The Humans: We’re only human after all

The Humans, by Brown grad Stephen Karam and directed by The Wilbury’s Josh Short, is originative for several reasons. The script is clever, so while you’re interjected into this typical family turmoil, there is comedic relief throughout. This is largely due to the spot-on timing by Rachel Dulude, who portrays daughter Aimee Blake. She makes light of her problems in self-deprecating style, which we can all appreciate. Also, Jim O’Brien as dad Erik Blake skillfully has us laughing throughout by using others as the butt of his antics.

Set and prop design by Monica Shinn, together with light and sound design by Andy Russ, are very innovative. The set is bilevel, with six rooms that have things happening spontaneously at various times like a life-size doll house (It can be a bit rough on the neck if you’re viewing from the front row, so choose a rear seat if that might be an issue for you). This creates the occasional cacophony that is a bit hard to follow, as cast members purposely talk over each other, but these don’t last long. Carol Varden portrays Fiona “Momo” Blake who suffers from Alzheimer’s often yells out loudly, which lasts just long enough for you to empathize with the frustration the family feels. There are also sporadic loud bangs, which draw laughter after the initial fright.

The Blake family survives the holiday as they toast gratitude for Thanksgiving. Photo by Erin X. Smithers.

Costume design by Matt Oxley suits the personalities of each individual whether it be Dad’s and Aimee’s professional attire, mom Deidre Blake’s (Jeanine Kane) and Momo’s relaxed attire, or the more bohemian-ish garb of daughter Brigid Blake (Jessie March) and her somewhat-older partner Richard Saad (Dave Rabinow).

Family can bring out the best and the worst in us as we gather for the feast. These folks run the gamut of feelings together as they tackle such topics of the human condition as physical and mental illness, money and joblessness, marriage and fidelity, heartbreak and disappointment, death and alcoholism. You will ride the roller coaster of impassioned emotions with them as they bob through the issues, and just might laugh and cry along with them as well! Despite some rough patches, the tender love and caring is there throughout.

“It feels really special going into the holidays with this production,” says March. “Some people might see themselves, or say thank God my family isn’t like that! Hopefully, everyone has someone they call family.”

The production runs through Dec. 18 at the Wilbury Theatre, WaterFire Arts Center. For more info, visit www.thewilburygroup.org.

A Christmas Carol: Tweaking the tradition turns this holiday classic inclusive

It’s as if Director Aileen Wen McGroddy threw out the rule book when coaxing her vision of the classic “A Christmas Carol” to life at Trinity Repertory Company this year.

And we are all so much better for it.

Charles Dickens’ powerful Christmas tale of greed, penitence, and second chances is an annual treat at Trinity, and each year audiences wait for the spin the cast and director give to the story. This year, McGroddy opted for several key adaptations that prove enlightening and heart-warming.

First, Ebeneezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley, the two friends and miserly business owners, are portrayed by women, Phyllis Kay, and Rachael Warren, respectively. Secondly, the family of Bob Cratchitt, Scrooge’s faithful employee, is Hispanic. Thirdly, Scrooge’s nephew Fred is gay.

The end result is an infusion of great depth and relatability to a story that has been ushering in the holiday season since the Victorian era. At one point, when Scrooge is observing life in the Cratchitt household on a journey with the Ghost of Christmas Present, the family is speaking in Spanish. The character complains that she can’t understand them, and the ghost replies, “All you had to do was ask” and English translations appear on a towering screen. The message is powerful and timeless in its simplicity.

Kay is wonderfully charming as Scrooge, able to summon a snarl or sneer, while peppering the dialogue with comments that sound like an old, resigned grandmother. Warren’s appearance as Marley, portending the visit of the three ghosts, is another interesting take on the classic chains as she tugs a train of shopping carts laden with scrap metal.

Other treats in the cast include Dereks Thomas as an ebullient Fezziwig, the humor and joy brought by Luis Ra Rivera as Bob Cratchit, and the freewheeling performance of Jenny Nguyen Nelson as the Ghost of Christmas Past, who descends from the rafters in an airman’s outfit.

