Reno Little Theater, providing a wide arrange of productions and performances this season, has secured itself as the authority on executing theatrical farces. With earlier success such as Cash on Delivery and Noises Off, RLT has a panache for the ridiculous antics inherent in a farce. It therefore did not surprise me that RLT picked Lend Me a Tenor by Ken Ludwig – pegged as America’s greatest farce – to rein in the spring.
Lend Me a Tenor takes place in Cleveland, OH, at some point in the past, where high-strung and severely under-medicated Saunders and mousy, bashful, tenor-wannabe, Max eagerly await the arrival of internationally famed opera singer, Tito Morrelli, slated to perform in King Lear that evening. What ensues is a whirlwind of comedic chaos filled with Italians loudly fighting, Phenobarbital overdose, mistaken identities, and clandestine sexual escapades.
As always, RLT crafts a magnificent set for the world of Ludwig’s farce. Audiences see a cross-section of a suite room from Cleveland’s Best Hotel filled with picturesque paintings of European city facades and a plethora of doors, primed for quick entrances and exits. The cast of Lend Me a Tenor do quite a phenomenal job of tapping into the comedic energy necessary to produce a farce with any degree of success. The first act peaked a little too early, energy-wise, which can make watching a farce exhausting after a while. However, the cast certainly found their groove and pacing with the second act. Comedy relies heavily on timing and intonations, and the cast – aside from a few stumbling of lines – bravely and efficaciously creates a humorous jaunt into the world of opera, a feat due, in part, to Doug A. Mishler’s strong connection to all things farcical in nature. There were many strong performances in the piece. Mark B. Robbins, as our unexpected hero, is the glue that holds the entire performance together. Robbins brilliantly transitions from grounded resolve to panicked histrionics with seamless ease. It was a delight to see such commitment of character and strong presence in each and every scene. The onstage chemistry between Maria and Tito Morrelli, portrayed by Debra Lynn Hull and David Houry, was a theatrical delight and a nostalgic trip to the past, as I fondly remembered my own Italian grandparents fighting with the same fervor. James Miller channels the agitation of Danny Devito effectively, and shines as the generally disgruntled Saunders. I would have appreciated a bit more diversity of disgruntled-ness from Miller in the first act – echoing my earlier sentiments of peaking early – but felt he came into his own during the second act. The cast is rounded out with a fabulously colorful and quirky array of characters including a hypersexual Opera diva – Tinna Ostrom -, an undersexed wanderlust – Rachel Sliker -, an over-zealous bellhop – Drew Shafer -, and a hilariously pushy board member – Diane Dye Hansen.
My main criticism of the piece comes not from the direction or choice of casting but instead the piece itself. This is now the 3rd farce that RLT has produced in recent memory. Farces are indeed funny but often rely on the same kitschy antics to cajole laughs from audiences, including: slamming doors, misinterpreted dialogue, elaborate plans gone awry, and organized chaos. There is a satisfaction audiences receive from seeing a farce performed effectively. However, I think that Lend Me a Tenor pales in comparison to their earlier farcical works, especially Noises Off. Lend me a Tenor is amusing and enjoyable to watch, but I found the humor to be a bit outdated, predictable, and generic. Lend me a Tenor was a safe choice for RLT, and that is not inherently bad for the theater company. Not every production can be a groundbreaking, fringe, avant-garde performance that explores the deeper meaning of life. Lend me a Tenor accomplishes the goal of allowing audience members to escape from the perils and ills of real world and lose themselves in the whimsical fantasy of comedy, opera, and Ohio.
With that in mind, I give Lend me a Tenor – currently running at Reno Little Theater through April 19th – 3 ENCORES out of 5. An entertaining, effectively acted out farce that audiences of all ages can find humor and hilarity in.
