Theatre Review: “Division Street” at JCC Centerstage

The cast of “Division Street” at JCC Centerstage.

I had the great honor of experiencing the world premiere of “Divisions Street”, written by Jason Odell Williams (“Church & State”, “Handle with Care”) who returns to Rochester to collaborate once again with JCC Artistic Director Ralph Meranto for this provocative three-actor show. The two previously collaborated on 2016’s “Church and State.” The three roles are played by David Andreatta (Rob), Esther Winter (Nia), and D. Scott Adams (Trey).

. . .enlightening. . .

The play is set in present day. The plot—in a nut shell—is about celebrity couple’s interracial marriage (Rob is a white Jew and Nia is black with no clear religious affiliation) and how their respective careers are hitting opposing inflection points. Rob has been nominated for a Golden Globe for a movie role as a racist cop who shoots an unarmed black youth. Nia’s career has gone from shooting start status to stagnant. The play takes place in real-time, in the 90 minutes before the limo comes to pick them up for the Golden Globes. The play is described as a bold comedy-drama about race, media influence and the Hollywood movie machine but it is so much more.

Adding to the tension of a pressure cooker of a night is Rob and Nia’s long-time friend and co-producer of the movie Rob has been nominated for, Trey. He was the character over whom I did the most head-scratching. He is a white man who has adopted all the affectations of a black hip-hop artist—not because he grew up in the culture but because he chose the culture. At first, I wondered if that was realistic. Then I harkened back to a friend from high school who was so into the Beatles that he adopted an English accent and the gentlemanly demeanor of Paul McCartney. Kind of strange for a kid in a suburb of New York City in the late 80s but he never wavered and continued that way into adulthood.  

This play takes on a lot of complex issues. It made my head spin trying to imagine how I would feel if I were participating in each of the tension filled conversations that were happening before my eyes. There were moments of humor interjected to lighten the mood but, as a privileged white woman, I held my breath through the humor. This play successfully does what theatre should do. It forced the audience to empathize with conflicting points of view and introduced ideas many of us have not previously explored. It is unapologetic as it puts a spotlight on racial identity, perception, and misunderstandings. This enlightening play gave my guest and I much to talk about afterward. And as one of Nia’s lines so simply and hopefully states, “It’s nice when people listen, learn, and change”.

“Division Street” runs approximately 90 minutes and is performed without an intermission.

The show runs through Nov. 17 at the JCC Centerstage in Rochester, NY. For more information, visit: https://jccrochester.org/centerstage

 

Theatre Review: ‘Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class’ by Rocking Horse Productions at The Meeting House

Sydney Perkins is Sister Robert Anne in “Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class.”

Rocking Horse Productions has recently moved to the charming Williamsville Meeting House for a season of Theatre in the Village. I attended the opening performance of Dan Goggin’s Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class: A One Nun-sense Musical Event. The Rocking Horse season will continue in March with the musical revue Forever Plaid.

Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class is one of ten popular Nunsense musical shows which include a Christmas show, a country western show, a Hollywood show, and even Meshuganuns – an all faith show! This time around Sister Robert Anne has broken away from the other nuns for an evening to teach a class in how to create your own cabaret act. The many songs in this one woman show are a collection from the rest of the Nunsense series.

. . . a crowd pleaser and got a well deserved standing ovation from the enthusiastic opening night audience.

Sister Robert Anne is one tough cookie! She was born on the wrong side of Brooklyn and raised in a jazz club. Taking the veil hasn’t changed her a bit. She’s feisty, out spoken, and full of pep. The vivacious Ms. Sydnie Perkins plays the role in this production and she’s a powerhouse! Miss Perkins is full of energy – singing, dancing, working a puppet, getting a lot of milage out of her feather boas, and hobnobbing with the audience. She’s a keg of dynamite and her sparkly performance will put a smile on your face. She bounces through the novelty numbers and is very effective with the ballads.

