I am an author, actor, and attorney living and loving in the DFW (metroplex) area. I love books, theatre, movies, and legalese. I've been in plays, short-films, feature films and when I am not working on my debut novel "Black Scorpion Trilogy Book 1: The Veil", I enjoy reviewing plays for The Column Online and representing the down-trodden in legal matters. Thanks for stopping by. If I can help you in anyway, just let me know. I'm your paraclete. -E-

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Theater Review - VIGIL


VIGIL by Morris Panych
Amphibian Stage Productions

Director – Andrew Volkoff
Production Stage Manager – Sondra Speer
Scenic Designer – Sean Urbantke
Costume Designer – Susan Austin
Lighting Designers – Chad R. Jung and Aaron Lentz
Sound Designer – David Lanza
Technical Director – Jennye James
Assistant TD/Special Effects – Eric Briggs
Properties Designers – Jennye James and Judy Norman
Light Board Operator – Natalie Chapa
Sound Board Operator – Dakota Crossin
Production Intern – Kate Kowalski

Grace – Elly Lindsay
Kemp – Jonathan Fielding

Reviewed performance on Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Reviewed by Eric A. Maskell, Associate Theater Critic
for John Garcia's THE COLUMN


Reviewed by Eric A. Maskell, Associate Theater Critic
for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

One wouldn't believe that a play centered on a nephew's death vigil for his aunt would inspire laughter but that is exactly what was served up during Amphibian Stage Production's presentation of this Morris Panych play. "VIGIL" was a darkly comedic satire on loneliness that bordered the absurd.

The play begins as Kemp; a quirky, brooding misanthrope arrives at his aunt's house after receiving a letter that she is gravely ill. Kemp, having only the desire for his aunt's belongings post mortem, decides to impatiently wait for the passing of his aunt. The audience is treated to a one-sided diatribe about the ills of society, the problems with humanity, in addition to morbid jokes being directed at his aunt regarding her funeral.

As the months roll on, Kemp regales the audience with memories of his past as an effeminate child growing up with an abusive mother, and a manic depressive, failed magician of a father while angrily demanding an explanation from his aunt as to why she never rescued him. His aunt quietly and demurely smiles at him from her bed, safely tucked behind clenched bed sheets and blankets. Kemp's sole desire is for his aunt to pass with as little effort on his part as possible. Much to his chagrin, the aunt appears to be getting better. At one point Kemp relays his feelings. "I'm concerned about your health these past few days", he says. "It seems to be improving". As time wears on, Kemp unburdens his soul and makes a lasting connection.

The entirety of the play took place in Grace's bedroom. The set design by Sean Urbantke was awe inspiring. It looked as if the he ripped a dilapidated bedroom out of an old house and placed it in the theater. The walls had drywall missing that revealed the underlying boards. The windows had glass with curtains drawn across it. The look and feel was phenomenal. The props in the bedroom added to the overall feel of the set. Antique fans, old vinyl records, and worn out furniture invoked the feeling of an unkempt household. The bedroom had working doors and windows, and the set designers spared no detail. There were even props behind the hallway door to make it looked lived in.

Additionally, there were special effects behind the window to portray the passage of time. Leaves fell. Snow fell. The sounds of children playing outside could be heard from outside the window. It was as if the set was alive.

The lighting design by Chad R. Jung and Aaron Lentz was also impressive. During Act I the lights blacked out intentionally after every morbid barb Kemp launched at Grace. The jarring way in which the lights blacked out set the mood perfectly. However, as the play progressed the lighting became more and more specific and detailed, finally culminating in Act II on Grace's bed. The design and flawless execution added to the play's appeal.

The costuming was a little weak. I could understand Grace's minimal attire as she spent the entire play in bed, but Kemp's lack of wardrobe was a little distracting. Kemp, aside from the brief time he wore his aunt's robe, basically spent the entire year in the same clothes.

This play is essentially the interaction between two people - Kemp, played by Jonathan Fielding, and Grace, played by Elly Lindsay.

Fielding did a superb job portraying the effeminate, asexual Kemp. The morbid jokes were delivered with expert timing, and the ranting monologues were very emotionally driven. There were a few times Kemp even broke down in tears, which Fielding did a remarkable job conveying. Fielding masterfully portrayed a far away stare as he looked wistfully out the window, recounting Kemp's childhood. At times, I could feel the torment and raw emotion that Kemp must have lived through.

