School is almost out for the summer, which means the Lawrence Arts Center is gearing up for its annual Summer Youth Theater camps. Auditions for all four sessions will be held Sunday, May 5, beginning at 2 p.m.
As usual, SYT caters to two separate age groups – third- through eighth-graders and eighth- through 12th-graders. Children in the younger group can audition for “The Pirates of Penzance” by Gilbert & Sullivan and directed by Jennifer Glenn, and “The Complete History of Kansas in 60 Minutes” by local playwright, Will Averill, and directed by Elizabeth Sullivan.
The older age group will audition for “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare and directed by Doug Weaver, and “Hairspray” by Mark O’Donnell & Thomas Meehan and directed by Diana Dresser.
Rehearsals for “The Pirates of Penzance” and “Macbeth” begin Tuesday, May 28. Performances for “Pirates” are June 13, 14, and 15. “Macbeth” stages June 20, 21, 22, and 23. Both “The Complete History of Kansas in 60 Minutes” and “Hairspray” start rehearsing Monday, July 1. “Kansas” runs July 18, 19, and 20, while “Hairspray” is up July 25, 26, 27, and 28.
Students should come with a prepared monologue to read. Those interested in “Pirates” and “Hairspray” should also prepare a short song. Participants may choose to audition for two shows or just one. Students entering or graduating from eighth grade may choose whether to audition for the younger or older age group, including performing in one show with each.
Parents are encouraged to call the Arts Center at 785-843-2787 to schedule an audition time. Those auditioning for the younger age group will be doing so in groups starting at the top of each hour. Callbacks will be Monday and Tuesday evenings.
Cost to participate is $200 per student for one show, $350 for two shows. Scholarships assistance is available. Contact the Arts Center for an application.
Starving artists, young love, jealousy, despair – “La Bohéme” has it all.
“If you’re in the arts or writing or philosophy, these are kindred spirits,” says Linda Brand, who’s directing the new production of Puccini’s classic opera that opens tonight at Kansas University Theatre.
Based on a novel (which was really more a series of vignettes) by Henri Murger, “La Bohéme” (“The Bohemians”) follows the travails of four young artists in Paris of the late 1800’s. In particular, Rodolfo the poet and Marcello the painter live together in a tiny apartment and are freezing.
“But one of their friends, Schaunard, has come into some money because he was hired essentially to poison a parrot,” Brand says.
The group goes out to celebrate, but Rodolfo stays behind to finish work on his drama. There is a knock on the door, and, when he answers, the beautiful, young Mimì is there asking for a light for her candle, which has gone out.
“He invites her in, and she’s so cold,” Brand says. “They spend the evening talking, and they discover they are falling in love.”
That sets much of the story’s action in motion. Mimì suffers from tuberculosis, and Rodolfo pretends to always be angry with her and to push her away, because he knows he cannot afford to care for her. He’s hoping she will leave him and take up with a rich man, who can afford to treat her disease.
Meanwhile, Marcello is in love with the beautiful and talented singer Musetta, but she is a terrible flirt. He manages to capitalize on this, stealing her away from her rich boyfriend, Alcindoro, but her constant coquettishness infuriates him. Naturally, both couples, after struggling throughout the opera, end up together. But this is opera after all, and things don’t turn out fully right.
“It’s this huge, big cry,” Brand says.
“La Bohéme” is one of the most-performed operas in the world and is a favorite of singers and audiences alike.
“It’s a fantastic first opera for anyone,” Brand says of the show’s accessibility.
The University Theatre production, presented in collaboration with KU’s School of Music, has taken several artistic liberties with the traditional presentation.
“The opera is set in the 1830’s,” Brand says, “but we’ve updated it just enough to bring it into the 1890’s, which was when it was first performed. Our costume designer has been inspired by Renoir, so everyone looks like they belong in one of those fabulous French paintings. I’m really excited to bring to share this with everybody.”
As is customary with opera in the U.S., “La Bohéme” will be sung in its original Italian.