Many, many of McGroddy’s touches add to the story. She includes much-overlooked scenes in which a ghost takes Scrooge by miners toiling deep in the earth, lonely lighthouse keepers, and sailors aboard their ship. The message is that whether poor, destitute, or far from home, people can know the spirit of Christmas.

The first 80 minutes of the 90-minute production, performed with no intermission, are drably colored on a Spartan stage to represent the repression and depression cloaking Scrooge’s life. At the end, when Scrooge begins to soften, colors and decorations are brought out to brighten the set. For the end, the oddly-shaped stage is turned into a huge dining table and everyone – including crew members and the musicians from the loft – gathers around for a feast at Fred’s.

Some choices are less successful than others. Because the set is sparse, McGroddy utilizes the cast to create furniture in Scrooge’s bedroom. As Scrooge gets ready for bed, the furniture, one by one, announces that there are no ghosts hiding there. It’s too abstract and unnecessary. But, the goal of “A Christmas Carol,” on stage at Trinity through January 1, 2023, is always to remind us of the true spirit of the season and this it does beautifully. By drawing in diverse groups, the message is inclusion and appreciation for each other. What better gift is there? For more information, go to www.trinityrep.org.

Tender Cargo: How can garments speak a person’s pain?

“What does it mean to wear one’s pain?” asks a new exhibit by textile artist Taleen Batalian at the WaterFire Arts Center though November 20. Inspired by her parent’s memories of the Armenian genocide that claimed her grandparents, Batalian developed a set of prints on fabric and some fabric designs that read almost like statues which try to embody the experiences related by her ancestors. To accompany this exhibit, she developed a runway show from some parallel universe, in which dim lighting and quadrophonic soundscapes support the slow, agonizing progress of three models in Batalian’s garb, as they traversed the length of the Waterfire Arts Center. The audience was set up on either side, much like a fashion show, but single file, facing the minimalist runway designed by Keri King. The music was developed from manipulations of Batalian’s Grandfather’s recorded musings, by audio engineer Antonio Forte.

“I thought of the movement as postures of grief. The choreography was really, ‘Go slow and sink sometimes.’ But keep moving, because to me that meant there was some hope as well. Otherwise, we would just end up on the floor the whole time,” said choreographer Heidi Henderson.

Batalian added, “It’s about shape. Shape and texture. The garments were refined based on what I saw as the dancers were wearing, but I really thought of them as garments I get to inhabit, as opposed to traditional costuming that’s meant to add to a dancer’s character.” The designs themselves came to form with “not intention, just trust.”

Waterfire Arts Center, 475 Valley St, PVD. waterfire.org through Nov 20.

Tootsie: He/She/They Are Causing Laughter

The cast of the National Tour of TOOTSIE. Photo by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

PPAC presents Tootsie, featuring the clever, Tony-winning book by Robert Horn and brilliant score by Tony-winner David Yazbek. You likely recall the beloved story of struggling NY actor Michael Dorsey, skillfully portrayed by Drew Becker. Michael may be talented but his perfectionism gains him a reputation for being difficult to work with. Even his agent doesn’t want to work with him, and in an act of desperation he makes the decision to create a female persona, Dorothy Michaels, in order to win an ideal role. Kathy Halenda comically portrays the quintessential agent, Rita — neurotic, anxious and obnoxiously self-serving. In fact, the production calls out many stereotypes within the business, especially misogynistic males. You may find yourself continuously laughing as punchlines zing,  double entendres tickle and inside jokes abound throughout the production!

Becker does an amazing job portraying this alter persona. One could easily forget he’s a man. While this is entirely impressive, I found myself wishing he’d accidentally slip here and there with some awkward male mannerisms, sometimes being a bit gruff in women’s garb.

We do see Michael as himself while interacting with roommate Jeff and friend Sandy in his apartment. This is where the comic relief really shines! Jared David Michael Grant, who portrays Jeff, delivers his perfectly-timed lines so sarcastically you quickly come to love him best. Payton Reilly as Sandy perfectly portrays an annoying pessimist you can’t help but love too. 