I think Elly Lindsay, as Grace, had by far the more difficult role in this performance. With any character, a lot can be discovered in the text of the dialogue. The devil is in the details so to speak. Often times we can surmise someone's mood by what they say or how they say it. In this instance though, Grace had very few lines. The majority of the play was dominated by the monologues and rantings of Kemp. Lindsay's performance was a direct reaction to Fielding's. Lindsay portrayed Grace with alarming clarity and expression. I found myself trying to watch Lindsay's face as Fielding delivered his lines. The expressions were priceless - shock, disbelief, and sometimes even compassion during the more emotionally charged rants of Kemp. Lindsay performed them well.

Through laughter and tears, VIGIL by Amphibian Stage Productions gives you a peak into the complex world of loneliness and acceptance. It's a roller-coaster of emotion from start to finish with a surprising yet extremely satisfying end.

Reviewed by Eric A. Maskell, Associate Theater Critic
for John Garcia's THE COLUMN


Amphibian Stage Productions
The Hardy and Betty Sanders Theater
Fort Worth Community Arts Center, 1300 Gendy Street
Fort Worth, TX 76107
Through October 2nd, 2011

Wednesdays at 7:30pm, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00pm
Sundays at 2:00pm

Ticket prices are $25 for adults, $20 for students and $15
for seniors. Group Discounts are $5 off per ticket for groups
of 6+. For tickets and information please call 817-923-3012
or go to www.amphibianproductions.org.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review - Over the River and Through the Woods


Artisan Center Theater

Producer – Dee Ann Blair
Director – Jason Leyva
Stage Manager – Branson White
Assistant Stage Manager – Zachary Leyva
Costumes – Nita & Jennifer Cadenhead
Props – Tammie Phillips
Set Design – Dennis Canright, Jason Leyva


Frank - Phil Nixon
Nick - Michael Speck
Aida - Susan Spangler
Caitlin - Tiffany Long
Nunzio - Burl Proctor
Emma - Barrie Alguire

Reviewed performance on Friday, September 9th, 2011

Reviewed by Eric A. Maskell, Associate Theater Critic
for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

_____________OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS_____________

Reviewed by Eric A. Maskell, Associate Theater Critic
for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Family. Or more importantly, TENGO FAMILIA (Keep the family), is what Artisan Center Theater offers up with OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS. A large helping of family with a heaping side of laughter. The warmth with which the Artisan Center Theater entertains is always inspiring. The genuine way they care about their patrons and their performances tends to shine through all their shows. This show in particular has a family warmth that you can feel as you walk into the theater.

The play, written by Joe DiPietro, follows the life of Nick as he interacts with his four grandparents, Frank, Aida, Nunzio and Emma. The majority of the action takes place in Frank and Aida's house. The story opens with Nick arriving for Sunday dinner. After his parents move to Florida and his sister marries and moves to California, Nick takes on the responsibility of caring for his grandparents, or so he thought. His grandparents, headstrong and outspoken, are hard working Italian immigrants with their own ideas of how the world, and more specifically the family should run. Over the years Nick has made it a point to attend weekly dinner with his grandparents, sometimes begrudgingly. On this particular evening Nick has some very important news.

He has received a promotion and intends to move to Seattle, Washington. "Not the close Washington" as Nunzio points out. The grandparents, not willing to let Nick leave without a fight, immediately hatch a plan to give Nick "something" to stick around for. That something is in the form of Caitlin O'Hare, a tall, attractive blonde nurse that Emma met in the produce aisle at the local grocery store. The laughs ensue as Nick tries to shield his new "friend" from his grandparents matchmaking attempts. The play is charged with emotional monologues and quick comical banter that results in a roller coaster ride of laughs and cries.

The setting was that of the Gianelli home in Hoboken, New Jersey. The program boasted an Italian flag on the cover. If Artisan was attempting to portray an Italian family then I was greatly disappointed. The accents were not Italian, the mannerisms were not Italian, and the feeling I got was not Italian. However, what Artisan did accomplish was broadening the aspect of the play to encompass ALL families. This wasn't a play about Tengo Familia. This was a play about all families.

Aside from the Italian flag on the program cover and the notes about the play being about Italian immigrants, I never once got the impression that it was limited in scope. Yes, Aida force fed the family at every given turn but what grandmother doesn't? What I saw was a play about family. Parents who loved their children enough to send them to a foreign country at the age of fourteen for a better life. Grandparents who were willing to sacrifice their lives and their dreams so their children and grandchildren could reach further and higher than they thought possible. Well done.

The set design was minimalist in nature but added greatly to the ambiance. The set was essentially the living room/dining room of Frank and Aida Gianelli. The couch and chairs were covered in doilies and blankets while the table was covered in dishes, poised and ready for the next meal to grace its plane. The southwest exit went into where I imagine was a fully functioning and very active kitchen, since the food seemed to always come out steaming. The southeast exit deposited the actors onto what was essentially the front porch. The set elicited a come hither warmth from the moment we walked into the theater. The detail extended all the way down to the faux wood floors.

