Theater Review

Friday, May 3, 2013

War Horse at the Straz: It's magical

Posted by on Fri, May 3, 2013 at 1:47 PM

The amazing Joey.
  • Photos © Brinkhoff/Mögenburg
  • The amazing Joey.

There are many things that could turn people away from seeing War Horse. A play about a horse? Eh. A play about a horse that uses puppetry? Eek. A play about a horse that uses puppetry that is 145 minutes long? Oh, no.

But I am glad I didn’t let my preconceptions get in the way, and I’m sure the packed house of Tuesday night’s show at the Straz Center was glad to be there as well. The play, based on Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book of the same name, is about a boy, Albert, who loses his childhood horse, Joey, to British troops during WWI, and the great lengths he endures to get him back. The stage adaption, which was first shown at the Royal National Theater of London in 2007, commissioned the South African puppet company Handspring to make Joey and the rest of the horses come to life, and come to life they do. The three people who operate the horses, which are made of metal, wicker, and fabric, quickly disappear as we focus on what is seemingly a real live horse on stage. From the breathing to the fly-swatting tails, no details of the horses’ personalities are left untouched.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Elf the Musical gets the season started on a sugar high

Posted by on Fri, Nov 23, 2012 at 12:06 PM

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The movie Elf has become a modern classic Christmas movie. Mainly thanks to Will Ferrell’s goofy but charming portrayal of Buddy the Elf.

The Broadway musical tour production of Elf the Musical, inspired by the film, is up at the Straz Center’s Carol Morsani Hall this weekend, through Sun., Nov. 25.

I took my 8-year-old nephew, Mason Courtney, to see it this past Tuesday night. Just walking into the lobby got us excited for the holiday themed musical. Christmas trees twinkling; people wearing antlers and Santa hats; jars and jars of candy and treats. The anticipation of the upcoming holiday trumped the anxiety of the thought of last-minute present shopping.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

More Hyde, less Jekyll

Review of the Broadway tour of Jekyll & Hyde, now at Straz.

Posted by on Fri, Oct 26, 2012 at 7:34 PM

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The struggles of good and evil have been a steady theme in literature, film and theater since ... well, since the beginning of literature, film and theater.

And the most famous story of good and evil, that of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been revamped and redone countless times. The newest U.S. tour of the musical Jekyll & Hyde, at Straz center until Sun., Oct 28, stars American Idol alum Constantine Maroulis and R&B singer Deborah Cox, which I enjoyed watching at Wednesday night’s performance.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stageworks delves into the grotesque beauty of true love with Gruesome Playground Injuries

Gruesome Playground Injuries reveals the scars and healing power of love.

Posted by on Tue, Oct 25, 2011 at 11:44 AM

Erik Lurz and Betty-Jane Parks expose scarring emotions in Gruesome Playground Injuries
  • Photo by Midge Mamatas
  • Erik Lurz and Betty-Jane Parks expose scarring emotions in Gruesome Playground Injuries
The best horror movies of all time, like The Shining and The Exorcist, expose the beasties that invade our psyche, but the truly bedeviling monsters are even less overt. They make us alienate ourselves and lead us to become our own worst enemies — and hurtful to others. Gruesome Playground Injuries, currently in production at Stageworks, succeeds in churning out these inner demons as its two hopelessly flawed characters clumsily find redemption in the form of true love.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Skooling us with big laughs: Dear Aunt Gertrude's latest improv show

Posted by on Wed, Jun 29, 2011 at 6:57 PM

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For a third summer in a row, the Dear Aunt Gertrude Improv group has offered family-friendly improvisational fun at The Box, a studio theater located in the heart of Ybor City. This year's theme is "Summer Skool", and the team has created an atmosphere unlike any summer school program you could have wished to flunk into.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Theater Review: Rent at American Stage in the Park

Posted by on Mon, Apr 18, 2011 at 5:43 AM

Alison Burns (center) is a standout in American Stage in the Park's production of Rent.
  • Alison Burns (center) is a standout in American Stage in the Park's production of Rent.

I admire Rent more than I like it.

I admire Jonathan Larson’s idea of translating Puccini’s La Bohème into a turn-of-the-millennium New York rock opera, in which AIDS and not TB is the disease stalking everyone, and gays, lesbians and cross-dressers surround the central hetero relationship. I admire Eric Davis’ staging of the musical, which evokes the 1990s East Village just as persuasively as his work on Hair last year (also for American Stage in the Park) brought us a 1968 Big Apple, and I admire a lot of the acting in this fine production (which I saw in a preview), from Pete Zicky’s clever portrayal of Roger to Alison Burns’ spectacular work as Maureen. If these features — inspiration, direction, acting — were all that Rent offered, it would easily be a winner.

