Reviewer: Connie Meng

Connie Meng
Ms. Meng is currently Resident Theatre Critic and weekend announcer at North Country Public Radio. Initially she was an actress both On and Off-Broadway and in numerous TV commercials. After a break to get an MA in theatre from the University of Michigan and to work on a Ph.D. and teach acting, direct, and choreograph at the University ofDenver, she moved back toNew York to work as a professional musical director and conductor as well as rehearsal pianist for the Rockettes Christmas Show. On Broadway she played in the pit for Into the Woods, Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat and Damn Yankees. She moved back to Canton, New York fourteen years ago where she has directed a few local productions. Since 2000 Connie has been reviewing at Equity theatres on both sides of the border that are within the listening area of North Country Public Radio, from Ottawa to Syracuse, from Gananoque to Burlington and in the Southern Adirondacks.

Musical “You Are Here” Impressive at 1000 Islands Playhouse

Reviewed by Connie Meng

Linda Cash. Photo: Stephen Wild

Linda Kash.
Photo: Stephen Wild

The 1000 Islands Playhouse is closing out their season with an absorbing world premiere of “You Are Here,” a one-woman musical with music and lyrics by Neil Bartram and book by Brian Hill.  It’s inaccurate in a way to call “You Are Here” one-woman, as Diana, in a splendid performance by Linda Kash, also has conversations with other people in her life such as a stoned Viet Nam vet and her friend Joan with her distinctively messy hair-do.

Diana’s story begins as she’s watching the first moon landing in 1969.  Inspired by the adventurous astronauts, she decides to leave her home and explore the world outside her protective cocoon of habit and husband.  As she says, “It’s amazing the years I spent teaching myself not to see.”

Dana Osborne’s simple and effective set has a low platform upstage for the musicians backed by a huge rising moon covered with draped and scrunched fabric.  In front of the platform there’s a single park bench and a small moon is suspended over the audience.  Jason Hand’s expert lighting takes full advantage of the moon backdrop and Miss Osborne’s costume for Diana is amazingly versatile.  As for William Fallon’s sound, it’s first rate. (more…)

Confused “Das Ding” in Gananoque.

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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Photo: Stephen Wild.

“Das Ding (The Thing)” by Philippe Lohle and translated from the German by Birgit Schreyer Duarte is billed as “a sharp-witted social comedy.” I can only think that something got lost in translation as I found precious little comedy in the evening. This production originated in Toronto and moved intact to the Firehall with only one cast change. Luckily the technical production, which is terrific, moved too. “Das Ding” purports to span today’s globalized world by following the journey of a cotton fiber. I got this from the press release – not from the play.

It opens with a petulant King Manoel I of Portugal, (Qasim Khan), seated on a giant white cotton ball speaking with Magellan, (Naomi Wright). Magellan, after explaining his broken leg, requests backing for an expedition to sail west to find a route to the Indian Ocean. King Manoel refuses. The scene is mildly amusing, but the play goes downhill from there.

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A Grand Time in the Rapds, Light-Hearted Farce et the 1000 Thousand Islands Playhouse

Reviewed by Connie Meng

Ted

Photo: Jay Kopinski

“A Grand Time in the Rapids” by award-winning Canadian playwright Stewart Lemoine is billed as “a frivolous fast-paced farce” and it certainly is. It features Thalia, (Tess Degenstein), newly arrived in Grand Rapids from England and Ted, (Paul Dunn), an etiquette expert who arrives to monitor and direct Thalia’s confession to her boyfriend Boyd, (Craig Pike), the details of her rather lurid past.

That’s all I’ll say, as I don’t want to reveal the surprising twists of this odd-ball plot. Suffice it to say there are lots of thrown drinks, wet clothes, quick changes, and slamming of doors in this unusual farce that for a change is not about sex.

The set, designed by Jung-Hye Kim, shows Thalia’s apartment with minimal furniture and a pile of trunks and suitcases framed by a brick proscenium. The wallpaper has a design of stylized waves and there are 3 good solid doors plus a swing door to the kitchen. Her costumes are also good, especially Thalia’s dresses which clearly set the play in the 50s. Rebecca Picherack’s lighting is fine, except that the table lamp needs to come up a couple of points when the stage lights come up.

