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Silver Spring Stage

Review: One Man, Two Guvnors

One Man Two Guvnors

Richard Bean’s adaptation of a Servant of Two Masters won The Late Late Show’s James Corden a Tony back in 2012 and this British comedy is starting to gain popularity in theatres around the country. As the audience takes their places at the two sided Silver Spring Stage we are welcomed by a 3 piece skiffle band that are positioned off the stage between the seating sections.

Director, William T. Fleming also takes on the role of Set Designer and has the task of taking us to multiple locations around 1963 Brighton. All the sets look period appropriate and during the changes we are entertained by the skiffle band that is joined by a different member of the cast to serenade us. Unfortunately the positioning of the band makes it difficult to focus on them and not the moving of set pieces – at times they feel like background music for the changes rather than demanding our attention. The transitions are smooth enough that this isn’t in itself an issue but some of the comedic nature of the lyrics is a little lost on the distracted audience. Fleming also utilizes two video screens at various moments in the show; effectively as a window in the opening scene, and less so as a corridor in the pub and as outdoor scenery at other times. They never detract from the production but it does feel like a ‘we’ve got them so we’re going to use them’ based decision rather than truly believing they enhance the production.

Focus is required from the opening scene as the convoluted plot of love, murder, cross dressing and double crossing is unveiled.  We are in the house of Charlie Dench (Kevin Dykstra) at the engagement party for his daughter, Pauline (Lena Winter) and Alan Dangle (Daniel Riker). Dykstra is very good as the down to earth Charlie and he clearly understands his role as his moments of composing himself when discussing his wife or when attempting to understand the complexities of the science behind twins are funny because they are understated. He plays the character with just enough naivety to explain just why his daughter is so much of a ditz. Winter plays Pauline with a childlike wonder and she is vocally and physically funny to watch throughout.  Riker is all arms and legs as he prances around the stage flamboyantly as the wannabe actor, Alan, and his exchanges with Pauline are always entertaining.

We are quickly introduced to the ‘One Man’ as Francis Henshall (Nathan Tatro) breaks up the party with news that his guvnor, Roscoe/Rachel Crabbe (Kristen Pilgrim) is still alive. It’s an immensely likable performance from Tatro who looks like he is having a huge amount of fun on stage and he has us on his side from the start. Pilgrim plays the intentionally transparent gender switch well and it’s a performance full of amusing mannerisms but her delivery is too fast, especially in the first act. We meet the second guvnor, Stanley Stubbers (Anderson Wells) who is also too rapid with his dialogue. There are numerous times when the laughter is just forming in the back of our throats when it is cut off. This sets the tone for a show where the audience should be hysterically laughing out loud and turns it into one of more internal enjoyment. Wells plays all the dramatic moments of his character without missing a beat and his deep resonating voice in some of the dead pan comic moments is genuinely funny.

Maybe it’s this lack of energy from the audience that prevents the end of act one reaching a true crescendo. Fleming could afford to demand double the pace (at least) from his actors in a scene that was funny but could be elevated to chaotic hilarity. The back and forth between Francis and elderly waiter, Alfie (Lenora Spahn) and a poor unsuspecting audience member are hugely entertaining but with more drive it could be a scene we are laughing about long after we leave the theatre. There are also ongoing references to the horrors of living in Australia throughout the show and Fleming chooses to present these with each actor breaking away from the scene to face the audience and there is a dramatic lighting change as the lines are delivered. In a more conventional show this might have been a bold and effective choice but in a production where the 4th wall is obliterated with regularity it just comes across as odd. Maria V. Bissex successfully conveys the 60s theme through her costumes and for the most part the dialect coach, Pauline Griller-Mitchell, helps us believe we are on the other side of the pond.

Fleming gets good performances from all his actors and there are some very funny scenes (Tatro’s fight with himself is only outdone by the hilarious mating ritual of Pilgrim and Wells) Overall the pacing issues are holding the show back but with the benefit of opening weekend under their belt it is certainly possible this production will get stronger and surpass the value of the ticket.

#tothepoint Rating 61/100

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

Ticket Price: $25

Value Rating: -$3

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $22. Tickets are available on Groupon and Gold Star for $16.50. One Man, Two Guvnors continues at Silver Spring Stage until July 29th.

