Thursday, October 29, 2009


I’ve been lax on these posts, but several of you have been kind enough to prod me with very kind words to return to them. For a guy who loves language, last night’s play was a great excuse…so, first, I'll go back to Souvenir, from the Hanover Tavern, then switch to B'Dales' other venue, Willow Lawn, and write about 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Making indellible impressions in both was Debra Wagoner. I first saw Debra Wagoner as Cinderella at Swift Creek Mill Playhouse, in a show I've never forgotten, except for the date. Debra isn't old enough for this to be true, but it may very well have been during my college years.
At that time, it would've been impossible for me to have less knowledge of Richmond's regional theatres. I knew TheatreVA (now six years gone), Theatre IV (Bruce Miller was my first director in town, guest-directing Wait Until Dark at the University of Richmond in the autumn of 1988); Swift Creek Mill was a itself distant fairy tale of a place, beside a rushing river dam. It may have been in 1995 or 6, well after college. Hopefully someone will remind me? There may have been a re-mount…

I do remember climbing the stairs to the theatre amid the buzz of performance night excitement. I remember much of the show, from Paul Deis and Larry Cook as dueling princes/wolves, to pondering what seemed then an enormously wide stage with little vertical clearance: the enormous 'hand' of the giant 'falling' out from the wings onto the stage was priceless. Other Richmond fav's were also in that cast, including Robyn O'Neill and Robin Arthur—the latter of whom was in attendance tonight at Souvenir. I hope people will comment and list others who were in that production. More, I recall being brought that night into Stephen Sondheim's wonderfully magical world of fairytales, themselves conveyed into the modern mindset, the remarkable Into the Woods.

Debra is a pro, a marvelous comic actor, and tremendous at the art of theatrical story. Her final turn of the head in the show, singing Ave Maria as the lights fade was an inspiration, a moving moment--a master of the craft.

I won't bother describing characters and plot. If you've seen it, you know. Jonathan Spivey first came to my attention after seeing his performances at my alma mater, the University of Richmond. He's too young to have been in the TheatreIV/UR collaboration of Secret Service, which included Julie Amos Waugh, Dan Stackhouse and of course, Jack Parrish. But I recalled skill with text, comedic dexterity, and a maturity beyond his years---all qualities he has honed into a splendid professional career. (Might it have been Mother Courage?)

He wasn't too young for RS to cast him soon thereafter, though, in The Merchant of Venice in 2004. I'm glad to see him return to town. While here, Jonathan was hilarious as Thurio in our very first Second Tuesdays Staged Reading at CenterStage, a performance of Two Gentlemen of Verona.

In Souvenir, Jonathan also spent much of the evening actually accompanying Debra. His character is so solid you barely notice that he's working his pinkies off on the keys. It was very satisfying.

Congrats to both, as well as director John Glenn, Stage Manager Joe Pabst, and the design team on Souvenir, whose set was really outstanding: elegant, simple, and inventive---as well as fun to light. They were, in no particular order: Sue Griffin on Costumes, Jenn Rush on Wigs, Ted Macklin on Sound, Joe Lavigne on the marvelous set, and lighting design by the director. John's tenure in Richmond theatre (both at B'Dale and Theatre IV) pretty much predates my own, but I'm glad to see him back; his work here is delightful.

Finally, a word on musical direction—R.L. Rowsey and Debra did an astounding job crafting this "fantasia" on the true story of Florence Foster Jenkins. The impossible task of performing so many pieces so very far out of tune, (or musicianship or rhythm) may sound easy (does it?)---but it's precisely done, and always hilarious--sometimes painful, but always with a delightful payoff. And there's that final moment---payoff indeed.

If I had known it was a musical about, and performed by, a character who couldn't sing, or if I'd read the reviews, I would most likely have busied myself in work and missed the show. After several birds chirped "go see it," (and once we closed Much Ado) I finally listened, and I was very glad that I did.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Much Ado About Shining Boleros

We're into the final performance weekend of Much Ado About Nothing, our inaugural show in the Gottwald Playhouse at Richmond CenterStage, and I'll make no bones about it: I think you should see this show. Come see the new venue, come see how we've begun to make use of its outstanding acoustics, new lighting and sound equipment and amenities. The bar will be open. Tickets are $15, $26, and $38.