Musical highlights of the production are “What Would Elvis Do” in which Sister is backed up on stage by a chorus line of audience volunteers and the ballad “I Left Him There” which is delivered with great heart by Ms. Perkins.  

John Szablewski is both the Musical Director and the jovial Father John who, in addition to providing spritely and steady piano accompaniment, is the evening’s unofficial MC. We all enjoyed his reactions to the proceedings, his little touches (including the funny glasses), and his occasional humorous ad libbing with Sister Robert Anne.

Direction is by Leigha Marie Eichhorn and choreography is by Mary Loliger. It’s hard to know who did what because the production is practically all musical, but Ms. Eichhorn and Ms. Loliger have put together a seamless and happy romp with lots of variety and never a dull moment.

The classroom set with desk, chalkboard, and St. Anthony is by Chuck Ziehl and costumes (including Sister’s sequined black sneakers – a fun touch) are by Janet Ziehl. Producer Douglas H. Kern has found a lovely new home for his theatre company and aptly selected a season of small scale shows to present in this pleasant, intimate setting. One word of advice for future audience members – bring a seat cushion with you.

There’s a lot of audience interaction in this show! When the house lights come up, be prepared to dance and sing with Sister. And, here’s a tip — if you volunteer to participate in the show, Sister Robert Anne might give you a prize. I got the key to heaven which, you have to admit, is a pretty darn cool thing to have!

The theme of the show is “every day of the week is a Saturday when you’re doing what you choose.” It was clear that both Ms. Perkins and Mr. Szablewski are happily doing what they chose and equally clear that the audience wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else. Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret is a crowd pleaser and got a well deserved standing ovation from the enthusiastic opening night audience.

Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class runs 90 minutes including one intermission. 

Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class runs until November 18, 2019. Click here for tickets.

At long last: To Kill a Mockingbird at Kavinoky Theatre

“To Kill A Mockingbird” plays at The Kavinoky Theatre until December 8.

It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Some may think it’s also a sin to script-tamper with a Pulitzer Prize winning novel’s oft-staged theatrical adaptation, but that’s exactly what Aaron Sorkin did in his 2018 adaption of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s currently playing on Broadway and in a unique twist of fate, it’s also on stage at Kavinoky Theatre to December 8.

. . . this cast shines like the Alabama moon at its brightest.

If you missed the story last season, the Kav was all set to stage the 1963 Harper Lee-approved adaptation. Kavinoky’s Executive Artistic Director Loraine O’Donnell had what she thought was the iron-clad permission to open the show, despite the opening of its new Broadway adaptation. Due to some legal squabbling between Lee’s estate and the Broadway producer, O’Donnell received a ‘cease and desist’ order within days of opening night, which even made it to the front page of The New York Times. Because, as the adage decrees, ”the show must go on” O’Donnell, Production Stage Manager Norm Sham, and Director Kyle LoConti and the cast quickly, agilely and expertly mounted a stunning version of George Orwell’s 1984 in just 19 days. Within a couple weeks, the Broadway producer had a change of heart and offered O’Donnell the opportunity to add the Sorkin adaptation to the theatre’s 40th anniversary season.

To Kill a Mockingbird’s strong story, beloved space in American literature, and compelling messages prevail. Sorkin’s staging is different from the ‘original’ stage version that closed Studio Arena Theatre’s 2008 (and final) season.  There’s an adjusted point of view here that actually brings even more relevance to 2019 audiences in a sad and compelling way. It’s very worthy, and the Kavinoky cast  members– mostly the same as last season, minus the children – are powerful in their roles.

Sorkin gives a stronger voice to some key characters which add new depth to the story. The family housekeeper Calpurnia is –in the 1930s southern tradition – a black woman who has served this family for decades. Because Lee wrote this in the late 1950s, (before the Civil Rights Movement) her head would have bowed and her comments were to herself. This Calpurnia shares her point of view clearly and it’s not lost on her employer Atticus Finch. Sorkin brings a different sensibility to Tom Robinson, the wrongly accused black man, too.  Sorkin has nuanced Atticus; he’s still his children’s hero but his very human flaws reflect other conflicts.

