Theatre Review: ‘Dearly Departed’ at Aurora Players

The cast of ‘Dearly Departed’ at Aurora Players.

With a dull thud, Mr. Turpin drops dead on the kitchen floor.

According to his wife, Raynelle, the man had all but stopped breathing for the better part of their thirty-plus year marriage.  Besides, he was a mean and surly man.

. . .off-the-map funny.

So goes “Dearly Departed,” the current comedy by Aurora Players running now at the Roycroft Pavilion.

Soon after the not-breathing patriarch of the Turpin family bites the linoleum, his Southern relatives set about planning his memorial services.  To say the man’s brood is going to struggle pulling together the resources to do it is an understatement.

Enter his sister, Marguerite, aptly played by Lillian Edmunds, whose performance as the scripture-quoting, elderly southern lady whose major disappointment in life is just about everybody.   But her son, Royce, played by Thomas Videon, is her biggest disappointment. Royce is unemployed and has no intention of being employed. He’s a sort of couch philosopher who’s unaffected by life, let alone his uncle’s demise.  Edmunds and Videon address their characters with southern drawls, but skillfully keep them in check. The longer you listen, the more natural they become so as to disappear.

But there’s more.  Set changes come fast and efficiently.  Scenes change from kitchens to living rooms to back yards to funeral parlors, to the front seat of cars over the course of the play.  But the action is well paced and holds interest seamlessly. The sets are mid-sparse, with just enough to make sure we know where the action is taking place.  David Hall’s hand as stage manager and set designer is well played and gives room for the characters to grow on us.

And they do grow.  The prodigal son, Ray-Bud and his wife, Lucille — played by Daniel Keith Barone and Madeline E. Allard — ground the characters as the couple who mostly seem to have their act together.  Being the eldest son of the deceased, Ray-Bud is also the responsible one, and Lucille has enough sense for both of them even when he does not. Together Ray-Bud and Lucille are the two characters who, by default, are holding the family on track, emotionally if not financially.   As a result, their own closely-held sorrows and disappointments go almost unnoticed by the rest of the family. They’re not quite the complainers the rest of their family is. Barone and Allard melt into their roles and ground the plot with them.

That’s because the rest of the characters have troubles of their own, and they have no trouble putting them on display.  Younger brother Junior, played by Joshua Leary, is the not-so-smart, broke, bad decision-making southern boy. Suzanne, played by Brooke Bartell Goergen, is his wife, whose one mistake in life is that she married Junior.  She knows this, and speaks of it often. But the two of them have hearts on their sleeves, and Suzanne does what she can to get a rise out of Junior, or get done with him. She’s a woman who loves her man, and has no trouble giving fair warning that he’s close to losing it.   And Bartell Goergen’s performance of Suzanne lets us know she’ll do well regardles ofs the outcome, no matter the stage and role. She plays this strong and convincing, with sharp admonitions in early scenes and then breaching wonderfully unexpected emotions later.

The supporting cast, likewise, give stellar moments.  Parker Reed as Reverend Hooker is hugely entertaining in a role that is both televangelist and solemn reverence to the Lord.  In the final scene of Act One, Parker puts on a sermon that is hilariously funny as a man of the cloth whose life is just as mired in frustration as his flock’s.  His sermon is backed up by a chorus of minor supporting actors that play multiple roles – most notably Christopher Rimes who does double duty as the hysterical and terminally-ill Norval, and as Ray-Bud’s boss.   And Shelby Ebeling, who offers up a precisely high-quality performance of her lowly noble character, Juanita — a small but distinguishing role, in her first regular-season production for Aurora Players.

“Dearly Departed” could have easily slipped into an exercise in southern, stereotypical caricature.  It may seem to flirt with it, at times, as characters such as these may appear familiar at first glance.  Adding to that, this is comedy, making it a possibly greasier descent.

But audiences can take heart — the wittiness, amusement and poignancy coming from the script and these characters make it a solidly entertaining trip into southern humor, mixed with a tinge of tragedy and heart that truly has no geographic locale.   The southern spin makes it and even more worthwhile production, and it’s also off-the-map funny.

