience does. The two have a wonderful chemistry, their relationship turning from prickly and antagonistic to sweetly nostalgic and back again in a moment, just as happens in longstanding relationships. And despite their separation, it's clear that Emma and Ulysses' bond has been an ongoing aspect of their lives apart. Hempleman and Timberman keep a crackling energy going throughout the play, which is very funny even as it deals with some very dark issues.

Director Joel Sass designed the wonderfully realistic set, a cross-section of the trailer that looks authentically run-down and lived in. You can read more about the set here.

Sass also orchestrates a natural flow and rhythm to the dialogue. After seeing too many shows in which people shout at each other for hours, I've gained an appreciation for more modulated acting, so that when there is shouting, it really feels warranted. No doubt it helps that the Jungle's space is so intimate that actors don't have a huge house to project to.

The play is beautifully written, with naturalistic dialogue that never feels forced or "actor-y." From frustrated cursing to some very poetic turns, each line is completely appropriate for these characters and sounds conversational coming from these two actors. And of course, if one wishes to explore the parallels between these two and the story of Odysseus (Ulysses is the Latin name for Odysseus), who at the end of the Trojan War spent years trying to get back to his wife and son, that's another layer. You don't need to be familiar with Homer or mountains in Nepal to want to spend time with these characters, though. Their interactions stand on their own.

Annapurna runs through October 18 at the Jungle Theater. If you need more persuading to see it, check out the trailer.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Lovely and Enchanting Night: Cinderella

Yes, the title of the post says almost everything I want to about Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella. The show was originally written by Rodgers and Hammerstein for a 1957 Original Television Musical starring Dame Julie Andrews as Cinderella. It was then staged in 1958 at the London Coliseum. In 1965 it was remade into another television special starring Lesley Ann Warren. It wasn't until 1993 that the New York City Opera staged a version and restaged/revived it in 1995 and 2004. In 1997 it had another television remake - this time starring R&B performer Brandy as Cinderella and Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother. It has played in High Schools around the country but in 2013 it debuted on Broadway for the first time ever. This show features a new book by Douglas Carter Beane. It includes all the songs from the television musical as well as some songs from the trunk (meaning songs written for other shows but cut or adopted for this work).

The story of Cinderella is well known. It is based on the story by Charles Perrault who based it on folklore of his time. This story is similar to other stories around the world - the story of Ye Xian in China, or Chinye in West Africa, or even Rhodopis in Egypt.  The story has even been told in writing from the viewpoint of an Stepsister. A girl's parents both die and she is raised by a stepmother who treats her unkindly. The Prince of the land gives a ball so that he can find a wife. The stepmother and her two daughters go and leave Cinderella at home. A fairy godmother intervenes and...well, you know the rest. The story of the show follows this fairly closely. There are a few changes from the original TV film as well as from the Disney animated film. One of the biggest changes is that Cinderella takes more control of her destiny. When she first leaves the castle, she trips and leaves one of her shoes behind. She grabs it and runs off. The second time she leaves, she purposefully hands the
shoe to the Prince.

The Orpheum has a wonderland on stage. There is an amazing forest set that fills the stage when you walk in. And when the cast comes on stage - the whole stage is filled with people or set. It is wonderful and charming. The story is certainly for the kids but there is some political content that helps keep the adults entertained as well. It is also very clear that Ella is all about compassion and kindness. The set, story and cast were as good as you could want them. The music and singing were pitch perfect - 23 songs filled with perfect characterizations and wonderful voices. In fact there are a total of 26 pieces of music through out the night (up from the 15 from the original TV broadcast). This keeps the show flowing and magical. And speaking of magical - the transformations!! During Act 1, Crazy Marie throws off her hood, turns around and is transformed in full view to the gorgeous, purple-gowned Fairy Godmother. Soon after that Cinderella is transformed (also in full view) from her raggedy dress to a wonderful white ball gown and tiara. True stage magic which earned it's applause. There are a few moments of magic in Act Two as well that are as astounding and surprising!

The other astounding part of this work is the dance. The choreography is not your typical Broadway hoofing. It leans far more toward ballet and it is used through out the show. Visually there is always movement and something catching your eye. The dance at the ball was lovely and gorgeous and a feat of strength with lifts like you rarely see on stage. I appreciated that they allowed time for these dances and trusted that the audience would be mesmerized by them - and they were.

The show runs over 2 hours long. The audience was filled with young girls and yet it was very quiet. The kids were paying attention and clearly loving every minute. And there was so much on stage to love. It truly was a lovely and enchanting night of theatre. A night I wish everyone could experience at some point.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Is It Fall Already? I Hadn't Noticed. (September Theater Preview)

It's fall and you know what that means: Delightfully cooler weather AND more theater than you can shake a stick at.

Dig out those scarves and check out the shows I'm most looking forward in September.

Extremities - Dark & Stormy Productions
August 27 - September 19, 2015
Grain Belt Bottling House

In Short: A woman takes revenge on the man who invaded her home. Originally performed off-Broadway in 1982. And remember the movie with Farrah Fawcett from 1986?

Why I'm Down: I love a play performed in an unusual place, and Dark & Stormy's The Hothouse last year was riveting.

Akeelah and the Bee - Children's Theatre Company
September 1 - October 11, 2015

In Short: Based on the 2006 film of the same name, this is about Akeelah, who goes from the south side of Chicago to the National Spelling Bee.

Why I'm Down: James A. Williams, Greta Oglesby, Aimee K. Bryant, Nathan Barlow. Also, spelling bees are fun. Have you seen the amazing documentary Spellbound?

