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Productions Featured in Etcetera and New & Noteworthy Pages, 2005-06

Soldier's Tale.
 Ala'a Rasheed and Ciaran McMenamin
Ala'a Rasheed and Ciaran McMenamin (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
This week the Old Vic is hosting an amazing Iraqi-European collaboration. The Soldier's Tale is a Faustian story of a soldier who sells his soul to the Devil. Set to music in 1918 by Igor Stravinsky, here played by a seven man orchestra, with the addition of traditional Arabic music played on drum (oud), qanun and nay by Iraqi musicians. Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Abdulkareem Kasid have written a new version of the text to be spoken alternately in English and Arabic. There are six actors, two British and two Iraqi playing the soldier and the Devil, and two narrators, Julian Glover and Falah al Flayeh.

The achievement of Andrew Steggall's production lies as much in the process as the end product as Iraqis find the freedom to express themselves in theatre where the Minister of Culture is a policeman. I greatly enjoyed being able to listen to the sound of Arabic voices and the music was absolutely breathtaking. The tale itself does little to resonate today with its age-old story line but maybe this exchange will serve as a catalyst for other projects which will comment on the issues that Iraq is facing today. The set is a wonderful ragged archway of war torn, blown away brick stretching back to the rear of the Old Vic stage, lit dramatically. I liked too the choreography from the Arabic actors and the rhythm of the Arabic music was so wonderful it often outclassed the Stravinsky. There is a fascinating article by Andrew Steggall in the programme about his time in Baghdad, surely itself material for dramatic portrayal. ---Lizzie Loveridge, February 2, 2006
Spoon River Anthologyat American Century Theate (DC)...Is mesmerizing, like a dance.
American Century Theater has remounted Edgar Lee Masters storytelling masterpiece making it seem modern. The show has the feel of a ballet to it, as characters ebb and flow across the stage. One tells a story, the ensemble melds together and then another Spoon River, Illinois native emerges to share their story of how they lived and died in the tiny town. It's mesmerizing in its way although the style can be confusing to audience members not clued in to the staging.

And when it all comes to the end, what do we discover? A lot of angry people. It's after everyone has whined, complained, cried and shared, that 96 year old Lucinda Matlock tells it like it is with: "Life is too strong for you. It takes life to love life. It takes love to life."

Director Shane Wallis and his cast have created a flowing, well-timed production. Jan Forbes set provides a look of decay, while Thomas B. Kennedy's lighting frames everything very nicely. Check it out at

Arena Stage's Damn Yankees...Definitely a good time!
Molly Smith hits another homerun with her remounting of a classic work. The Adler, Ross, Abbott, Wallop musical about a struggling New York Yankee's baseball team which becomes the backdrop for one man's bet with the Devil is sweet, touching and great fun.

Mixing wonderful choreography with stellar vocal performances, Arena may not be pushing the intellectual envelope, but they are providing entertainment. And there is something to be said for that.

The production has several standout moments. The sweet affection of "Goodbye, Old Girl" (sung by Lawrence Redmond as the older Joe Boyd) is stirring. Meg Boyd's (played by Kay Walbye) attraction towards the young Joe Hardy (Matt Bogart), while not realizing that he is her husband, is humorous. Meg Gillentine's over the top, campy performance of "Whatever Lola Wants" is a show stopper, especially when it doesn't get her what she wants. And Brad Oscar as Mr. Applegate makes a cavalierly evil Devil.

The design team has melded a variety of 50's styles and created what seems to be a homage to West Side Story dance numbers. When you compare Joe Hardy's use of supernatural power to today's baseball steroid scandals, one sees how timely this "old" musical remains. For tickets go to See, 2/06
David Marks (Pompey) and Todd Scofield (Elbow)
D. Marks and Todd Scofield
(Photo: Carol Pratt)
Measure for Measure at Folger Theatre (DC). -- Delightfully dark and modern.
Over on Capitol Hill, the Folger Library is offering a terrific performance of William Shakespeare's satire Measure for Measure. Director Aaron Posner has devised a Venetian world that illuminates our own times in its attempt to regulate the morality of its citizens. Shakespeare highlights how hypocritical politicians use their power hypocritically -- especially when it comes down to sex and religion.