Running Time: 2 Hours with one 15-minute intermission.

“Dearly Departed” directed by Chris Fire runs through June 16, 2019 and is presented at the Roycroft Pavilion in Hamlin Park in East Aurora. For more information, click here.


First Look: ‘Dearly Departed’ at Aurora Players

The cast of ‘Dearly Departed’ at Aurora Players. Photo by Dori-Shear McGowan

As storytellers, directors often connect to plays that they have had awesome experiences with. This includes seeing a fantastic production and wanting to bring it to life for a new audience, or perhaps acting in a production of a show that they loved. Directors have a big responsibility when it comes to choosing their stories. If they don’t have some passion in what they are creating for the audience, it will be easily seen during the show. Nobody likes to sit through anything with a lack of enthusiasm.

Eighteen years ago, director Christopher Fire was lucky enough to perform in a production of “Dearly Departed,” a little known gem of a play written by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones, about a family who’s patriarch has just passed away and they must gather, leaving their own lives and coming together to mourn their loss. Oh yeah, the story also takes place in the backwoods of the bible belt in the American south.

The topic of death typically does not scream comedy, but this show takes a dense topic and brings a humanity to it.

“I think this is a show that the audiences at Aurora Players will be pleasantly surprised with,” says Fire, “It has heart, and it is a very funny show.”

“Dearly Departed” is a major divergence from the typical fare that is presented at Aurora Players. “There is no name recognition with this show,” says Fire, “this isn’t an Agatha Christie, or a Ken Ludwig, this show is not very well known, but is very entertaining.”

When it comes to community theatre, shows that have that accent, usually the British accent, are the ones that get performed the most. “This show has a different accent,” says Fire, “there are no refined characters in this piece, there are no high societal characters, just everyday broken people looking to live their best lives.

Fire says that this show is not one that has a recognizable leading character. “What drew me to this show was that people worked together and the ensemble made it memorable, that is something I truly love about the story.

While he loves the classics that Aurora Players typically performs, he wanted to mix things up a bit. “I wanted to submit something that would be different, and I am a firm believer that people will like this show because it is off the beaten path and many people will be able to relate to it. Variety is the spice of life!”

“Dearly Departed” opens May 31 and runs until June 16, 2019. It is presented at The Roycroft Pavilion in Hamlin Park in East Aurora. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Present Laughter’ at Aurora Players


The cast of “Present Laughter” at Aurora Players.

It’s a show with plenty of laughs, a romp of a plot, with a couple of little twists thrown in for the surprise factor.  It’s a light and frothy show by design, but as our leading man Garry says in the first act, “There’s something awfully sad about happiness, isn’t there?”

. . .a fine production of a venerable theatrical warhorse

Overall this is a fine production of a venerable theatrical warhorse. The set is beautiful (kudos to designer David Hall and his construction team) for creating the perfect pre-war, upscale home, complete with a marble (faux painted, perhaps) fireplace and elegant décor. (A note about this: there’s a special raffle to win the  velvet chaise on set, with proceeds to support a company member who is battling some difficult health challenges. I love the heartfelt way this theatre community supports its own.) There are only two real (and unfortunate) distractions: most cast members can’t credibly sustain their accents; and there are too many over-exaggerated facial expressions directed to the audience.  If this was a home movie, they’d be mugging for the camera. Often Coward plays call for this wink-and-a-nod gesture to the audience, almost folding the audience in to an inside joke, but two characters in particular did this to the extreme to unsatisfactory results. This is where director Monish Bhattacharyta should reign in his cast and their over the top enthusiasm. Or as ex-wife Liz says to main man Garry, “don’t be so affected, Garry.”

