Pippin, On The Right Track

Pippin, the Tony Award-winning 1972 musical from Roger O. Hirson (Bob Fosse also contributed to the libretto) and Stephen Schwartz, opened on the Chapel Street Players stage Friday evening. Sarah Nowak directs this dark and groovy coming-of-age pop musical which stars Ian Yue, Gabrielle Rambo, Jason Beil, Danielle Finlay, Tyler Ward, Kathy Buterbaugh, Reneé O’Leary, Bridgette DuBrey, and Jamie Depto and includes the acting talents of Genevieve Aucoin, Caitlin Custer, Tony DelNegro, Kaitlyn Diehl, Lacey Eriksen, Leeia Ferguson, and Kathy Harris. Continue reading “Pippin, On The Right Track”

You Absolutely Need A Girls’ Weekend

Girls’ Weekend, the farcical comedy by Karen Schaeffer, premiered on the Chapel Street Players stage Friday evening (2/22). Don Pruden, who is celebrating his 31st year with CSP, ably directs this delightful romp. Girl’s Weekend stars Lori Ann Johnson, Michelle Opalesky, Kelly Reeves, Cortez Skipper, Gabrielle Rambo, Timothy Sheridan, Ahmed Khan, and Kevin Freel.

What happens when you plan a girls’ weekend with four women in a remote cabin in the middle of nowhere during a snowstorm with copious amounts of wine? I’ll tell you. It’s a recipe for fun. Secretly add a few more ingredients like a husband, a boyfriend, a drunken townie, a local, pie-loving sheriff, some weed, a few sleeping pills, and stir the pot (no pun intended), and you get a rip-roaring good time!
Continue reading “You Absolutely Need A Girls’ Weekend”

Dead Man’s Cell Phone

Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Sarah Ruhl’s farce that explores the themes of mortality and how technology can paradoxically unite and isolate us in the digital age, premiered on the Chapel Street Players stage Friday evening. Directed by Tanya Lazar with the acting talents of Lindsay Brahl, Ray Barto, Marlene Hummel, Cindy Starcher, Sean Kelly, Tricia Sullivan, Meg Barton, and Nicole Pierce, the play won a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play when it premiered at the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company in Washington D. C. on June 4, 2007. Continue reading “Dead Man’s Cell Phone”

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dan Wasserman’s stage adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel, which premiered on Broadway November 13, 1963 and ran for 82 performances with two revivals (off-Broadway, 1971, and Broadway, 2001) and inspired a film version starring Jack Nicholson, premiered on the Chapel Street Players stage Friday evening. Brian M. Touchette (It’s A Wonderful Life) is at the helm of this latest CSP production which has become a modern day American classic. Susan Boudreaux (last seen in Murder on Cue) has taken the assistant director’s chair this time out. OFOTCN stars (in order of appearance), Arthur D. Paul, Chis Hankenson, Stephen M. Ashby, Michael D. Peco, Joe Pukatsch, Michelle Opalesky, Shelli Haynes, Kristin Williamson, Alan Harbaugh, Stephen Ross Ashby, Josh Pelikan, Frank Newton, André Wilkins, Matthew Brown, Scott F. Mason, Pete Matthews, Amy Bucco, and Krista Williams.

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The humdrum of an Oregon state mental hospital ward is thrown into chaos when Randle P. McMurphy manages to get himself committed, opting to serve his time “for repeated outbreaks of passion that suggest the possible diagnosis of [a] psychopath” in the institution to avoid hard labor at a work farm. McMurphy believes his sentence will be easier in the hospital, but realizes his error when he clashes with Head Nurse Ratched, a fierce martinet. In defiance, McMurphy takes control of the ward, doing what the medical professionals could not. He inspires a presumed deaf and dumb man to speak, he leads other patients out of introversion, stages a revolt to watch the World Series on TV, and arranges a wild party with booze and floosies. Ratched’s punishment for these transgressions is swift and merciless. This landmark drama highlights the despotic environments in mid-20th century state mental hospitals. Psychiatric medicines had, by then, become part of the treatment plan, but such barbaric practices as electric shock therapy and frontal lobotomies were still practiced, especially in the treatment of violent patients.