For an overview of the story see

In this production Mr. Posner and his creative team have constructed a world that melds past and present, incorporating puppets, steel mesh, Italian tile, interesting pauses and smoky neon-like lighting. Biblical references to forgiveness, as well as Shakespearean quotes flash overhead, as Indie folk rock music by Damien Rice and Sia filters through the air. The majority of the cast is dressed in modern wear, while a handful are in a style more suited to the late 18th century. Each character's facial makeup seems to coordinate with their wardrobe and pinpoint lighting highlights some amazing performances. The humor in the script is cleverly brought to the surface in subtle, and not so subtle, ways, such as with the one-armed executioner. In a nod to Shakespearean times, actors Tony Nam and Todd Scofield handle the ensemble male and female puppet roles.

All in all, this is a visually stunning production that contrasts nicely with the Folger's Elizabethan performance space. The puppets, which are molded in a style similar to paintings by early 20th century artist Egon Schiele, add an especially interesting touch.

Within the cast, Mark J. Sullivan as Claudio shines in his angry monologue on death and capital punishment. Karen Peakes as the virtuous Isabella -- virtuous to a fault (as this production makes clear) -- develops the character very nicely from her first scenes, making you see how the naïve novitiate becomes much more worldly.

As the Duke, Mark Zeisler creates the aura of leader who dislikes being questioned, while also realizing the responsibility which his power demands of him. While as the lecherous and cruel Angelo, Ian Merrill Peakes brings humor and charm to the role of a man whose basic nature is one of cruelty and egotism.

David Emerson Toney as Lucio and David Marks as Pompey provide the clowning that appears in every work by the Bard. Mr. Toney is the braggart who you know is going to receive his comeuppance and Mr. Marks is the world weary "bawd" who is not phased by anything, including becoming a hangman.

The great thing about this production is that there are moments of complete unexpectedness. The melding of so many influences and styles allows the magical aspects of theatre to take over and bring the humor and the insight within the script to the surface in a fresh, new way.

Measure for Measure is playing Tuesdays through Sundays until February 26th. For more information or for tickets go to
Mark Rhea as Biff Loman and Brian Hemmingsen as Willy Loman
M. Rhea and B. Hemmingsen
(Photo: Ray Gniewek)
Death of a Salesman at Keegan Theatre (DC)
Director Dorothy Neumann's production of Arthur Miller's classic play is taut and well defined. A simple stage suits this unvarnished piece about a family sinking under the weight of the beliefs to which it has tenaciously held. Stefan Gibson's set is a simple frame house with versatile uses. Dan Martin's lighting thrives on the greys and shadows of the space to illuminate the important moments.

The performance flows with remarkable speed and you don't even notice the almost three hour length of the play. On so many levels Miller hits home -- parental relationships with children, the weight of being a "golden child" within a family, charisma vs. hard work, selflessness and selfishness. As a play it's remarkable and if you haven't seen it -- you should!

Brian Hemmingsen's Willy Loman is mesmerizing as he deteriorates. Alternately brutish then child-like, then suddenly a braggart who is just as quickly on his knees as he realizes his life has come to a screeching stop. Mr. Hemmingsen once again provides an emotionally exhausting performance. As Willy's wife Linda, Charlotte Akin opens a window on a whole generation of wives who catered to and fought for their husband's well-being. No matter that he keeps stifling her voice, he provides for the family and that, in her book, means he deserves and has a right to respect and consideration at every step. While she may be always smiling, she is also shrewd and you get the feeling she is not unknowing about Willy's extramarital affairs, but simply chooses to ignore them since her star is so intricately intertwined to his.