The setting is middle age actor Garry Essendine’s stylish London home. He’s preparing to tour the African continent and he is rife with anticipation. Marc Ruffino plays the man of hour.  He’s a suave smooth talker and Ruffino plays him to the hilt. Ruffino is almost too fast-talking, though: he’s not supposed to be a player, merely a charmer. Who is vain.  And beloved by all.  And who can’t stop looking in the mirror. Then there are all these women who keep throwing themselves at his well-heeled feet. First up is ingénue Daphne, with stars in her eyes as she meets a matinee idol old enough to be her papa. Then there’s Joanna, wife of one of his closest friends. And for some reason his ex-wife Liz is still hanging around. What’s an aging roué to do? None of this makes him happy, even when he mirror-checks himself frequently and gazes up at his portrait over the mantel.

And so we’re off. Garry has plenty of staff supporting his lavish lifestyle. The  household characters really shine in this show. Susan King is Garry’s secretary Monica Reed. She’s been loyal to him for 17 years and knows how to manage the details of his life. King does a solid job in this part:  her British accent is the only one that is consistently on point. Chris Biggie is Fred, Garry’s valet, and he’s chipper and sprightly enough. The standout is Aurora Players’ regular Susan Musial. She deadpans her way through all her scenes as Miss Erickson, the maid, with a cigarette dangling from her lips and a sly eye toward what’s happening in the house. Her name indicates she’s Scandinavian, but she sounds more  German. She’s a hoot to watch. Garry’s parade of ladies is led off by Kit Kuebler as Daphne Stillington, the 21 year old who conveniently misplaces her latchkey and has no choice but to spend the night in the spare room, in a pair of Garry’s pajamas. Catherine Burkhart is the unflappable ex-wife Liz. She is strong, she knows her ex husband and all his foibles and willingly accepts the bevy of sycophants who surround him. Burkhart nails the demeanor perfectly, despite her overly-mortified facial gestures: stop looking at the audience and focus on your castmates, please. Christopher Jackson is Roland Moule, the wild-haired young man at the door. If he’s identified as a wannabe playwright in this staging, I missed it and only know why he’s hanging on because I’ve seen the show a few times in other places. Jackson is frenetic and wacky, darting around the stage, a bit overplayed, and a little too boisterous. Tim Musial and Michael Breen are hysterical as Garry’s bumbling best friends, both besotted by the same woman, who – no surprise – is also throwing herself at Garry. Tara Potzler is Joanna, another would-be lover, a married woman who has a hard time taking no for an answer. Finally Tricia Hughes enters as Lady Saltburn, a wealthy supporter who wants her to put her ‘innocent’ starlet niece on Garry’s professional radar. Like Susan Musial, Hughes is a quiet standout. Her gestures and manners are the epitome of upscale British propriety: watch how so subtly, seductively strokes her fur boa. This is how Coward should be played. When perfectly nuanced, the intent silently screams. I love this. Speaking of her boa, the costumes were stunning, thanks to Kimberly Hicks’ good eye for scouting point-perfect period attire for the men and women.  Joanna’s act two gown and Monica’s tailored grey shirtwaist were enviable, along with Garry’s silky smoking jacket.

In short, this is a worthy effort that only needs some dialect coaching and directorial fine-tuning to make it soar.

One other point: the theatre experience extends beyond the stage. The Aurora Players organization is blessed with a fine theatre in a historic, 100 year old structure. It’s nicely outfitted with a designated ticketing area, concessions, comfy clean private facilities, and decent parking. This is a major win for community theatre overall and a point of pride for the Aurora Players and the group’s community stature. It also has an active and devoted volunteer team that produces a really well crafted printed program and other back office efficiencies.  The downside is that vintage seats aren’t always cozy and an overly heated space invites heavy audience eyelids during long shows. These and other fine points of patron experience should be given every consideration by the group’s volunteer leadership.

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission (race to the lobby for a mulled cider which is a delicious, $1 bargain).

“Present Laughter” runs until March 24, 2019 and is presented at The Roycroft Pavilion in Hamlin Park in East Aurora. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ at Aurora Players

“It’s a Wonderful Life” has been an essential ingredient of the holiday season since the film first premiered in 1946, almost as indispensable as eggnog and ugly sweaters. Some families enjoy the holiday tradition of watching IAWL (the movie) on Christmas Eve, while others catch a production of the timeless classic on stage (by my count there are at least two currently playing at WNY theatres). Aurora Players, one of the region’s oldest community theatre groups, is staging the timeless classic until December 9th.   

