Venus in Fur is Amazing!

By Joel Applegate

VENUS IN FUR by David Ives Salt Lake Acting Company – SLAC – 10-20-13

The two actors in Venus in Fur at SLAC attack and embrace their four difficult roles with a surety that is amazing. The characters are fully defined, yet the transformations are clear and seamless.

 

Maybe it’s a reflection of my own narcissism, but I really like self-referential theatrical works. And I loved this one. I wasn’t just entertained. I was schooled.

 

This is not just an examination of sexual politics, or modern morality for that matter. There’s tradition here. A novel published in1870 called Venus in Furs by the Austrian author, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, makes up the basis of this modern play by David Ives. And it’s an unnerving updating. Its brilliance is that we see characters from the novel as well as two modern sophisticates of irony tether their libidos and, perhaps more dangerously, their autonomy, to each other.

 

I can’t emphasize enough what an extraordinary piece of writing this is, a conclusion I reached without prompting, despite its Tony nomination in 2010 for Best Play. But how would I know how beautiful the writing is without seeing how beautifully it can be rendered? A play, as everyone knows, is not a script. But I’m not going to wax pedantic here. Simply this: In the hands of SLAC and director Tracy Callahan, all the elements combine into an experience that for me, constituted a master class in the theater. Marza Warsinske, as Vanda the actor, appears on her entrance fully charged. She employs a battery of weaponry that is, finally, unconquerable and indefatigable. Patrick Kintz as Tom the director/ adapter warily and ably parries her moves until we realize he is falling behind, his mask of superiority slipping as the nature of the seduction taking place becomes clearer.

 

What if I told you this is not about sex? I’d be partly right. It’s about power, and it’s about woman’s equality. From the original novel:

 

“She can only be his slave or his despot, but never his companion. This she can become only when she has the same rights as he and is his equal in education and work.” Wikipedia

 

Amazing for 1870, no?!

 

At first, Vanda and Tom spar in erotically tinged posing, then come the jousts for position. She becomes so challenging that Tom, as a modern man, must sacrifice his political masculinity on Vanda’s  masterfully constituted feminist alter. It was utterly invigorating watching Kintz “give it up” to Warsinske not just because she’d pinned him like a butterfly, but because – by that time – he wanted to.

 

I’ll remember this exhilarating production … forever. But you don’t have that long. There’s only another week for this play at SLAC – among their very best productions of the last four years. See it. If you’re an adult, you can handle it.

 

Box Office 801.363.7522

$23 – $38 depending on which performance. Some student tix available at $15

Last performances: Oct 26 – Nov 3rd, Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 1 pm and 6 pm.

Salt Lake Acting Company

168 West 500 North

Salt Lake City, Utah 84103

 

Box Office 801.363.7522
$23 – $38 depending on which performance. Some student tix available at $15
Last performances: Oct 26 – Nov 3rd, Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 1 pm and 6 pm.
Salt Lake Acting Company
168 West 500 North
|Salt Lake City, Utah 84103

www.saltlakeactingcompany.org

Grassroots Shakespeare Co’s Doctor Faustus’ Hell is Heaven

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By Caden Mustoe

I would feel guilty if I didn’t take this opportunity to tell you about Doctor Faustus as performed The Grassroots Shakespeare Company at The Castle Amphitheatre. Why would I want something so flawless to go unknown?

From the moment you arrive, you feel a sense of belonging. That these people who are greeting you aren’t ushers, cast and crew, or unfamiliar audience members, but rather long-time acquaintances, all ready to share a good time with you. Being a GSC junkie, I knew that I wanted to be a little early. Along those same lines, I also knew that I wanted to be right in the front row. You may think that tickets for the standing room only part in front of the stage may not be as good as the seats, but don’t let the lower price fool you. This spot is as fun if not more so than the sitting space. Every performance has a prelude music ensemble — amazing musicians (more on them later) and members of the cast. It feels like an old minstrel show with the folk tunes and the occasional juggling. It’s their customary ritual that gets you in the perfect place to watch their piece.

