Aunt Rudele's Family Reunion
Historic Asolo Theater

A few decades back at Florida A & M University, Nate Jacobs disguised himself as a busy-body black aunt and regaled fellow students with "her" monologue. Aunt Rudele is older, even wiser-cracking now, and busier than ever setting her family straight before and during their annual family reunion.

Her monologue benefits greatly not only from continual development but from talented Carolyn Michel's infusions of structure and of variety in pacing. There are now distinctive scenes, with appropriate suggestive props, lighting, sound.

Marie J. Kilker
Lady
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Cook Theater

 In Lady, a cork-like oaken box purports to be woods outside of Bethany, Illinois (though the only thing authentically Southern Illinois about it is the lighting). It shuts in three men who meet annually to hunt and supposedly renew a friendship since childhood that's frayed of late. But this "concept" set is all metaphor with no particular basis in reality. A huge rectangular inset is planned to come down at one point and reveal a clearing under a sky.

Marie J. Kilker
Blithe Spirit
Coronado Playhouse

The Condomines' (Ruth and Charles) home in Blithe Spirit is luxurious even by 1940's Hollywood standards. Their living room has light sconces, a view of the garden, a lovely draped archway to the servants' areas, and elegant furnishings. Yet their tale is quite simple. The Condomines and guests, Dr. and Mrs. Bradman (James E. Steinberg and Renee Gandola), are entertained by Madame Arcati (Ashley Gardner). She, quite by chance, conjures up the former Mrs. Condomine, Elvira (Victoria Mature), who passed seven years prior.

Robert Hitchcox
Holy Ghosts
Swedenborgian Hall

 Coleman Shedman (Michael Barnett) is having a bad morning. He wakes up on the floor with a bad hangover. Moments later he discovers the furniture gone. As the brain fog clears, he can't find his wife nor his cherished old pick-up truck. Yes, Coleman's day does not start out well. He hoofs it into town, finally finding his wife, Nancy (Melanie Sutherlin), praising the Lord at the fellowship hall. A confrontation ensues. Plus, this is a day of worship, and the parishioners begin to arrive.

Robert Hitchcox
Groucho: A Life in Revue
OnStage Playhouse

I was raised on TV's "You Bet Your Life." From 1950 to 1956, the show was a weekly ritual. Even when I was in Asia in the late 50s, I could see it. Then there were Groucho Marx's films, solo or with Harpo and Chico. Groucho was part of my life.

Robert Hitchcox
Spamalot
Marcus Center for the Performing Arts - Vogel Hall

The Tony Award-winning musical, Monty Python's Spamalot, made its Milwaukee debut as a recent stop on the show's national tour. Lovingly "ripped off" from the 1975 film, "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," the musical takes audiences on a journey of the absurd.
For the uninitiated, the musical contains all of the nuttiness one would expect from any show associated with Monty Python's Flying Circus, the English comedy troupe that formerly had its own TV show. Still, the big-budget musical rises to heights not seen with the tacky gimmicks typically used by Monty Python.

Anne Siegel
Blithe Spirit
First Unitarian Universalist Church

Blithe Spirit, playing only this weekend at the First Unitarian Universalist Church, is my second witnessing of Noel Coward's classic in a week. The interpretations were totally different. This version stays close to the original, obviously placed in England. The cast is older by ten years.

Robert Hitchcox
Rocket City
Alabama Shakespeare Festival - Octagon Theater

In the rear, a long curtain before multi-tiered circle and ovals; in the foreground, space for changes of scene via prop placement: how fitting! The story of the U. S. Military bringing into Huntsville, Alabama, a team of former Nazi scientists headed by Wernher Von Braun, and how this affects the townspeople intertwines with that of Jewish Amy Lubin (Lori Prince, sweet but tough). She has come from the Bronx to wed Alabaman Jed Kessler (always amiable, romantic Daniel Talbott).

Marie J. Kilker
Company
Poway Performing Arts Company

 Company, which began as a series of one-act plays by George Furth, became the highly successful musical of 1970 with the addition of Stephen Sondheim's music and lyrics. It ran just over 700 performances, then moved on to London. The story is just as topical today as it was 37 years ago. Under Rick Shaffer's direction, Company is running on PowPAC's stage in Poway.

