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Rewriting the Rules: Collaboration Is the Engine Driving WomensWork’s Madwoman in the Volvo

One particular female-centric group making their mark on our vibrant local theater scene is rewriting the rules for just how theater can be — and perhaps should be — created. In keeping with the group’s focus to provide roles both on and off stage for women over the age of 40, WomensWork Theatre Collaborative is presenting the regional premiere of Sandra Tsing Loh’s raucous rollercoaster of a ride through the female experience, The Madwoman in the Volvo.

In their season announcement, executive director and “Founding Mother” Lynne Collinson explained that the season has the unifying theme of madness. “WomensWork has chosen plays — all written by women — that examine the ways madness manifests itself in women’s lives,” said Collinson. 

Based on the author’s acclaimed memoir, The Madwoman in the Volvo is a candid, funny and painfully honest look at what truths lie behind the oft-whispered taboo topic of (gasp) “the change.” Throwing away all of the euphemisms and shining a bright light on the subject, the show chronicles one woman’s tumultuous journey through menopause. 

“It’s a humorously honest narrative of women redesigning the way we navigate life’s middle-years and meeting it head-on,” explains Joanne Fayan, who portrays Sandra, the fictionalized version of author Tsing Loh. As is the case with all of their shows, Madwoman has an all-female cast, director and production staff. “That was important to us,” explains Fayan. 

In response to her impending sixth decade, the “Madwoman” of the title, Sandra, decides to head off on a spontaneous trip to Burning Man. Fayan plays the main character throughout and is joined onstage by local actresses MJ Daly and Paula Faber, who portray the myriad other characters in the play, almost a dozen different characters each. “We really think women will be able to identify with a lot in this show,” explain the actresses, “either having experienced menopause, or seeing it in someone else, or even learning about it.”

Where this show breaks new ground for WomensWork is that the three performers, alongside stage manager Lauren Katherine Pothier, are directing the show as a group. “With the current events in the women’s movement, we think it’s significant to showcase women as collaborators, and that’s just what we’re doing,” explains Daly, Fayan, Faber, and Pothier. “We have collaboratively created the set design, analyzed the play, coached and directed each other.”

The production cites the group of progressive female Democratic congresswomen dubbed “The Squad,” as the best example of the power of collaboration. “Women who shine as individuals can also come together to work as a team. Women are often looked at as not being able to work together. So, for this project we thought, no one person claims leadership … and we have not yet run into an instance where we could not compromise and accept each other’s differences. There is a lot of respect in the room. And a lot of listening. And no egos.”

The group reports that the rewards from pursuing this creative process have so far well outweighed the challenges — with the biggest challenge being the sheer amount of time it takes to discuss each decision. As opposed to a lone director who plans the production out and comes into the rehearsals with their completed directorial vision, the group explains, “We all come to the rehearsals with ideas to share but the decision-making is done in the room together…”

One of the more surprising challenges of “group directing” according to the cast is “finding a way to have that third, objective eye, for four people, when three of them are on stage.”

Fayan and the company explain that thankfully, technology was the solution to that problem. “We film ourselves for say 10 pages, watch it, make notes and then try it again. That’s double the time as having a director watch a cast run through 10 pages of script one time and give notes. We are finding the filming part to be invaluable.” 

They add that the other challenge is “being in two heads at once,” explaining, “That’s the toughest thing. While you’re trying to play the objective as an actor, there’s a piece of you that also commenting in your own head on how you and everyone else is doing. As you’re doing it, you’re asking yourself, ‘Is this working?'”

And as to the rewards that they have found through collaboration, the women agree that their ability to come to a consensus, while again time-consuming, was very rewarding. “I think the biggest surprise to all of us, and something we said over and over to each other during the process, was how uplifted we felt after each rehearsal. No matter how crappy we felt at the start…we always left feeling good. We didn’t expect that to happen.”

WomensWork Theatre Collaborative presents The Madwoman in the Volvo by Sandra Tsing Loh at The Artists’ Exchange, 50 Rolfe Street, Cranston, on March 6 and 7 at 7:30pm, and on March 8 at 2pm. The group is offering talkbacks after each performance to foster further public discussion around the themes of the play. Seating is limited. Tickets and more information: artists-exchange.org.




Theater as Activism: “The Clinic” features all-star cast to benefit women’s reproductive rights

Some of the top names in local theater are coming together to perform a Benefit Reading of The Clinic by Will Brumley on Tuesday, July 9. The staged reading will take place at The Wilbury Group Theatre, 40 Sonoma Court, Providence. Doors open at 6:30pm; the benefit will begin at 7pm. Tickets are available online at thewilburygroup.org and at the door. Proceeds from the Providence reading will be divided among three local organizations: Planned Parenthood, the Women’s Health and Education Fund, and The Womxn Project. 

Produced by Trinity Rep resident company member Rebecca Gibel and local costume designer Jessie Darrell Jarbadan, The Clinic is directed by Jackie Davis (Marisol, black odyssey and at Trinity Rep) and features Trinity Rep actors Annie Scurria and Rachael Warren alongside Sylvia Soares, Becky Bass, Steve Kidd, Rae Mancini and Jessica Smith. 

“One of the challenges I’ve experienced since the 2016 election is the hopeless feeling that there’s no way my one voice can possibly effect real change,” explains one of the event’s producers, actress Rebecca Gibel. 

She credits Facebook for first introducing her to the script. “Will Brumley, the playwright, posted that he was making his Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference semi-finalist script available for free to anyone who wanted to produce a reading to raise money for abortion funds and clinics. This was in direct response to the abortion bans in Missouri, Ohio, Alabama and several other states.”  

Local designer and activist Jessie Darrell Jarbadan shared the post and asked Gibel and some theater colleagues if they would be interested in producing the piece with her. Gibel says, “I wrote back immediately, and now here we are!” 

Gibel says that she is especially inspired by the panelists who will be speaking after the reading: Senator Gayle Goldin, co-sponsor of the Reproductive Privacy Act (RPA); Jordan Hevenor of the Womxn Project; and Tiara TyShae of the Women’s Health & Education Fund.  

“I believe that a profound power of live theater is the gathering of people together, breathing the same air, hearing the same story — an environment where one voice can become a chorus. I’m hopeful the play and the discussion afterward will give audience members motivation as well as an actionable framework to push reproductive rights forward in this state and beyond.”




Stage Presence: Korey Pimental and Taylor Corbett chat about The Glass Horse Project, staging LaBute in New Bedford and the need to see differently-abled talent on stage

 

I had the chance to talk with Korey Pimental and Taylor Corbett ahead of their opening of The Glass Horse Project’s The Shape of Things. Our conversation follows.

Marilyn Busch (Motif): Talk to me about your group — The Glass Horse Project. How did that come about and who else is in this group with you both?