That said, it's only one night of three. For your Friday, Saturday or Sunday afternoon, if I can make a recommendation for two not spent watching Much Ado, let me give a shout out to Boleros for the Disenchanted at Barksdale Theatre's Willow Lawn space and Henley Street Theatre's The Shining City.

I saw Shining City on the same night as Barksdale's Bruce Miller, and he's done an excellent job summing up the night, here. I was absolutely thrilled by Joe Inscoe's performance, as always, and pleased with everyone else. It's a big step up for Henley and one that Richmond should embrace.

However, I will admit to just thoroughly loving Boleros for the Disenchanted at Barksdale. I cared about its characters far more deeply than I thought possible; I felt connected to the story, and was delighted by its structure, its terrific comedy (with beauty, laughter, sadness and terrific language all thrown in), and its flawless execution. Kudos to Rick Brandt, Jason Winebarger and the entire crew at Willow Lawn. Bruce Miller's direction is spot-on, some of his best. There's a nifty video interview on the B'dale website here.

However, it's Bruce's casting here that has Boleros shining so strongly. He talks about the casting in the video; the actors are excellent. Rivera's play is in wonderful hands, and this love story to his parents and to the island of Puerto Rico itself is a real treat for theatergoers. I loved it.

There is an initial sample of the Latin Ballet of VA, dancing boleros at the top of the show and again at intermission---led by the exquisite Ana Ines King. She is a tremendous athlete, a terrific dancer, producer and an elegant lady. Virginia is desperately lucky to have her residing in our midst.

So, tonight, come see Much Ado. Tomorrow and Sunday? Go see Shining City or Boleros for the Disenchanted.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Our Play is Preffered: Best Ensemble

Last night, Richmond Shakespeare was proud to sit with the theatre community of greater Richmond and celebrate the achievements of our colleagues. We were also honored with three nominations, including Rebecca Cairns and Annie Hoskins--nominated again for Best Costume an award they won last year.

This year we had two award-winners: a special recognition for Vanessa Passini's terrific fight work in Henry V [The History Cycle], and the company of actors from A Midsummer Night's Dream, who won as a cast for Best Ensemble. Those actors are Sandra Clayton, Brandon Crowder, Kerry McGee, Stacie Rearden Hall and Adam Mincks.

This recognition in particular was satisfying for me, as we set out many years ago to craft a company in which the collective efforts of actors, designers, directors, musicians and volunteers all work together; perhaps more so than any other, the theatre is a collaborative art form.

I first saw the five-actor format (yes 5) of performing William Shakespeare in the early 1990's at the University of Richmond: a program called Actors from the London Stage. Five gifted players create all the roles in a given Shakespeare. My first experience was with As You Like It, which was honored last year in several categories. It's a thrilling challenge, to craft more than one role, often alternating between them onstage—few challenges in the acting world can match it (solo shows of 'full commitment' come to mind), and I'm very grateful these lovely actors were so recognized.

They, and the supporting team behind them were indeed the best ensemble: Andrew Ham, Bryan Laubenthal, Jake Allard, Holly Harris, Holly Lucas, Richard Moxley, David White and J. David White, Rebecca Cairns, Annie Hoskins, Flora Vassar. Congratulations to each and all.

Not a word of me. All that I will tell you is that the duke hath dined. Get your apparel together, good strings to your beards, new ribbons to your pumps. Meet presently at the palace. Every man look o'er his part. For the short and the long is, our play is preferred.

Actor and director "Jack" Parrish / Times-Dispatch

Actor and director John Linwood "Jack" Parrish Jr. dies Richmond Times-Dispatch

Shared via AddThis

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Jack Parrish

All of us in the Richmond Theatre community were saddened to learn of today's passing of Jack Parrish, longtime Richmond actor, director, and friend. Jack fought a lengthy battle with cancer, and reportedly went into hospice very recently and died this afternoon. He will be missed.

Tonight at 8:30, Richmond Shakespeare and CenterStage dimmed the big marquee at 6th & Grace and dedicated this evening's performance to Jack. It was quite a sight. We heard, via Facebook, that Sycamore Rouge gave Jack a special intermission curtain call. We're sure that other tributes will surely follow, and will pass on any related info as it comes available. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Kathy and Clay Parrish--I and many others are holding you in mind and heart tonight.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Second Tuesdays Staged Reading Series

Each Second Tuesday between Oct-May.

Produced by Liz Blake.

