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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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'School of Rock -The Musical:' Fun for the Entire Family

January 20, 2019

School of Rock -The Musical, book by Julien Fellowes with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Glenn Slater is now at the National Theatre and it is a fun night for the entire family.

The story is simple. Dewey played to perfection by the very talented Merritt David Janes is a wannabee rock star. He is broke and gets tossed out of the band he started and wants to win the Battle of the Bands a rock music competition. At the moment he is living with and mooching off his best friend Ned (Layne Roate) and Ned’s girlfriend Patty (Madison Micucci). Ned is also a wannabee rocker who has given it up to become a teacher and when a school calls to offer him a substitute job Dewey is the one who answers the phone and figures it’s a way to make some money and tells them he is Ned and agrees to take the job. So Dewey goes to the Horace Green, a private very chi-chi elementary school where parents spend $50,000 a year to send their spoiled kids and introduces himself as Ned to the Principal, Rosalie, played by the incredibly talented Lexie Dorsett Sharp. The rest of the story is about how Dewey gets the kids to be his rock band so they can enter the Battle of the Bands.

Mystic Inscho (Photo by: Evan Zimmerman-MurphyMade) Mystic Inscho

But the story is not what you are going to this show to see. What you are going to see and what will blow you away are the kids with their amazing talent. When the show opens there is taped announcement from Andrew Lloyd Weber who says, “If you are wondering if the kids in the show will be playing their own instruments the answer is YES!” It’s a good thing he says it because if he hadn’t you wouldn’t believe it. They are all so talented. Dewey works with his class and each student gets a designated role in the band including;  costume designer, back-up singer, bass guitarist, keyboard player, drummer, lead singer, and a band manager. Summer (Sami Bray) who Dewey gives the job of band manager to as she wants to be teacher’s pet and at first isn’t into the music quickly makes it clear to the audience she has great acting chops. 

There are so many other incredibly talented kids in the show I can’t mention them all but some who just stand out along with Sami are Cameron Trueblood an incredible drummer, Mystic Inscho a lead guitarist extraordinaire,  Grier Burke whose beautiful voice is perfect as the lead singer, and Theo Mitchell-Penner who is just amazing on keyboard. Remember all the kids appear to range in age from eight to twelve. What would be fun is to follow some of their careers, the ones who want to stay in the business, and see where they are ten years from now. Surely many of these kids are the stars of the future.

 Merritt David Janes, Lexie Dorsett Sharp (Photo by: Matt Murphy) Merritt David Janes, Lexie Dorsett Sharp

The play is directed by Laurence Connor who directed Les Misérables on Broadway and in the UK and choreographed by Joann M. Hunter. The music director, and this is all about the kids and the music, is the talented Martyn Axe.

So for a fun night in the theater great for all ages I would recommend getting a ticket to School of Rock -The Musical while it’s at the National through January 27th. 

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