An American classic comes to life on the Theatre Lawrence stage in Simon Levy’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby.” Strong performances, sure-handed direction, and clever sets make for an engaging evening at the theater.
Based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, the play tells the story of Jay Gatsby (Garrett Lawson), a millionaire World War I veteran who throws elaborate parties in 1920s New York. The source of Gatsby’s fortune is shrouded in mystery and rumor, but that only fuels the enjoyment of his events by the Jazz Age partiers he hosts.
The story is told (and in the case of the stage version, narrated) by Nick Carraway (Jake Smith), a Midwesterner who's come to New York to seek his fortune. Like Gatsby, he is a veteran of the war, and that’s instilled a certain restlessness in him. He rents a house next door to Gatsby in the fictional borough of West Egg, and spends time visiting his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Laura Brooke Williams) and her bigoted husband, Tom (Dan Heinz). One senses early on it is a loveless marriage — a fact that frequent house guest Jordan Baker (Sissy Anne Quaranta) confirms quickly.
Jordan is friends with Gatsby too, and the two of them conspire to use Nick to get Gatsby and Daisy together. Gatsby has been obsessed with Daisy since before the war, and they had promised to marry, but Daisy was mistakenly informed of Gatsby’s death.
While the story looks at first to be a romance, it rapidly transforms into a cautionary tale about greed, deception and hypocrisy. Whether you’re familiar with “The Great Gatsby” or not, you can feel the tragic ending barreling toward you with the speed of Gatsby’s flashy, yellow coupe.
This production is easily one of the finest Theatre Lawrence has staged in a long time, and it’s the best show yet to grace its new facilities at 4600 Bauer Farm Drive. The high quality begins with the cast. Four of the five main characters are played by actors with degrees in theater, and their training and talent really shines.
Smith is perfect as the naïve Nick, who gets caught up in the excess of Jazz Age New York and who is manipulated by the others. He is clearly uncomfortable as he watches the action swirl around him. He wants to be a part of it, but it is foreign to his Midwestern values. He cares deeply for Daisy and enjoys Gatsby’s company. He tries very hard to do what they need him to.
This conflict is played deftly by Smith. He never goes over the top with it, and he never gets swept off the stage by the large personalities of the other characters. It’s a strong performance by a talented actor.
Likewise, Lawson captures Gatsby’s smoldering obsession and flim-flam confidence adroitly. Whenever he is not with Daisy, he is the picture of easy success. He smiles, calls everyone "old sport” and floats around the stage as though everything were perfect. But he can barely think when he is with Daisy or talking about her. Lawson manages these two personalities with ease, flipping between the two expertly. It’s a complicated portrayal he never loses control of.
Quaranta is devilish as the scheming Jordan. She manipulates Nick nearly every step of the way, and Quaranta is smooth in her performance, making Jordan likeable enough that we are as drawn in as Nick. When Jordan’s own dark secret comes out, Quaranta makes it unclear whether she was simply cold and calculating or whether she had genuine feelings for Nick. It’s another deft performance in a host of them.
Williams is terrific as the heartsick and conflicted Daisy — trying to act happy while she knows her husband is betraying her; and endeavoring to support Gatsby’s play for her, even when she knows she can’t give herself to him as fully as he desires. Christie Dobson (another performer with a theater degree) is passionate and complex as Tom’s lover, Myrtle, playing skillfully the desperation of a woman who wants more out of life than she’s gotten. And Heinz is both thuggish as the soulless Tom, wounded when he learns Daisy has turned the tables on his philandering.
Jack Wright’s direction is superb. Not only does he pull stellar performances from his cast, he has an innate understanding of how to work Theatre Lawrence’s space. Rather than asking for huge sets to suggest the opulence of Gatsby’s world, he instead puts suggestive pieces onstage: an armoire filled with fine men’s shirts of every color, a giant staircase, a few pieces of furniture and a drink cart. All of these evoke the character of the places they represent without impairing sight lines on the theater’s giant thrust stage.
Clever use of projections by Phillip Schroeder also suggest place without being overly distracting — a country road, looking out on the harbor, golden statues in an elaborate garden. When Gatsby’s car comes rushing down the road in the second act, we see it from head on — just the headlights zooming toward us. It’s a nice piece of technical wizardry, and Wright and Schroeder deserve praise for its staging.
Another excellent technical aspect of the production is the score. Chuck Berg wrote original music for the show, which is mixed in with recordings of actual pieces from the period. Berg’s soulful saxophone underscores many of the key scenes, and it adds a flavor and character that really brings the story to life, lending it a depth many plays don’t have.