Under LoConti’s direction, this cast shines like the Alabama moon at its brightest. While this reviewer is not a fan of adult actors portraying children, Aleks Malejs as Scout, Michael Seitz as Jem, and Jacob Albarella as Dill are feisty and fidgety perfection. Malejs in particular dug deep into her inner child to surface the body language and affectations of a six-year-old tomboy. Albarella is charmingly irritating as Dill, the neighbor’s nephew. Watch his expressive face as he admits some painful truths of his childhood. Chris Avery as Atticus Finch is stalwart, kind, and seeks the justice that needs to be served from a world that hasn’t quite gotten over the Civil War, 70 years prior. Sorkin/Avery’s Finch isn’t an ideologue, per se, although you sense from him a yearning for something more. He has his match in Shanntina Moore as Calpurnia. Moore’s Calpurnia has a dignity that makes me want to know more about this character’s story than anyone else. When Scout’s later monologue talks about law school, who was her exemplar?: her father and his law career or Calpurnia and her need for social justice? Robyn Baun’s performance as Mayella Ewell was captivating; she turned from defensive, to fearful, to ‘don’t tread on me’ daughter of the true south effortlessly. She was the teenage victim of abuse whose hand was forced to lie about what happened in her home. She nails it.

There are wonderful pops of Sorkin dialogue sprinkled throughout, particularly some of Judge Taylor’s waggish remarks expertly delivered by Peter Palmisano. Kevin Kennedy as the southern sheriff Heck Tate and Xavier Harris as the accused Tom Robinson, David Lundy has landowner Link Dees, and John Profeta as Boo Radley delivered solid performances. It was Patrick Moltrane as Mayella’s drunk and angry pappy that makes you remember what a scared and scarred society this small southern town really was.

My one disappointment was the constant movement of set pieces. Last season’s set looked solid and stunning in the style of the Kav’s resident set designer David King. King also is credited with this set design of elements moved about by the actors themselves on a fully lit stage; this was loud and at times frenetic.

O’Donnell said on opening night that ticket sales are very brisk with several shows approaching sell out status. Get online now and book your seats: you won’t be disappointed.

To Kill a Mockingbird runs a little over two hours with a 15 minute intermission until December  8. Visit www.kavinokytheatre.com for details and tickets.

Theatre Review: ‘Interrogation Room’ at Road Less Traveled Theatre

 

John Vines as Det. Bremens grills Matt Witten as Gordon Peck as Nick Stevens as Det. Janetty listens in.

Interrogation Room written by local playwright and Road Less Traveled Theatre Productions co-founder Jon Elston debuted as RLTP’s second offering back in 2003.  It’s back in season 16, and remains a true edge-of-your-seat drama, very worthy of its 2004 Artie Award for Outstanding New Play. Frankly, it deserves more.

Set in (you guessed it) the interrogation room at the local police headquarters, this four-hander is all about the dialogue and the intense conversations between police and those accused (or not) of a horrific crime: an 11 year old girl is raped and murdered in her own home. Who would do such a thing? Her parents and older sister are white, and her older adopted brother is black. The family lives in refined neighborhood where murder doesn’t happen…and white parents adopting a black son may not always be embraced.

Mikey (played by Dave Tyrik) is the son in the interrogation room hot seat. Detective Bremen (John Vines and  Detective Janetty (Nick Stevens) are assigned to the case. Janetty is convinced that they have their man,  but Bremen isn’t sure. Mikey’s statement has some holes in it and while he’s cooperative, something isn’t coming together.

 But did Mikey murder his pretty little sister Ashley or not?

It’s all about the psychology of the investigation here; the proverbial good cop bad cop ballet where they dance to extract a confession from a question-weary subject. But Mikey has more to hide; he’s a young black man raised by white parents, afterall, and disappointing them is not something he is wont to do. But this white detective isn’t like his folks, there’s an animosity here that Mikey doesn’t understand, and the black detective – the authority figure who reminds him to sit up straight and dignified – commands his respect based on the race they have in common.

