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'The Children:' A Play at Studio Theatre That Makes You Think

May 7, 2019

The Studio Theatre has a hit with The Children. Every component; the writing, the acting, scenic design and inspired directing by David Muse all make for a riveting ninety minutes of theater.

Lucy Kirkwood’s play forces you to think and that is a good thing. She writes about everything from the economy, climate change, the relationship of parents to their children, husbands to wives, and girlfriends; and our deepest values. She says she is “very grateful to the Baby Boomer generation” for all they have accomplished but then writes they are to blame for much of what is wrong with the world and questions what they may owe the next generations finally asking if they should be willing to act heroically and shorten their lives for them.

Richard Howard, Jeanne Paulsen and Naomi Jacobson (Photo by: Carol Rosegg) Richard Howard, Jeanne Paulsen and Naomi Jacobson

The Children is set in a remote cottage on the British coast, a long-married pair of retired nuclear physicists, Hazel (Jeanne Paulsen) and Robin (Richard Howard) are living a very modest life in the aftermath of a natural disaster, which turns out to be an earthquake and then tidal wave which caused an explosion in the nuclear plant in which they worked on the coast of their town. Since the disaster they are giving scrupulous care to energy rationing, their garden, and Hazel takes to practicing yoga to cope. When a former colleague, Rose (Naomi Jacobson), reappears after 38 years, her presence totally upends the couple’s equilibrium and trust in both their relationship and their values. As the fallout from long-ago decisions they all made hurtles into view, Rose unveils a proposal that threatens more than their marriage, it threatens to shorten their lives and change their relationship to their children. 

Richard Howard, Jeanne Paulsen (Photo by: Studio Theatre) Richard Howard, Jeanne Paulsen

There are times during the 90 minutes of the play when one thinks the playwright must spend her life thinking about all these issues and being depressed. But then all three incredibly talented actors led by the directing of David Muse, take her words and as their lives unravel in front of you, flaws and all, I found myself constantly changing what I thought about each of them as the play moved along. I disliked Rose at the beginning of the play but more fully understood her and how she thought by the end. Hazel became a real person in front of my eyes. Robin was the stoic who ping-ponged between them and he did it superbly. They became so real and their existential crisis hit home I left the theater wondering what I would do in their situation. At one point, since they are physicists they talk about what has happened and what is happening in the plant now. While scenic designer Tom Kamm set a perfectly good stage for 88 minutes of the play, all taking place in the kitchen of the small cabin they are now living in, his true brilliance comes out in the final two minutes of the play as the set is opened up with the drawing back of curtains and you are left to wonder if even Hazel has decided to join Rose and Robin who had already agreed to work in the exploded dangerous plant. Nephelie Andonyadis does a good job as costume designer as does Miriam Nilofa Crowe as Lighting Designer. 

This is a play everyone should see from Baby Boomers to their Millennial Children. Each may come to a different view of each other. The Children will be at the Studio Theatre through June 2, 2019.

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'Queen of Basel' Interesting But Tries Too Hard

March 12, 2019

I was excited to see the world premiere of Queen of Basel at Studio Theatre. I have always been impressed with their choice of plays and am an unabashed admirer of their Artistic Director David Muse. This production while interesting left one wanting more depth. 

That is not to say it has no redeeming value, rather the author is trying to say too much contained in an hour and twenty minutes without intermission. The play according to its author Hilary Bettis is an adaption of the Strindberg play Miss Julie. Bettis says she was asked to do this by Michael Hausmann who wanted a bi-lingual adaption for his theater in Miami. While she says she hated the play she agreed to do her version by “subverting Strindberg at every turn.”

Christy Escobar and Dalia Davi (Photo by: C. Stanley Photography) Christy Escobar and Dalia Davi

The entire play is set in a storeroom of a hotel owned by the father of the main character, Julie, (Christy Escobar) at a reception during Miami’s Art Basel. Julie is introduced as a spoiled child who is a recovering alcoholic who accidentally collides with a waitress, Christine, a Venezuelan immigrant (Dalia Davi) and had drinks poured over her Oscar de la Renta gown and now is hiding out so the paparazzi and her father don’t find her. The third character in the play is John, a Haitian/Cuban (Andy Lucien) Christine’s boyfriend and an Uber driver. 

