Horace Vandergelder is in need of a wife, someone to run his house with order, comfort and economy.  It’s woman’s work, but she won’t do it well if she is merely being paid for it. “Marriage is a bribe to make a housekeeper think she’s a householder.”  And thus begins one of the best known stories on the stage: Thornton Wilder’s The Matchmaker, that wonderful play about a meddling self-proclaimed matchmaker named Dolly Gallagher Levi.  The story itself actually dates all the way back to Roman times, but these days you may best recognize it in its musical form, Hello, Dolly!

While searching for a wife for Horace, Dolly Levi sets her own sights on the gentleman and proceeds to turn his life upside down in her attempt to make him see just how right they are for each other.  We meet so many unforgettable characters, including Barnaby Tucker, Cornelius Hackl, Irene Malloy and Minnie Fay, spend a day of adventure with them in New York.  Mistaken identities, secret meetings, distraught lovers and even an eccentric aunt ensure that everyone will find something to chuckle about in this classic piece of theatre.

Saturday evening I had the opportunity to see the GreenMan Theatre Troupe perform this old standard.  The GreenMan Theatre Troupe performs at the First United Methodist Church in Elmhurst and as such they need to keep their set and tech relatively low-key.  Sometimes this works well, sometimes it doesn’t.  In this case, I was very impressed with the opening set for scene one.  Warm colors, period appropriate furnishings, minimal but effective.  The only complaint I had was the frame holding the money was far too prominent and far too modern.  It distracted me and didn’t blend with the rest of the set.  However, throughout the show I was generally impressed with the use of the space and the use of triangular flats as the backdrop for each scene.

I was also impressed by most of the women’s hairstyles, especially Dolly’s.  I couldn’t find who to congratulate for hair and makeup in the program, but I know those hairstyles are not easy to replicate well and they deserve a bit of recognition.  Costuming was also done effectively (Benjamin Vargas), as well as Lighting (Jim Ocasek) and Sound (Rob Rebecchi).

Several performances were well worth individual mentions.  Dolly Levi (Mary Pavia) commands the stage each time she enters and brings a lot of interest in her wake.  I felt Pavia had the best developed character of the evening and enjoyed her energy throughout the production.  Another bright star was Irene Malloy (Elizabeth Owlsey), who brought a lovely grace to each scene she was in.  I also enjoyed the role of Malachi Stack (Stan Kosek).  Stack was easy and natural with a charisma that helped draw out his character.

Of course, there are always a few things I would have done differently.  While one can’t deny that there is a tremendous bit of energy on stage from all of the actors, I can’t help but point out (once again) that over-acting doesn’t equal energy.  And there was really quite a bit of over-acting happening.  The key (well, one of the keys, anyway) to believable acting is to not emphasize every. single. word.  Too often we, as actors, get overwhelmed with figuring out what is the intent of each line and suddenly we want to make each syllable important.  A writer may very well believe every word he has written is important, and we should strive to make sure we say each line precisely how he wrote it.  However, in real life we don’t emphasize every sentence.  We pull back when we are unsure of what we’re saying, we take time to construct our next thought, we rush ahead when we get excited.  We have levels.  I didn’t feel very many levels Saturday evening.  I wanted more time for Irene and Cornelius to explore their initial attraction, less time for Stack and the cab man to banter, more thought in Horace’s address to the audience, less drama in Miss Van Huysen’s eccentricities.  Just because Dolly and all of her cohorts have passed into legendary status doesn’t mean we should play them any less real.  I felt the script lost some of its quirky authenticity because the characters became far too one-dimensional.  There was room for more emotional exploration than in just Dolly’s touching scene near the end.

Overall, this was a well-rehearsed and energetic performance of a very funny script that the audience seemed to really enjoy.  It’s a bit of fun and great to see the original play such an iconic musical was based on.  It could use some tweeking and more character development, but I think you will enjoy the script and enthusiasm this theatre company exudes.

The Matchmaker is presented by the GreenMan Theatre Troupe in downtown Elmhurst and runs through May 6, 2012.  For more information and tickets, visit their website here.

Why, hello there, my wonderful theatre friends!!  It seems like ages since I last had the opportunity to write for you!  I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and that your 2012 is off to a dramatic start.  As you’ve seen from previous posts, my 2012 has been rather busy so far, but what an incredible journey.  Thank you to all those out there who came to see Bad Seed.  It was an amazing experience for me and I’m very proud of the production we did.  Thank you as well to the entire cast and crew…what a wonderful group of people you are!  I can’t wait to work with each and everyone of you again!