“The Great Gatsby” is an extremely ambitious production, and Theatre Lawrence pulls it off with aplomb as a result of bringing in talented, highly trained actors and a director with great vision for a rich, complex staging of an American classic. It is one of the highlights of the season and not to be missed.
“The Great Gatsby” continues at Theatre Lawrence with performances April 17, 18, 19, 25, 26 and 27. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. except Sunday, April 27, when it is 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 843-7469 or online at theatrelawrence.com.
If you didn’t know, Theatre Lawrence’s new production of “Wrong Window” was a Hitchcock spoof when you walked into the show, don’t worry; they’ll make sure you do. The playwrights, actors and director all try way too hard to make the play Hitchcockian rather than relying on the natural laughs that fill the script.
“Wrong Window” adopts a similar premise to Hitchcock’s masterpiece “Rear Window.” Nosy apartment tenants Jeff (Brian Williams) and Marnie (Erica Fox) like spying on their neighbors through their windows. Good friends Robbie (Dustin Chase) and Midge (Alice Dale) like to join in, and everyone is gathering to go out to dinner to celebrate Jeff and Marnie getting back together after a year-long separation.
Before they leave, though, Jeff confesses to Robbie that he had an affair with sexy yoga instructor Lila Larswald (Sarah Bodle) while he and Marnie were separated. Lila lives in the apartment directly across from them, and she and husband Thor (Mark Kramer) are always arguing. A particularly fierce fight right before the dinner date and some barely glimpsed physical action make the voyeurs believe they have witnessed Thor murdering his wife, a scenario they become convinced is true when she turns up missing the next day.
Marnie is a murder-mystery writer and convinces Midge they need to investigate. Meanwhile, Jeff receives naked pictures of Lila in an attempt to blackmail him. The four main characters then become involved in hilarious shenanigans to try to find out what really happened, while making sure the others don’t know what they are up to.
It’s a fine comic premise, and, if it were left to play out naturally, it would be really fun. Unfortunately, starting with the script, the Hitchcock theme is hammered over and over again. Playwrights Billy Van Zandt and Jane Milmore apparently feel that starting with the basic premise of “Wrong Window” and turning it into a spoof wasn’t enough. Jeff is afraid of birds in an obvious reference to “The Birds” and, when some ridiculous-looking pigeons appear on the window sill, he freaks out. Thus, he will only leave the apartment after dark (when there are no birds).
But that forced motif isn’t enough either. Van Zandt and Milmore heap references to other Hitchcock films all through the dialogue with characters dropping the names of other movies such as “Notorious,” “North by Northwest” and “Dial M for Murder.” Most of these are clumsily forced into the script, and the actors emphasize the references to make sure the audience gets the “joke.”
Director Piet Knetsch takes his cue from this approach, further overemphasizing the source material. Every time the closet door is opened to reveal something dramatic, we get the famous killing music from “Psycho” and red strobe lights. Between the first and second scenes, Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic silhouette is projected onto the back wall and lit in a blood-red wash while we hear the music to “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” Indeed all the music that plays throughout the play is taken from one Hitchcock suspense film after another... including the 20th Century Fox fanfare. It’s overdone and quickly becomes tedious.
Which is too bad, because “Wrong Window” has a lot of genuinely funny moments. The cast in general and the quartet of main characters in particular are outstanding at the physical comedy the script calls for. Jack Riegle’s clever set design lets us see into both apartments and uses the revolve to switch from one to the other. Oftentimes, what is happening behind the characters in the foreground is not only hilarious, the fact that we can see it makes it even funnier.
Travis Privat steals the show as the building’s handyman, Loomis. From the voice he uses, to the delivery of his lines, to the way he moves, everything he does is sidesplitting. There is a particular scene with him that recalls the old Dan Aykroyd plumber sketch from “Saturday Night Live” that is an absolute scream and is one of the highlights of the production.
Likewise, newcomer Sarah Bodle is extremely funny in the difficult role of the murdered Lila Larswald. She spends a lot of time onstage posing as a corpse, which is no easy task. Her expression never changes no matter what is done with her. A bit between her and Williams wherein he is trying to cover up the fact that she is dead in his apartment is another of the comic highlights of the performances.
Overall, “Wrong Window” stirs laughs when it isn’t trying too hard to remind you of its source material. It’s unfortunate so much of the production assumes the audience won’t get the joke.
Take a big city kid, drop him into a small town, add in a generous amount of grief, mix in a classic battle of youth versus authority, and set it all to one of the most popular soundtracks of all time, and you’ve got a recipe for great entertainment at Theatre Lawrence.