The Memory Card is the second – with Game Show Show being its first – piece of all-original works slated for the season at Good Luck Macbeth Theater. I applaud and celebrate Good Luck Macbeth’s pioneering efforts to provide nuanced productions to the Reno theater community. It’s a rarity to walk into a performance with no preconceived notions or past memories to jade the experience that is to come. Memory guides our perception and often serves a roadmap to interpret new situations. Memory has the debilitating effect of keeping us entrenched in the past and paralyzing us from future opportunities. Memory also has the ability to inform our present decisions to generate a new and different outcome. The exploration of memory is a recurring theme in The Memory Card. In video games, when we die, we return to a previous “checkpoints” and try again, utilizing our past experiences to shape a different future. Other times, we save certain checkpoints for the nostalgic bliss it brings us, to know, no matter how far in life and in our journey we have traveled, we have these seemingly perfect moments to revisit.
The Memory Card – written by Kevin Fredericks, Clark Harrelll, and Chad Sweet – is a collaborative effort between Good Luck Macbeth and the Reno Video Game Symphony that from start to finish attempts to create a nostalgic atmosphere of video games. Walking into the theater, audience members receive a playbill designed to simulate early video game manuals. There is an old-school Playstation setup with Bubsy 3D – an important plot point to take heed of – and the transition music, designed by Fredericks, works to transport audience members into the world of video games.
Seraphine, an avid gamer under the name Fireball, suffers from epilepsy, a condition that mares her ability to connect with the “real” world and at times hinders her ability to develop strong relationships with people in her life, especially her mother, who spends much time stressing over hospital bills and insurance. She finds friendship with Nurse Riza, the nurse at Sera’s school, as they gush and obsess over video games, namely Zelda; Majora’s Mask. One day, while playing, Sera is transported to the mystical world of Paramesia; a digital landscape responsible for creating, processing, and storing video game data from the surface world. Sera’s arrival in Paramesia begins a cataclysmic chain reaction of events that threatens to destroy the very fabric of Paramesia. Sera meets a number of quirky denizens in including Chubulu – the keeper of the Omega conduit responsible for storing memory – Faxanadu – the keeper of the Alpha conduit responsible for processing current data from the surface – and Baal 2 – the keeper of the Beta conduit responsible for creating the limitless possibilities of the video game world. Sera must uncover the truth about her arrival, a mystery that could be possibly solved by another human living in the realm, Steve. If Sera does not, the entire world of Paramesia could crumble into oblivion.
The acting and colorful cast of characters truly bring this raw script to life. Paige Nelson excels as leading heroine, Seraphine. Nelson tackles the challenge head on and taps into some truly wonderful emotions. Some of my favorite parts of the show were her interactions with Nurse Riza/Chubulu – played by the brilliant Emilie Mardock. Their gushing love for video games and each other brought a true authenticity to the fantastical world of Memory Card. Unsure if it is a matter of script or direction, but I would have liked to see more of an inner strength from Sera as she moves through the story. She is a young girl grappling with the reality of epilepsy and who finds solace in video games. I would have liked to see more internal struggle and change within her character arc from her as she progressed through Paramesia. Derek Miller brought the house to fits of laughter with this spastic portrayal of Faxanadu, who reminded me of the comedic lovechild of Kramer from Seinfield and Christopher Llyod from Back to the Future. The digital keepers of the past, present, and future provide a quirky and eccentric chorus of characters, each lending comedic relief intermittently between long expository monologues. My other favorite from the show came from the brief, but powerful, appearance of Christopher Franklin as Bubsy – a disgruntled video game character trapped in the purgatory of memory. Logan Strand delivers a strong, compelling performance as Baal 2 who speaks with the voice of wise old sage. Brian Schiedel rounds out the cast as the mysterious Steve, the other human inhabitant of Paramesia. Steve is perhaps, unfortunately, the least developed character of the cast, but Brian does a superb job of fusing his child-like wants and desires with adult notions of duty and sacrifice. It would be interesting to come back later on in the run of the show to see how the actors have further delved into the identities of these characters and what additional elements they bring to the part. I would remiss if I did not acknowledge the great uses of technology that helped shape and create the world of Paramesia – my favorite, of course, being local comedian Amanda Alvey as a the generally unhelpful NPC (non-player character).
