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Bill Hurlbut

Theatre to the Point Best of 2017: Community Theatre

As the first year of Theatre to the Point comes to a close we wanted to recognize the best of what we saw in 2017. We were paying audience members at a limited number of shows this year and in the future as our site grows we expect these yearly reviews to be a far more comprehensive overview of the best our region had to offer.

Best Musical:

Aida – Reston Community Players

We were blown away by the technical quality of this production that we described as “must see community theatre”

Review

Best Play:

A Bright New Boise – Silver Spring Stage

It’s been a year where local theatres have embraced plays with some pretty dark themes and none were more enjoyable than Silver Spring Stage exploring the rapture inside the break room of a Hobby Lobby.

Review

Best Value Show:

Aida – Reston Community Players

With ticket prices set at $27 we wondered if this show could reach value. Director, Andrew JM Regiec, oversaw a show that smashed that price, scoring 71/100 for a $42 value.

Best Actor in a Musical:

Matt Wetzel, Emmett (Legally Blonde) – Silhouette Stages

Best Actress in a Musical:

Sherry Benedek, Sister Mary Robert (Sister Act) – Cockpit in Court

Best Actor in a Play:

Brendan Murray, Will (A Bright New Boise) – Silver Spring Stage

Best Actress in a Play:

Maura Suilebhan, Anna (A Bright New Boise) – Silver Spring Stage

Best Director of a Musical:

Susan Thornton, Willy Wonka the Musical – Other Voices

Best Director of a Play:  

Bill Hurlbut, Omnium Gatherum – Silver Spring Stage

Best Music Director:

Nathan Scavilla, Sister Act – Cockpit in Court

Best Choreographer:

Kendall Sigman, Hairspray – The Fredericktowne Players

Best Set Design:

Andrew JM Regiec & Dan Widerski, Aida – Reston Community Players

Best Costume Design:

Charlotte Marson, Aida – Reston Community Players

Best Lighting Design:

Steve Knapp & Jim McGuire, Willy Wonka – Other Voices

Best Sound Design:

Robert Pike, A Bright New Boise – Silver Spring Stage

Check out all of our reviews here.

Review: Omnium Gatherum

Omnium Gatherum.jpg

Omnium Gatherum. A collection of miscellaneous people brought to us by Alexandra Gersten-Vasilliaros and Theresa Rebeck who wrote the play in the direct aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Their work represents the conversations that were being had in all walks of life in post 9/11 America in the form of an elegant dinner party where it quickly becomes clear that all is not as it seems.

The Silver Spring Stage features a relatively simple set design from Don Slater – we feel like we’re in a high end New York apartment – with a table set with seven places. There is one entrance out of this room that will eerily glow with each use and black curtains at the extremities of the stage where serving tables will unnervingly appear from and vanish into. This two sided stage is always the challenge of this space and the positioning of the table, where most of the action will take place, was likely something that kept the Director, Bill Hurlbut, awake at night. The sight lines are not ideal (the experience of the audience likely greatly differs depending on their seat) and we found ourselves for much of the first half of the play looking at the back of three of our protagonists who in turn blocked the faces of those who were facing us. The table is just upstage of center and allows plenty of room for the actors to break away downstage from the group when the moment dictates. It may have been a stronger choice to place the table as far downstage as possible, to really make the audience feel like the eighth member of the dinner party, and allow a more natural choice when the characters need space to break away from all of us. Such are the mysterious goings on at this gathering that the periodic lighting and sound effects could perhaps have even been accompanied by the use of a turntable changing the orientation of the table and allowing us a different perspective of the evening’s guests. This is, however, a well-directed and well-acted play. To hold our attention so closely for over an hour and a half (with no intermission) is testament to that and the character work that has been achieved. The pacing is well done with overlapping dialogue used where appropriate to keep things ticking along and there is just enough intrigue to have us forming our own theories while we follow the debate. There are a few too many times where the need to make a point is combined with leaving the table and while it makes things visually more interesting there were opportunities to be creative in finding justifications for the movement that were passed up.

Truthful performances are absolutely essential for this play to work and thankfully we have a cast who largely succeed in that challenge. Lou Pangaro is absolutely compelling as Khalid as he evolves from quietly expressing his world view into raw honest pleading and his arc through the course of the evening is a joy to watch. Roger (Keith Cassidy) is the Capitalist of the group and the angriest about what has happened to his country. Cassidy is terrific in all of his exchanges and he has a wonderful raspiness to his voice that allows him to commit fully to these moments. Cassidy does have a tendency to pull focus with over playing his reactions to other people’s dialogue and less would definitely be more in this aspect of his work. The moments of playful contempt shared between Roger and Lydia (Leigh Rawls) are the most enjoyable of the night with both actors fully immersed in their beliefs and back story. Suzie (Wendy Baird) represents much of America and is a delightful mix of good intentions,  a little ignorance and unexpected moments of depth. There is a ‘band playing on while the Titanic sinks’ quality to the character that Baird captures wonderfully and it’s a more nuanced performance than you originally realize as the plot develops. Suzie introduces a surprise guest of the evening and Omar LaTiri brings a controlled intensity and believability to a role it would have been very easy to turn into a cliché.

