Curtain Call: REV Theatre in Hamlet

Curtain Call: REV Theatre in Hamlet

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REV Theatre presents touchier, feelier Hamlet

 
One major character is dead before the play begins. Another eight will die before young prince Hamlet utters his final words — the rest is silence. The survivors threaten to kill themselves or act out murderous deeds, bury and carry the bodies while some of the most elegantly written existential questions are posed.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is about death. The yang to that yin is that the play is likewise about life and how to live in an irrational world populated with selfish human animals that might drive the best of us mad.
 
Co-artistic director of REV Theatre Company Rudy Caporaso, who plays the title role in this weekend’s production at the Scranton Cultural Center, described Hamlet as a play about love. The company’s two-and-a-half hour edit of the show trims the political fat and focuses on the familial relationships.
 
“I love the fact that the focus is on the relationships. For very specific instance, my relationship with my father is completely based in love,” Caporaso said during a rehearsal break last week. “Many productions have the ghost come in clanking, clunking armor and it’s all about fear and trepidation and that is not what we have going on. It’s about the intensity of father love.” In REV’s production, directed by co-artistic director Rosey Hay, Hamlet breaks the supernatural barrier, embracing the ghost of his father, literally clinging to the murdered king.
 
The focus on family dynamics, said Rosey Hay, helps REV’s high school audiences relate to this material they may not have had the opportunity to study in class.
“He speaks to young people of things that they’re going through — love and grief and loss and betrayal and joy and ecstasy,” she said. “And I think it’s so crucial, particularly today when (face to the phone) … they’re just not connecting with people.”
 
“Once they realize it’s literally like prime TV — it’s about power and money and violence and love and passion, then (they) start getting into it,” Susanne Sulby said from experience watching her own teenaged children studying Shakespeare.
 
Seeing it performed well, she said, complaints vanish as “you get the experience of the language actually penetrating you which is what its meant to do … Spoken word is how we got from here to there.”
 
Sulby plays Gertrude in the REV production. Previously she performed as the Player Queen at a now-defunct theater company in Philadelphia. She appreciates Hay’s edit not only for the emphasis on the family relationships and the struggle within the multiple families that are involved but for the increased efficiency of action.
 
“It’s like a train that’s just moving and you’re headed toward the cliff and you’re going to end up going over it and you can’t — from my perspective, there is nothing I can do about it. It’s fascinating,” she said.”
 
Hamlet was the first play actress Adair Arciero ever saw. Then she was only in the sixth grade; now she’s playing Ophelia.
 
“Before we went and saw it we read it with our teacher. She won a state award for middle school teachers. She loved Shakespeare and so she decided to teach it and she put it in the curriculum. I don’t know how she got away with that, but it was amazing because we were able to read it as a class and dissect it and go see it. And from that point forward I fell in love with it. That was the first kind of exposure to theater that I had.”
 
What makes Hamlet unique, suggested Hay, is that the play asks so many questions.
 
“It’s the existential nature of questioning the main reason for existence. That’s the bottom line,” Caporaso added.
 
This production marks the actors’ third time playing the role of the Prince.
 
“You can go on playing it for eternity … and still not get all of what’s there. It’s such a gift to be able to reinvestigate and not rediscover but discover new things.”
 
“There’s so much mystery to it,” Hay continued. “Throughout the play, Hamlet says, ‘I can’t tell you. I don’t know. I’m not going to say anything. It’s going to be secret.’ And it seems to me that at the heart of this play there’s a great mystery about what makes this particular man tick. It’s a continual discovery.”
 
“(He’s) struggling with making sense of betrayal and who’s your friend and who isn’t and who you can trust and who you can’t,” said Caporaso.
 
Limited by budget despite a generous grant from the Willary Foundation, REV’s Elsinore boasts only 10 inhabitants.
 
“It’s a very small small town,” laughed Caporaso, “but what we’ve done is double so that actors can play other roles and I think the doubling gives it such resonance and significance.”
 
Beyond the ghost of Hamlet’s father and Claudius being played by the same actor, which is not unusual although other productions will often have the Player King portray the ghost, REV’s adaptation doubles the roles of Laertes and Horatio with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
 
“These guys are tearing into this with two mouths so they’re having a great time,” Caporaso said.
 
Local actors performing in the show include James McGurl, Brian McGurl and Virginia Rickard as the Players and Scranton School District teacher Robert Lozada as Polonius.
 
REV Theatre Company is “thrilled” to now be working “in residence” at Shopland Hall on the fourth floor of the Scranton Cultural Center and is looking to produce Macbeth next year. Before that REV will present the musical Cabaret this spring.
 
“We’re so grateful Dawn McGurl saw our work and believed in us and said, ‘Do you want to be the resident company,” Caporoso said. “The community has been fantastic to us.”
 
Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Send email to: alicia@the570.com
 
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Director Rosey Hay (center) speaks with actors Joseph Daniels and Susanne Sulby before running act one last week in rehearsal last week at Shopland Hall while another actor warms up. Hamlet runs Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $16. Call (570) 344-1111 for details.
 

Curtain Call: God of Carnage

Curtain Call: God of Carnage

From left: Sean McKeown, Lydia Traill, Kimmie Leff and Tim McDermott perform in Gaslight Theatre’s production of in God of Carnage Jan. 28 to Feb. 1.

Gaslight Theatre presents regional premiere of Punch-Drunk Comedy

It’s run rampant through schools, playgrounds and neighborhood alleys for centuries but child bullying has become a hot topic in recent years as we’ve seen the damage documented in not only bumps and bruises, but teen suicide, depression and substance abuse issues. Turning her lens beyond the kids involved in a playground scrape to their parents, French playwright Yasmina Reza’s Le Dieu du Carnage premiered in Zurich in 2007 before opening in London in March 2008 in translation by Christopher Hampton as God of Carnage. The play would go on to win the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and the 2009 Tony Award for best play and nominations for Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis and James Gandolfini and a win for Marcia Gay Harden. It premieres regionally next week at The Theater at Lackawanna College in Scranton under the auspices of Gaslight Theatre Company with Brandi George directing.

Actors Kimmie Leff and Tim McDermott play Veronica and Michael Novak, the parents of a boy whose teeth are damaged when he is hit in the face by another boy in Cobble Hill Park. The play opens as both sets of parents are working together on a statement for the insurance company. They have “agreed to forego litigation in an attempt to solve the dispute as amicably and civilly as possible,” a release from Gaslight explains of the play’s premise.

“I think (Veronica) wants to understand why their son acted the way he did and what the Raleighs are doing about it,” Leff said of her character whom she described as the initial antagonist. “Once she meets them, it’s pretty clear to her why he does and takes it upon herself to sort of ‘school’ them. She takes ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ very seriously.”

The Raleighs are Annette (Lydia Traill) and Alan (Sean McKeown), a cell phone preoccupied corporate lawyer and his money-managing wife.

In his 2009 review of God of Carnage in The New York Times, critic Ben Brantley writes about Reza’s gift for taking “smug, upper-middle-class characters and stripping them, with algebraic precision, to their lonely, frightened ids” as espresso evolves into rum and the pretense of friendliness gives way to four-way combat. The most infamous moment of the play comes early on when Annette vomits on-stage all over Veronica’s coffee table art books.

“One of Michael’s biggest issues is his complicated relationship with the concept of masculinity. He prides himself on having ‘an ordinary job’ as the owner of a domestic hardware wholesale company, but his idea of masculinity is challenged at every turn,” McDermott offered. “His wife, Veronica, seems to wear the pants in the relationship, taking full advantage of Michael’s inability to take a stand for himself. I think at heart, Michael is a good guy who genuinely wants to avoid conflict — but unfortunately, this trait becomes more of a flaw as the story progresses.”

“It’s great the way alliances keep changing and which character or couple you are kind of siding with, which character is sort of the antagonist keeps changing and how quickly thing fall apart,” said Leff. I love how (Reza) looks at conflict and how people respond to it. I love how much punch she packs into this play.”
“The writing is incredible. The jabs hurt, the jokes land and the pain and personal neuroses bubble to the surface in the most subtle ways,” added McDermott, who explained the greatest challenge of Carnage has been getting into the mindset of a father.

“I don’t have children, nor do I have a mustache, so it’s been an interesting challenge to try to channel my fatherly side.”

From left: Kimmie Leff, Sean McKeown, Lydia Traill and Tim McDermott in rehearsal.

From left: Kimmie Leff, Sean McKeown, Lydia Traill and Tim McDermott in rehearsal.

