There's a work factor in seeing a show for review that can fundamentally distance a critic from the rest of an audience. I arrived at the Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove last night from a Gold Line bus. At 41 years of age, I was on the younger edge of an audience that was there for casual entertainment. Everyone else was well-tuned to a light family sitcom and I was there for the work I love. The trip out had me thinking about politics and headlines and things that I read on the hour long commute. It took me a little while to synchronize-up with the mood of the rest of the audience.
The ensemble for the show is quite well-integrated. The family dynamic feels right. The director has brought them together in clever social modulation. A young guy is trying to tell all four of his grandparents that he's moving away to the other side of the country. He's younger than me, but I identify with him because he’s closer in age to me than anyone else in the story. This is an older audience, though. They’re going to identify with the larger end of the ensemble. This guy tells his grandparents that there isn't anything to keep him there in New Jersey and the whole audience gasps. The line hits all of them as a shock. To me it seems obvious. It's a nice family, but they’re driving him crazy and he wants to live somewhere other than Jersey his whole life. I’m with him and they’re with them. (The family I mean.) It's always weird to have that kind of distance from the rest of the audience. Just as the younger guy begins to realize what a good family he’s got, I begin to feel a bit more integrated with the rest of the audience. We’re starting to laugh at the same things. It’s fun.
During an intermission I overheard somebody (who was presumably a regular at the Sunset) mentioning something along the lines of it being really a good choice for the company. It's hard to disagree with that. This is really a play about family. It’s really a drama about family on a couple of different levels. There’s a family of actors here playing a family of characters. Most of the actors feel totally at home in the roles of retirees. Raffaello Frattura puts in a truly engaging performance, but that’s no surprise: this guy’s been performing for over THREE DEACES...and they ALL have that kind of experience onstage. They may not have always been playing a single family like this, but they all sink into a very organic relationship with the stage that feels very authentic BECAUSE IT IS. People with great comfort onstage play people in a very comfortable home. Family plays family. Familiarity plays familiarity. That guy I overheard during intermission was right: this IS a really good choice. I’m there for work. They’re there for the community in this community theatre. It’s nice to be a tourist in a space like that. It’s really satisfying to have been pulled into the gravity of a show like this even if doing so pulled me away from MY family for one more night and in the interest of exploring the nature human connection.
Sunset Playhouse's production of Over the River and Through the Woods runs through Sep. 24 at the Furlan Auditorium on 800 Elm Grove Rd. For ticket reservations, visit the Sunset Playhouse online. My comprehensive review of the show runs in the next print edition of the Shepherd-Express.
Last night I saw a third Summer 2017 production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The season opened with Voices Found Repertory’s 1980s pop-inspired production in May. Then in July Door Shakespeare opened it’s production. This weekend Bard & Bourbon stages its Twelfth Night (drunk) at the intimate space of the Tenth Street Theatre. It's slyly directed by Dylan K. Sladky. The production is set in a pleasant 1920s. Design elements lock-in the feel of the era without overpowering the comedy. Robert Sharon’s beautiful costuming for the show feels very organic.
Bard & Bourbon issues a fun farewell to the summer on these first days of September with the show. Brittany Curran plays romantic lead as the lovely Viola who disguises herself as a man and promptly falls for a man who wishes her to woo another for him. It’s fun to see Curran in a central role this time around. There’s a heartwarming honesty in her portrayal of someone falling in love. The man in question is the Duke Orsino played here by Alexandra Pakalski. Honestly, I’d always found the character of Orsino to be a little flat. It’s difficult to understand why Viola is so taken with him. Shakespeare doesn’t offer much in the way of charm. Seeing Pakalski play the role...I get it. With her in that role I can relate to Viola. Pakalski has an irresistibly roguish appeal about her in the role that makes Viola’s emotions feel really really well-justified.
Alas, Orsino’s eye has fallen on someone else--the countess Olivia played with an impressively casual diva’s charm by Ashley S. Jordan. Shakespeare gives Olivia quite a bit more personality than Orsino, so she’s always come across as being more appealing to me. Jordan saunters into the role of aristocracy with sultry assertiveness, making Olivia’s appeal that much more palpable.
The more comic ends of the comedy are so well-executed that they almost threaten to overpower the drama of the romance. Adam Czaplewski is a diva all his own in the role of Olivia’s servant Malvolio. He glides and slices through a comportment and poise with microtome’s precision. There aren’t many people who can generate laughter by simply standing onstage with a perfectly straight face. Czaplewski is one of those people. He takes a graceful tumble into madness due to cruelty played upon him by Olivia’s gentlewoman Maria, played with sharp clarity by Madeline Wakley. Her cleverness is pursued by the comic swagger of Brittany Boeche as the brashly robust Sir Toby Belch .
The heavy comedy of the show falls on Sir Andrew Aguecheek, his good friend Sir Toby Belch and Feste the jester...all three of whom are really impressive here. Brandon Herr has great comic instincts as Sir Andrew. A few relatively flat lines come across with great comedy simply due to Herr’s tiny inflections and punctuations. Of course, his biggest moment lies in Sir Andrew’s duel with Viola over a gross misunderstanding. Comic fisticuffs involving a baseball bat come fluidly to the stage courtesy of fight choreographer Tawnie Thompson who once again does an amazing job bringing very compelling action to the stage. Thompson’s fight scenes have a speed, rhythm and style to them that are quite distinctive. (Someone please give this woman more work.)
Naturally there are going to be those who end up collecting around the edges of a production who are WAY more talented than what they’re given to do. All the same it’s nice to see Zachary Dean as the Sea Captain and a few other minor roles. Local stage veteran Joel Kopischke has potential for serious gravitas in the role of Antonio. The night I attended, he was one of the two getting drunk for the show...(this IS Bard & Bourbon, after all.) Kopischke embraced the gimmick with great energy and enthusiasm, adding one more element to a very fun show. Keegan Siebken was similarly poised (though completely sober) in the role of his friend and Viola's brother Sebastian.
It’s deeply, deeply satisfying to see Grace DeWolf in any show. She always ends up being my favorite in any cast. Here she’s playing Feste the jester with characteristically expressive glances and punchy charisma. There’s such a deftness of delivery with her. Here that deftness Grace-fully bounds through the jaunty wit of a jester with captivatingly textured nuance. Her work here serves as the centerpiece for the comic end of a show that may dip a little heavily into the laughter, but not at the expense of a fun, breezy Shakespearian romance.
Bard & Bourbon’s Twelfth Night (drunk) runs through Sep. 3 at In Tandem’s Tenth St. Theatre on 628 N. 10th St. For ticket reservations and more visit Bard & Bourbon online.