Voice Theater – Blithe Spirit

Review by Joe Eriole

Blithe Spirit Indeed: The Voice Theater Brings “Back” to Life a Delightful Script in Woodstock

Nestled in the aromatic forests of Woodstock, in a theater which even the skeptic would agree evinces the possibility of ghosts with only the slightest effort of imagination, the Voice Theater and Director Shauna Kanter bring an engaging set of living and recently passed characters to the stage in their production of Blithe Spirit. Written in 1941 by Noel Coward, the play opens to an engaging couple, Charles and Ruth Condomine, each married for the second time. Played by Joris Stuyck and Molly O’Brien respectively, they who are preparing to entertain friends, and, mot notably, a local medium, in an effort to research the “methods” (they assume, actually, the “tricks”) of that profession, in appearing to conjure spirits of the dearly departed. The dinner party has been arranged by Charles, a writer by trade, as part of his research for an upcoming book. The medium, Madame Arcati, played by Leigh Strimbeck, arrives with a flourish, suitably eclectic an interesting from the start, and advises, among other things, that the efforts of the séance may not work, in fact, apparently they rarely do; there must be someone in the house who has the psychic ability to “call” the spirit into the home. One never knows, apparently, if the folks involved have the right ectoplasmic aptitude. The Condomines, Madame Arcati, and their friends, Doctor and Mrs. Bradman, settle in for the exciting effort, and we’re off. By this time, we have also met the frazzled, heavy-footed, Edith, the live-in housekeeper who may, or may not, be overworked – but certainly looks to be.

The set is immediately appealing, and must be commended. The use of the theater’s atypical stage space is outstanding. Set designer Julianna von Haubrich has worked with it such that it actually enhances the sense of a real parlor in a functional home; there is nothing “set-like” about it, in fact.

O’Brien, as Ruth, is a marvelous actor, in complete control of the stage and the audience from the first moment. Whether engaged in the idle conversation of husband and wife, the more biting sarcasm of a couple testing each other’s will, or the frustration of a spouse at her wits’ end, Ms. O’Brien is entirely believable and utterly effective. It is a credit to Stuyck’s craft that in his hands, the charm and wit of Charles leave us endeared to him even when the situation he seeks to have blessed by both his living and dead spouses is clearly untenable. When on stage together, O’Brien and Stuyck show us a couple with a back-story and a real relationship. Alone, they each command attention.

That “situation,” to be precise, is the appearance, and determined lingering, of Charles’ first wife, Elvira, played by Megan Bones, as a result of the first séance’s unexpected success. In Bones’ hands, Elvira is a scene-stealing apparition reminiscent of Jane Fonda’s iconic Barbarella. Clearly a bit too much to handle when she was living, she is much more than Charles can manage when dead. And, despite his best efforts, no “middle-ground” can be reached between his first and second wife. Indeed, the ghostly Elvira has plans to regain her now re-married spouse’s undivided attention, which will not, as any seasoned audience member will assume, go quite as intended. Ms. Bones is as alluring and “blithe” as could have been imagined by the playwright, and her performance is a joy to watch.

Ms. Strimbeck gives us a robust and eccentric Arcati; equal parts legitimate shaman and fellow seeker of truth. She invests the character with the confidence of someone who knows what she believes because she’s seen it with her own eyes, and still glories in what she has yet to encounter. In a relatively “light” play, a very talented actor gives us a very three-dimensional character.

Caitlin Connelly, as the beleaguered Edith, is wonderfully played. The highest compliment to be paid to her performance is that one feels it is perhaps a flaw in the revered Coward’s script that we don’t see Edith more often. That sense might not be so keenly felt if Edith were in the hands of an actor less capable than Connelly.

