Yeah. Since I have so much time on my hands, I thought, “Why not start an entirely new blog on a completely different platform?”
Enjoy (or ignore…)
Yeah. Since I have so much time on my hands, I thought, “Why not start an entirely new blog on a completely different platform?”
Enjoy (or ignore…)
Starting off the 2018-2019 season at First Presbyterian Theater in downtown Fort Wayne is My Dead Clown, an original play written by David Rousculp, a licensed funeral director from New Haven. The story follows Bill, a funeral director whose most recent project is preparing the body of Dingy the Clown. However, Bill’s reputation is in jeopardy because he’s shown a decline in job performance since the passing of someone close to him. Once he inadvertently brings the clown back to life, his life becomes even more complex.
This premise offers a multitude of options for audiences to explore their own lives, which is what quality theater should do. Of all the people in the world, funeral directors should be among the most seasoned individuals who have a firm grasp of the effects of our eventual death. However, Rousculp’s script is evidence that even those who would presumably be the most accepting of our ultimate fate are susceptible to death’s ramifications on the soul.
Director and Stage Designer Rae Surface succeeds in creating the multi-level environment this play demands. Surface’s chosen details found in Bill’s apartment exhibit the depth of character required to portray a troubled protagonist. Throughout the two-hour performance, this large cast offers a story of how one’s faith can be restored from the most unexpected and unlikely sources.
Duke Roth performs as the overworked and increasingly cynical Bill, the protagonist who is rapidly drowning in work and sorrow. Roth exhibits a strong handling of balancing the stressors of Bill’s professional responsibilities and a longing for his past while dealing with the consequences of the clown’s arrival–and unintentional re-spawning–in his workspace.
Dingy the Clown is played by Reuben Albaugh. Albaugh’s energy and cheeriness are suitable for any successful clown. Additionally, Albaugh succeeds throughout the play with his undying (ha!) desire to bring laughter to replace sadness and smiles to erase frowns.
Among the other “living” characters are Chuck, BIll’s boss; Nancy, his assistant; and Eric, his brother. Tom Corron’s humorous role as Chuck serves as the embodiment of Bill’s profession demands. Jennifer Netting’s performance as Nancy shines with an exuberant portrayal of youthful spirit, innocence, and loyalty. Eric, Bill’s younger sibling who has yet to find any firm path in his own life, is played by Nathan Driscoll. Driscoll’s comical presence counters Bill’s apparent stress while simultaneously portraying how inspiration can come from unexpected places and events.
This play, perhaps understandably, also features a few “deceased” characters. Leonard, played by acting and theater veteran Scott K. Strode, humorously excels as a potential aspect of Bill’s consciousness. Deborah Kerr’s small but impressive performance as Mrs. Sticklebush is suggestive of Bill’s devotion to his responsibilities as a funeral director. Jennifer Poiry Prough excels as Bill’s deceased wife Mary, and, peppered throughout the performance, appears in flashbacks where she exposes those gorgeous moments that offer and explain the depth of despair Bill is experiencing in the painful time since her sudden departure.
Rousculp’s rather unpredictable script features many pleasant surprises, many of which are found in the roles of characters who rarely escape their longstanding stereotypes and stifled reputations. Among the remaining secondary characters are strong performances by real-life married couple Robyn and Rod Pasko. Robyn, who is performing in Fort Wayne for the first time after establishing herself on stage and screen in Chicago, turns in an animated and vivid performance as Lucy, a.k.a. The Devil. Rod Pasko offers an unanticipated yet charming down-to-earth version of Death.
Jeanette Walsh’s costume design is poignant and effective, especially in the gimmicks and shenanigans of the title character. Theater Manager Thom Hofrichter’s production and lighting succeed in creating the obvious balance of humor and despair when grouping a boisterous clown, a funeral home, and hell on a single stage.
Bill’s anguish is a direct result of a past tragedy. However, that tragedy has impacted Bill’s faith and perception of humanity’s significance. During the few glimpses from the past with his spouse, we see a jovial couple who epitomize the human desire for love and devotion. Once that was stripped away, Bill became the universal version of humanity who is forced to question that faith. From the moment the first corpse rises up and interacts with the protagonist, any audience member who sees My Dead Clown during its first-ever run will recognize that he or she is in for an amusing and introspective experience.