Robert Hitchcox
Company
John F. Kennedy Center For The Performing Arts

 For the second instalment in the big "Sondheim Celebration," the Kennedy Center has gone back to the engaging 1970 Company, which received 15 Tony nominations and came through with seven wins, catapulting Sondheim into the pantheon of musical theater. Whereas the Broadway original had a set (by Boris Aronson) that emphasized the vertical and featured two elevators, Derek McLane here has devised an enveloping metallic set that emphasizes the horizontal: it presents an aerial view of several New York skyscrapers, with shifting projections on a large upstage screen.

Caldwell Titcomb
Competition, The
Cook Theater at Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts

 When all you hear at intermission is people wondering what the original play is like, you can be pretty sure the translation isn't going over. Then, too, when a play and its author have been hyped as much as these have been, people may be forgiven for wondering why it's so disappointing. My theory: the characters are not involving because they relate poorly to each other and are often unbelievable or stereotypes. Moreover, they begin more like tragic figures, even as their foolishness makes us laugh at them, since the comedy plays down its serious socio-economic elements.

Marie J. Kilker
Compleat Female Stage Beauty
Globe Theater

 It's the 1660s, and Charles II (Tom Hewitt) has opened the theaters after two decades of Puritanism. Further, he's decreed that women shall play the female roles, and males may no longer do so. Edward Kynaston (Robert Petkoff), the leading man in the field, revolts, now out of work and out of favor.

Robert Hitchcox
Compleat Female Stage Beauty
Plays & Players Theater

 During the Puritan era, women were barred from appearing on the English stage, and a man named Edward Kynaston became the most popular of all actors playing female roles. He refused to play men because "there's no artistry in that." This play examines what happens when the monarchy is restored and King Charles II orders a reversal. Men are banned from playing Desdemona, Ophelia and Cleopatra, actresses now take over those roles - and we have one seriously unemployed guy. Kynaston faces an identity crisis, in his romantic as well as his stage life.

Steve Cohen
Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged), The
OnStage Playhouse

 The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) is not the only work by the prolific Reduced Shakespeare Company.

Robert Hitchcox
Complete History Of America (Abridged), The
Actors Theater of Louisville - Victor Jory Theater


Charles Whaley
Catered Affair, A

 You only have to listen to the first seven minutes or so of A Catered Affair on the PS Classics cast album to get a good idea of the show's strengths as well as its flaws. After a brief orchestral prelude, the CD begins not with a song but with nearly two full minutes of spoken dialogue over music -- and, by the way, there's actually much more dialogue at the start of the show as seen at the Walter Kerr Theater than is included on the recording.

Michael Portantiere
Adding Machine

 I haven't done any digging, so I don't know whence came all of the money behind Adding Machine, which has been transplanted from Chicago to the Minetta Lane Theater. We've all read and heard a great deal about how the current economics of Off-Broadway work against the financially successful production of musicals unless they're have teeny-tiny casts and modest production values. So I was amazed by the sets, lighting, costumes, and video design of this arresting musical based on Elmer Rice's expressionist 1923 play about a poor sap named Mr.

Michael Portantiere
Confessions of a Mormon Boy
Diversionary Theater


Robert Hitchcox
Don't Dress for Dinner
Sunshine Brooks Theater

 Sometimes a farce is the only amusement that will cure an otherwise bad day. That being the case, Robin Hawdon's translation of Marc Camoletti's charming French bedroom comedy, Bon Anniversaire, does the job. Don't Dress for Dinner, the English version, is meant to keep an audience in tears from laughing so long and so hard.

Robert Hitchcox
Always...Patsy Cline
Florida Studio Theater - Keating Mainstage

In FST's first of many local productions, Always...Patsy Cline dramatized the singer's life through her musical performances and her records, as seen through the eyes of devoted fan Louise Seger. Though insistent and sometimes sassy in promoting Cline, southerner Louise was basically nurturing type of woman. After Cline stayed with her one night following a show in her hometown, they became fast friends.

Marie J. Kilker
Number, A
Cygnet Theater

What is truth? Is there truth? Ask the Bernards and Michael and Salter in Caryl Churchill's haunting A Number, the current offering at Cygnet. The short play, 62 intermissionless minutes, explores cloning and much, much more.

Salter (D. W. Jacobs) visits with his three sons, Bernard One and Two and Michael Black (Francis Gercke). Salter's relationship to his three sons, two cloned from Bernard One, is, in reality, a trial conducted by the three.