“But we’ll be projecting subtitles onto the proscenium, so you can follow the story,” Brand says. “If you know ‘La Bohéme’ well, you can sit down front. If it’s your first time, you may want to sit farther back, or even in the balcony so you can see them well.”
And “La Bohéme’s” story is both classic (it forms the basis for the modern musical, “Rent”) and enjoyable.
“It’s a great date night show,” Brand enthuses.
“La Bohéme” runs today, Sunday, Thursday and April 27. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m., except Sunday, April 21, when it is 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available online at kutheatre.com or by calling the box office at 864-3982.
A young man’s life hangs in the balance. He stands accused of murder. If he’s convicted, he will almost certainly be sentenced to death. The case looks open and shut. The guard assigned to the jury deliberation room notes simply, “The kid doesn’t stand a chance.”
But one of those jurors thinks it isn’t as simple as everyone wants to make it. He thinks they ought to talk about it and see if the prosecution’s case really does withstand the test of reasonable doubt. He has the daunting task of trying to convince 11 others.
That’s the premise of the classic play, “12 Angry Men," which opened Friday night at Theatre Lawrence and runs weekends through April 28.
Walt Boyd has the largest role in the ensemble piece, and he hits all the right notes as the contemplative but stalwart Juror No. 8. The facts of the case don’t sit right with him, and he’s adamant the men discuss it thoroughly before they just send the accused off to die.
The temptation is to play the role with fire and vigor, but Boyd resists that urge and portrays Juror No. 8 not as a crusader for one man’s rights but rather as a thoughtful, quiet man who’s had this thankless task thrust upon him. The unbearable heat in the un-air conditioned jury room and the prejudices of his fellow jurors make it a near-impossible job, and Boyd navigates his character’s frustration and natural quietude well.
Equally good are Randy Parker as the fiery Juror No. 3 and Ray Remp as the racist Juror No. 10. Both men have personal reasons for wanting a guilty verdict, and they fight passionately for them. Parker is alternately condescending and angry with the other men in the room. He portrays the projection of resentment towards his own son with a quiet seething that alternately bullies and explodes. Likewise Remp does a fine job displaying both the subtle and the ugly, unmasked faces of racism.
What makes the play so brilliant is the diversity of the men’s opinions and the fairness with which they are generally treated. Dennis Craig gives a solid performance as Juror No. 7, who honestly can’t understand why they keep arguing. He conveys well the sincerity of a man who just wants to get an unpleasant task done. Likewise, Shawn Trimble’s Juror No. 4 gives credence to arguments on both sides, treating those opposed to him with respect while still clinging to his convictions that the defendant is guilty. Trimble overplays his character’s conversion a bit, but we feel his horror at having been wrong on something so important.
Charles Whitman directs the play expertly. It largely consists of people sitting around talking, and that’s a hard thing to make interesting. Whitman knows when to have someone stand up, when to have someone move, when to bring everyone back to the table, and how to keep the pace of the show moving. The ebb and flow of the tension is maintained perfectly throughout. The play never drags.
Some versions of “12 Angry Men” present it without an intermission, but Theatre Lawrence adds one, and it’s an unfortunate choice. Parker’s Juror No. 3 is having to be restrained from assaulting Boyd’s Juror No. 8 when the blackout occurs. Intermission completely shatters the emotion of the moment. When the play resumes, all the actors come back in and set up in their same positions, but the feeling is gone. It takes awhile to get back into the milieu they’d created so well before the interruption.
“12 Angry Men” is nearly 60 years old, but it is just as timely as it was when it first aired as a television drama. Theatre Lawrence does a good job of bringing a classic to life. It leaves one thinking and closes the theater’s current building with aplomb.
“12 Angry Men” continues Thursday through Sunday and, next weekend, April 25 through 28 at Theatre Lawrence, 1501 New Hampshire St. For show times and ticket information, visit theatrelawrence.com.
Occasionally, a play comes along that is so beautiful, so perfectly produced, and so exquisitely performed it is difficult to describe. Such is the case with Kansas University Theatre’s production of Lynn Nottage’s “Intimate Apparel.”