 Act I could have been shorter. It lacks the energy one would expect from a Broadway production, and the play-within-a-play thing doesn’t always work here. Act II, however, comes in energized. Ashley Alexandra, who portrays Julie, packs a powerful punch as she belts out “Gone, Gone, Gone.” Prior to this, she wows us with her sweet, soulful sound. You really feel the chemistry between Julie and Dorothy as they share heartfelt moments. Sadly, this chemistry is only established between the other cast members and Dorothy when they tell us it is so.

Hilarious mentionables are thanks to Matthew Rella as a dim-witted, narcissistic actor, Max, who falls for Dorothy and flexes muscle using games right out of Kelso’s playbook. Also, Adam Du Plessis as Ron, the dramatically anal director/choreographer, has us in stitches whenever he appears.

Scenic design by David Rockwell and Christine Peters is perfection. These include the use of pastel backdrops for calm moments, beautiful turquoise and cobalt cityscapes for reflection. Business offices and quick-fold apartment are a few of the impressive movable settings that flow in and out. 

Dance arrangements by David Chase and Denis Jones are a major highlight of the show. While the songs are not the typically memorable sing-alongs we love in musicals, hats off to Musical Directors Josh Ceballos and Andrew David Sotomayor. Hilarious lyrics add to the fun. Additional kudos go to Don Holder, Brian Ronan and William Ivey Long for appropriate lighting design, sound design and costuming respectively.

Tootsie runs through Sunday, October 30. Strong language (but you’ll love it!). For more info, visit ppacri.org.

“Sweat” Theatre Review: A gritty glimpse into the life of factory workers

“Sweat” is the epitome of working-class theatre, offering a gritty and raw look at the lives of factory workers struggling to stay afloat in an uncertain economy.

But, as explained by Rachel Walshe, who is directing the Lynn Nottage play at The Gamm now, “the great tragedy of ‘Sweat’ is not the collapse of the economy but rather the collapse of community.”

In 2000, several generations of factory workers in Reading, PA, are sufficiently employed and enjoy blowing off steam and celebrating birthdays together at the local bar, run by a man who was injured at the factory and left with a limp. They laugh, they support each other through marital stresses and addiction, and they get by.

But changes in the economy trigger shifts in their social pecking order that suddenly pick the characters up, shake them fiercely and toss them down. The fractures in this community deepen, and anger, hurt, and racism bubble. This continues as the barback at the local bar takes a factory job when union workers are let go, simply to improve his life, and one of a trio of female friends is promoted to management.

That’s when Nottage brings her audience to such a shockingly brutal climax that the silence is deafening in the room, and ensuing scenes in which one of the characters is so obviously disfigured and damaged by the incident prove heart-wrenching and gutting.

Walshe’s mastery in the director’s chair can be felt throughout this 2.5-hour production of “Sweat.” She ensures that the setting is so bland that it could be right outside the theatre door, and she coaxes powerful and compelling performances from a cast that balances Gamm veterans and talented newcomers.

Most importantly, the show deals with race, class, identity, poverty, and addiction in such even-handed, thoughtful, honest ways that no one issue is overpowering or underdeveloped. A hate crime in the second act brings the tension to a nasty head, but the production deftly sidesteps preaching at its audience. The message is clear enough in the action.

Photo by Cat Laine. Left to Right: Conor Delaney as Jason, Erik Robles as Chris.

“Sweat” features a long-overdue return of Casey Seymour Kim to the Gamm stage. As Tracey, she skillfully takes the audience on a tragic trajectory fueled by latent racist beliefs, loneliness, and economic frustration. She quickly turns on her friend, Cynthia, after the woman is promoted to manager, musing that she was chosen because she is Black. The vitriol, which fuels the life-altering climax, is ugly and Seymour Kim believably spews it.

Steve Kidd plays Stan, the crippled bartender, with a hearty dose of grit and resignation. Jason Quinn, who plays Cynthia’s estranged husband, gives a startlingly realistic portrayal of addiction and the conniving tactics addicts will employ to fool those close to them.

Other notable performances come from Kym Gomes as a hopeful, yet beleaguered, Cynthia. The reaction of her friends to her promotion weighs on her visibly, and her frustration with her husband is the right mix of love and disgust. And, Erik Robles turns in a sweet take on her misguided son, a man who finds himself paying for one stupid, hate-fueled mistake.

