Weathering a Real "Tempest," the Show Goes On for Vermont Shakespeare Company

TempestIt’s ironic for a performance of The Tempest to be canceled — twice — by rain. Actors and audiences were sent scrambling for cover on both Friday and Saturday nights in North Hero as rain sheeted across the open-air stage, robbing Prospero of the prospect of concocting his own tempest with magic and incantations.

But that’s the risk you take when performing outdoors in Vermont, as Vermont Shakespeare Company’s executive director, John Nagle, ruefully acknowledged in his introductory remarks: “We were going to do, The Winter’s Tale next year — but after this year’s tempest, maybe we won’t.”

Burlington's Festival of Fools Brings Vaudeville to Town (Seven Days)

Vaudeville comedian Woody Keppel of Charlotte wears many hats. Sombreros, fedoras, pink aviation hats, wigs, coonskin caps and the occasional shoe or rubber chicken have all been spotted on his head at various times. His role as artistic director of the Festival of Fools is yet another “hat,” one that Keppel will wear as he corrals the jugglers, dancers, contortionists, tightrope walkers, fire breathers and acrobats on the streets of Burlington this Friday through Sunday.

The fest itself is a family reunion of sorts for Keppel, who has worked with many of these performers over the years. And festivalgoers may find among the exotica some familiar antics, if not familiar faces: Your zany uncle might be reflected in Michael Trautman’s impossible stunts and mayhem, or your daredevil kid brother in David Aiken’s “Stunts of Death.” Kate Wright, aka Yvonne, an “Aussie beautician on a mission,” could remind you of your batty great-aunt.

With a New Theater, the Shows Must Go On (Seven Days)

David Klein as FalstaffHenry IV, Part 1 is one of the Bard’s history plays, but at Unadilla Theatre on July 19 — one night before its opening — it was quickly turning into a near-tragedy.

The situation unfolded with the timing, dramatic arc and suspense of Shakespeare: On opening-night eve, three Vermont state building inspectors arrived at the Unadilla Theatre site in Marshfield requesting an evaluation of the newly built second theater. At the conclusion of their 11th-hour visit, the inspectors presented landowner and theater founder Bill Blachly with a written mandate detailing necessary changes and pronounced the building unsafe, thereby canceling all performances of Henry IV in the space until repairs are made.

“They handed us two pages of things we had to change before the show, most of it having to do with what we were planning for electricity and things like exits and facilities,” the 88-year-old Blachly says. “I suppose we were naïve to think that we could do another theater under the same permits as our original, but we’ve always been a seat-of-the-pants business up here, and it never really occurred to us.”

A Multimedia Work in Progress Thinks Inside the (Music) Box (Seven Days)

Orkestriska's BoxJudging from a description of the upcoming dance-theater piece “Orkestriska’s Box,” you would be forgiven for thinking it’s a surrealist version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame set to music and given a female protagonist.

The work’s influences are varied: turn-of-the-20th-century ballet and grand opera; Gestalt psychology; burlesque theater; the 1951 film The Tales of Hoffmann; a little girl in a tutu; the Folies Bergère; gender stereotyping. Add stop-motion animation and an original score composed for an old-fashioned Porter music box, and the imagery practically gets up and tap dances across the room.

“Orkestriska’s Box,” which premieres in November, is a collaborative production of Burlington’s Tuppence Coloured Ensemble and Thoughtfaucet, and the Porter Music Box Museum of Randolph. Tuppence principal Trish Denton, an actor, dancer, street performer and teacher, conceived and wrote the script, which was initially inspired by a 3-year-old in a tutu dancing inside a miniature puppet theater.

Nemesis Brings a 1930s Adventure Story to Stage, and Sludge Monsters to Earth (Seven Days)

Originally appeared in the print version of Seven Days on Jan. 18, 2012.

Theater audiences can’t help but shift to the edge of their seats when they hear these four sounds: Thump … thump … thump … creeeeeeeeeeeeeak. The combination conjures up images of castles, Igor and ominous wooden doors with deadbolts, doesn’t it?

That’s exactly what Foley, or sound-effects, artist Buzz Moran will be counting on in an upcoming performance of The Intergalactic Nemesis at Burlington’s Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. Originally a live radio play in Austin, Tex., and now a touring stage show, Nemesis is billed as a live-action graphic novel. The sci-fi story, set in 1933, features a reporter and her assistant, a mysterious librarian, and sludge monsters from the planet Zygon that are, of course, threatening planet Earth. Hence the “intergalactic nemesis.”

The show is performed with three stationary actors, one keyboard player and one Foley artist. The stage backdrop features more than 1000 hand-drawn comic-book images projected in high def.

