theater

Review: Love Letters

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Photo by Danny Lam

By Keilani Fleming, Guest Blogger

Lone Tree Arts Center presents Love Letters, an intimate two person play in an equally intimate setting. A.R. Gurney’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play, normally staged with nothing more than two actors and a pile of letters seated next to each other, has been expanded to a fully staged set, including props and space for the characters to dance, sometimes literally, around each other.

Love Letters follows the relationship highs, lows, and in-betweens of Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, from precocious 2nd grade ramblings of children to the heart-breaking, one sided letter to a love lost. Whereas this play clocks in around an hour and a half, it spans an entire 50 year lifetime.

Mark Rubald plays the proper and upstanding Andy Ladd easily and with a likable charm, even when he’s sometimes doing unlikable things. It’s hard to capture the frantic and sometimes confused energy of a child when you are, in fact, a full grown adult, but Rubald is able to convince the audience he is that ball of energy. Rubald’s transitions are smooth throughout Andy’s life, as each life stage clicks, almost audibly, into place with his energy visibly calming as age and maturity set in.

Candy Brown’s performance of Melissa Gardner is a bit more complicated. The character never really grows up even as time passes around her. Many of her letters, mannerisms, and actions could as easily be plucked from a pre-teen as they could be attributed to the adult Brown is sometimes portraying. That lack of growth is built into Brown’s character through Gurney’s writing, as the trauma of her upbringing stagnates maturity but because of Melissa’s inherited wealth, she isn’t burdened with the necessity of growing up at the same pace as the average person.

Rubald’s performance seems more rehearsed, with him looking less at the letters and more towards the audience whereas Brown’s performance references the “love letters” far more often, feeling more like the original adaption of Gurney’s play. Though Brown’s delivery is a bit less polished than Rubald, it is in her moments of silence when she really shines. The subtlety in her facial expressions as she receives the letters is where your attention should be, which makes this staging particularly difficult. The characters are often on opposite sides of the stage so the audience can’t watch both Andy as he reads his letter and Melissa as she reacts to it.

Seated a few rows back and as close to the center as possible will give the best viewing of the performance as the staging has the actors almost exclusively facing forward even though a third of the seats in the auditorium are perpendicular to the set. Due to the size of the auditorium, however, there is no “bad” seat, and even if there was, the writing of A.R. Gurney is truly the star of the show.

Love Letters, directed by Bruce K. Sevy and starring Candy Brown and Mark Rubald, plays the Lone Tree Arts Center from Thursday, November 9, 2017 through Sunday, November 19, 2017.

Review: Love Letters

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Photo by Danny Lam

By Michelle Marx, Guest Blogger

The November 9th opening night performance for Love Letters at the Lone Tree Arts Center was a refreshing throwback to good old-fashioned letter writing in an age of emojis and texts.

The telling of the beautiful life-long friendship between Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner begins at age seven with a birthday party invitation. Their heartfelt and occasionally tumultuous relationship spans fifty years from the sweetness of puppy love to uncertainty during college to the tenderness and wisdom gained in later adulthood. Love Letters succeeds in placing the relationship at the center of the story and reminds us that our relationships are central to our lives as well.

Although Andrew and Melissa both come from privileged backgrounds, Melissa is the more tragic of the two coming from an unstable home with divorce and stepfamilies. Their childhoods greatly influence their definition and expectations of love. Candy Brown is captivating as independent and vivacious Melissa. She is a quick wit and flashes a beautiful smile. Although Andrew is less dramatic, Mark Rubald captures Andrew’s vulnerability and conveys warmth and a romantic side in his yearnings for Melissa.

Held in the LTAC’s 150 person theater, the setting complements the production and reflects the intimacy of the storyline. It is the relationships in our lives that make the journey valuable and worthwhile.

Not limited to just formal letters, the story is propelled forward with a variety of correspondence including invitations, RSVPs, Christmas cards, and brief notes. This variety helps the pacing and allows personalities to emerge with teasing and sarcasm.

