Morra, Chace Stage ‘Scared of Sarah’

Sometimes the only thing we can expect in life is the unexpected. And the only guarantees are that there are no guarantees. These may be cliché, but it’s hard to argue their truth. When life throws an unexpected event our away, we must be prepared to take it on, something that’s often difficult to do. The play Scared of Sarah, being presented at the Black Box Theater at the Artists’ Exchange and presented by Sidecar Theater Company, examines just this situation.

Sidecar is a young company, recently formed by Rich Morra, Artistic Director at the Black Box Theater and Tom Chace, an actor and the Black Box’s Musical Director. They formed Sidecar so they could perform the kinds of shows they really wanted to do. “We can produce whatever we want,” Morra says.  “Shows that have interesting, edgy characters. Shows with small casts, that are a little bit edgier. It’s more cutting-edge kind of stuff.”

Sarah is a three-character play, focusing on young couple Lilly and Sam, who are expecting their first, unplanned, child. “It’s the story of a couple forced to be ready for more than they are,” Morra says. That event comes in the person of Lilly’s sister, Sarah, who is autistic. Due to a fire in her apartment, Sarah moves in with her sister and brother-in-law. Her presence in their home creates fear in Lilly. “She is afraid of having a child, what if the child has a disability, like Sarah,” Morra says.

“The play also deals with how the world views people with disabilities,” Morra notes. “People with autism and Asperger’s are in our everyday life. We might not even know they have a disability.” This also fits in well, Morra says, with the Artists’ Exchange’s mission to integrate adults with developmental disabilities into its programs.

“A friend of mine saw the play and said it was a really good story, right up my alley,” Morra says. The play is relatively new, having had a staged reading at theKennedyCenterin D.C. and a production at the Fringe Festival inNew York City. While he loves what he does full-time, Morra says getting to do plays like this allows him to do his kind of theater, which he says is “minimalistic,” adding, “Give me a box. I’ll paint it black. Put some actors in there and tell a story, it will be awesome.”

The story he’s telling with this play, Morra says, is “How do you deal with things you just aren’t ready for? It’s about being available for things you thought you weren’t ready for.” There is also, he says, an important story about the relationship between the two sisters. “Lilly has great difficulty getting along with her autistic sister but she’s in a much better place by the end of the play, after having to deal with her sister much more than she used to.”

Sidecar’s first show, Love Song was successful for Morra, who is excited for what’s happening with his small company as well as the Artists’ Exchange at large. “We’re really enjoying relative success. It’s a community kind of program that’s been growing and growing.” It may be safe to say that they can expect even more success in the future.

Sidecar Theater Company presents

Scared of Sarah, by Laura Brienza, at Artists’ Echange,50 Rolfe Square, Crantson. Runs Feb 17-26. Visit www.artists-exchange.org

Trinity Cast Carries ‘Merchant of Venice’

When many think of the plays of William Shakespeare, they focus on his male characters, like Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello and others. It’s always been my opinion, though, that Shakespeare’s women are just as strong as his men, and in some instances even stronger. One play where the women outshine the men is A Merchant in Venice, currently in production at Trinity Repertory Company.

When most talk about Merchant, they think of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender. A somewhat controversial character, he’s been played many different ways. Here, it’s unfortunately as little more than a poor little victim, constantly whining about his lot in life. Whether it’s actor Stephen Berenson’s fault or not is hard to say, but the interpretation doesn’t make Shylock more human, it makes him weak and creates a far less interesting character.

Antonio and Bassanio, the other male leads, are played by Joe Wilson, Jr. and Stephen Thorne, respectively.Wilsonis a powerful actor but could really loosen up a bit at times. His Antonio is too stiff and too serious, too much of the time, not allowing for many levels or nuances in the performance. Although it’s hard to discern why these two are such great friends, Thorne makes clear Bassanio’s passion for his friendship with Antonio, handling the verse and the emotions very well.

The rest of the male cast is excellent, especially the always-reliable Fred Sullivan, Jr. as Gratiano, and Will Austin as Lorenzo. The first half of the play actually focuses more on the story of Lorenzo and his lady love, Jessica, than it does on the other subplots. The scenes depicting the Lorenzo/Jessica story are the best of the first half.

Jessica, Shylock’s daughter who runs away to be with Lorenzo, is played wonderfully by Caroline Kaplan. She and Austin were both excellent in the recent Brown MFA production of Parade and they are equally excellent here. Both are Brown MFA Acting students and if they stick around after graduation, it will be exciting to watch them take on bigger and more challenging roles on area stages.