For Leff, the greatest challenge of working on Carnage has been not laughing.

“I was getting good at not laughing and reacting to my castmates’ line deliveries or facial expressions, but now that we are off script and really getting into it, I’m back to square one. Thankfully, I have two weeks to get it under control.”

“I don’t think we’ve gotten through a single rehearsal without cracking up,” McDermott agreed. “These are seriously some of the funniest and most talented actors I’ve ever worked with and they make me push myself harder to try to get anywhere near their level.”

“My favorite line is Alan Raleigh’s ‘Oh you can see the F train from here. That’s great.’ It’s right as the Raleighs are trying to leave initially and the way Sean delivers it just cracks me up. It just shows how checked out he is,” Leff said.

Comparing God of Carnage to John Patrick Shanley’s 2004 play drama Doubt — in which she and McDermott shared the stage in Actors Circle’s production last spring as Sister James and Father Flynn, respectively — the actress noted how the small cast size allows the audience for a greater opportunity to get to know each character while the one-act time constraint requires a focused efficiency of story telling.

A 2011 film adaptation titled only Carnage was directed by Roman Polanski and starred Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet. It received mixed reviews and is currently available for purchase, but not rental screening, via mainstream digital sources.

Reza fans may also want to catch Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble’s production of the playwright’s comedy Art opening Thursday, Jan. 22 at the Alvina Krause Theatre and starring long-time ensemble members James Goode, Andrew Hubatsek and Daniel Roth under the direction of Richard Cannaday. It runs only two weeks through Feb. 1 with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets range from $14 to $26. Visit bte.org or call the box office at (800) 282-0283 for more information.

God of Carnage opens on Wednesday, Jan. 28 with a pay-what-you-can preview performance. Performances continue Jan. 29-31 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 1 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 or $10 for students and seniors. Visit gaslight-theatre.org for more information.

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Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond Send email to: alicia@the570.com.

The Artists’ Studio: Jan. 15, 2015

The Artists’ Studio: Jan. 15, 2015

Presented in memory of the late Abstract Expressionist Artist Sandra Dyczewski Maffei, The Pauly Friedman Art Gallery at Misericordia University’s latest exhibit Fantastic Universe: Fusing Fantasy and Reality will present the works of Spanish surrealist Joan Miró from Jan. 24 through March 7. Accompanying the show in the adjacent MacDonald Art Gallery will be an display of “Frozen Flower” photographs by Dallas resident Morrell Devlin. A reception for both shows will be held Saturday, Jan. 24 from 5-8 p.m.
 

Joan Miro

Joan Miro

After embracing surrealism in the mid 1920s, Miró entered the most prolific period of his career, according to a release from the university.
 
“By introducing bold materials, he found a way to express the brutal and grotesque imaginings carried over from his childhood, resulting in an intensity and accuracy that conveys the inner life and transcends the prosaic of everyday life. His work is both meticulous and outrageous; timid and wildly outrageous; and exemplifies both fantasy and reality,” the announcement reads.
 
Retrospective exhibitions of his work ran in New York, London and Paris in the early ’70s. Entire museums dedicated to his work opened in Barcelona in 1975 and in Palma de Mallorca in 1981. He would also be honored with a full exhibit of painting and graphic work in Madrid in 1978 before his death in 1983. The Tate Modern mounted another retrospective in London in 2011. The show then traveled to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
 
Morrell Devlin

Morrell Devlin

Born and raised in Tamaqua, Morell Devlin worked with the American Forces Radio and Television division as a photojournalist and medical photographer after enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1973. He later worked in television advertising sales in Reading and at WBRE in Wilkes-Barre. He would eventually open his own advertising agency, MoJo Marketing, where he still works today.
 
Devlin’s “Frozen Flowers” project started when an idea to freeze an old Seiko watch and call it “Freezing Time” coincided with an experiment in which he froze a single rose in one of his wife’s flower vases.
 
“The vase froze and broke, leaving him with a column of ice with the rose frozen and an upset wife,” according to promotional materials. “Over the years, he experimented with freezing various flowers in different types of water, in an effort to avoid the minerals and impurities that cloud ice made with tap water. Through trial and error, he found a blend of liquids that provided more predictable results.”
 
He went on to examine the frozen bubble trails that escape from the flower during freezing.
 
“Water freezes at 32 degrees. As it gets colder, the molecules in the water slow down and become denser. At 39 degrees, it is actually denser than the ice it will form when solid. This contraction basically compresses the object in the water … in this case, the flower … squeezing out oxygen,” Devlin explains. “As the water gets colder, approaching the freezing point, it begins to expand.  As it expands it slowly ‘stretches’ out the bubbles to form beautiful trailers.”
 
The works on display in Morrell Devlin: Photography — Frozen Flowers represent a fraction of the more than 1,500 total works in the collection.
 
Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday; and Saturday and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. For more information about the Pauly Friedman Art Gallery, visit misericordia.edu/art or call (570) 674-6250.
 
Morrell Devlin

Morrell Devlin

MARCHERS OF THE MOVEMENT

MARCHERS OF THE MOVEMENT

NEW EXHIBIT FROM JIM GAVENUS TAKES A CLOSER LOOK AT CIVIL RIGHTS.

Jim Gavenus has been working on a photo documentary about the civil rights movement, but instead of focusing on the big players, he feels a strong connection to the foot soldiers — the nameless men and women in the front lines — and the city of Selma itself.
“I’ve gotten to know and become friends with leaders of the movement and also the foot soldiers, the people whose names nobody knows but who were on the frontlines,” Gavenus explained. “So I’ve compiled all these images of these people and I have the stories from living with them and what I’m going to do is share the stories that they shared with me about the events.”
Gavenus’ photo gallery exhibit is timed with the movie “Selma,” which has unfortunately coincided with recent racial unrest in the United States, but his photo collection has been in the works for more than a decade and does not have any official affiliation with the film.
“Basically the people being portrayed in the movie are the people I’ve become friends with over the past 12 years,” Gavenus said. “Oprah Winfrey is playing a woman Annie Lee Cooper. Annie Lee Cooper and I were good buddies. I used to go and just hang out and sit on her couch and when she was sick I would bring her food and you know, tissues, stuff to help with her colds.”
Cooper was a civil rights activist during the 1955 Selma Voting Rights Movement. She passed away in 2010. Cooper is perhaps most famous for punching Sheriff Jim Clark in response to escalating police violence against Cooper and other black-Americans who were in line to register to vote. “Miss Cooper stepped out of line and said, ‘We ain’t afraid of you,’ and when he pulled up his club to hit her, she hit the sheriff Jim Clark in the face and knocked him backwards,” Gavenus said.
“I was at an event one time and Jesse Jackson said, ‘Miss Cooper was the one person who didn’t get the memo that it was a non-violent movement.’” (laughing)
Gavenus’ journey in Alabama started with a woman named Joanne Bland, who was one of the youngest people to participate in the Bloody Sunday march. Acording to Gavenus, Bland was running the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma, Ala., which was one of his first stops. “She kind of took me by the hand and said I was a little bit naïve (laughing) and I said then, ‘Teach me,’ and she did.”
“She took me to all these people’s houses,” he added. “She introduced me to people who were very close to Dr. King. Basically, she’s the one who started this whole thing.”
The 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march is this year and Gavenus spoke to The 570 about the ways equal rights were fought for and won. “The thing with the civil rights movement is it was non-violent,” Gavenus said. “These people were beaten every single day … I know a man who would walk his (black) kids to (a white) school every day and people would meet him along the path and whip him with a chain … but he never fought back. And there is a significance to that.”
Another significant aspect of the movement was the unity. The ups and downs were shared by the movement and its community and responsibility was shared. “They (leaders of the movement) told you how to protect your body and if you were being beaten — if they were hitting you with a club — after two or three times, I would go and lay my body over you,” Gavenus explained. “And then they would beat me a few times and then another person would lay their body over me.”
“Right now, with the way things are, I don’t know how successful people can be taking to the streets and looting … I don’t see anything positive that comes from that.”
—  kimberly m. aquilina

 

From Jim Gavenus: “The exhibit focuses on the Civil Rights Movement, the foot soldiers and Selma, Alabama. The body of work comes from more than 10 years of traveling to the south and living with those that were most active in the movement. I have built friendships with both the leaders and the foot soldiers of the movement and will show the photographs I’ve made and share the stories they have told me. It is a story of courage and sacrifice, pain and suffering and in the end success. This is the story of the heroes that pulled our nation out of a dark period of hatred, racism and injustice.”