Robert Hitchcox
Conservationist, The
Cook Theater at Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts

 As the program claims, Mark Wheatley may be "one of London's leading playwrights," but the only thing I've ever seen of his was written for TV. For The Conservationist he seems to have a whole season of episodes in mind. There's so much STUFF about race relations, mixed- raced couples and offspring, academic vs. "real life" perceptions of the foregoing, and parent-child relationships, laced with traces of the results of feminist and sexual liberations! Yet, there's such s-l-o-w unraveling of exposition that bridges of percussion often serve as incentives not to snooze.

Marie J. Kilker
Constant Star
Actors Theater of Louisville

 I was put on this earth to agitate, writer/director Tazewell Thompson has Ida B. Wells proclaiming in Constant Star, his absorbing play about the fiery, uncompromising journalist, lecturer, teacher and anti-lynching crusader for civil rights and women's suffrage. áUntil recent years, the life and work of this Mississippi-born daughter of slaves was largely missing from history books. One reason may have been because Wells irritated members of her own race who believed men, not women, should lead the civil rights battles.

Charles Whaley
Continental Divide
La Jolla Playhouse - Mandell Weiss Forum

 If you like politics, you may like this two-play cycle about a Republican and a Democrat running for governor of California. Tthe acting is quite all right, if a bit preachy -- but then so is politics. Let's look at each play in Contental Divide.

Robert Hitchcox
Continuum, The
Yale University

 This must count as one of the more moving presentation of the genocide inflicted on the Cambodian people during the reign of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. Yet Singapore-based director Ong Keng Sen uses essentially clear-headed, non-sensationalist means: spoken and taped descriptions, film clips and projected text. At the center is Em Theay, once a dancer in royal court spectacles in Phnom Penh but now, at age 69, a main contributor to the recovery of Cambodian traditional arts. It is a wonder that she is still alive.

David Lipfert
Cooking With Gus
Theater Works

 Do you like TV comedies a la Lucille Ball? If so, and you don't mind one transposed to the stage (but dealing with a TV show), you're going to toast this marshmallow. Successful published cook Gussie loves and lives with Walter yet puts off marriage while her dream of having a televised cooking show keeps eluding her. When the big opportunity arrives, she faints from camera fright. Walter, who's been studying hypnotism, offers to help Gussie conquer her fears while secretly plumbing her psyche for the reasons she's a workaholic, avoiding marriage and unable to just enjoy life.

Marie J. Kilker
Copacabana
Shubert Performing Arts Center

 Barry Manilow, the affable singing star who started his career by writing and composing ad jingles, decided to turn his wildly popular, Grammy award-winning song, "Copacabana," into a musical comedy (it is still called Copacabana. Here, Manilow's written the music and collaborated on the book with lyricists Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman, who wrote the aforementioned song.

Rosalind Friedman
Copacabana
Merriam Theater

 Barry Manilow's Copacabana is based on Manilow's song "Copacabana" from his early album, Even Now. He expanded the 3 1/2-minute song into a TV musical, then an Atlantic City staging. Early in 2000 this full-length musical comedy premiered in Pittsburgh. It has been revised extensively since then. Surely you remember the story as told in the song lyric: "Her name was Lola, she was a show girl...."

Steve Cohen
Copenhagen
Cygnet Theater

 Copenhagen is guaranteed to make you think. Physics, mathematics and philosophy play major roles as we are whisked back and forth through time. It is after the deaths of the three protagonists, then it's the Twenties, World War II, post war, and more as the characters reminisce. Michael Frayn's play is a challenge to both actors and audience.

Robert Hitchcox
Copenhagen
Theater Three

 It is difficult to believe the erudite and probing questions posited in Michael Frayn's Copenhagen flowed from the same pen as Noises Off, one of the wackiest backstage farces extant. First premiered in 1998 at London's Royal National Theatre with its first American production in 2000 at Broadway's Royale Theater, Copenhagen details a fictional account of an actual meeting between Danish physicist, Niels Bohr, and German physicist, Werner Heisenberg, who visited Bohr's home in Copenhagen in 1941.

Rita Faye Smith
Copenhagen
Milwaukee Repertory Theater - Quadracci Powerhouse Theater

 Michael Frayn's Copenhagen is sure to strike a resonant chord with today's audiences. Daily headlines are filled with reports regarding foreign countries and their weapons of mass destruction. Does Iraq have the bomb? Does Iran? Does North Korea? Copenhagen takes us back to the origins of such discussions.