Which brings us to the leading ladies. First, Rachel Warren as Nerisa, Portia’s waiting gentlewoman.Warrenis always a joy to watch. Her face is so expressive that her silent reactions alone are worth the price of a ticket. When she speaks, she’s just as good or better. Portia, though, is the one to whom this play belongs, in my opinion. She is, for me, the center and strength of this play.

Luckily, Trinity’s Portia is played by an actress more than up for the challenge, Mary C. Davis. Among the cast, she is one of the most skilled and comfortable with the verse, which comes trippingly offer her tongue. More importantly, she doesn’t just speak the lines, she lives and feels them. In the second half, when the play becomes largely focused on her, she puts it on her shoulders and carries it perfectly.

That second half leaves behind the scattershot, all over the place feeling of the first, dealing instead with one story and one event. Due in large part to the performances of Davis,Warrenand the rest of the cast, the second half far outshines the first and ends up as a powerful piece of Shakespearean theater.


The Merchant of Venice, Trinity Rep. 201 Washington St, Providence, runs thru March 11. www.trinityrep.com

Talking With…’ is a 10

The word “monologue” is defined as: 1) a form of dramatic entertainment, comedic solo or the like, by a single speaker; 2) any composition, as a poem, in which a single person s peaks alone; 3) a prolonged talk or discourse by a single speaker, and; 4) a part of a drama in which a single actor speaks alone.

While these four definitions may be very similar, the monologue, as part of a play’s script, can take on an infinite number of forms, styles and genres. It can be tragic, comic, hilarious, devastating and everything in between.

Plays featuring a series of monologues can be a risky proposition. Some audiences want a full-length story with a beginning, middle an end. They expect a play that follows a three-act structure and tells a multi-layered story. It can be challenging to create a play that is just as appealing that contains many disconnected short stories, rather than the typical single long story format. Director Ron Robinson is taking on that challenge with his production of Talking With at Little Theater of Fall River.

“It’s like directing 10 different mini-plays, but there really is no different challenge than directing one long play,” Robinson says. “It was more difficult to create a ‘family’ atmosphere that usually occurs because, until this week, all the participants were not together. This is not really a challenge, just a different experience.”

It was the simplicity and the variety that attracted Robinson to the play, he says. Variety is the name of the game here, as the play features a wide-ranging diversity of characters, including a woman in her 23d hour of labor, a bag lady’s, an auditioning actress and a rodeo rider. The stories of these women run the gamut from hilarious to tragic, touching on everything in between.

Only having to focus on one monologue does benefit the actors, Robinson says, “There is not as much of a time commitment as there is in most shows as they did not need to be at all rehearsals.”

The rehearsal environment involved other differences form a typical show.

“There is no interaction at all between the characters, so each actor only had to focus on their individual role. Therefore, it was a one on one process between actor and director.”

Shows of this type occasionally tie the monologues together with a common theme, but not this time,” Robinson says. “There really is no connection between the monologues – other than that they are all delivered by women who have something to say. The women are young, old and in between. Some of the stories are sad, some are funny and some are just a little bit strange.”

He adds that they are all entertaining and provide “great opportunities for the actors to shine.”

When asked if he has a favorite monologue from the play, Robinson says it would be “very difficult to choose.” Seeing these unique and entertaining monologues will, he hopes, be a “different” experience that will wow audience members. Unlike a typical play, this one will have 10 chances, around 10 minutes each, to make that happen.


Talking With…, the Little Theatre, the Fire Barn,340 Prospect Street,Fall River.  www.littletheatre.net Runs Jan 19-29

The Community Players’ ‘Sugar Sisters’ are Sweet

What would happen if you put Steel Magnolias,Twin Peaks, The X-Files and a Stephen King novel in a blender, blended them together, and dumped the result into the Florida swamp?

You might get something like the extremely entertaining and delightfully bizarre The Sugar Bean Sisters, presented inPawtucketby The Community Players.

Nathan Sanders wrote the play that beams audiences into theFloridahome, in a swamp near Disney World, inhabited by the Nettles sisters, Faye and Willie Mae. Faye anxiously awaits the return of an alien spaceship which promises, she believes, to take her away from it all, while Willie Mae is equally hopeful that a good Mormon man will sweep her away just as fast. One stormy night in August, a stranger appears on their doorstep and things quickly go from strange to stranger in what becomes a very dark, very funny comedy.