The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and the Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord (by Scott Carter)
A growing amount of the modern forms of entertainment lack that aspect that art and theater typically target and thrive upon: the demand for mental interaction and the inherent intuition on the part of the viewer or reader. When Scott Carter was penning this impossible interaction between three of the world’s most famous and influential thinkers, he must have remembered that greatness comes from loss and mistakes; that it is also born out of perseverance and drive; and, perhaps most significantly, greatness stems from an absolute addiction to seeking and examining potential answers to the most cryptic questions of this world, regardless of the era in which one lives.
Luckily for theatergoers of First Presbyterian Theater’s final show of the 2017-2018 season, these cryptic questions are the crux of the exchange between Thomas Jefferson (d. 1826), Charles Dickens (d. 1870), and Count Leo Tolstoy (d. 1910). Each man enters a solemn room with his most recent memory being the moment he died. Once they learn one another’s identity and general attitude toward religion and philosophy, the story shoots off in a flurry of intellectual perspectives mixed with light-hearted humor.
Scott McMeen returns to this stage as Jefferson and provides an optimistic performance as the former president and framer of the Constitution. This season, he warmed our souls as Ebenezer Scrooge in the modern take on A Christmas Carol. Here, McMeen rations the widely accepted and respectable historic view of Jefferson with an introspective glance at a man whose morals on paper were, perhaps, not as sound in reality.
Brian Enrnsberger treats us to a confident and quite humorously pompous version of Charles Dickens. While Ernsberger has performed with FPT and other Fort Wayne theaters in the past, his return to the Summit City stage fills a six-year void. With occassional quips to “his” own works throughout the discourse among all three men, Ernsberger successfully captures the often-exaggerated aloofness of the British author.
Rounding out this tremendous trio, Thom Hofrichter enters as Count–but don’t call him that!–Leo Tolstoy. With his convincing Russian accent, Hofricter exhibits his passion for language, philosophy, and religion in convincing fashion. This play brings an end to Hofrichter’s twenty-first year with the theater as its Managing Artistic Director.
The story examines some of the most controversial issues of mankind, but the title is indictative of the premise of how each man had at one point in his life rewritten the opening four books of the New Testament. The arc of this after-life summit of great thinkers examines how each man from his generation and region contemplated the biblical text and specific passages. Citations to exact verses are identified, but when some disparity and disagreement evolves, the action of the play ignites. These men are humans after all, so even in death they find themselves desiring to be heard, wanting to be right, and verbally sparring over their points of view.
Director Chance Parker suggests that the play takes each character “on a journey through essential questions pertaining to life, truth, and faith in every meaning of the word.” Parker, a recent graduate from IPFW, co-directed this season’s Red with Hofrichter.
Jeannie Pendleton’s resume in costume design is deep and respectable, and she brought her talents to this cast and performance. Each character is not only distinctive in reputation and language, but each man’s clothing represents another facet of his personality and perspective.
Rae Surface and Austin Berger return to FPT for this performance with positions as technical director/set designer and light board operator, respectively. Surface’s simplistic set is suggestive of a cleared mind in the after-life. Though the props are minimal, they function appropriately throughout this dialogue-heavy performance.
Bill Lane is the projection designer and operator, and Sara Ihrie–a freshman at Snider High School–returns to the sound board after a successful stint in the same position for the theater’s previous play, Hamlet.
One does not need to have a deep understanding or experience with each of these men’s accomplishments or publications for the story and its themes to resonate. The universality of the themes shines through in each scene. Upon its conclusion, audiences are all but forced to contemplate the same issues for themselves and how the shared points of view apply to their surroundings. This serves as a formidable end to another outstanding season from the various casts and crews who work tirelessly at the First Presbyterian Theater.
This year’s Shakespearean installment at First Presbyterian Theater in downtown Fort Wayne features an all-female cast that presents The Bard’s famous vengeful son in a truly refreshing manner. Readers are probably familiar with the highly publicized footnote that men and boys were the only performers before-, during-, and shortly after Shakespearean-era theater. Thus, what can any cast–five hundred years after Shakespeare’s death–do to breathe new life into this story of vengeance? While this highly talented troupe of Hamlet remains true to the Elizabethan era language, the performance simultaneously serves as an appealing alternative to those familiar with the tragedy and as a progressive introduction to Shakespeare for any young audience member.
I’ll spare you the synopsis for two clear reasons: You either know the play (probably from high school or college), or you don’t know the play. Members from both of these camps should catch this two-week running because Shakespeare’s words and plotlines have a proclivity to offer more to an audience each and every time. This performance can be a fantastic opportunity to ease the uninitiated into the pinnacle of the classic tragedies. For those who know the text but have yet to see it performed live, there may not be a better opportunity to have “See a Shakespearean play” struck from a bucket list. Lastly, for those who have seen a film version, read the play, or viewed a mixed-gender live performance, please note that it is likely that this female cast will still impress and provide something different than ever before.
