A Hell of a Play: Glass Horse Project seeks the nontraditional

Orpheus, portrayed by Dillon Medina, orchestrates his next move.

It’s opening night at Glass Horse Project in New Bedford. I’ve read up on Sarah Ruhl’s play based on the Greek myth — Eurydice was the wife of Orpheus, who painstakingly tried to bring her back from the dead with his enchanting music (or, in this adaptation, his letters, too). I walk into what was an art gallery and see, to my immediate left, three actors intertwined in a motionless pile on the floor. I’m in awe as they stay in that position for more than 40 minutes before the play begins, and remain there for nearly another half hour. 

“Stones can do so much while doing so little,” says artistic director Korey Pimental, producer for this show. “There’s such a power to stillness. For the first third of the play, you get them just sitting there. And when we start the Underworld scenes, they come alive and go from complete stillness to this movement that is so concise and so specific.”

Taylor Corbett is the co-artistic director for Glass Horse Project, serving as director for this piece. She explains how she uses makeup to help the stones (Big Stone, Little Stone and Loud Stone, portrayed by Kerri Lamothe, Monica Hartford and Jordan Daniel Smith, respectively) become the rock-human hybrids. “It was like part of their skin was the rock, and the point was to highlight the cracks in their faces and arms from being stones,” explains Corbett. “The way they move is probably one of my favorite things about this show. I like to create an environment of collaboration for everybody. I gave the stones a couple of devising exercises to see how they can move with each other and their bodies. They came up with this whole movement piece. As we worked with them, they just became heavier limbed. If you’re going to move, the only easy way is by rolling – as though rolling around in the Underworld was very much fun. They get the distinct pleasure of being the bridge between the play and the audience. In a lot of our rehearsals, we started thinking of the audience as the other dead in the Underworld, unknowing of all of their memories, and we get to watch as they relive their memories. We also loved the way the stones were born in the river, and Hades picked up the rock and broke it into these three stones. As they go to sleep, they’re back in their original form.

“While I directed the piece, there was a lot of letting the actors play – which is the basis of all theater – and seeing what they feel is necessary to be their characters, get their stuff together, have a truthful honest performance up there,” explains Corbett. “That was partly my direction, and partly the choices they made as actors. I can’t be happier with how well we all worked together.” She also credits stage manager Sev Marshall, and Megan Ruggiero on sound design, for bringing it all together.

“The actors that I shared the stage with are some of the most generous I’ve ever worked with,” says Pimental. “They were willing to try things and listen, so it felt like we were able to create this really authentic story together. The play itself requires so much vulnerability. In my opinion, you can’t fake vulnerability and authenticity. For me, as an artistic director…I really wanted to get to the root of this complex story that is layered in nuance in so many ways. We wanted to challenge ourselves and our company of people who worked on the show to step up our game in the face of a challenge. Sarah Ruhl is no joke. She’s so specific in her language. When you do too much to her acting and directing, you lose the brilliance of her writing and cheapen what she wrote for you. She creates this beautiful, creative world for you to play in. You don’t want to take it too far, making sure you don’t detract from her own beauty and wisdom.”

There are lots of great things happening tech-wise. “One of the cool things about this show is the otherworldly magical environment we get to be in,” says Corbett (Brad Costa, Glass Horse’s head of digital and marketing, created the ambiance and an entire world in the confines of the nontraditional space). “And in some ways, it’s almost as though the world changes as they move through it to accommodate who’s alive and who’s dead. There’s a separation here Orpheus eventually breaks out of. The Lord of the Underworld (portrayed by Pimental) comes in and we’re in house now, and everyone needs to know it. When we have a thunderstorm, using different colored lights in between blue, green, red, purple flashing the magic they have access to. There’s this stark difference between the kind of lighting you’d expect versus the lighting in the real world. The light’s coming in as Orpheus comes closer and closer to his goal of getting down there and finding her.” 

Costumes? “It’s kind of a closet show. A lot of it the cast members brought in,” says Corbett. “Interesting was Orpheus, through the whole journey, is shedding one piece after another looking more and more disheveled… The moment Eurydice died, he started looking and did not stop looking. So all those pieces that we lose are casual pieces of that having to find her. He’ll have a tie on too tight and he’d have to ditch it.” For Lord of the Underworld, Corbett says, “I want him to look like every ’90s kid out there. A red sweater – the style there is just such a childish outfit to me – using the (Burger King paper) crown and the trench coat to help distinguish between the child and the interesting man.”

