Reprogramming of Jeremy: My notes

jeremyHmmmm.

I guess it’s a bit journalistic integrity that pushes me to review the Gail Wagner directed Reprogramming of Jeremy, which made its Delaware premier last night (9 August 2108) at Theater N in Wilmington, Delaware.
It’s kind of weird because Gail is a friend of mine and all I really have to say are good things, so it seems like I am being easy on her. I’m not really.
First let’s start with some technical things. The lighting and sound were first rate. Unlike so many lower budget local films, Reprogramming of Jeremy had excellent sound and lightning. This was key because the subject matter – youth coming of age homosexuality – could be discounted if the technical stuff was cheesy.
This wasn’t.
Gail’s choice to cut between characters in the film as they told their individual stories relative to Jeremy, was risky as this type of film-making can sometimes cause loss of momentum and defeat the intended dramatic arc. That wasn’t the case here. Ms. Wagner was able to build tension and anxiety.
Though I never read Bobby Keniston’s Play of the same title, which inspired the film, the story moved forward at a good pace. Mr. Keniston made some interesting choices concerning characters being honest with themselves and us.
That part of the film was especially interesting. You couldn’t trust the multiple narrators as each had their own rationalizations about their relationships and interactions with Jeremy. Each had their own guilt, and each had their own fingerprints on the eventual end.
That which goes unsaid in this film is often more powerful, than that which is said; much of the film captures the energy of more is less.
At this point I want to shout out to Gina Olkowski. She is a chameleon and seemingly inhabited her role from first descriptive loving hug to violent momma grizzly when her son was in danger. Everyone was wonderful, but Gina’s portrayal really pulled me in.
Another shout out to Emily Ciuffettelli who played Abby (Jeremy’s best female friend – not girlfriend). Her portrayal of Abby was so sincere and vulnerable, I felt she was one of the few characters in the film with whom I would like to have coffee.
Finally, Marsha Amato Greenspan was appropriately dastardly and evil as the Christian running a gay reprogramming camp. Bravo!
And that brings me to my unfulfilled expectation. The director and script dedicated a lot of time to the life that led to Jeremy’s incarceration at the camp. I only wish more time had been spent here and how it all impacted the films finale.
The Reprogramming of Jeremy is an important film and people should take time and see it. I’m not sure how, or even if, it will be distributed. The thing is, the world is crazy and art like this gives us a grounding – or at least a caution of what we’ve won and what we could lose.

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Murder on Cue — Great Cast Work

