Saturday, February 27, 2016

Pericles @ Polonsky Shakespeare Center w/ Theater For New Audiences

Performed at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, Pericles was a well choreographed and inventive trip into the world of William Shakespeare. Directed by Trevor Nunn, the play was mildly untraditional and entertaining. Music and songs by Shaun Davey were done in the Shakespearean style and complemented the play and cast very well.

Scenic Designer Robert Jones’ thrust stage was intriguing: it had a golden orb in its center that was able to open up to different sizes, depending on the needs of the performance. Behind it were waves, sand, monuments—it was highly innovative and captivating. Costume Designer Constance Hoffman also had a Shakespearean and Middle Eastern flair with some costumes having the likeness of a snake (Antioch), of mourning (Tarsus), of poverty vs. entitlement (Pentalpolis), piety (Ephesus), and chastity vs. lust (Mytelene).

Our narrator, Gowen (Raphael Nash Thompson) set the scene with gusto and affability. He was well connected with the Shakespearean prose and pulled laughter from the audience on more than one occasion.

Pericles was played by Christian Camargo. Camargo depicted Pericles’ varying ages and stages of grief and merriment well. His performance was believable within the unbelievable nature of Pericles. Philip Casnoff portrayed Tyre’s second-in-command Helicanus, who was amiable and flowed with the prose as well.

However, I was not fond of the performances of Gia Crovatin (Thaisa) and Lilly Englert (Marina). While neither of them missed an inflection, their approach to their characters had a sense of mild overacting that I do not tend to enjoy. Both of them also lacked chemistry with Camargo.

Although, John Rothman’s Simonides was hilarious and had a masterful grip of Shakespeare’s work. He enraptured the audience and had them all but on their feet during his short time on the stage. Other notables include Will Swenson (Cleon), Nina Hellman (Dionyza), Ian Lassiter’s many characters including Lysimachus, a fisherman and a lord of Tyre as well as John Keating’s repeat performances as a lord of Tyre, a fisherman and Boult.

All other members of this twenty person play: Earl Baker Jr., Sam Morales, Oberon K.A. Adjepong, Zachary Infante, Will Swenson, Patrice Johnson Chevannes and the Pigpen Theatre Company’s Alex Falberg, Ben Ferguson, Curtis Gillen, Ryan Melia, Matt Neurnberger, Arya Shahi and Dan Weschler performed wonderfully.

Overall, Trevor Nunn’s direction was distinctly Shakespearean with an outstanding use of blocking, lighting (Stephen Strawbridge) and choreography (Brian Brooks). If you are looking for a night of Shakespeare, Pericles may be a good destination.

Review By: Alex Lipari
Photos By: Richard Termine

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Dot @ The Vineyard Theater

Director Susan Stroman brought Colman Domingo’s Dot to the Vineyard Theatre stage with an expertise that I find admirable. Dot offers social commentary on a family’s struggle with disease, midlife crisis, gay issues, unrequited love, a modern exploration into African American middle class family and even spoke to immigration issues.

The scene opens in modern day West Philadelphia within the kitchen of the Shealy house. Scenic Designer Allen Moyer created a very clever stage with a projector overlaying the brownstone the family resided in, opening up to a superbly made kitchen complete with a working stove and later living room set with a beautiful Christmas tree. The house has an outdated 1970s-esque feel and both Moyer, Sound Designer Tom Morse and Lighting Designer Ben Stanton worked well together in bringing the set to life for the cast.

Mrs. Shealy, or Dotty, to those who know her well, is played by Marjorie Johnson. Johnson took into consideration just how Alzheimer’s and its internal struggle can personify. She created an affable, relatable and captivating character that pulled the audience in from her first line.

Dotty’s eldest, Shelly (Sharon Washington) is her main caretaker. Shelly’s internal and external battle with caring for a mother that is slowly losing her memories was crafted and woven into the story. Washington delivered this internal dialogue with hilarity.

Shelly’s gay brother, Donnie (Stephen Conrad Moore) and his husband Adam (Colin Hanlon) enter the house for the holidays and it only increases the heightened familial tension over the change in their mother.

Moore personifies the child-like strife we all seem to face when we realize that our parents can indeed grow older and fade from us. Meanwhile, Hanlon brings the tensions of marriage to the surface. Both characters enhance the seriousness as well as the amusement of the play.

On the other hand, Jackie (Finnerty Steeves) is the next door neighbor who’s just returned from New York City. Steeves is facing quite the midlife crisis while still struggling to accept that her high school sweetheart, Donnie, is gay. Trust me, this only added more laughter.

The youngest sibling, Averie (Libya V. Pugh) was all loud, proud, and brought an inner city flair to the stage. An aspiring artist with some YouTube success, Pugh pulled the commentary into the realm of consistent comic relief from the serious nature of Alzheimer’s.

Fidel (Michael Rosen), the aid for Dotty, is an immigrant from Kazakhstan who easily blended with the cast and brought more light to life for immigrants in our country and their difficulty with assimilation.

Overall, Dot is compelling, heartfelt and highly entertaining. The chemistry of the cast is contagious and with so much going on in our country today we sometimes forget about family and how difficult growing older can be and just how much intersection we face in our daily lives. Wonderfully written and expertly performed, Dot is absolutely worth a visit to the theatre.

Review By: Alex Lipari
Photos By: Carol Rosegg