Now some of you may be thinking to yourselves “but didn’t Christopher Marlowe write Doctor Faustus, not Shakespeare?” And you’d be right! This set of performances marks the first time the GSC presents a non-Shakespearean play. This is all explained beforehand, along with the customary location of the bathrooms, like us on Facebook, etc. etc. They also inform you how they strive to create their shows the way Shakespeare did in his day. This is why I’ve neglected to put the director’s name — there isn’t one!

The story, as the name implies, is about Doctor Faustus, played by the talented Eric David Geels. In the beginning, he is a young but brilliant man. But it isn’t enough for him, so he seeks the aid of a demon named Mephistopheles, played by Shawn Saunders. What follows is the tale of a man grappled with the decisions he’s made. Other characters include Alexander the Great as played by Joshua Michael French, the seven deadly sins as played by… a lot of people, and Lucifer himself, played by Amos Omer. While I cannot include everyone in the cast in this review, I’d like to give a special shoutout to Greg Larse, who played Robin, and Maddy Forsyth, who played a myriad of characters. Most of the actors plays a myriad of parts, but it’s not hard to follow who’s who. They use masks and costume pieces to differentiate.

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The Castle Amphiteater in Provo is a fabulous venue for this play. It’s tall, dark, and creepy. Bring a blanket though and something to sit on if you are buying the sitting tickets. It’s cold and those rock seats get pretty hard after a while.

It should be said that this production at times can be quite, quite creepy. That being said, this production, crazily, had moments so funny I was doubled over with laughter. How they managed to do it is just one more thing that makes the GSC magical.

As I mentioned before, the play is preceded by a musical performance. These musicians also play throughout the duration of the play. This theatre company would only be half as good if not for them. What they do is subtle, but once analyzed becomes clear. I won’t get too deep into this, but certain melodies are associated with certain characters or emotions. The transitions between the songs are done in a seamless, non-distracting way as the musicians are right there instead of using a recording as so many companies do.

As I watch the Grassroots time and time again, the thing that continues to amaze me is how easily I can follow the story. I hate to say this, but we’ve all seen at least one bad performance of Shakespeare, where they get up and say the lines the performers themselves don’t even understand. The Grassroots aren’t a bit like this. My favorite way of them doing this is not being afraid to add contemporary elements. There was one point when a character pulls out a copy of Conjuring for Dummies. It was silly and everybody laughed, but it also helped me to understand that whenever that prop was used, he was looking at spells of conjuring. Simple as that.

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Lastly, not only is this show a top-notch form of entertainment, but I left the amphitheater feeling like I had learned something. That I had something grander to take with me. That there was more beyond the theatrics. Thank you again for reading this.

Grassroots Shakespeare Company

Doctor Faustus

Castle Amphitheater, 1300 East Center Street Provo

Thursday October the 31st @ 8:00 P.M.

Thursday October the 31st @ Midnight

Friday, November the 1st @ 8:00 P.M.

Saturday, November 2nd @ 8:00 P.M.

Gallery – $15, Yard – $10

http://www.grassrootsshakespeare.com/index.html

Springville Playhouse’s “Sweeny Todd” is Blood Curdlingly Amazing!

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By Jennifer Mustoe and Caden Mustoe

I will start this review with four thumbs up. Both my son Caden (an actor) and I (an actress) both are lifting all our thumbs up–way up–for Springville Playhouse’s chilling, delightful production of Sweeny Todd. Caden and I sang the songs all the way home and are still kind of jazzed as we are writing this review. This isn’t one of those shows that you say, “Oh yeah, it was good. You should see it.” We are both shouting: “GO SEE THIS SHOW! DON’T YOU DARE MISS IT!”

So, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we’ll tell you a little bit about the show. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the plot, well, basically it’s about a creepy barber and a creepy widow who kill people and then bake them into pies, which they then sell. The music, by Stephen Sondheim, is eerily creepy. The ending is uber creepy. So what I’m saying is, the show is creepy. AND WE LOVED IT!