But this is an opera — 99 percent singing and 1 percent spoken dialogue. And the music of Rent is second-rate. Or worse. And it’s a chore to hear the lot of it.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Lesson Before Dying at Stageworks

Posted by on Tue, Apr 12, 2011 at 10:55 PM

B. Dexter Lewis and Tia Jemison.
  • B. Dexter Lewis and Tia Jemison.

I first saw A Lesson Before Dying in a top-notch production at Sarasota’s Florida Studio Theatre more than a decade ago, and my ultimate response was: Where’s the beef? After all, this was a show that promised to show us how an innocent black man, condemned to die in the electric chair, was taught by an impassioned schoolteacher how to bear his terrible fate. But there was no lesson in Lesson — it seemed to me that the promised epiphany never appeared, and that the attitudes conveyed to our falsely-convicted hero came to little more than “Keep your head up.” Fortunately, the acting was superb, so even if the script failed to deliver, the evening still offered some satisfactions.

Well, now I’ve seen Stageworks’ new version of Romulus Linney’s play – adapted from a novel by Ernest J. Gaines – and I’m sorry to say that it’s every bit as disappointing as its predecessor. Further, the acting in the Stageworks show (which I saw in a preview) is only occasionally persuasive, so there are moments in this experience when there’s very little to hold our attention. Fortunately,

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Theater Review: Sex and class rule in freeFall's Miss Julie

Posted by on Sat, Mar 26, 2011 at 10:02 AM

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Miss Julie (first produced in 1889) is an important play in the history of modern theater, one that demonstrated a thoroughgoing naturalism when such a thing was still controversial, and that also brought to the stage a daring degree of sexual candor. In its tale of a young aristocratic woman who lusts after her father’s valet, it gave author August Strindberg a chance to weigh in on class and gender conflicts, and to create two memorable characters as notable for their contradictions as for their consistencies.

The good news for local theatergoers is that the current freeFall Theatre version of Miss Julie is first-class in every way: acting, directing, set and costume design. The bad news is, the play itself can, to moderns, feel windy and overlong (even at 90 minutes), and the class issues especially can feel irrelevant to a contemporary American (we may be a plutocracy, but we’re not an aristocracy).

Still, the pluses outdo the minuses in this fine production, directed impeccably by Eric Davis. If you don’t mind the occasional longueurs, it’s worth your attention.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Theater Review: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at American Stage is vicious and vibrant

Posted by on Mon, Mar 21, 2011 at 3:19 PM

Christine Decker and Richard B. Watson as Martha and George
  • Christine Decker and Richard B. Watson as Martha and George

Several years ago, the Polish critic Jan Kott published a book called The Theatre of Essence, and ever since then that provocative title has affected how I think of a whole class of modern play. Waiting for Godot is a play of essence, I think — the tramps Didi and Gogo represent not real hobos but a modern spiritual inscape composed of doubt and longing, terror and confusion. A play like Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof also shows us the essential — in this case, pure id, animal desire, demanding, craving, shouting to be heard above the din made by the other beasts.

And after having seen the fine production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at American Stage, I’m convinced that this too belongs to the theater of essence – that its real subject is the madness that every good marriage represses, the hatred and rage and resentment that lurk somewhere south of consciousness and only surface, in most relationships, for the briefest of moments before the apologies start and “normal” functioning resumes.

If Virginia Woolf is a great play – and I think it is – then its greatness comes from its pitiless illumination of the evil beneath our best intentions, an evil which doesn’t cease to hunger for its moment. And instead of an embarrassing slip of the tongue — which is already more than most people render — George and Martha offer us three full, noisy acts of unrestrained malice. The resulting spectacle is gripping, enthralling and (nervously) very funny.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Theater review: Jobsite's excellent Yellowman is blisteringly honest theater

Posted by on Mon, Mar 14, 2011 at 11:42 AM

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Dael Orlandersmith’s Yellowman is a powerful, shocking, and finally poignant play about light-skinned and dark-skinned African Americans in South Carolina in the late 20th century. Following two in particular — dark-skinned Alma, played brilliantly by Fanni Green, and “high yella” Eugene, portrayed sensitively by the impressive Jim Wicker (who is himself white) — Orlandersmith shows us how prejudice within a small community can shatter lives, wreck futures, split families and define the whole world. Green and Wicker also play Alma and Eugene’s parents and schoolmates, and they’re so successful at doing so, you’ll walk out of the theater thinking you just saw not two but a dozen actors, each wonderfully talented and crushingly authentic.Yellowman was a Pulitzer Prize finalist nine years ago, and, in my estimation, it might easily have won. This is theater so honest it hurts — and if you’ve ever been the target of someone’s bigotry, or of your own self-doubt and loathing, it will speak to you eloquently. For reasons I can’t fathom, there were lots of empty seats on opening night at the Straz Center, so maybe I need to spread the word: this Jobsite Theater production is fascinating theater whatever your color, and so wrenching it’s cathartic. Catch it if you can.

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