Now to answer the question I’ve been asked many, many times in the last few months:  Amy, when are you going to start reviewing again?!?  Well, now.  I’m going to have to limit the number of shows I can get to for the next couple of months because I still have a rather hectic schedule to follow, but I’ve missed all of you and your fabulous productions.  So if you have a show coming up and want a review, please don’t hesitate to ask.  I can’t wait to see everyone!

And that brings me to my first review of 2012.  Saturday evening I had the opportunity to see The Cripple of Inishmaan by Martin McDonagh over at the Albright Theatre in Batavia.  Set in 1934 Ireland, McDonagh’s dark comedy about a crippled teenager trying to escape his small island existence has earned critical acclaim throughout the international theatre community.  This is a wonderfully written script that uses Irish banality to its full effect.  Its colorful characters and dry humor are trademarks of the Irish and McDonagh brings them to life in a way that you’re not likely to forget any time soon.  Overall, I felt that JP Quirk and his talented cast did a great job with this show.  It is definitely one of my top two favorite productions that the Albright has done in the last couple of years.

The first characters we meet are Eileen (Marge Uhlarik-Boller) and Kate (Maureen Morley) Osbourne, the two sisters who have raised Cripple Billy since his parents drowned when he was a baby.  Immediately these two ladies had the audience laughing.  While I would like to see the pace picked up a bit, Uhlarik-Boller’s and Morley’s pauses and reflections gave us time to acclimate to the Irish brogue. The two sisters are clearly quite fond of Billy and in their way want what is best for him.  I thoroughly enjoyed both of these portrayals and the chemistry Uhlarik-Boller and Morley had together was evident.  They played off each other beautifully and were fun to watch and get to know.

I also want to point out Aidan Descourouez as Billy Claven.   Descourouez developed the character of Cripple Billy quite thoroughly and kept him believable throughout the play.  It could have been very easy to slip into a caricature Irish stereotype, but he didn’t.  And I loved the physicality of his character, too.  Not mention Descourouez had just about the best Irish brogue of the whole cast.  Very well done, sir.

Honestly, I felt the entire cast did a wonderful job.  My only casting complaint is that Helen and Bartley were cast too young.  Bartley (Johnny Hohman) did a fine job, given the complexity of the role and his youth, however the character is actually meant to be 17/18 years old.  Much of the dialogue just doesn’t click correctly when it’s a 10 or 11 year old playing it.  In fact, much of the humor of the script was lost because he was too young to play on the ridiculousness of his character.  A 10 year old falling in a hole is kind of funny, but also really kind of typical.  A 17 year old doing that is pretty daft and thick.  And while a couple of years doesn’t seem like a huge deal, the difference between a 15 year old girl and an 18 year old girl (especially in the 30’s) is actually quite significant.  It’s disturbing to hear of a 15 year old requiring kisses from a grown man who was married for many years.  An 18 year old isn’t jail bait and is just testing her limits as a new adult.

As I said, overall this is an excellent production.  However, there are a few things that could be tweaked.  Pacing was a bit hit or miss.  While I appreciated the time to understand the brogue, there were too many pauses and much of the dialogue could have been sped up.  It’s a complex show, but that doesn’t mean it should be slow.  In fact, I would argue that the humor in it requires a faster pace to continuously take you by surprise.

I also think the director missed the mark on the interpretation of the humor.  British/Irish humor is very dry, as we all know.  The distinguishing characteristic of Irish humor is that it is very self-deprecating, but not in an angry way.  It should be done in a very resigned sort of way.  And every punch line should be delivered almost as a “throw-away” line.  When an Irishman is talking to you, often it may be a sentence or two later that you realize what he said and just how funny it is.   Too often I felt like the cast was over-emphasizing to make sure the audience understood there was a joke.  Doing that takes away from the authenticity of the script and discredits the audience’s intelligence to understand it.  Or the lines were delivered in such an angry, loud way that they lost their humor altogether, which was often the case with Helen.

