Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Olney's outstanding 'Once' extended

Gregory Maheu, the "guy" and the ensemble of Once at Olney Theatre Center/Photo: Stan Barouh You can hear the music from the pictures.

It's a wonderful night (or day) at the theatre. They sing! They dance! They act! They play! 

You like music?  You're gonna love Once at the Olney Theatre Center and its common language which speaks throughout the world.
Malinda Kathleen Reese is "Girl" and Gregory Maheu is "Guy" in Once at Olney Theatre Center/Photo: Stan Barouh

The music starts before you enter the theatre when the troupe's music rings out in the entrance hall to welcome you and tease with the promise of a good time ahead.

How can things go wrong with such a dandy beginning?  What's a play, a novel, life, without a bit of contrast, some problems? It's all about ups and downs and taking advantage of every single day.

And isn't that what entertainment is all about?

John Sygar (Andrej), Carlos Castillo (Svec), Daven Ralston (Reza), Malinda Kathleen Reese (Girl), Somaya Litmon (Ivanka), and Emily Mikesell (Baruska) in Once at Olney Theatre Center/Photo: Stan Barouh

A "Guy" (Gregory Maheu) is down in the dumps in Dublin (or any city) suffering ill effects of unrequited love when suddenly (you never know what the day is going to bring), a "Girl" (Malina Kathleen Reese) appears.  She tries to drag him out of his slump from the dump in Dublin, and there they go!

A woman rescues the man!  (That they have no names means they are everybody.)

Mr. Maheu plays the guitar and Ms. Reese, the piano, and, like the rest of the cast, they sing and dance practically non-stop.

They've got talent!

Billy (Dave Stishan), one of my favorites who plays four instruments, is the virile shop owner, the "he-man" who takes guff from no one, including Guy who is a competitor for Girl, but she has no time for aggressors like Billy. 

In a post-show exchange with members of the audience, Baruška (Emily Mikesell) said one of the hardest demands on the actors is to sing while making music (she plays violin, ukulele, and accordion, but not at the same time), but the cast succeeds in making it look so easy.  

An actor's skill, no? 

At the audience session, actors credited voice and dialect coach Lynn Watson for their convincing Irish speech.

First a movie, then a play, Once's "Falling Shortly" received the 2007 Oscar for Best Original Song, and five years later, the production won eight Tonys

This band of strolling musicians  play banjos, accordion, piano, guitars, mandolins, electric bass, violins, cello, papoose (?), bodhran (?), ukulele, tambourine, melodica (?), castanets (?), and cajón (the instrument from Peru which looks like a box, acts like a box and sounds like a box when hit by fingers, hands and sticks).  

Except for the children, every actor plays at least one instrument in the show, and "Svec" (Carlos Castillo) plays six, and "Andrej" (John Sygar, the dance captain), five. (My notes say: "Buy the soundtrack" which is rarely found among my pages.)

As it should be, the set by Michael Schweikardt is simple and uncomplicated with colorful pieces of lumber hanging at angles for backdrop.  

The musicians sit in the shadows in a semi-circle while actors talkScenes change quickly with movements of the piano, a chair or two, a cajón.

Costumer Frank Labovitz looks like he pulled every outfit straight from heaps of dirty clothes lying in millennials' bedrooms. It's the times!

Some of the memorable lines from the show: "This day has such promise. Every day has promise!" "Life is good." "Wasting life because you are frightened of it is terrible!"  "Those who live in fear die miserably in their graves." (Yogi Berra's name is missing from the credits.)

Congrats to Olney's music director, Christopher Youstra (four instruments) who acts as emcee in the show.

Other members of the cast are Katie Chambers, Nick DePinto, Craig MacDonald, and Brian Reisman. Daven Ralston is Reza, a "hot mama."  

At alternate performances, Kyleigh Fuller and Somaya Litmon share the daughter role. Swings are Linda Bard and Ian Geers.

It is astonishing that one person, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, directed and choreographed the show.

No wonder Once been extended.  A great way to celebrate St. Paddy's Day!

Other members of the creative team are Colin K. Bills, lighting; Matt Rowe, sound; Karen Currie, production stage manager; and Josiane Jones, director of production.

Music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglova. Based on the movie by John Carney.

What: Once by Enda Walsh

Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832.

When: Extended through St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 2019, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. and a sign interpreted performance Thursday, February 28 at 8 p.m. 

Tickets: Begin at $42 with discounts for groups, seniors, military, and students

Ages: Olney rates Once as "R," appropriate for those age 16 and above. Adult language.

"Afterwords": After the matinees on March 2 and March 9

Duration: About two hours with one 15 minute intermission

Refreshments: Available and may be taken to seats

Parking: Free and plentiful on-site

For more information: 301-924-3400 for the box office or 301-924-4485.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Movie winners, losers, and Oscar predictions

Tomasz Kot in Cold War. He won't win an Oscar (especially since he's not nominated), but he wins my heart.  Please read below.