Dr. Bradman is perfectly and pleasantly agnostic in the face of all the other-worldly goings-on as played by John Remington. His skepticism is very appealingly balanced by the performance of Angela Buesing Potrikus as his wife Violet Bradman; a woman with the erstwhile enthusiasm of someone without the right eye to see the other dimension, but entirely willing to believe in it. Both Remington and Buesing Potrikus are strong counters to O’Brien and Stuyck, a notable accomplishment in the limited space within which Coward gives their characters to work.  

To say more would be to give some delightful twists away. Suffice it to say that in the two weeks remaining in this show’s run, Hudson Valley theater goers would do well to support this production. It is a well-directed, very strongly acted presentation of an entertaining play, seen in a beautiful Hudson Valley setting. Tickets are available at and the show runs through July 28. Tickets are available online at voicetheatre@brownpapertickets.com, and advance purchase is encouraged.

Bridge Street Theatre – The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World

Review by Tamara CAcchione

Exciting professional caliber community theater is alive in the Catskills, where the Bridge Street Theatre is embracing and including community in new and enchanting work.  Taking on their first full-scale musical, Artistic Director/ Director/ Designer John Sowle and musical director Michelle Storrs chose no small task – opting for a piece that includes complex harmonies and rhythms, serious topics, and masterful musicians and movers.  Bridge Street Theatre took on a beautiful, challenging, full scale musical that is rarely done, and deftly achieved a production that is not to be missed.  It is refreshing to come in to the theater in anticipation of seeing work that is new and unfamiliar to even the most avid musical theater fan. It was rewarding to see how excellently it was executed from a complex and comprehensive range of emotions from the cast, to a talented band, as well as sets, period-appropriate costumes (by Michelle Rogers), and lighting that supported and enhanced the bizarre world of The Shaggs.  What remained with the audience after the production, however, was a satisfying and successful community theater experience.  Director John Sowle used a cast comprised of equity and professional actors (including a cast member who originated a role in the California workshop and has been in every incarnation thus far), as well as recent and current students from Catskill High School. 

This diverse and talented group of actors took the audience on the journey of three sisters from New Hampshire following their father’s dream of creating a band.  Based on the true story of the band The Shaggs, this production explores what happens when one man tries to find a purpose and will stop at nothing to achieve his goal.  In this case, Austin Wiggins, the girls’ father, sacrifices everything (with the support and help of his belabored wife) in order to help his daughters become the next Beatles.  Unfortunately, when he comes up with this idea, the girls have no musical experience, little talent, and a yearning to continue to explore their own lives and dreams, as opposed to their fathers.  Circumnavigating a decade of the family’s lives, the story jumps from eras and locations smoothly and seamlessly using a set that can be adapted through lighting and turntables and simple yet strong props.  Everything is used to the fullest- it seems as if each prop and move is deliberate and important to the story that is unfolding, and with so much information to obtain, so much pain and the development of 5 family members throughout the Shaggs’ budding career, this is no small task.  Under the direction of John Sowle, one experiences the haunting and touching challenges of a family who make large sacrifices to try to achieve the dreams of a loving, if misguided patriarch. 

The story and the music are catchy and moving, with haunting harmonies that highlight some of the emptiness and desolation that that the characters feel in some of the darker times.  At other moments, the rousing songs bring laughter and celebration to the atmosphere. The only downside to watching a rarely done work is that an album of the songs is not available on iTunes, and after the performance, one wants to hear the songs again and again. Choreography by Marcus McGregor further enhances the energy in songs such as the opening when a cast of characters in choir robes dances around singing one of The Shaggs’ songs.  A song about career day takes a delightful turn as cast members dance with chairs, microphones, and each other, highlighting the chaos of a formal day turned into a joyful riot.  A grocery store transforms into a magical romantic imaginary playground for daughter Helen (the stunning Meeghan Darling) as she postulates on budding love, replete with being rolled gracefully around the stage while standing in a shopping cart as posters convert to signs of love and shoppers subtly dance amongst the aisles of the store. 