The show takes place at Merit Academy, a charter school in Springville. You probably didn’t even know the school was there, right? The stage is in the gym. And yeah, it looks like a gym when you first walk in. But then the set, designed by Albert Ricci, draws you in and as soon as you sit down, the gym-ness of the room falls away and there in front of you is a raked stage that has the bakery on one level and the barber shop on the next. The set design is brilliant and I started feeling pretty excited just by the tone the set…set.

If you’ve never been to a Stephen Sondheim musical before, recognize that he can sometimes write tunes that are haunting and rather dark, to be honest, and it completely works for Sweeny Todd. The music director, Michael Jensen, got everything out of his cast he could and I was amazed at the chops all these actors had. When you see a community theater production, you often see a cast that is heavy on excitement and passion and can sometimes be a little wanting in the singing department. Not in this show! From leads to ensemble, everyone showed off clear, well modulated voices with well articulated lyrics.

Caden’s first comment while the show was still playing was, “Three words: costumes, hair and make up. The look of the people.” Lisa Kuhni, the director, was also the costumer, and did a fantastic job at both. The ensemble looked like typical Cockney types in London. Sweeny Todd’s cool leather vest and coat were really impressive. And everyone else looked just like you’d want them to look. Really, the whole picture was perfect. I actually could have stood for the women, even the ones who were supposed to be poor, could have had a little lipstick on, but I’m sort of a lipstick geek. Take Caden’s word for it on this one.

Lighting by Ted Nelson was great. One little glitch for about 5 seconds, but nothing big. But the placing of the lights and the wonderful lamps that hung from the ceiling with their amber light bulbs in them were awesome. Sound was by Lance Whitaker, and except for a little static for maybe a minute, the sound was great. I can’t tell you how rarely this quality of sound happens in a community theater show, so hooray!

Finally, I have to give props to the leads of the show. Sweeny Todd was played by Curtis Adams, who I have found out from talking to him after the show, is onstage again after being away from theater for eight years. Both Caden and I say thank you to Mr. Adams, who played Todd with a delightful creepiness, a rather attractive sexiness (I say that, not Caden) and a myriad of motif like stances, looks, and movements. He commands the stage whenever he is on it. He has a clear voice, very well articulated words so you can understand every word, and I liked him. I liked Sweeny Todd, who is a bloody murderer!

Robinne Booth plays Mrs. Lovett, Sweeny’s partner in crime. She comes out onstage belting her powerful voice and is fabulous. But the look on her face when she realizes that Sweeny’s proclivity to murder can further her meat pie business is one of the best moments in the show. Indeed, my favorite number in the whole show is her song about going to the seaside, “By the Sea.” Booth struts, prances, flirts, and cavorts while singing away. It is hilarious and marvelous.

Kristian Huff plays Anthony Hope and a variety of other characters in the show. Huff has a wonderful voice and is a terrific actor. He is still in high school and played the love interest with a maturity that shows him to be very good at his craft. He, too, lit up the stage and I found myself wanting him to be in every scene.

During intermission, Caden saw a few friends he knew and we chatted with them. I told them I had seen Nate Warenski, who plays Tobias Ragg, in a recent production of The Foreigner and he was great. We all agreed that he was doing fine in the part of Toby, but it wasn’t a very difficult role. Boy, were we wrong! The second act is where Warenski can show his acting chops, and what chops those are. I raved about this teenage actor when I reviewed The Foreigner and I will continue to rave now. Nate Warenski is a great actor and has a darn good voice, too.

Director Lisa Kuhni has done an amazing job. I understand they got this show together in eight weeks. Musicals are hard to do and take a lot of work, and getting this kind of quality in eight weeks is really nothing short of a miracle. Kuhni has taken what clearly are excellent performers but used finesse and a fine hand in giving them direction and giving them permission to do what they do best.

Caden has already said he is coming to the show again, and will be bringing friends. This is an excellent spooky, Halloween season show and shouldn’t be missed.

Sweeny Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

October 17th – November 2nd,  Friday, Saturday, and Monday

Thursday performances on Oct 17th and 31st.