The Memory Card is a promise of possibility that never quite actualizes. Like ethereal sage Baal 2, I see the possibility and potential of Memory Card. The play makes a numbers of contracts, or promises, with the audience and doesn’t fulfill many of them. Plot points are dropped, pieces are forgotten, and inconsistencies are overlooked for the sake of delivering a grander message regarding the role of memory in our lives. Now don’t me wrong, the messages are great. The parallels the authors draw between our playing video games and participating in the game in life are magical and, at times, brilliant. As I stewed and sat with the performance more, I unearthed more and more layers of subtlety. The piece attempts to introduce, explore, and explain some very complex notions that unfortunately, at times, make the play a bit convoluted. I’m not saying that one has to dumb down a production for the sake of an audience, but perhaps focus more intently on exploring one or two of themes of the play in order to make it more concise. Much of the play centered on explaining the nature of the magical realm of Paramesia which influenced the pace of the production.
The Memory Card also appears to be a hodgepodge of other works; a mix of Wizard of Oz, Tron, and Alice in Wonderland, with a little bit of Neverending Story drizzled on top for flavor. I appreciated the familiar elements as it reinforced the thematic element of nostalgia; however the double-edged sword of familiarity also brought to my mind, I have seen this somewhere before. With some editing, refinement, and a more critical eye, The Memory Card has the potential to be a powerful, modern, and intriguing look at the human condition.
I give The Memory Card, currently playing at Good Luck Macbeth through April 19th, 3 and a half ENCORES out of 5, a well-acted, refreshingly new production that could benefit from a sound editing process.
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, this week, because I’m gay and have the movie tastes of a pre-teen girl, I of course went to see the latest worldwide bestseller tween novel turned movie, Divergent. A hundred years after a war that has shattered the whole of the world, society is divided into 5 classes; a caste system that determines your place in society based upon your true nature and what you value. Tris Prior is Divergent; a person who possesses many virtues and cannot be classified into just one. Divergents are viewed as dangerous threats to the fabric of society and are often sought out and killed. Tris joins the warrior class and must survive a grueling initiation process or she will be cast out as a factionless pariah. However, Tris soon learns there is a larger political game afoot that involves her family and her hottie Mc hottie instructor 4. Will Tris survive initiation while simultaneously uncovering the plot that could destroy her whole world or will her Divergent identity surface as she becomes public enemy number 1.
Looking for something to do tonight to get into great spirits for St. Patrick’s Day. Then check out the improv group, Jester’s League, performing TONIGHT at Reno Little Theater. Show begins at 7:30pm and tickets $8.
This week I decided to go see the highly anticipated epic war saga, 300 Rise of an Empire; because nothing spells a good time in my book like beefy Grecian fighting beefy Persian men to the death. I enhanced my cinematic experience by watching the film in the newly constructed 3D IMAX theater. While King Leonidas and his 300 hunks vainly tried to slay God King Xerxes, another battle waged on the seas of the Aegean between war hero Themistocles and blood thirsty dominatrix Artesmisia. A prophecy foretells that Athens will fall in fire and brimstone but that the tides will turn with a wave of heroes blood or something cryptic like that. Will the Greeks finally be able to pull a victory out of their ass or will they fall under the mighty strength of Xerxes and the Persian army.
First of all, if you are going to see this film it’s worth seeing it in IMAX 3D – I mean one of the Greek soldiers abs was bigger than an entire row of the theater. Secondly, it’s rare for a sequel to outdo it’s predecessor but Rise of an Empire does just that. Audiences are treated with more back story of the God King Xerxes and the war that shook the whole of Greece. The movie believe it or not, hosts amazing acting midst a sea of epic battle sequences. I felt the film was a 90 minute moving piece of art. The thick gushes of blood wew a bit over the top and at times the slow motion action sequences were a tad much but I ate it all up. What I enjoyed most was the strong portrayal of dynamic female warriors, kicking ass and taking names. Also, the gay man in me, squealed with unabashed glee at all of Artesmisia wardrobe changes. It was like watching Xena Warrior Princess at New York fashion week. I give 300 Rise of an Empire 4 Xs out of 5, a beautifully shot and beautifully narrated story that surpasses the original.