Playing the optimist at all costs, the father of the Wiggins sisters is the dynamic Steven Patterson.  From the moment Patterson came on stage, his energy and passion were inspiring.  Patterson had the task of taking on an anguished man who, in his struggle to provide for his family, leads them towards more chaos and instability. With a strong voice, body language, and a pathos that adeptly displayed the journey of the girls’ father, he goes on a painful journey over the course of the musical. Subtly, and slowly, as he suffers setback and after setback, we watch him charge forward with what appears to be a reckless grasping at straws. This could only be achieved so poignantly by such a capable actor as Patterson. Originating this role in the L.A production, Patterson brings a passion for the part and the piece to the production that is evident in his performance. 

Molly Parker Myers expertly portrays the girls’ mother, Annie Wiggins, as Annie falls into distress over the decline of her husband’s dream for the family. Myers’ clear voice and masterful grasp of humor was instrumental in creating a full and rich woman, who loved her husband and family at all costs.  

As mentioned before, the cast is also comprised of younger people, both students and recent graduates of Catskill High School.  Seeing this cast, one can’t help but feel excited for what these young actors might do in the future with the immense talent that they brought to the stage.  However, if they do nothing else, and this is their last theatrical experience, they should be extremely proud of the range, level of skill, and poignant performances that were on display in this production, as they will remain with the audience for a long time to come.   

Alexa Powell, as Dot Wiggin, was touching and authentic.  Powell sang a heartbreaking song after being pulled out of school to learn music wherein she sings that she might not be her father’s favorite, but he’s her dad and she loves him. Powell nails the song, and makes the audience want to reach out and hug her immediately thereafter. Powell, a recent graduate of Catskill High School, hopes to continue her musical theater studies as she begins college in the fall, and one can certainly hope that she does so that we may see more performances from her in the future.

Amara Wilson, as Betty Wiggin, was a fiery tour de force as the most overtly rebellious sister.  Wilson, with a rich voice and gift for humor, brought an energy to the trio of sisters that was exhilarating and a great relief at some of the darker moments. 

Meeghan Darling nimbly took on the role of Helen Wiggin, who chooses to remain silent for an extended period of time, perhaps years. Darling has a beautiful voice, but she is equally as talented when she has no words, and we can see clearly exactly what she is saying with her face and body language. It is hard to believe that an actress this skilled and capable is about to enter 9th grade as she skillfully presents Helen Wiggin over the course of years of a long and complex life. 

Magnus Bush is just delightful as he portrays the journey of Kyle Nelson, a classmate of the sisters, from a lovesick boy to a young man who has gone through a battle of his own.  Magnus, another recent graduate of Catskill High School, has a strong voice and a keen ability for timing- emoting both humor and pathos adroitly.

Edward Donahue smoothly depicts various roles, including that of Charley, the unscrupulous record producer who asks for the Wiggin family’s life savings in exchange for a record.  Donahue has a sleek voice and charm that enchants the audience.

Julian Broughton rounds out the cast, depicting 5 different roles, giving each one their own personality and humor, from the overwhelmed school principal at the local high school to the sound engineer reacting to the recording of The Shaggs’ first album, he dexterously fleshed out the world of the Wiggin family.

The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World has been done several times, most recently at an Off-Broadway run at Playwrights Horizon in 2011. A version is coming to the big screen starring Steve Zhan and Allison Tolman.  One should not wait, however, for the film, as this production is satisfying and enriching, leaving theater-goers enchanted and curious about the real-life Wiggin family. 

The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World is recommended for audiences ages 13+ and plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm from July 11 – 21, 2019 at Bridge Street Theatre, 44 West Bridge Street, in Catskill, NY.  General Admission is $25, Students 21 and under are only $10. Discounted advance tickets are available at shaggs.brownpapertickets.com or by calling 800-838-3006. Tickets will also be sold at the door one half hour prior to each performance on a space available basis.