Bill Hurlbut gets good performances from his entire cast and the mystery of the story is handled deftly with the smart lighting and sound design. The questions raised in this play have shaped our current reality and they are asked in a way that will make you feel a whole range of emotions – not least to laugh as it is genuinely funny – which is what good theatre does.

#tothepoint Rating: 65/100

You can view a full breakdown of the allocated points here.

Ticket Price: $25

Value Review: +$5

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $30. We recommend selecting a seat near the center walkway between the two seating sections. Omnium Gatherum continues at Silver Spring Stage until November 18th.

Review: Silent Sky

Silent Sky

Silver Spring Stage transports us back to the early 20th Century to tell the story of Henrietta Leavitt, an American astronomer. Playwright, Lauren Gunderson, shines a light on the forgotten women of the Harvard College Observatory, the work they did to map the sky, and Leavitt’s discovery that paved the way to measure the distance between the stars.

The two sided Silver Spring Stage features the elegant Harvard workplace with entrances either side of a central bookcase. Andrew Greenleaf’s set is flanked by a projection screen on each wall and as the lights dim and Henrietta Leavitt (Marnie Kanarek) takes the stage they become windows to the heavens and sparkle with stars. Unfortunately at this very moment the projector goes into sleep mode and we see an hourglass on the screen and then a message about VGA inputs. The issue is over in a matter of seconds but our sense of wonder will take a little longer to recover.

For the vast majority of the show the screens are used very effectively as our way to experience the beauty and vastness of the night sky. However, in the opening scene, Henrietta, and her sister, Margaret (Annie Caruso), are on their way to worship and the stage right screen displays an early morning sky while the stage left screen shows a simple white church. The lighting is such that Caruso casts a shadow onto the screen displaying the church which is not visually pleasing. Later we are taken into a Harvard lecture room and then to Boston Harbor by the projected images. With the screens such an integral part of the set, the temptation for Director, Bill Hurlbut, to use them in other ways in understandable, but we can’t help feeling the more powerful choice would have been to only utilize them for us to look up. The lighting and ambient sound is enough to take us to these other locations.

Kanarek does a fine job expressing the frustration and determination of Henrietta as she tells of her intent to follow her passion and Caruso provides an excellent contrast as the homely and down to earth, Margaret. Their early dialogue suffers a little from the exchanges and movement being too proscenium in nature and that is also true when Henrietta arrives at Harvard and meets Peter Shaw (Noah Rich), Annie Conan (Marianne Meyers) and Williamina Fleming (Mindy Shaw). We needed more eye contact between the actors; their connection to each other is far more important than opening themselves up to the audience. Perhaps it is because of this that the first time we really feel an emotional connection between characters is when they are not in the same place, as Margaret reads aloud her letters to Henrietta who responds to them while she continues her work. This technique is used to great effect again later as Henrietta and Peter’s relationship is at its’ most believable when they are apart and we see their connection grow brighter and then diminish through their overlapping words.

Director, Bill Hurlbut, keeps an excellent pace to the show. The scene transitions are slick and subtle lighting changes signify the passing of time with the actors moving off stage or into a new position with precision timing. Once in each act, Greenleaf’s set delivers a nice surprise as one of the screens in removed and a platform slides out to reveal a hidden room, all achieved with minimal fuss. The costumes are all individually well done although perhaps lacking an overall cohesiveness and the nature of the wigging of Meyers is a little distracting.

Noah Rich finds the right balance between the chauvinist attitudes of the age and the social awkwardness his character feels around women.  Mindy Shaw captures the dry sense of humor of Williamina Fleming and is for the most part consistent with her Scottish accent (it occasionally crosses the Irish Sea) and her double act with the Marianne Meyers as the imposing Annie Cannon is a frequent source of laughter. While all three give good performances they do occasionally cross the line of playing it funny rather than just trusting that the writing is funny and some of the jokes are both verbally and physically spoon fed to the audience. As the staging becomes more intimate as the play progresses so do the relationships between the actors, especially between Kanarek and Caruso.

And then we reach the epilogue.

It’s just a beautiful, awe inspiring, moment as the whole theatre is bathed in stars and Kanarek reveals the fate of the characters we have been introduced to as they leave the stage one by one. While we care about these people, it is the context of her discovery, our place in the universe, and the authenticity of her emotion in the story telling that brings a tear to our eye.

#tothepoint Rating 62/100

You can view a full breakdown of the allocated points here.

Ticket Price: $25

Value Rating: -$1

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $24. Tickets are available on Groupon and Gold Star for $16.50 making the show excellent value for money if you can grab this deal. Silent Sky continues at Silver Spring Stage until May 28th.

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