Halee Bandt exhibits great range in emotion and presence as young Prince Hamlet from the opening sequence to the final critical moments. Her masterful handling of multiple dense monologues establishes her among the elite performers to grace this historic stage. Fort Wayne theater veteran Kate Black excels as Claudius, whose staunchy presence builds the required, obvious tension throughout each scene. Nancy Kartholl, who recently appeared in Faith Healer as Grace, thrives as Polonius, whose protection of his daughter and whose loyalty to the king serves as a recurring battle with the title character. Returning to the stage after a decade-long hiatus is June Rambo, whose performance of right-hand-man Horatio was among the most noteworthy of this large cast. Additionally, newcomer Izzy Chilian proves she belongs in the theater with her impressive secondary role as the prince’s love interest Ophelia. Kira Downey, an admitted fan of Shakespeare, astounds as the Ghost. Her passion for Shakespeare’s language is apparent and her performance arrests the audience in each of her scenes. Finally of note, the roles of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are executed quite well by Tala Munsterman and Marissa Steiber, respectively. The remaining actors of this outstanding twenty-member cast all serve as worthwhile catalysts throughout the play.
Directed by Thom Hofrichter, Hamlet might be just what American society needs in 2018. While it may be too soon to state that the play is experiencing a coast-to-coast resurgence, the themes within it could not be more relevant. In his director’s notes, Hofrichter suggests there may be more to the opening line “Who’s there?” than just the curiosity of a soldier who is not sure if he’s just seen the spirit of a recently deceased king. The play has existential undertones and guides audiences to find a part of themselves in Hamlet. The oft-quoted reflection monologue (“To be or not to be…”) potentially encapsulates a second level of self-identity and self-worth when performed by a female.
Not to be overlooked with this performance is the costume design of Jeanette Walsh. Through an atypical, erratic pattern, each character’s clothes work well to suggest a profound sense of individuality–a theme that has always been apparent in this play but is even more so in this production. IPFW theater professor John O’Connell lends his deep resumé as fight director. Additionally, Rae Surface returns as the technical director and appears as two separate characters.
This sturdy ensemble cast carries with it the shadows of generations of women who, it stands to reason, were unsung heroes on some level in society. This direct challenge of theater traditions, especially with the expectations that accompany any of Shakespeare’s titles, sends a clear message that those traditions must stay in the past. It further serves as a vivid reminder of what had to happen over the past several centuries for the public to have access to Shakespeare’s work performed by a cast of females who range from middle-school aged young ladies to seasoned stage veteran performers.
Local Acting Mainstays Want ‘To Make You Think’
The new year at First Presbyterian Theater begins with a riveting performance of John Logan’s 2010 Tony Award-winning play Red. This two-week stint at the venue features a duo of remarkable actors: Thom Hofrichter and Kevin Torwelle. Hofrichter also co-directs this play with Chance Parker.
Readers will no doubt recall the first of these two performers. Co-starring as prolific American artist Mark Rothko, Hofrichter has been directing and organizing the FPT for twenty-one years. Torwelle, a nine-year acting veteran, plays Rothko’s fictional young assistant Ken as Rothko prepares his largest and priciest commission for The Four Seasons restaurant in New York City in the late 1950s.
Audience members may not immediately recognize the name Mark Rothko unless they have been involved in the study of American painting. This review is not going to be a lesson on Rothko, but a slight understanding of his work and legacy can be useful artillery for those who attend this outstanding drama. Regardless of your familiarity with Rothko, his contemporaries, or art history in general, the teacher-student dynamic swarms the stage from beginning to end.
In under ninety minutes and with no intermission, Hofrichter and Torwelle successfully challenge a bevy of themes and aspects of human nature. It’s irrelevant that the assistant’s character of Ken is fictitious because he is clearly representative of Rothko’s friends, fans, critics, and his subconscious. Rothko, at this point in his life, had already enjoyed success and was one of the few artists who could live comfortably solely on the income his artistic work provided. Thus, he has evolved from a “starving artist” to a “hardened artist” who is contemplating what future generations will consider to be his legacy. Hofrichter’s performance surges throughout the play in this mentality. Among the early remarks he makes to his new assistant is that art must have “tragedy in every brushstroke,” which embodies the artist and the performance. Hofrichter exhibits Rothko as a pained and uncomfortable human being who has no interest in being anyone’s father, teacher, mentor, or friend.