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Mason is well-known to CSP audiences both on and off the stage. He’s a fine actor and quite likeable as McMurphy, a crass and sarcastic minor criminal who finds ways to challenge Ratched’s strict authority and encourages an uprising. I was somewhat bemused by the raspy, Popeye-like voice with which Mason chose to portray the character and the unexplained, sporadic physical ailment that seems to plague McMurphy, but despite those things, Mason succeeds in winning the audience over, portraying McMurphy’s warmth, humor, and strength of character as he leads the other patients in revolt.

Ratched (Haynes) is the quintessential villain. The Machiavellian head nurse reigns supreme over the asylum, her own personal island of misfit toys. Haynes’ Ratched plays more subtly at first, her counterfeit compassion slowly dissolving, revealing her manipulative and masochistic nature as she bullies her patients—as well as Dr. Spivey (Matthews)—into submission. Haynes plays the tyrannical nurse to perfection with her artificial smile and stoic demeanor, never retreating, even in the face of McMurphy’s most loathsome taunts and pranks.

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The ensemble group of inmates in this looney bin is exceptional and they are what allows this drama to flow so easily. Character commitment throughout the production is extraordinary and consistently displayed. Arthur D. Paul delivers a touching performance as Chief Bromdon, a Native American who feigns being a deaf mute for years out of fear that he is not big enough to fight the system. Stephen Ross Ashby (Billie Bibbit) is endearing as a stuttering young man who’s spent his entire life wallowing in self-reproach, feeling he’s a disappointment to everyone, desperately seeking his mother’s approval, and who just wants to find someone who’ll love him. Alan Harbaugh (Harding), Frank Newton (Cheswick), André Wilkins (Martini), and Josh Pelikan (Scanlon) make up the core quintet of the asylum (which includes Billie). Their antics deliver huge laughs such as when Martini deals cards to players he’s hallucinated and licks the erotic playing card Randle shows him. Pelikan is just insanely funny as Scanlon. Kristin Williamson is a hoot as Ratched’s timid nursing assistant, garnering giggles with her fearful outbursts. Amy Bucco, Krista Williams, Michelle Opalesky, Michael D. Peco, and Chris Hankenson all deliver solid performances as Candy Starr, Sandy, and Aides Williams, Warren, and Turkle, respectively. Matthew Brown (Buckley), with his shocking crucifixion poses and side-splitting larks, gains the audience’s full attention without uttering a word. Even Stephen M. Ashby, and Joe Pukatsch (Chronic Patients 1 and 2) were quite effective as “chronics,” all their conditions perfectly articulated physically and emotionally.

Brian Touchette does a fine job directing the production, setting a nice pace to keep the action flowing, making great use of the stage, and managing the large cast. Touchette also designed the set, partnering with Scott Mason, Michelle Cullen, and Pete Matthews among others to bring it from concept to reality. The direction CSP took in designing and building the set was refreshingly different from other productions I’ve seen—slightly nightmarish and industrialized versus pristine and antiseptic. Special effects/Pyrotechnics and video imagery are spectacular, kudos to Ray Barto and Peter Kuo. Lighting and costumes are also first rate.

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a sobering American drama packaged as a circus side show that has the audience laughing right up to the mind-altering end. The benefits of theater as therapy cannot be overstated. My prescription is a brief stay at the Chapel Street Asylum. A group therapy session with the resident psycho-ceramics (the cracked pots of mankind) is highly recommended. You’d be crazy to miss One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest which runs through September 29th. Call the box office at (302) 368-2248 or visit http://www.chapelstreetplayers.org to reserve your tickets today.

