Category Archives: Theater

Delectable Durang: A Collection of Six Unruly Comedies

My review of this show was originally published in the Montague Reporter on October 4, 2018. Performances at the Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield, Massachusetts, ran from September 27 through October 7, 2018. The Montague Reporter is a local, non-profit newspaper, published once a week in Turners Falls, Massachusetts.  All photography by Ellen Blanchette

“Nina in the Morning” with Kimberly Salditt-Poulin as Nina and Julian Findlay as Nina’s son, James, here showing his cruel side as he torments her about her appearance while she worries about growing older.

For today’s complex world, a little laughter provides relief. As luck would have it, here is Delectable Durang: A Collection of Six Unruly Comedies by Christopher Durang, the latest Silverthorne Theater Company production is now at Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield, providing just such an opportunity. Executive Producer Lucinda Kidder completes the company’s fifth season with this surprising comedy, providing lots of laughter thanks to this group of talented actors and the wild, free wheeling ideas of Christopher Durang, an American playwright who takes an unusual approach to the issues facing us, asking us to look at the things we fear and laugh.

Chris Devine plays Foote, a kind of butler who serves Nina loyally if somewhat cynically in “Nina in the Morning.”

These six one-act plays by Christopher Durang selected by the Silverthorne Theater Company have certain themes that run through them, even on occasion certain lines that repeat from one play to another, creating a flow that appears to connect them but may instead be meant to confound us. They seems to offer a cohesive, if complicated world view, but never choose one point of view over another. Instead Durang pits these ideas against each other, looking at dark sinister concepts along side the lighter, optimism view. So we see a cruel mother, (Nina in the Morning) or is it the son who is really cruel? Does he have good reason or is he just mean? No matter. Each view is presented in the most humorous manner, with so much physical comedy that one forgets to notice the underlying cruelty of the characters, or the tragic lonely desperation they may feel.

The one-act play, “Women in a Playground” by Durang with, left to right, Stephanie Carlson and Corinne Elisabeth.

Two mothers sit in a park, watching their children play (Women In A Playground). One sees all the dangers her child faces, and all the years of struggle ahead with misbehavior she may face, while the other sees only joy, certain of the goodness she can expect in life. Which is correct? Does it matter? The humor lies in the clash of the two points of view, as each undermines the other. Think life is so good? Wait, it will change.

Julian Findlay as Lawrence in “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls” with Stephanie Carlson as Amanda.

The gloomy pessimism of some of the characters frequently bumps up against politically incorrect thoughts. People say shocking things while reacting in wildly melodramatic ways to small, ordinary events. A boy who is really a man, obsessed with his collection of things no one would every value, hysterical when one is broken. Sad, miserable, no – funny, because his reaction is so over the top and in some way we can all identify with it, as we all know we are silly sometimes, foolish in our love of our possessions. People collect dolls long after they are grown. I had a friend who collected door stops, far too many to be useful. Some collect comic books, baseball cards then years later have to figure out what to do with them. So we laugh at him when he looses his mind over a broken swizzle stick.

It doesn’t hurt that the actors are so very good, willing to act (or over-react) in such bizarre ways. The cast functions as a mini-repertory company, with everything happening onstage. The actors change the sets right in front of the audience, change costumes quickly, sometimes wearing a costume for the next play in the last one even if it’s inappropriate to the scene.

Dave (Thom Griffin) sits on a bench and Polly (Kimberly Salditt-Poulin) stops to chat and gets a lot more than she bargained for in “One Minute Play.”

Silverthorne makes a point of hiring local talent when they can. These cast members are: Stephanie Carlson (Easthampton), Chris Devine (Sunderland), Corinne Elizabeth (Sunderland), Julian Findlay (Warwick), Thom Griffin (Colrain), and Kimberly Salditt-Poulin (Amherst). Director John Reese lives in Greenfield and was Deerfield Academy’s Theater Program Director. Also behind the scenes, Joan Haley, Stage Manager (Conway), John Iverson, Technical Director and Designer (Bernardston), Reba-Jean Shaw Pichette and Piper Pichette, Costume Designers (Deerfield). Executive Producer Lucinda Kidder lives in Turners Falls.