Tamara Cacchione

Tamara Cacchione is a director, performer, and theater instructor currently residing in the Hudson Valley. She is a proud founding member of The New Deal Creative Arts Center located in Hyde Park, NY.

“I can’t keep a ‘Secret’…” by Joe Eriole

Ovation’s Tamara Cacchione reviewed Rhinebeck Theater Society’s The Secret Garden, published here recently, and it was a glowing review. I saw the play after the review went up, and as Ovation’s Chief Editor, I could not help but further comment on the success achieved by the production. I hope Ovation’s followers will indulge me in this “double-dip.”

The story follows a young girl, Mary, orphaned while in colonial English India, and then consigned to live with an unflinchingly detached and mourning uncle in a gothic house, haunted by the spirits of both the uncle’s and the little girl’s, past. While there, she brings her stubborn resolve to bear on the lingering spirits of the house as well as her debilitated cousin, Colin, and from that mix of real-world determination and other-worldly guidance, the deep pain of regret, loss, and longing is overcome for all the characters, living and dead. 

The metaphor of the secret garden, which, young Mary determines, is not as dead as it seems, but only “biding its time,” is a deeply moving literary and dramatic device. Having already published a review of the show, it is not necessary to recount the arc of the characters in particular. But, theater-goers should know how powerfully effective the ensemble was; how flawless the willful Mary and the defiant Colin Craven were in the hands of the young and very talented Jane Langan and Sean Patrick Mahoney, respectively; how much depth David Foster gave the potentially two dimensional Dr. Craven; how beautifully comforting Katie-Beth Anspach’s Martha was; how hauntingly beautiful Elizabeth Thomas’s Lily was in the role of the spirit of Mary’s mother; how earnest and safe we feel as we, like Mary, were guided by Josh Lococco’s Dicken and Joe Beem’s Weatherstaff. 

And, special note is made here of the performance of Joshuah Patriarco as the dour Archibald Craven. Regular patrons of the Rhinebeck Center for the Performing Arts will recognize the veteran actor from numerous prior engagements at the Center. But they will not have seen him deliver a more subtle, nuanced and moving performance than this. He has always been capable of dominating his performance space; here he melts into it instead, and thereby elevates it when Archibald finally bridges the distance between himself and his son Colin, and again when he takes back control of the affairs of the long-fallow house.

The show was very effectively directed by Dorothy Luongo and Wendy Urban-Meade, whose deep understanding of its magic and appeal is reflected in their notes. Give that the show has closed, I post this largely in honor of their effort here to encourage audiences to keep an ey out for their individual or collaborative effort in the future.  

Like the house and garden at its core, any theater production ultimately belongs to the ether; Ovation felt impelled to send it off properly acknowledged.

Ancram Opera House – The Tricky Part

Review by Teresa Gasparini

“What if what harms us comes to restore us?”

Living in 2019, it seems unfortunate that there are topics of conversation which are considered taboo; subjects about which we are not allowed to speak openly. Martin Moran’s The Tricky Part at Ancram Opera House tears those walls down with such a crash, that what seems odd is that it is not normal to talk about various topics, this particular one being sexual abuse.

Theater has lasted for thousands of years because of one commonality:  People are wired for stories. We want to hear them, we want to tell them, we want to connect to them. Moran’s deeply personal story of “sexual trespassing” in his youth kept the audience spellbound for the entire 80-minute one act performance. Originally written in 2002, this story remains timely told as we find ourselves in an era of the #MeToo Movement, and this piece certainly lends a hand to helping find a voice for the marginalized or even a sense of comfort to those who have not yet found the courage to speak up and out.

Moran opens the show by bringing us to his youth and how his childhood was shaped by the Catholic school he attended, the religious community he lived in, and the chance encounters that set the course of his life. It is discovered that he, like many, live in a paradox that leaves you in a state of questioning, re-imagining, and acceptance of our life’s path.