Longtime Community Players veteran Karen Kessler plays Faye with a wonderful balance between an innocent child and a scheming, wily adult. While there may be moments when Fay seems dumbfounded or clueless, it’s clear there’s a lot more going on underneath than meets the eye. Kessler has the chance, as Faye, to say what may be some of the most silly and unusual lines ever written, and she does so with a perfectly straight face. She handles well the broad comedy and the sensitive moments.

Equally capable of handling everything the role asks of her is Janette Gregorian as Willie Maye. Her every emotion is honest and palpable. For example, when she speaks about wanting to get married, it is a very real and touching moment. A charismatic stage presence, Gregorian also gets to have some clear fun while playing this character who is the crazy aunt we’ve all either had or heard about.

Barbara Schapiro plays the unexpected visitor, Videlia Sparks, who sets in motion some hilarious and unexpected events. Schapiro’s Videlia fits right in with the other two eccentric characters and the actress more than holds her own. The three of them together on stage are a force to be reckoned with. The cast is rounded out by two actors who make the most of smaller roles, Paul Collins as Bishop Crumley, and Alyce Fitzgerald-Hagopian as The Reptile Woman. Her appearance onstage may be brief but it is highly memorable.

The cast is helped by the well-balanced touch of director Vincent Lupino. Only a few times did I get the sense that a director was at work, controlling the actors’ actions, responses or movements. The rest of the play felt very natural and organic, indicating that Lupino let things happen as they should instead of imposing his will on the action. I also got the impression that the rehearsal period must have been fun for director and actors alike. The process of playing with and exploring these characters, scenes and moments must have been fun and exciting.

In the end, the production left an indelible mark on the memory and a smile on the faces of the audience. When the show was over, they may have felt sad to be leaving these characters, wishing they could have spent more time in their weird and wonderful world.

The Sugar Bean Sisters, The Community Players , Jenks Auditorium,Division St,Pawtucket. www.thecommunityplayers.org Runs Jan 20-22

Amazing Kreskin Plays Garde and Z

Even now, he knows what you’re thinking. No, it’s not Santa Claus. He only knows if you’ve been naughty or nice. He can’t read your mind.

But the Amazing Kreskin can, and he’s been wowing audiences with his mind-reading abilities for more than 50 years. On January 14th, he’ll be bringing his unique talents and astonishing show to the Zeiterion inNew Bedfordand the following evening, Jan 15, he performs at theGardeArtsCenterinNew London.

Born inNew Jersey, Kreskin began performing at the age of 12. Speaking with him by phone recently, he told me he’s done more than 200 appearances around the world this year alone. At the end of last March, he found out that he’d traveled, over the course of his career, three million miles by air.

One of the reasons for his longevity, Kreskin says, is that he’s not competing with anyone else.

“For example, magicians are competing with other magicians. Nobody else is doing what I do.”

His unique talents have provided him with a distinctive niche, which he has filled to the delight of audiences of all ages.

For those who don’t know of Kreskin, he has been called a “hypnotist” and a “mentalist” or “thought reader.” In his long career, he has appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Jonny Carson, “Late Night” with David Letterman, and “Late Night” with Jimmy Fallon, among many others. He had his own show, which ran inCanadaduring the first half of the ’70s, and has appeared on Regis Philbin’s shows 104 times.

Along with his incredible longevity, Kreskin has become part of the cultural lexicon. His name often appears in movies and television shows, including recent episodes of the shows “Fringe” and “NCIS.” In 2008, John Malkovich played Kreskin on film, in a movie called The Great Buck Howard. According to Kreskin, Malkovich watched hundreds of hours of video to prepare for the role. Kreskin says, “Every scene of a performance in that movie, I could tell you exactly which city that took place in.”

While there have, over the years, been audience members who were skeptical of his powers, Kreskin says there are fewer non-believers these days.

“I don’t experience as much skepticism anymore,” he says. “People just don’t seem as skeptical.”

He attributes that, in part, to the fact that nobody has ever been able to demonstrate or prove that his performance is fake. Eventually, he says, people just stopped looking for evidence that he was conning them and let themselves believe and enjoy the show.

Whether they are skeptical or not, Kreskin says his show appeals to people because it presents them with the unexplained, a mystery. He likens it to the current popularity of fantasy and science-fiction in novels and movies.

“It takes people away from the frustrations of life and reality,” he says. “It shows them other possibilities, the possibilities of another dimension of the mind.”

Providing that kind of escape and intrigue for his audiences goes hand-in-hand with another very important show element: audience interaction and participation. Every audience, and every performance, is different and takes on its own personality. Kreskin calls the experience “an adventure,” saying, “People don’t come to see the show. They come because they are part of the show.”