Both friends endure rough patches in life and correspondence stagnates and it is heartbreaking when there is no response. But soon enough there is the realization that the connection is more important than the fear and shame of sharing one’s failures. Love Letters is a tender reminder that for a friendship to withstand fifty years, both parties need to offer patience and understanding, to reach out and participate, to be vulnerable and respect the vulnerability of others.

Love Letters continues through November 19.

EVITA: Visiting Argentina

by Katie Konishi, Marketing Specialist

In April, LTAC is taking on a challenge like nothing we’ve quite tackled before–we’re producting a fully-staged, big name musical. EVITA, with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, is the story of Eva Perón, one of Argentina’s most controversial First Ladies. It’s our biggest endeavor to date, and we’ve put together an all-star team to make it happen.Evita_Logo-1

EVITA opened in London’s West End in 1978 and the show follows Eva Perón throughout her life, from her humble beginnings to her rise to power and through the upper echelons of society. Just recently, there were revivals of the show in both London and New York. There was also a film version of the musical, starring Madonna, Jonathan Pryce, and Antonio Banderas in 1996.

The film version is how our director, Gina Rattan, came to know the musical. But her interest in the story of EVITA wasn’t just a passing fancy–it ignited a passion for the story of Argentina’s former First Lady. So much so, that Gina traveled to Buenos Aires to immerse herself in Eva’s world. Gina heard about our production of the show from her friend Ben Klein, an associate director on Broadway and the keynote speaker of our 2015 Sensory Friendly Summit, who put her in touch with our executive director, Lisa Rigsby Peterson. The rest, as they say, is history!

Gina has directed the second national tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, and been the associate director of the same show on Broadway, as well as being the associate director of Matilda the Musical on Broadway and NBC’s Peter Pan Live! and The Sound of Music Live! Most recently, she directed Pace University’s production of another Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Jesus Christ Superstar. Something that she enjoys about Webber’s musicals is that they’re complete stories–there isn’t a lot of exposition and you get to see everything play out on stage. The challenge that this presents for the creative team, of course, is how to make sure that they’re telling the fullest, clearest, most exciting version of the story as possible.

Gina Rattan

Gina Rattan

EVITA is one of Gina’s favorite shows and she’s excited to tackle the challenges of directing a show that she knows and loves. “First of all, it’s such a great show as a piece of musical theater. The complicated protagonist is female…she’s not oversimplified, she presents a real person,” Gina says of the show. “It’s a very political show, but it doesn’t play out like a history lesson. All the characters are so passionate and involved in the politics of the show. And that’s not exaggerated — the people of Argentina are really like that!”

One of the characters that Gina is most excited about is the city of Buenos Aires itself. The show is imbued with the vibrancy of the city and it becomes like a character of its own. Every bit of the creative team is responsible for creating the city–from the scenic and sound designers, to the costumes and choreography, we’ll be bringing Buenos Aires to life on stage, as well as the characters themselves.

EVITA is a show that is political and personal, entertaining but thought-provoking. It’s substantive and escapist. It will be a beautiful piece of theater that’s unlike anything that we’ve ever done at the Arts Center, and everyone involved in the production, including Gina, can’t wait to share it with you!

EVITA runs at the Lone Tree Arts Center April 13-29, 2017.

Once the Audience Enters the Theater

By Heather Beasley, dramaturg

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Stephen Weitz as Cyrano, photo by Michael Ensminger

After the work-packed exhaustion of tech week comes the thrill of opening night, and Cyrano‘s first time before a live audience. The many hours of rehearsal, choral practices, fight calls, set-building, light-hanging, drop-painting, music recording…they all boil down to the chance to tell this glorious, swashbuckling tale to the people who come through the Lone Tree Arts Center doors.