. . .captures the story’s spirit. . .particularly during the Christmas season.

Over 70 years and endless variations (movie, play, one-man-play, musical, radio show, etc.) later, the story of “It’s a Wonderful Life” is surely by now in the DNA of Christmas lovers everywhere. Based on the film by Frank Capra and the story by Peter Van Doren Stern, it tells the story of George Bailey (Joe Cassidy), the manager of his family’s local building & loan in the fictional town of Bedford Falls, who—as the story opens– is on the cusp of taking his own life after misplacing $8,000 of the b&l’s money (per, the modern-day equivalent of $102,139!). Just in the nick of time, George is interrupted by Clarence Odbody AS2 (Bob Aquila), a guardian angel who shows George what his town would have looked like if it hadn’t been for all his good deeds over the years.

George Bailey acts as the story’s main protagonist, a selfless character who has become as associated with the season as Santa Claus. Cassidy—AP’s George—says that “George’s selflessness and compassion embody the Christmas spirit.  He’s the kind of friend everybody wants to have and around whom everybody wants to rally.” Cassidy brought this quality to the surface quite well in his depiction of George, particularly during the “run on the bank”, the scene that ends Act I. He captured George’s generosity and kindness of spirit when it was called for, and also his desperation and emotional spiraling later in the story. While he’s visibly a little too old to be playing George (making the intimate scenes between him and Mary a smidge awkward), he’s a good choice to lead the production and embodies George’s generosity and his love for his family, friends, and neighbors.  

Other standout acting performances come from Daniel Greer as the villainous Mr. Potter, who played the character with the right balance of depravity and restraint (many Potters I’ve seen err too heavily on the villainous side, making the character cartoony); and Bob Aquila, whose Clarence is sweet but often also boisterous and animated, a refreshing take you don’t often see.

The blemishes of Aurora Players’ IAWL are largely on the technical side, and unfortunately the performance I attended had many. It was plagued with late/early lighting cues, sound effect snafus, and botched scene changes. I would have also liked to see a heartier production design; while the inside of the Bailey house is beautiful (kudos to set decorators/painters John Szablewski and David Hall), the rest of the show largely occurs in front of the black curtain, making long stretches of the show visually bland.

Aurora Player’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” isn’t flawless, but it captures the story’s spirit and central themes: that kindness, generosity of spirit, and family are the most important things in life, particularly during the Christmas season.

Aurora Player’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” closed on December 9th. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘She Loves Me’ at Aurora Players


The cast of ‘She Loves Me’ at Aurora Players.

Aurora Players closes their 2018 season with one of the few pieces from the Broadway canon that passed through four layers of source material to come to fruition. “She Loves Me” is a 1963 musical based on the 1949 musical/film “In the Good Old Summertime,” which is based on the 1940 Jimmy Stewart film “The Shop Around the Corner,” which is based on the 1937 play “Parfumerie” by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszio. Oh, and as you’ll probably realize within the first minutes of the show, “She Loves Me” is the source material for the popular 1998 romcom “You’ve Got Mail” featuring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Did you follow all that?

. . .fun, bouncy, and warm-hearted musical.  

Perhaps this story has been reproduced, replicated, and reinterpreted so many times BECAUSE IT’S JUST SO DARN FUN. “She Loves Me,” written by Joe Masteroff, Sheldon Harnick, and Jerry Bock, follows Amalia (Sarah Blewett) and Georg (Joe Spahn), two feuding clerks in a European parfumerie during the 1930s who secretly find solace in their anonymous romantic pen pals, little knowing their respective correspondents are actually each other. Both George and Amalia are harmlessly less-than-honest about their true selves in the letters they write to each other; for you Millennials, think of Georg and Amalia as the original catfish (for you non-Millennials, Google it). The show also features several sub-plots, including the parfumerie’s Manager Mr. Maraczek (Michael Starzynski) and his mysterious mistrust of and aggression towards Georg; the on-the-downlow relationship between fellow parfumerie employees Mr. Kodalay (Brandon Czerwinski) and Ms. Ritter (Rebecca Runge); the delivery boy Arpad (Finn Lasch) and his strong desire to move onto the parfumerie sales floor; and Mr. Sipos (Jason Gonser)’s crippling lack of a backbone.