Issues of Shame and Guilt in 'Race'

By Lindsay J. Warner

From John Grisham’s A Time to Kill to Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, racially charged courtroom dramas have captivated American audiences with tense in-court debates. Like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird though, the climax of David Mamet’s Race takes place outside the courtroom, as two lawyers — one black and one white — and their young African- American assistant debate a case in their offices, becoming prosecutors and jury both in their discourse.

Race, driven by the frequently tense relationship between Jack (Jordan Lage) and Henry (Ray Anthony Thomas), speaks in clipped, lawyerly tones that waylay the viewer into believing it is a play about right and wrong, guilty or not guilty. As their young assistant Susan (Nicole Harris) begins to enter the conversation, however, it’s clear that Mamet has little interest in the verdict of the court case, and cares only to expose the inherent feeling of guilt and shame that emerge when talking about race.

The Serious Business of Being Funny

Most kids want to run away to join the circus at some stage in their lives. Lorenzo Pisoni ran away from the circus —  in footie pajamas.

The  mental picture of a young Lorenzo shuffling down the highway in PJs is humorous, but the scenario is representative of the serious themes behind the schtick: the father-son relationship on view in Philadelphia Theatre Company's one-man show Humor Abuse. Directed by Pisoni's college friend Erica Schmidt, Humor Abuse is a mostly true account of Pisoni's childhood growing up the son of two circus performers. Throughout the production, Pisoni performs pratfalls and physical gags, falls off of ladders, springs out of trunks, wears flippers, does back flips and employs an entire repertoire of physical humor — all of it handed down from his father, the professional clown Larry Pisoni.

The physical timing is first-rate, and Pisoni's 20 years of circus training and performance serves him well in this production. It's entirely possible to treat Humor Abuse as a behind-the-scenes tour of your very own circus, but the show also places a father-son relationship literally in the spotlight, showing the ragged edges hidden behind even the most sequined performers.

'Grease' Used To Be The One That I Want

     Although spaced a decade apart and both hopelessly outdated, 1978's movie version of "Grease" and 1987's "Dirty Dancing" still exert an irresistible pull. It's hard to pinpoint the source of the attraction — certainly, Patrick Swayze and John Travolta were cute, but the films really succeeded on the strength of their characters: While behaving badly and acting like punk teenagers, they still exuded a powerful charisma that made thousands of teens want to get up and dance.
   That vital blend of attitude and charm was sadly lacking in last week's performance of Grease at the Academy of Music. The cast may have felt compromised by the substitution of its Danny Zuko for understudy Mark Raumaker, but the entire performance felt both coarsely performed and outdated.
    While the actors onstage played their guts out on the energy level, nailing that hand jive and cheesy dance moves, the main characters felt like carbon-copies of the 1978 film, but with a much less finely tuned realization of what makes Danny and his gang "cool" or Rizzo and her girls strut. As a result, the beloved tunes and familiar choreography felt as out-of-date as Danny's ex-girlfriends.

Centuries Later, Still 'Spring Awakening'

    Dressed in neon lights and with jagged, contemporary choreography transporting its characters across the stage, Spring Awakening's shock value is wrapped in hipness and shrouded with casual cool. In 1891 when author Frank Wedekind's novel first appeared though, the story was banned by adults who feared it would taint their children's innocent young minds. The irony was evident even then, but more than a century later, Spring Awakening is even more of a poignant — and important — reminder that those whom we wish to protect with ignorance are usually the ones who are most in need of education.

Actresses Without A Stage, On Stage In 'Grey Gardens'

The real-life character of Edith Bouvier Beale is too often faulted for the disgrace of the Beale family estate, and of her own daughter, Edie. 
    “You have become that most pitiable of creatures: an actress without a stage,” says Major Bouvier to Edith, castigating his daughter for their dysfunctional family dynamics. Yet one can argue that the blatant disregard shown by Edith’s father and by Edith’s absent husband toward her talent and character is the true cause for blame in the musical Grey Gardens, on stage at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre through June 28.
    The infamous story of the Beales, originally immortalized in the 1975 documentary by Albert and David Maysles, is told here with an expanded ticket of songs performed by two of the most tragic divas to have ever graced the high-society circles of New York.
    The true story of Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter, Edie, aunt and cousin to Jackie Bouvier Kennedy and keepers of the immense mansion Grey Gardens, is recited in whispers: Two formerly wealthy Kennedy relatives end up the sole occupants of a dilapidated, filthy mansion unfit for habitation, carrying on in a manner that suggests mental instability and possible insanity. The newspapers were relentless when the Board of Health discovered them in 1973, house-bound and living amid a sea of feral cats, opossums, raccoons and cans of cat food piled 5 feet high.