7:30 PM.

Merit Academy, 1440 W. Center St., Springville

$8.00 adults, $7.00 students and seniors

Note: Sweeny Todd is suitable for teenagers and up.

Salty Dinner Theater’s Sleepy Hollow is Full of Spooky Fun

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By Jeremy Preston Jonsson

Dinner Theater is a curious beast. Not quite standard theater,  not quite cabaret entertainment, not quite anything else. It is its own medium. Half play, half party, all entertainment. It has its serious devotees — loyal fans who see show after show. I’m not going to write this review for them. They are the converted. They couldn’t be dissuaded from going by any review. No, this review is going to be aimed at those who might not otherwise go. Those who perhaps turn their noses up at such “lesser” entertainments. Anyone who ignores or disdains “dinner theater” does so to their own loss, as it is a format that offers a whole range of experience for actors and audiences that traditional fourth wall theater cannot.      

                For the uninitiated, dinner theater as it is commonly done today is an interactive theater format in which characters mingle with and interact freely with the audience.  As Salty Dinner Theater does it, it’s a chaotic, colorful, loud immersive experience, a party punctuated by scripted scenes, more about laughter and fun than about story, character, or drama.

                Salty Dinner’s latest offering for the Halloween season is their original take on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the story of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane in a Tarrytown, New York circa 1790. Ichabod comes to town and falls in love with the lovely Katrina Van Tassel, running afoul of the town tough guy, Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt. The two compete for Katrina’s affections, and Ichabod is ultimately run out of town, pursued perhaps by the legendary headless horseman of Sleepy Hollow. 

                Salty Dinner’s version puts most of its emphasis on the rivalry of Brom (Jonathan Tate) and Ichabod (Chris Kucera) for the hand of Katrina (Alisha Hall), and leaves the Headless Horseman element mainly out of the story. It is included as a final note. This is perhaps a mistake, as it is the most memorable part of the story, and the show is marketed for Halloween. Including the horseman earlier and more often would have afforded opportunities for spectacle, special effects, and spooky Halloweeny thrills.  The love triangle story occasionally bogs down into wordy scenes, which are not Salty Dinner’s strong suit.            

                What Salty Dinner is good at, and what is best about this show is:

  • The looser, less scripted material.
  • ·The portion of the show where audience members are put on the spot and made to say silly things, or do silly dances. 
  • The songs.
  • The times when the audience is included.

These are the places where the show diverges from regular theater, and becomes something different. Something special. These are the parts of the evening that are never the same night to night. These are the parts that make each performance an event, a happening.

                It takes a special kind of performer to pull these moments off. Someone more host than actor, more social butterfly than artist. It takes improvisational skills, conversational skills, and traditional acting skills. I was once chatting with a well known local director about the challenges of dinner theater. He said he knew of no better way for an actor to practice their craft than the fast paced banter of dinner theater. In this particular Salty Dinner Theater production, these moments are often handled by the original character of Bob, Brom Bones’ transvestite sidekick (Shantel Bingham.) She has great, funny, high energy reactions to female audience members’ declarations of love and attraction.

                 The production really doesn’t slow down or stop all evening. As dinner is served, then dessert, then the business of checks is attended to by wait staff, the audience is treated to songs performed by two characters: Sabrina Specter (Jamie Haderlie) and Julia Verne (Natalia Noble). These interludes serve to keep the energy up while the “acting” cast gets a break. The characters of Sabrina and Julia are connected to the show in a rather pointless fashion, but they are both capable singers. Jamie has an awesome belt, and Natalia a lovely smooth sound.

                The jokes fly fast and furious in Salty Dinner’s Sleepy Hollow. They are thrown out so quickly that most of the audience probably doesn’t even catch all of them, and that’s fine. Many are groaners. Many are hilarious. Occasionally, they are brilliant gems of wit.