Each cast member brings a special quality to their various characters. Julian Findlay is especially good at physical comedy, with quick changes in mood and posture, throwing himself, literally, into the parts he plays. He can be gentle, frightened, cringing (For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls) at the suggestion he socialize with a woman. Or he can be horrible, cruel to his mother as he smiles with evil pleasure at torturing her (Nina in the Morning). Kimberly Salditt-Poulin shows a range of emotions as Nina in the same play, reacting to her son with pathos drenched in self pity. How obsessed she is with her fading beauty comes through in the melodrama of pure selfishness. No one would ever actually live like this, and so it is a caricature of reality; awful and yet to watch it, so very funny. Timing is everything and these actors under the clever guidance of director John Reese have got it.

Kimberly also plays a heartless friend who makes the mistake of stopping to chat with the very depressed Dave, played by Thom Griffin. His body posture reflects the careless resignation to a total failure of his life. Their momentary encounter brings out a theme that occurs throughout, the reality that death is out there, as a choice, or inevitable end. Where Kimberly as Nina says, “Lunch, or death,” and Thom as Dave says, with cheerful resignation, “Tomorrow, death.” That these lines can sound so morbid and yet fill the room with laughter shows the value of humor in facing realities we all do our best to avoid.

In Medea, the Greek classic re-imagined in Durang’s mind, Stephanie Carlson reaches deep inside herself to portray a woman wronged and filled with desire for violent revenge. Drama could not be more bold as she threatens everyone, supported by a Greek chorus made up of Kimberly, Thom and Corinne Elizabeth. Chris Devine comes in on a horse, making very believable horsey sounds, smiling through it all as he ignores Medea’s threats and they all manage to bring about the happy ending (assisted by an angel played by Julian, on a ladder, with wings) and joyous music to the tune of “Camp Town Races.”

The saving grace at the end of the six plays comes when Medea (Stephanie Carlson) distraught about her husband leaving her, is visited by an angel (Julian Findlay).

There is no way to fully describe the juxtaposition of music, words, concepts, references, complex feelings, issues of sexuality prejudice and vanity so the best thing to do would be to just say, this is a rare opportunity to see a group of professional actors performing in a series of one act plays by and exceptional playwright directed by the brilliant actor/director John Reese with an gift for comic timing all of whom we are lucky enough to have here in the Pioneer Valley.

 

Inside Brigadoon

Azelie Aquadro (Fiona) and Josh Warren (Tommy) in rehearsal at the Shea Theater July 2010.

This is the unedited text of an article published in the July 8, 2010 edition of the Montague Reporter, a local weekly newspaper. In the interest of space and the editors preferences some changes were made to the published version. ~ Ellen Blanchette

For the past several months I have been in rehearsal for Brigadoon, the musical opening this weekend at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls. The Country Players produce one musical a year for the Shea Theater and this year it’s Brigadoon, by Lerner and Lowe, a magical concept of a Scottish town that appears only once every hundred years. It has a love story, of course, and lots of gorgeous music for us to sing, some dancing and lots of fun. For all the hard work and long hours of rehearsals, basically it is the fun of it that makes us want to stick with it, face our fears of making total fools of ourselves, and get out there on stage and sing and dance our hearts out for the audience.

Tim Wilder (Charlie) dancing with Marybeth Mizula (Jean) in a pre-wedding ballet that defies tradition.

It has always been my dream to be in musical theater. Ever since I was a young child and had a taste of what it felt like to perform on stage, this dream has persisted in my mind. It was why I moved to New York City in the mid-1960’s, why I took classes at HB Studio in lower Manhattan, grateful for the opportunity to study with renowned actors like with Sandy Dennis and William Hickey, and musical performance with George Axeltree. It was why I kept all of my sheet music and kept learning songs well past the age when it seemed to make sense. I love art and writing very much, but music is my heart. So here I am, forty years after my last stage performance back in the theater. As it turns out, I’m not alone in this process. As I talked to my fellow actors this week, I found many who had put aside their love of theater for other pursuits, only to return.

