Monday, August 27, 2012

THE VIOLET HOUR • Max & Louie Productions

"It's that time -- that wonderful New York hour when the evening's about to reward you for that day".  This quote from one of the characters, Denis McCleary, is how he explains the title for his book, and serves as the title for Richard Greenberg's 2003 play, The Violet Hour.

It's 1919, and everything takes place within the tight, messy New York office of John Pace Seavering (Drew Pannebecker), a recent graduate and fledgling publisher, and his loyal but overwrought assistant, Gidger (Antonio Rodriguez).

Jake Ferree (Denis McCleary), Antonio Rodriguez (Gidger)
and Drew Pannebecker (John Pace Seavering).
Photo credit: John Lamb
John gets a visit from his ex-college roommate, Denis McCleary (Jake Ferree), anxious to find out if John has had a chance to read his book.  Anthology is more like it, as the tome that Denis has written takes up 3 crates worth of space in the office.  Denis has just quit his job, and needs to have his book published so the rich father of his girlfriend Rosamund (Betsy Bowman) won't think he's a complete loser.  Denis and John are very different, but obviously very close friends.  We are then introduced to John's secret lover, an African-American songstress named Jessie Brewster (Monica Parks).  She's got a book she wants published, too -- her memoirs.  She hopes to set the record straight about her life growing up as the daughter of a sharecropper.  Although Jessie is about 14 years older than John, he admires her struggles and accomplishments.

Antonio Rodriguez (Gidger),
Drew Pannebecker (John Pace Seavering),
Jake Ferree (Denis McCleary) and Betsy Bowman (Rosamund Plinth).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Problem is, although John's father is loaded, John only takes a pittance for himself.  Because he is confined by limited resources, he can only afford to publish one book.  While grappling with his decision about which book to publish, Gidger hails the unexpected arrival of an unusual machine that after awhile, spews out page after compelling page that John and Gidger can't tear themselves away from.

Here's where my personal predicament comes in regarding how much to disclose of the absorbing second act.  Hmmm...  Let's just say that this machine informs John and Gidger's perspective of the world, while giving their own lives, and those around them, a startling perspective of their own.

Drew Pannebecker (John Pace Seavering)
and Monica Parks (Jessie Brewster).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Under Sydnie Grosberg Ronga's wonderful direction, this talented cast skillfully drives Greenberg's plot to it's unpredictable last scenes. Drew Pannebecker gives us a clearly drawn, pedigreed John Pace Seavering in a great performance.  Jake Ferree as Denis McCleary makes for a perfect counter-part to Pannebecker as his effusive pal, full of big plans for the future and hopelessly in love.  The always rock-solid Antonio Rodriguez provides the comic relief as Gidger in a memorable turn, full of manic energy, but he keeps himself from going over the top.  Betsy Bowman's Rosamund Plinth, McCleary's love interest, is pitched as upper-crust, but slightly off-kilter, and Monica Parks gives Jessie Brewster an air of worldly elegance.

Mark Wilson's handsome set is framed with projections of arched windows, and is complimented by Maureen Berry's provocative lighting design.  Amanda Werre's sound design can be a little abrupt in a couple of places, but otherwise adds to some of the more surreal moments of the play very nicely, and Ryan Hanson provides the cast with some very handsome costumes.

I wish I could give more details, but well…  just go check it out for yourself!  It's an intriguing, enjoyable play that leaves a solid impression.

Betsy Bowman (Rosamund Plinth), Jake Ferree (Denis McCleary),
Antonio Rodriguez (Gidger), Monica Parks (Jessie Brewster)
and Drew Pannebecker (John Pace Seavering).
Photo credit: John Lamb

Written by Richard Greenberg
Directed by Sydnie Grosberg Ronga
through September 2 | tickets: $15 - $30
Performances Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm & 7:30pm

Betsy Bowman (Rosamund Plinth), Jake Ferree (Denis McCleary), Drew Pannebecker (John Pace Seavering), Monica Parks* (Jessie Brewster) and Antonio Rodriguez (Gidger).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Lighting design by Maureen Berry; costume design by Ryan Hanson; sound design by Amanda Werre; scenic design by Mark Wilson; stage manager, Holly Marie Hunter.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Totally Random Birthday Marching Band Rambling!