But long before anyone bought a ticket for our show, a few unsung heroes of nonprofit theatre already thought about how to get you to join our audience. The marketing team came up with graphics that caught your eye, and story capsules that captured the essence of a play in just a few sentences. They made sure the word about Cyrano spread high and low–from print ads, to postcards in your mailbox, to your Facebook feed, to preview stories in your local newspaper.  At the most basic level, it only takes two things to create theatre, really–an actor and an audience–and we couldn’t draw an audience without the help of our marketing team.

Once they’ve attracted your attention, the box office staff has the front-line customer service job of making you glad you’ve decided to buy a ticket to see our show. The concessions staff and ushers may help you toward your seat, with a tasty beverage in hand, as you find your spot and wait for the show to begin.

Meanwhile, backstage, the stage manager is counting down:  “Half-hour!”  “Ten minutes to curtain.”  “Places, please.”  Set pieces are placed, volume levels verified, comestible props prepared, and stage weapons checked for safety. Some last-minute emergency always creates a bit of heightened drama: a shoe heel breaks, a button pops, a prop light breaks…there’s always one more problem to solve. But ready or not, the time does inevitably come, and the overture begins.

Once that magical opening night performance gets rolling, our focus turns back to you, the audience.  We wonder: Will you laugh? Will you cry?  Will you be touched by this sweet, brashly romantic, heroic comedy?  The production team members lucky enough to sit in the house on opening night often watch the audience members–friends, family members, theatre critics, strangers. Our satisfaction comes from watching you experience our work and get caught up in the story. For a few hours, you can leave your real-world cares behind and enjoy a story that’s larger than life.

A Stage Manager’s Perspective of Cyrano

By Jonathan Allsup, Stage Manager

Most of the rehearsal time on a play is not spent onstage. Nearly 120 hours of rehearsal on Cyrano were spent in the rehearsal hall, a room approximately the same size as the stage, with a table on one side for the director and stage management, and tables on the other end to hold props. The edge of the stage, curtains in the wings, and the design of the set are taped out on the floor to indicate to the actors and others where the set pieces will be. There are some rehearsal version of props and only a few costume pieces.

Last Wednesday, Cyrano rehearsals moved to the Lone Tree Mainstage. This began what is often referred to as “tech week.” Throughout the week, each day, new elements were added, starting with the set, props, lighting and sound cues, and finally, just a few days before we open, costumes, wigs, hair, and makeup. All of these elements continue to be polished and refined throughout the week. In addition, Cyrano has longer daily rehearsals during tech, sometimes working what are called “10 of 12’s”: rehearsals that last from 10AM – 10PM with a 2-hour break.

“Tech” is the culmination of weeks of work by those in the rehearsal hall, departmental shops (scenic, props, electric, sound, costumes), and administration. As a stage manager, I love being a part of the team that coordinates all of the elements, keeping shops informed on what is happening in rehearsal and how it could affect their designs, and making sure that those in the hall are prepared for what we know about the design elements. That way, no one is surprised or unprepared during tech week, and we’re all ready for the public by opening night!

The days of tech week are full of problem-solving. It’s a fun kind of problem-solving. We make good art, tell a good story, and find ways to integrate the design elements with each other so they act as supportive, collaborative elements in storytelling. Stage Managers coordinate all of that. In fact, we call all the cues that execute the design elements together for every performance. That’s what stage managers do.

That’s what I do. And I love what I do!


Cyrano opens this week! Get tickets here or call (720)509-1000.

The Understudy’s Journey

By Kevin Lowry, understudy for all male roles except Cyrano

A typically unnoticed, behind-the-scenes role of the theatrical process is the understudy. For this production of Cyrano, I have the privilege of being the understudy for the roles of Christian, Le Bret, De Guiche, Ragueneau, De Valvert, Ligniere and Desiree. (Basically, all of the male roles except for the lead.) A mammoth task by any measure, to not only memorize all the lines, the blocking, a song, and swordplay, but also to be able to bring each character to life in its own unique way.