The setting tells us, via the changing ceiling and sound effects, where we are. When the cast is in the Underworld, the twinkling, starry sky changes to a narrowing well as we hear water dripping, giving us the impression of being underground. Ceiling projections also include orange clouds. Corbett explains, “It’s like the one day – at the sea – when they’re truly happy. There’s the intense love in the beginning with the night sky, then the playfulness of the love scene. And they just enjoy each other’s presence – the sun of youth and their bright future ahead.”

“The idea for the use of projection came from Taylor,” says Pimental. “She felt like the ceiling should never end, which I thought was so very Sarah Ruhl because it’s such a specific way to get something across. So when she said this, I thought, ‘Yes, let’s figure out how to do this!’ so we worked with our resident designer, Brad Costa, and made it happen.”

Ropes? “In the script, the father builds Eurydice a room of string,” says Corbett. “Because there are no rooms in the Underworld, the strings are a way to comfort her, a place where she can go to be safe and get that ability to remember her father. She can’t remember him and he can really smooth over their relationship. I think the creation of a string room is to provide a place for that to happen. We tried to incorporate that feeling with the four strings. One of the many actions he plays throughout the show is trying to avoid the smells, the sounds of the Underworld, trying to keep her in a good state of mind as she’s trying to deal with this new, magical stuff that he’s experienced already.”

The entire cast was on point as energetic, well-animated powerhouses. The titular role, portrayed by Maura Barry Van Voris, was a force to be reckoned with. Her facial expressions alone told stories from total elation to utter torment. She owned that stage as others fed off her vitality, despite being a dead woman. Matching her vigor and zest for life was Dillon Medina‘s Orpheus. Their flirty/flighty chemistry makes you feel the love and torture as they feel it. Eurydice’s father (David Adams Murphy) rounds out the tone of the Underworld with his compassionate understanding and fatherly love for his daughter’s plight. This synergy is further enhanced by the stones, who included the audience by worming their way under the seats, sitting on laps, and making eye contact.

The admission cost, for the moment, is by donation. “Part of that comes from the fact that, when I was in college, I heard this statistic that about 27% of New Bedford lives at or below the poverty line,” explains Pimental. “If people are situated at that specific place in their lives, how can they have access to the art? For us, the ability to access the arts is the fundamental right for societal participation. We are trying to expand as an organization and don’t really know what this is going to look like yet. So even if we don’t have a set price for a ticket, we’ll make sure the price would be accessible to people. We’d have more than one pay-what-you-can night, depending on how long our run is.”

“For me, personally, we call ourselves a fringe (theater) because we’re not in a dedicated theater space,” says Pimental. “We’re just really making this work before we can find a space where we can set up an audience section where people can come work. We’re trying to challenge ourselves to push the boundaries of what people expect to happen in this nontraditional space. We put out some lights and chairs, set up our projector and we’re on a roll!”

The Glass Horse Project presents Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice through February 1. 137 Union St, New Bedford. Call 774-320-4612 or visit The Glass Horse Project on Facebook (facebook.com/theglasshorseproject). 

Causing a Stir: Dylan Columbare brings mixology and magic to Massimo

Dylan Columbare is just 20 years old, yet he’s achieved the status of bar manager at Massimo restaurant in Providence. Not too shabby, considering nothing was handed to him. He is not family, but works for the family establishment. He started at Pane E’ Vino, Massimo’s sister restaurant farther down Atwells Avenue, and worked as a bus boy. It didn’t take long for him to get noticed by Pane E’ Vino’s bar manager, Dante Roberti, who moved him up to barback, where he learned everything he needed to know about classic cocktails and wine from Roberti.

“He would slap down a pad in front of me and make me write the notes three times,” Columbare explains with a laugh. “And then I had to explain all the spirits as I made the drinks for the guests, who had to approve them. That’s how I learned my classic cocktails.”

