Monday, November 5, 2012

OperaDelaware Opens Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci

Ruggiero Leoncavallo
Pietro Mascagni
Brendan Cooke has every right to be proud of his first production with OperaDelaware. Making your debut after a hurricane pummels through the neighborhood, disrupting practice and work is a challenge, but Cooke and his team did a great job. The set seemed just like a small Sicilian village and worked quite well visually, but how people walked on that slant and set up chairs on it is a mystery.

The set worked beautifully for the opening of Cavalleria Rusticana (Pietro Mascgani), with Lola and Turiddu ending their tryst upstage not seeing Santuzza downstage taking in the whole affair. Kara Shay Thomson as Santuzza has a very strong and expressive soprano voice. Her duets with both Turridu (John Pickle) and Alfio (José Sacin) showed the strength of all three singers who were easily able to be heard above the full orchestra. The flute, harp and horn accompaniments were delicate and beautifully executed.

As I Pagliacci begins, the four actors are on the apron while behind them, the inhabitants of the town freeze in position and are absolutely stock still while Tonio tells them about the show they will see in the evening. Not a hair moved and several players froze with legs in mid-swing and hands raised.

John Pickle was able to be a gentle and fickle lover in Cavalleria and changed to a violently jealous husband in I Pagliacci. His extremely dramatic and strong Pagliaccio non sono was where he gave his most compelling and gripping performance. And perhaps because of the complex texture of the Leoncavallo score to I Pagliacci the orchestra seemed to be more dramatic as well. Mark Ward played several soaring cello solos – especially for Pagliaccio’s forget all else. And the bassoon solos were smooth and haunting.

Susan Nelson as Nedda had the kind of voice and acting that had you glued to her. Her ability to sing the high notes and phrase beautifully were matched by her ability to sing no matter whether she was fighting, jumping or sprawled in her lover’s lap.

The orchestra played such a moving entreacte in I Pagliacci that the audience sighed when the curtain re-opened. But as the play within the play began, the trumpet (Frank Ferraro) solo was just terrific. Rong Tan played harp throughout each opera with intensely melodic phrasing and subtle shading.

This is a great production and well worth seeing. The next performances are Friday, November 9 and Saturday, November 10.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Visit "The Boys Next Door" at the Wilmington Drama League

Pictured: Alan Harbaugh, Shawn Kline, and Tom Hartzell
The second production of the Wilmington Drama League’s (WDL) 2012 – 13 season is Tom Griffin’s The Boys Next Door. The play, set in the late 1980s, perfectly captures the treatment of people living with a mental challenge and/or living with a mental illness. Deb Johnson successfully directs this piece that could easily offend, or be considered un-PC. She does a great job handling a delicate topic, making sure her cast gives full respect to their characters, never letting them become caricatures.

The play, primarily set in a group home where four men (Arnold, Lucien and Norman, who are mentally challenged and Barry, who is living in recovery with mental illness) reside. Each man is contending with a crisis: Arnold (Eric Merlino), the nervous do-gooder is being taken advantage of by his co-workers at the local movie theater; Norman (Shawn Kline), the happy-go-lucky donut shop worker who has been gaining weight since he developed an insatiable craving for the circular cakes and is also sorting through his developing feelings for Sheila (Tina M. Sheing), who is also mentally challenged; Lucien (Alan Harbaugh), the sweetheart of the group is preparing to go before a government panel to defend his need for social security benefits; and Barry (Edward Stein), the most competent one of the group is anticipating his abusive father’s (Robert Touhey) visit. Assisting these men is a social worker, Jack (Tom Hartzell), who is contemplating a job change.

The play is like watching a week in the life of these characters. A chance to see how individuals who are living with mental challenges and mental illnesses have a longing to connect with others and be part of the community, just like everyone else.

Each actor gives a compelling performance. Mr. Kline and Ms. Sheing’s scenes together are touching. It’s sweet to watch these two actors interact and convey the feelings of falling in love. The scene between Mr. Stein and Mr. Touhey is gritty and raw. Effortlessly, the actors create an intense scene between an ill son and a father who resorts to abuse because he is unable to relate to his own son.

Mr. Harbaugh’s performance as Lucien is a standout. His tone and movement are flawless. He was so convincing that at times I forgot he was an actor playing a part; I wanted to help him along his journey.

Although the play tackles serious topics, for the most part it does it with humor and warmth. It moves like a TV sitcom - a series of vignettes shifting from one character’s situation to another.

See The Boys Next Door now through November 4, at WDL. For tickets, visit or call 302.764.1172.