Taylor K Corbett
Taylor K Corbett

Korey Pimental: Glass Horse started because I wanted to work as an actor. While I was majoring in English at UMASS Dartmouth, I found a mentor in the playwrighting professor, Mwalim, who saw my potential as an actor and theater artist. He took me under his wing and brought me into his organization, New African Company, to teach me how to produce because the conversations surrounding the inclusion of disabled talent were not as widely had as they are now. Even four, five years ago when I was in college and auditioning for a lot of stuff and not getting much of anything, it felt like the discussion was on the fringes. Now, some short years later, we’re eons ahead of where we were in that discussion and I get to be a part of it, which I’m humbled by and grateful for, and I also get to support those who are in it with me. Back then, Mwalim and I had many conversations about how I’d have to advocate for myself to be in the room by showing people what I can do because I was going to have to work twice as hard as the able-bodied actor next to me, especially if I wanted to break through the glass ceiling and be accepted into an MFA Acting program (still the goal). So that’s the why, or the history, if you will.

Glass Horse Project works under a social justice initiative in terms of how we interact with our audience; because we primarily produce for and out of New Bedford, Mass, we operate under a wholly pay-what-you-can model because (last I checked) almost a quarter of the city is at or below the poverty threshold and we try to be as accessible as possible. It’s similar to how we cast; the best person gets the role regardless. I never thought I’d be a producer, but I’m glad to have the skill set.

Taylor Corbett: Officially, I came on as a resident artist in November 2018, after Shel’s Shorts, and I just recently became the associate artistic director of Glass Horse. It is just Korey and I as far as artistic staff; but we do have a stage manager who I brought with me because they have worked with me before, named Sev Marshall, and a few people we consider resident actors. We also work closely with WatermellonAlligator Theatre Company, the theater company in residence over at Cotuit Center for the Arts black box. Jess [Wilson], the artistic director there, and Garrett [Olson], the associate artistic director have really helped us in a bunch of ways. We also collaborate a lot on different projects.

MB: And what about the group’s name? Is it a Glass Menagerie reference? The duality of fragility and strength?

KP: I didn’t even consider the duality between fragility and strength! I wish I could say that was it. That’s deep. But no, it is, in fact, a Menagerie reference. It was the first show that I ever produced, and I also played Tom. So, producing a show for the first time ever and taking on such a mammoth of a role was … a big learning curve. But I decided to pay homage to that experience.

MB: Korey, you mentioned that you are a disabled actor. Can you speak to that more specifically?IMG_8044

KP: I have cerebral palsy (CP) and was diagnosed at 18 months. So, I’ve never known anything other than thriving in the world as a disabled kid and now a disabled man in his 20s. I believe, wholeheartedly, that we, as humans, are way more complex than just one aspect of who we are. I am more than my disability; it’s only a part of me. I go through life not solely as a disabled person, but as Korey, and I forget about my gait until I either walk by a mirror and it’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s how my body works” or I feel someone’s eyes follow me as I pass by them. With all of that being said, I think it’s important for me, in my own life and artistry, to own every part of myself for exactly what it is (adjective included) and exist in that power because I can’t hide my gait or my CP. So, I live visibly and in the way that works for me. Like every actor, I take my entire personhood and put it on display. My specific display just happens to be outside of what most people “expect” of actors, but I hope my visibility is helping change that.

MB: Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things is a dark, funny, but darrrrrk, twisty take on Pygmalion, with one character “making over” another into a “better” version of themselves. Do you feel that by actively putting your disability into the mix as part of the character it adds another layer to the piece?

KP: I think it would be foolish of me to say, at this point, it doesn’t add a new layer to the text; this role wasn’t written for an actor like me in mind as a valid choice for casting. So yes, it does add a new layer and we have had conversations at the table about how this layer may deepen the show. What’s interesting is that none of our conversations about disability inclusion have been specifically about Adam (Shape’s protagonist) because this has just been his lived experience. He is already a fully realized person who goes about his day-to-day life with a visible disability. It’s the other characters in the play who we talked about being affected by this layer. Which is the core of this movement: It’s not that a disabled actor can’t play this role, it’s that we’ve been regulated to the outskirts because of other people’s perceptions, presumptions or comfort levels. This specific production allows us to normalize disabled bodies on stage in nondescript roles (because we are still losing descript roles to able-bodied actors, which is a separate issue) and in that normalization lies the bigger reality that ability is just another thread of the human experience. Secondly, nothing is being changed to make a specific reference to the inclusion of disability because it doesn’t have to be. Ability is a spectrum and we are starting to collectively hold a new understanding that there is no single view or experience to what disability is, which is great because the old view is myopic and damaging. So, the story still functions the same whether or not the actor playing Adam, and the character of Adam, is disabled or not; he still gets made over to be a “better” version of himself. As an actor, artist and an activist, I want to see us  get to the point where disabled actors can get work based on their talent and there’s no conversation about what their disability brings to the show. Their disability will be a present part of them and will be accepted as normal. However, to get to that point, we have to have conversations like this. We need to hear from not just me, but myriad disabled or differently-abled talent because no one’s experience with it is the same. These conversations are vital to moving forward and being more inclusive. I’m happy to have them and share my experience and perspective because it means we’re progressing.

MB: Taylor, as director of The Shape of Things, I have to ask you, “Why LaBute?” His work is pretty polarizing. What do you see as his strengths as a playwright?

TC: I think that theater in general, and theater that is really challenging, has the potential to push people to examine their own lives and their way of viewing the world – to achieve some level of catharsis and be affecting. Theater that surprises you and puts you in a position where you are questioning whether you have gone too far or allowed your autonomy to be lost should exist. It should push the boundaries of expectation. With that said, LaBute’s plays are layered with a thick sense of misogyny and toxic masculinity that is all too real in our world. As not only a woman, but a trans woman, I am very aware of the disparity in privilege in the patriarchal system. It is my job as a theater artist to fight against that in anyway I can. By acknowledging the inherent misogyny of the work and fighting against it, we strip away that thick layer to achieve the truth behind it.

MB: Are LaBute’s instructions that it is to be performed without an intermission or a curtain call still attached to the script?

TC: There will be no intermission and our curtain call, if you can call it that, is an invitation to the audience to join a talk back and decompress with the cast and production team. We hope to discuss the message and its relevance to 2019. Our world has changed so drastically since it was first published, and I feel it’s important to give the audience a space to start that work.

MB: Korey, recently there was a great post you made on Facebook about how when Ali Stroker* was doing Spelling Bee at Paper Mill you decided to reach out to her – and she responded (!!). Talk to me about that story and why it was meaningful to you…

Korey J. Pimental as Adam and Monica Hartford as Jenny.  Photo credit: Taylor K. Corbett
Korey J. Pimental as Adam and Monica Hartford as Jenny.
Photo credit: Taylor K. Corbett

KP: When I was 18, I didn’t know how it would be possible for me to have a professional career in the arts. All I had was a real love for the performing arts, and that love and resolve was forced to strengthen with every negative experience I had navigating this space. I used to really want to do musical theater professionally because I grew up listening to cast recordings. Ali Stroker was the first person from my community who I ever saw working professionally and she was doing musical theater, so it was huge! So, I did what any 18-year-old starved of representation would do, I messaged her randomly on Facebook. I don’t remember what I said in great detail, but I made sure to tell her she inspired me, and how I now knew I could have a career because she showed me it’s possible, and I asked for advice. Sure enough, she responded. She told me the sky was the limit and a bunch of other lovely things that I’m forgetting specifically, but I remember her being so gracious and kind. It definitely helped strengthen my resolve moving forward at 18 (which I definitely needed). She and I haven’t interacted since that one message and I doubt she’d even remember getting a Facebook message from me. But the fact that she responded was huge for me. I carried her words with me. One day, I hope to share what that meant.