On the technical side of things, I was very impressed with the set and the use of space on the stage.  I loved the split-away shelves, though if I’m to be super picky (I mean really, really picky) no Irish shop in the 1930’s would have industrial sized cans of Skippy peanut butter nor would they have Quaker Oats.  I moved to London in 2001.  Until about 2006, I had to haul both kids and the pushchair all the way down to Harrod’s via public transport to find even the smallest jar of Skippy.  Peanut butter just wouldn’t have been there at all, let alone an American staple like Skippy.  And the Irish are far too proud and loyal to their own steel-cut oats to have the likes of Quaker oats on their shelves.  Like I said, picky, but immediately distracted me from suspending belief while I then tried to figure out what else was on the shelves that shouldn’t be.

Again, this is an outstanding script and The Albright Theatre has done a great job bringing it to life.  I highly recommend getting out to Batavia to see it, especially if you are a McDonagh fan.  There’s only one weekend left, so get your tickets now.  You won’t be sorry you saw it.

The Cripple of Inishmaan is presented by The Albright Theatre in downtown Batavia and runs through March 17, 2012.  For tickets and more information, visit their website here.

Obviously I can’t actually write a review of this show, but I do want to ask all of you to come out this weekend to see it.  I can tell you I am extraordinarily proud of the work we have done with this show and the feedback we’ve been hearing has been very, very positive.  Don’t believe me?  Well, one of my fellow reviewers managed to come see it opening weekend and had some great things to say about it.  You can read Joe Stead’s review here.

Another audience member who saw last Sunday’s performance wrote an email saying:

What a wonderfully professional and engaging performance! The set decorations, props, costumes and cast were spot on! Simply stated, a group of amazingly talented individuals. As the curtain was raised, the extremely detailed, visually pleasing and accurate stage setting “pulled in” the audience. The performers captivated the audience. The delivery of lines, facial expressions, body language and rapport with the audience was fabulous.
As my family volunteers, utilizes classes and regularly contributes financially to the Metropolis Performing Arts in Arlington Heights, I was excited to experience another theatre’s drama program. Suffice to say the Wheaton Drama ensemble (stage, crew, cast, etc.) was impressive. What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
I would highly recommend this show!
Thank you for a wonderful day! I look forward to attending future productions by Wheaton Drama.

Sadly, it’s not a show that sells itself very well.  It’s a thriller…in the middle of winter, and I’m afraid many people just don’t think it will appeal to them.  Please come give it a go anyway?  I can’t tell you how many people have told me how much they loved it and how surprised they were that they did.  I really think it a good production that deserves your support.

There are only four chances left!!  Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8pm, with Sunday at 3pm.  Tickets are discounted on Thursdays and are only $13!!!  Friday through Sunday tickets are $16.

For more info and to order your tickets now, go to the WDI website here.

Thank you!!!

I said a while ago that I was taking a break.  Well, this is the main reason why!!  I was cast in my first lead as Christine Penmark in Bad Seed.  It’s been such a journey and process for me, but tonight is opening night and I think we have a show to be proud of!!  I would like to invite all of you out to Wheaton Drama to see it. 

Adapted by Maxwell Anderson from the novel by William March, Bad Seed takes place in a small southern town in the late spring of 1955. The Penmarks appear to be the perfect family. Gracious Christine is loving wife to handsome Kenneth and is a devoted mother to sweet Rhoda. Neighbors Monica and Emory are charmed by the family, but others have concerns about Rhoda. Could this delightful little girl have a darker side? 
The Bad Seed cast is: Anthony Berg of Addison as Emory Wages; Marea Berkley Clement of Aurora as Mrs. Daigle; Pat Daly of Naperville as Mr. Daigle; Cesar Gonzales of Glendale Heights as Kenneth Penmark; Rod Kelly of Lombard as Reginald Tasker; Hannah Klose of Naperville as Rhoda Penmark; Kristin K. Morris of Chicago as Monica Breedlove; Jennifer Myers of Glen Ellyn as Miss Fern; Amy Royle of Downers Grove as Christine Penmark; Jack Smith of Bloomingdale as Leroy; Jim Van de Velde of Villa Park as Richard Bravo.
Jeni Dees (South Elgin) is directing, assisted by Jo-Ann Ledger (Bolingbrook). Ben Aylesworth (Bolingbrook) is the production manager and master carpenter. Bruce Ebner (Batavia) is the stage manager, and Amy Johnson (Lombard) is the assistant stage manager.
Additional production staff include: Tracy L. Adams (properties); Dave Amato (sound design); Ken Beach (production photography); Traci A. Cidlik (graphic design); Jeni Dees (hair and make-up); Mary Engle and Berni Raymond (set decoration); Craig Gustafson (Starboard design); Susan Hajny (costume design); Melissa Heischberg (website); Jo-Ann Ledger (publicity); Steven Merkel (publicity photography and gun wrangler); Rebecca Poole (tickets); Kate Quan (programme); Steve Schroeder (front of house); Jim Van de Velde (lighting design).
For full crew lists, special acknowledgements and ticket information,  please visit the Bad Seed page at http://www.wheatondrama.org.
Performances of Bad Seed are January 27 through February 19. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $13 each for Thursdays, $16 each Fridays – Sundays. Bad Seed is licensed by Dramatists Play Service, Inc.