Neighbor Gordon Peck – craftily played by Matt Witten – insists on visiting the interrogation room; he  is sure that Mikey is guilty. He is certain beyond doubt that he saw the young suspect entering the home in a suspicious manner.  And he would know that declaratively, observing this on his carefully timed nightly walk around the neighborhood  he professes to love and wants to protect.

Director Scott Behrend had the winning combination here: a robust, relevant, layered  story and four solid actors who wrapped themselves around Elston’s words. Tyrick captures Mikey’s ‘I’m guilty of something but not murder’ nuances to a t. Stevens (last season’s Elvis in MusicalFare’s Million Dollar Quartet) balances Janetty’s love of family with his tough-talking streetwise need to have justice served now. Vines’ calm simmers low and slow throughout his performance. It’s amazing that he stepped into this role with only 17 days to prepare after two other actors bowed out. His occasional dropped lines and tiny fumbles are very forgivable and almost play into his character’s struggle to find the right words at the right time. His last scene is pure triumph – perfectly underplayed and extraordinarily powerful.

It’s Witten – who played Janetty in 2003 – that stands out. He is the smarmy guy you love to hate, with his entitled pedigree and smug attitude.  He’ll remind you of the way Jeremy Irons played Clau von Bulow in the 1990 film Reversal of Fortune. Like Claus, he has plenty to hide: watch his jumpy leg and twitchy pinky finger. That’s the kind of physical cues the cops observe when your words and your actions aren’t coming together.  Witten is deliciously wicked, cunning, contemptible.

Elston’s story is character- and dialogue-driven with intensity and fire. He creates a mood – against Dyan Burlingame’s stark set – that makes our need to live in a socially just world very real. We want to fight for it, like Bremen and Janetty so the Mikeys and Ashleys never have to be victims again. Interrogation Room runs until November 24. It’s an emotional two hours and some change (including intermission), and well worth it. Tickets and details here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Toxic Avenger’ with Second Generation Theatre Company at Shea’s Smith Theatre

Second Generation Theatre Company kicked off its second season in residence at Shea’s Smith Theatre with a brilliant production of “The Toxic Avenger.”

“Hilarious and outrageously good…”

Based on the 1984 cult classic film, “The Toxic Avenger” follows the town underdog as he seeks to stop global warming and rid New Jersey of toxic waste. It’s a rock musical chock full of great songs and larger than life characters, and thanks to Doug Weyand’s cast and choreography and Allan Paglia’s musical direction, delivers one of the most entertaining productions I have ever seen.

Steve Copps leads the show as Melvin/Toxie, and boy, does he kill it (literally). His rich voice soars through power ballads and rock songs, becoming the most unconventional hero New Jersey never asked for. He shines right from the start, especially when he runs into Bethany Burrows’ Sarah, the town’s blind librarian. Burrows gets to fully flex her skills as a comedienne, managing to connect to the audience and get us on her side without ever making eye contact with anyone.

If you still need a reason to see this show, go for Jenn Stafford. Besides her character skills and powerful vocal range, she. Is. HYSTERICAL. She made me laugh so hard I could barely breathe, and I could have watched her for hours. She also has the stamina of Wonder Woman, transitioning SO quickly between Edna and the Mayor that she will take your breath away.

And then there’s Raphael Santos as Black Dude and Dylan Zalikowski as White Dude, who are just unstoppably funny as their dozens of characters. Santos shines brightest as the resident mad scientist (who’s also a phenomenal dancer) and Zalikowski as a folk singer who performs the title track.

The set, lights and fog effects are some of Chris Cavanagh’s best work, transforming the intimate Smith Theatre into the toxic-waste ridden streets of New Jersey. LED lights can easily be overused due to their abilities, but this production’s lights were well-balanced and on point.