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New Play “In a Blue Moon” a hit in Gananoque

Reviewed by Connie Meng

Frankie

Photo: David Cooper

Blue Moon by Lucia Frangione, directed by Daryl Cloran.

The world premiere of Canadian playwright Lucia Frangione’s new play “In a Blue Moon” is definitely worth a trip to Gananoque. It tells the story of Ava, a widow, (Anita Wittenberg), and her six-year-old daughter Frankie, (Emma Tow – Miss Wittenberg’s real-life daughter), who move to an inherited cottage. There they find Will, (Brett Christopher), a free-lance photographer and Ava’s brother-in-law, already in residence. As their relationships change and grow, we find ourselves increasingly caught up in their emotions and lives.

Drew Facey’s abstract and creative wooden cottage is backed by a giant moon. The cottage has an upper level which functions as both a bedroom and the roof. There’s also a free-standing and very slammable door. The moon is used as a screen for Conor Moore’s terrific projections and his lighting is also very good. John Gzowski’s music and sound are very effective and the costumes, designed by Marian Truscott, are just fine. I loved Frankie’s pajamas.

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Sparkling “Into the Woods” at Gananoque’s 1000 Islands Playhouse

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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Photo:

A very good production of the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical “Into the Woods” is running at the 1000 Islands Playhouse. The cast, with a couple of exceptions, is strong and the actors can all handle the complex score. Drew Facey’s set, featuring an upper level walkway, 3 birdcage-like playing areas and, of course, woods, is excellent and his wonderful costumes cleverly fanciful. I loved the Prince’s high-top sneakers. The choreography by Shelly Stewart Hunt is good, especially for the Princes, although I felt it began a bit too early in the opening number and we lost some lyrics. Michelle Ramsay’s lighting is evocative and William Fallon’s sound first-rate and well balanced.

Speaking of sound, Musical Director Stephen Woodjetts has done an expert job with the complex vocals, especially the diction. When the show first opened in New York in 1987, the pit musicians called it “Into the Words.” He’s also done a great arrangement that allows only 5 musicians to convey the flavor and color of the original orchestration, with himself on piano, Greg Runions on percussion, David Smith on reeds, Bob Arlidge on bass, and the excellent Erin Puttee on keyboard.

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Much Ado About Nothing. A lively production set in the Jane Austin Period!

Reviewed by Connie Meng

Hero

Photo.David Baker

Much Ado ABout Nothing by Shakespeare. Directed by Craig Walker. A production of the  St. lawrence Festival, Prescott

I recommend reading the excellent synopsis in the program, as this is one of Shakespeare’s most confusing comedies.  Set by Director Craig Walker in the period of Jane Austin’s “Pride and Prejudice,” the plot twists through multiple misunderstandings, plotting, and eavesdropping.

The cast helps with the clarity, especially Michael Man as Borachio, an easily persuaded villain, and as the Friar who, in Act II, clarifies various deceptions.  Sarah English gives us a nicely three-dimensional Hero, as does Audrey Clairman as the maid, Ursula, and Jesse Nerenberg is a satisfyingly nasty villain in Don John.  Oddly, the broad acting style of Gabrielle Lazarovitz seems more suited to her Dogberry rather than her Beatrice.  However, she sings beautifully and in the opening scene she and Melissa Morris as Balthasar sing a lovely duet of an Italian Art Song.

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Creative “Julius Caesar” at the St Lawrence Shakeskpeare Festival at Prescott.

Reviewed by Connie Meng

Caesar

Photo by David Blake.  Richard Sheridan Willis as Julius Caesar. 

Julius Caesar by Shakespeare, directed by  Rona Waddington.

The St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival has opened their season with a strong and creative production of “Julius Caesar.”  Director Rona Waddington, with special permission from Actors Equity, has recruited 18 volunteers to play soldiers, senators, and citizens along with the 12 professional actors.  These volunteers do a fine job with the complex staging, as well as making some very nippy costume changes.

There are two real stand-outs in this generally strong cast.  Ash Knight as a wonderfully nuanced Brutus and Richard Sheridan Willis as the complex Caesar are both expert at handling the language.  My companion said for once she didn’t have to translate in her head. Jesse Nerenberg’s Cassius tends to be on a single note of anger till Act II, when we see more of his wiliness.  As Octavius Michael Man does a nice job, also doubling as the timid Cinna.