Mark Rhea illuminates a tortured Biff, while Mike Innocenti as the shallow Hap is the con man that Willy never wanted to become. As the characters move about the stage, your realize each has a core bit of truth about the Lomans' situation, as well as a great deal of delusional baggage.

For a synopsis see and then run to Church Street Theatre and take in this wonderful performance yourself. Keegan is running Death of a Salesman until February 19th. Performances are Thursday through Sunday and you can purchase tickets at
City of Angels, the 1990 Tony-winner for Best Musical receives a smashing production from Reprise: Broadway's Best. Though not composer Cy Coleman's greatest score, the tough witty book by Larry Gelbart and clever lyrics by David Zippel do hilarious justice to the 1940s film noir setting and movie production ambiance they send up.

The dual story line successfully recounts the struggle of Stine, a detective novelist, with Buddy, a commercial Hollywood producer who is paying him big bucks to screen-a-tize his novel. The play-within-a-play depicts the novel and its characters, beginning in the office of Stone, a Sam Spade type detective, when a mysterious beauty calls. It's a clone of the opening scene of The Maltese Falcon. The plot is complicated but the real story is Stine's exaggerated but not unrealistic conflict with Buddy. A classic example occurs when Stine writes about Detective Munoz's anger at racial prejudice and Buddy screams, "Change all that black, brown and yellow to red, white and blue."" Stine transmutes the people in his life into characters in his book and creates a recurring joke whenever he changes his draft by backspacing on his typewriter, causing the characters to speak their lines backward.

The cast is highlighted by Stephen Bogardus as Stine, Burke Moses as Stone, Stuart Pankin as Buddy, Vicki Lewis as Oolie/Donna, Kevin Earley as Jimmy Powers, Alli Mauzey as Mallory/Avril, Randy Brenner as Sonny, Daniel Guzman as Munoz, Tami Tappan Damiano as Bobbi/Gabby, and Marguerite MacIntyre as Alaura/Carla. Credit Joe Leonardo for the seamless direction and Alex Jaeger for authentic glamorous film noir costumes. Presented January 24-February 5, 2006, at the UCLA Freud Playhouse, 405 Hilgard Avenue, Westwood, Phone: (213) 628-2772. -- Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock, 1/26/06
Betty Garrett
Betty Garrett as Sister Julia
Nunsense is to nuns what Grease is to high schools. It seems highly appropriate that the set for the latter is the set for the former, the conceit being that Grease is being performed by the students at the school run by The Little Sisters of Hoboken. The Desperate Sisters have usurped the set for an emergency fund-raiser for a reason more ghoulish than girlish. This frothy revue with its vaudevillesque double-entendres reveals the repressed aspirations of the singing sisters. It premiered off-Broadway in 1985 and has had a healthy life on the road ever since.

The raison d'être for the current production at Theatre West is a new character, song and dance by creator/director Dan Groggin for Betty Garrett. Sister Julia, Child of God, was only mentioned in the original version. Garrett plays the elderly sister and chef, who inadvertently poisoned most of the order, with delicious comic charm. She's ably supported by Lee Meriwetherr as Sister Robert Anne who presents characters such as Sister Hiawatha by hilarious twists of her veil; Bridget Hanley, who plays tutu-mad ballerina Sister May Leo with irrepressible yearning; radiant Rhonda Stovey as Sister Mary Hubert; Barbara Mallory, who gives squeaky comic relief to Sister Mary Amnesia ; and Sandra Tucker, wry and crisp as the unsuperior mother, Sister Mary Regina.

Snidely choreographed by Deborah Del Mastro on a Grease-perfect set by Joseph M. Altadonna and Daniel Keough, Nunsense plays until March 6 at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Boulevard West, Phone: (323) 851-7977. -- Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on January 20, 2005.

Tales From Shakespeare
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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Our Review

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Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide

Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam

metaphors dictionary cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by
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