There wasn’t a single thing I didn’t love about “The Toxic Avenger” – it’s just so hilarious and outrageously good. This is easily going to be one of the best productions of the Buffalo theater season. I don’t know what else I can say other than go get tickets for multiple performances, because you will want to go again and again.

Running Time: Approximately two hours including a ten-minute intermission.

“The Toxic Avenger” runs through November 10 at Shea’s Smith Theatre. For more information and tickets, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Oh My God’ at Jewish Repertory Theatre

The cast of “Oh My God” at Jewish Repertory Theatre.

This evening I attended the Western New York premiere of “Oh My God” by Anat Gov at the Jewish Repertory Theatre. Ms. Gov was one of Israel’s premiere dramatists with scores of plays and television programs to her credit. Like all Israeli students, Ms. Gov studied the Bible throughout her school years. As an adult, Gov founded a Bible study institute.

. . .a very careful and studied production of a philosophical play.

The play takes place in a therapist’s office in modern day Tel Aviv. God is feeling so depressed about His relationship with the people on Earth that He is considering suicide and needs psychological therapy.  Ella, the loving Jewish lady who He has selected for His therapist, has just one hour to convince God not to destroy Himself and all of creation. The therapist is the single parent of a preteen who has autism, and so she has lots of challenges of her own. The heart of the play is the therapy session that takes place in Ella’s office.

There is very little action in “Oh My God.” It’s cerebral – more like theological dialogue than a true play. Perhaps the translation from Hebrew to English is partially to blame. Many of the lines seemed stilted and were delivered in a stagey fashion that seemed odd in such an intimate setting.

This is a  confident and well oiled production of a wordy, difficult piece that has been mastered with aplomb by the cast, Todd Benzin and Lisa Ludwig, who obviously took this assignment very seriously and gave it 100%. For this, they are to be congratulated. Congratulations also to director Saul Elkin for this smooth and well paced production.

One challenge is in the casting. God is described in the play as being impressive and frightening with a deep voice. Mr. Benzin, although he gives this his best effort, just isn’t majestic or mature enough for the role. In fact, in this production, God comes across as younger and less powerful than Ella, the therapist. Ms. Ludwig plays Ella who the play describes as being warm and empathetic. Instead, in this production, Ella seems more enthusiastic about proving her points than she is about giving of herself to God and humanity.

There is a lot of yelling onstage – God is frequently exasperated and Ella is agitated. Potential moments of poignancy, amazement, connection, and humor were rushed through – perhaps in an effort to keep the pace brisk.

Max Goldhirsch does a lovely job as Ella’s son.

Production values are fine throughout. Perhaps if Ms. Ludwig has been costumed in slacks, instead of heels and a skirt, she could have been freer with stage movements. Ella’s office is part of her home, after all, so one wonders why she’s so dressed up. She looks more like Beaver Cleaver’s mom than like a modern day therapist. 

And, it’s quite possible that this is indicated in the script – but there were inexplicable short sudden schmaltzy musical passages throughout the evening. They were more distracting than atmospheric.

This is a very careful and studied production of a philosophical play.

“Oh My God” is 90 minutes with no intermission.

“Oh My God” runs until November 17, 2019 and is presented at Jewish Repertory Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Freaky Friday’ at Niagara University

Freaky Friday is one of those story people don’t realize they know. For my generation, the movie starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis brought the story to life. For this generation, we have the Kitt, Yorkey, and Carpenter tuner that starred Emma Hunton and Heidi Blickenstaff which became a Disney Channel Original Movie.

I feel badly about this, but my generation had a significantly better version. Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey have already won their Tonys, so if Freaky Friday doesn’t necessarily live up to the lyrical brilliance of Next to Normal, we can forgive them. The show is a little clunky despite numerous rewrites, but the Niagara University production is anything but.