 

If you go:
Who: Jim Gavenus
What: Photo exhibit of the real-life players of Selma’s story and the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement
When: Jan. 12 though Feb. 26 with a gallery talk/Q&A on Jan. 16, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Widmann Gallery, King’s College, Wilkes-Barre.
Additional details: Admission to all events is free.

 

 

 

Curtain Call: The Crucible

Curtain Call: The Crucible

Angel Berlane Mulcahy’s photographs for Little Theatre’s production of The Crucible were shot on location at the historic Dennison House in Forty Fort. Above, from left: Lisa Zurek, Emily Thomas, Alexandra Avers, Katelyn Sincavage, Cecelia Pugh and Olivia Caraballo play “the accusers.”
 

Little Theatre puts Love on Trial in ‘The Crucible’

 
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is among the most read plays in high school largely because of the political allegory comparing the hysterical failings of the Salem Witch Trial to the blacklisting damage inflicted by the Sen. Joseph McCarthy-instigated House on Un-American Activities Committee trials in the 1950s.
 
Yet the play is essentially a love story, notes David Parmelee. Its tragic love triangle is what puts the plot on the level of a Shakespearean drama. Parmelee is the director of the new production of The Crucible opening at The Little Theater of Wilkes-Barre on Saturday, Jan. 17.
 
Familiar with the play since first having appeared as an actor in a 1974 production, the director was most deeply touched by the play’s rich characterizations upon reading it again in pre-production.
 
“(Miller) is a genius with characters. They are people you know. We can all understand the conflicts. It’s really a story of love and betrayal … the ways people can let each other down or support each other in times of great trouble,” he told electric city and diamond city. While the witchcraft aspect is still captivating, and perhaps even more so in the 21st century, the love story and the stories of loyalty between friends and betrayal by friends are the things everybody can relate to, he said.
 
The Crucible boasts a larger cast than we’ve learned to settle for in more contemporary dramas. Little Theatre’s cast of 21 starts at age 9 with Cecelia Pugh playing Betty Parris. Rounding out “the girls who do the accusing” are two 15-year-olds and a 17-year-old. The play’s several group scenes in which most of the cast is brought on stage to sit as others speak were among the most challenging to stage, said Parmelee.
 
“As a director, you’ve got to watch what everybody is doing and look for opportunities for everybody to contribute for the audience. And you know the size of that stage at Little Theater — it’s big and we’re using all of it. We use what we call the Tardis method of blocking: we have a doorway and once you come through the doorway you can go wherever you want on the stage, the room has no limits. So it’s like Doctor Who in that the set is much bigger on the inside and we have little groups of two or three people all over the place relating to the action as it affects them.”
 

John Beppler and Deirdre Lynch as John and Elizabeth Proctor

John Beppler and Deirdre Lynch as John and Elizabeth Proctor


The most satisfying scenes to work, he added, are the more intimate scenes, particularly those between John and Elizabeth Proctor (John Beppler and Deirdre Lynch).
“Here’s a man that’s been unfaithful to his wife, which at the time was actually a capital crime, although Miller doesn’t treat it that way in the plot,” the director described. “The scenes between John Proctor and his wife where they are trying to have faith in each other once again are just heartrending scenes, and it takes the whole play for them to get there, but by the time the curtain comes down and Proctor is going out to be hanged he has forgiven her and she has forgiven him — they have reconciled — and every time I watch those actors do it in rehearsal it just about brings me to tears. It’s phenomenal work by the actors.”
 
As Proctor’s rejected mistress Abagail Williams, Lisa Zurek is always listening, always waiting for opportunities, the director said.
 
“She’s a very powerful character and it’s ‘what do I make happen next?’ And it’s not necessarily out of malice. She is trying to find a way to live in a society that she just can’t live within. She is trying to find a way to control her environment and somehow come out on top. And, of course, she does.
 
Parmelee has moved the setting of the show to an unknown 1800s American frontier town which allows for physical action including knife fights.
 
“One thing you realize is that the men are always abusing the women. There is hardly a scene where the women aren’t being threatened or physically abused or pressured to do something. At that time, women were virtually powerless so you can hardly blame them for this sort of fog they created to get themselves out of very dangerous situations, and they conspired to do it and they fool the men who were ready to kill them.”
 
John Sherrick, who gave a powerful performance as Willy Loman in Gaslight Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s Death of A Salesman a few years ago, plays Judge Danforth in this production.
 
“He really motivates act three. It’s a tremendous line load for him, just a beast for the actor who plays Danforth. But John is doing a wonderful job,” Parmelee said. “If you really appreciate watching actors work and do what they do, this is a good one.”
 
The Crucible is not one of those plays that you’ve seen once and don’t need to see it again, the director agreed.
 
“It’s like Apollo 13. You know how it turns out but that doesn’t ruin it. ‘I think they are going to hang him at the end?’ Yeah, they are, but we’re going to watch them get there and that’s the appeal.”
 
John Bepper and Liza Zurek

John Bepper and Liza Zurek


A preshow offered 30 minutes to curtain before each performance includes a candlelight prayer meeting with the cast in character lead by Tom Franko as Rev. Hale who will performing an excerpted sermon by Cotton Mather. An a cappella hymn in the style of the period written by Toni Jo Parmalee will also be performed.
 
Additional cast members include Paul Winarski as Reverend Parris, Walter Mitchell as Judge Hathorne, and Toni Jo Parmelee as Rebecca Nurse with Eric Lutz, Dan Pascoe, Chas Beleski, Dane Bower, Joanna Smith, Mark Bohn, Alexandra Ayers, Emily Thomas, Katelyn Sincavage, and Olivia Caraballo as Tituba.
 
Born in 1915, Arthur Miller would have turned 100 in 2015. Little Theatre’s production of The Crucible will be the first in the country in this centennial year. Founding editor of The Arthur Miller Journal and former president of the The Arthur Miller Society, Stephen A. Marino plans to attend the opening night gala on Jan. 17 and lead a talkback with the audience on Jan. 18 following the matinee performance. Marino’s new book, Arthur Miller Death of a Salesman / The Crucible A Reader’s Guide to Essential Criticism, will be published this spring. He will also chair the Arthur Miller Centennial Conference at St. Francis College in Brooklyn in October. A special dinner of Virgina ham, homemade biscuits and cider will be served at the gala.
 
Shows run Jan 17 through Jan. 25 with performances Friday and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $17. Call (570) 823-1875 for more information or visit www.ltwb.org.
 
 
Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Send email to: alicia@the570.com.
 

Festival of Trees

Festival of Trees

The Tradition Continues
The Festival of Trees Returns

 

Scranton has been getting in the holiday spirit with holiday craft markets and the annual tree lighting, but to really get into the giving spirit of the season, you might want to visit the Festival of Trees at the Trolley Museum in Scranton, on Friday, Dec. 12,  from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
For more than a decade, the Festival of Trees has upped the ante of the holiday season in Lackawanna County, first held at the Steamtown Museum and now at the Trolley Museum, with a fundraiser reception benefitting Toys for Tots. Although Lackawanna County is the main sponsor, non-profit organizations and smaller businesses pay $50 each to become a sponsor and larger corporations pay $100, explained Maureen McGuigan, Deputy Director of Arts and Culture for the county. There are 31 trees this year, with sponsors ranging from Sandvick Steel to the Girl Scouts.
Katie Gilmartin, former Junior League of Scranton president and current co-chair of 75th anniversary committee, said sponsoring a tree is a fun way to drum up publicity and prep for the Junior League’s upcoming anniversary. “And when the holiday theme came about, we thought that we would do a little research and come up with movie references and television references to the Junior League — which often aren’t the most flattering — and also, feature some notable Junior League members — Katharine Hepburn was a member and Margaret Hamilton, who was the Wicked Witch of the West.”
The trees will be up for two weeks, but the reception features some extras that make it a worthwhile winter wonderland night. The $20 admission includes food, beverages and music in addition to the decorated trees. “We have beer and Maiolatesi Winery will be there again. We have nonalcoholic beverages as well,” McGuigan said. “Accentuate is the caterer this year so they’ll have all kinds of good appetizers and then we always have entertainment, so this year it’s The Mark Montella Band. I asked if he could do some Hollywood favorites.”
There will even be a special performance by the cast of The Happy Elf, the Scranton Cultural Center’s holiday musical written by Harry Connick Jr.
This “fun, feel-good event” uses artificial trees for safety reasons, but that doesn’t quell the creativity from area sponsors. “The trees are absolutely amazing and the amount of effort people put into decorating them it’s quite remarkable,” McGuigan said. “It’s just a really special time of year.”
“You don’t have to even use artificial trees — we’ve had people create a tree,” McGuigan said.  “You can build a tree out of whatever you want. It doesn’t have to be an actual tree that you buy. (laughing) You never know what you’re going to get! People get very creative. The Lackawanna Heritage Valley built a tree out of bicycles one year.”
Kendra Lewis, an employee of the Trolley Museum, had a hard time choosing her favorite tree from last year’s festival. “Oh, last year they were all so good, I don’t know if I could pick a favorite, to be honest with you.”
And if you’re a business owner thinking about getting involved next year, McGuigan says tree building is great team building. “It’s kind of a good teambuilding exercise and it’s a great marketing tool, because we do get a couple thousand people through the museum looking at them, so it’s a way to showcase your organization. And also, get your employees involved and have a little fun.”
Although this is the first year for the Junior League, Gilmartin has participated in the Festival of Trees with her business, Nada and Co. “I think it’s a wonderful kick off to the holidays,” Gilmartin said. “We have the fliers here in the store and we get a response. People are excited about the theme (A Hollywood Holiday). There was a woman on her way out the door and she said to her little boy, ‘Oh! This is coming up again! Remember we went last year and it was so much fun?’ So, I think it’s becoming a tradition for people.”
The trees will be up for prizes too. In addition to first, second, third and honorable mention bragging rights, reception-goers can vote for the “People’s Choice.” Votes are a dollar and the money is also donated to Toys for Tots.
Can’t make the reception? Go see the trees at the museum until Dec. 31. Entry is $4 for adults, $3 for children (and kids 3 and under get in for free). You can even wait for free entry on “community day,” Saturday, Dec. 27.