I began this assignment by reading the play over and over, to try and get a handle on each character track and how they fit into the overall story of Cyrano.  Then I started working on the lines: a job I can equate to drinking from a fire hose.  Pacing myself and focusing on one character at a time was the only way I could manage it. I spent hours recording the lines and cues to be able to hear them aloud and help me get them into my head. I consider myself a very kinesthetic person, so walking through the blocking with the lines really helps solidify them for me and helps me get the character into my body.

Learning the sword-fighting choreography has been a challenge. Working fight choreography by oneself is difficult.  The dance of a sword fight is different with each partner, and since I’m playing multiple fighting roles, I can’t practice swinging a sword against myself! The lack of a combat partner to practice with makes it a unique test of my skills.

I have had the opportunity to “walk” a few characters through the course of the rehearsal process, and that has helped immensely with learning those scenes.

All in all, I am excited to be climbing this mountain of an acting challenge, and I will be ready to jump in should the opportunity present itself. That being said, I ask the cast to stay healthy, take your B12 and vitamin C, and get plenty of rest.

Comedy for the Modern Theatergoer

By Michael Bouchard, cast member of Cyrano 

Comedy from centuries past tends not to fare well today. This is due to the fact that it isn’t funny anymore. For instance, Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night: FABIAN: Sowter will cry upon’t for all this, though it be as rank as a fox.

I’ll let you pause to catch your breath from the laughter.

I know what you’re thinking: “That line makes no sense.” Even if you knew that the context was about Sowter’s opinion of bad poetry, you’d still be hard-pressed to imagine how it could be funny. If you don’t know all the context, syntax, and vernacular language of the day, it looks like drivel.

But if you knew that “out upon it” can mean a positive/surprised “No Way!” and can be contracted to “upon’t”, and that “rank as a fox” means “smells like crap”, you can begin to imagine what Michael Hollinger and Aaron Posner would do if they got their hands on it. The line might read:

FABIAN: Sowter would yell “Incredible!” Even though it’s crap.

Now we know what’s being said! It also fits our current vernacular without losing the playwright’s intention for the line, or the style. Most importantly, it’s funny again.

All this is what Hollinger and Posner have achieved with the humor in this adaptation of the tale of Cyrano de Bergerac. Their script is funnier than Rostand’s original would be to our ears, yet it loses none of the point, and less of the poetry than you might think, without feeling pretentious. If you are a lover of poetry and wordplay, this modern adaptation will give you much to feast on.

And when it comes to the comedy, this production of Cyrano has an ace up its sleeve: The entire cast.

When you ask an ensemble to play multiple roles, you’re going to want flexible actors who can jump from fully realized character to fully realized character, rapidly. Almost as a rule, people who are elastic with their physicality, the pace of their speech, and the tone of their voice are good at comedy. Comedy often relies on understanding rhythms of speech (we call this “timing”) or outrageous physical gags (Jim Carrey comes to mind). When it comes to comedy, this cast knows its stuff.

Every single cast member gets their moment to tickle your funny bone, and not a one fails to deliver. It may be hammy, or it may be subtle. Be it Sammie Joe Kinnett giving you characters you’ll be laughing at for days, or Brian Shea breaking his handsome resolve to deliver a scene of unexpected hilarity, you will find jokes of all kinds to make you laugh, no matter your tastes in comedy. We do it all, even puns (the very lowest form of comedy).

 

Despite all the humor, this is no fluff piece of cream pies and banana peels. Comedy is best when it’s connected to real situations and powerful desires. When the stakes are highest, you have the possibility of great humor and great drama. In Cyrano, every member of the ensemble plays their desires to their fullest. This grounds the humor, and in fact, makes it all funnier, because the situation matters so much to every character onstage.

Stephen Weitz as Cyrano is pretty good too. He might have a career in this if he keeps at it. We’re all rooting for him.

We’re all also rooting for you to come and have a brilliant night at the theater, enjoying the humor in this classic tale well worth sharing with your friends.