The show continues at Gamm through November 27. For more information, go to www.gammtheatre.org.

Les Misérables at PPAC: A show you’ll want to see 24601 times

Okee dokee folks… Back in the late 80’s I took my mother to NYC. As we were walking down Broadway, she saw a wall painted with a Les Misérables logo. I had no idea what it was but she certainly did! She loved Broadway musicals and told me that Les Misérables was a new one that she really wanted to see. When it came to Providence for the first time, my parents were there. Since then, they have experienced productions of “Les Mis” over thirty times. They were so moved by the musical that they bought me a ticket because they felt I should also see it. I didn’t know what to expect, but I enjoyed it immensely and found it to be very powerful. Since that first time, I have attended a couple more Les Mis shows. Last night at The Providence Performing Arts Center, I added Les Mis’ opening night as show number four. Mom and dad will be there Sunday adding another notch to their already lengthy Les Mis belt.

I think it’s been about ten years or more since I last saw a Les Mis production. All the previous versions I have seen, I believe, had relatively simple stage sets and an area that rotated. That rotation emphasized movement and worked well within the storyline. This time around my girlfriend was the Les Mis newbie, so I was trying to explain the show to her and the spinning stage. There was no need. The stage didn’t turn. This production was much different than the last one I had been to.

Les Misérables is based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel of the same name and takes place in France between 1815 and 1832. Punishment, redemption, poverty, revolution, love, and death are the basic themes of the story. Many folks may be familiar with the 2012 film adaptation, but the movie and the stage production are vastly different experiences.

Photo: Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

The view of the pre-show stage at last night’s performance was a banner/curtain of a Victor Hugo painting. A dark, wispy, silhouetted cityscape was framed on either side by black, slender building sets. The opening notes of the Prologue were played and the banner lifted, revealing a group of prisoners rowing. “Look down, look down, Don’t look ’em in the eye, Look down, look down, You’re here until you die,” they sang. The ship was a projected image on a screen behind the stage. To me, this was a new addition to the show. This screen is an integral part of the 2022 production. Many of the images used throughout the show were either Victor Hugo’s paintings or images created in his artistic style. The first thirteen minutes of the show are sacred. If you aren’t in your seat at the start of the show, there is a hold until those thirteen minutes are up. This beginning sets up the story of Jean Valjean at the end of his nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread. He is not simply released from his punishment, but as officer Javert reminds prisoner 24601, Valjean, it’s a “yellow ticket-of-leave, you are a thief.” Valjean finds it hard to reenter society with the curse of Javert and the yellow ticket-of-leave. He steals items from a church that gave him refuge, and when he is caught by officers, the priest supports Valjean by claiming that it was a gift and gives him more. He tells Valjean, “You must use this precious silver to become an honest man.” Valjean tears up his yellow ticket-of-leave and assumes a new identity. After this, the stage went dark and “Les Misérables” was projected across the back wall.

This new production of Les Mis is visually DARK and the dramatic lighting conjures the image of a Caravaggio or Rembrandt painting. Any colors are muted and nothing is at all brightly lit. Early 19th century France was dismal and this makes you feel it. Smoke/fog is occasionally added and real flame torches are used. The set pieces that slide in and out are all black buildings, bridges, stairways, and barricades. The back wall projection of images is used in an old-school Hollywood fashion where the background images are slightly animated, giving the impression of movement in the foreground.

Les Misérables progresses in more of an operatic fashion than a musical. In most of today’s musicals, dialogue is spoken and then they burst into song to augment the spoken sentiment. However, in Les Mis, almost every word of dialogue is sung. Every note of every piece of music and every lyric in the show evokes some kind of emotion from the audience. The performers must have strong voices to carry the weight of their songs and this cast has that power. “I Dreamed A Dream” by Fantine, “Stars” by Javert, “On My Own” by Eponine, and “Bring Him Home” by Valjean let the performers stretch out on these solos and bring out their best, and that they did. These performances all triggered tremendous applause. Most of the songs tug at your heart but there are some lighter moments in the show. “Lovely Ladies,” “Master of the House,” and “Beggars at the Feast” add catchy tunes and a little levity to the show. So much so that back when Les Mis was gaining popularity, an early episode of Seinfeld had George Costanza repeatedly singing “Master of the House,” infecting folks with that earworm!