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“Assassinating Thomson”: A Unique Perspective at 1000 Islands Playhouse (Firehall Theatre)

Reviewed by Connie Meng

Bruceopen

  Photo. Stephen Wild

The Firehall at the 1000 Islands Playhouse has opened their season with the fascinating solo show, “Assassinating Thomson,” created and performed by Bruce Horak. Those of you who saw him play three characters, sing, and play the guitar in last season’s “Dear Johnny Deere” will be surprised to learn the Mr. Horak is legally blind. Due to a childhood illness, he has only 9% vision – what he describes as extreme tunnel vision.

Mr. Horak appears in brown pants and a brown paint-spattered t-shirt on a simple platform covered by a drop cloth and backed by a black curtain and three of his large painting. (There are others on display in the lobby.) There’s also an easel and a small table with paints, brushes, and water.

Unlike most solo shows, “Assassinating Thomson” is basically a conversation between Mr. Horak and the audience. The house lights remain on, since during the performance he paints a picture of the audience. I loved it, since I could take notes without mistakenly writing on my white pants. His personality is charming as he weaves together his personal story, with how he sees shapes, and his theories about the death of Tom Thomson.

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“Blithe Spirit” Sparkles at 1000 Islands Playhouse

Reviewed by Connie Meng

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Arcati

Photo: Stephen  Wild. Anita Wittenberg as Mme Arcati

I f you enjoy Noel Coward’s comedies as much as I do, get over to the 1000 Islands Playhouse and see their terrific production of “Blithe Spirit.”  Director Ashlie Corcoran and her uniformly strong cast hit all the right notes of both Coward’s style and humor. Ms. Corcoran has made a wise decision in bringing in Alison Deon as Dialect Coach.  For once Coward’s dialogue and “airy persiflage” sound authentic.

This is partly due to the excellent cast, including Christopher Weddell and Janet Michael as Dr. and Mrs. Bradman.  Kelsey Gilker has great fun with the inexperienced maid Edith, particularly the opening of Scene 2 when her mishaps are accompanied by percussion.  Speaking of percussion, Christopher Stanton’s music and sound are first rate.  I love the scene change music that sometimes sounds like drums and kazoo, as well as the perfectly timed sound in the final scene.

Krista Colosimo does a fine job as Ruth, Charles’s rather unsympathetic second wife, as does Stephen Gartner as Charles, from the use of his perfect period haircut to his final declaration of independence.  As for Shannon Currie’s mischievous Elvira, she’s well-nigh perfect, especially her wonderful body language which is enhanced by Dana Osborne’s lovely costume and wig.

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Tuneful Patsy Cline in Gananoque

Reviewed by Connie Meng

Tyler Murree, Alison MacDonald and David Archibald; Photo: Barbara Zimonick

Tyler Murree, Alison MacDonald and David Archibald; Photo: Barbara Zimonick

A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline
By Dean Regan
Produced in association with Western Canada Theatre, Kamloops, BC
Directed by Daryl Cloran
1000 Islands Playhouse

I’m not sure what to say about “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline” by Dan Regan, except that it’s not really a musical. It’s more a terrific concert or night club act.  Loosely structured as a radio show tribute to Patsy Cline, it’s emceed by Little Big Man, played by the energetic and versatile Tyler Murree. We see Patsy, the excellent Alison MacDonald, only in performance, never in her off-stage persona.  A few sparse biographical details are supplied by Little Big Man.  Entertaining diversions are added by the insertion of old radio commercials for Mr. Clean and Ajax, performed by Little Big Man and the great on-stage band.

Ross Nichol’s versatile set has a raised broadcast booth stage right, the 4-piece band is on raised platforms center, and the whole framed stage left by two dimensional giant radios.  There’s a scrim up center on which are projected the names of the various venues where Patsy performs.  Of Patsy’s multiple costumes by Jayne Christopher, by far the most flattering is the Act II long black gown.  Davida Tkach’s lighting is good and Ben Malone’s sound is excellent and well balanced. (more…)

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