It’s refreshing to see young actors play so honestly, and that’s what we have in this production. Director Steve Braddock and choreographer Terri Filips Vaughan have given the outlines, but they’ve left it up to the cast to color inside them. An expertly directed band by, sequestered down the hall, is directed by Dr. Bridget Moriarty. Both her musical ensemble and the ensemble on stage sound terrific.

As angst-ridden and misunderstood teen Ellie, Lindsey Pastuszynski ably illustrates the difficulties of being a modern-day teen. As her busy bread-winning mother Katherine, Sonia Angeli manages to keep the “plates all spinning” (that’s a Next to Normal reference). It’s when the infamous “switch” happens that these two performers shine. Both ladies are great in their roles, but Angeli in particular shines. The book is thoughtful enough that it gives Angeli’s character an emotional act two moment which she does not take lightly. It’s an incredibly mature and aware turn for her.

I’ve mentioned the strength of the ensemble, but the real standouts come by way of Caleb Paxton, Ricardo Garcia, and the young Teddy Hibbard. As Katherine’s soon-to-be-husband Mike, Paxton delivers a touching performance, particularly in Act One’s “Vows.” Garcia is a special surprise; I had the pleasure of his talented older brother Alex as a classmate. He brings a very human touch to the criminally underdeveloped Adam, Ellie’s love interest and the high school’s hero. He also brings a dynamite singing voice. Finally, Nichols eight-grader Teddy Hibbard is an unbelievable treat. He’s handling a very difficult role with ease, puppets and all. It’s a real pleasure to watch, and I’m sure he has a bright future in performing if he so chooses.

All in all, this is the type of show a college should tackle. It should, and I believe did, teach valuable lessons about bringing truth to performances while keeping the integrity and spirit of the script intact. Instead of ad-libbing lines they thought were funnier, or winking at the material for a cheap laugh, the entire cast as a whole chose to embrace the piece, warts and all. And that’s fitting, because the show has a similar message. So excuse me while I wipe the tears from my eyes; it may be cheesy sentimentalism, but this excellent Niagara University production of a slightly below excellent piece has heart and truth to spare.

Freaky Friday  runs until November 3, 2019 and is presented at Niagara University. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ at Lancaster Opera House

Lancaster Opera House debuted its first musical of its first season completely in residence last weekend with cult classic “The Rocky Horror Show.” Richard O’Brien’s creepy, hilarious and sometimes insane show is well performed by a talent-ridden cast, featuring plenty of fresh faces.

A celebration of a cult classic…

We open with, what else, “Science Fiction Double Feature,” which is sung live by an usherette and hints at some of the bizarre events our main characters are about to experience. I doubt there’s ever been a version as good Megan Mahaney’s, which was a great start to the show.

We are immediately introduced to newly engaged Brad (Angelo Heimowitz) and Janet (Madelyn Teal), whose car breaks down on the way to visit their former science teacher to share their happy news. Once they reach a nearby castle, they are welcomed in by Riff Raff (an unbelievable Matthew Rittler), Magenta (a sassy Heather Reed) and Columbia (a lively Kate Mulberry), who lead them in “The Time Warp,” kicking off a night they’re sure to remember.

Soon after the “Time Warp,” on struts Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter (Joe Russi). Russi, simply put, is a star. His range is unbelievable, as is his ability to strut the stage in heels and a corset. Russi brings depth to a character that might appear one-dimensional, captivating every audience member to the point where each of his songs garnered long applause and cheers.

While I love Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon as much as the next person, you can’t deny that the stars of the movie aren’t the strongest singers. With director David Bondrow’s cast, every song is taken to new heights and is impeccably performed by the cast, especially Russi, Teal and Rittler. Timmy Goodman’s choreography is interesting and appropriately simple at times, and the quintet of Phantoms/Transylvanians is perfectly haunting and humorous throughout the show.

The Opera House stage is known for being small, but David Dwyer utilized the theater’s back brick wall in his two-level design, which made a huge impact on the stage’s size. It felt larger than usual with room to breathe; so much, in fact, that I bet a few more ensemble members could have fit comfortably.