Photo: Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

This show is carried by the huge talents of the performers in the lead roles: Nick Cartell as Valjean, Hayden Tee as Javert, Haley Dortch as Fantine, and Christine Hesson Hwang as Eponine – though the supporting roles were filled by wonderful performers as well.

The death of Javert was handled differently than I had previously seen. Again, this had a bit of a Hollywood effect that coupled movement on the screen, with moving scenery and a Javert on a fly-away harness that truly made his leap more dramatic and realistic than any previous version. This is always a breathtaking ending to his “Soliloquy”.

My only issue was with that of the little boy. His role has been bolstered from previous productions and I found it annoying. The screechy, fingernails on a chalkboard singing and hammy acting detracted from the scenes he was part of. In the past, that role was more subtle and fit better into the mix. This seemed like an attempt to feature some cheeky kid more prominently. Don’t do it! Was I wrong that I quietly cheered when the French soldiers solved that problem? Also, I counted three phallic references in Act I. I think one would have been sufficient, but they kept it going – from a stroked telescope to a loaf of French bread to a dangling bottle. Pick one and stick with it. It’s really only funny once.

Overall this was a wonderful show with great performances. It was visually bleak but apropos for the period and transported you back to early 1800s France. The songs and music are powerful from start to finish. Les Misérables is a production that needs to be experienced LIVE. If you like the film you will LOVE the live version. If you didn’t like the film, give the live version a chance. The emotion of seeing something like Les Mis in person is what makes live theatre worth seeing – especially this! And as my parents have proven, and I am sure they are not alone, Les Mis is something that can be seen time and time again. All walks of life, young and old, were in attendance at last night’s sold-out opening night. If you have seen it, see it again, and if you haven’t, you have until this Sunday to correct that. Les Mis never fails to overwhelm you with emotion and astonishment. The enormous amount of applause and hoots at the conclusion of this show was probably the loudest I have witnessed for any Les Mis I have attended. That says a lot right there. See this show.

The performance, with a brief intermission, clocks in at three hours, with the first half being about 90 minutes. Les Misérables is at The Providence Performing Arts Center until Sunday, November 20. Please remember the show starts promptly at 8 PM; there is a 13-minute hold at the start of the show. Please plan to arrive at the theatre earlier so that you will be in your seats prior to the start of the show. For more about Les Misérables and other shows in the Broadway series, don’t wait “One Day More,” get to PPACRI.org.

That’s it for now. Please check my other Motif offerings at: motifri.com/rootsreportpodcast. I also have a new web link where you can find my concert photographs: motifri.com/fuzeksfotos. Thanks for reading. johnfuzek.com

Dancing Through the Snow: Winter dance is coming

We have all heard of or seen The Nutcracker and multiple interpretations of it throughout our lives thus far. Luckily for those in RI during this holiday season, there are plenty of options for holiday ballet productions. Whether you are looking for an interactive Nutcracker experience at Rosecliff or something different like Coppelia, Motif has got you covered. 

The Newport Nutcracker at Rosecliff, presented by Island Moving Company, follows (literally) the main protagonist through the rooms of the mansion as she celebrates the holiday season with her family, battles with the Mouse King, dances with the Snow Queen, and travels with her Nutcracker to the magical land of sweets. During the first act guests will trail alongside the story in their own journey through the mansion, then be led to the grand ballroom for the second act. This interactive experience will run Nov 23, 25 – 27, and Nov 29 – Dec 2 at Rosecliff Mansion in Newport, RI. More information and tickets at islandmovingco.org . 