“She Loves Me” features wonderful individual acting and vocal performances from all the leads, particularly Michael Starzynski and Sarah Blewett. The set design of Mr. Maraczek’s shop, where most of the story takes place, is beautifully designed. The real crowning jewels of this show, however, are the large song-and-dance numbers that aren’t really that integral to the narrative, but are tremendously fun to both watch and listen to. I’m thinking specifically of “A Romantic Atmosphere”, which is performed by the waiters in the café where the two secret correspondents are soon to meet, and “Twelve Days to Christmas.” And the best moment of the show? When, to signal to the audience that the season has changed to autumn, ensemble member Michael Breen walks on stage, drops a handful of leaves onto Georg’s head, and promptly walks off. I cannot stress how hard this made me laugh. What a fantastically self-aware bit of theatrical comedy.

Now, the opening night of She Loves Me wasn’t without the common opening night community theatre hiccups, including a few scene changes that lasted too long, a couple dropped lines, and the occasional flubbed entrance from the pit band. But the good heavily outweighed the bad in this fun, bouncy, and warm-hearted musical.  

First letters, then email…perhaps the next iteration of this story will feature an unlikely romance that happens via Tinder. “You’ve Swiped Right?” You saw it here first folks.

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

“She Loves Me” is playing at Aurora Players’ Roycroft Pavilion until October 27. For tickets and more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Alice in Wonderland’ at Aurora Players

The Cast of “Alice In Wonderland” at Aurora Players. Photo by Dori Shear-McGowan.

This summer, Aurora Players is presenting a free outdoor production of “Alice in Wonderland” in the pavilion in Hamlin Park in East Aurora. The script, which includes scenes from both Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”” and Through the Looking Glass”, was written by Alice Gerstenberg in 1915.

. . .a pleasant way to celebrate summer in Western New York!

The challenge in adapting the Alice books for the stage is that Alice is essentially an episodic piece. Some adaptations impose a through line so that it becomes a story about Alice wanting to find the White Rabbit to give him back the fan and gloves or a story about Alice wanting to find her way home. This adaptation doesn’t attempt a through line, however, so it’s a play with witty dialogue and colorful characters but a vague plot.

This is a large and ambitious project for such a small stage. Scenery and prop changes are taken care of nicely by director John Szablewski’s prodigious use of the four Playing Cards (Chris Biggie, Danielle Burning, Jennifer McWhirl, and Samantha Zak). The cards pop up all over Wonderland — even providing inventive touches for Bob Bozek’s amusing rendition of “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” Interestingly, all the Playing Cards are the Ace of Hearts. So – are we playing with four decks?

Kelsey Giampoala is a lovely Alice, although when she said she was seven years old, the child sitting behind me said, “That lady’s not 7!” Ms. Giampoala plays Alice as consistently being on the verge of tears. Poor Alice! One would hope that she would have at least a little fun in Wonderland.

My personal favorite in the cast was Mike Starzynski who was a wonderful Humpty Dumpty and also was very committed (even when he was sitting in the back row of the jury) to being a stoned Caterpillar.

Since this is a production for children and families, I interviewed a group of kids during intermission to ask them what they thought about the show. The kids enjoyed it and especially liked the appropriately off beat denizens of the tea party – the Mad Hatter (Rick Lattimer), the March Hare (Dan Morris) , and “that little mousey” (Len Mendez who is adorable as the Dormouse).

Mary Loliger is an energetic White Rabbit, David Hall is funny as the easily baffled King of Hearts, and Shelby Eberling masters the spooky quality of the Cheshire Cat. Bob Bozek is entertaining as a dim witted frog, and he also, impressively, plays both Tweedles – shades of Sally Fields as Sybil!