Azelie Aquadro, playing the romantic lead (Fiona) had set aside her love of theater to study English and Linguistics at Boston University. It was her friend, Ashley Blom, who she’d known in high school, who brought her back to community theater. Ashley plays Meg, a lively girl who is surely a bit of a tart, more or less the opposite of Fiona who is waiting for the right man to come along. Both of these beautiful, talented young women bring life to their parts and make the show an absolute pleasure. Azelie has a lovely high soprano voice and a charm and beauty that is unpretentious and delightful. Ashley has a strong voice and stage presence and great comic timing. Playing the male romantic lead is Joshua Kenneth Warren. Josh has a strong elegant singing voice, an ability to make each scene with Azelie (Fiona) truly romantic. The two of them singing their love songs will surely bring some tears.

Ashley Blom plays Meg in Brigadoon. Here in the rocking chair Meg’s mother sat in while her father slept (so the story goes.)There is a real family aspect to the Country Players. Of the Connelly family, there is Amy, the director, her daughters Maureen, the producer, and Emma who is part of the production staff. Then there is Dave Grout who is Maureen’s husband and a very funny man with a natural gift for physical humor in the tradition of such greats as Jackie Gleason. Dave plays Jeff, one of the two strangers from the 20th century that wander into this town caught in time. Along with Tommy (Josh) his traveling companion who is as serious, romantic, thoughtful as Jeff is the cynic, the two play off of each other in a contrast of life views, with Tommy struggling to have faith in what he believes and Jeff arguing for rational thought, with humor, of course. Dave Grout has also served a vital role as assistant director of the show.

Dave Grout, Alex Fortune, and Ashley Blom

Every aspect of the development of this show has been done with good humor, kindness, and great consideration for the feelings of the actors, many of whom are quite young. The cast goes from elders who have been part of the Country Players for many years, to young people who have just started performing. Jack Arnot, playing a village elder, Mr. MacLaren, has been with the Country Players for almost 30 years. Maureen Connelly says she started at 7 years old when her mother took her to audition for The King and I, beginning their involvement with this group that has lasted for over 15 years. Amy Connelly has been a producer, director and much more over the years. This is her first time directing a musical.

Maureen Connelly Grout, left, with Jeanne Miller, Sarah Rose Adan, Hannah Winans and Angela Grove.

The lovely Maureen has a smile that would light a room on the darkest day. She has been exceptionally kind to me as I struggled to find my way to face the challenging reality of working in live theater. We are so lucky to have as our musical director the talented Amy Crawford, whom I have known in the past as the accompanist for the GCC Chorus. She has also worked as musical director for many previous shows. Also, I must give credit to the talented choreographer, Haley Descavich who has worked tirelessly to make us all look good while we dance.

I must say something about the kids who are taking part in the show. They are serious minded and professional in their approach to the show even as they lend a spirit of carefree fun to our rehearsals and demonstrate the kind of joy in their performance that only the young and therefore unselfconscious can display. Among them, Stone Dresser, a fine dancer and charming young man. He was in fifth grade at Sheffield this year, formerly attended Montague Center School. He plans to attend Gill Elementary in the Fall. Spencer Hubert, now in eighth grade at Great Falls Middle School is a member of the Middle School Concert Band and the Turners Falls High School Marching Band, playing trumpet. Spenser sings and dances like a pro. Sarah Rose Aden from Erving will be going into eighth grade at Frontier Regional High School in the fall. This is her third show with the Country Players. Hannah Winans of Conway is 12 years old, just graduated from sixth grade. She has been doing musicals for five years. William Anderson Gregory loves to dance. This is his first theater production, joining his father, Weldon Gregory who told me this is his first show in 20 years, since high school days.

While we have been busy rehearsing, Gail Villieneuve has been busy working on costumes for all of us to wear. She has been assisted by Sharon Weyers and Judy Delany. Judy is married to Dr. Bob Delany who plays Mr. Lundy in the show and has been with the Country players for many years. So it seems to me that I have now joined a very large family, one that loves to sing and dance and play. We are in final rehearsals this week, opening in just a few days. I hope everyone will come see the show. There are still two shows left, Saturday evening, July 17 at 8 p.m. and the matinee on Sunday, July 18 at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the Shea Theater box office in Turners Falls. Reservations can be made by calling 413-863-2281.