“Pushing him to this level really made him shine with his
creative side,” explains Roberti, who saw something special in Columbare, and
brought it to the owners, Esther and Joseph DeQuattro. They approved his
promotion to bar manager at Massimo and never regretted it. 

Roberti says, “I’m just proud of him. He’s a very talented young man. What he does speaks for itself — he comes up with his own drinks.” Roberti recognizes his involvement in Columbare’s start. “I knew he had a good work ethic so I brought him behind the bar. He was like a sponge. And now, after me just teaching him the basics, he not only makes drinks but makes people at the bar have a good time. Dylan makes them feel at home and entertains them. It makes people a little more intrigued, wanting to know a little more about him. Dylan can open up spirits and show people how different ones can be used in drinks to expand their horizons. People who don’t like gin will find something they like when Dylan makes it.”

Columbare wasn’t trained in a bartending school as most are. Explains Roberti, “We used color-coordinated flash cards representing different spirits. On the back we’d have the measurements and ingredients. We had over 150 drinks on the cards.” The two laugh and say in unison, “It was a bible.” Roberti gained the knowledge from different bartenders who helped him along the way at various locations throughout the city. He brought this knowledge to Columbare, who ran with it. “The owners know they’ve found something different in the way Dylan has changed drinks to make them his own,” says Roberti. “Sometimes I’ll see him at my bar just staring at bottles, wondering how he can use them to benefit the bar and be a great mixologist. The student surely has surpassed the teacher. Now I’m learning from him.”

Campari, a bright red liqueur, is an amaro infused with 68 different bitter herbs and aromatic plants, a secret recipe of natural ingredients dating back to 1860 that has become an Italian tradition. Fascinated with mixology, Columbare has taken his game to a whole new level. He’s dehydrating Campari into sugars for a drink called Negroni, using this sugar on the rim of the glass. He’s also making his own bitters and tinctures, spicing them up in different ways to put a unique accent on his own craft cocktails. “I don’t try to change it so much that it’s a different drink. It was a completely different garnish I came up with,” he explains. “I try to respect the Italian classic cocktail drinks, but try to add a new twist — something no one else is doing.”

And different it is. “I’ve never seen a dehydrated Campari sugar drink in my life,” says Roberti.

Columbare is turning an American oak cask into a sherry oak cask, creating his own amaro. He will serve this straight up, and will make cocktails with it. “The reason I wanted to do this is because nobody else in the state is. I wanted to have this on tap and bring attention to the restaurant for its craft cocktails and amazing food.” Besides the amaro, he makes his own (orange) arancello. “Limoncello is very popular, but nobody makes arancello. I peel 120 oranges for this and nobody touches them.” It’s his craft, his recipe and it’s been that way for nearly two years now. “It’s not something everyone gets to try.”

I have sampled Columbare’s creations, which he serves up freely, and can vouch for the terrific flavors he’s come up with. The food truly is amazing at all three locations — a new Massimo restaurant opened this past winter in Dedham, Mass, but you can only get his craft cocktails at the Providence Massimo. “I’m kind of separating myself, going my own way,” says Columbare. “We share a few cocktails, but they do their own thing and I do mine.”

Columbare endeavors to have “attention to detail with
efficiency. I want to create that same effect and be able to get it to you in
less than two minutes. I would hope that I make a name for myself with the
amaro and arancello, and will have a future in liquor distributing.” There’s
little doubt he’s already on his way to success in all he creates. “With so
much to learn, I’d like to keep creating new liqueurs in time, while keeping
with classic traditions. I don’t want to slow down!”

A Fine Romance in Pawtucket

The Community Players recently kicked off their 99th season with Romantic Comedy – their 369th production. TCP Advisory Board member (and publicity chair) Christopher Margadonna says, “I’m excited we moved our season opener to September to be in line with the Pawtucket Arts Festival. I really think that helped to be a part of the arts community in Pawtucket.”

This cast of five seasoned veterans fills the stage with a nice mix of both tension and comic relief. Kiki Maples brilliantly portrays two characters — Allison St. James, the politically correct wife of our lead character; Jason Carmichael, and Kate Mallory, a floozy with whom Jason has an affair. Janette Gregorian portrays Jason’s agent, Blanche Dailey, with plenty of sass to go along with her flashy wardrobe and wigs. Kelly Barry, who portrays Jason’s heartthrob business partner Phoebe, grows from an insecure young lady to a woman who comes into her own, complete with perfectly timed comedic lines.