Taking a Break…

Posted: November 19, 2011 in Random thoughts, Update

As I just said in my review of No Exit, I find myself apologizing again for a very tardy review.  I don’t like putting reviews up so long after seeing a show and I don’t think it’s fair to the theatre either.  However, life seems to be constantly getting in my way these days.  There just isn’t enough time to get everything done and with the Holidays now approaching, I fear it will only get worse.

Therefore, I am officially taking a break from reviewing.  I hope to come back to it towards the end of February, but right now I have far too much on my plate.

Thank you to everyone for your support up to this point.  I can’t even begin to describe how much I have enjoyed getting to see so many wonderful people and performances in the last 2 years.  I look forward to seeing more of you all in the New Year.

Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.  May you have brilliant productions and full houses!!



What is Hell?  The Old Testament talks of fire and brimstone.  The Greeks considered Hades a cold dreary place for the dead.  The Mayans had nine levels ruled by demons.  Dante’s Inferno speaks of the nine circles and Satan.  For Buddhists it is a temporary, albeit lengthy, stay.  For Christians, it is eternal.  For the Baha’i Faith it is a remoteness from God.  And according to at least one foursquare subscriber it is a cubicle in an office building on 22nd Street in Lombard.

In Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1944 classic, No Exit, “Hell is other people”.  There may be redemption, there may not be, but each of the other people in the room will torment you in some way.  They will come to know your sins, they will be the ones to pass judgement on you and they will be the ones to continuously re-open the wounds of your conscience.  While an intriguing concept, and one that I’ve thought a lot about after seeing the show, the script is not the best.  Translations are hard to begin with and while I believe this is the standard one (Paul Bowles) it doesn’t flow as well as I’d like and I think there are quite a few nuances lost.  However, even with that, Sartre’s existentialism comes out strongly and leaves the audience pondering several questions about the hereafter.

I saw the Albright Theatre’s production a couple of weeks ago and I am just now able to find time to write.  Sadly this production closes this evening, so if you are wanting to see it, go right now.  Get out to Batavia for the final performance and then come back to read this review later.  I am again finding myself in the position of apologizing for the tardiness of this review, but I will discuss that a bit more in another post.

I’m going to keep this fairly short and sweet.  While I enjoyed the show and found myself thinking quite a bit about the interpretation of Hell, there were a few things about the production I wasn’t convinced by.  Inez (Erica Paszkowski) was a strong character and well defined, however I would have liked to see a less obvious choice made in the portrayal of the “angry lesbian”.  Costuming was too severe and too stereotypical.  I think a softer touch to Inez would have made her all the more torturous as a personality.

Cradeau (Frank Warpeha) thinks he is a man’s man: he enjoys his love conquests, terrorizing his wife, and appearing to risk his life for his profession.  He is in reality a coward.  Warpeha did a good job of showing his macho side, it was his more vulnerable side that I wanted a better glimpse at.  More insight into the internal struggle he was fighting, not just the external symptoms of it.

Estelle (Lisa Savegnago) is the well-to-do society lady who married for money and decided to take a younger lover to make herself happy.  Always gorgeous and a definite presence on stage, Savengnago was the strongest actor of the evening.  Her choices were more real and the performance slightly more polished.  However, I did feel that she played the role too young.  For me, it would have worked better if she was more snobbish, proper, and reserved in her portrayal.

No Exit also suffered a bit from the lack of a crescendo.  Bursts of anger came from nowhere and felt as though the director told the actors to “be angry now”.  The characters were far too comfortable too quickly with each other when introduced in the room as well.  More suspicion was needed.  More discomfort.  Gradually we needed to build to the point of realization that “Hell is other people” and that ultimately we are responsible for our own eternity.  By the time we came to the climax in the second act, the tension and anger had stayed at one level for too long for the audience to fully appreciate the struggle of the decision.