kimberly m. aquilina

 

If you go:
What: Lackawanna County Arts & Culture Department’s gala Festival of Trees reception
When: Friday, Dec. 12, from 5:30 to 8 p.m.
Where: Electric City Trolley Museum, 300 Cliff Street, Scranton.
Additional details: Proceeds benefit Toys for Tots. Twenty dollars includes entry, food, beverages and music by The Mark Montella Band. Trees will be on display until Dec. 31 during regular museum hours (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.). For more details, call the Trolley Museum at 570-963-6590, email arts-culture@lackawannacounty.org or check out the Electric City Trolley Museum in Scranton. on Facebook.

Holiday on the Sqaure

Holiday on the Sqaure

Holiday on the Square is back for a second year catering to your handcrafted desires, gift needs or goodies to treat yourself in Scranton’s winter wonderland. If you didn’t get to go last year, Holiday on the Square is a two-day outdoor marketplace put together by ScrantonMade and Lackawanna County (the folks that brought you the summertime Arts on the Square) and sponsored by ShantyTown Designs.
“The county and ScrantonMade are the main players, but Shanty does the bulk of our design work and website,” said event organizer Cristin Powers of ScrantonMade.
The marketplace will showcase more than 50 vendors on N. Washington Avenue starting on First Friday (Dec. 5) from 5 to 9 p.m. Powers said she hasn’t expanded because she likes to keep Holiday on the Square “small and festive, with a warm feeling” under heated tents. The annual lighting of the city’s Christmas tree will take place at 6 p.m. that night, as well as other fun First Friday events.
The holiday spirit continues the next day, Saturday, Dec. 6 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Powers believes it all started with the first Arts on the Square. “We had a really good time and decided ‘Why not try a holiday sort of like the Kris Kringle market,’ which is in Bethlehem.”
“Also, Chrissy (Manuel) and I lived in New York City before and Union Square has a really great outdoor holiday market and we wanted to bring that feeling into Scranton,” continued Powers. “It gives you something different and gives another outlet for local artists and craftsmen and designers to have another place to sell their goods.”
The marketplace will host vendors like the “classics” — handmade jewelry and upcycled clothing, but there will be some new faces and wares this time around. One first-timer is Lisa Malsberger, owner of Tig & Cooneys, a stone coaster crafter who typically sells on Etsy, but will be adding handmade ornaments (some featuring maps of the area) to her bundle this weekend.
“I’m really excited about it,” Malsberger said. “You’re taking a leap of faith every time you make something by hand. Thanks to ScrantonMade, vendors like me have a place to showcase our business where before not a lot of people would have heard about us.”
“They have a lot of Scranton-themed art, which is really cool and really in right now” said Powers about Tig & Cooneys, the made-to-order vendor named after the owner’s dog’s stuffed animals.
There will also be “gourmet dog treats, a mead vendor, ceramics, a 3-D printing vendor, which is pretty cool and different, and the usual jewelry and candles and scarves,” Powers said. “All types of kitschy things. Lots of Scranton-themed things like mugs and ornaments — hopefully a little bit for everyone.”
And what about keeping everyone warm and happy?
Easy. There will be on-site catering, a seating area “and Sweet Lush Cupcakes will have their food truck, which is just a dessert and coffee truck, which is great,” Powers said.
To avoid any mush and mud on your boots like last year, the marketplace area has been moved from the courthouse lawn to the street and sidewalk.
If you miss out on Friday’s events (which include two 20-minute performances of a “Christmas Carol”), be sure to stop by on Saturday — you could score a gift bag filled with goodies from local businesses and vendors if you are one of the first 100 shoppers.
“Last Holiday on The Square, we kind of incorporated – to Arts on the Square as well – a #ShopScranton campaign to really promote everything that our town has to offer besides our event,” Powers explained. “Our goal is to bring people downtown to support the vendors, but to also go inside and support the businesses that are down there.”
Local brick-and-mortar businesses are getting in the holiday fun, too, Powers said. Note will have a 3-D printer making ornaments; Backyard Ale House is having an ugly sweater contest, plus giving away $100 gift cards; Lavish will have holiday music, cocktails, desserts and is offering a free soap with any purchase over $50. There will even be raffle opportunities in the businesses – be sure to fill out a ticket for chances to win gift cards to Scranton-area stores, so you can #ShopScranton.

— kimberly m. aquilina
If you go:
WHAT: Holiday on the Square, a two-day outdoor marketplace.
WHEN: Fri. Dec. 5 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sat. Dec. 6 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
WHERE: N. Washington Avenue, Courthouse Square, Scranton.
For more information: Check out the event page on Facebook or visit scrantonmade.blogspot.com for an event map and where to find interesting vendors, shops and even freebees.

 

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the artists’ studio: Nov. 20, 2014

the artists’ studio: Nov. 20, 2014

Wyoming Valley Art League celebrates 60th anniversary with new gallery

 
Once upon a time it seemed like big philanthropists (e.g. Carnegie, Rockefeller) were throwing big money at the arts like it was water. Large theaters and galleries were built and buzzed with creative contributions that didn’t require commercial legs in order to walk. These days artists roam homeless through the streets like society’s black sheep looking for any hospitable venue that might invite them in to share their talents with the general public without charging them an arm and leg for the exposure.
 
The Wyoming Valley Art League has been endowed with the means to open a second gallery in its Circle Center for the Arts thanks to the generosity of Atty. Carmen Maffei and his desire to remember his wife, painter Sandra Dyczewski Maffei who passed away a few years ago.
 
“It was a wonderful surprise gift,” WVAL president Margie Bryant told electric city and diamond city. A private reception for family and friends held last weekend attracted 150 to 200 people, she said.
 
“It was a spectacular event. Atty. Maffei actually sent us a note saying we went beyond anything he ever expected and how much he appreciated us honoring his wife in such a way. So we did good. When someone gives you a nice check you want to show your appreciation.”
 

Artist Sandra Dyczewski Maffei with one of her paintings. Images courtesy of the WVAL.

Artist Sandra Dyczewski Maffei with one of her paintings. Images courtesy of the WVAL.


Born and raised in Wilkes-Barre, Sandra Maffei worked as a registered nurse and raised a son before going back to school to study art in her 40s. In time, she would become a member of the The Wyoming Valley Art League. The opening reception for her posthumous exhibit of 14 of Sandra Maffei’s own abstract paintings and a public dedication of the gallery will be held Friday, Nov. 21 from 5 to 8 p.m. At least one exhibit in the new gallery each year will be dedicated to abstract art.
 
The WVAL was established in 1954 by two artists — Caroline Williams and Marjory Smith — who shared a studio in downtown Wilkes-Barre. The organization’s first home was in the Deemer’s building on West Market Street. They held regular meetings and mounted exhibitions in the Osterhout Library annex on South Franklin Street. Among the league’s temporary homes was a spot in the Midtown Village downtown and a rental above Vanderlyn’s Restaurant on Schuyler Avenue in Kingston.
 