Somebody asked me to review “Murder On Cue” this year’s fund raiser for Newark’ Del. Chapel Street Players, playing this weekend and next. For more info go to http://chapelstreetplayers.org/.
Anyway.
The cast is so huge I won’t be able to mention everyone; they were all wonderful.
The show starts out, it seems, as an homage to the 1976 Neil Simon comedy “Murder by Death” and the longtime favorite board game Clue. I could be wrong, but it sure felt that way.
There’s the deaf housekeeper, the nun with a vow of silence, the beauty queen, and the usual suspects in any mystery spoof. It was actually quite effective. This campy tribute goes on for about 15 minutes.
That’s where things change.
Scott F. Mason, the Writer and director of “Murder on Cue,” is shot. The house lights come up and an investigation of the entire cast, crew, and house staff begins under the watchful eye of FBI Agent Sawinski played with pitch perfection by Andre Wilkins.
I knew he was a good actor, but his performance last night cemented him as a great leading man kind of guy.
A plug for Nicole Pierce. She has a certain indescribable vibe (or presence) that I just love; she was her usual superb self this particular evening. Will someone please put her in a leading role!? Jeepers.
Back to the show.
I don’t know if I had ever seen Courtney Lynahan before, but I really liked her as the vow of silence nun and the pilfering cast member (oops don’t want to give too much away).
I can’t go any further without mentioning five of my favorites in the CSP stable of stars. I just love Michelle Cullen, Judy David, Peter Kuo (who is hilarious btw), Michelle Opaleski, and Brian M. Touchette. Each one was superb and acted with great skill. They heightened the tomfoolery and suspense. Bravo!!
As I said in previous reviews – I love Susan Boudreax and Susie Moak. They knock my socks off.
I had never seen Ann Matthews act Before, but she too, was a delightful surprise. She appeared with her husband of 33 years Pete Matthews. I had never seen him act either. Whenever I see him he has a hammer in his hand; this time he had a cigar. Regardless of hand tool, he did an excellent job.
Remember the gloriously evil bad guy in CSP’s production of 1984? That was Zack Jackson. In this show, he played a hilarious loudmouth plumber and then himself as the show progressed. BTW, he has one of my favorite actor skills – he makes great faces.
I’ll tell you who doesn’t get enough credit around here — Heather McCarty. She is a blast to watch and also makes great faces. I always see her doing something interesting down stage left. Isn’t that weird?
Renee G. O’leary celebrated her 55th consecutive fund raiser. She was delightful as Boddy and took a second to show off her great legs to audience.
Danielle Jackomin played bestselling murder mystery novelist LC. She is always fun to watch. Pay attention to her last couple of minutes on stage, those are pretty special.
I don’t know who Darin Bishop is. I think he got swallowed up in the crowd of actors after the shooting of Mr. Mason. He is listed as the EMT in the program, so maybe I had a bad seat and just couldn’t see him.
The last time I saw Patricia Lake was last Spring when she appeared in Holy Traffic. She was delightful.
I really enjoyed Matthew Brown’s performance of Newark policeman Bernhart. It had an honesty and naivety that was really refreshing when juxtaposed to the snarky witness interviews of Mr. Mason’s shooting/murder.

Walt Osborne played Major General Cleopold Poupon and was especially good throughout the sho0,w but really shined in the first few minutes with a small dance bit that got entire audience clapping.
I guess that’s it. Not a whole lot more to say. There is a bunch of people acting and you’ll like them. The show and the cause (CSP Fund Raiser) are a good place to spend your entertainment dollar. So go see it.

Chapel Street Player’s NEXT’s – George Cope 24-Hour Playwriting Festival.

 

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Joe Pukatsch, Christy Wall, and Susie Moak work out blocking details with members of two different casts

A friend of mine asked me to write a review of playwriting festival, but I can’t.

 

I can tell you what I saw, heard, felt, and experienced, but a review is out of the question.

You see, I love the George Cope 24-Hour Playwriting Festival and there is no way I could possibly give you an unbiased review of this miraculous event. So, I am not even going to try.

At about 7:30 pm, Saturday night, the clouds opened and proceeded to pour buckets of water, about 100 hearty souls came to the Chapel Street Player’s Theater, in Newark.

As they dripped their way to their seats, having paid a scant $5, Jose Pukatsch, Lyn Anderson, and Alan Harbaugh raced about shaking hands, making notes, and pressing buttons that made the lights work correctly.

Writers and directors took their seats, held their collective breaths, and each in his/her own way, crossed their fingers.

And after 24 straight hours of casting, writing, and rehearsing — It was showtime!

The night’s emcee, Mr. Harbaugh said it best, “24 hours ago none of this existed,” he said.

Mr. Harbaugh told the drying audience that writers started writing Friday night, and handed off their scripts to directors Saturday morning, and the directors worked throughout the day with casts they had never seen before.

Before the first show, Mr. Harbaugh and Mr. Pukatsch paid a tribute to the festival’s namesake – George Cope. The festival, they said, was Mr. Copes brainchild. Mr. Cope died earlier in the year.

The first ten-minute number was “The Connection” by Sean Kelly, directed by Zachary Jackson, starring Mike Barko, and Connie Regan. It told the story of two memories finding each other in the fog, gently coming together, and drifting back to the fog only to reset again (implying the perpetual remembering and forgetting and remembering again).  

