Friday, May 6, 2016

theatre review - PICNIC - Mesa Community College - April 29

Cedar Eileen Cody, Dolores Mendoza, Brandon Caraco, Samantha Hanna, and Andrew Blahak
Photo by Tom J. McCoy / Mesa Community College

"William Inge's Pulitzer Prize winning play Picnic centers on several life-changing events over a 24 hour period in 1950s Kansas. Clear casting and specific direction of this classic drama are crucial to ensure that the somewhat nostalgic situations in the play are handled expertly and that the turn of events don't come across as too melodramatic for a 21st century audience. The good news for Mesa Community College's recent production, which just ended this past weekend, is that the casting, especially of the three main females who are all strong-willed women determined to make it on their own, couldn't have been better and the solid direction kept things centered and specific to the period.
...While it may seem like not much really happens during the majority of the play, except for the arrival of Hal and the growing attraction between him and Madge and how that plays out, there is actually a lot that happens in this 24 hour period. Almost all of the characters go through major changes over the course of this one single day, which is a major compliment both to Inge and his ability to not only write complex characters and to Kevin Dressler's casting and succinct direction, as all of the actors delivered rich portrayals with their characters growing and naturally ending up in a different place then when they began. Flo, Rosemary, and Helen are all strong and dominant women, forced it seems into taking on these typical male characteristics of the 1950s since all three of them don't have husbands to shoulder the burdens of raising children or dealing with the daily chores that were generally set aside for the man of the house to handle. As those three women, Cedar Eileen Cody, Samantha Hanna, and Dolores Mendoza were nothing short of spectacular. ..Sean Peteet's muscular physique and stamina worked well for the part of Hal and, even though this was his first stage role, Peteet exhibited the right amount of confidence within the desperation of Hal's predicament. Kaidi Phillips and Gina Hoyt were winning as Flo's daughters Madge and Millie. ..
Technical credits were sublime for the production, with a lovely set design by Kara E. Thompson full of realistic touches...While Picnic is set in the time period that it first appeared on Broadway, seeing it today brings an added nostalgic element by viewing the way people lived sixty years ago but also having a clearer understanding of what obstacles they faced. It also centers on normal, simple characters in a more simple time. These are the kinds of people who go about their normal daily activities and get excited about a new dress or the Labor Day picnic. Since Inge's characters are much like the average theatregoer, the characters and events of the play are still relatable even though sixty years have passed. With such a wonderful cast and lovely technical designs, MCC's production of Picnic was a rewarding journey to the past."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

theatre review - PETE, OR THE RETURN OF PETER PAN - Childsplay - April 30, 2016

Alan Khoutakoun, Gavin Austin Brown, and Rebecca Duckworth
photo: Tim Tumble
Click here for more information on this production that runs through May 22nd.

""Peter Pan," J. M. Barrie's story of the boy who wouldn't grow up, seems to never go out of fashion. ...Childsplay presents the world premiere of Pete, or the Return of Peter Pan, a modern day sequel to Barrie's tale written by Dwayne Hartford, in a production full of heart, humor, and high flying adventure. With cell phones, words like "cool" and "awesome," karate, and, most importantly, female characters that are just as strong as the male roles in the show, Hartford's adventure brings a fresh, modern sensibility to Barrie's story. Wendy and Henry are the great, great grandchildren of the original Wendy from "Peter Pan."...When she opens up a box sends up a beacon to the sky that brings Peter Pan from Neverland to Wendy's side. ...Wendy butts heads with the somewhat conceited Peter but still finds the adventure that she desires. But is Neverland the solution that Wendy seeks to escape from her controlling mother, or just a temporary stop on the journey to learn some valuable life lessons? Hartford creates identifiable characters and situations that will resonate with any parent or child. His continual use of humor keeps the show light. But there are also plenty of well-choreographed fight sequences (by David Barker) that incorporate the entire cast and bring athletic and comic-infused adventure to the show. While Hartford wisely keeps any hint of schmaltz out of the show, don't be surprised if you find yourself a little misty eyed like I was during the play's moving and heartfelt final scenes. The only downsides to the production are small, but a cast of only eight does make Neverland seem a little desolate and, while the end result is a fun and even moving adventure, there could be a little tightening of the script to speed up some of the action in the two hour running time....Director David Saar elicits wonderful performances from the cast and effectively uses Carey Wong's inventive, scaffolding-style, two-tiered scenic design to create plenty of inventive playing areas. ...Pete, or the Return of Peter Pan is a fun-filled adventure that wisely updates Barrie's famous story to modern times while also giving an equal balance to the female characters. The days of Wendy playing "mother" and tending to the lost boys' house while Peter and the boys are off on an adventure are long gone. While it could be tightened up a bit, with a gifted cast, clear direction, and fun creative elements, children of all ages will most likely jump at the chance to join Peter and Wendy on their fun filled adventure."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)