“We never had a permanent location until three years ago,” Bryant said.
 
Maffei’s gift isn’t the first act of kindness that has bolstered the WVAL. Before that, the generosity of Edith Reynolds allowed the nonprofit association the means by which to purchase the former Luzerne County Medical Society building on South Franklin Street.
 
The all-volunteer organization plans to continue hosting exhibit openings and receptions on the third Friday of each month even as the recently formalized Third Friday Wilkes-Barre goes on hiatus for the winter. Although the galleries are only formally open with a paid attendant on Thursday afternoons from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m., volunteers are often milling about. Also on display on the upper level of the Circle Center is the WVAL’s 60th anniversary juried members’ exhibition. Classes are offered in the building’s basement level. The league’s greatest source of funds comes from membership fees ($40/year). It’s largest fundraiser is the wine and cheese tasting that will be held this year on Friday, Dec. 5, from 6 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $25.
 
“It’s the second year’s we’ll be doing it. It’s a very nice event. And we’re using both galleries for that,” Bryant said.
 
“We’re at an exciting point here. As the Circle Center for the Arts and the Wyoming Valley Art League. And we named the building the “Circle Center for the Arts” because we do different types of things. We just had a play reading there of a gentleman’s adaptation of The Tempest, and we did that as a fundraiser for Ruth’s Place which we’ll be giving them the check on Friday night also. We have a photo shoot coming up for Project Hope, for women and men with cancer, and a professional photographer is going to use our building to take the pictures of them. We have a makeup and artist and everything else to really make give make them feel absolutely beautiful.
 
It’s multidisciplinary — not just visual arts. We’ve done film series, we’re hoping to have a showing of Man in A Box there, which is a locally produced film. We’re trying to do different things and the building is available to be rented out if you want to have an event there — recitals, readings, poetry, you name it.”
 
If you go:
What: Sandry Dyczewski Maffei Gallery inaugural exhibition featuring Abstract Paintings by the gallery’s namesake.
When: Nov. 21 to Jan. 11.
Where: Circle Center for the Arts, 130 S. Franklin St., rear, Wilkes-Barre.
Info: wyomingvalleyartleague@gmail.com

 

Panaoramic view of the WVAL member gallery at the Circle Center for the Arts.

Panaoramic view of the WVAL member gallery at the Circle Center for the Arts.

Curtain Call: Sister Act

Curtain Call: Sister Act

Broadway Theatre League in conjunction with NAC Entertainment presents Sister Act: the musical on Friday, Nov. 21 at 8 p .m. and Saturday, Nov. 22 at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets range from $37.50 to $59.50 and are available via (570) 342-7784 or BroadwayScranton.com.

Sister Act Takes Scranton to Heaven this Weekend

The witness protection program has sparked fewer stories than amnesia but it’s still popular fuel for a fish out of water plot. In the 1992 film Sister Act starring Whoopi Goldberg, aspiring singer Deloris Van Cartier snitches on her gangster boyfriend and is tucked away for safekeeping in “the last place anyone would think to look” — a convent. The stage musical adaptation of Sister Act opened in London in 2009 features a score by Alan Menken with lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner. Playwright Douglas Carter Beane was called in to do a major rehaul of the book before the show moved to Broadway in 2011.
We took advantage of the opportunity to speak with Beane just after the closing of his stage adaptation of the Betty Comden and Adolph Green 1953 film The Band Wagon, which ran as a New York City Center Encores! special event Nov. 6 to Nov. 16. A part-time resident of Lake Carey and a native of NEPA, Beane grew up in Berks County. His comedy Fairycakes was staged at the University of Scranton this part summer as part of the Scranton Shakespeare Festival’s 2014 season. Other credits include The Nance, Cinderella, Xanadu, Lysistrata Jones, As Bees in Honey Drown, The Little Dog Laughed, and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar.

Douglas Carter Beane at the opening of Sister Act.

Douglas Carter Beane at the opening of Sister Act.

So Sister Act opened in London?
I think it was first done in Pasedena and then in Atlanta and then it went to London. It was picked up by Joop van den Ende who has a company called Stage Entertainment which is one of the largest theater producing companies in the world, and when I say world, I mean the world because he basically has Europe. And he thought Sister Act would be a great European title but he needed it to go on Broadway to be a hit on Broadway … The show that was in London he knew would never play in America because it was just racially insensitive and — it was written by these two old television writers who are sort of in a gated community and they’re not the coolest cats in the world so they hired Jerry Zaks who is a wonderful director and he called me — I didn’t know him at all.

You’ve worked with him since then —
Since then we’re best buddies …but then I didn’t know him at all. He got my number because Nathan Lane had recommended me for the job, thank God. And I stopped by his office and he said, “What do you know about Sister Act?” And I said I vaguely remember the movie and I remembered liking it. He was really cagey about showing me a script … He was like, “Well go look at the movie again, here’s the CD of the score, we’ll get to that.” They flew me to England to take a look at it after I said I liked it and would like to work on it. And it was so unbelievably awful.

So you sat in the audience kind of rewriting it as it went?
I think I saw it three times in two days — it was like an evening performance and a matinee and another evening. I just took copious notes and came back and met with Jerry and we rewrote it. And the show was booked into a theater on Broadway and all the sets and all the costumes were done and we were casting as I was writing it. I mean the casting people would say, “What are the attributes of this particular nun we’re trying to cast?” And I would say, “I don’t know I haven’t gotten to that page yet.” It was that crazy but it was a remarkable and wonderful time. My associate writer started as my typing assistant and by the end he was an associate writer —Paul Downs Colaizzo — was the Catholic-in-residence. I said, “I’ve got to have a Catholic on this project,” because I was the first Christian on it. He ended up writing chunks of it and I would rewrite it. It was so fast and furious.
I saw him two nights ago and he just sold a television series to CBS so I’m really proud of him. And Patina Miller (who originated the role of Deloris Van Cartier in the West End and Broadway productions) has got a TV show right now (Madame Secretary). It was a great time. I loved working with Alan Menken who did the score — we’re looking for something else to do in the future. In the Whoopi movie version it’s all ‘60s Doo-wop music which he had already done in Little Shop of Horrors. He said, “I don’t need to go back there.” So he came up with the brilliant idea of Philly soul and that kind of fabulous sound and set it in Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. So the minute I saw that I said, “I know who those people are because I was there.” I was a club kid then. I was out going to discos in the late ‘70s.

I watched two songs online and I was surprised. It was better than I expected. (laughs)
My sister saw the national tour in San Diego and it had been out for about a year then. And I had lost track of it and then my sister sees it out in San Diego and texted me and said, “This show is so much fun. The audience can’t get enough of it.” It’s nice to hear because you sort of forget and these shows sort of become the check in the mail box every two weeks.
People love it. Audiences just dig it and it’s a fun story because it’s about two people who have no business being friends, becoming friends. And that’s irresistible to an audience.

That and the empowerment. In the“Raise Your Voice” number, we tear up right away because we know what it feels like to want to be strong and we’re rooting for these people.
It was wonderful to work on because it had so much heart to it. I love the last scene with the Mother Superior and Deloris before they go into the finale. I’m very proud of it. It’s very beautiful what they say to each other. People love it. They tear up and cheer. It’s very happy.

I was comparing the two synopses from the West End production and the Broadway show tying to see what was different.
The basic story is going to be the same. I think the West End version was unfunny. Just to give you an idea of the rewrites — an impartial lawyer looked at the script and at the end said there were four original lines left to which Jerry Zaks said, “What’s the fourth?” Because we knew what three of them are because they were cues for numbers and we didn’t want to change them. It was a total rewrite. Characters names were changed and character attributes were changed.

Sister ActCan you give an example?
It was just so awful, it’s painful to go back. At one point one of the bad guys said, “Where’s Deloris, we looked everywhere for her — the liquor store, the check cashing place, and the hair salon.” …That’s terrible. They’ll be picketing outside the theater. And so my version is the one that’s around the world now. It’s in Spain right now, it’s on an American tour, it’s about to open in Japan, it did a UK tour. So in England the (old) version played London, and then my version played all across England. . …I wanted to show that people of faith could come to it and not feel talked down to and think it was a fun show and people with no faith whatsoever could also have a good time.

It’s kind of remarkable that’s even achievable.
It’s kind of a task but that’s part of the fun. And nuns are always funny.