Photo credit: Bob Emerson

The play, written by Bernard Slade, is the first solo venture directed by Kimberly Rau, who was asked to fill in with very short notice. Newly wed in July, she was just packing for her ‘familymoon’ with her wife, Jennifer Rau, and five kids when she got the call — and accepted. She soon found the cast hard-working and up for the task, relieving some of the potential stress of the timing. She recalls, “My first rehearsal, I arrived early and found two of the actors sitting on the grass going over their lines. I learned they did this often. The entire cast was repeatedly going above and beyond, proving that on top of their immense talent, they also collectively held a mind-blowing work ethic and sense of dedication. I should have guessed, with a title like Romantic Comedy, that the old cliché about the best things happening when you least expect them would be the take-away from this process.” 

This is a period piece, jumping in time from the 1950s to the ’70s, and the jazzy music reflects those eras. The lighting is standard (designer C. Richard Koster), and both are well handled by Angelina Manfredi, a student at the Jaqueline Walsh School for the Arts. “Our crew is largely comprised of Jacqueline M. Walsh (JMW) students, including Angelina, who is running our light board,” says Rau. “It’s so amazing to see a new generation of theater kids really getting interested in not just acting — though I know at least a few of them will be acting in Seussical with us — but also really being into learning about all of the stuff that gets a play on its feet.” 

The setting is simplistic in nature, yet has a story all its own that’s close to home. Rau says, “The set is interesting, if only because I wanted a pretty strong mid-century vibe and that’s not something that I could easily capture from the places we usually get set pieces. So the desk, one of the chairs, and some small pieces are on loan from other theaters. The gray couch and another chair are from a cast member. The lamp, plants, record player, clock — most of the rest of it came from my own home. A lot of the ties Jason messes with were my dad’s that he gave me when he retired.” Additionally, a few of the art pieces were created by Rau’s wife specifically for this production. Rau wanted mid-century artwork, so Jennifer came up with the photograph on the shelf and the two paintings on the walls. “My big nerdy thing is the potted palm stage right.” Explains Rau, “We have two — one that is far bigger and comes out in act two to replace the smaller one from act one and suggests the passage of time. They’re the most picky ‘actors’ on that stage.” Costumer Pamela Jackson, and props designer Susan Staniunas were both open to input, which is hospitable considering they had already gotten ideas from the first director, who had to step down suddenly.

Rau kept the production true to script. “This play is called Romantic Comedy and on the surface, it’s exactly that, but the author has put a lot of nuance into it. There are a lot of callbacks in the third act, for instance, to the first act. Both Allison and Leo refer to some aspect of their lives as the ‘consolation prize.’ Jason and Phoebe both refer to the same incident in Chicago without knowing the other had talked about it. The characters are actually very deep, and connected, and we had a lot of fun finding those connections and discussing them.” She adds, “The one change to the original is when Phoebe storms off stage after their fight at the end of act two. The script calls for her to grab, I kid you not, ‘a small tank of goldfish’ and then storm out. I cannot imagine. What a nightmare. We changed it to a plant.”

In the third act, we see the two men sharing the stage in game of manly one-upmanship. It’s a refreshing display of testosterone as Jason (portrayed by Duane Langley), and Leo (portrayed by returning TCP member Tom Lavallee) spar off verbally to get the girl. Lavallee is elated to be returning to TCP. “I haven’t been part of it since 2012.” He explains, “I finally had some time to get back to the local theater scene after doing two national tours. What better place to be to hone my skills.”

Romantic Comedy runs through September 22, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm, 350 Division St, Pawtucket. For more information, visit thecommunityplayers.net or call 401-726-6860. 

Shuck ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em

Shucks! It’s already time for the fifth annual Ocean State Oyster Festival, taking place Saturday, September 21 from 1 – 7pm at Riverwalk Park on South Water Street in PVD.

This year’s event will again feature delicious local food, food trucks, culinary exhibitors, local libations — including craft beer from Revival Brewing Company in Cranston and Grey Sail Brewing in Westerly — live music and children’s activities. Sharpen those oyster knives, there’s even a shucking contest at 5pm!

