Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Wit (and Will) of an Astounding Performance

“How are you feeling today?” This question is asked repeatedly during the University of Delaware’s Resident Ensemble Players’ production of Margaret Edson’s tour-de-force play, Wit. If Kathleen Pirkl Tague — who portrays the plays central character Vivian Bearing, Ph.D. — would answer, I hope she would say, "I accomplished greatness."  Because, under the superb direction of Sanford Robbins, Ms. Tague gives one of the best, if not the best, performances I have seen this theater season.

Vivian, a well-respected, 50-year-old university professor of 17th Century poetry, is diagnosed with stage-four metastatic ovarian cancer at the beginning of the 100-minute play. Once she receives the diagnosis, her intellect takes over and she begins analyzing each term spoken by her doctor (Harvey Kelekian, M.D. played by Lee E. Ernst) and researching the disease. Vivian is a strong-willed, independent person, and through flashbacks we see her match wits with everyone — from her father when she was a child to her college professor when she was a young lady to the present with her oncologist and his clinical fellow (Jason Posner, M.D., played by Michael Gotch). Posner also happens to be one of her former students. 

Vivian’s parents are deceased and she never married or had children. Her marriage is to her career, which leaves her without any human support while enduring an experimental chemotherapy treatment. However, she does develop a friendship with an unlikely person — her nurse (Susie Monahan, R.N., B.S.N., played by Jasmine Bracey) — who doesn’t know anything about poetry, but does know about being kind and respecting her patient’s wishes.

Wit doesn't promise its audience a happy ending; it doesn't sugarcoat the struggles of battling cancer. It’s a rough play, but the playwright managed to weave a great deal of humor into her text. The humor helps to alleviate the tension and sadness you feel as you follow the lead character on her dour journey.  

Ms. Tague’s performance is astonishing. She creates this complex character, evolving from an in-control professor passionate about research to a person dependent on others and becoming the subject of her doctor’s research. She tires of being asked, “How do you feel today,” by her medical team. (She's dealing with cancer, how do they expect her to feel?) Her usual is“Fine.” However, she knows she’s not fine and there is only one outcome for her.

Mr. Gotch gives a stellar performance as Posner, who is uncomfortable having to examine his former professor, but is willing to go against her do not resuscitate wishes  to continue researching the experimental treatment Vivian is receiving. Bracey’s character Susie stops Posner from resuscitating Vivian during one of the most traumatic scenes during the play. Ms Bracey is astounding as Susie. She and Mr. Gotch’s performances during the final scene are as intense as riding in a car when the brakes give out.

Don’t miss this production. It’s rare when you see such a satisfying, thought-provoking play that keeps your interest from beginning to end!

Wit plays at the Roselle Center for the Arts until May 10th. Visit www.rep.udel.edu or call 302.831.2204 for tickets. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ain't Misbehavin'...DTC Is!

By Guest Blogger, Christine Facciolo
Christine holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music and continues to apply her voice to all genres of music. An arts lover since childhood, she currently works as a freelance writer. 

The joint’s indeed jumpin’ at the Delaware Theatre Company with the raucous and infectiously joyful Ain’t Misbehavin’. This 31-song revue of Fats Waller tunes captures the ebullient spirit of the Harlem Renaissance thanks to the direction of creator Richard Malby Jr. and a five-member cast that truly understands the many moods of the prolific composer, from the irreverent Fat and Greasy to the mournful Black and Blue.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a joyous celebration of Black America’s contribution to our culture. You’ll hear swing, the rhythms of ragtime, the passions of blues, jazz, be-bop, waltz and jitterbug all served up with a dash of double-entendre that hints at the nasty. Y ou’ll see movement from tap to the Charleston and back again, with everything in-between.  And all that accomplished with sass, brass and bountiful belting.