People love nuns here so it should play well in Scranton.
It’s a nun town, very Catholic, so it should do very well.

What is it that makes Deloris redeemable?
I think that I knew who she was. It was an abstract to the (initial) writers. But an African-American woman in Philadelphia in the late ‘70s who wants to break into the music business — those were six of my friends. I knew exactly who they were, the way they spoke, their expressions. Exactly the choices they made and how they made them. So it was hugely helpful. Suddenly the set designer and the costume designer were coming to me with questions and showing me things and I’d say, they did this or that was that. It was a lot of fun. I don’t know that I’d do it again. The pressure was insane. At one point I remember shouting a line to an actress as Alan Menken was shouting to a conductor as Jerry Zaks was shouting to a set person behind all of us, as if were all trying to say— if I shout louder, I can finish up before the other person. It was insane. We’re all just sitting there shouting.

It is harder to work on something that’s already half-written than your own from scratch work?
No, because once you get into the mode, and you know who the characters are, it’s a lot of fun. I bumped into the guy whop played the Monsignor last night and we were just laughing about it. “Do you remember how there was one joke that would just be in every scene because you kept trying to find a place for that one joke?… And I was afraid to say it, because I wasn’t sure if it was still in the scene.” It was a crazy time.

Sister Act stars Kerissa Arrington as Deloris and Maggie Clennon Reberg as Mother Superior with Lamont O’Neal as Eddie and Kolby Kindle as Curtis Jackson. Ensemble member Eileen Patterson (eileen-patterson.com) is a graduate of The University of Scranton where she appeared in shows including Urinetown and The Grapes of Wrath. Broadway Theatre invites the community to meet Douglas Carter Beane at POSH following the 8 p.m. performance of Sister Act on Saturday, Nov. 22. There is no charge to attend the meet and greet.

Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Send email to: alicia@the570.com.

Sister Act

Dinovember

Dinovember

It’s Dinovember at the Everhart Museum!

Did you ever wonder what your toy dinosaurs did while you slept? Apparently, they bake, color on walls, kidnap Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and play Operation! Refe and Susan Tuma are the humans who belong to the dinosaurs and they started snapping pictures of what the dinosaurs did during Dinovember when the magic started in 2012.
“Sometimes things are unexpected,” Everhart’s Executive Director Cara Sutherland said. “For example, Susan’s dinosaurs that she had as a child were sent to her by her parents and her kids played with them. They really didn’t think anything of it. I guess Halloween night back in 2012, she (Susan) just kind of put them in the bathroom and didn’t think anything of it, but the next morning their two daughters were yelping, yelling and saying, ‘Mom! Dad! Come see what the dinosaurs did!’ They (the dinosaurs) were in the bathroom and it looked like they were brushing their teeth. And then every night for the next 30 days, the dinosaurs did something.”
EC20DINO_3_WEBThe “What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night” pictures took off on social media and the images are now featured in a book by the same name. The Everhart hosted a book signing on Nov. 6, but you can still purchase the book at the museum. The Tuma’s children’s book is scheduled for next year and Sutherland said there is a movie deal in the works.
The Everhart is the first museum to host the dinosaurs from Kansas City who have a reputation for mischief. Sutherland goes into work each day not knowing what the dinosaurs got into the night before. “They did a little bit of graffiti at the Everhart,” Sutherland said. “I went into my office on Saturday and they had taken over my office.”
The dinosaurs have even broken out of the museum and been spotted in Scranton and other parts of Lackawanna County. According to Sutherland, they have scaled the Times-Tribune building, tried on lingerie at the Lackawanna Historical Society, hit up both the Lackawanna Coal Mine and the Trolley Museum.
“They get around,” Sutherland said with a laugh.
“The first night, they broke into the Lackawanna County Visitors Bureau,” Sutherland said. “I guess they were looking for maps — they needed to know where they were going!”
The Tuma family dinosaurs were lucky to be in town for a special day: Spike, the Everhart’s resident stegosaurus, had a birthday on Nov. 15. Humans and dinosaurs alike shared birthday cards and cake with Spike. (You can still go see Spike and wish him a belated — he lives in the museum year-round).
Dinovember is a great chance to check out the Everhart’s fossil gallery, which was renovated earlier this year with underwriting by Pagnotti Enterprises Inc. and Lackawanna Insurance Group.
“What’s neat about our fossil collection is they were collected early 20th century from the mines, so they may have a note on them indicating which coal mine they came out of — which vein was being mined. So it’s part of the local history,” Sutherland said.
The dinosaurs have been visited by young and old, but Sutherland said a large demographic of visitors include 20-somethings without children. “It’s really for all ages,” Sutherland said.
EC20DINO_1_WEBThe exhibit started Nov. 1 and runs officially until Nov. 30, but these dinosaurs do whatever they want. “They’ll probably stay longer at the Everthart, because there are a lot of things they want to get into,” Sutherland said. “We’re planning on having them until at least Dec. 29.”
Dinovember gets a small amount of assistance from the Lackawanna Heritage Valley Authority, according to Sutherland, but a lot of the savings come from the efficiency of the museum staff. “Refe (Tuma) sent me the digital files and I printed them in my office and we did the matting and framing in-house,” Sutherland explained. “But yes, the LHV assisted us with a small grant … We have a modest admission fee for the museum. There is no extra charge for special exhibits. They are included.”
You can see the dinosaurs and photos of their mischief and mayhem in person or on the Everhart Museum of Natural History, Science and Art’s Facebook page. Or, better yet, visit them at the museum.
— kimberly m. aquilina

 

If you go:
What: Dinovember
Where: The Everhart Museum, 1901 Mulberry Street, Scranton (Nay Aug Park)
When: Monday, Thursday and Friday, noon to 4 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Other details: Admission $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, $3 for children ages six to 12 and free to museum members. You can call (570) 346-7186 for more information.

Curtain Call: Writer Protagonists

Curtain Call: Writer Protagonists

From left: Mike Kranick, Cillian Byrne and Brian Lenahan in rehearsal for The Pillowman. The University of Scranton Players production runs Nov. 14-23 with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Call (570) 941-4318 or visit thescrantonplayers.com.

The Writer is His Own Best Metaphor?

Writer-centered Shows Open on Two College Stages This Week

Maybe writers aren’t any more self-centered than the rest of the population, but the evidence doesn’t look good. The number of fictional works in which writers find themselves at the center of the dramatic storm is so overwhelming that your multi-tasking brain has probably already thought of several examples.

It’s not a new conversation, but writers aren’t changing the subject. This week in The 570 both King’s College and The University of Scranton will open productions of contemporary works in which writers are the central characters, those being Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities and Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, respectively.

I know I’m not the only one who groans audibly to see yet another seemingly self-referential and thinly-veiled autobiographical story about “a writer.” Surely this isn’t what they meant when they said, “write what you know.” It’s tempting to charge lazy authors with short-sightedness and a general lack of empathy for other people. You’d think they were sitting at a desk all day instead of interacting with other people or something.

In the theater, it’s even worse — playwrights tend not only to create writer characters, but also write about the theater. In a piece Jonathan Mandell wrote for HowlRound this week titled “Theater about Theater,” he counts at least four plays running on Broadway this season with prominent playwright characters. Have they given up and resigned themselves to blatant “catering to the in-crowd?”

In the best of circumstances, the writer character becomes a sort of blank-slate everyman on to which audience members are invited to project themselves and watch the whirlwind of colorful characters and life-altering events occur around them. (sidenote: Maybe writers are to blame for the ‘everyone thinks he’s a writer’ trend — audiences have been cast in the role so many times, it’s only natural they identify.)

Other Desert Cities premiered off-Broadway in January 2011 (a few months before the series Baitz co-created for ABC, Brothers & Sisters, concluded after five seasons) and transferred to Broadway with a couple key cast replacements (i.e. Rachel Griffiths and Judith Light; Stockard Channing, Thomas Sadoski and Stacy Keach continued in their roles) by November.

The family drama cheers on troubled writer Brooke who comes home to celebrate Christmas with her wealthy family in Palm Springs. Her “gift” is the announcement of a memoir that will expose the most painful period in the Wyeths’ history. It’s not unlike A.R. Gurney’s The Cocktail Hour (1988) produced by Actors Circle earlier this year, but more overtly political and they’re Jewish instead of WASPs. Brooke’s book is an embarrassment to this Republican family to whom appearances matter, and it must be abandoned. It’s not a new question but we still haven’t agreed on an answer toward the writer’s right to tap his/her own experiences. How selfish of the writer to think she owns her life’s experiences when they have been shared with and depend upon other people!