October 13 - Two Gentlemen of Verona, directed by Jamie Rees
November 10 - Two Noble Kinsmen, directed by Rebecca Jones
December 8 - A Lion in Winter, by James Goldman, directed by 'Rick Gray, featuring Larry Gard and Joy Williams
January 12 - Volpone by Ben Jonson, dir. by Jeff Cole
February 9 - Galathea by John Lyly, dir. by Grant Mudge
March 9 - Taming of the Shrew, dir. by Molly Hood
April 13 - Edward III [The History Cycle] dir. by Julie Phillips
May 11 - Love's Labors Lost, director TBA

Monday, October 5, 2009

Richmond Shakespeare Opens Gottwald Playhouse

We knew opening night was approaching quickly when the company's name and that of the play went up in lights on the big marquee.

On Saturday night, Richmond Shakespeare entered its second quarter-century.

By all accounts it was a sparkling, delightful evening, filled with love, warmth, hugs and laughter. Our new home, The Gottwald Playhouse at Richmond CenterStage, will be shared by several small companies including our dear friends at African American Repertory Theatre, and we couldn't be more delighted with it. Situated on the east half of the block, in the part of the building called Dorothy Pauley Square (facing Grace Street and bounded by 6th and 7th) the Gottwald Playhouse is an intimate space—seating under 200 and offering outstanding acoustics: I've often told the story of the first music rehearsal in which James Wingo, our composer for Much Ado About Nothing, brought his guitar into the space and began to play: I shushed everyone so we could hear—and he stopped! ("No, you—please, keep playing!") We began to realize that the designers and architects of the Gottwald have created a phenomenal space for sound, be it the spoken word of Shakespeare, a jazz band or a string quartet. We felt as if we were seated inside the sound chamber of that guitar. It was amazing; I hope you'll come and hear a play in this remarkable venue.

"How much better is it to weep at joy, than to joy at weeping!" Leonato, Much Ado I.i

For me, last night was a whirlwind, beginning with final adjustments and warm-ups with the actors. On opening night there is a kind of lap-running that every director (and producer) reading this will immediately recognize. Delivering final notes, cards or gifts are all part of the process—perhaps a final talk to the actors (More volume please, crisper, less air please—in short: louder/faster/funnier); added to this are greeting guests, attending to opening night receptions and guest lists, and all the challenges of a new box office system.

I'm certainly not complaining—I love this busy time, as the director's work subsides and the acting and technical company take the show and welcome the audience into the world of the play.

The cast gave their best performance to date, winning huge laughs and especially at Dogberry's arrivals and exits—I would argue Shakespeare intended—ovations of applause. The audience loved our clowns, and Bob Jones' hilarious performance in this role, and his work with his fellow actors, (especially his fellow officer Verges, played by the adorable Thomas Cunningham) is a show-stealer, and should not be missed. I absolutely love the entire cast---every single performer has moments to shine; each actor takes Shakespeare's outstanding material and really delves into its truths and resonances. They plumb the darkest places and explore the most joyous just as ardently. Each is also dearly likeable; we've had a marvelous time preparing the production.

Rebecca Cairns and Annie Hoskins have outdone themselves yet again, creating an entire world of costumes. It's my professional goal to get these ladies a proper costume shop—can you imagine what they'll create when they don't have to work in a spare bedroom and their dining room? I'm delighted with the entire design team---the production matches our RS aesthetic precisely: focus on the actor's relationship to the audience, highlighting and serving but not overwhelming the story created on stage. It's a tough balance to execute with style, and they certainly have succeeded. Thanks to all of them.

Other treats on opening night included our new concessions lounge, which boasted cappuccinos, pumpkin cookies (executive sampling was requried), and other edibles, wines, beers and soft drinks. Our guests were of course welcome to take these into the theatre with them.

I'm grateful also to the SMG staff for handling more folks than we anticipated at the post-show reception. The exquisite donor lounge is a perfect venue for post-show celebrations. I look forward to making use of it often. Photographs of the event abound on Facebook---it seemed the perfect end to a joyous and thrilling opening. It was exhausting, but well worth the effort and the long wait for our new home.

Much Ado About Nothing runs only through October 25…and given the buzz our final weeks usually sell out, so I would encourage you to join us this week or next. Come downtown for the Folk Festival and just saunter up 6th street to Richmond CenterStage