Moran is under the direction of Seth Barrish, whose expansive career lends a hand to this deceptively simple show. The idea of a one-man show may seem easy, but when everything rides on one actor’s ability to tell a story with content as heavy as this, only the skilled hand of a well-seasoned director will ensure its success. The impact of Barrish’s direction was evident as he possesses the strong director’s insight needed for a production such as this.

Martin Moran in The Tricky Part

It is remarkable that Moran not only came to terms with the abuse imposed upon him and not only that he found the courage to record it, but even further, that he is valiant enough to share his story with countless audience members for almost two decades. Brave indeed, but perhaps even more so, noble. Moran’s ability to engage the audience with his unfiltered truth and (notwithstanding the difficulty of the topic) a bit of humor, was impeccable. He spoke with sincerity as he told this incredibly personal story. He shared such intimate details that there were moments you felt you were violating his privacy by reading the sequestered pages of his journal, and in that same moment, Moran literally picked up his diary and read his story straight from his entries; a story so powerful that at times it felt like all the oxygen had been sucked out of the room.

The Tricky Part is aptly named, because of the “tricky” and wonderful step it takes in making sure subjects like this are spoken of openly and freely. It shatters the idea that it’s not okay to be in repair while you reach for forgiveness and acceptance. Moran’s childhood was interrupted and derailed, but he was able to navigate this journey with dignity. Broken, perhaps, for a time, in search of his moment of grace. 

The Tricky Part was a limited 3-show engagement at the Ancram Opera House, and as a first-time attendee, if this is the type of work they produce, it is well worth your time to support this quaint opera house. The remainder of their 2019 Summer Season consists of a one night only event Real People, Real Stories on July 27th and a three-week run of The Brothers Size showing August 8-25, 2019. Find them online at www.ancramoperahouse.org or call for more information: 518-329-0114. Originally a Grange Hall built in the 1920s, their intriguing choices for their season seems as fittingly “off the beaten path,” as is their charming theater. And, if The Tricky Part is any indication, audiences should certainly find time to make the trip.

Teresa Gasparini

Teresa Gasparini is a local director, actor and is a co-founder of Hudson Valley Ovation. She serves as the Artistic Director for Clove Creek Dinner Theater in Fishkill, NY and as Executive Director for The New Deal Creative Arts Center located in Hyde Park, NY. 

Ancram Opera House Announces Three Performances: THE TRICKY PART

Limited engagement for Obie Winner The Tricky Part

Martin Moran’s Obie Award-winning play THE TRICKY PART will play for three performances only, July 12 and 13 at 8pm and July 14 at 3pm, at the Ancram Opera House, 1330 County Route 7, Ancram, NY. Tickets are $35 at ancramoperahouse.org

Photo credit: Martin Moran in The Tricky Part at The Barrow Group Theatre Company, 2018, by Edward T. Morris

Following the July 14 matinee an audience talkback with Moran will be moderated by Martine Kei Green-Rogers, President of the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, a dramaturg with Oregon Shakespeare Festival and a member of the Theatre Arts Faculty at SUNY: New Paltz.

THE TRICKY PART, written and performed by Moran, is a heralded solo show about one man’s journey through the complexities of Catholicism, desire and human trespass.

Ben Brantley of The New York Times called THE TRICKY PART “A translucent memoir of a play … shattering.” Moran’s memoir of the same title (published by Random House, Anchor Books) won a Barnes and Noble Discover Prize and a Lambda Literary Award.

Moran is an award-winning writer, solo performer and veteran Broadway/Off-Broadway actor whose credits include Nassim, The Prom, Spamalot, Wicked, TitanicHow to Succeed in Business, Fun Home, and The Cradle Will Rock, among others. His most recent play All The Rage received the 2013 Lucille Lortel Award and Outer Critics Circle nomination for Outstanding Solo Show. His film and television work include “The Newsroom,” “The Big C,” “Possible Side Affects,” “Private Parts,” “Law & Order” and “Law & Order Criminal Intent.” His writing has appeared in The New York TimesPushcart Prize Anthology, and Ploughshares.