The Glass Horse Project presents The Shape of Things by Neil LaBute, directed by Taylor K. Corbett starring Geoffrey D. Besser, Monica Hartford, Kerri Lamoth and Korey J. Pimental. Performances are one weekend only, May 30 – June 1 at Co-Creative Center, 137 Union St, New Bedford, Mass. Admission is Free/Pay What you Can, but please email theglasshorseproject@gmail.com to reserve tickets.

*Ali Stroker is a Tony Award winner and the first actress who needs a wheelchair for mobility known to have appeared on a Broadway stage.




Singer Katie Kleyla Trades the Jazz Mic for the Spotlight Onstage in All Shook Up at the Community Players

 

IMG_1202
Katie Kleyla as Miss Sandra; Photo credit: Robert Emerson

Katie Kleyla has what many jazz vocalists would call a “dream gig.” The classically trained vocalist who received her BA in music from URI is the lead singer for the impeccable 18-piece New Providence Big Band. After just a few seconds of watching a video from one of the band’s swinging New Year’s Eve sets, I was in awe of her stage presence, gorgeous throaty-voice and of course, the sequins. I spoke to Katie recently about her newest “dream gig,” playing the lead role of Miss Sandra in The Community Players’ spring musical, All Shook Up, onstage starting May 10. Under the direction of Sandy Cerel, the show is a “rocking musical” inspired by and featuring the hits of Elvis Presley.

Marilyn Busch (Motif): Are you an actress first and singer second — or vice versa? 

Katie Kleyla: I’m a classically trained soprano, so I’ll always be a singer first and an actress second. My voice has developed into a big, belty sound with lots of jazz innuendo; however, it’s the technique and the training that gets you through singing night after night.

MB: How would you describe your character, Miss Sandra?

KK: Miss Sandra enters the show as an outsider. She has just moved to the town to serve as the (small town’s Museum of Culture’s) curator. She is stylish and sexy in a cultured way that is unfamiliar to the residents, and that makes them both jealous and uneasy. She’s also extremely smart and looking for love in all the wrong places.

MB: What was the first show that you were ever in? 

KK: I was in a small production of the The Wizard of Oz when I was just a kid. I wore a hula-girl costume, all green, and had a small solo during “The Merry Old Land of Oz.”

MB: How did you get started singing with the New Providence Big Band? 

KK: I have been singing with the New Providence Big Band since around November 2012. Things have changed a lot since then. The group has grown, and I have grown up a bit. It’s a dream. The band director, Steve Leonard, asked me if I wanted to come sit in one night, sing a few tunes. I was thrilled to… the rest is history.

MB: How did you find this style of singing — or did it find you?

KK: Before I was a music major at URI, I was a theater major. I knew that they had open auditions for the big band soloist (open to anyone from any department), so I took a leap my freshman year and auditioned. I was so green then and very nervous, but I did get the gig. Working with the big band was definitely part of what ultimately helped me change my major fully to music, leaving me with a minor in theater. There was a time in my college career when some people in my life were not very pleased to see how excited I was about singing jazz and blues, but by then, it was already too late.

MB: What is more challenging for you, the auditioning, the weeks spent learning a part or the first night in front of an audience?

KK: For me, the rehearsal time is the most challenging. The audition is what it is — you do your best and you either have what they’re looking for or you don’t. Opening night — that’s where I shine. But that time in between can be a painful decision-making process. “Should I sing this like this or like this? … What do I need to do here to make this connection with my scene partner and with the audience?” and of course, the memorization.

MB: When you were younger, what shows did you dream of being in? 

KK: Anything that Julie Andrews was in! My dad raised me and my three brothers on the old school repertoire of musicals, so I’m mad for shows like My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins, The Music Man and South Pacific.

MB: What is your favorite song to belt out in the car? 

KK: It’s so funny that you ask that because a friend and I just recently had this conversation. If I really need to review something, I may listen to a recording of that and sing along, but for the most part, my time in the car is usually my listening time. Focus in on some albums that have come out recently that I really want to hear, artists other people have recommended I may be interested in. Sometimes when you’re performing a lot, you don’t have a lot of time to actively listen, and I like to use my time in the car for that.

MB: Ten years from now you will be… 

KK: …doing more interviews like this one, but for Vanity Fair. Ha! And singing, always singing!

The Community Players presents the popular jukebox musical All Shook Up, book by Joe DiPietro, featuring the hits of Elvis Presley. Directed by Sandy Cerel, with musical direction by Ron Procopio and choreography by Julia Gillis. Starring Carlos Arenas, Ed Carusi, Marcus Evans, Dalita Getzoyan, Donna Gorham, Malique Jelks, Katie Kleyla, Rick Koster, Kayla Leffort, Christopher Margadonna, Michael McCabe, Tammy Mulrooney, Stephanie Post, Tyler Rebello, Harrie Salk, David Schillinger, Michelle Schmitt, Sarah Stern, Jessica Still, Lisa Taylor and Jermaine Whitehead-Bailey. Performances are for two weekends, May 10-12 and 17-19. thecommunityplayers.net.

 

 

 

 

 




Mild-Mannered Professionals by Day — Bawdy Singing Romans by Night! Meet the Cast of Barker’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

FORUMEver see the one about the Roman slave who tries to win his freedom by helping his master shag the girl next door? Oh yes, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, that bawdy door-slamming, toga-wearing, swinging ’60s romp of a musical is back onstage in all its glory at Barker Playhouse for two weekends of performances, running May 10-19.

The show that spawned a thousand cabaret versions of “Comedy Tonight!” and “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” has been around since its Broadway debut in 1962. While the plot is pure ribald farce, the Tony Award-winning show has an incredible pedigree, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart (of M*A*S*H fame). Inspired by ancient Roman farces, the musical sets audiences up for every imaginable double entendre, complete with door slamming, cross-dressing cases of mistaken identities and sure-fire musical numbers sure to tickle even the staunchest funny bone.

I spoke to some of the show’s cast about what it was like to jump from their daily career and family routines into the sandals of these scheming slaves, ladies of the evening, soldiers, pimps and eunuchs — along the way discovering more than a few surprises.

With more than 40 years of stage credits with Barker, chances are good that you have seen actress Elizabeth R. Messier onstage in one show or another. “I consider The Players my home away from home,” says Messier. “I joined way back when, answering an ad looking for ingenues! Where once I played the ingenue — now it is the character role that fits the bill!” In Forum, Messier plays the battle-ax comic role of Domina. When not “playing at The Players,” as she calls it, her workday role of VP of Relocation Services may take her just a block away from the theater to her office at Residential Properties, but it is truly a world away from the larger than life character that she plays in the show. Heading into her 22nd year with Residential Properties, Messier and her staff work with corporations and individuals moving into or out of the state to help them with every aspect of their upcoming move. “I work with amazing people,” she adds. “Most everyone knows I am involved at The Players and often come to see the shows I am performing in.”