My buddy Lisa and me,
pre- half-time show!
Nice pants, right?!
Okay so first of all, it's not really my birthday anymore, but close enough!  Being a few days into my 46th birthday and all (Ew.  I mean, thank God for my years, but still…), I'm reminded of the fact that birthdays can sometimes facilitate many things -- being thankful for your time on the planet, being thankful for your friends, the need to party like a crazy person, and sentimentality.  This blog will center on that last one -- sentimentality.  That means I'm gonna ramble a little bit.

I got a wild hair a few days ago and listened to a bunch of tunes on my ipod from when I was in college in the marching band.  Yes, I know.  Long time ago.  But I was a horn player in the "Mighty Sound of the South" -- the University of Memphis (back in the day, it was just Memphis State University) marching band -- 200+ players!  Geek?  Yeah.  But a way to gain a further appreciation of instrumental music in general?  Fuck yeah!!

While surfing the playlist, I was drawn to the year 1988, when the members of the MSofTS were given the sheet music for "Mambo" from West Side Story.  It was years before my theatre obsession, but assuredly, a sub-conscious impression was made.  So, I'm including a recording of that very song, recorded by us, most likely when we college kids were drunk and tired and/or hungover in our  sizable but acoustically unforgiving rehearsal space on campus.

Just a tiny bit of background:  In high-school (Little Rock Central), after exciting but eventually boring rounds with the piano, drums and violin, I settled into the French Horn.  It's such a beautiful instrument -- in looks and range.  We only had at the most, around 6 horn players in high-school.  Sophomore year it was just one (me).

When I started college, I wasn't planning on being in the band, but after seeing their half-time show, I got goosebumps and knew I had to try to get in.  They had like 14 horns, and I was awestruck.  French horn players played the french horn during concert season, but played the mellophone during marching season.  The french horn is a high-maintenance deal-- they need just the right touch to produce good sounds, and will go out of tune when you KNOW you just let out your spit valves and tuned that bitch.  Besides that, a french horn's bell is pointed *behind* you for Pete's sake -- not very practical for a marching band.  The mellophone however, was completely fun to play, and better suited to a marching band -- facing front and easier produce the notes, though VERY front heavy… (Ouch! -- Hello, shoulder muscles...)  During concert season, I was in the varsity band.  First or second chair, but still -- varsity band.  Marching band though?  I had the option of playing first part for the high notes or second part for the harmony and loved it.  The time I put in with the marching band is mainly why college was the best six years of my life.  Ha!  <-- Not kidding.

Anyway, this tune was a lot of fun to play, and it's got theatre roots.  It's not gonna be like the cast recording or anything, so don't even…  I thought our arranger was a genius at the time.  Now, not so much.  But he's still the bomb in my memory, and quite talented.  I realize it's WAY slow, but again, it's my birthday weekend, and I wanted to post this, so whatev.  :)  More importantly, here's where you can hear the horns:  We're all through here really -- just listen for the horns, but at 7 seconds, there's a little gliss that I always loved.  1min. 14sec. in is a short little line that was fun to blast along with the trumpets.  1 min. and 26 sec. in is another riff I loved -- kinda counter-playing off of the trumpets, and at 2 minutes, you can hear the little horn riffs again.  *sigh*  I miss marching band...

I can't tell you how much being in the band enriched my life, and gave me an overall appreciation of orchestral music.  Priceless.  Get that kid an instrument!!!

Thanks for indulging me!!

Marching Band Rambling!
Me (and many others).  Horn section, baby -- The Mighty Sound of the South, bitches.
1988.  Before my hair was completely gray.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Welcome to Armadillo Acres Trailer Park, the redneck little homely haven where the action of The Great American Trailer Park Musical unfolds.  Stray Dog Theatre closes its ninth season with this 2005 off-Broadway show, and this production charms with a talented cast and solid creative contributions.

