Theater Review

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Theater review: For Colored Girls... at The Space at 2106

A new West Tampa performance space opens in colorful style.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 19, 2015 at 10:30 AM

The ladies in orange and yellow (Marlene Peralta and Diana Hardy). - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
  • daniel veintimilla
  • The ladies in orange and yellow (Marlene Peralta and Diana Hardy).

3.5 out of 5 stars
Runs through Nov. 22 at The Space at 2106, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., 
2106 W. Main St., Tampa, $20,
With the recent onslaught of terror, Trump and tragedy, we could all use a good news break. Here’s something refreshing: A new performance space opened last Friday in West Tampa with an unconventionally uplifting night of theater, and it may just spur the revival of one of Tampa’s most neglected and charmingly historic districts.

Located near the corner of Albany and Main streets, the Space, aka The Space at 2106, is a multi-use venue with (mostly) repurposed contemporary decor designed by Urban Country Factory and financial partner Robert Morris. Organizers have plans for cultural events of a variety of types, all presented with one aim: promoting diversity.

Executive Artistic Director Jared O’Roark announced the Space’s hopeful manifesto during its opening night after-show Q&A. The director of the award-winning storytelling showcase and teen documentary, Project Shattered Silence, O’Roark left a 14-year position at Ruth Eckerd Hall as company/project manager to launch the venue.

O’Roark and Managing Artistic Director Erica Sutherlin were visibly elated to greet an eclectic, sold-out crowd last Friday night at the Space’s first-ever show, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf, a poetic and vivid portrait of the African-American woman in America. Performed with monologue, evocative verse, dance and music, For Colored Girls consists of personal tales and poetry that interweave and overlap, revealing common threads of oppression and sexism, as well as strength and triumph. The ambitious work, written in 1976 by Ntozake Shange, was the second play by a black woman to be produced on Broadway, after A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Theater review: Bill Leavengood's new work is right on the Money

A first-rate cast distinguishes a new play about sex, race and fundraising.

Posted By on Wed, Nov 11, 2015 at 3:39 PM


3.5 out of 5 stars
The Heather Theatre, 8313 W. Hillsborough Ave., Suite 250, Tampa, through Nov. 22, 8 p.m. 
Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. $25, $20 students/military.

There’s no room for error on the postage-stamp stage of The Heather Theatre, in the Town ’n’ Country area of Tampa. In a space this diminutive, and with the audience so close to the action, performers have to be on their very best behavior or suffer instant exposure to the incredulity of the spectators.

Happily, the five actors in Pinellas author Bill Leavengood’s Money Maker are more than up to the challenge, and one of them, Emilee Dupré, offers a performance so splendid it deserves a public far more expansive than the 50 or so persons that can fill The Heather’s seats. You may have some trouble finding this theater — it’s located in a small office complex behind some buildings on West Hillsborough Avenue — but the prospect of first-rate acting in a world premiere by a local playwright should be temptation enough. Money Maker is solid work and deserves your attention.

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Friday, November 6, 2015

Theater Review: mad Theatre's Next to Normal

The rock opera threatens to OD on melodrama but is saved by a crack cast.

Posted By on Fri, Nov 6, 2015 at 10:07 AM

A FAMILY AFFAIR: Next to Normal's cast, from left, features Christian Peña, Tess Carr, Casey Vaughan, Stephen Riordan, Eric Lamont Newman and Jared Michael Shari. - TONY GILKINSON
  • A FAMILY AFFAIR: Next to Normal's cast, from left, features Christian Peña, Tess Carr, Casey Vaughan, Stephen Riordan, Eric Lamont Newman and Jared Michael Shari.
Next to Normal
Review rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Runs through Nov. 15 at the Straz Center's Shimberg Playhouse.

A musical about a suburban family crisis doesn't necessarily scream fun night at the theater, and it isn't as big of an audience draw as, say, a singing Hannibal Lecter, but mad Theatre's Next to Normal is a spirited must-see.

The cast's vocal talent and spot-on performances enliven the play's subject matter, calling awareness to an all-too-important subject in the 21st century — the failings and persistent challenges of mental health care in the U.S. and the impact mental illness has on families. 

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Theater Review: Freak brings innocence and experience together in a thought-provoking way

Sexually candid, well-acted and hard to forget, Freak warrants a trip to Sarasota.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 5, 2015 at 3:39 PM

Ellie McCaw and Summer Dawn Wallace in Freak.
  • Ellie McCaw and Summer Dawn Wallace in Freak.

4 Stars
Urbanite Theatre, 1487 Second St., Sarasota. through Nov. 15. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.
$24, students with I.D. $5. 941-321-1397

There are several ways to interpret Anna Jordan’s provocative and resonant Freak, currently showing in a tiptop production at Sarasota’s Urbanite Theatre.