Yesterday afternoon, I had the esteem pleasure of attending Spotlight Academy For Young Actor’s performance of “John Lennon & Me” at Good Luck Macbeth Theater. The piece follows Star, a sassy inspiring spitfire of a girl, who happens to suffer from Cystic Fibrosis – a disease passed down through families that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs, digestive tract, and other areas of the body, almost always ending in death. Star navigates the tumultuous waters of adolescent – first boyfriends, popularity, and friendship – while coming to terms with her fatal disease.
Directed by the incredible Rachel Lopez, the performance was nothing short of magical. Tears fell from my eyes as the lights faded on the world of Star and found myself giving the cast and crew a well-earned standing ovation at the end of the performance. Many people asked if I was going to write a review about the production. Quickly, and with certainty, I answered, “no”. First of all, critiquing small children & youth is the fastest way to earning a slue of enemies. Secondly, and more importantly, there’s no need for it. Was the production perfect, no, but taking to the stage takes bravery – especially at that age – and those kids deserve nothing but our support and encouragement. I was thoroughly entertained, engaged in the story, and found myself laughing silly at the playful interaction between kids and adults. It’s vital that we, as a community, support programs and initiatives such as this which afford youth the opportunity to practice their craft. As the entire run of the of the show sold out pretty much immediately, I feel many people in Reno are of a similar mindset.
We know the importance of theater and the arts in the development of youth. Participation in drama or the arts
improves academic performance, increases student engagement and attendance, and improves performance on standardized tests. More than that though, participation in drama and the arts strengthens students’ social and communication skills, builds self-esteem, and develops a youth’s levels of empathy and tolerance. In theater, an actor takes on the role of a different character whose life may be drastically different than their own. By taking on that role, children and adolescents are better able to understand and empathize with the plight of others. That is certainly true in “John Lennon & Me”. As far as I know, none of the cast members suffered from Cystic Fibrosis. However, I’m sure ,through the play, their understanding of the disease and the struggles of those with debilitating and/or life-threatening diseases has increased.
It’s important that we continue to show our support for their amazing programs like Spotlight Academy, Bruka, Tahoe Players, or Sierra School of Performing Arts. Check out their upcoming performances, workshops, and classes.
BRÜKA THEATRE Proudly Presents The Artist In The House Series-
GAMES & TECHNIQUE
WORKSHOP Led by Mary Bennett
FOR AGES 17 and up. ALL LEVELS
MARCH 18 – APRIL 29, 2014 – Tuesdays from 5:30 – 7:00 PM
(Reno, NV). Mary Bennett will lead an Improvisational Acting Workshop – Games and Techniques for ages 17 and up from March 18 – April 29, 2014 from 5:30 PM to 7 PM as part of Brüka’s Artist in The House Series. The focus of the workshop will be on the improviser as an actor and creator. We will use the base of improv games and ensemble work to dive into scene work and use improvisation techniques to create dynamic improv and storytelling in creation and performance. Bring water and comfortable, flexible clothing that you can move around in. The workshop is limited to 16 and must have a minimum of 6. The cost for 6 sessions is $50. Pleas reserve your space in advance.
ABOUT THEATRE ARTIST MARY BENNETT
Mary has been teaching, playing and work shopping improvisation techniques for oodles of years. Training includes Bay Area Theatre Sports, The American Conservatory Theatre, New York Stage and Film, and Dell Arte’ International Theatre Company. Mary is an Artist In Residence with The Nevada Arts Council, The Sierra Arts Foundation and teaches improvisation at TMCC. Performer, Director, Producer and all around thespian, she is also the Producing Artistic Director for Brüka Theatre.
Reservations must be made in advance for the workshop. Call our box office at 775.323-3221 Brüka Theatre or sign up onbrownpapertickets.com. Or visit us at 99 N. Virginia St. Reno. Reservations for all events and shows are available through our box office at(775) 323-3221.