This revue contains the best of Waller’s songbook plus many tunes he performed and turned into hits. The cast — Doug Eskew, Eugene Fleming, Kecia Lewis, Cynthia Thomas and Debra Walton — seem to have as much fun as the audience singing and dancing to the numbers.

The cast coalesces beautifully into an ensemble in selections including The Joint is Jumpin’ and the irresistible title tune.  But everyone gets their turn in the spotlight as well.  Walton brings a lustrous elegance to Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now, while Lewis delivers an emotional and heartfelt Mean to Me. Thomas bring a ladylike come-hither to Squeeze Me, while Fleming slinks and slithers through the (literally) smokin’ The Viper. As for Eskew, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Waller with an outsized persona and vocals to match.  His take on Your Feet’s Too Big is uproarious.

The finale includes a medley of tunes Waller performed, including many he didn’t write. I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love and It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie are all recognizable standards nicely sung.  And when the cast unleashes an ebullient reprise of Honeysuckle Rose, it becomes impossible to keep your toes from tapping.

The cast gets support from an ace five-piece jazz band. The conductor and pianist is William Foster McDaniel, whose flying fingers ably accommodate Waller’s stride technique.   The show plays out on Kacie Hultgren’s set, which evokes a cabaret/nightclub of yesteryear but does not crowd out Waller’s music.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ is Broadway’s first jukebox musical, making it one of 13 musicals that had a profound impact on the art form, according to a recent article in Playbill magazine. This production closes DTC’s 35th season as it commemorates the musical’s 35th anniversary.

This is an amazingly fun, toe-tapping experience. Fats Waller’s music deserves to be performed by talented and respectful performers. This cast will entertain you far beyond your expectations — Don’t miss this production!

See www.delawaretheatre.org.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

An Evening of Chamber Music with the NSO & Guests


The United Methodist Church hosted both Newark Symphony Orchestra players and members of the University of Delaware Opera Theatre department for an evening of chamber music and song. It was a lively evening of music and an excellent opportunity to get to know the musicians of the NSO and their guest performers up close.
NSO Conductor Emeritus Roman Pawlowski

The first piece was the very difficult Beethoven Trio in C Major, Opus 87 for two oboes and English horn. This work, as Maestro Tartaglione said in his introduction, is an early, classical work by Beethoven. The harmonies and style show a great deal of Mozartian influence, and the first oboe has the bulk of the unflinchingly tough technical demands which Elizabeth Stevens certainly met, even though she had to fight her reed a tad in the Adagio. Cathy MacIntyre’s English horn came through with great smoothness and jollity, which, together with the smooth oboe tones of Susan Ritter, made all four movements a pleasure to hear.

The Woodwind Quintet in A-flat major, Opus 14, a piece by Gustav Holst which had been unearthed in 1978, was a fun, romantic romp which Michelle Webb (clarinet) obviously relished. Jennifer Hugh had a great night with the fairly demanding bassoon part as she led the Bel Canto quintet through the lush and romantic canon. It was a great opportunity to hear Bonnie McDonald’s horn playing and the silver sounds of Crystal Norman’s flute.

The UD Opera Theatre performers had four short and breezy opera selections which flew by.  All were conducted by Ian Christopher Passmore and accompanied by Paul Fleckenstein. Standouts were singers Kameron Ghanavati, tenor and Jessica Williams, soprano. You can hear more of their singing in the May performances of Puccini’s La Boh√®me.

The concert was crowned by a wonderful performance of Roman Pawlowski’s arrangement of Victor Ewald’s brass quintet — a wildly difficult piece which Maestro Pawlowski arranged for fourteen brass players. Casey Hesse’s trumpet sounds were both subtle and virtuosic as she soloed in the lush Russian work for which the reverberant church was a great acoustic setting. Current Maestro Tartaglione conducted and recognized former conductor Roman Pawlowski’s dedication to the Newark Symphony Orchestra. The theme of the concert, A Gift from Roman, was in evidence in his superbly crafted arrangement.