Directing THE TRICKY PART is Seth Barrish, Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Barrow Group whose award-winning 30-year career spans Broadway, Off Broadway, television and film. He recently directly Mike Birbiglia’s The New One on Broadway, and previously directed the Off-Broadway and feature film versions of Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me. Barrish is the author of An Actor’s Companion-Tools for the Working Actor, published by TCG with a foreword by Anne Hathaway.

The Ancram Opera House, located in southern Columbia County, is an intimate rural performance hall showcasing contemporary theatre and alternative cabaret by visionary theater and musical artists.

Cabaret Star Salty Brine in Welcome to the Jungle at the Ancram Opera House July 6th

One night only event at Ancram Opera House!

Photo: Marcus Middleton

Alternative cabaret star Salty Brine will perform the award-winning show Welcome to the Jungle one night only at the Ancram Opera House on July 6th at 8:30pm. Tickets are $30 and available at ancramoperahouse.org and TodayTix.com. The show, written and performed by Salty, is directed by Max Rueben with musical arrangements by Nate Weida.

Welcome to the Jungle opens deep in the New Hampshire woods in the summer of 1992 where, around a towering bonfire, Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book gets all tangled up with letters sent home from sleep-away camp … and then set to the tunes from the iconic 1971 album Nilsson Schmilsson. Welcome to the Jungle received a 2018 Bistro Award for Outstanding Creative Artistry in a Cabaret Performance.

Salty Brine has been called “the love child of Paul Lynde, Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey, in a cabaret three-way.”  He is the creative force behind The Living Record Collection, a series of cabaret performances that deftly weave together iconic pop albums with cultural touchstones ranging from classic literature to opera. Since 2016 Salty has been a resident performer at the New York supper club Pangea. The Living Record Collection is currently in residence at Joe’s Pub, where Salty will premiere four new shows throughout 2019.

The Ancram Opera House, located in southern Columbia County, is an intimate rural performance hall showcasing contemporary theatre and alternative cabaret by visionary theater and musical artists. 

County Players Presents Moonlight & Magnolias

County Players officially launches their 62nd Main Stage Season with the opening of the comedy MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS 

L to R: Molly Feibel, Jim Granger (seated), Robert McCarthy, and Rick Meyer

The year is 1939 and David O. Selznick is making the mother of all movies, Gone with the Wind. The cast is in place and cameras are rolling. There’s just one problem— Selznick doesn’t have a script yet. So he locks himself, director Victor Fleming and script doctor Ben Hecht in a room with little more than peanuts, bananas, and a typewriter, and they proceed to reenact the saga of Scarlett and Rhett. Only this is Scarlett and Rhett like you’ve never seen before! This rip-roaring farce is a hilarious homage to the men behind an American movie classic, about which the NY Daily News said: “Frankly, my dear, this is one funny play.”

The cast features the local talents of Molly Feibel, Jim Granger, Robert McCarthy, and Rick Meyer. Director Michael J. Frohnhoefer says: “Inspired by true events, its a wildly funny and winning story that illuminates the behind-the-scenes business of movie-making — and the larger-than-life egos — during the Golden Age of Hollywood.”

Performances will be Friday & Saturday July 12, 13, 19, 20, 26 & 27, 2019 at 8pm with a matinee on Sunday, July 21 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for seniors/children under 12. Call the Box Office at 845-298-1491 for reservations or order your tickets online at www.countyplayers.org. Visa, MasterCard, and Discover are accepted. County Players Falls Theatre is located at 2681 W. Main, Wappingers Falls, NY.

The Gold Level Sponsor for the production is Dutchess ProPrint. County Players 62nd Season is generously sponsored by Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union.

Accessibility:

If you require wheelchair accessibility, please contact our Box Office 845-298-1491 prior to purchasing tickets.