The cross-section of this Starke, Florida community is absolutely trashtastic!  You get an immediate sense of that when you lay your eyes on David Blake's scenic design as you walk in.  Several perfectly inelegant trailers are bookended by a variety of road signs -- signs that read everything from "State Prison Next Exit" to "Parkview Liquor and Groceries".  Our three members of the Greek chorus, "the Girls", Betty, proprietor of Armadillo Acres (Kim Furlow), "Lin", whose hubby is on death row (Kay Love), and Pickles, seventeen and pregnant (Jessica Tilghman), introduce themselves, their digs, and the happenings at the trailer park in their engaging opening number, "This Side of the Tracks".  These three also step into some supporting roles from time to time, vocally back up many of the numbers, and sound great together.

Kay Love (Lin), Kim Furlow (Betty)
and Jessica Tilghman (Pickles).
Photo credit: John Lamb
The story centers around Norbert (Zachary Stefaniak) and Jeannie Garstecki (Lindsey Jones), who are about to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary with a magical night out at the Ice Capades.  It's an ambitious endeavor, because Jeannie is agoraphobic, and literally hasn't been out of the house in forever because of an unfortunate family incident that happened years ago.  This frustrating situation causes Norbert's eye to wander towards the newest resident of Armadillo Acres -- a stripper named Pippi (Jamie Lynn Marble) who is on the run from her psycho, heat packin', road killin', sharpie sniffin' ex-boyfriend Duke (Keith Parker Jr.).

Zachary Stefaniak (Norbert Garstecki), Kay Love (Lin),
Kim Furlow (Betty), Jamie Lynn Marble (Pippi)
and Jessica Tilghman (Pickles).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Justin Been's terrific direction maintains a well-paced clip, and our three local yokel "tour guides" are boisterous and wonderful in their roles.  Furlow, a fantastic character actor who does southern really well, leads the pack as Betty.  Kay Love's "Lin" does a great job with "That's Why I Love My Man", and Jessica Tilghman is very funny as Pickles as well as her additional roles.  Jamie Lynn Marble's Pippi has a strong-ass voice, and engages you enough to make you kind of root for her, even though she's "the other woman".  Zachary Stefaniak's Norbert Garstecki along with a convincing Lindsey Jones as Jeannie handle their big numbers very nicely and Jones really sells the number, "Panic".  Keith Parker Jr.'s Duke doesn't come into the picture until the second act, but he makes quite an impression when he does with the number, "Road Kill".  This cast looks good cutting loose with JT Ricroft's lively choreography, and they excel in the ensemble numbers, particularly a Sally Jessy Raphael styled dream sequence and the sparkly act one closer, "Storm's A-Brewin'".  They also look appropriately trashy in Alexandra Scibetta Quigley's costumes, and the band handles the 50's styled rock 'n' roll score beautifully.

Kim Furlow (Betty), Kay Love (Lin), Keith Parker Jr. (Duke)
and Jessica Tilghman (Pickles).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Trailer Park may be a little thin on plot, but its low-brow residents give high-brow calibre laughs with a satisfying evening of double-wide entertainment.  It's playing at Tower Grove Abbey until the 18th.

(8•14)  UPDATE!!  Stray Dog is holding over for two additional dates -- August 24 & 25!  Now you have no excuse...


Music/lyrics by David Nehls
Book by Betsy Kelso 
Directed by Justin Been
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through August 25 | tickets: $18 - $20
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, final Saturday performances are at 2pm and 8pm
Kay Love (Lin), Lindsey Jones (Jeannie Garstecki),
Zachary Stefaniak (Norbert Garstecki), Jamie Lynn Marble (Pippi)
and Jessica Tilghman (Pickles).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Kim Furlow (Betty), Kay Love (Lin), Lindsey Jones (Jeannie Garstecki), Jessica Tilghman (Pickles), Jamie Lynn Marble (Pippi), Zachary Stefaniak (Norbert Garstecki) and Keith Parker Jr. (Duke).
Scenic design by David Blake; lighting design by Tyler Duenow; costume design by Alexandra Scibetta Quigley; choreography by JT Ricroft; musical direction by Chris Petersen; audio engineer, Au Nguy.
The Band:
Percussionist, Clarence "Clancy" Newell; electric bass guitar, Bob McMahon; acoustic and electric guitar, Adam Rugo.


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