Murder on Cue

Murder on Cue, an original play by Scott F. Mason premiered on the Chapel Street Players stage last Friday evening. Mason is also at the helm as director for this latest CSP production, which is the theater company’s 55th annual Reneé G. O’Leary FUNdraiser. The play is an homage to the wonderful whodunnit mysteries of the past as well as to the classic Parker Brothers board game, Clue, but also spoofs Newark, Community Theater, and CSP actors/board members with inside jokes and laughs galore. If films such as Murder by Death and Clue (the movie) tickled your funny bone, then you’ll rather enjoy Murder on Cue starring…well, everybody (except, unfortunately, a certain dame), but particularly: Heather McCarty, Walt Osborne, Courtney Lynahan, Zachary Jackson, Patricia Lake, Pete Matthews, Brittany Wilson, Reneé G. O’Leary, and Susan Boudreaux. Of these things, you may be certain, when Scott F. Mason (he prefers the use of the “F” when using his name) writes a play, zaniness, crazy plot twists, bawdy humor, a colorful cast of characters, and a good time are all guaranteed.

 

Walt Osborne as Cleopold Poupon (photo by Peter Kuo)

It’s rather difficult to review this play. Not because it’s bad. It isn’t at all. Murder on Cue is smartly written and wickedly funny with a stellar cast. It’s not because I’m at a loss for words either. I’m not. I’d love to tell you all about this play, but I can’t as it would spoil the fun for you. Oh sure, I could use bold type font and warn you of a SPOILER ALERT! But let’s be honest, most of you would keep reading and spoil the fun for yourselves then regret it. I’m going to save you from yourselves. I will NOT spoil it for you. The butler did it!

 

Heather McCarty as Waddington the housekeeper (photo by Peter Kuo)

I’m kidding. The butler didn’t do it. There is no butler. There is a side-splittingly funny, deaf housekeeper (McCarty) who must read lips to know what is going on. Question: How does a deaf housekeeper know when the doorbell rings? Answer: You’ll have to watch the play to know. As in Clue, a group of strangers gather at a spooky mansion on a stormy night, responding to an invitation from their mysterious hosts, the Parkers. There’s Colonel Poupon…no, wait! Hmm. I am the very model of a modern…Major-General! Major-General Cleopold Poupon (Osborne) who is not only brilliantly funny, but also a talented song and dance man. Sister Pearl Ivory (Lynahan) is a nun who has taken a vow of silence and comically breaks that vow when the lunacy of the other guests undermines her effort and drives Sister Ivory over the edge. Plumber Butch Plump is a loud, obnoxious hyena of a man who cracks awful jokes. Unfortunately (especially for Poupon) jokes aren’t all Plumber Plump cracks. Lady Agatha Peasoup (Lake), Herr E. Grunschwanz (Matthews), Miss Car Lot (Wilson), the curvy, but dumb blonde, and Ms. Ing Boddy (O’Leary) round out the whacky group of guests and garner big laughs. Agatha (Boudreaux), an Alexa wannabe, causes a panic and generates guffaws when she secures the mansion.

 

Courtney Lynahan as Sister Ivory(photo by Peter Kuo)

The guests are gathered in the drawing room, awaiting their mysterious hosts when, suddenly, the lights fail and plunge the mansion into inky blackness. Gunshots ring out in the dark! When the lights come up, there’s a body and a room full of suspects—including you!

 

Reneé O’Leary as Ms. Ing Boddy (photo by Peter Kuo)

Think you know who the killer is? Can you figure it out ahead of the police? This is your chance to be an armchair (or rather theater seat) detective, so grab your fedora and your notebook and check out the usual suspects at Chapel Street Players, but hurry, Murder on Cue runs only until June 16th. Call the box office at (302) 368-2248 or visit http://www.chapelstreetplayers.org to reserve your tickets today.

The Memory of Water

The Memory of Water, a comedy by English playwright Shelagh Stephenson that won the Laurence Oliver Award for Best Comedy when it premiered at the Hampstead Theater in 1996, has come to the Chapel Street Players stage. Director Kathleen M. Kimber helms this latest CSP production that stars: Susan Boudreaux, Susie Moak, Lori Ann Johnson, and Cyndie Romer. Dave Hastings and Frank Newton round out the talented ensemble cast.

Continue reading “The Memory of Water”

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