Director Michael Farrelly also finds his work colleagues to be very supportive of the shows that he directs and acts in. An educator in the South County school system for nearly 30 years, he typically directs a show every other year in order to make time for his own performance opportunities and to keep his work/life schedule balanced. He spends his days teaching and then with about an hour’s break makes his way to the theater for rehearsal. Farrelly is no stranger to Forum, having directed the show for Academy Players when the group was at the Odeum Theater 13 years ago. “Three members of the cast are reviving their roles from the last time I directed the show,” he tells me. “Jackie Granja, who is playing Tintinabula; Bobby DeMattio, who is a protean; and Trish St. Laurent, one of The Geminae. Over the years, Farrelly has worked with many of Forum’s huge cast at other venues. “They are all a joy to work with,” Farrelly says. “This has been an exciting adventure, as this is truly a very experienced group of actors coming together to perform.”

Jackie Granja is happy to be working with Farrelly again, as well as making her Barker debut. Granja is playing courtesan Tintinabula, a role that requires she “speak fluent cymbal” and be adept at belly-dancing. “She is a fun role to play, and I am finding out new things about her the second time around,” she explains. Granja can be found working at “The Studio” in Narragansett, where she currently teaches ballet. “Acting is an integral part of the ballet,” she explains, “so none of my students are surprised that I do a bit of theater from time to time, and they are very supportive.”

Kevin J. Hernandez, who plays Marcus Lycus in Forum, spends his days in Brocton, Mass, as a Service Coordinator for the Department of Developmental Services. “Being a family man and public servant is almost a flip side to my character, the self-described “Merchant of Love.” He explains that this term is used in the play as a very thin euphemism for what he really is — a pimp. “Getting the chance to throw off my daily role of being responsible and largely respectable and just be a creep is so much fun,” he says. Hernandez tells an amusing anecdote of the time when a new member to his family’s Temple brought it up to him that she once saw him perform in Lenny Schwartz’s The Inside of his Severed Head, a play in which his character was “far less clothed” than he appeared before her at schul that night. “It still gives us a good chuckle,” he adds.

Trish St. Laurent plays one of The Geminae, one of Marcus Lycus’s courtesans. “That’s a nice way of saying prostitute,” jokes St. Laurent. She describes her “regular life” outside of the theater as multifaceted. “Primarily I’m a mom of three,” she explains. “Only one is home now, and she is 15. My oldest (age 25) is getting his Ph.D. in biology, and my younger son (age 21) is a senior in college. Times were much busier when all three were home, obviously. However, my daughter is very active, and I am always chauffeuring her around to a variety of places.” She sings in the church choir as well as working part-time at the Narragansett Library. “Since I live in Narragansett that also means that I have a bit of a commute to Providence four times a week,” she says, adding, “I truly love it though, so it doesn’t bother me.”

Playing the other Gemini Twin is actress Carole Reavey. “This is my debut at Barker,” she explains, “as I have recently returned to theater after having played my most important role in life as a mother to my son Salvatore, now 24.” By day, Reavey is a licensed esthetician, something she has been doing professionally for 18 years. “I ‘perform’ my wonderful, effective facials at an amazing establishment in Warwick called R.G.E. I work among 15 other beauty professionals from hair stylists to massage therapists and everything in between.” Since returning to performing this year, she has had plenty of stories to share with her clients and co-workers. “It’s been exciting and fun for all of us to be a part of the creative process as many of them come and see my shows and plays,” she explains. “Their support and love and interest is priceless…”

Jim Lyons plays the comic role of a eunuch in the show. “About eight years ago, community theater came into my life, and it has been love ever since.” He has worked as a business analyst for the past 22 years for IGT (formerly GTECH). “My job is technical, the people I work with are engineers,” he explains. “On any given day I am working to ensure that a customer’s business needs are documented and understood well enough as to be developed by a software engineer — performing on stage is very much out of that box.” But that is not to say that his workmates are not supportive. Lyons tells of a time when one of his superiors heard about his performing. “He said, ‘I don’t get invited to your next show you are off the island.’” Lyons replied that this was no problem, but “you’ll have to buy a block of tickets,” which they did. “That night of the show…I had a group of more than 15 colleagues cheering me on,” he adds. “It was wonderful.”

Rebecca Kilcline plays Philia, Hero’s love interest in Forum as well as designing the show’s costumes. The mother of two teenage boys, she is a part-time music teacher and co-directs their church’s music program with her husband, Wayne. Many of Kilcline’s fellow cast members find a balance between their family roles and their stage roles, and Jill Pinto Gould is no exception. Gould, also a mother of two, plays courtesan Panacea and has been a middle school teacher for more than 20 years in Rhode Island as well as volunteer and co-chair of the Lincoln Athletic Council. “All of my friends in and out of work know about my ‘other life’ and are very supportive,” she says, adding, with a laugh, “I hope my students don’t get wind of the show…it would be a bit awkward if they saw me playing a hooker!”

Playing the lead role of Pseudolus, the Roman slave desperate to gain his freedom, is Anthony F. DeRose. “As an actor, I like to think Pseudolus is one of the greatest comedic roles to play in musical theater,” says DeRose, “and it’s a joy each and every time I step onstage to follow in the footsteps of comedic greats like Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers and Nathan Lane.” By day, DeRose is the operation coordinator for a primary care practice in Providence. But DeRose also has an alter-ego in his well-known drag persona, Jacqueline DiMera. As Jacqueline, DeRose has won the titles of Miss Gay RI, Empress of the Imperial Court of RI, Miss Gay RI USofA Newcomer, Miss Gay Kentucky USofA Newcomer and is affectionately known as “Rhode Island’s Drag Sweetheart.” When asked if his personas have ever collided, DeRose says, “There definitely have been some interesting moments.” He tells of one Drag Brunch on a Sunday morning that required him to dash right off to rehearsal afterward. “All of the sudden, you have Pseudolus on stage in a scene in a lovely purple designer cocktail dress, jewelry and some very stylized hair.”

The Players present A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, book by Larry Gelbart and Burt Shevelove, music by Stephen Sondheim, directed by Michael Farrelly from May 10-19 at the Barker Playhouse, 400 Benefit Street, Providence with evening shows Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and 2pm matinees on Sundays. For reservations call 401-273-0590 or email players1909@gmail.com.




There’s Much to Like About I Hate Hamlet at Attleboro Community Theatre

 

59739842_10206223874072956_3613332247840555008_oI Hate Hamlet, Paul Rudnick’s 1991 comedic sendup of both the relevance of Shakespeare’s characters in today’s television culture and the cost of fame, opened last night at Attleboro Community Theatre’s home in the lower level of the Ezekiel Bates Masonic Lodge, 71 North Main Street, Attleboro. The venue itself dates back to 1929, and the lodge’s inherent stone masonry and super-secret man cave vibes lend themselves perfectly to the setting of the play, the storied Greenwich Village apartment where famous actor John Barrymore dwelled in the early 1920s. Thanks to the fine set design work of director James Sulanowski, David Blessinger and Paul Nolette, the stage has been transformed into an ornate Gothic lair complete with stained glass windows and a large stone fireplace.