Anne Siegel
Corn Is Green, The
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

 Emlyn Williams' 1941 semi-autobiographical play -- about a teacher who, against formidable odds, helps an unlikely young Welshman escape coal mining to develop his literary talents -- unabashedly calls for two stars. It has them in local favorite Carolyn Michel, bursting with Miss Moffat's pep and determination, and serious FSU/Asolo Conservatory student Bryan Barter as belligerent but brilliant Morgan Evans.

Marie J. Kilker
Corpus Christi
Artswatch

 Can it be that Terrence McNally's controversial Corpus Christi, his "gay Jesus" play in which the Christ-like hero is homosexual, has been performed nowhere else in this country except Louisville, Kentucky, nearly a year after its contentious opening last October at New York's Manhattan Theater Club? Gilbert Parker, McNally's agent, confirmed that the work will be done at the Edinburgh Festival this year but knew of no other U.S. performances besides director Don Cox's staging in Louisville of this homophobia challenging, poster play of the culture wars.

Charles Whaley
Cotton Patch Gospel, The
Bunbury Theater

 Some knowledge of the history behind The Cotton Patch Gospel, Bunbury Theatre's earthy bluegrass gospel musical that switches the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to rural Georgia, is instructive and deepens enjoyment of that old, old story. Tom Key and Russell Treyz adapted "the greatest story ever retold" from a book called "The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John" by Dr.

Charles Whaley
Cotton Patch Gospel, The
Arts District Theater

 Tom Key has brought his off-Broadway blue-grass musical, Cotton Patch Gospel, back to Dallas Theater Center after a 20-year absence, and the audiences seem as enthralled as ever.

Based on biblical scholar/political activist Clarence Jordan's book, "The Cotton Patch Version of Matthew and John," the piece was adapted by Tom Key and Russell Treyz. With music by Harry Chapin, Cotton Patch transports the Gospels of Matthew and John to late 20th century Valdosta, Georgia.

Rita Faye Smith
Count Of Monte Cristo, The
Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts - Mertz Theater

 Richly textured and authentic, Vicki S. Holden's wonderful costumes clothe a drama that's anything but. One reason Dumas pere's "The Count Of Monte Cristo" has proven so commercially viable is that he peopled a moving, interesting story that began with a fateful voyage and ended with a romantic sailing into the sunset. No such full circle in the plodding, often dull knock-off that Asolo Theater Company commissioned.

Marie J. Kilker
Cowardy Custard
Theater Works

 Mad about the Boy accurately describes how Theater Works audiences seem to feel about Noel Coward, judging by some of the theater's major successes with works by and centered on him. It's the way I feel about how B. G. Fitzgerald performs them. To celebrate the theater's 15th anniversary and centennial of Coward's birth, a glutinous concoction of his songs, doses of autobiography, sketches, and play scenes is enriched by Fitzgerald's perfect pronunciation and urbanity. Whether admonishing"Mrs.

Marie J. Kilker
Coyote Tales
Dallas Children's Theater

 Adapted by resident playwright Linda Daugherty, Coyote Talesis based on Mexican folklore and performed in English and Spanish at Dallas Children's Theater. Coyote Tales spins a whimsical story of Coyote, a trickster who spends his every waking moment hunting for his next meal. But Coyote, who is several enchiladas short of the Wednesday night special, is no match for the forest animals including Dog, Fox, Rabbit, Raccoon, Chicken, and Prairie Dog, all of whom use their wily tricks to outfox Coyote.

Rita Faye Smith
Crane, Mississippi
Elephant Space

 Southern Gothic, a dramatic staple, gets an over-the-top workout in the world premiere of Crane, Mississippi Timothy McNeil gives us a redneck family so crude, mean and grotesque as to make Jeeter Lester and his brood look like Boston Brahmins. McNeil and director Kristin Hanggi also have them raging at each other from start to finish, a same-note mistake which turns what might have been a gripping drama into an excrutiating experience for the audience.

Willard Manus
Crazy For You
Civic Theater

 Just what is Crazy For You? It's an excuse to play a lot of Gershwin music. It could have been a delightful revue with many of the Gershwin brothers' favorites, including "I Can't Be Bothered Now," "Bidin' My Time," "Shall We Dance," "Someone To Watch Over Me," "Embraceable You," "I Got Rhythm," and "Nice Work If You Can Get It." And there is dance, lots of dance.

Robert Hitchcox

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