Reviews by Jeff Ashcraft, Patricia Baugh-Riechers, Audra Beals, Dee Canfield, Kim Eastland, Emily Heninger, Heather Herkelman, Paula Jolly, Victoria Navarro, Mike Schulz, Joy Thompson, Oz Torres, Brent Tubbs, Jill (Pearson) Walsh, and Thom White.
A mobile Army surgical hospital (MASH) is a nomadic troop of doctors, nurses, and equipment. And while nomads the world over have packed up all of their belongings and disappeared quickly and stealthily into the night, playwright Tim Kelly’s M*A*S*H, currently in production at the Playcrafters Barn Theatre, is not a vehicle that travels well.
Considering its real-life tale of the 1916 lynching of a circus elephant and the event’s effects on those who either demanded or protested the execution, playwright George Brant’s Elephant’s Graveyard could rightly be labeled a drama. But it’s more accurately a horror story, and as evidenced by New Ground Theatre’s and director Debo Balogun’s electrifying presentation, that horror doesn’t come from a momentarily out-of-control pachyderm; it comes from human beings, from us, and our own worst impulses. You may, and likely will, shudder when hearing how the elephant Mary crushed her abusive rider’s head – intentionally? – with the weight of five tons. That recollection, however, pales next to the terrifying image of a girl giddy with delight about the beast’s impending fate, or the circus ringmaster admitting, with not quite enough regret, what he eventually did with the corpse.
But what didn't sink was April 28's opening-night production of Augustana College's musical Titanic. Beginning with its opening number that wowed me in terms of sound quality and the power of its ensemble cast, I had to occasionally remind myself that I was at a college production.
Having been a librarian at elementary and middle schools, one might think my most challenging students were the middle-schoolers. Not so! My fears arose before visits from the littler kids, as I, alone, would have to keep them quiet and attentive for 40 minutes. (Ever herded kittens?) So when I attended April 20's Big Nate: The Musical at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse and saw school buses unloading first- and second-graders, kindergarteners, and preschoolers, I thought, “This will be interesting!” – especially since the Big Nate books are for readers 8 to 12 years old. I wondered if the story would hold the attention of this young an audience … and happily, the answer was “Yes!”
Some spiritual teachings hold the heart as the organ of transformation, arguing that it's through the heart that we connect with the source of life that speaks to us, that guides us, and through which we're opened to the richness of being. When we give our hearts to others through acts of love, we are transformed. But what of the act of literally giving one’s heart to another through a heart transplant? Are there consequences for those involved? How does this generous act of giving play out in a story of grieving and loss? Does it add more meaning to the life of the one who has passed?
As the clock approached 7:30 p.m. on a refreshingly cool and clear mid-April Saturday, the old barn beckoned like a silent sentinel as my wife and I wove our way up the meandering hill. While approaching the main entrance, the imposing presence at the ticket window asked quietly, eerily, if we had reservations. We said we did, and he motioned for us to climb the stairs leading us to the loft. I swallowed hard and took my time, stretching out each step knowing that I was ascending ever closer into the darkness, the unknown, and into a night of murder. Bwa-a-a-a-h Ha-a-a-a-ha-a-a-a-ha-a-a-a-a-a!!!
Shakespeare provided us with tales of tragedy, comedy, and history. The Prenzie Players, meanwhile, have been performing Shakespeare’s plays for many years and still exhibit a deep passion for his words and stories, as evidenced by their new production of Coriolanus. I attended the March 23 preview in which the cast and crew delivered an exciting performance, especially in light of one of the actors losing his voice. (More on that later.) Jeremy Mahr directed a talented troupe of performers while his design crew set the tone, with Matt Elliott creating a sparse set suggesting white marble, designer Tyson Danner supplying simple yet stark white lighting, and sound designer Bret Churchill providing ambiance that thrums with tension. It all added up to something cool and edgy.
In the Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse’s current, topnotch production of The Music Man, the signature image is actually an image in motion: actor Don Denton, in his role as Harold Hill, strolling – or more accurately gliding – across the stage.