Annapurna - Jungle Theater
September 4 - October 18, 2015

In Short: "After twenty years apart, Emma tracks Ulysses to a trailer park in the middle of nowhere for a final reckoning. What unfolds is a visceral and profound meditation on love and loss with the simplest of theatrical elements: two people in one room. A breathtaking story about the longevity of love."*

Why I'm Down: Angela Timberman and Terry Hempleman. Also, I heard the set was amahzing.

Elliot: A Soldier's Fugue - Park Square Theatre
September 11 - October 4, 2015

In Short: "Elliot Ortiz is home from Iraq. Like his father and grandfather before him, the eager soldier is forced to unravel his experience as he nurses his injuries and considers returning to the frontlines. Elliot’s mother, a nurse in Vietnam, holds three generations of this family’s soldiers together; turning their city lot into a lush and healing tropical garden."*

Why I'm Down:
Written by Quiara Alegría Hudes, who wrote the book for In the Heights. Stars Ricardo Vázquez, this is about three generations of a Puerto Rican family. Representation rocks.

The Little Pilot - Sandbox Theatre
September 11 - October 4, 2015
The Southern Theater

In Short: "An all new, ensemble-created play based on the life and work of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The tale of The Little Pilot weaves between the fanciful and the factual, as Saint-Exupéry’s literary characters and real-life events blend together to create a visually stunning production featuring aerial silk acrobatics and original visual art projections."*

Why I'm Down:  I've wanted to know more about Saint-Exupery ever since I was a kid and thought it was pronounced Saint Ex-OOP-er-ay. Emphasis on the oop.  Also, it sounds cool.

Things of Dry Hours - Frank Theatre
September 11 - October 5, 2015
The Playwrights' Center

In Short: "Alabama, 1932. Tice, a laid-off steelworker, swears by his bible as much as he does the words of Karl Marx. His widowed daughter who does the laundry of the rich white folk and collects the treasures that are left in their sheets—a ribbon here, a shoe there–lives with him in a cabin. In the middle of the night, a stranger—a white man suspected of murdering a foreman at the steel mill—knocks on their door with the intent of changing their worlds for good."*

Why I'm Down: That description intrigues me wildly. Also, Frank Theatre does unusual, engaging work.

A Lie of the Mind - Theatre Pro Rata
September 12 - 27, 2015
Nimbus Theater

In Short: "Shepard’s famous portrait of the American nightmare begins when Beth wakes up with a brain injury. Her husband Jake has beaten her so badly that she retreats to her family home in Montana. Jake crawls back to his mother and siblings in California. Two families begin to reassess and unravel. When the mind can take no more, it survives by breaking down and rewiring its pathways. But when the family dynamic deteriorates, it may take gunshots and fire to forge more reliable bonds."*

Why I'm Down: Theater Pro Rata is one of those theaters that I just want to see more of their work. I've missed too many. Also, Sam Shepard.  He used to live here, doncha know? Oh cripes.

The Genealogy of Happenstance  - Guthrie Theater
September 17 - September 20, 2015
Dowling Studio

In Short: "Allegra J Lingo's show wrestles with what it means to be ensconced in the journey to conceive a child when she herself will only be connected by the genealogy of happenstance. Sometimes, making a baby takes more than just the birds and the bees."*

Why I'm Down: Smallish show in the Dowling Studio, short run, female playwright, directed by Christopher Kehoe? I'm in.

Murder for Two - Park Square Theatre
September 18 - November 1, 2015
Andy Boss Thrust Stage

In Short: "Everyone is a suspect in this hilarious miniature musical murder mystery filled with patter songs and comic ballads. One actor in this daring Vaudevillian duo investigates the crime. The other plays all the suspects. And they both play the piano."

Why I'm Down: Don't know either of the actors, which is kind of fun. I heart new musicals, yay!  And directed by Randy Reyes!

Prep - Pillsbury House Theatre
September 18 - October 18, 2015

In Short: "From the playwright of Buzzer comes Prep, a powerful story that exposes the trauma faced by African-American high school students navigating today’s educational system."*

Why I'm Down: Racism and class in today's schools? Yes. I can always count on Pillsbury House to provide thought-provoking theater. Also, Ryan Colbert is quickly becoming one of my favorite young local actors to watch (after Will You Still Love Me, Tomorrow at Red Eye and Choir Boy at the Big G.)

September 23 – October 25, 2015
The Ritz Theater

In Short: It's all there in the title, really. Also, Sondheim.

Why I'm Down: Look over to the right there. So interested to see what Mark Benninghofen does with the title role, as he is thoroughly awesome.

U/G/L/Y - Guthrie Theater
September 24 - September 27, 2015
Dowling Studio

In Short: "A new performance work by celebrated theater artist and activist Shá Cage, U/G/L/Y examines cultural, generational and personal definitions of beauty."*

Why I'm Down: Love Sha Cage, love the subject, and sounds unique and fascinating!  That is all.

The Events - Guthrie Theater
September 30 - November 1, 2015
McGuire Proscenium Stage

In Short: From their website: "A response to the 2011 Norway attacks, in which the lives of 77 people were claimed by a car bomb and a mass shooting at a summer camp, this internationally acclaimed production delves into faith, politics and reason. Featuring original music sung by a different choir at each performance."*

Why I'm Down: That last sentence. Also, intriguing premise. And it's a Guthrie Worldstage Touring Production, which tend to be the most interesting shows I see at the Guthrie.

Go support our fabulous local theater!  And ENJOY!  

* From the theater's website