This week, as an avid lover of all things Ancient Greece and Rome, I had to go see Pompeii. We all know the story. Big Volcano explodes, decimating the progressive city of Pompeii, reducing it, and it’s citizens to ash. In order to fill space and time, writers decided to regurgitate a boring and repetitive story line to distract us from the inevitable. Poor, enslaved – but hot as hell – gladiator mans falls for pretty rich girl who of course has been promised to an evil Roman Senator who makes it his personal mission from the Gods to destroy the boy. Well you’re in luck Mr. Senator, there’s a volcano exploding threatening to kill everyone, so mazel tov.
Reeling from the tremendous success of Stage Beauty, Bruka once again raises the caliber of theater in the Reno community with its latest dark comedy, The Lyons. Like stains on a couch, life is comprised of a series of moments; some small, some big, some unforeseen, and some outside of our control. What is within our control is how we react to these moments and how we choose to let them define our lives. Do we remain stuck, replaying the tragedies of our existence? Or, do we persevere, forging new moments, and buy a new couch?
These question and more are addressed in Nicky Silver’s hilarious yet poignant play. Meet the Lyons: the patriarch, Ben, who is dying of cancer; his passive aggressive wife, Rita, his alcoholic daughter, Lisa, and his gay son – whom he despises – Curtis. They all visit him Ben in the hospital to pay their respects and say their final goodbyes. What should be a touching family reunion turns ugly as secrets are revealed, repressed feelings are brought to life, and relationships crumble as each character ponders life without Ben Lyons. Ben struggles with his legacy while his wife Rita, trapped in a loveless marriage for years, relishes the opportunity of a clean slate and a new life. Curtis and Lisa tackle their own demons as characters realizes the fabricated facades of their lives are a sham and must deal with harsh, cold reality of their choices.
Director La Ronda Etheridge perfectly cast the production with stellar actors whose onstage chemistry is a product of beauty and magic. Etheridge demonstrates her great directorial eye with careful attention to detail. The cast displayed a level of authenticity in their performances rarely seen—having audiences believe the four leads have suffered through years of family drama and trauma together.
Tom Plunkett channels the spirit of George Carlin as Ben Lyon, embodying his brass demeanor and spot-on comedic timing. Kathy Welch portrays matriarch Rita with such commitment and sincerity as she systematically tears down each member of the family it is a thing of beauty to watch. I was both terrified of her and yet wanted to be her best friend at the same time. Also, I can die a happy man now that I have heard Kathy Welch say “cocksucker”. Sandra Neace delivers some of the best comedy I have seen in a while as Lisa Lyon. With a sideways glance or a quick change of tone, Neace understands humor and knows how to infuse comedy into the tiniest of moments. At the same time, she is able to cast an emotional silence upon the audience as she delivers a heart-wrenching monologue. To round out the leads, Bryce Keil takes on the complex and dynamic role of Curtis. I’ll admit it; I’m a fangirl of Keil; and, his depiction of Curtis, a lonely and resentful gay man looking for connection, renewed my love for him. It’s extremely difficult to play the part of a gay man and do so in a way that is authentic, non-stereotypical, and true, and Keil tapped into something truly wonderful with his performance. Kristina Harris as disgruntled but caring nurse Janet compliments the other performers. I found Robert Grant’s choices as real estate agent Brian confusing. He had great moments, but thought he got lost within the character and his motivations and intentions were unclear at times. As I mentioned previously, it is difficult to play a gay man and not rely heavily on pre-established stereotypes. Grant’s mannerisms could have been a bit more dynamic; most of the time he stood with a limp wrist and a hand on his hip creating the image of a gay teapot that I didn’t necessarily care for.
I give The Lyons, currently playing at Bruka Theatre, 4.5 ENCORES out of 5. Prepare for a night of theater filled to the brim with dark humor, punctuated with moments of vulnerability, and seeping with a sadness that redefines dysfunction in our daily lives. The Lyons runs through March 22nd; tickets are available online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/475293 or by calling the Bruka box office at (775) 323-3221.