 In alphabetical order: 

 At Eternity's Gate about Vincent van Gogh is a movie only for the hardcore.  It has too many scenes of the painter reaching for the sky, for wheat stalks, and thrusting his hands and arms to catch raindrops.  Too much rain and too much filler. Yawn.

Yes, Willem Dafoe's performance definitely warrants his nomination for Best Actor, and he may win. The visuals and scenics could win for Best Cinematography (not nominated). I read that the award for Best Makeup was being discontinued or relegated to commercial breaks, but the makeup department (22 artists) and their outstanding work fashioning the cast into keen likenesses of the people Van Gogh painted, especially at Arles like Madame Ginoux and Joseph Roulin, must be applauded. I would hire them in a New York minute for my next film.

The film is almost a documentary.  
Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant/IMDB

Melissa McCarthy's Can You Ever Forgive Me? is almost as boring as the title with the best part, the performance by Richard E. Grant who has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor. I hope he wins.  There is no chance she'll win Best Actress.

Cold War...uh, uh, uh, uh. I ain't never experienced love like this!  Wowee. This is passionate stuff, but a critics' fancy, which, understandably, lasted about two days in D.C. theatres, totally unappealing to Clint Eastwood, Tom Wilson types, but a chick flick for arty-farties.  I dig Tomasz Kot. He's the man.

The Favourite, oh please.  The "Most Boring" is the title I put on it.  Go here for a most unfavourable review. (British only spelling, please.)

It was easy to predict that Green Book would receive 2019 Oscar nominations for Best Actor (Viggo Mortensen), Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), Best Original Screenplay (Brian Hayes Currie,

Peter Farrelly, and Nick Vallelonga), and Best Picture, and I thought it would earn one for Best Director (Peter Farrelly), too.
I don't know if it will win Best Picture. I don't think it is a "Best Picture."  I haven't seen all the nominees, but this does not quite match par.

It was a Christmas "feel-good" movie of which we could always use more, especially given the national climate since Santa came to town. Without the bad words, Green Book would be good family fare.

It's an excellent story, crafted from a real one starring a black classical pianist who is on a Southern tour in the early 1960s, chauffeured by a white boxer.
The old signs, cars, motels, apparel are fun to see.

Too much time (and repetition) is spent on aerials of the car driven on two-lane country roads.

Both subjects, the gentlemen in the movie, died in 2013.

Oh, dear, If Beale Street Could Talk was another big bore.  Loaded with too many pregnant pauses and needing a chopping block to cut about half of it.  Obligatory breasts, included, natch. 

The only good part was the families' fight scene which occurs early on, and it's downhill from there.  Try seeing this and reading American Prison by Shane Bauer at the same time to send you in a downward spiral.

Maria by Callas is a must for opera fans but even for this newbie faux fan, the first half includes too much music.  Huh?  It's about the diva Maria Callas, right?  I went hoping to learn more about her life.  

It does cause one to question anew: Why did Jacqueline Kennedy marry Aristotle Onassis? At the time, "everyone" said it was money. He didn't have the courtesy to give Maria the news, that he was marrying Jackie. Ms. Callas had to find out the worst way, via public notification. Onassis did return to her while he was married to Jackie, according to reports.

Maria Callas died at age 53, a victim of a heart attack. 

RBG is, without question, a slam dunk to win Best Documentary given its quality, the political climate and the absolute detest Hollywood feels for the occupant of the White House.  Highly recommended.

Shoplifters, oh, what a bore. What a merry-go-round of the same constant scenes.  Please! For earlier review, go here.

Stan and Ollie is a pleasant time, another good one for nursing homes. Without checking, I would wager that most of it is based on fact. A "sweet" film.

Tea With Dames is excellent documentary fare, again for the diehard film fan whose stars are the  quartet of bevies, the crème de la crème of actors: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Eileen Atkin, and Joan Plowright.

No script was necessary as they are of the age when they speak their minds.  What do they have to hide?

Widows, yes!  I loved it. For an earlier review, go here.

Mr. Rogers' movie, Won't You Be My Neighbor?  was nice and sweet like he was. It's not a surprise it was not nominated for Best Whatever given it is a bit of a bore, but I know most liked it and it hung around a while, a great sign for revenue. Zzzzzzzzz.  Good for nursing homes, if occupants can stay awake. It lacked much about his younger life.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Folger's fab 'Nell Gwynn' is delightful fare

 Alison Luff is Nell Gwynn at Folger Theatre whose hat is bigger than your hat/Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography

Sex, tarts, and miscellany! 

So much of it is true.  The whole thing is a delight, I dare say. 

We have to thank King Charles II (1630-1685) for restoring theatre and fun, post-Puritans, to England. Had playwright Jessica Swale included all 13 of his mistresses in her play, we'd still be watching them at the theatre. 