Dan Barone has an original take on the Knave of Hearts. Here, he is a tough guy complete with heart shaped eye patch.

The royal ladies – Gail Stengel, Alyssa Walsh, Lilllian Edmunds, and Jessica K. Rasp –give it their all and bring a lot of pizzazz to the production.

Costumer Callie Bush has done a terrific job! There are impressively huge wigs, gorgeous gowns, and lots of creative touches like the Caterpillar’s arms, the Knave’s gloves, and, especially, Humpty’s legs.

“Alice in Wonderland” runs 95 minutes, including a 15 minute intermission. This is on the long side for a children’s show. The good news is that the park is lovely, the show is free, and the town of East Aurora is a great place to spend a weekend afternoon and evening. We went early, got a convenient parking space, walked the few blocks into town, did some shopping, and had a very nice dinner at one of the town’s many charming restaurants. And we ended the day with this enthusiastic community theatre production of “Alice in Wonderland” in Hamlin Park. What a pleasant way to celebrate summer in Western New York!

Running Time: 95 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.

“Alice in Wonderland” is produced by Aurora Players Theatre In Hamlin Park and is presented on the Roycroft Bandstand in Hamlin Park. The Show runs July 8, 21, 22, August 4, 5, 18, 19. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime’ at Aurora Players


Funny – isn’t it just like the noble class to engage in criminal behavior in order to improve their own bored condition, and assume they can get away with it?   What type of crime they undertake doesn’t seem to matter. A victim seems somewhat necessary. But more than that there needs to be a beneficiary. Because what’s the point otherwise?  And the planning, well, surely the educated and well to do would have that covered.

. . . an evening well spent. . .

“Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime,” — Aurora Players’ latest production at the Historic Roycroft Pavilion – is murder.   Being of noble class and none-too-bright, Lord Arthur is ill-suited for the crime, but just privileged, hapless, and in love enough to assume he can follow through and needs to pull it off.   

Arthur (Christopher Jackson) needs to indulge his crime after he reluctantly has his palm read, coerced by his fiancée’s mother, Lady Julia Merton.  She wants to check on his past, present, and future to determine whether he will be a suitable husband for her daughter Sybil (Mia LaMarco).

Luckily though, the renowned palm reader, Mr. Podgers gives Arthur a general thumbs up, telling Lady Julia and Sybil that he will lead a fine and generally happy existence in marriage.  Arthur senses there’s more to it, and in private Podgers tells him he has seen that Arthur is destined to commit a murder — the only hump in his otherwise blissful future with Sybil. Arthur determines he needs to get the crime out of the way before the marriage, and the crime is set in motion .  

With Oscar Wilde’s story at its core, Constance Cox’s play is ripe with laughs, wit, class commentary, and manslaughter built into the script.  While most of Lord Arthur’s circle – those who are privy to his murderous task – are willing and enthusiastic cohorts, the skeptical opposition to his hapless task is Lady Merton, played by Jessica Rasp, who steadily and dryly delivers her criticism of Arthur and the less than noble pursuits of society with all the motivation that you’d expect of a protective mother of the bride-to-be.  Rasp has a presence on stage that delivers, convincingly played against the murderous and hapless undertakings of the characters central to the crime.

But make no mistake those murderous characters hold their own as well.  Most notably the anarchist, Herr Winkelkopf, played by a talented Finnegan Lasch.  His Winkelkopf character is a murder loving, high stepping, “near-do” well at his craft, whose enthusiasm for murder is unmatched, but his effectiveness in carrying it out don’t exactly match his boastful claims.  A sort of bomb-toting hitman with an explosive personality and desire to kill. Lasch is plenty up to the task of bringing him to life. And “to life” is an understatement. Lasch is animated, verbally and non-verbally, prances about the stage, delivers his script with enthusiasm and seeming joy.  He kills his role, and the audience along with it. Lasch is a high school junior, no less, and so well embodied the murder-lover Winkelkopf that at times it seemed he had some of his cast mates on the verge of laughter.