I Hate Hamlet opens with New York real estate agent Felicia Dantine (sweetly played by Alicia Harris) showing young TV star Andrew Rally (Benjamin Shane Christie) around the cavernous gothic apartment that he has rented sight-unseen on her recommendation. Rally has made the move from LA to NY in order to play Hamlet in Joe Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park. Felicia, who fancies herself quite psychic, is convinced that since Barrymore was famous for his portrayal of Hamlet, the apartment is a “perfect match.” Cue the arrival of Rally’s fiancée Dierdre (played as a bubbly ball of cheer by Rebecca Cunha Christie) who is star-struck to be in Barrymore’s old digs and Rally’s sharp-tongued theatrical agent Lillian Troy (played with dry reserve by Elizabeth Parent) who fell under the actor’s spell and into his bed for a passionate one-night fling. The women echo Felicia’s sentiments that not only should Rally stay, but he should also embrace the Barrymore connection and they should all stage a seance — right here, right now.

Cue the thunder and lightning and we soon have our friendly neighborhood psychic-slash-realtor engaging in some very funny summoning of the spirits. After speaking briefly to her mother (because, why not?), the group disperses after what seems to be a failed encounter. Cue the dramatic entrance of the most dramatic of stage actors — it’s the ghost of Barrymore! Although in this case, the entrance is quite … anticlimactic … as director Sulanowski has actor Stephen L. Hug just sort of amble onstage amid a cloud of smoke. Hug, clad in the requisite black velvet and tights costume we expect, brings the right gravitas and a delicious deep basso voice to the role, but after the amount of build-up we have had about the character’s greatness, Barrymore really needs to hit the ground running and take over the proceedings.

As Andrew Rally, Benjamin Christie has a wonderfully low-key and natural delivery — a delightful surprise considering the program notes that this is his first time acting on stage. His character is supposed to be a well-known TV star with a very successful commercial career and playwright Rudnick’s jokes at his expense come fast and furious, yet Christie manages to still make the role utterly relatable and charming.

Rally’s flighty fiancée, Dierdre, is played by Christie’s real-life wife, Rebecca, as a perpetually perky yet (improbably) 29-year old virgin who is saving herself for the moment when she is sure of her partner’s worthiness. The two have nice chemistry together onstage that helps normalize the ridiculous nature of the characters’ situations. While Rally is fighting to prove himself to Dierdre, he is also battling the feeling that he has made a terrible mistake in taking on the role of Hamlet as he simply doesn’t really care for Shakespeare. When the ghost of Barrymore reveals that he has come back in order to help Rally become a great Hamlet and can only return to the afterlife after the young actor performs the role, the machinations of the play are set in motion.

First entrance issues aside, Hug’s Barrymore really starts to shine when taking advantage of his “ghostliness” and the fact that only Andrew can see him. Hug’s eyes glint with such delight that I started to really have fun with the proceedings.

Picking up the energy considerably with his entrance is Dave Almeida as a fast-talking TV producer, Gary Peter Lefkowitz. He’s come to talk Rally into moving back to Los Angeles to take the lead in a lucrative (but completely inane) new super-hero series.

The play starts to really find a better tempo with the ensuing debates about pop culture fame and celebrity versus the glory of performing live theater. Christie finds some nice emotional depth in his monologues, especially when confessing that when he was on TV, no one really cared if he was talented.  The verbal sparring allows the playwright to take more than a few swipes at the theater, acting and fame, leading up to the eventual physical blows in the climactic swordfight (wonderfully choreographed by Chris Cardosi) that ends act one with a flourish.

The director and hard-working cast of I Hate Hamlet have obviously put in the effort to make these parts their own and have succeeded in finding much of the humor in the material. With a bit of tightening to remedy the pacing issues that threatened to drag down the first act, as well a weekend of performances under their belt, I predict that they will enjoy a very successful run that would make even Barrymore proud.

Attleboro Community Theatre presents I Hate Hamlet, written by Paul Rudnick and directed by James Sulanowski. Performances continue through May 19 at the Ezekiel Bates Masonic Lodge, 71 North Main Street, Attleboro. Friday, Saturday performances are at 8pm, and Sunday matinees are at 2pm. Tickets at the door and online at attleborocommunitytheatre.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




Expertly Crafted Violence: Fight Choreographer Chris Cardoni on staging swordplay

IHATEHAMLET_SwordsWhen the curtain rises this weekend on Attleboro Community Theatre’s production of Paul Rudnick’s I Hate Hamlet, the highlight of the night — as with many productions of the play that have come before it — promises to be the swashbuckling swordfight between the ghost of John Barrymore and a young television star who he is coaching to take on the role of Hamlet. Yes, you read that correctly — the ghost of legendary stage actor Barrymore crosses swords in an extended duel set within his old apartment, now occupied by the young TV star. Exciting stuff and it’s a make-or-break scene to end the first act on a high note. It is also a notorious scene within theater lore, as it is the very moment that saw star Evan Handler up and quit the show when British actor Nicol Williamson went off script and struck Handler with his sword — right across the backside (playwright Rudnick’s ribald retelling of the story for the New Yorker is still online today, and is very much worth the read in his spilling of every delicious drop of tea about the show’s initial Broadway run).

While stage antics as dramatic as an actor smacking another with a sword on purpose are very rare, it is in the interest of every director of stage violence to enlist the help of a trained fight choreographer in order to make the fight as believable — and as safe — as possible. Director James Sulanowski turned to noted fight choreographer Chris Cardoni to teach his actors the basics needed to wield their swords convincingly for the scene without actual danger or injury.

Cardoni, a member of the Society of American Fight Directors since 1999, designs fight choreography for theater as well as for film and video. He is trained in everything from unarmed stage combat to quarterstaff, broadsword, rapier & dagger, boxing … the list of his skills goes on and on. Cardoni’s day job may be in marketing, but his avocation for the past 20 years has been theater and fight direction.

He explains it best on his website, cjfights.com. “I’m not a martial artist. I’m not a stunt man,” the site introduction reads. “I’m not an expert fencer or boxer, or a crack shot. Except for a smattering here and there, I have little experience with real fighting. I’m a theater guy, an actor and director…sometimes for money but mostly for love.”

Marilyn Busch (Motif): How did you get started choreographing stage violence? 

Chris Cardoni: I had always been interested in sword-fighting and the fight scenes in TV and movies, but had never had a chance to really study it until about 20 years ago, when I started doing sport fencing at the Boston Fencing Club. They offered a workshop in stage combat, and I decided I loved it. 

MB: What’s your advice to directors and actors in regard to the need for violence design in the theater? 

CC: If you think you need one, you need one. If you’re not sure you need one, you need one. Even if there’s only a single push or slap or fall or struggle, you need one. I have a motto on the front page of my website: “There’s no moment in any play, comedic or dramatic, that’s worth an actor getting hurt.”

MB: Do you run into people that think they can just “wing it” acting in a scene without choreographing the violence?