“Unbreakable” by Eric Merlino, directed By Judy David, and starring Susan Boudreaux and Angela Teague was up next. It was tricky little number that told the story of a covetous niece visiting her aunt to buy a valuable painting. Both ladies handled their roles with grace and aplomb. There was a surprise ending and I won’t reveal in case it is ever staged again.

The Birdcage by Lance Thompson. Was a bit more straight forward. (Mr. Thompson was also on the committee that brought the whole evening to life). Sean McKeen, veteran of the first 24-hour ply festival, directed this adult comedy about a woman who finds her own way out of oppressive marriage while maintaining her vows. Michelle Opalesky hopped, skipped, and drug one leg across the stage, wreaking revenge on her philandering husband played with despicability by Leslie Blackburn.

The Magic Stone was playwright Joe Redden’s maiden voyage with the festival. This show directed by Aneila Meinhaldt (many may know her from Reedy Point), Vaughan Ellerton, Mr. Harbaugh, and Heather McCarty portrayed a family finding a magic stone and greedily wishing for everything, but world peace. It was a scream. (A special note Heather McCarty was hilarious. Her voice, movement, and pitch were superbly funny).

Next up was “The Key’s the Thing” written by me. Susie Moak, directed Marlene Hummel and Josh Coslar in this upside down story of a crime family matriarch. Marlene’s special tonal quality and ability to make great faces drove the piece with just the right amount of crazy. Mr. Coslar’s performance built on itself until an explosive end.

Then came the night’s most “no holds barred” production of  “Sleigh Bells” a script written by Jacob Hunter, Kevin Meinhaldt (yes, that Kevin Meinhladt), and award winning playwright Brain Smith. This was a Sweeney Todd, meets Rudolph, meets Body Heat kind of story full of hilarious characters and one dead Santa. Like I said, “No holds barred.” Although Lacey Eriksen, Andre Wilkins, and Gina Olkowski were the only three on the stage, it sure seemed like more. They approached their roles with the enthusiasm of a border collie on speed and with the precision a laser surgeon removing a speck from an eyeball. It was wonderful.

Pulling six different plays, with six different directors, six different casts together I am sure was like herding cats. If I ever need lessons on feline wrangling, I’m calling stage manager Christy Wall. She single handedly kept all the trains running on time and in the same direction.  

I guess that’s it.

It was a great night of homegrown theater for the folks who made it through the rain. In a way the rain was kind of fitting. This was the first time Mr. Cope’s name was added to the event title, so it was more of a baptism of a new thing instead of handwave goodbye to friend.

 

George Cope 24-Hour ONE Act Play Festival –ACTORS NEEDED (IF YOU’RE A LUNATIC)

 

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George Cope Introduces a staged reading of his full length play

George Cope was our leader.
He died, and we miss him.
But he didn’t leave us alone.
Tomorrow night is the second iteration of his brain child – a 24-hour one act play festival.
“We need crazy people,” he told me one cold winter Saturday in basement of the Chapel Street Players Playhouse. “People who are willing to take a chance and put some shows on in 24 hours.”
He was convinced a group of lunatics could write, cast, and stage quality shows in less than 24 hours. He was right – we proved that last year.
Here’s what’s going to happen.
At about 7 pm Friday night, May 11, 2018, seven writers will convene at the Chapel Street Players Playhouse. They will be assigned a director and pick, a yet to be determined, number of actors from an audition pool. The actors will audition using a prop they brought with them, giving a quick pitch about the prop. When the actors are picked, and director assigned, the writers will head home (or to Starbucks or Denny’s) and begin writing. By about 7:30 a.m. the writers will return to the theater and hand the play to the director and the actors and won’t see it again to Saturday night when the show begins.
With any luck what happened last year, will happen again – fellowship, blooming friendships, and magic.
Each show was magic last year as writers of differing skills pulled elephants through keyholes banging out comedies, mysteries dramas, and sci-fi. It was unbelievable.
So, if you are a crazy lunatic actor with the guts to take chance come join us Friday night and audition for one of the most rewarding nights of theater you’ll ever experience.