The cast as a whole is a mix of relative newcomers and veterans to AP.  All have shining moments. Another honorable mention should be Colin Fleming-Stumpf’s portrayal of Mr. Podger.  Fleming-Stumpf creates an air of quirky, friendly eccentricity early in the play, then transforms it to the calculating and devious reader of palms seamlessly.  And Monish Bhattacharyya, in the role of Baines, the butler, balances nicely the role of loyal servitude to Arthur, while his willingness to enable the murderous plot is to suggest Baines’ own view of class and privilege.  

AP’s production overall slays it – “it” being the script, the production, casting, acting, the entertainment factor, and the audience.   It’s consistently humorous, hilariously funny at times, and it never backs away from that. Elements of Wilde’s story can be marked by some of social commentary and parody of class, and that remains timeless.  So does funny. And “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime” by Aurora Players is an evening well spent for all of those reasons.

With its intelligent and upper class script, there were several hiccups that occurred, often enough to notice, but not enough to detract from the performance overall.  This review is of opening night, and it’s likely with the talent on display throughout this production, any kinks will be worked out before the next viewing. The set, Arthur’s drawing room in London, was dabbled with period elements, and the costumes seemed appropriate to period and well fitted.  A lot of work has gone into this production, its hilarious depiction of English nobility no doubt challenge the players, and delighted the audience. And the Roycroft Pavilion set in Hamlin Park is a pleasant venue.

Running Time: Approximately 2 Hours 45 Minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

“Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime” runs until June 17, 2018 and is presented at the Historic Roycroft Pavilion in Hamlin Park, in East Aurora. For more information, click here.


Theatre Review: Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ at Aurora Players

The cast of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” at Aurora Players. Photo by Dori Shear-McGowan.

Murder mysteries. Ugh. There is just something about them that makes me groan. Maybe it’s because they are so wordy, and maybe it is because there is always that one character that knows “everything.” When I say everything, I don’t mean they know “everything” but everything pertaining to information about the mystery at hand. Lot’s of exposition, lots of quirky characters, and little care if they find the killer. However, if a murder mystery is done right, the audience should not feel bombarded over the head with the exposition, and should be able to have an enjoyable evening at the theatre. An enjoyable evening at the theatre is just what you get, when you witness Aurora Players’ current production, Agatha Christie’s “An Then There Were None.”

. . .a fun ‘whodunit’ . . .

After ten individuals are each mysteriously invited to a remote island with no communication to the main land, they discover that they are all being indicted on murder charges. The plot thickens when one by one the guests to the island begin to meet unsavory demises. Every time a guest meets their maker, a small solider boy falls off the mantel, until, there are none.

Director Joel Murphy makes his directorial debut at Aurora Players, and it is clear that he will be a staple in the organization very soon, having proven himself in keeping the audience on the edge of their seats, even if they were familiar with Agatha Christie’s story. I was not. And I thoroughly enjoyed his interpretation of this story. Murphy has assembled a cast of actors at different skill levels in his production, and each prove to complement each other and keep the audience engrossed in the content.

With all ensemble shows, the cast needs to work together to make sure that the story is entertaining and that they all work on bringing the best performances out of the others they are acting with. This ensemble does a great job working in tandem. There are a few standouts, starting with Michael Starzynski as Sir Lawrence Wargrave, who possesses the best character arc in the show, and is a powerhouse of manners, and insanity. You will absolutely love watching Starzynski as he tries to make sense of the situation, and as he interrogates the guests in hopes of finding answers.

David Hall as Doctor Armstrong is a wonderful addition to the cast. Hall plays the meek mannered Doctor to a tee, and when he begins to lose it, the audience is captivated. Hall makes great artistic choices, and is an audience favorite.

Les Bailey is the perfect choice for General Mackenzie. Bailey brings a true sense of wisdom to the role and is a joy to watch work.

Paige Ronan as Vera Claythorne and Tony Wizner as Philip Lombard are great choices for the roles, and these two support the other with wonderful stage chemistry. Ronan has the right amount of innocence and Wizner has the right amount of hot-headedness. They pair nicely.