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.

Review: Bright Stars on the Silver Spring Stage

Boise

It’s opening weekend at the Silver Spring Stage and it’s clear many in attendance have little idea what to expect from playwright Sam Hunter’s 2011 award winning play, A Bright New Boise. The audience are positioned on two sides of the square stage separated by a wide walkway that will provide a second location away from the break room of the arts and crafts store, Hobby Lobby, where most of the play takes place. With the set in darkness, Will (Brendan Murray), takes his place on the outside of the pillar at the corner of the stage between the audience and declares “Now” and the sense that we don’t know what we are ready for is heightened.

The lights come up on the break room and Scenic Designer, Dean Leong, has produced a convincing location. The two walls feature a sink, microwave, lockers and inboxes that form a sterile setting broken up only by a lonely motivational poster informing the staff to ‘Hang in there’. Tables and chairs adorn the rest of the stage and a TV and VCR are positioned on the inside of the corner pillar in such a way that no-one in the audience can see the screen. Faith is a central theme of Hunter’s play and as the story unfolds the TV’s placement is wonderfully unsettling for the audience as it almost takes on a God like role as we start to question if the staff are watching it or if it is watching them.

Murray is excellent as Will as he draws us in to the genuine warmth of his character while his checkered backstory and extreme religious views about the rapture are slowly unveiled. In the opening scenes, as he starts his first day in his new job, Murray finds the balance of awkwardness, evasiveness and likability in all of his delivery and mannerisms. It’s a really subtle and believable performance that allows us not to define this man simply by what he believes. The manager of the store, Pauline, played by Andrea Spitz, is a brash and relatively uncomplicated woman. Spitz is much of the comedy as the darkness descends as the show progresses and she understands her ‘why me?’ role in proceedings but some of her expressions and reactions play a little too big for this close-knit audience.

Will is introduced to teenage co-worker, Alex (Ben Miller), and it is quickly revealed that Alex is Will’s biological son who was adopted as a baby. Miller portrays the apathy and then angst of his character persuasively and the dynamic between the two is engaging to watch. Leroy (Shaquille Stewart), Alex’s older brother from his adopted family, provides an excellent contrast for Will with Stewart’s comfortable demeanor in the break room making it easy to believe he has worked there for years. Leroy wears self designed obscene shirts and delivers language to match that cause a few mutterings from the crowd. “I’m deliberately making you uncomfortable” he tells Will, but it’s far more a message from the playwright to his audience.

The play is truly at its’ best when Murray is sharing the stage with Maura Suilebhan who is a joy to watch as the introverted and sheepish Anna. All of her quirks and facial expressions would be so easy to be overplayed but she never falls into that trap and all of her exclamations and self admonishments are incredibly natural. There is great chemistry between Murray and Suilebhan and their awkward flirting is just really good theatre.

Director, Matt Ripa, moves us through the timeline of the play, largely with lighting changes in the break room effectively signifying the passing of time. He isn’t afraid of silence and that adds to the sense of unease at all the right moments. The movement of the actors is consistent and logical in the vast majority of the exchanges. One slight disappointment is a pivotal scene where Will reads his blog aloud to Anna. We see all that Will is experiencing as he reads his work but we feel a little cheated of Anna’s reaction as she sits with her back to the audience. Later, a moment where Alex buries his head into the wall by the lockers also lacks a certain authenticity. When the scenes transition to the walkway off stage we really feel like we are intruding on these personal moments and Ripa moves the action between the two locations very capably. Murray excels in these off stage scenes and his proximity to the audience only adds to the truth he brings to his character. Unfortunately the ease in which Miller portrayed the emotions of Alex earlier are not matched now that he needs to show much more vulnerability and pain in a more restrained way. In the same location a scene between Will and Leroy almost slips into soap opera territory with Stewart’s delivery.

The show is a technical success with sound and lighting both at a high standard throughout. Set and costumes are not demanding but are done well with minimum fuss. Ripa gets good performances from all of his cast and Murray and Suilebhan absolutely make this a show worth making the effort to see.

 #tothepoint Rating 65.5/100

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

Ticket Price: $25

Value Rating: +$6

With our scoring system and our unique value for money guide we rate this show at $31. A Bright New Boise continues at the Silver Spring Stage until April 30th.

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