On a non-moral level, the play could simply be illustrating how a 15-year-old girl knowing next to nothing about sex might turn into a 30-year-old stripper, taking on four men at a time in a private party gone haywire. Or the play might be a warning: it might be saying that in a still-patriarchal society, women too easily let men dictate their sexual histories, whether at the outset, when the pressures are from boyfriends and schoolmates, or into maturity, when male demands can lead to sexual mischief far beyond anything really desired.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Theater Review: Lights Rise on Grace at Stageworks

A brilliant three-person cast brings a new play to life at Stageworks.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 22, 2015 at 4:01 PM

Jessica Stone, Alexander Craddock and Aaron Washington play multiple roles. - STAGEWORKS
  • Stageworks
  • Jessica Stone, Alexander Craddock and Aaron Washington play multiple roles.

Lights Rise On Grace
4 stars
Stageworks, 1120 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa.
Through Oct. 25, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday.

With just the actors’ talent and the viewers’ imagination, live theater can take us anywhere. The remarkable new play now at Stageworks, Lights Rise on Grace, successfully taps both these elements to tell us a story of love, loss, and (a kind of) redemption.

Although Chad Beckim’s play doesn’t transport us to any exotic locales, it does take us from an urban high school in New York City to a dreary prison and then back into town with a minimum of furniture and props, and with only a semi-abstract backdrop (designed by Frank Chavez) that could represent a home, a jail, a castle.

What we witness with the help of these few elements is a story about a young Asian-American girl who falls in love with a black man, loses him when he goes to prison, and then has to decide how to proceed when he’s released six years later. We also learn what that man experienced in prison, and the difficulties he has afterwards.

On a nearly bare stage, the three actors — Jessica Stone, Aaron Washington, and Alexander Craddock — bring us this sometimes lyrical, sometimes coarse tale with so much persuasive skill, we feel, at the end, as if we’ve watched not three actors in a nearly empty space but 15 or 20 persons in a dozen locales. And the experience has been created so seamlessly by the actors, under the superb direction of Karla Hartley, that only a few minutes have seemed to pass.

This is extraordinary theater.

Playing Grace is Jessica Stone, who looks like your pretty kid sister, the one who you hoped would never find out about life’s harsher side. But find out she does — and Stone’s Grace, with her large eyes and slender frame, seems dangerously tender, a fragile bird always about to break a wing.

Because of this, Large’s attention to her at first appears suspect. But as played by Aaron Washington, this Romeo has no ulterior motives: he’s gentle and sympathetic and authentically in love. Admiring him, we have to feel distress as he encounters the many abusers in prison life, from the hatred-spewing guards to his predatory fellow inmates. And we’re just as confused as he is when bearded Riece, played by the very talented Alexander Craddock, attempts to befriend — or seduce — him.

Craddock’s Riece is a complicated, contradictory male, part victim, part victimizer, tougher than Large, inured to prison savageries, but capable also of a certain steadfastness. Riece’s complications become all the more prominent when he and Large return to freedom, and Large returns to Grace.

If Grace has a defect, it’s probably that most audiences won’t find it relevant to their own lives and loves. Straight or gay, most of us haven’t faced these characters’ challenges, so the drama can appear as an interesting case study and no more. Still, playwright Beckim enlists our caring from the first moment, and his play’s technical brilliance should be reason enough to give it a look.

It turns out we’ve been carrying a theater with us all our lives — the one called our imagination. Thanks to this fine production, Lights Rise on Grace fills that space with vivid shapes and colors, proving again that live theater can go anywhere — and show us anything. 

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Theater Review: A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder at the Straz

It's a tour de farce — and it'd be a crime to miss it.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 22, 2015 at 3:56 PM

Monty (Kevin Massey) and his two opposing amours (Kristen Beth Williams and Adrienne Eller). - JOAN MARCUS
  • Joan Marcus
  • Monty (Kevin Massey) and his two opposing amours (Kristen Beth Williams and Adrienne Eller).

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder.
4 stars
Runs through Oct. 25. Thurs at 7:30 p.m.; Fri. at 8 p.m.; Sat. at 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun. at 2 & 7:30 p.m.
Straz Center, 813-229-STAR,

A perfect little jewel box of a musical, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder is as elegantly put together as its protagonist's plot to bump off the eight relatives standing between him and a vast fortune. Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak's 2014 Tony winner evokes a number of theatrical ancestors (think Gilbert & Sullivan crossed with Sondheim and a dash of Oscar Wilde) but it's something all to itself — a sui generis delight.

Inspired by the 1949 British film comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets, the action in Guide unfolds in high style within an artificial proscenium, suggesting a vaudeville or British panto stage. Each new, exquisitely detailed setting is revealed behind red stage draperies and augmented by clever use of projections — like a vertiginous-looking church spire that figures in the death of a tipsy cleric.