Says Dave Roebuck, co-founder of the event, “We recycle about 99% of what we sell at the festival, and we return 100% of our oyster shells into the local waters in order to form new oyster habitat.” Ocean State Oyster Festival is working with The Compost Plant and Nature Conservancy RI to recycle and compost all waste and oyster shells for reef building, so be sure to watch for the compost bins throughout the festival.

The Ocean State Oyster Festival aims to raise awareness of, and celebrate, RI’s aquaculture industry; provide a platform that helps expand RI’s aquaculture economy and support education programs for the public on the environmental sustainability of Narragansett Bay (in partnership with Save the Bay). The event aims to spread awareness of RI’s remarkable aquaculture and oyster economy. More than eight million oysters were harvested in RI in 2016, and that number continues to grow with the arrival of new oyster farms. We currently have more than 70 aquaculture farm businesses in the Ocean State spread over 274 leased acres in the bay and salt ponds. At last year’s event, more than 1,400 visitors slurped an astounding 15,000 oysters from these RI-based farms!

Tickets include six oysters, which you can choose from among the 18 RI oyster farms attending, plus a beverage (wine, beer or non-alcoholic). If you’re thirsting for more, additional oyster and drink tickets are available separately for purchase. Children under 12 are admitted free. For tickets and more information, oysterfestri.com

Betsy Jones

“Betsy is wonderful,” says The Avenue Concept’s sculpture program manager Brian Dowling. “She is the general manager at The Avenue Concept, but somehow that title doesn’t encapsulate all that she does. If our organization were a ship traveling on an adventurous journey, Betsy would be the navigator, keeping us on a steady course as the winds and currents push and pull us in different directions. As an organization, we encounter all kinds of opportunities and Betsy has a great knack for seeing how they fit into our mission and most importantly our calendar and budget.

“Betsy is also the touchstone for so many of the communications within The Avenue Concept. She coordinates and communicates with the board of directors and prepares materials for board meetings. Many times she is the person who puts together the packages for people interested in renting The Avenue Concept facility for events. She also has a way of keeping everyone in our organization on task that is supportive and empathetic.

“I have so much respect for Betsy. She is such a humble, yet accomplished peer.”

For more information on The Avenue Concept, visit theavenueconcept.org

Charlie Fishbein, Coffee Exchange Proprietor

Jonny Skye runs the Skye Gallery on Broadway in PVD. She came to RI in ‘87 from Oregon at the tender age of 17 with no money, and she didn’t know a soul. “I had a cup of coffee [at the Exchange] when it was a little place across the street. People used to literally line up around the corner on Brook Street by 7 in the morning. Charlie’s brother, Bill, came over and I asked, ‘Are you hiring?’” 
That’s how Skye first got inducted into the family. “Charlie and the Fishbein family quickly looked after me and took me in.  Everybody who works here – who comes here – he considers part of his family,” she says of Fishbein and the Exchange. “It’s always been a welcoming, eclectic place. I worked the counter at Coffee Exchange during the summer of 1989 and through this lens gained my first real love for the city.”
“He makes time to listen and talk with real presence. He has given me so much insight through some of the hardest times of my life, shared tears with the same passion as the laughter at the ridiculous absurdities of being a person. For a man over 70, running the longest-running, thriving coffee business for the past 35 years in Providence, his continued thirst for knowledge and compassion for people is simply inspiring. He values the relationship – refuses to sell coffee pre-packaged because it’s the old-time interaction across the bean counter that matters most. He is also very conscious about the realities of each person along the chain, from farmers to baristas, and makes progressive choices to ensure dignity and fair practices for all – organic, fair trade, coffee farmer co-ops. This is a man with a big heart. He is Providence,” says Skye
Charlie and his brother Bill also hold fundraisers, especially on New Year’s Day and National Coffee Day in September, to benefit the Coffee Trust, which they founded to help honey farmers, women entrepreneurs and impoverished farmers in Guatemala.
Lexi Neelis has been working at the Exchange as a barista for the past eight years and recently began leading their sustainability program while going to school. She says of Fishbein, “He’s not afraid to try anything. Charlie cares a lot about what he does and always puts the customer first. Also, he supports other local businesses and donates coffee to local non-profit events. He’s so generous, it’s taught me how to think about other people more.”
Ashley is a regular customer. “I’m here every day. Charlie is one of the most hard-working people and is dedicated to coffee. He knows everything about the beans, roasting and sourcing – from plant to your cup! We actually ship his beans to my family and friends in Wyoming because it’s that good!” She adds, “He is very thorough, always here with the staff creating ambiance.” – Alison O’Donnell
Check out the Coffee Exchange at thecoffeeexchange.com