The play focuses on the interplay between the three characters and explores their history and biases, and the world’s biases and how they all relate to each other. The problem with the play is while it moves fast it covers much too much territory and none of it in depth. It seems Bettis thinks she needs to deal with every society ill one can think of in eighty minutes. There is sexism, misogyny, racial tensions, black and white relationships, the current issues in Venezuela, family dynamics, rich and poor, cultural differences and economic inequality among others too many to mention. One loses track of all she is trying to say. 

I think the actors do the best they can with what Bettis has given them and at times they are compelling. Christy Escobar is clearly a good actress but at times seems to over-act but those are the scenes she has been given. Andy Lucien is great and totally believable showing a wide range of emotions which he handles well. Dalia Davi is good and represents the bi-lingual part of this production. She is clearly a talented actress. 

Yet they all seem to be striving when moving from one issue to another and trying to give equal weight to all of them. At some point in the middle of the play you want them to just focus on something. 

The set by Debra Booth is simple and works for the play. The costumes by Ivania Stack work as well. Director José Zayas seems to do the best he can with the words he is given and he clearly brings out the best in his actors. 

This play will be at the Studio Theatre until April 7th and it is an interesting eighty minutes of theater. You can enjoy and yet still leave wondering what the main point is. 

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'Richard the Third' – Violent but Riveting

February 13, 2019

Richard the Third is a violent play. After his hit production of King Charles III, David Muse returns to the Shakespeare Theatre Company to direct Richard the Third, a mesmerizing chronicle of the megalomaniac’s rampage to the throne. According to David “It’s about a heartless man, a con artist, a man obsessed with winning and power, a misogynist, a spinner of news and misinformation, a man who thrives by beating others, a man who uses and discards people. It’s about how a country responds to a leader like this. We watch people negotiate with their own mortality, align themselves with power and resist secretly if at all.” 

Actually after seeing the play one leaves the theater thinking there is something vaguely familiar to the premise.  Then you realize we are going through something similar today in the United States with Donald Trump. While at the moment he may not be personally ordering the killings they are happening and he is a lying, misogynistic and despicable man. It felt so incredibly appropriate the person to finally take down Richard in this production is played by the talented Evelyn Spahr cast as the Earl of Richmond. Surely David had this in mind when he cast her. In the play the Earl is crowned the first Tudor King, Henry the VII. Just dreaming, but maybe not, wouldn’t it be great if a woman took down Trump to become the first female President?

David Muse is a brilliant director and he brings out the best in his actors. Matthew Rauch commands the stage as Richard, Duke of Gloucester. He is appropriately venal and yet you laugh at some of his antics even while being appalled at all the people he needs to have killed on his way to becoming Richard the Third. He even convinces the Lady Anne of Neville the talented Cara Ricketts, who hates him, to finally marry him only to have her killed. 

(Photo by: Tony Powell, Courtesy Shakespeare Theatre Company)

The entire play takes place on one stark set designed by Debra Booth. It looks like a dungeon room in the castle conveniently located near the ovens making it easier to cremate the bodies and to gas those Richard orders killed including the two young children of King Edward IV, David Bishins, who is disposed only after Richard has managed to have his own brother, George the Duke of Clarence, Cody Nickell, knocked off first by being stabbed and dumped in a barrel of water.  

I can’t mention them all, there are twenty-eight in the cast, but all are uniformly good. Some who stand out are Lizan Mitchell as Margaret of Anjou, Christopher Michael McFarland as the Duke of Buckingham, Derrick Lee Weeden as Lord Hastings, and the two murderers David Ryan Smith and Matthew Aldwin McGee. Movement Director Steph Paul, Music and sound designer Lindsay Jones and Fight Choreographer Robb Hunter have all done a great job lending excitement to the evening. 

It is not a play I would bring children to but if you are not averse to seeing some violence and want to see some exciting Shakespeare with brilliant acting I would urge you to go. Richard the Third will be at the Sidney Harman Hall through March 10th.

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