CC: All the time! It comes from ignorance or ego or bravado or a combination of those things. You cannot wing it; someone will get hurt.

MB: When you were a kid, what did you want to be in “when you grew up”?

CC: I think I was always an actor inside, because I wanted to be many different people. My older brother was into theater, so I was. I don’t recall which show was my actual first — probably Story Theatre, for which I designed the set. I was 14 (about 46 years ago). I’ve been an actor, director, set designer, make-up artist and a few other things, a little bit professionally but mostly as an amateur.

MB: Who are you inspired by and who are the leaders in your field?

CC: I’m constantly inspired by everyone in the Society of American Fight Directors, a terrific organization. Some of my teachers are well-respected in the stage combat community and the SAFD: Robert Walsh, Ted Hewlett, Rob Najarian, Adam McLean. L. Stacy Eddy, who runs Bay State Fencers in Somerville, introduced me to stage combat and gave me my first choreography referral. I’ve been inspired by the great Hollywood fight directors, two of whom we’ve lost recently, William Hobbs and Bob Anderson. A partial list of the films they worked on includes the Star Wars series, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, The Lord of the Rings, Rob Roy with Liam Neeson, The Duelists, The Three Musketeers, Game of Thrones, The Princess Bride, The Count of Monte Cristo, Romeo and Juliet — on and on.

MB: What advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

CC: Join the SAFD and participate in as much of their training as you have time and resources to do.

MB: What’s a “dream” show that you would love to work on?

CC: I’ve been fortunate to do a fair amount of Shakespeare (Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, “the Scottish play”). I’d love to do any of those again — I’ve been in the mood for a full-scale R&J.

MB: What are the five things you can’t live without?

CC: Coffee, red wine, books, my swords, my love and life partner Melissa.

This is the fourth production of I Hate Hamlet Chris has choreographed, and he has played the role of Barrymore twice. Attleboro Community Theatre presents I Hate Hamlet, written by Paul Rudnick and directed by James Sulanowski with Dave Almeida, Ben Christie, Rebecca Christie, Alicia Harris, Stephen Hug and Elizabeth Parent. Performances will be held for three weekends, May 3-19 at the Ezekiel Bates Masonic Lodge, 71 North Main Street, Attleboro. Friday, Saturday performances are at 8pm, and Sunday matinees are at 2pm. Tickets at the door and online at attleborocommunitytheatre.com.




For Jamestown’s Richard Martin, Directing Into the Woods is a Wish Come True

DSC_0418Now in his second season as artistic director of Jamestown Community Theatre (JCT), Richard Martin is not shy about his love of Sondheim/Lapine’s beloved  “fractured fairy tale” of a musical, Into the Woods. “It’s my favorite musical in the whole world,” he said enthusiastically. “If you’re not the sort of person who loves this show, we can’t be friends. Seriously, though. it’s Sondheim. It’s fairy tales. It’s Sondheim doing fairy tales. What could be better?”

The Jamestown-based group has long made a name for themselves not only for their productions, but also for their commitment to fostering the growth of arts, culture and social awareness for the town’s youth. Under the auspices of the town’s Recreation Department and the watchful eye of the nonprofit’s board, the group regularly casts both student and adult actors in their shows.

Their upcoming production of Into the Woods running March 21 – 24 is no exception, featuring a cast that includes 18 adults and 16 young actors. A 1986 Broadway hit that was turned into a star-studded Disney movie in 2014, Into the Woods weaves together the well-known fairy tales of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella” and more. The second act then picks up each story after the supposed “happily ever afters,” showing audiences that often there are harsh realities to face when everything you wish for comes true.

Into the Woods is part of the JCT’s first curated season of programming, purposefully choosing shows that thematically work together. “This is the first year we announced our full season in advance,” explained Martin. “This year we decided on a fractured fairy tale theme. We kicked off with a one-act summer camp play for kids, the fall show was Shrek: The Musical, and now the spring show is Into the Woods.

Martin is very proud of the “sheer talent” on display by his more seasoned cast members. “While of course we have some powerhouse singers in the lead roles (Jessica Gates as the Witch, Robert Grady as the Baker, Keri Boisclair as the Baker’s Wife),” he points out that “the strength of the supporting cast is just astounding. Morgan Capodilupo as Little Red and Austin Venditelli as Jack are going to give performances that are simply not to be missed!”

Almost all of the group are from Jamestown and nearby areas. “We are not doubling any parts,” Martin said proudly. “The animals – Milky White and Cinderella’s Birds – are all being played by children and Cinderella’s stepsisters are being played by teen actresses Isabella Rocheleau and Cora Lawson. In keeping with JCT’s mission of intergenerational collaboration, we have a number of parent-child pairs in the cast. For example, Ryan Hill is Cinderella’s Prince and his daughter Rylee Hill (who was last seen in JCT as Donkey in Shrek) is Granny.”

Martin also gave a tip of the hat to Jackson Brine, the fifth grader who is playing Milky White. “He is hysterical, truly gifted at physical comedy,” stated Martin, adding “He’s totally going to steal the show!” He went on to say that, “The thing that strikes me most about [Jackson] is how much he understands about the material. At the very first rehearsal, I asked each person to go around and say something about their character, and he said: ‘I’m Milky White, the gender-indeterminate cow. I don’t like labels.’”

As far as directorial choices, Martin admits to having a few new ideas to bring to the staging. “The most unique thing we’re doing is the way we’re playing the Narrator (Liam Malloy). In Act One, he’s embodying his childhood self — though he looks like a grown-up — retelling the story as it’s been told to him, the way children do. . .But then in Act Two, time passes in a big way – the world is more modern – the sets and some characters/costumes have adapted, though some cling to the past. In Act Two, the Narrator is grown up, and he’s no longer simply telling the story, but discovering it through research. He’s set in an archive, uncovering aspects of the tale as recorded in manuscripts, sharing his findings with the audience as he goes. He’s realized the truth is more complicated than the tale he was told as a child.”

Martin feels that the 33-year old show still holds a timely message – maybe even one ahead of its time, he explained, “Much of the show focuses on questions of family and parenting. In this time of tiger moms, helicopter parents, free-range parents, there’s so much advice out there that tries to make the raising of children into a recipe, as if all you had to do is follow it. But the Witch makes that mistake with Rapunzel, trying to shield her from the world – as in certain versions of homeschooling — and in the process, she leaves her utterly unprepared to be an adult.”

Martin also credits the play for its redefinition of what constitutes a family. “We go from classic fairytale visions of the family in Act One to the end where the Baker, Cinderella, Red and Jack find each other and form a family of their own,” he said, noting, “It’s not the traditional or typical version of happy ever after, but it’s a life that’s livable.”

When not busy with his duties at JCT, Martin is an anthropologist by profession and teaches in the Harvard College Writing Program in Cambridge, Mass. “I offer a freshman writing course called “Society and the Witch,” introducing students to academic writing and research in anthropology, cultural studies and folklore.