                There are a few things I would have done differently. The production includes a lot of small snippets of narration that seem disconnected and random. There are also a fair number of pop culture references that really went nowhere, and snippets of music that were more distraction than enhancement to the action. Occasionally, when a character dropped a pop culture reference, there would be a little bit of a song played to drive the point home, as in “Get it, that’s from Breakfast Club, get it, get it?” I don’t think these are necessary. I think the jokes should stand or fall on their own. Do these things detract from the overall experience? Not really. They are things I wouldn’t have done, were I in charge, but the audience didn’t seem to mind. They ate it up, all night long

                 Speaking of eating, I should mention that I saw the show at Mimi’s Cafe in Murray, one of several venues that Salty Dinner performs at. The room was too dark. That’s hard for Salty Dinner to control, but there it is. The show was hard to see. Some of the other venues are better lit. Also outside of Salty Dinner’s direct control is the food. I’ve been to Mimi’s before, and for the most part, I like the food there. However, I cannot let it slide that the server told me the “French style steak” on the menu was a filet mignon. It wasn’t. It was a decidedly less expensive cut of meat.  I’m a good eater, I know the difference.  I know this isn’t Salty Dinner’s fault, but the dinner is part of the whole experience, so it should be commented on.

                If you haven’t been to a dinner theater production, specifically a Salty Dinner Theater production, do yourself a favor and go. You theater types will be amazed. Night after night, Salty Dinner packs the house, and night after night, they send home a happy crowd, with full bellies, and exhausted funny bones. It’s an experience that should get you thinking about the nature of theater. And should, if you’re smart, expand your outlook on what’s possible in it.

Sleepy Hollow plays through October at a variety of locations from Davis County to Utah County. It’s probably best if you just visit their website for details. www.saltydinnertheater.com

The Empress Theatre’s “Jekyll and Hyde” Explores the Thin Line Between Good and Bad

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A Utah Theater Review by B.J. Wright

     Jekyll and Hyde is a heart-wrenching story about the good and evil that each man battles inside.  Dr. Jekyll has a noble ambition of separating the good from the evil, and getting rid of man’s evil tendencies. Though he is warned not to play God by many who care for him, Dr. Jekyll is convinced what he is doing is right. As forewarned, his experiments go wrong and the evil Mr. Hyde is released to terrorize London. In his struggle to regain control Dr. Jekyll Asks the question, “Am I a good man? Am I a mad man?” and realizes “It’s such a fine line between a good man and a bad.”

     I had the pleasure of driving to Magna to see this thought provoking musical put on by the Empress Theatre.  I had never been to the Empress before, but will definitely be back in the future. It is a small theater tucked at the end of a quaint street. I felt very at home as I entered the building. The staff greeted me with a friendly hello, and the foyer was filled with pictures of the cast in costume for the upcoming show. The energy in the atmosphere filled me with anticipation for a great show. Continue reading

The Covey’s “An Unexpected Guest” is an Expected Pleasure

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A Utah Theater Review By Jennifer Mustoe and Corena Gunyan

My teenage companion Corena and I had the pleasure of going to see An Unexpected Guest, a delightful Agatha Christie mystery, at the Covey Center for the Arts in Provo. I will say, it was a little disconcerting at first as there was a Thriller concert on the big stage (the play was in the wonderful Brinton Black Box at the Covey) and as we walked into the theater, we were greeted by numerous well made up, bloody, shambling zombies. I admit, I hugged one and touched another on the nose and said, “Boop.” When faced with a zombie, these are my suggested responses. The zombies were part of the Thriller concert, which caused some problems for the play later.  The concert, not the zombies. More on this in a bit.

The Black Box theater has seating on three sides and is general seating. There really isn’t a bad seat, but I’d suggest sitting in the middle spot if possible. You’ll see more.

The set design by Daniel James is fabulous. The dead guy (this is a murder mystery so the play basically begins with the murder) was a big game hunter and there are photos of him with all kinds of big animals and trophies all over. (Trophies meaning mounted animal heads.) I wasn’t totally in love with where the furniture was situated. Center upstage was a big desk and chair. Center downstage was a couch that had its back to the center audience members. Two chairs flanked the couch and while they were set at an angle, they still were closed to some audience members’ line of vision no matter where you sat. I thought it would be better if the desk were smaller and in a corner. It’s hardly ever used. Also, the Thriller concert blasted through the wall of the theater a few times and this isn’t the first time that’s happened when I have gone to that theater.