The show, which opened April 3 and runs through the 11th, is easily one of the best that’s been onstage in Lawrence this season. That it was handled so deftly by actors who were mostly freshmen and sophomores and directed by a doctoral candidate rather than a seasoned professor makes it that much more extraordinary.
Nottage’s play is set in New York in 1905 and tells the story of Esther Mills (Ashley Kennedy), an African-American seamstress. At 35 and single, Esther has made a successful business sewing corsets. Her best customers are wealthy, white socialite Mrs. Van Buren (Margaret Marie Hanzlick) and African-American prostitute Mayme (Isabella Hampton). She’s been sewing for 18 years and has been putting away money she intends to invest in a beauty parlor for black women, specializing in what she calls, “the kind of service we deserve but no one will give us.”
But she yearns for love. Her boarding lady Mrs. Dickson (Alysha Marie Griffin) constantly attempts to set her up with men, but Esther is holding out for the right man. She doesn’t want to just settle, despite being plain and a spinster.
She has a special relationship with Mr. Mark (Christoph Nevins), who owns the fabric shop where she gets her materials. He’s the only person who really seems to share her passion for fabric and color. But he’s an Orthodox Jew betrothed to a woman who has not yet come to America from his native Romania.
And so, when she starts receiving correspondence from George Armstrong (Zechariah Williams), a Panamanian canal worker, she allows him to court her by mail. She can’t read or write, so she enlists Mrs. Van Buren’s aid in writing to him. Eventually, he proposes marriage and she accepts.
But once he comes to America and they are wed, they discover that neither of them is the person they believed. The dream of marriage for Esther and of American opportunity for George turns sour.
Each of the actors gives a pitch-perfect performance. Hanzlick’s Mrs. Van Buren is both enthusiastic in her desire to aid Esther and forlorn at her inability to have children and her loveless marriage. She is white and rich, but she is every bit as trapped by society as Esther, and Hanzlick conveys her misery and regret clearly without overdoing it.
Likewise, Hampton gives a strong but subtle performance as the burned-out prostitute Mayme. Hampton keeps the character vibrant but worn down by years of disappointment and unsatisfying work. We feel both her despair and her hope, and neither is overstated.
Williams gives Nottage’s words real lift. In the first act, his only lines are the letters he has written to Esther, and he recites them so poetically he makes it easy for us to understand how she could fall in love with this man she has never met — how she could accept a marriage proposal from him before even seeing him.
But it’s Kennedy’s portrayal of Esther that really makes “Intimate Apparel” soar. She understands the complexities of the character’s feelings, hopes and dreams exactly. As good as her delivery of lines is, it is her acting when not speaking that makes her performance so outstanding. In the first act, Williams is lit as George when he reads his letters, and Kennedy and anyone onstage turns to face him. Each time he speaks, Kennedy’s face lights up, transformed from the worry of her life as a spinster seamstress to that of a woman falling in love. Despite the focus of the scene being elsewhere, her reaction compels us to watch her. The intimacy of the Inge Theatre allows the audience to see the depth of her emotion.
She creates real chemistry with Nevins. In one scene, she wants to touch him even though she knows it’s forbidden. Her cautious approach and her hesitation before finally finding the courage to do it are achingly beautiful, and Nevins’s reaction of fear and joy at what it means is equally perfect.
The set is gorgeous. Rebecca Damren creates a single set that is divided into five distinct places. Only Esther moves from location to location. The other characters remain in their appointed spots until the second act when George first joins Esther at her apartment and then Mayme in hers. The spatial violation he commits helps portend the play’s tragic conclusion.
Part of the brilliance of Scott C. Knowles’s direction is it’s hard to tell where his instructions leave off and where the actors’ instincts begin. He’s crafted a perfect telling of Nottage’s story by casting the right people and putting them in a position to succeed.
“Intimate Apparel” is that rare, extraordinary play where everything is right. The story, the words, the acting, the lighting, the set, and the direction are all beautiful. It demands to be seen.