 

 

DTA Festival Day Three

 

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The cast of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Jumping get notes fro the adjudicator 

Like I said last time, Kate and I spent Friday night watching the first round of shows from the combined Delaware Theater Association (DTA) Festival and the Pennsylvania group called PACT (I have no idea what the acronym stands for). Regardless, we were there the first night.
A bit of inside baseball – the shows were broken into blocks and the show with which I was associated was in the last block starting at 1330 (1:30 pm).
The next day, Kate and I went to lunch then meandered our way back to Barnstormers. It hadn’t lost any of its charm from the night before. The Reedy Point Players (RPP) had taken up residence at front left hand corner of the theater.
At about 1300 (1 pm) the cast and crew from “Jumping” filed downstairs to the dressing and green rooms – to wait some more. The afternoon shows ran a tad late because one of the officials had to go home and feed his dog and ended up getting stuck in traffic coming back.
That’s cool – I get it. Dogs are important.
A little more inside baseball — Before a show starts at one of these competitions, the director comes forward and says, “Start.” A clock starts and the show has 80 minutes to set up, perform, and teardown the set; leaving the stage bare and the director announcing “Stop.” If you do it all in 80 minutes, you’re good, if not bad things happen. Not sure what those things are – probably public embarrassment.
While we waited in the wings for our turn we gave our director, Lyn Anderson, the business, “Make sure you say “start” when you go out there and not “stop.” Don’t screw this up.”
When Lyn said “Start” we moved smoothly and put the set up. (BTW Lyn would later win a set design award.) Then everyone took their places and I returned to my seat.
You see, I wrote Jumping and every time I’ve seen it I’ve astounded be the way they brought it to life. It’s pretty amazing. I sat there silently lip synching the words; using whatever body English I could muster to help things (I’m a big body and have lots to use). Lynn’s use of red, white and blue lights to create sunrise affect was so clever, I was very surprised she didn’t get a best direction award; I really was. Oh well – what do I know? I just write the stuff.
They were great and the audience laughter, gasped, and applauded when they were supposed to. I guess you can’t hope for more than that. But there was more.
Aniela Meinhaldt got an acting award, Lyn Anderson earned a set Design award, and Lance Thompson won a cameo acting award. Jumping took second (or first runner-up, officially). I was a tad miffed that L’Atanya Morrow-Caine didn’t get recognized; I thought she did a great job. I really did. Hmmm.
While most of the festival was focused on original works, one group decided to do an act from “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” If the intent was to humble the assembled local playwrights – it succeeded. It was a superb performance that made me want to throw my collection of scripts in the trash and lift weights as an alternative.
There is a reason Tennessee Williams is an American master and I work at the Delaware Department of Labor.
He was great; I have to struggle to be not bad.
This production seemed to be the darling of the adjudicator; she ate dinner with the troupe, while we original playwrights ate tacos and ice cream – I guess that’s okay.
Anyway the awards ceremony was like you’d expect; representatives from Delaware and Pennsylvania dolling out awards. I’ve recounted those several in these three stories, but suffice it to say Reedy Point had a good weekend, earning enough kudos to sustain us and get more art done.

 

 