Those are the only negatives for this play, so I got them out of the way early on.

My companion and I loved this play! Her comment was that she never saw any of the actors break character, and she was right. But that wasn’t the only thing this fine troupe of actors did. The cast is as follows: Continue reading

The Grand Theater’s “Fame” Flies High to Exceed Expectations

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By Aleksndr Arteaga

            The year is 1980, set in the final years of New York City’s High School for the Performing Arts. Fame – The Musical follows a group of students through their trials and successes and ultimately reflects on their dreams of fame and fortune. Fame explores many themes that still face our youth, that of: self- identity, literacy, drug abuse, prejudice, sexuality, resilience, and perseverance. Fame is based on the 1980 film of the same title, and ran at The Little Shubert Theatre Off-Broadway for 264 Performances and 40 previews.

            The Grand Theatre in Salt Lake City is nothing short of its name. With traditional balcony opera boxes, it would be the perfect venue for any opera or orchestral concert. The set design for Fame established an urban feel, which assisted in setting the tone of the show. Halee Rasmussen did a wonderful job creating a set, which was simplistic and resourceful. I applaud her set design; it created many strong lines, which aided to create beautiful stage pictures. Another shout out to Amanda Reiser, whose costume design truly captured the early 1980’s, from floral leggings to colorful leg warmers she hit the mark.  Finally, Dan Efros did a magnificent job with lighting design! Efros’ lighting transformed this piece into a spectacle to behold. Continue reading

The Woman In Black Haunts The Echo Theatre’s New Location

A Utah theater review by Ben Christensen

Provo’s Echo Theatre has a new location, and it appears to be haunted. The new theater, located just north of Center Street on 100 East, is a much larger venue than the old one, with rows of seats facing a traditional stage rather than the theater-in-the-round of the previous location. While I was a big fan of the more intimate venue on University Avenue, the larger stage of the new one will give Echo opportunities to do shows that wouldn’t have worked so well in the round—shows like The Woman in Black. This creepy ghost story about a small town in England haunted by a vengeful spirit is well placed at the new Echo Theater, where the stage’s backdrop, the fuller sound system, and the more advanced lighting options are used to full effect to create an atmosphere of suspense.Woman 1

Continue reading

Spend an Evening In The Heights at Hale Center Theater Orem

A Utah theater review by Ben Christensen

From the very first verse rapped by Usnavi de la Vega (Ben Wille), Hale Center Theater Orem’s production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights pulses with energy. Set in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, In The Heights is the story of a community pulled in different directions. Usnavi, a bodega owner, dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic. Vanessa (Shae Robins MWF) is a hair stylist who just wants to get out of the Heights. Nina (Xandra Wille) tried to get out but returns home sheepishly when she loses her scholarship at Stanford. And Benny (Keith Evans), the neighborhood’s token white boy, wants nothing more than to fit in. Like the characters, the play’s music—a mish-mash of hip-hop, salsa, and other styles—comes from many different places and pulls in different directions.

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UVU’s The Story Stone is Solidly Great

A Utah Theater Review By MH Thomas

Wow. The Story Stone is a show like no other. Award winning playwright, Wendy Gourley, has taken a familiar storyline and made it fresh and exciting. This is the world premiere of this tale of two rival tribes and two young people who strive to bring them together.

The Noorda Theater is dimly lit as you enter and find your seat. The set is like a big tent and the lighting brings everything alive. Arrive early and prepare yourself for the show. George Grant has worked with the actors and they have learned innovative ways to create rhythm and sound. He also performs in The Story Stone. Movement is another important part of this show. Director Barrett Ogden has done an excellent job of incorporating all the unique elements of the show and creating a sense of magic and wonder, as well as getting across a message about the importance of understanding and caring for our fellow human beings. Continue reading