I also applauded the Artisan's use of real food, even though I left the theater hungrier than I arrived. Sometimes theaters fore go certain props due to difficulty in preparation or just a simple lack of feasibility in creation. Actors often times have to pantomime the most basic functions such as eating and drinking which can lead to odd exaggerated gestures. In this instance, the Artisan used real steaming food. The actors were free to eat, talk, laugh and perform as if at a real dinner table. It was charming and genuine.

The costumes were adorable and appropriate for the time. The play took place in the 1980's so current attire was generally acceptable. What I enjoyed most from the costumes was the use of sweaters. Every time Nick complained that the house was too hot, the grandparents were wearing sweaters. The nuance was not lost on the audience. Nick talked about it being hot in their house; not just hot, but sauna hot. Who hasn't been the pleasant recipient of an elderly relative's sauna? As grandchildren we could relate.

The actors did a wonderful job conveying the warmth of family. The most distracting thing about the performance was the constant pivoting of the actors. At times, during dialogue, the actors would end up with their back to the other actors. I assume, because of the theater in the round aspect, the pivoting was meant to allow the audience to see the actor's face, but it quickly became a bit of a nuisance resulting in awkward moments whereby the actors looked as if on a music box.

Michael Speck did a superb job as Nick. His facial expressions and mannerisms conveyed his laughter and angst. Speck had great comedic timing delivering his lines and showed genuine warmth towards his grandparents.

In this play Nick had two sets of very different grandparents. Frank and Aida were the concrete and mortar of the family foundation while Nunzio and Emma were the paint on the walls. I imagine the reason the Sunday dinners were held at Frank's house was due to his stability more so than location. Frank built the house with his own two hands while Aida prepared every meal. Nunzio and Emma would whirl in, kick up the dust, and ride out towards the sunset. All four actors gave a remarkable performance.

Phil Nixon portrayed Frank Gianelli with a quiet reserved confidence.
During most of the play Frank seemed like the strong silent type. A man of few words who built the Gianelli house as Aida so graciously told us, "for her". However, when Frank gave his monologue about his father and how he came to America, there wasn't a dry eye in the theater. Nixon delivered the monologue with passion.

Susan Spangler played Aida Gianelli and gave an admirable performance.
However, she seemed preoccupied with the table settings and blankets.
It may have been due to her characters constant need to rush to the kitchen or being responsible for ALL the food but in Act I, though lines were delivered well and with sincerity, it was as if she were a few seconds behind the rest of the cast.

Another strong performance was that of Burl Proctor as Nunzio. Proctor
portrayed Nunzio as more Italian than the rest of the actors. Nunzio had an accent and mannerisms, such as hand gestures, that had the outward appearance of Italian. The accent at times wavered but Proctor put in by far the most realistic Italian performance. In this play Nunzio was one of the more emotionally charged characters due to his illness. Proctor did an amazing job at conveying that emotion.

Emma, the wife of Nunzio, was played by Barrie Alguire. Alguire did a great job. She was grandmotherly yet outspoken enough to be Nunzio's wife. Emma was another of the emotionally charged characters. She not only had to deal with her grandson leaving but also her husband's illness. Alguirre conveyed her joy, disappointment
and sorrow with equal passion.

Tiffany Long played Caitlin O'Hare, the "something" for Nick to stay in New Jersey. Long was charming and passionate in her dialogue however she seemed too focused on stage position. She seemed more concerned where the director had blocked her on stage, or more importantly where she was SUPPOSED to be on stage than the actual dialogue itself. When Caitlin explained to Nick about her grandmother and her feelings about how he treated his grandparents it was lacking. The words were there but the emotion was empty. Prior to that though, I was impressed with Long's performance at the dinner table. She demonstrated a genuine purity of spirit and easy going attitude as the grandparents tried to set her and Nick up on a blind date.

Should you see OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS by Artisan Center Theater? Definitely. Should you see it alone? No. Half the fun of this play is talking with your family about which of your grandparents it is based on. So grab your parents and your grandparents and head OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS...

Reviewed by Eric A. Maskell, Associate Theater Critic
for John Garcia's THE COLUMN


Artisan Center Theater

418 E. Pipeline Road, Hurst, Texas 76053
Through October 1st, 2011

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday evenings at 7:30pm
and Saturday matinees at 3:00 pm

Ticket prices are: Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays: Adults $12
Seniors (60+) / Students $12, Children (12 & under) $7

Fridays, Saturdays:
Adults $16, Seniors (60+) / Students $14
Children (12 & under) $9

For tickets and information please call 817-284-1200 or go
to www.artisanct.com