No matter how many “all persons fictitious” disclaimers are invoked, characters are inspired by real people with real feelings, because we can’t not write what we’ve known. Writers don’t make things up so much as shake the pieces of life up and let them fall into a new, more digestible arrangement. Toward the end of Other Desert Cities, Aunt Silda urges Brooke, “Don’t back down. You’ll win because you have ideas and they only have fear.” The writer’s greatest block may be the gut instinct that if they don’t alienate friends and family, it’s probably not any good.

Irish-born playwright Martin McDonagh has never been afraid to alienate audiences and has admitted a desire to test the limits of dramatic storytelling. One of the batch of seven plays he wrote in 1994, and later freshened for production in 2003, The Pillowman is typical of his works for its flirtation with absurdity, heightened dramatic language (recklessly studded with obscenity) and stylized excessive violence. At times it seems McDonagh is intentionally trying to shock and upset us.

Yet, McDonagh’s has exhilarated audiences as much as he has offended them. The playwright hasn’t created the suffering he depicts, after all, but rather taken a day-glo highlighter to its existence, using comedy to make it cartoonish and therefore something not so daunting that can be overcome.

The Pillowman’s Katurian has written horrifying fictional fairy tales of children suffering cruelty and abuse that have inspired copycat crimes in the real world. He is violently interrogated by a totalitarian-order good cop/bad cop team. But there is an odd compassion in acknowledging the reality of our childhood nightmares. The title nine-foot character comes to bring comfort to adults about to commit suicide by taking them back in time and teaching them how to die in a childhood accident, thereby averting all those years of needless suffering.

McDongah avoids politics and dives into darker personal psyche but his stories, too, beg for the right to exist no matter the consequences — even if the writer must sacrifice his own comfort or, worst case, his life — for the stories to live.

From left: Anders Larson (Trip Wyeth), Jessica Mulligan (Brooke Wyeth), Peter Kmec (Lyman Wyeth) and Iris Ouellette (Polly Wyeth) perform in Other Desert Cities at King’s College Nov. 20 to 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 22 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5-12. Call (570) 208-5825 for more information or reservations or visit desertcities.bpt.me.

From left: Anders Larson (Trip Wyeth), Jessica Mulligan (Brooke Wyeth), Peter Kmec (Lyman Wyeth) and Iris Ouellette (Polly Wyeth) perform in Other Desert Cities at King’s College Nov. 20 to 23 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 22 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5-12. Call (570) 208-5825 for more information or reservations or visit desertcities.bpt.me.


 
 
Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond. Email alicia@the570.com.

A Social Reborn

A Social Reborn

Ted Michalowski introduces Synaesthesia Social


 
Illustrator and professional artist Ted Michalowski finds the time — between his work and his guest lecturing at various schools, universities and colleges — to coordinate two regional events: Drawma Club and the newly updated Synaesthesia Social.
 
Everything came together after finding inspiration from two educational mentors. College professor Ted Brenner initially sparked his interest to draw live music performances and recommended that he pursue a master’s degree in illustration under the direction of Murray Tinkelman at the University of Hartford. While earning his degree at Hartford in the MFA illustration program, Michalowski chose to write his thesis on Synaesthesia with drawings of live music and decided to start running the Drawing Social (now Synaesthesia Social) events in 2006 at the Test Pattern Gallery in Scranton. The two professors were truly “monumental” to him in his beginnings.
“Being around these people who are just so dedicated to what they do — their energy starts electrifying other people and you can’t help but want to keep conducting that electricity.”
 
Ted Michalowski drawing Tom Bonomo. PHOTO BY TOM BONOMO.

Ted Michalowski drawing Tom Bonomo. PHOTO BY TOM BONOMO.

He has worked for networks — ABC CBS and CNN — as a courtroom illustrator. He mentions how drawing in the courtroom and live music can appear as opposite conventions, but that they are tied together because of the echoing “intensity and being in the moment and capturing the moment.” All of this carried over to his holding Synaesthesia Social for artists and musicians to draw inspiration from one another and to find artistic innovation.
 
He recently reinvented his Drawing Social into Synaesthesia Social at the Olde Brick Theatre, 126 W. Market St., Scranton, taking place every Sunday, from 6 to 9 p.m. The change of name and venue supported the transition the event had undergone. “The name of the event is now Synaesthesia Social for a suggestion of its more inclusive element of the arts where it’s not exclusively drawing,” Michalowski said. “With live music, it makes all the sense in the world to have it in a live performance base.”
 
The event consists of a live music show, but so much more. “It’s a merging of all the arts — music, drawing, painting, poetry and theatre,” according to Michalowski. The music begins playing and then people pretty much do what they want. Artists will draw and paint to the music, often using the musicians as their subjects. People will do their homework, work on their laptops or in their journals and even knit while listening (to the live entertainment). Poetry readings will even occur between and during the event. “But for as much as that goes on, the majority of the crowd just comes to kick back and enjoy the performance and scene.”
 
Often, but not always, the musicians will produce their music without any prior preparation. “That’s the element of improvisation of live art in the moment,” Michalowski said. “Some musicians will bring in certain pieces that they played.” However, he emphasizes that he does not set “any guidelines or parameters to what music is going to be played, except that there are no parameters artistically.”
 
Special guests appear at the event. “I have Veronica Lawlor lined up for a workshop in March.” Lawlor “is based in New York City and teaches in the art department at Pratt and Parsons.” She has written two books and will have another out soon (Urban Sketchers), which is a series. “She will have some of my work featured in it.”
 
Regulars also frequent the event. The list is extensive according to Michalowski, but a few he highlighted include: Jason Smeltzer playing the theremin, Doug Smith who plays upright bass, and Jamie Orfanella performing on didgeridoo. The three remain his close friends within his artistic social circle. They fuel his artistic work and his motivation to continue the events he holds. “If you are immersed in a social group like that, you are more inclined to push yourself artistically.”
 
Further, The Olde Brick Theatre has become a comfy new home for the event. “The event has so much more atmosphere and ambiance, which is something people remark who have been coming for a long time,” Michalowski explains. “People are impressed at how hospitable both Bob and Paige Balitski have been.” The proprietors and directors of Diva Productions host the weekly event for the community and arts. Paige will bake and make coffee, while Bob stands in as the lighting and sound technician. “The theater is fully staffed and welcoming.”
 
Michalowski encourages anyone interested to come out. Admission is $5 for general admission and $2 for students.
 
“It’s an event to bring people together and give them the opportunity to be exposed to all sorts of different music, artistic motivation and integrity.”
 
Besides Synaesthesia, Michalowski holds Drawma Club on every Tuesday from 6 to 9 p.m. also located at The Olde Brick Theatre, $10 general admission and $5 for students. It’s a “weekly figure drawing session.” Models pose as a character often in costume in accordance with themes.
 
“Bob Balitski will set the stage,” lighting it to also “encompass various moods and themes” for artists. Also, Michalowski takes events similar to Synaesthesia to Europe, “predominantly Poland,” whereby he collaborates with musicians he brought with him or Polish musicians, or he simply creates a mural on his own or with students he has taken on study abroad.
 
As for what’s next, he has a few events occurring soon, including speaking at Young Authors’ Day at Keystone College (not open to the public) and an event titled PANORAMA to be held on Nov. 15, at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg. He plans to continue moving forward with Synaesthesia Social events by allowing for “different and new music” to keep coming in the door.

— katelyn english

Synaesthesia Social runs weekly from 6 to 9 p.m. every Sunday at The Olde Brick Theatre, 126 W. Market St., Scranton (next door to Stirna’s, entrance is in back).
 

The Artists’ Studio: Nov. 6, 2014

The Artists’ Studio: Nov. 6, 2014

Brad Klausen’s poster for the Pixies Sept. 2013 concert in New York City’s Bowery Ballroom is one of many works on display in a new exhibition featuring designs by the Seattle-based artist in The Linder Gallery in the Miller Library at Keystone College in LaPlume through Nov. 30. A reception for the artist will be held Thursday, Nov. 7, from 5 to 7 p.m.
 

DINOVEMBER

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Two years ago Refe and Susan Tuma decided to dedicate the month of November to convincing their four children that toy plastic dinosaurs come to life while they sleep.