Peter Mello

Ken Panciera met Peter Mello when he began volunteering for WaterFire in 2015. Mello is the managing director and WaterFire’s “Money Man,” creating sponsorship opportunities with some of the largest companies in the state including Amica, Cox Communication and National Grid. We asked him to tell us about Mello’s contributions to WaterFire and the community.

“Peter will be the first one to tell you, and be very proud of this, that each year WaterFire creates $113 million in economic impact for the community, generates $9.3 million of direct tax revenue for RI and Providence, and supports 1,294 jobs for local residents,” explains Panciera. “WaterFire is art that builds community.

“Peter’s experience in the business sector, working in San Francisco, New York and London, tremendously helped in the creation of the idea of the WaterFire Art Center, now a thriving space that has hosted the Southern New England Heart Association Heart Ball, the Cox Communications Get Started Rhode Island networking event for small businesses, startups, and entrepreneurs, and the Rosa Parks House.

“Peter asked me to join WaterFire’s FireBall Committee in 2016, where I have helped (in a very small part) to generate funds to keep WaterFire going for the next 25 years. Since 2015, FireBall has been WaterFire’s main fundraising event, and has generated close to $100,000 each year.

“On a personal level, I’ve never seen a man more passionate about an non-profit volunteer organization like WaterFire. While WaterFire’s staff is only 25 or so, it’s the 300 volunteers who drive any given event. Peter has inspired me to keep coming back to volunteer year after year. He’s unassumingly quiet, yet always thinking about ways to take this great art installation that Barnaby Evans created to the next level. Without Peter Mello captaining the WaterFire boat (pun intended), and leading the way to engrave this unique art installation in the hearts and minds of Providence, WaterFire would not be the same.”

Dancin’ on the Dock of the Bay: The Tipsy Seagull offers a bar experience like no other


The Tipsy Seagull is a seasonal floating outdoor bar located at the mouth of Narragansett Bay at Borden Light Marina, easily accessible from RI via RT195W. Whether you come by car or boat, you can enjoy the feel of the Florida Keys, dancing under palm trees and soaking up some rays. It’s not just for the daytime, though!Dan_Valcourt_

Musical entertainment can be enjoyed seven days a week from June through September. Vikki Regine, who is the keyboardist/vocalist for local rock band The New Nasty, enjoys performing here. “Love the Tipsy! Part of the charm is that it’s small, so we all kind of get to know each other by the end of the night.” She adds, “A lot of people just dock their boats next to it for the night and have their own party.”

This place is hopping, so be prepared to feel like a sardine among the other fishes, but if you’re lucky you might snag one of the dozen or so swings up for grabs at the bar on the upper deck. If you’re dancing below, or watching the water action from above at the railings, seating is a non-issue.

The Tipsy Seagull is open for lunch or dinner with a limited pub-style menu. If you wish for a more sophisticated pub menu, just a short distance up the road is their sister establishment, The Tipsy Toboggan Fireside Pub, which offers a quieter indoor or outdoor experience and an amazing goat cheese pizza.

There is a free public parking lot nearby and on-street parking is available. Attire is casual, but there is a strictly enforced dress code. For more information and events listings, go to thetipsyseagull.com



Benny’s the Musical has it All

Photo credit: Pam Murray
Photo credit: Pam Murray

Benny’s. The little store that had it all, long before Walmart was a thing. Some of us are still traumatized by their closing and get a little choked up with nostalgia when we reminisce, or see the iconic logo somewhere. But a musical? Hello?!