"Intimate Apparel" continues April 5, 7, 9, 10, and 11 in the William Inge Memorial Theatre at Kansas University. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. except April 7, when it is at 2:30 p.m. Tickets range from $10-$15. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.kutheatre.com/12-13_season/IntimateApparel.shtml.
“Of all ideals they hail as good,” American satirist Tom Lehrer wrote in his typically irreverent ode “Oedipus Rex”, “The most sublime is Motherhood.”
Julie Dunlap and Sara Stotts seem to have their tongues planted similarly in cheek with the debut of their show “Mother%$!#hood,” which gets a staged reading at the Lawrence Arts Center on Friday night.
“It’s basically musical sketch comedy,” Dunlap says.
The show tells the story of three women who meet at their gynecologist’s office while pregnant. One is a first-time mom, who is looking forward to everything. Another is a Type-A mom who has her children’s ages and lives planned to exact schedule. The third is a woman with children in junior high who has become unexpectedly pregnant.
“She thought she was done with all this, but whoops!” Dunlap says.
Each is a different person experiencing motherhood differently, but they share common experiences. The songs tell their stories and describe problems, but they are also designed to elicit laughter.
“There’s the song about when Mom goes on Xanax,” Dunlap says. “There’s the one where she wants to slap the class bully. There’s dealing with teaching a teenager to drive, where 20 mph feels way too fast.”
There’s even a song about prom. One mother has a serious talk with her daughter’s escort before the big night, explaining to him that she will (mess) him up if he tries sleep with her.
“It’s an 18-year journey in 90 minutes featuring everything from the mundane to the extraordinary,” Dunlap says. “We explore every genre of music except rap.”
Dunlap and her college roommate and longtime friend Stotts conceived the show several years ago as an irreverent tribute to women’s trials and triumphs raising children. Dunlap’s kids became involved in theater at the Arts Center, and she came to know Performing Arts Artistic Director Ric Averill as a result.
“Lawrence is the greatest city in the world,” Dunlap says. “I talked to Ric about the show, and he wanted to read it. As we gave him more and more material, he got excited. We went from having a very small reading in the Black Box (Theater) to something much bigger on the Arts Center’s main stage.”
She stresses that Friday night’s performance is still a staged reading. Actors will have scripts in hand, and it’s not a full production.
“There will be plenty of visual surprises for the audience, though,” she says.
The show may be irreverent, but it remains celebratory of women raising children.
“We want women to be able to laugh at themselves and their journey and know they are not alone,” Dunlap says.
“Mother%$!#hood” plays Friday, April 5, at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. A pre-show reception dubbed “Happy Freakin’ Hour” begins at 6:30 p.m. in the lobby. The show is sold out.
There’s no shortage of literature on the African-American experience in the 20th century. From Toni Morrison to Ralph Ellison to Austin Pickett, there is a lot of great material chronicling being black in America in modernity.
But most of it is set during and after the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s.
“There’s a period of lost history between the Emancipation and the Harlem Renaissance,” says KU doctoral candidate Scott C. Knowles.
Knowles is directing University Theatre’s new production of Lynn Nottage’s play “Intimate Apparel.” Set in 1905, it tells the story of Esther, a black seamstress in New York, who has found a successful business niche making women’s undergarments.
“She makes lingerie for high-society ladies and for prostitutes,” Knowles says.
Esther dreams of one day opening a beauty shop. She’s been saving her earnings from her lingerie business for years with the goal of doing what she really wants, not just what makes her successful.
Nottage, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her play “Ruin,” wanted to reclaim this period of African-American history.
“It’s a play about racial relations, class relations, and gender relations,” Knowles says about the complex story.
Esther begins correspondence with a man working on the Panama Canal. He eventually comes to New York, and they are married. But it’s a marriage of societal expectations.
Esther is more interested in Mr. Marks, from whom she buys her materials. They share interest in fabrics and colors. But she’s black, and he’s an Orthodox Jew.
“There is no way for them to be together,” Knowles says.
The story is further complicated by Esther’s principal customers.