So, what is next for Martin? “I’ve been very lucky to have already directed my two most favorite pieces of theater – Angels in America and Into the Woods. So, I’m sort of like the characters at the start of Act Two, where I’m wondering what to do now that my wishes have come true. I’ve been very fortunate in my life so far. I was a first-generation college student, and I got to study – and now work – at some of the best universities in the world. When I lived in New York, I got to sing with my choir at some amazing venues, like BAM and Carnegie Hall. I have an amazing husband and two wonderful children. And, while my big debate early in my adult life was becoming an academic or pursuing theater, now I get, in some way, to do both. So, I think for me this is less a moment to wish for more and more of a moment to be grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been blessed with, and to hope that I’ll be able to continue to find or carve a path as I journey on.”

Jamestown Community Theatre presents Into The Woods, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, directed by Richard Martin. March 21-24 at the Jamestown Community Center, 41 Conanicus Avenue, Jamestown, RI. More info: www.jamestowncommunitytheatre.com, tickets at https://jctwoods.brownpapertickets.com.




The Cast of The Married Name Talk Guilty Pleasures, Secret Talents and Acting in Counter-Productions’ World Premiere Comedy

MARRIED NAME CASTCounter-Productions Theatre Company will be presenting the world premiere of Kevin Broccoli’s newest play, The Married Name, running March 15-24 at the AS220 Black Box Theatre, 95 Empire, PVD. Directed by Victoria Ezikovich, the production marks the acting group’s penultimate production of this, its final season.

Playwright Broccoli describes The Married Name as a “knock-down, sophisticated Battle Royale about friendship and modern marriage with an explosive ending that’ll have everybody talking.”

When I asked if the “Battle Royale” he is referencing was bloody, like in the video game Fortnite or the Japanese film, he explained that it was actually a term he’d been finding himself using a lot lately to describe theater. 

“Especially when it comes to super talented actors pairing off against each other,” Broccoli explains. “I feel like there was a time where plays were really about two characters from opposing points of view squaring off against each other. It all had this great feeling of like a boxing match and I think for whatever reason, people really aren’t writing those sorts of plays anymore.”

Except for Broccoli, of course, who has made quite the name for himself with his acerbic wit and prolific writing output. “I’m so excited to be a part of the final Counter-Productions season,” says Broccoli, “especially with this particular play that I wrote with their company in mind. CPTC has always been the best place to go in Rhode Island for theater that goes right to the edge in terms of risk and daring while still offering downtown audiences polished acting and thoughtful productions.”

The play revolves around a soon-to-be-married couple, Dan (Adam Preston) and Rex (Justin Pimental) at a dysfunctional dinner party with their best friends Al (Ryan Leverone) and Ethan (Luis Minaya).

Stealing inspiration from James Lipton’s infamous “10 questions” posed at the end of every Inside the Actor’s Studio interview — and actually stolen from Bernard Pivot, who originally stole it from Marcel Proust — I’ve taken the liberty of creating my own ten roundtable questions for the cast of The Married Name.

1) What would people say is your trademark?

Adam Preston: I’m fortunate to say I often receive compliments on my comedic timing. I am also a deaf actor, and whenever possible, I like to incorporate sign language into whatever project I’m doing. For example, I performed with Kevin Broccoli in Marshall at Epic Theatre and my character had an 11-page monologue. I delivered that monster of a monologue with simcom, short for simultaneous communication, which means speaking and signing at the same time. That was a pretty exhilarating experience to be able to nail the lines and the signs smoothly. Musicals are an excellent platform for sign language as well.

Justin Pimental: My high-pitched, squealing, near Fraggle-like voice.

Ryan Leverone: Awful handwriting.

Luis Minaya: The smiling man.

Kevin Broccoli: Probably getting in trouble.

2) What phrase do you want to just go away?

Adam: “How do you memorize your lines?” Enough said.

Justin: “Fair and balanced.”

Ryan: “The Mondays;” I just had a weekend too, ya’ big dumdum.

Luis: “Let’s just give up.”

Kevin: “Controversial.”

3) What is your most guilty pleasure?

Adam: My guiltiest pleasure would have to be the Tinkerbell movies on Netflix. I’ve seen every one. The pirate one is my favorite.

Justin: Marathons of “Bar Rescue” on Paramount. The man heals bars…and hearts…

Ryan: The music of Sean Paul.

Luis: Cardi B songs.

Kevin: Competitive cooking shows

4) What is your secret talent?

Adam: I’m a cyborg with bionic hearing.

Justin: Consistently missing the coaster resting directly next to my drink.

Ryan: I give great back rubs.

Luis:  I’m good at video games.

Kevin: My Mickey Mouse impersonation, but it’s not really a secret because I do it constantly.

5) When you were a kid, what did you want to be in “when you grew up”?

Adam: Growing up, I wanted to be a successful actor. So, I’m definitely living the dream!

Justin: Rock Star.

Ryan: Poker player; the grind ain’t worth it, kids.

Luis: When I was a kid I wanted to be in telenovelas – Spanish soap operas – when I grew up.

Kevin: A zookeeper — still do.

6) If you could give yourself any other name, what would it be?

Adam: THE COOLEST UNCLE EVER! My niece and nephew are the coolest niece and nephew ever, so it just makes sense.

Justin: Sir Michael Caine.

Ryan: Leveroni, I’d like my name to be spelled how it is pronounced.

Luis: Santo.

Kevin: I’d love to be a “Shane,” but I don’t know if I could pull it off.

7) You finally appear on the front page of The New York Times. What does the headline read?

Adam: Deaf Writer Wins Emmy for Hit Series

Justin: Man Commandeers Printing Press

Ryan: I Mean, He Just Looks Like He Did Something Stupid, Right?

Luis: New Star or Disaster? We’ll See.

Kevin: Guess Who’s to Blame? This Guy

8) How would you all describe Kevin Broccoli’s writing style?

Adam: First, any script by Kevin Broccoli is a fantastic work of art. Second, he is called a “Fearless Leader” for a reason: Because his works bring uncomfortable truths front and center where the audience can’t help but be moved in some way. However uncomfortable, it’s also presented in a way that everyone understands and relates to. As an actor, those kinds of challenges are thrilling, The Married Name is no exception. For this show in particular, the writing style is very versatile. It has minimal stage directions, so it really leaves a lot of room for the actors and director to play with.

Justin: Frantic, acerbic and witty

Luis: Relatable, dark, funny and deep.

Ryan: Character-driven

9) What was the most challenging part of this whole rehearsal process for you as an actor?

Adam: Not breaking character when someone does a punch line. These guys are seriously great! I always want to laugh!

Justin: Shaving my beard. It was really starting to grow on me.

Luis: Since English is my second language, it would be learning lines and pronunciation.

Ryan: Picking up cues; the play is at its best when it increases in pace.

10) How would you describe your character in this play in one word?

Adam: SELFISH.

Justin: Honest.

Ryan: Unfulfilled.

Luis: Curious.

Counter-Productions Theatre Company ‘s production of The Married Name written by Kevin Broccoli, directed by Victoria Ezikovich runs March 15-24, 2019 with Adam Preston, Justin Pimental, Ryan Leverone and Luis Minaya at AS220 Black Box Theatre, 95 Empire St, PVD. More information online at cptcri.com.