Overall, it’s a well-rehearsed, polished production that I hope has had a great run.  I loved the philosophical questions and enjoyed thinking about the consequences each person now has to “live” with.  And if you can still make it this evening, go support a great theatre company.

No Exit is presented by the Albright Theatre in downtown Batavia and runs through November 19.  Tickets and information can be found on their website here.

Charlie is an aspiring actor doing what is expected of all aspiring actors: he waits tables in various restaurants around Manhattan. In Eat You Heart Out, we take the journey with him from the drought of opportunities to the role of a lifetime.

Saturday evening of opening weekend for the Albright Theatre’s latest production was sparsely attended, which is really too bad. This is a great company and I would really like to see their houses a bit more full. As it was, though, the audience that was there seemed to thoroughly enjoy their evening. I also want to mention that I liked the recent addition of the light booth/concession stand/box office they have built. It was something they needed and I think they’ve done it well.

Eat Your Heart Out opens with Charlie (JP Quirk) preparing the tables at the first restaurant in which we see him working. Quirk looks the part and has an easy manner about him. Unfortunately he speaks a little too fast and was rushing many of his lines. He’s a good actor with some great instincts, but occasionally missed the nuances and comedy of a line due to his rapid delivery. I wanted him to take more time to think about what he was saying and make it more real to himself. There were some moments he could have made great if he’d taken the time to think, and show us his thinking, before reciting the lines.

The Girls were portrayed by Anika Bryceson. Very pretty and fantastic looking on stage, Bryceson was the picture of innocence…maybe even a little too innocent. I wanted more sexual tension between her first character and Charlie, not just shy awkwardness, especially in the opening scene. There needed to be more pull between them to establish the emotional conflict in the plot. There’s not a lot to the overarching story and the attraction between them needed to be stronger to make the plot believable.

Taryn Hettlinger Parise played The Women. She was funny and endearing in each reincarnation. It takes a very talented actor to distinguish each individual role and keep them interesting. Once again, I felt there were some nuances to the script missing, but overall I thought she did a great job.

Tony Parise and Terrell Riggins also played multiple roles as The Men and The Boys, respectively. I thought both did a fine job. If I were to make any suggestions to them, though, it would be to work on the subtlety of their deliveries. The Albright is a small space and doesn’t need too much “big” acting to get the point across. I think they could both pull back a bit and still be very effective in their roles.

I have to say, though, my favorite person of the evening was Aidan Descourouez as The Bus Boy. Silent throughout, he had great facial expressions and body language. I saw more thought in his mute portrayal than I saw in several of the more seasoned actors. And while it may have gone on just a little too long, his dance sequence was great fun and broke up the action just enough for the break the audience needed at that point.

On the tech side of things, it was pretty straight forward. There was a one point where the backstage folks seemed to be making too much noise and I was wondering what was going on, when I suddenly realized they were meant to be the background din! While I appreciated the authenticity of the sound, it wasn’t quite enough to be “din” and therefore not recognizable as a sound effect. There needs to be more of it and more constant to be truly effective.

Set design was very minimal, which normally I like. However, in this case, I would have liked to see more shift between the restaurants than just the table clothes. Perhaps some paintings or photos that could be flipped around. Or restaurant names that could be easily changed. It wasn’t hard to follow the changes as they were, but the clothes didn’t give me enough recognition of the each scene to remember what had transpired in that restaurant previously. I needed more visual cues.

For me, the number one thing I wanted to change, though, was the overall timing of delivery. Quirk was not the only person to rush his lines. At several point I wanted to stop everyone on stage to tell them to slow down and breathe. And not just breathe, but to think about what they were saying. Enunciation was lost, punch lines glossed over, laughs stepped on because it felt as though everyone was racing to the end. It also meant there was no emotional build, as I mentioned earlier. The entire play stayed at one emotional level, regardless of whether we were happy about a prospective role or frustrated over not providing for our family.

Eat Your Heart Out is an entertaining show with lots of laughs for everyone, especially those of us who know what waiting tables while hoping for our big break is like! There are so many things we can relate to, and so many things that are funny because they’re true. The Albright is doing a fine job of this show, there just some things they could be doing to make it great. Get out there to Batavia and see it. It’s a great group of people to support.

Eat Your Heart Out is presentedby The Albright Theatre in downtown Batavia and runs through September 24, 2011. For tickets and information go to their website here.