“Maymie, the prostitute, sleeps with her husband,” Knowles says. “And Mrs. Van Buren, the society lady, becomes attracted to Esther, who’s really uncomfortable with it. What’s great about that is it’s not disturbing because the attention is from a woman; it’s disturbing because the attention is unwelcome. It’s the same as if it had come from a man.”
Knowles became interested in “Intimate Apparel” because of its exploration of complex issues.
“My research is in minority issues in theater,” he says. “This play deals with many of those concerns.”
But it was really the artistic merits of the play that drew his attention.
“It’s an absolutely beautiful story,” he says. “It’s really a story about falling in love with the wrong person.”
“Intimate Apparel” runs April 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 10 and 11 at the Inge Theatre at the University of Kansas. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. for all shows except Sunday, April 7, when it is 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $10-$15 and are available by calling 785-864-3982 or online at kutheatre.com.
Death and comedy mix freely in EMU Theatre’s annual 10-minute play festival, this year titled “Snake, Rattle and Role,” which opened at the Lawrence Arts Center on Friday night. Producers Nick Stock and Andy Stowers attempt to weave nine plays featuring either death or comedy (or sometimes both) together to create an entertaining mix celebrating the company’s 15th anniversary. It’s an ambitious task, and, like most experimental theater, it’s hit and miss.
The first act of the festival is particularly strong. It opens with “Emilia’s Lover” by Feloniz Lovato-Winston, a charming comedy about a woman (Carol Holstead), who claims to have taken a spirit lover. Her estranged daughter (Eva Nelson) and weak-willed son (Bobby Bierly) aren’t sure what to make of it. Holstead is delightful as the flighty Emilia, who continues to assure her children she isn’t insane, despite her claims that the invisible Rodrigo has come to her for two and a half weeks before he has to move on to cheer up another lonely old lady. Nelson is sharp as the acerbic daughter Olive, and Bierly does a fine job waffling between thinking his mother is crazy and believing her story.
“Kuppulls Thairoppee” is an amusing revenge fantasy by Stock, wherein the former failed patient (Jay Maus) of a therapist (Josh Stueve) ties him up and takes over a session for a dysfunctional couple (Kristin Colahan-Sederstrom and Stowers). Maus has a ball exposing the couple’s base issues, insulting them in ways that would make a true therapist shudder. Colahan-Sederstrom is terrific as a domineering spouse with daddy issues, and Stowers is perfect as her milquetoast husband. Their alternating resentment and respect for each other makes for great comedy.
Liza Pehrson’s “Visitation (After Three Days, One Must Sleep)” is a sweet story of a young woman (Margaret Skarka), who hasn’t slept for three days following the death of her father from cancer. His ghost (Dan Born) visits her and comforts her, despite her anger at him for being dead. It’s a moving piece, and Skarka hits all the right notes of a confused young adult numb with grief.
The jewel of the festival, though, is Stock’s tragedy “The Things We Leave Behind.” Directed by David Butterfield and starring Butterfield as a dying, bitter old cynic and Stock as his estranged son, the story concerns the final confrontation between two men who are supposed to love each other but have spent a lifetime building up resentment instead. At the center of their struggle is the mental illness and suicide of Malcolm’s (Stock) mother, for which he blames his father. Butterfield and Stock give searing performances as two men who have allowed tragedy and disappointment to destroy their relationship. It’s the longest play in the festival and easily the best. It’s unfortunate EMU chose to place it second in the rotation, because both its quality and its power would have made it a better choice for the second act.
And that second act is not nearly as strong as the first. Bob Bierly’s “Silent Alarm” is a clever comedy about a home invasion gone wrong, and Pehrson gives a fantastic performance in Stowers’ “God’s Work,” which is a confusing piece that never quite lets us know what it’s about. Neither has the energy or depth of the first act plays, though, and the other two offerings, “Halloween: The Dark Knight” and “Eight,” are banal attempts at comedy that seem designed more to amuse the actors than the audience.