John Rapson plays that cleric — as well as all of the other doomed D'Ysquiths — with rambunctious verve and virtuosic comic invention. Each of his characterizations is at once hilarious and distinct, from pompous earl to tittering country squire, from monstrous grande dame to musclebound he-man.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Theater Review: Deathtrap: A Thriller in Two Acts

Posted By on Wed, Oct 21, 2015 at 12:17 PM

MURDER IN MIND: Brian Shea stars in Deathtrap. - DANIEL VEINTIMILLA
  • daniel veintimilla
  • MURDER IN MIND: Brian Shea stars in Deathtrap.

Ira Levin’s Deathtrap:  A Thriller in Two Acts
Rating: 3 1/2 stars out 5 
Runs through Oct. 25; Thurs., Fri. and Sat., 7:30 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m., at Ruth Eckerd Hall’s Murray Studio Theatre. $20.

It's been a killer year for Hat Trick Theatre. The company has begun its first run as the resident theater company of Ruth Eckerd Hall.

Not a fledgling company by any stretch, Hat Trick began in 2004 and has camped out at the Straz's Shimberg Playhouse and in Hudson before that, producing shows featuring some of the Tampa Bay area's best talent.

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Theater Review: Silence! The Musical

Laugh the fright away with Jobsite Theater's spoof of Silence of the Lambs.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 21, 2015 at 12:17 PM


Silence! The Musical
The Unauthorized Parody of The Silence of the Lambs
Review: 4 out of 5 stars
Runs through Nov. 15; 8 p.m. Thurs., Fri. and Sat., 4 p.m on Sun., Jaeb Theater at the Straz Center, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa;  $29.50 (discounts available);

Those suffering from Broadway retread fatigue — add exclamation point and stir! — may be pleasantly surprised that Jobsite Theater does much more than spruce up a mediocre script with its Halloween production of Silence! The Musical. The unauthorized parody of Jonathan Demme's 1991 chiller entertains from curtain to curtain call with clever jokes, outlandish sight gags and sassy song and dance.

The show's script is surprisingly well-crafted and surprisingly faithful to to the film adaptation of Thomas Harris’s novel — singing livestock and oversexed characters notwithstanding. The story, as most know, follows a novice FBI agent on the case of skin-grafting serial killer with the assistance of an incarcerated cannibal. Hunter Bell, co-author and co-star of  [title of show], wrote the book. Brothers Jon and Al Kaplan, who've collaborated with Lonely Island, penned the play's tunes, which made Entertainment Weekly's "Must List" in 2004. Local triple treat Alison Burns choreographs with dorky and Fosse-infused moves (jazz hands included).

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Theater Review: The Importance of Being Earnest With Zombies

Wilde Halloween fun with more laughs than gore.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 14, 2015 at 10:45 PM

PRANCING DEAD: Kelly Pekar and Maya Handa Naff star in The Importance of Being Earnest with Zombies. -  - ALLISON DAVIS PHOTOGRAPHY
  • PRANCING DEAD: Kelly Pekar and Maya Handa Naff star in The Importance of Being Earnest with Zombies.

The Importance of Being Earnest with Zombies
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
Runs through Nov. 1 at freeFall Theatre, 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; general admission is $33-$48 with discounts for students, teachers, seniors and military;

When offered a play called The Importance of Being Earnest with Zombies, most sentient humans will wonder: How prominent are the zombies? Well, wonder no longer: the freeFall Theatre adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece is at least 80 percent Wilde throughout its three acts, and the hordes of undead, when they do show up, never really distract us from the author’s satirical purposes. In fact, the zombie theme is so innocuous in Acts One and Two, it works mostly as an occasional in-joke, a cheerful salute to Halloween not much more serious (or frightening) than Lowry Park’s ZooBoo. Yes, we hear occasionally about “ambulators” and “corpse-hunters,” and yes, we eventually see some of the undead on stage. 

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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Theater Review: MMF at Silver Meteor

Ryan Bernier directs a contemporary play about a bizarre love triangle.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 8, 2015 at 9:11 AM

MULTI-LOVE: Neil Pepi, Johnny Garde and Brianna Larson star in MMF.
  • MULTI-LOVE: Neil Pepi, Johnny Garde and Brianna Larson star in MMF.

3 out of 5 stars
Runs through Oct. 19 at Silver Meteor Gallery,
8 p.m. Fridays-Mondays Oct. 9-12, 16-19; $15, $12 students and seniors;
2213 E. Sixth Ave., Ybor City, 813-300-3585.

As sexuality becomes more complex in these vertiginous times, there’s greater room for confusion than ever. Consider the relationships in MMF, David L. Kimple’s likable play currently showing at the Silver Meteor Gallery. Dean and Michael and Jane live together, sleep together, share meals, drinks and arguments. But maybe three is an unstable number: sometimes Michael only loves Jane but is in love with Dean; and sometimes Jane can’t make it work with Dean because of a mysterious encounter between Dean and Michael that nobody will articulate. Is satisfaction possible when your Lego parts fit both genders? Will this love trio have to give way to a duo?

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