Benny’s: The Musical describes itself as the tale of your local Benny’s store, the neighbors who shopped there and loved it, and, most importantly, the people who worked there and made it the beloved local destination that it was. With more than a dozen original new songs and a cast of characters you’re likely to recognize from your life in RI, you’ll be sure to come away remembering just why Benny’s was “more than a store.”

Director/Producer of Benny’s: The Musical, Keith Munslow, is also director/host of the Empire Revue — a monthly sketch comedy show based at AS220 in Providence and the creative mind behind Benny’s: The Musical. I had some questions for him upon hearing of the show’s revival.

Alison O’Donnell: Why now?

Keith Munslow: Last year, we decided to take Super Bowl Sunday off from our usual monthly sketch comedy show. We decided to use that time to write a special show. Just around the same time, Benny’s announced that they would be closing their doors. So we decided to write a show about how that would impact both the employees and the community at large. Before we had even written a word of the script, or a note of music, the show sold out. So we added a second one, and that sold out as well. Later last spring, we ran it for a weekend at the Columbus Theatre, and those shows sold out as well. The response we got from audience members, some of whom were former employees of Benny’s, was overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. It felt to us like a great coming together of the community, as a way to celebrate and grieve this great establishment. When talking to people who attend our regular monthly sketch comedy shows, they continually ask us to please remount the show. So, we decided to do it again this March. Once again, the first show sold out immediately. So we have added a matinee on the same day, which is 3/4 of the way sold out. We are thrilled at the continued enthusiasm.

AO: Any changes?

KM: We are planning to add a little bit more choreography to some of the songs. And our stage manager, Nicky Mariani-Wilson, who also acted in last year‘s performances, will be eight month’s pregnant when the show goes up. So, she will be calling the show from the booth. Her part will be played by another member of our in-house comedy team, Tina Wolstencroft.

AO: Future plans for the play?

KM: I suspect this will not be the last time we stage this show. We all love performing it, and the audience keeps showing up! Personally, I would love to see a larger scale production of the show. I would love for a sponsor to step forward to fund such an undertaking. We are a small sketch comedy team, and could never bankroll such an endeavor ourselves. But I would love to see the show do a run for two or three weeks, with more elaborate staging, lights and sound.

All cast members had a hand in writing the musical, and are incredibly proud of this show. They hope it will become woven into the fabric of the story of Benny’s. Sponsors welcome!

Benny’s: The Musical runs on Sunday, March 3 at AS220. The 8pm show is sold out; 3pm matinee still has some seats available as of this printing. For more information, visit the Facebook event: facebook.com/events/538770829956684/?ti=ia

Artists’ Exchange’s Carol Delivers a Bit of Magic


Artists’ Exchange celebrated its 15th annual production of A Christmas Carol: The Musical Reclamation of Ebenezer Scrooge this holiday season. The production, adapted and directed by Rhiannon Lynn Annin, with original music by Ethan Miller, ran from December 6-22 at Theatre 82 in Cranston. Despite being performed every Christmas by various theatrical groups from elementary schools to the finest playhouses, this play always manages to draw us out. Maybe we hope to get into the Christmas spirit and experience a little magic.

Based on the Charles Dickens novella you surely read in middle school, audiences experienced a modern-day musical adaptation as they ventured through Ebenezer Scrooge’s past, present and future. Just as in the classic tale, first published on December 19 in 1843, Christmas is ultimately restored in Scrooge’s heart as he takes a candid look down Memory Lane.

This was not Annin’s directorial debut. In 2012, she attended The National Theatre Institute in Waterford, Conn, where she got to try her hand acting in various styles, playwriting, directing, set and costume design, singing and voice. “I drifted away from all theater practices for a few years while I started a family, but found my way back in 2016 stage managing for A Christmas Carol at Artists’ Exchange,” explains Annin. “This past summer and fall, I directed (also stage managed and light designed) Many Sides to the Reaper, produced and written by Nick Albanese, and quickly found my footing in the dramatic arts once more. This overlapped with the beginning of rehearsals for A Christmas Carol. In short, this is my second “solo project” directing since college, but I also teach a variety of theater classes with children at Artists’ Exchange. During these, I’ve been able to brush up on my directing skills and have found confidence in the craft that I never had before.”