EMU has the clever idea to send its improv troupe out to entertain the audience during scene changes, which keeps things lively. But the actors spent a lot of their time getting rules or input from the audience. Often, by the time they got the scene started, it was time for them to exit again. It was a good idea that needed some refinement.
In all, “Snake, Rattle and Role” (an inexplicable title for the festival) has a lot to recommend it. There are fine performances by the actors across the board, and some of the plays are exquisite. But it starts strong before fizzling out in the second act. The things it gets right outweigh those it doesn’t, but one wishes the quality of the material in the first act had been sustained throughout.
"Snake, Rattle and Role" will continue March 29 and 30 at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St. Both shows begin at 7:30 p.m., with doors opening at 7 p.m., and tickets cost $7 at the door.
A man believes he’s Batman and goes on a killing spree. A woman tells her children she has a secret lover, but they’re not sure he’s real. Another woman seeks a spirit guide... and three answer the call.
Spring is here, and that means it’s time for EMU Theatre’s annual 10-minute play festival. The cornucopia of shorts once again has a broad selection of material.
“We’ve got nine 10-minute plays,” says Andrew Stowers, one of the show’s producers. “It’s a pretty eclectic mix.”
EMU’s selection committee received 20 submissions, including entries from both the East and West Coasts.
“But the shows the directors were really interested in were the ones written by Kansas authors,” Stowers says. “We got a lot of great plays from across the country.”
In addition to the three above, the festival also features a farcical treatment of British history, going from Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon to Shakespeare and Elizabeth in a mere 10 minutes, and another play features a home invasion gone comically wrong. There are also more serious works wherein a man confronts his dying father, and one called “God’s Work” featuring a girl dealing with issues of life and death.
“We’ve got some pretty heavy drama, and some pretty ridiculous comedy,” Stowers says. “This is easily the best group of plays we’ve ever had.”
Between plays, EMU’s improv troupe will be performing to keep things light during the scene changes.
“It’s a really audience-friendly show,” Stowers says. “If you don’t like one play, another one that might appeal will be along in 10 minutes.”
EMU Theatre’s 10-minute play festival, “Snake, Rattle & Role,” run March 22, 23, 29, and 30 in the black box theatre at the Lawrence Arts Center. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the door. A reception follows the opening night performance.
It’s always nice to have a legend stop by.
That’s what will happen at the Lied Center on Friday night when the Swiss mime troupe Mummenschanz brings its 40th anniversary world tour to Lawrence.
“We were looking for an event that, as the saying goes, would be fun for all ages,” says Karen Christilles, associate director of the Lied.
It’s an apt description. The group combines music, comedy and everyday items like notepads, string and even toilet paper to create delightful little scenes and sketches. Funny and often touching, Mummenschanz has a little bit of something for everyone.
“Some of us remember them from our childhood,” Christilles says, noting the group was beloved for an appearance on “The Muppet Show” in the 70s. “Now it’s something we can introduce our children, or in some cases, our grandchildren to.”
The group’s founders, Andres Bossard, Bernie Schürch and Floriana Frassetto, believed that music and lighting were often too overwhelming. They sought to tell stories differently — with body movement and clever props rather than with speech.
This tour is a combination of greatest hits and brand new ideas.
“They’ll definitely be doing some of their signature pieces,” Christilles says. “They’re celebrating their anniversary. But there will also be new material. It should be a very fun show.”
Mummenschanz performs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Lied Center on KU's West Campus. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 785-864-2787 or online at lied.ku.edu.
Theatre Lawrence is looking for angry men — 12 of them to be exact.
The theater group is holding auditions for the classic play "12 Angry Men" Monday and Tuesday at 7 p.m. at its 1501 New Hampshire St. location.
The play calls for 12 adult men of various ages. Auditions will consist of readings from the script.
"12 Angry Men" is under the direction of Charles Whitman. It tells the story of a jury in a murder trial that appears to be an open-and-shut case ... until one juror has doubts about the evidence. Performances will be April 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, 28, and the play is scheduled to be the final production in Theatre Lawrence's current location, before it moves to its new building on Champion Drive near Free State High School.