Sunday, December 15, 2019

City Theater Company Takes You in Search of "The Real" with "Passing Strange"

Passing Strange at City Theater Company runs through December 21.
Photos by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography.
By Holly Quinn

Passing Strange, the layered rock musical by Stew, is a Christmas show. At least tangentially. I'd never looked at it that way, but as it's City Theater Company's December production, I wondered if they were simply being alternative in a season when a lot of arts lovers need a break from the Christmas Carols and Nutcrackers.

After seeing it, it occurred to me how well it fits during this turbulent holiday season. It tackles race and revolution, but it all comes down to love.

Even viewed as a (tangentially) Christmas show, Passing Strange is about as far from traditional as possible. It's the story of a young African American man trying to figure himself out in the suburbs of Los Angeles in the 1970s, and, later, in Europe in the 1980s. It has an all-Black cast that includes a small ensemble that plays multiple characters with wildly different personalities, from members of the protagonist’s childhood Baptist church to members of his teenage punk rock band to his "found families" in Amsterdam and West Berlin.

Youth often found himself 
 quite by his own choices  part of white spaces, but the ensemble doesn't shift to white actors for those roles, a detail of the show established before the show hit off-Broadway. As such, it’s a story about Black experience that never centers on whiteness, even when Youth exists as the only Black person in a space.

Dominic Santos, a respected veteran of Delaware theater at this point, plays Youth from the age of 14 to his early 20s, and does a terrific job of developing the character on stage as he tries to find his identity. Youth feels out of place in Black spaces 
— a crush tells him he needs to be “more Black” (but not so much that he can’t follow a path to suburban comfort), while his choir leader shows him the misery of not being your real self.

Eventually Youth does act “more Black” 
 for Berlin radicals who fetishize oppression and lavish him with the attention he craves.

Meredith Bell, former lead singer for Palaceburn, hits the right emotional notes as the vivacious and long-suffering Mother; Chris Banker, last seen at CTC in Pub Plays, is almost simply part of the soundtrack for much of the show. As the tension in the story builds, so does the Narrator’s place in it.

This show requires an extremely tight ensemble, and this production has it in Jared Chichester, Dana Hoffman, Kyleen Shaw and Philip Anthony Wilson. A mix of newcomers to the Wilmington stage and familiar faces (Shaw was last seen at CTC in Lizzie), the casting couldn’t be more on point. Each plays three to four distinct roles, and each shine in all of them. Part of the fun 
 and this show is definitely fun, even while dealing with some heavy emotional subject matter  is waiting to see how the ensemble actors will change from arc to arc as Youth goes on his journey.

So, how is this story about a young, sometimes misguided man navigating a world he struggles to fit into a Christmas show? I won’t give too much away, but a pivotal moment in the story that centering on family and the holidays is the catalyst to the emotional climax about love, loss and forgiveness. But don’t let that deter you if you’re avoiding traditional holiday shows. This is one not to miss.

Friday, November 1, 2019

A New Play ‘Lands’ at Delaware Theatre Company

By Charles "Ebbie" Alfree, III

Harry Hamlin & Stefanie Powers play three roles
in Joshua Ravetch's play,
One November Yankee.
Photo by Matt Urban.
The second production of the 2019-20 Delaware Theatre Company (DTC) season is Joshua Ravetch’s engrossing new play, One November Yankee. The playwright, who also directs the two-person production, explores the unique relationship between three sets of siblings through three interwoven stories.

Stefanie Powers and Harry Hamlin play the siblings. Maggie and Ralph contemplate their respect and loyalty toward each other as they prepare a major art exhibit; Margo and Harry confront a life-and-death situation as they travel to a family wedding; and while on a hike, Mia and Ronnie come to terms with a past family tragedy that has fractured their relationship. Through the stories, Ravetch skillfully writes of the love and rivalries that typically occur between siblings and the joys and tribulations that come with being in a family.