As it was, she only included three, 'twas enough and spirited they are!
Alison Luff is Nell Gwynn and Quinn Franzen is Charles Hart in Folger Theatre's Nell Gwynn/Photo by Brittany Diliberto, Bee Two Sweet Photography
The king's wife, Queen Catherine (1638-1705) (Zoe Speas in the role and a musician in the show) stayed married to him 'til death did them part, but that's another story to be told anon. She is the angry woman in black, although in real life (Wikipedia), she comes across as rather mousy. Nevertheless, her witchiness (portrayed in Nell) is quite understandable, given that she had many competitors (a practice, I understand, which still continues to this day). 
Peter Lely (1618-1680), Catherine of Braganza, Queen of England, c. 1665/

R. J. Foster is the haughty king who does not overplay his role.
John Michael Wright (1617-1694), Portrait of Charles II in Garter Robes, National Portrait Gallery, London/Wikimedia Commons

Nell Gwynn, the play, is about Nell Gwynn (1650-1687), the actress (!) who is Alison Luff at Folger's, star of the king's stage and at the Folger, too.  

And what bloomin' buffoonery it all is!
At the Folger (the East Cost premiere) and in real life, Ms. Gwynn did have an amour, Charles Hart, acted by the dashing Quinn Franzen, who does his squiring duties with Ms. Nell quite handsomely and gets her to the stage on time.

It doesn't take long for Thomas Killigrew (Nigel Gore) theatre manager and actor's broker, to succumb to the marvelous abilities of Ms. Gwynn and put her up in the "lights" (had there been any  then).  

She's got talent!

An experienced actor, the most dynamic Mr. Christopher Dinolfo,  is Edward Kynaston, the female substitute in the theatre before King Charles II pardoned the women and let them act, too.  The nerve of it all!   Women acting as women! 

Mr. Dinolfo was on stage far too short a timeHe lost his parts.

The heartiest laughs sprang from the appearances by Catherine Flye, who has earned 13 (matching the king's mistress counts)  Helen Hayes Award nominations, winning one. She has dual Folger roles as Nancy, a lady-in-waiting of sorts, and, briefly, as Nell's mom.

Her lines and mannerisms produce gales of glee, her roles crying for smiles all around as soon as the audience gets used to her antics and one-liners. (It didn't take long to realize she was the constant comic.)

A "tenured" mistress, Lady Castlemaine (Regina Aquino who plays dual roles) has her charms ripped asunder by new women on the block, including the prissy French token, Louise de Kéroualle (also Ms. Aquino) who exudes hilarity the short time she sashays down the promenade in regal "Frenchiness."

Because the audience is busy keeping up with the quick dialogue and fast scene changes, the excellent costuming by Mariah Anzaldo Hale does not receive the sufficient attention the designs warrant. They indeed help make the show and are breathtaking, under closer scrutiny by audience members who sit in proximity near the aisle where actors parade up and down.

Tony Cisek, set designer, hangs rich, red velvety drapes on either side of the stage which close and open and define the backdrop for some scenes which shift from front stage to back stage and back again with characters moving fore and aft.  (You have to be there.) 

The last ear count heard strolling musicians on banjos, guitars, mandolins, accordion, triangle, cello, and (I think) keyboard, all who added pleasant depth without dominating. I can't image the show without this music and applaud the composer, Kim Sherman.

Go and enjoy! You won't be the worse for it, but, like me, laughing lots more! I can't wait to see Ms. Swale's film version of Nell, now on the writing block.

Other members of the cast are Caitlin Cisco as Rose Gwynn, Nell's sister;
Kevin Collins, musician; Michael Glenn, John Dryden, playwright who rapidly scribbled down lines for Nell Gwynn and was named poet laureate by the king.

Also, Jeff Keogh, Lord Arlington, the king's secretary of state; Alex Michell, who starts and ends the play theatrically.

Directing is Robert Richmond, who is also the chair and director of the University of South Carolina's department of theatre and dance.

Other members of the creative team are Andrew F. Griffin, lighting; Matt Otto, sound; Diane Healy, production stage manager; Jessica Short, assistant stage manager; Michele Osherow, resident dramaturg, Janet Alexander Griffin, artistic producer; and Beth Emelson, associate artistic producer

What: Nell Gwynn by Jessica Swale

When: Now through March 10, 2019

Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol Street, S. E. Washington, D.C. 20003

Tickets: Buy online, by phone (202-544-7077), or at the box office. Tickets start at $42 with discounts for groups, persons under age 30, students, seniors, educators, members and family of the military.

Open-captioned performances: Sunday, March 3, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., sponsored by Vinton and Sigrid Cerf

Free Folger Friday, March 1, 6 p.m. Before Nell Gwynn at 8 p.m., scholar Deborah Payne and actors will speak and share excerpts from the long-lost manuscript, The Country Gentleman, found in the Folger archives in 1973.
Metro station: Capitol South or Union Station

For more information: 202-544-4600 or