DTA Second Day

20180323_211324After a cold and nasty night at the Delaware Theater Association (DTA) tech rehearsals, we returned the next day for the shows and like the end of a Nor-Easter, the clouds parted and all was right with the world.
Barnstormers Theater in Ridley Park Penn was transformed into the most intimate theater you’ve ever seen. Tables were set up in a quasi-circular and theater style; allowing a place to put snacks and still focus on production. People were close together, yet there was shoulder room aplenty.
Purple seemed to be the color of choice for table cloths, napkins, and other table decorations.
“Meant to Be” was up first and the Reedy Point Players entry wowed the crowd. It was truly the best show of that production. I had seen it several times and this was – far and away – the best the cast had ever performed.
Andre Wilkins gave a standout performance as the tortured prisoner and murderer, who had been suckered in by the devil. Kevin Meinhaldt gave his consistently strong performance as the pitchfork wielding Beelzebub. Andre didn’t win an acting award and I thought that was shame; he was boffo.
Gail Wagner took the role of she-devil after another actor was forced to drop out. She eventually won a deserved award for her portrayal.
Even so, the night was stolen by a group from Pennsylvania – whose name escapes me at the moment — for their production of the “Bowl” (I think it was).
The show was about the activities of two goldfish in a fishbowl over the course of a year. It was delightful. And although it is hard to find an underlying them it really didn’t matter. The actors made you forget the angst of the show that went before – “I Dream Before I take the Stand.”
Some might argue the drama “I Dream. Before I take the Stand” from Wilmington Drama League was the big winner of the night (it did eventually win all the awards), it just didn’t float my boat. It’s probably me, not them.
“I Dream Before I Take the Stand” was a good two-person piece about a lawyer twisting a rape victim’s words to make things her fault. It was well executed and beautifully acted, but like I said, it’s probably me and I just didn’t enjoy it.
I guess I’m a heathen, or Neanderthal, or something.
The night ended on a high note with a 50/50 drawing and other fun stuff.
Day #2 Tomorrow.

 

DTA Competition The First Night Blues

DTA Weekend – The Arrival

DSCF5367 (2)Hmmm. The Delaware Theater Association (DTA) festival was this past weekend (23-24 Mar 2018) and I’m pretty sure it was a success. I had fun.

Initially though, it was kind of weird, at least for someone who had never been to competitive theater festival.
At first blush, it seemed so contrary to the “Delaware Way,” I found the first night off-putting. We got to the Barnstormers Theater in Ridley Park, PA and everyone seemed gruff, overly official, or something. In fairness, maybe they were just tired; it had been a long day for them.
We (Reedy Point Players) arrived a bit early and there was a delay here or there for one thing or another, but we were eventually ushered into the theater after hanging out on the street, like a bunch of high school kids smoking behind their parents backs.
I guess a contest must have rules, so one of the organizers gave us the lowdown and it quickly became apparent we weren’t going to be able to behave, the way we do at home. You see, at home it is more of a free-for-all of goodwill. We help each other out move sets on and off the stage, make sure everyone is okay, and run lines with members of other casts. – you know community theater. None of that here.
We were finally allowed to bring our sets in and “Meant to Be” (the other play from Reedy Point) went up for their tech rehearsal, the cast for “Jumping” (the show I was involved in) went down to the basement amidst assorted dressing rooms and a common area referred to as a green room (though it wasn’t very green). We were cold and damp – and stayed that way.
We were in a bit of shock (I guess) and passed about 90 minutes telling silly stories to one another bemoaning our situation. I was going to write hostage notes to slide under the door, but one of the organizers came in and said, “Jumping You’re up.”
We went up the basement stairs this time to find the cutest theater, but it still seemed as if most of the officials were aloof or perhaps just busy. Even so, there was really no welcoming vibe.
Officials huddled at tables chatting amongst themselves and seemingly thinking great thoughts. To be fair, it was likely inappropriate for them to engage the contestants at length for fear of shouts of favoritism. Even so, it still struck me as odd.
We walked the stage, got our bearings, and started to work. Lyn Anderson adjusted the set and Aniela Miendhaldt, L’Tanya Morrow-Cain, and Lance Thompson did a quick rehearsal and realized they had a line or two tighten up. Lyn Anderson worked on lighting, and I walked around moving furniture and gave free advice whether I asked to or not.
Toward the end of our tech rehearsal we had it all figured out and Lyn had put together a pretty stunning visual for the show. We packed up and headed home – many of us disquieted and wondering where the fun went.
That would change the next day.