With great anticipation, I attended the opening premiere of Bruka’s latest production, Stage Beauty, Jeffrey Hatcher’s play recounting the rise and subsequent fall of beloved actor Ned Kynaston, who has graced the London stage in such roles as Cleopatra, Ophelia, and most infamously, Desdemona. Admired and praised for his interpretations of such characters, Kynaston dominates the theater world. However, this all changes when King Charles II – prompted by his mistress Nell Gywnn – proclaims that women are permitted to act on stage and men are no longer allowed to play female parts. Kynaston loses the favor of the aristocracy, is fired from his theater, and is dumped, for a lack of a better word, by his secret love affair, the Duke of Buckingham. When all that he holds dear is taken from him, Kynaston embarks on a journey of self-discovery to find who he truly is and what his place in this brave new world is.
Rarely do I leave theatrical engagements so moved and entranced by the production that I find myself in a state of utter awe and wonderment. Striking and poignant, I sat paralyzed by what I had just seen, not quite ready to leave; not quite ready for the magic of the piece to be over. Bruka’s Stage Beauty is an aesthetic masterpiece with strategic blocking, creative set changes, and impeccable costuming that aid in bringing this foray into the joys and woes of theater and acting to life.
Director Bill Ware brilliantly cast the play with some of Reno’s finest actors – a cast I fondly refer to as the acting “Dream Team” of Reno. Bradford Ka’ai’ai owns the show as our fair Kynaston. I have seen Ka’ai’ai masterfully play a number of characters throughout my years here in Reno, but I feel this is his best role to date. Ka’ai’ai brings an engaging complexity to the character and demonstrates such range, bringing audiences to raucous laughter with his brazen wit but leaves audiences gently dabbing the tears from their eyes, as we learn that beneath the strong, confident façade of Kynaston lies a soft, graceful creature racked with insecurities and longing. Ka’ai’ai may have owned the show overall, Stacy Johnson often steals the show from him, as Nell Gywnn. Johnson’s current role as a principal for comedy troupe, The Utility Players, is apparent with her comedic timing and matter-of-fact delivery. Amy Ginder, diverging from her typical sassy female roles, takes on the challenge of soft, but ambitious, wannabe actress Margaret Hughes. Perhaps two of my favorite characters of the piece were Charles II (played by Lewis Zaumeyer) and Sir Charles Sedley (played by Michael Peters) whose superb flamboyancy is magical to watch. I feel that the some of the supporting cast members could be stronger. In a piece such as this, it’s important to find humor behind the humor; the subtle moments of jest and comedy, whether it is a knowing glance or a deadpan delivery. These moments come with confidence and understanding of the characters and their part in the larger picture of the production. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the incredible behind-the-scenes work of the crew who valiantly attempt to make the costume and scene changes as seamless as possible. My major criticism is that because there are so many transitions, the crew needs to tighten up the timing of said changes, as to not lose the energy developed and carry it onto the next scene. The transition music, though delightful, is perhaps too obvious. The ominous, foreboding sounds most certainly hinted that disaster was on the horizon as if to mentally prepare us for what is to come. There are many things in life that I need to primed and prepped for, but a scene change is not.
As a working drag queen myself, I related immensely to the plight of Kynaston, who desires to carve out a place for himself in a world that doesn’t accept him fully for who he is. For many, Kynaston’s portrayal of women on the stage is just a profession where in Kynaston’s mind, it is a part of who he is and the part of him that brings him the
most joy from life. Beyond that, I think this 17th century tale certainly has modern relevance, as too many of us have experience the cold ostracism from family, friends, and society in pursuit of our dreams. Many of us are defined by that which we do and when that is taken from us, we feel that we are floundering in the nebulous void of life attempting to find solid ground.
I give Stage Beauty 4 and half ENCORES out of 5. A mesmerizing beauty of a production that is as touching as it is ridiculous. Stage Beauty is currently now at Bruka Theater through February 9th. Get your tickets now by calling their box office at (775) 323-3221, online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/475285. or purchase tickets at the door.