Love Under the Northern Lights: Entertaining Almost, Maine is almost realism, most decidedly magical

SaraQuintilianiStevieSmithAlmost, Maine, by playwright/actor John Cariani, holds the distinction of being one of the most popular plays of this decade – topping the lists for most produced at both the high school and community levels of theater. Dubbed “a real romantic comedy,” there is no doubt why the show has attracted the attention of these groups. The play is made up of nine short vignettes, all stitched together by a common thread – the basic drive for connection and our need to be loved – populated by well over a dozen colorful and amiably plain-spoken characters. Fueled perhaps by the ever-present Northern Lights ablaze over the town, each short story ambles into the world of magical realism, often with a wink, a pun and more than a few nudges from the author – and all ending with a “surprise” twist.

The fact that Cariani is first and foremost an actor fuels his script in ways that only actors will spot first – especially those looking for a good monologue – as each scene provides actors with countless opportunities to have their “moment.” The show contains no adult language (“Jeezum Crow!” is the expletive of choice throughout) and gives a large cast of 19 actors each a chance to shine.

The show takes place during the same span of 10 minutes throughout the confines of the fictional Maine borough of Almost – a place so far north of everything it’s “almost” in Canada. Actually, it’s “almost” a town as well, since the residents just never really got around to formally making it official.

The synopsis of each of the eight scenes (and the ongoing interstitial playlet) could all be finished with one word: “literally.” We meet a woman who carries her broken heart with her always – literally – in a small bag. A man is immune to pain until a surprise kiss opens him up to intense new feelings – literally. A pair of close friends are surprised to find that they are falling for each other – literally – just falling, face down, repeatedly in the snow. You get the idea.

The script is bookended by the only characters we will meet repeatedly this evening, a sweet young couple earnestly played by Peter Swan (Pete) and Rachel Letourneau (Ginette). When Ginette finally works up the nerve to tell Pete she loves him, things take an unexpected turn.

Under Valerie Remillard’s solid direction, this first scene sets the storytelling tone for the night, where the unspoken moments hold just as much importance as the dialogue and we soon see that a relationship can be made (or broken) within the measure of a reply.

In the first scene, titled “Her Heart,” Glory (Megan M. Ruggiero) has set up camp for the evening in East’s (Ian Hudgins) front yard. When he comes out to investigate, he quickly finds out that she is more than just a tourist, but someone on a journey to make amends after a huge personal loss. Ruggiero brings a chatty but matter-of-fact energy to Glory, based on a palpably heartfelt sense of truth as she explains her quest. While I felt that Hudgins leaned into the comedy of the scene a little too often, the duo found a pleasant rhythm and set the tone nicely for the other romantic scenes to come in the evening.

The next scene, “Sad and Glad,” is set in the unfortunately named local pub the “Moose Paddy” where Jimmy (Richard Griffin) has a surprise run-in with his ex-girlfriend Sandrine (Katie Clancy). While Sandrine’s Clancy makes no attempt to hide the character’s disdain for her ex, Griffin is convincingly open and vulnerable as he recounts how he painted himself as the villain at end of their relationship. As the Waitress, Megan Begin manages to make the most of a role that could have become a one-note joke in lesser hands.

The next vignette, titled “This Hurts,” ups the ante with some very well-played physical comedy as Marvalyn (played by the very funny Amy Lee Bullock) finds herself unintentionally hitting on her laundromat companion, the straight-laced by-the-book Steve (played with droll finesse by Alex Hatzberger).

It is during “Getting It Back” that author Cariani takes a deep dive into the metaphorical and presents us with some very literal manifestations of love. As Gayle, Heather Vieira is a woman on a mission to return all the love her longtime boyfriend has given her. Amid the heavy-handed visual puns, the author has some touching moments in store when Lendall (Matthew Moos) returns her love – as requested. Both actors find some nice specificity within the laughs so that the payoff of the scene feels real despite all the metaphorical baggage that proceeded it.

The most heavy-handed writing of the evening is within “They Fell,” a literal imagining of falling in love with all its implied gravitational problems. That having been said, much credit is due to Remillard and her two actors for successfully underplaying this particular scene. Mindy M. Britto as Deena and Caitlin Robert as Shelly fully inhabit their characters, creating a lovely, short-hand, lived-in relationship, bringing playwright Cariani’s limited dialogue to life with seemingly effortless comic timing.

Local theater vets C. Richard Koster and Karen Gail Kessler are a wonderful match as a long-married couple in “Where It Went.” After an unsuccessful attempt at rekindling old times by going skating, Marci reminds husband Phil “you first kissed me when we were skating.” A Carhart-clad Koster embodies the oblivious Phil with a gruff, grounded energy. Frustrated by a lost shoe, Marci begins to strip off her polite, smiling veneer and finally lets Phil know how she is truly feeling inside. When the other shoe finally drops (again, literally…) the pathos of the couple’s revelations are nicely balanced against the inherent comedy written into the scene.

As Hope in the “Story of Hope,” Carole Reavey shows up suddenly on her long-lost love’s
doorstep to finally answer his marriage proposal from years ago. Reavey deftly handles the language of her stream-of-thought monologues explaining how she came to Almost, Maine. She soon realizes that the man who answers the door – played by a wonderfully low-key Duane Langley – is not the person she was looking for at all. Langley’s performance, whether just listening silently to Hope’s tale or voicing his advice on her situation is wonderful, backed by his mellifluous voice and thoughtful line-readings.

The final full scene of the play is “Seeing the Thing,” a “will-he, won’t he” love story between two snowmobiling buddies, Rhonda (Sarah Quintiliani) and Dave (Stevie Smith.) From the get-go, we see that Dave has been holding a torch for Rhonda, unable to voice his true feelings. When he presents her with a painting, the only person who cannot see the truth of his feelings is Rhonda. The play ends with the finest piece ofull-onon Mainer-striptease I have ever seen, leaving the audience in stitches.

One of my favorite design elements of the evening was the sound, a fun, pop-fueled playlist where each music track perfectly encapsulated the scene prior. Kudos to director Remillard for eschewing the playwright’s instructions to use his approved instrumental tracks and instead, bringing a fun sense of clarity to each scene’s endings. The deceptively simple set design by the always delightful Brian Mulvey gives us a nice sense of the not-so-naturalistic setting, wisely keeping the beautiful lighting design by Koster and Adam Ramsey front and center. The lighting duo nailed the magical needs of the piece, giving us perfectly rendered clear skies, scattered with stars and some breathtaking Northern Lights.

The Community Players present Almost, Maine by John Cariani, directed by Valerie Remillard, playing now through March 3, 2019.  The evening stars Megan Begin, Mindy Britto, Amy Bullock, Katie Clancy, Richard Marr-Griffin, Alex Hatzberger, Ian Hudgins, Karen Gail Kessler, Rick Koster, Duane Langley, Rachel Letourneau, Matthew Moos, Carole Reavey, Caitlin Robert, Megan Ruggiero, Stevie Smith, Peter Swan, Sarah Quintiliani and Heather Vieira. Performances at Jenks Auditorium, 350 Division Street, Pawtucket. Tickets at thecommunityplayers.net or 401-726-6860.