This production is a true celebration of a cult classic and is being performed (rightfully) at the spookiest time of year. If you’re a Rocky Horror fan, you’ll love every minute.

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes including a 15-minute intermission

“The Rocky Horror Show” runs through November 3 at the Lancaster Opera House. For more information and tickets, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Detroit ’67’ at Blackfriars Theatre

Set in July 1967, a time which would become known as the Long Hot Summer as race riots plagued American cities such as Newark, Buffalo, Rochester, Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee and of course, Detroit, Dominique Morisseau’s play Detroit ‘67 leaves the audience with a lot to reflect upon.

. . .an amazing performance. . .

The play opens in the basement of siblings Chelle and Lank’s house. They’ve buried their father six months prior and now that the will has been settled, are ready to start getting their lives back to normal. Normal includes after hours parties in their basement to help pay the mortgage as well as tuition for Chelle’s son to attend the Tuskegee Institute. They both agree the inheritance they received will be used primarily to pay for tuition, but once Lank’s friend, Sly informs him a local bar is being sold soon, Lank’s view of where this money should go to changes. As Lank and Sly try to convince Chelle the bar is a way to have a legitimate business of their own and a steadier income, tensions between the Detroit police and the African American communities continue to mount.While the violence in the streets rises to a fevered pitch, Lank and Sly bring more tension to the basement setting when they bring home Caroline, an unconscious white woman. Having found her disoriented and badly beaten in the streets, Lank insists on bringing her home in case whoever did this was coming back to finish the job. Chelle and Sly both argue this decision is foolhardy and will only bring trouble to the family, but Lank’s compassion for Caroline’s humanity eventually rules out and Chelle agrees to allow her to stay for a week if she helps them with their after hours parties. On the surface this proves to be a good idea since their revenue from parties increases significantly, but as more comes out about Caroline’s back story (some of which is provided by Chelle’s close friend, Bunny who has her finger on the pulse of the neighborhood’s information line) conflict continues to rise between the characters mirroring the violence that is increasing in the streets outside of the safety of the basement walls.

Detroit ‘67 covers obvious topics of race relations, police violence and class struggles, but also delves into topics of love, family connections, the desire to make a better life for oneself, make your mark on the world and keep those around you safe. Chelle and Lank struggle with their conflicting viewpoints – Chelle wanting the safety of what she has and only willing to look as far as tomorrow; Lank wanting something more for himself and to have a future more secure than it’s been. Chelle is the realist, viewing things as they are. Lank is the dreamer, seeing things as what they might be. Throughout, the one constant is their deep love for one another as family and their commitment to stand by one another no matter what. “We stuck together at the root.” as Chelle says to Lank at one point. 

Punctuating the play and enhancing the underlying themes is a steady stream of Motown music. With such well known groups as The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops and Martha and The Vandellas, the music helps to set the atmosphere of the time. Lyrics which many of us sing without a second thought, become so much more poignant when set against the action on stage. 

As powerful as Ms. Morisseau’s play is, it’s the actors in this production who truly bring it to life, forcing the audience to confront the harsh truths which are presented. Ashona Pulliam as Chelle puts on an amazing performance bringing the full range of emotions of the character to the stage. Chelle’s internal struggle with the desire to support her brother’s dreams and the need to keep him safe in the reality of the world they are living in and the violence that is erupting around them is palpable to the audience. Pulliam’s talent shines as the audience watches Chelle fight to keep her heart safe from further hurt while being pulled toward the love that Sly offers. Tahina McPherson as Bunny offers the audience a much needed comic relief in a play filled with heavy, emotional topics and helps bring the self-assured character to life. McPherson’s Bunny acts as a softening in some ways to the intensity of Pulliam’s Chelle. The two actors work well together on stage, building off of each other’s emotions and creating an ebb and flow the audience can relate to. Aceyon Owens’ Sly, much like McPherson’s Bunny often adds an element of comic relief to a scene. In addition, Owens helps bring to life the struggle Sly experiences trying to make a living for himself as an African American man living in the ghetto of Detroit – trying to make ends meet, the struggle to get a foothold in life and the intense frustration at being blocked by white authorities (often crooked police) at every turn. Laron Dewberry’s Lank and Melanie McBride’s Caroline provide an idealistic view of what the world could be. Dewberry brings an intensity to Lank’s desire to make a better life for himself as well as a softness to Lank’s view that maybe the world can be a different place than what currently exists if we can see the humanity within each other. McBride’s Caroline brings the conflict of the streets into the family dynamics of Chelle and Lank, and forces the audience to question their own beliefs of what reality is.