The show is brought to life with David Hall’s set decoration, which is brilliant, and truly is a character of it’s own in the show. Nancy Johnson’s costumes are breathtaking, and truly fit the 1930’s era well.

With all shows, there is room for improvement. I found that it was sometimes difficult to hear the actors on stage, and I was sitting in the second row. Also, and I am sure I will get backlash from this statement, I am not a big fan of accents in shows. It is usually difficult to understand the actors with their accents, for they are busy focusing on the performance of their accent and not on projection. This happens from time to time in this production, but it is easily forgiven for the caliber of this show.

If you are looking for a fun ‘whodunit’,  go see this show! You will not be disappointed!

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.

Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” runs until March 25, 2018, and is presented at the Roycroft Pavilion in Hamlin Park in East Aurora. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ at Aurora Players

The cast of “Spelling Bee” at Aurora Players.

I would never think that competitive spelling would be a draw for. . .anyone. You never really seem to hear people discuss words and how spelling properly has earned them any real fortune or fame. That being said, America’s obsession with competitions is one that never changes. We have always been determined to win or be the best at whatever competition there may be. Why should this be any less for competitive spelling? After all, they even broadcast it on ESPN every year!

. . .a fantastic night out. . . Do yourself a favor. . .go see this show!

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” tells the tale os six tweens who set out to be named the champion of the highly acclaimed Putnam County spelling bee. A right of passage, if you will, these students – all portrayed by adults – spell word after word in their mission to be crowned the best and take home the trophy. Aurora Players brings this campy tale to life and pulls out all the stops to make it one of the funniest nights out at the theatre you will have this fall.

Director Mary Moebius mounts a simple, yet effective, production where the pageantry is small, but where all the focus is on the story and the characters. This is what I love about this show, it is character and story driven. This ensemble is fantastic and each of them deserve to be up on stage singing their hearts out.

Matthew Bannister’s portrayal of Boy Scout Chip Tolentino is absolutely hysterical. Bannister brings a sense of charm and innocence to his adolescent role, where ‘puberty’ is his true enemy and where male urges prevent him from. . .winning. Bannister makes great artistic choices and has no problem getting laughs. His performance of “Chip’s Lament” is a great opening to Act Two.

Isabella Ruof’s portrayal as the dorky Logainne “Schwartzy” Schwartzandgrubenierre is funny and Ruof has no problem taking on this role and making it her own. Her choices are fun, and she instantly gets laughs each time she enters the stage. She does not disappoint.

Curtis Rose as Leaf Coneybear – the third place winner of his district’s spelling bee and fashion designer – is fantastic. Rose his absolutely hilarious in this show and his facial expressions and delivery will have you rolling in the aisles.

William J. Steffens’ performance as the the Magic Foot spelling William Barfee will have you begging for air. Steffens delivery and demeanor on stage is one that will make it hard to stop laughing. He fully understands his character and goes to town getting the audience to eat his antics up. Steffens’ performance itself is worth the price of admission.

Kelly Ann Campbell as Marcy Park and Roxanna Herreid as Olive Ostrovsky are great. Both ladies possess the comic chops to get the audience to love them instantly.

Marc Ruffino possesses comic gold as Vice Principal Douglas Panch. Ruffino’s dead pan delivery as he reads the words given to the spellers is very amusing and his sentences for the words are some of the funniest material I have heard in a musical in a long time.

The cast rounds out with Kelley Jayne Dipasquale as Roma Lisa Peretti, the host of the Bee,  and Joe Spahn as Mitch Mahoney, the grief counselor set to help those children who…lose the Bee, each of whom are hilarious in their own right and keep the zany story flowing.

Overall the show is a fantastic night out. If I was to find something to offer constructive feedback on, it would be the attend to the tempo of some of the musical numbers which seemed to lag in parts just a little, but that is easily forgiven because of the great acting and story telling that happens on stage during this production. Do yourself a favor. . .go see this show!

Running Time:  2 hours with one 15 Minute Intermission.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” runs until October 28, 2017 and is presented at Aurora Players in East Aurora. For more information, click here.