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Providence Ballet Theater brings back their classic show, inspired by Clement Clarke Moore’s well-known poem. The stage is transformed with visions of Sugar Plums, swirling snow, and a magical appearance by jolly St. Nick! A cast of professional dancers and local children create a fun-filled holiday performance for all to enjoy. The show will run for a limited time – Dec 16 and 17 at The Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts’ Roberts Hall at Rhode Island College in PVD. To learn more about the show visit providenceballet.com 

The Nutcracker by Festival Ballet, presented at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, will follow the classic story of the old-fashioned wooden toy. If you’re looking for more of the traditional magic of the Nutcracker experience you will find this production delivering all the time-honored beats and spectacle. This classic tale runs from Dec 16 – 24, tickets can be purchased through festivalballetprovidence.org 

Last but certainly not least, Coppelia performed by the State Ballet of Rhode Island. A less traditional holiday show, it still contains all of the magic and fun you are looking for this season. This show will follow an enchanting love story with dancing dolls and a dash of magic. The ballet runs in Cranston at the Historic Park Theater and Event Center. It will only be here for two days: Nov 25 and 26. Learn more at stateballet.com 

We hope you’re able to find your holiday dance fix as you swirl through these diverse but classic ballet experiences. 

Original Theater Production Permanent Solutions: Diving deep into mental health/suicide

Photo by Stephanie Callaghan

The final curtain call for Director, Playwright, and lead actress Cassidy Caduto’s original production Permanent Solutions at AS220 may have been on October 9, but its resounding emotional grit and raw honesty lingered on long after the show ended. 

The two-act play, which premiered at RI Stage Ensemble (RISE) in April 2022 and was brought back as an abridged production at FringePVD in July 2022, takes an unapologetically close look at suicide and mental illness from a survivor’s perspective. And while the show is direct and not for the faint of heart, Caduto’s main goal is to break associated stereotypes and stigmas surrounding suicide and mental health.

“We try so hard as a culture not to think about suicide and mental health until it’s too late. Most forms of mainstream media written on the topic glorify and glamorize it and set a dangerous misunderstanding for those consuming said media,” she said. 

Permanent Solutions centers on main characters Katherine Hudson and Emma Rhodes, two patients enrolled in an assisted suicide clinic who couldn’t be more different yet are able to find common ground eventually. Katherine (played by Caduto) is a cynical rebel who is ready to get it over with but finds herself slowly opening up to the persistently amicable Emma (played by Maggie Scarborough), an eccentric artist with love to spare for everyone but herself.

The assisted suicide process is administered in pill form and consists of two doses – the first, which Caduto said “shuts down the immune system over 12 hours,” and the second, lethal dose that yields “no pain or resistance.” 

As they wait for the first dose to kick in, the two women break the ice and reveal their respective personal stories that ultimately brought them there, through flashback scenes with family and loved ones. What unfolds is a poignant connection amid the grim circumstances, which had the audience (including yours truly) sniffling until the very end.

In the show, “taking your life” holds a double meaning, where you are either deciding to end it or stick around. For Katherine, her decision to take her life stems from being abandoned by others. Katherine doesn’t see the point in sticking around if “everybody leaves,” one of her signature lines in the play, which has echoed in my brain since leaving the AS220 BlackBox theater.

Although the play’s short run at AS220 is over, Caduto does plan to stage it again in 2023, due to the overwhelmingly positive response. “The responses I’ve gotten from audiences after each performance have been unreal,” she said. “The amount of strangers who approach me in tears ready to share intimate stories of their struggles or of loved ones is the most powerful thing I’ve ever experienced as a writer.”

The play’s reach has also expanded, and Caduto is excited to see where it will go next.

“The audiences have only grown in both size and enthusiasm every time we bring it back and I plan on riding that wave wherever it goes, whether it’s a professional local theater or New York City,” she said.

Caduto penned the first draft of what would later become Permanent Solutions over a decade ago, just a year before her own suicide attempt in 2013. “It wasn’t until recently that I realized that my beginning this project all those years ago was an attempt at a goodbye note,” she said in her Director’s Note.

When it comes to sharing her own struggles through her work and interactions with others, Caduto considers herself an open book who isn’t afraid to share anything. “At this point, I have no apprehension in talking about trauma or my own history with mental illness,” she said. 

Hearing others be open about their own experiences inspired Caduto to share her own truth and perspective, which has been healing. “The first time you hear someone confidently and honestly talk about something that you’ve been conditioned to be ashamed of can be earth-shattering,” she said.