Detroit ‘67 runs at Blackfriars Theatre until November 3rd. See it while you can. It truly is an amazing performance, and make sure to leave some time after for much needed discussions on the many topics this play brings up which continue to be relevant today.

Run time: 120 minutes with one intermission

Deals with adult themes and topics

Detroit ‘67 is playing at Blackfriars Theatre until November 3rd. Get your tickets at www.blackfriars.org

Theatre Review: ‘Come From Away’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The National Touring Cast of “Come From Away.”

I was in 5th grade on that day that the world stopped. I remember that no one told us anything in school, but the teachers in the hallway were all talking. There was some crying. There were some screams. My friends and I sat there wondering what was happening. We were 10, so we were not the first ones to get information. Even if we did get information, we wouldn’t have understood. It wasn’t until later that night when I got home from school that I learned about the tragic events that occurred in New York and Washington. Years later, I have had the opportunity to visit memorials at the World Trade Center and at The Pentagon. I can’t even imagine witnessing those events first hand. 

. . .the best story ever told. . .

“Come From Away,” the Broadway smash hit, tells the story of a small town in Newfoundland called Gander.  In it, there is a huge dilapidated airport where planes coming from Europe would stop to refuel at. Since the jet engine was created, planes can cross the ocean on a single tank of fuel, so there really isn’t much need for the airport anymore. That is until the US Airspace is closed on September 11, and 38 planes from all over the world land there. Seven-thousand people from around the world are brought to Gander against their will, and those on the planes have no idea where they are. What happens? People open their doors to their own home to help these people who are stranded for five days. Humanity at its finest.

This is the second time I have seen this show, and it will definitely not be the last. The last time I saw it was at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto in 2018. I was blown away by this production, and since then, the show has been extended two or three more times. It’s pretty much printing money at this point. It’s not a phenomenon. It is just fantastic storytelling and I believe that this might be the best story ever told. The music, the blocking, the vocals, and the pacing keep this story rolling. There is no intermission, and at no point are you bored or itching to get out of your seat. 

The show is an ensemble piece, where the actors seamlessly portray numerous characters. Newfoundlanders, Plane People, and other characters are all present in this story. The actors are so incredibly talented, and they give this story their absolute all. To name anyone specifically would be a disservice to the entire cast because each one of them is just absolutely captivating. It is also great to see a veteran cast of all shapes and sizes. This isn’t one of these shows where the cast is young, ripped, and all similar. This cast is full of character actors who give strong and enjoyable performances. I could watch them perform all day. 

The scenic design by Beowulf Boritt is so brilliant for this show. It would appear to be a minimal set, but with a story like this, you will have no problem filling in the blanks. Your imagination will run wild.

Christopher Ashley has directed a production that will live on in the memories of all those who see it, just like the memory of 9/11 stays with all of us who were there. Irene Sankoff and David Hein have crafted a musical that takes all the wonderful aspects of humanity and shows that people are truly, inherently, good. It has also put Gander on the map. My girlfriend and I are talking about going to visit!

Do yourself a favor, go see this show. 

Running Time: 100 minutes, no intermission.

“Come From Away” runs until October 20, 2019 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more info, click here. You can also see it in Toronto, running until March 1, 2020. Click here for info.