Torwelle counters as Rothko’s fictional foil. His character’s mental growth and confidence blossom with each scene, leading up to the culminating discourse of their final moment together.
Through five scenes, the play covers two years of time between artist and assistant. The on-stage action is woven into the drama beautifully, but the powerful, inspiring language is what sets the trajectory for these monumental final few minutes.
“What do you see?” Rothko asks Ken at the outset. It becomes suddenly obvious that he’s not just talking to the young, enthusiastic artist who cannot believe he’s being hired to work with the living legend. The question, it turns out, is for the audience to consider as well. Rothko’s character further drops poignant takes such as “You cannot be an artist until you’re civilized!” and “That’s business, not art!” Torwelle’s Ken, however, emerges from the verbal assaults received early on and eventually matures into Rothko’s sparring partner about life, art, and philosophy.
Later, in a visibly active moment between the two, they discuss the power of color and the connotations we build for the entire spectrum. The assistant’s torrid past eventually unfolds and brings new depth to their relationship. These elements are no doubt why the play won a Tony; however, the directors’ notes point out that some viewers “see this play as an impenetrable wall of philosophy.” Thus, we return to the central question—What do you see?–but now with an emphasis not on the first word, but rather the third.
Co-directing with Hofrichter is recent IPFW graduate Chance Parker. He directed Ballad 423 and 424, and he has been a performer and stage manager in his young, promising career. In the spring, he will direct the final show of the 2017-2018 season at FPT.
Jeanette Walsh returns as costume designer. In a play about artists, Walsh pieces together a perfect visual rendition of each character’s personality and mentality.
Rae Surface and Sheila O’Rourke re the technical director and dresser/backstage crew respectively. Austin Berger, who recently performed in last autumn’s Faith Healer is the stage manager and board operator.
One of the most tempting opportunities I had with this review was simply to write the words “Go see this play” a few hundred times. Each of the moments spent viewing the action and dialogue between these two performers will remind anyone of the significance of being a mentor, a student, a teacher, a trainee, or anything in that realm.
On Friday, October 21, 2016, Netflix released six additional episodes of Black Mirror. This was the third “season” for the show, now with a grand total of nineteen episodes including one holiday episode from 2015.
My wife enjoys cooking shows, baking contests, and true crime mini-documentaries. I grew up on sitcoms, got hooked on police- and medical dramas throughout the 90s, and really enjoyed Lost (in its early years, at least). With children now, I am aware of a cartoon who can cure stuffed animals, a talking train who weasels out of mischief episode after episode, and can recite all of the lyrics to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, thanks to They Might Be Giants.
This past week, however, the missus and I have watched all six of the newest Black Mirror episodes.
My writing idol David Foster Wallace did not own a television in adulthood. Another favorite named Dave Eggers always wiggles in the trivial nugget that he and his family are virtually tech-free at home (no smartphones, social media activity, etc.). Ironically, one of the shows my wife watches features a home renovation couple from Texas who also do not have a TV in their own home.
Black Mirror, identified by Netflix as containing “near-future” settings, is equal parts riveting and terrifying. To me, the episodes involving technology (and specifically social media) contain themes that most viewers already recognize as problematic. While some of us can vividly remember a time before the internet and our supposed “connectivity” involved with it, can we really imagine our current lives without those luxuries? Perhaps it’s not an all-or-nothing life we should live with regard to being connected or not.
This is the point where I remind readers of Thoreau and Walden. He purposely removed himself from a busy society (in the mid 19th century) in order to return (Romanticize!) to the more attractive natural settings accessible to him. He desired a connection with the earth and a deeper understanding of his existence. Most of us do, I would argue. Yet, we busy ourselves with newer technological distractions and continue to think we’re postponing the inevitable. By the way, this particular meme is worrisome to me. What is the need for a million dollars if this is the proposed environment/lifestyle? I’m also doubting the author’s proposed future of “CHOOSE”-ing to live.
What happens to you when your internet goes out? What do you look like when an app won’t open? How much stress have you incurred based on any post by anyone on any social media outlet?
What, we must ask ourselves, is the fucking point of it all?
Is this the legacy we wish to leave?
Memorial Service speaker: Tony was a good man. He was a father, a brother, and a son. He had 49 likes on his 21st birthday status. (waits for crowd to settle down). A tweet on September 30, 2014 was shared by none other than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. (waits longer…)
If birth = midnight
And death = 11:59 pm
What time is it right now?
Why was that your answer?