Although Powers and Hamlin are best known for their film and television work, both are superb on stage. Playing multiple roles requires both actors to demonstrate a range of emotions during the 90-minute performance. Powers plays a staunch art museum curator (Maggie) and a strong-willed amateur pilot (Margo); Mr. Hamlin plays an eccentric artist (Ralph) and an aspiring author (Harry); and they both play bereft hikers (Mia and Ronnie). Powers and Hamlin exquisitely convey vulnerability and strength, making their performances heartbreaking and powerful. However, they also find humor in their characters, helping alleviate the play's heavy subject matter.
Scenic designer Dana Moran Williams has created a startling and effective set. A small yellow plane 'crashed' into the middle of the stark stage serves as a constant reminder of not only the situation that binds the characters, but also a symbol of when their lives are crashing down, they must depend on each other. In addition to some other minor set pieces, a screen on the side of the stage projects videos and pictures of the characters’ current setting and state-of-mind between scenes, which prepares the audience for the next act.

Coping with the pressures of working together, comforting each other during a catastrophic time, and reconciling a strained family relationship, Ravetch does a remarkable job conveying the ups and downs siblings face during a lifetime. It’s not often we have such a distinguished playwright and director work on a new piece in the First State -- and have two extraordinary actors bring it to life every night, so get your tickets today before One November Yankee closes on November 10!

For tickets and additional information, visit www.delawaretheatre.org or call 302.594.1100.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

DelShakes' "Romeo & Juliet" Community Tour Commences

Wilfredo Amill plays Romeo in Delaware Shakespeare's Community 

Tour of Romeo & Juliet. Photo courtesy of Delaware Shakespeare.
By Mike Logothetis
Mike Logothetis grew up in North Wilmington, performing in school and local theater productions. He lives in Newark, but you can find him wherever the arts are good.


The Delaware Shakespeare Community Tour returns this autumn with a touching performance of Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare’s classic tale of teenage love gone horribly wrong.

Community Tour productions play in non-theatrical settings such as multipurpose rooms, homeless shelters and gymnasiums. The production values are scaled for those spaces with live music, minimal sets and whatever lighting is available. In this way, the tour exposes live theater to many people who’ve never experienced it.

Producing Artistic Director David Stradley looks for spaces that can hold a seated audience between 40 and 120 people in a four-sided arrangement. Stradley says that the audience will “...never feel the power of Shakespeare’s vital romantic tragedy more immediately than in our Community Tour production, where every audience member is within ten feet of the performers.”

Stradley stressed that Delaware Shakespeare searches for communities which may be underserved by the arts and whose residents might find difficulty traveling to Rockwood Park for its annual Summer Festival. The Community Tour performs for very diverse audiences and the cast reflects that diversity. African-American actor Wilfredo (Freddy) Amill plays Romeo opposite Argentine Sol Madariaga as Juliet. The two have real chemistry as “star-cross'd lovers” whose feuding families make their budding romance taboo.

Romeo and Juliet is a well-known tale of two dreamers awakening to love in a world trying to tear them apart. Director Lindsay Smiling has instructed his cast to be passionate and physically show their feelings, while speaking Shakespeare’s famous words. He has extracted stellar performances from all the actors without them appearing to overstep their roles.

The excellent Cameron DelGrosso plays a spirited Mercutio – riding a crest of bawdy independence until his best friend Romeo settles him down with tales of his budding love. DelGrosso expertly shows that fraternal loyalty and elan are imbued in Mercutio.

Tai Verley also shone as the wise, but dutiful, Nurse to Juliet. Verley was stern when required, but ultimately loving and devoted to her charge.

As previously mentioned, Amill and Madariaga display tenderness toward each other while showing resolve to make their future together a reality. Both are easy to watch and place the audience quickly on their side – the side of true love.

The multiple fight scenes were well choreographed (Jacqueline Holloway) on the small set with only two pieces of scenery. The audience felt right on top of the pithy swordplay. In the same vein, the dance during the party at the house of the Capulets made it feel like the stage was a bigger space than it was. Both were clever illusions.

Cassandra Alexander, Newton Buchanan, J Hernandez, and Maria Konstantinidis round out the top-notch cast, who often play multiple roles.

The Community Tour of Romeo and Juliet takes place in venues throughout Delaware from October 23 through November 17. (Performances at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution, Sussex Correctional Institution and Ferris School are not open to the public.) 


Admission is free with RSVP at info@delshakes.org or 302.415.3373. There will be two ticketed performances ($18-25) on November 16 and 17 at The Siegel Jewish Community Center. These performances have only 125 tickets available for each show. The running time is approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with one 10-minute intermission. 

Information can be found at https://delshakes.org/community-tour/.

“A thousand times good night!”