Caduto is all about advocating for others who are struggling with their mental health by talking about her own experiences. “If I could make someone who didn’t feel they could ask for help realize that it’s okay to get help, and that it isn’t weak to want to connect, then I will have done exactly what I set out to do.”

Permanent Solutions has undergone 10-15 drafts and has evolved between productions as well. “Even the version seen at RISE was quite different from what was put on at AS220,” she said. Caduto expects for it to return next year on a larger scale and is excited to see what impact it will continue to make.

For now, the play’s takeaway is pretty clear: While everybody does leave, whether voluntarily or by pure circumstance, it doesn’t mean that you have to.

“The black and white photo of the dark-haired girl crying alone behind the bleachers at school isn’t the face of depression. Robin Williams was the face of depression. Suicide isn’t beautiful or poetic, it’s hideous and tragic.”

Silhouette of a Silhouette: Wilbury in the shadows

Weaver of tales

The Wilbury Theatre Group presents the world premiere of Silhouette of a Silhouette by RI icon Rose Weaver and directed by Don Mays. Based on Weaver’s life, with threads of magical realism, Silhouette of a Silhouette is a story of redemption and hope inspired by loss, and told through music, song, and artistically expressive scenes — the story of a family struck by tragedy — a how-to for picking up the pieces in order to move forward.

We’ve been fortunate to have Weaver here in RI, her second home to Atlanta, GA where she grew up and currently resides. Weaver began her career at Providence’s Trinity Repertory Company in 1973 as an acting fellow. An award-winning playwright, Weaver is the author and actress of the one-woman play Menopause Mama and Black Women Taking Off the Masks. She received a recent Papitto POC award to write a play about slavery in RI. Rose is published in Monologues for Women by Women, Heinemann, and NuMuse: An Anthology of Plays from Brown University. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Wheaton College, a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Brown University at the age of 50, and holds three Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts Degrees from Wheaton College, Marymount Manhattan College and Providence College.

“Rose Weaver is one of our state’s most treasured artists and it’s always a joy to work with her, especially on this personal story,” said Artistic Director Josh Short. “Rose has been part of sharing so many stories with the people of RI for decades, and it’s a privilege for us to kick off the Wilbury Group’s twelfth season by sharing hers.”

Rudy in Silhouette

Weaver’s deeply personal story takes us back to a time where the remnants of slavery live on, overshadowing the ghosts of past and present. “This semi-autobiographical story reveals how my late brother saw the Devil while hallucinating in the woods of Georgia,” she explains. “He seeks redemption for his poor life choices. Told through humor, rousing songs, spoken word and southern mythology, Silhouette of a Silhouette is a mini saga of a family’s painful struggle out of cycles of self-destruction and an attempt at deliverance.”

The cast is small but glowing. Notable performances include Rudy Cabrera as Bobby, giving a powerful performance, artistically moving and deeply-rooted in pain. He emulates his father’s (Daddy Lewis, skillfully portrayed by Jomo Peters) domineering racketeering lifestyle in a sensitive way, yet still as q silhouette of his dad. Brianna Rosario as Doleful Creature and Helena Tafuri as Dog Ghost symbolize the proverbial angel and demon over one’s shoulder as they jockey for position to taunt and claim souls. Veteran Wilbury thespian Jason Quinn as Prosecutor (and Reverend) wows us with his stern lectures and smilingly forbidding opinions.

Simple set design by Max Ponticelli enhances the ambiance and does not distract from the action, making you feel as though you’re a part of it. ​Light and sound design by Andy Russ reflects the feel of the scenes and moves with the characters, both living and other-worldly. Costume Design by Jaimy Escobedo emphasizes the persona of each character, whether straightforward or risqué.

Show runs Sep 30 – Oct 16, Wilbury Theatre Group at WaterFire Arts Center. Adult content and strong language. Production Photos by Erin X. Smithers

More can be seen here: https://thewilburygroup.org/silhouette-of-a-silhouette.html

Tina through the times: Motif reviews Tina, the musical at PPAC

Photo courtesy of PPAC

Okee dokee folks; I am from the generation that watched Ike & Tina Turner on TV and heard them on the radio back in the 60’s and 70’s. I also remember the comeback of Tina Turner in the early 80’s. I saw the What’s Love Got to Do With It biopic film in the early ’90s and recently watched the 2021 Tina documentary. Unfortunately I never saw her in concert. When I learned about the Tina musical I figured that this would be the next best thing, and it was!