November became Dinovember and the Kansas City couple’s photographs of their painstakingly staged scenes were published first on social media and later in a Little, Brown and Company volume titled What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night. On Thursday, Nov. 6 at 6 p.m. Refe Tuma will sign copies of the book at a special opening for a new exhibit of the Tumas photographs in the Everhart Museum’s Gallery 13. The event is free for families but reservations are requested.

Dinovember also celebrates recent renovations to the Everhart’s Fossil Gallery, home of Spike the stegosaurus. One highlight of the upgrade is a collection of carbon plant fossils found in the region’s coal mines.

“Gigantic plants covered the landscape hundreds of millions of years ago. As climate change occurred and they underwent the fossilization process, these plants transformed into vast deposits of anthracite coal that the region is known for in American industrial history,” a notice from the museum reminds.

The fossils, many of which were collected by Dr. Isaiah Everhart and his peers as the museum was being created, give us information on ancient birds, mammals, arthropods, and plants as well as dinosaurs.

What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night will remain on display through Dec. 29. Museum hours are noon to 4 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays, and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Museum admission is $7 or $5 for students and seniors or $3 for children ages 6 to 12. Members are always admitted free of charge. Call (570) 346-7186 for more information or visit everhart-museum.org.
 
 

“Lily Sky” by Allison Maslow is on display in a new exhibit titled “Waterworks” at the Mainstreet Galleries in Kingston. Works by Bill Zack and Maria Livrone are also featured. A reception will be held Saturday, Nov. 8, from 6 to 9 p.m.

“Lily Sky” by Allison Maslow is on display in a new exhibit titled “Waterworks” at the Mainstreet Galleries in Kingston. Works by Bill Zack and Maria Livrone are also featured. A reception will be held Saturday, Nov. 8, from 6 to 9 p.m.

Curtain Call: Get Your Greek On

Curtain Call: Get Your Greek On

Wyoming Seminary Junior Jabrea Patterson of Wilkes-Barre rehearses for Metamorphoses, playing Friday and Saturday, Nov. 7-8.

I held on to a nameless stuffed teddy bear and my infant white quilt with lavender stitches through adolescence an into college before I finally let go, but the real talisman of my childhood was a set of books. The series of 10 Collier’s Junior Classics books was published in 1962. Its tales from around the globe — my favorite was The Five Chinese Brothers (vol. 1) — shaped my world view, but my favorite volume was number seven: Legends of Long Ago, devoted to Greek and Norse mythology, and other ancient tales.

I would go on to write my own play inspired by the blind prophet Tieresis and later adapt Arachne’s story to modern day. I’ve devoured Joseph Campbell’s insights and will confess to watching all eight seasons of Charmed with my daughters because of the series’ many mythological references. Most recently, I’ve had my mind blown by Professor Elizabeth Vandiver’s Great Courses series audiobook on Classical Mythology.

"Pandora" illustration from Collier Junior Classics' "Legends of Long Ago."

“Pandora” illustration from Collier Junior Classics’ “Legends of Long Ago.”


I’m a sucker for good stories and so it only makes sense that I’m a bit of a Greek geek. Contemporary writers are constantly working to overturn convention and challenge readers with “cutting edge” innovation, but nothing is edgier than these seminal stories written centuries ago.

Wyoming Seminary will present the second local production this year of Mary Zimmerman’s 2002 Tony Award-winning play Metamorphoses this weekend in Kingston. (Ghostlight Productions’ Underage Theatre staged the show in July at Abington Community Library.) It’s too soon to call a neo-classical trend in regional theater, but the coincidence is enough of an excuse to gush about Greek mythology for a few paragraphs.

Zimmerman’s source material is, of course, Ovid who was a Roman poet writing in Latin, but his stories are essentially Greek. The full collection of Ovid’s “Book of Transformations” contains more than 250 myths. Transformation is perhaps the most crucial ingredient of storytelling (without it, why bother). A main character is changed by the course of events, and in watching, audience members, too, have the opportunity to change.

You’re surely familiar with catharsis (literally “cleansing”) as Aristotle defined the spiritual renewal felt when one’s own anxieties are relieved by watching another’s tragedy. Tragedy warns us to choose with greater moral strength than its characters who suffer as a result of fatal flaws such as pride, lust, or greed. Apollo’s oracle at Delphi proclaimed “Know Thyself,” not as a friendly suggestion, but rather a serious warning to know one’s limitations. It is in not honestly facing our weaknesses that we make ourselves vulnerable to destruction.

Whether you can attend Metamorphoses or not, do your imagination a favor and spend some time with these “golden oldies.” Numerous translations of Ovid’s text are available free online and other sources. Among those Zimmerman dramatizes is the story of Erysichithon (trans. earth-tearer) of Thessaly who ordered all the trees in a sacred grove of the goddess Demeter (or Ceres in Ovid) to be cut down. When his men refuse to cut down the last standing, most sacred tree, he does it himself, inadvertently killing a nymph in the process. Demeter responds to the nymph’s dying curse by placing Limos — the spirit of starvation — in his stomach. Eating became like placing fuel on a fire; the more he ate the hungrier he got. He sold everything he had, including his own daughter, to obtain more food, but could not appease his insatiable appetite (“endless cramming but extends the void.”) Finally, he fed off his own body, little by little, devouring himself.

Other stories featured include that of King Midas, (H)alcyone and Ceyx , Orpheus and Eurydice, Pomona and Vertumnus, Myrrha, Eros and Psyche, and Baucis and Philemon.

The Wyoming Seminary Players present Metamorphoses on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 7 and 8 at 8 p.m. in the Buckingham Performing Arts Center in Kingston. Donations will be accepted. Call (570) 270-2192 for more information.

Playwright and director Alicia Grega’s Curtain Call covers theater in The 570 and beyond.
Send email to: alicia@the570.com

Curtain Call: Another Tempest

Curtain Call: Another Tempest

Anderson offers ‘Another Tempest’

 

Playwright Robert Anderson

Playwright Robert Anderson

Academics and dramaturgs have traditionally traced the island setting of Shakespeare’s The Tempest to the Mediterranean not too far from Italy or maybe the Caribbean. It was while living in New Bedford, Mass., where he founded Teatro Gumbo Limbo, that playwright Robert Andrew Anderson heard a theory that the “brave new world” of Shakespeare’s imagination might be inspired by an island significantly less tropical.
 
There is a theory among locals that word of Cuttyhunk Island, population 26 and the largest of the Elizabeth Islands off the southeast coast of Massachusetts, might have in fact made its way to Shakespeare via explorer Bartholomew Gosnold who “discovered” the islands where he lived for a month in 1602 before returning to England.
This unique claim to the play was the encouragement Anderson needed to pick up his pen. One of his main goals in adapting the work was to give a voice to the mysterious witch Sycorax which Shakespeare’s text alludes to but does not give flesh. The play also pulls in references to The Bard’s other works citing them as stories Prospero has told Miranda over the years. The witches from Macbeth are wedding entertainment.
 
A staged reading of Anderson’s playful adaptation will be presented Sunday evening at the Wyoming Valley Art League’s Circle Centre for the Arts by Teatro Benefito, with proceeds benefitting Ruth’s Place.
 
When Anderson and his wife Rose Marie Wright, a native of the area who once danced with Twyla Tharp’s company, moved to Northeast Pennsylvania to inherit her wife’s mother’s house they found the home packed with hoarded possessions. Many of those were donated to Ruth’s Place and the homeless shelter for women secured a place in the couple’s collective heart. He hopes to follow this reading of his Tempest with a similar show in Scranton, but the script may never make it to full production without rights to the Beatles songs which have penetrated the verse and serve as a sort of soundtrack.
 
Backed by the familiar stains of “The Fool on the Hill,” a monologue by Gonzalo laments:
Simply an old fool am I — in their eyes —
With his head in a cloud, who never
Gives good answers, talking too loud.
But these eyes can see the sun going down,
Can see the world spinning ’round.
Yes, These eyes can see: that they are the fools.

 
Anderson with frequent collaborator, musician Jason Smeltzer

Anderson with frequent collaborator, musician Jason Smeltzer

Anderson recruited frequent collaborator, musician Jason Smeltzer, to portray Another Tempest’s Harpo Marx-inspired Ariel as well as play his trademark Theremin. Gaslight Theatre Company artist Matt Hinton will play the role of Caliban with other guest artists from the arts community chipping in including painter Alison Maslow and WVIA’s Erika Funke.
 
The Magic of Theatre: Another Tempest will be presented at Circle Centre for the Arts in Wilkes-Bare on Sunday, Oct. 26, at 5 p.m. A $10-12 suggested donation includes snacks and drinks.