Annin feels the production was successful in more ways than she could have imagined. “One of Artists’ Exchange’s goals is incorporating differently-abled adults as actors, and our guys went above and beyond my expectations. They were some of the loudest singers and had the biggest smiles of all the cast. Many of them are from Gateways to Change — our parent company — and others are from the community and attend classes at Artists’ Exchange during the daytime, where I teach as well. Bobby Macaux (Richard Wilkins) is part of nearly all of our Artists’ Exchange productions and is an amazingly talented actor. He takes on art projects as well inside the building. He has a special talent for comedy and it’s always a blast seeing what he comes up with on stage.”

Bah! Humbug! This is the now-antiquated term for fraud, used by Scrooge to downplay Christmas cheer, and, well, Christmas altogether. Our modern-day Scrooge uses the word and of course we all know what he’s getting at. While I can appreciate a modern adaptation, I sometimes struggled with some of the elements. At one point, our infamous Scrooge, portrayed by a young man named Liam Roberts (who participated in Artists’ Exchange’s summer youth program Heathers: The Musical this past summer), tossed off his shirt, exposing a buff physique in a ‘wife beater’ tank top. Despite the attempt to age Roberts with hair powder and skeletal makeup, one suspects Dickens would cringe at the notion of old man Scrooge looking like eye candy to half the audience. There are just some things that cannot be refashioned.

What did work was portraying Scrooge’s nephew, Fred (Alex Brunelle) as a typical millennial. Fred had us laughing with his outspoken, impish attitude when addressing his uncle. No doubt any teen in a 19th-century Dickens piece would be a perfect gentleman; seeing today’s teen interact with the old curmudgeon was a refreshing change.

Billy Petterson, who portrayed Marley — a role shared this year by veteran Mark Carter, who has played the role all 15 years — especially stood out. He has a heavenly voice, and yes — he is the son of one of RI’s well-known original musicians, Bill Petterson. His talent is all his own though, as he played a rather convincing spectre.

“I was so very lucky to work with such a gifted cast,” says Annin. “It was not until they put the dialogue, lyrics, and music to stage that I made a vital discovery. Ebenezer Scrooge, as a direct result of his flaws and shortcomings, lacks something we all take for granted: memories. Rather than basking in nostalgia or merely reflecting on the dearly departed, Ebenezer has blocked out nearly all of his past and continues on in life unfeeling. He saturates himself in ‘bah, humbug.’ Once Ebenezer learns to harness his past, truly see his present, and look to the future, he reaches his reclamation.”

The set was simple, with just a desk, chair and some empty frames on the wall. I took these in their basest forms when they were first hung on the wall, and was delighted each time the characters added photos in the frames to match the current happenings. These moving pictures truly added a unique stage presence. What didn’t work was having the cast move through the audience as there was just a narrow lane for them to get through. Nice idea, but a sold-out show necessitated extra seats, compromising audience comfort. Bittersweet, as there’s nothing wrong with sold-out shows in the world of theater. Says Annin, “By the end of our 18th performance run, we were selling out (and technically over-booking) every single performance, which — to put it plainly — blows my mind entirely. Although we had tremendous support from the family and friends of the cast and crew, there seemed to be an overwhelming number of people from the general community coming to see our production. As a director, I couldn’t ask for anything more. In a cast of 33, every single actor valued his/her role not only in the play, but as part of our ensemble. There were many tears closing night.”

There are no accidents? Annin met musical director Ethan Miller via social media and realized not only had their paths already passed, but he was perfect for this role. She explains, “He composed entire orchestrations for each song, recorded vocal tracks, worked with the actors, and then provided performance tracks. He attended every single performance and ran the sound board so every cue was meticulously timed. The only performance he wasn’t in the booth for was when he performed a miracle. Our Scrooge lost his voice entirely and Ethan filled in without a single rehearsal. …I cannot wait to collaborate with him further, and to see what else he has in store.” She also has tremendous praise for stage manager Jordyn Smith, who “takes on all tasks with ease and grace. Jordyn also excels at precision in the booth, and I was entirely lucky to have her by my side through these three weeks of performances.”

Although the production is over, Annin and Miller hope to have a website up in the next few months to make their show available for licensing at other theaters for the 2019 Christmas season and beyond.

Visit http://www.artists-exchange.org to see what’s up and coming at the theater.