Last night, Wednesday, September 14, I was in the audience for the fourth night of the Tina musical which made its tour debut in Providence at the Providence Performing Arts Center this past Sunday. So far the crowds have been large, energetic, welcoming and overwhelmingly appreciative.

The easy thing for me to say about the show is that it’s “Simply The Best,” but that would be an oversimplification. The show is very good and will have you run the gamut of emotions. For some it may be tough witnessing the domestic violence of Anna Mae’s (Tina) father, Floyd Richard Bullock, and her partner/husband Ike Turner or hearing a racial epithet such as when Tina is initially rejected by a record company with the utterance by the president, “no way in hell Capital is going to give this old nigger broad a deal!” Even though you may endure a couple of triggering moments, the ultimate reward is the performance and what a performance it was.

The show opens when a curtain adorned with the eyes of Tina Turner rises and Turner is standing in silhouette about to take the stairs to the stage. She then drops to the floor and begins a Buddhist chant. This scene transitions to her beginnings as the child Anna Mae Bullock, played by Ayvah Johnson, in Tennessee. This child will reappear many times throughout the show. We watch as she meets and first sings with Ike Turner, played by Garret Turner, and when she ultimately marries him. We see the evolution of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue and the downfall of their marriage and the group. Finally, we witness her resurrection as the solo artist, Tina Turner, that most are familiar with today. When posed with the issue of trying to make a record for her comeback she exclaims, “I may be jumping at the sun but I have long legs!”

This is a jukebox musical chock full of Turner hits cleverly inserted into appropriate situational portrayals of her life. Some of the songs may be placed in times before they were actually released, but that is ok, it works! Numbers from her early days right up to her mega-hits are all included— “Nutbush City Limits” all the way to “The Best” and even “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

This show rests squarely on the hit songs and the talent of the lead role. For this performance, Tina was played by Naomi Rodgers. Evidently she will be alternating performances with Zurin Villanueva who will also portray Tina. They are not understudies for each other, they have others who are. 

As I said, the success of the show rests on the music as well as the talent of the lead role, and Naomi Rodgers handled it with ease and comfort. She tackled teenage Tina all the way through Turner’s renaissance. Her voice was impeccable and she effortlessly emulated Turner’s growl-like vocal style.

The best parts of the show are the ensemble songs when it mimicked more of a concert feel than a musical. “I Want To Take You Higher,” “Proud Mary” and “Disco Inferno” are all good examples of this. Tina’s trademark dance style was channeled through all the dance routines. The one duet that worked particularly well was “Let’s Stay Together” between Tina and saxophonist Raymond Hill, a bandmate with whom she’d had an affair and become pregnant with her first child, Craig.

The scenery is mostly electronic. The rear wall screen was illuminated by flashing lights, miscellaneous background scenes, and good old 60’s psychedelic flashes. Physical scenery is sparse. Stage props came and went with the help of cast members and stage hands. The one piece that showed up many times was a simple door. This show focused on the music and talent.

The show ends as it began with Tina about to take the stage at a concert with the rousing closing number.

Tina clocks in with a performance time of about two hours and 30 minutes not counting the 15 minute intermission. A couple of times I felt a slight drag but it was immediately perked up by another rocking tune. Just when you think it is over they have just a little more for you, and this is the cherry on top of an already sweet cake! 

Though Tina may get slapped during this show there’s no touching this performance and Turner’s legacy of music. It’s a story of hope, escape, redemption, and success. 

Tina, the musical was at Providence Performing Arts Center through Sunday, September 18. See it next time it’s in town. At the end of this show my girlfriend’s first words were, “I loved it, I want to see it again!“

For more about this show, go to PPACRI.org

That’s it for now. Please check my other Motif offerings at: MotifRI.com/RootsReportPodcast I also have a new web link where you can find my concert photographs- MotifRI.com/FuzeksFotos. Thanks for reading. JohnFuzek.com