“Footloose,” the 1998 musical based on the 1984 film, opened last weekend and runs through Oct. 6, kicking off TL’s first full season in its new Bauer Farm Drive facility. The show tells the story of Ren McCormack (Jacob Coons), a teenager uprooted from his Chicago home when his father leaves his mother (Robin Michael), and transplanted to small-town Beaumont, where dancing is outlawed. The Rev. Shaw Moore (Jim Hurd) lost his son in a tragic accident years ago and has turned the whole town against dancing, pop music, and other forms of “spiritual corruption.” Ren runs headlong into trouble when he attracts the attention of the Moore’s daughter Ariel (Noelle Olsen) and attempts to organize a dance for the senior class of Beaumont High.
It may be a musical based on a 1980s dance film, but “Footloose” is a show about pain, and its cast is unafraid to explore its dark emotions, dragging them out onstage and forcing the audience to confront them.
Like her father, Ariel has tried to lock her grief over the loss of her brother away, channeling it into poetry, wild and dangerous behavior, and dreams of escaping Beaumont to see the world. She falls into a destructive relationship with the sinister Chuck Cranston (a very creepy Christoph Cording), who only wants her for the sexual gratification she brings, and the status of corrupting the reverend’s daughter.
Olsen is smoldering from the moment she steps onstage. She exudes desperation and anger. Her scenes with Hurd, where the father-daughter relationship is disintegrating, are moving and raw. She delivers a yearning rendition of the Jim Steinman/Bonnie Tyler classic “Holding Out for a Hero” in a smoky mezzo that is one of the highlights of the first act.
But as intense as the grief she plays is, Olsen also develops fine chemistry with Coons, who is earnest as he weaves between the frustrated teenager, who can’t seem to figure out the rules, to the voice of reason, who has the answer to the town’s collective problem.
“That never works,” he tells Ariel, when he recognizes she is trying to run away, and Coons delivers the line so sincerely one believes he has tried running himself and knows its futility. His scene where he screams his anguish at his father to a passing train and where he confesses his pain to Moore are gut-wrenching. Both Coons and Olsen are extremely accomplished young actors to be able to give such resonance to complicated emotions.
Hurd struggles a bit with the role of the grief-stricken minister. In the first act, he is a little too staid, a little too calm with all the chaos swirling around the town, particularly his daughter. But in the second act, he is coiled, a caged tiger trying to tamp down his feelings of loss and resist the urge to explode. When he finally unburdens himself angrily to Ren, it is one of the show’s truest moments. Hurd hits the perfect notes of the desolate father, who believes no one can understand what he feels.
But “Footloose” is far from dark. It tackles big, emotional issues of loss, but it is also unabashedly fun. Sam Hay as Willard and Lakytra Hamilton as Rusty very nearly steal the show as the story’s secondary couple. A Theatre Lawrence veteran, Hay gives the best performance of his young career on that stage. His southern accent is hilarious, his comic timing always perfect, and his song “Mama Says (You Can’t Back Down)” shows off his gorgeous baritone and is one of the highlights of the show.
Hamilton is equally engaging as Willard’s would-be love interest Rusty. She commands attention whenever she is onstage, strikes the perfect balance between bubbly, love-struck teen and serious friend, and is the perfect foil to Olsen’s moody Ariel. Hamilton delivers a highly entertaining rendition of “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”, breaking the fourth wall and engaging the audience throughout the song.
Indeed, one of the pleasures of “Footloose” is listening to new versions of familiar songs. Composer Tom Snow deftly arranges the famous soundtrack’s hit numbers so that they capture the essence of the original recordings but work well in a musical setting. In particular, “Somebody’s Eyes” is much more haunting than the original recording, highlighting the difficulty of life in a small town, and “The Girl Gets Around” retains the bad boy sound of Sammy Hagar’s song while still enabling Cording to show off a gorgeous high-tenor voice. New songs blend seamlessly with the old ones, especially “Learning to Be Silent”, a lament by Moore’s wife, Vi (Erin Fox), Ren’s mother, and Ariel.
Director Annette Cook makes good use of Phillip Schroeder’s set. The band is onstage on the theater’s 30-foot revolve, and a second level is built around them. It rotates periodically to give us different settings, often while the band is still playing.
Projections onto a giant screen in the background give us the river where the tragic accident occurred, stained glass windows in the Rev. Moore’s church, and a country bar. The Moores' house is set stage left and rotates to accommodate interior and exterior scenes. The production even uses two of the pews from Theatre Lawrence’s old New Hampshire Street location, which was a church before it was repurposed to a theater in 1984 (ironically the same year “Footloose” is set).
If “Footloose” has a flaw, it is, strangely enough, the dancing. For a show based on a 1980s dance film, there is very little dancing in it, and what there is isn’t memorable. There are some entertaining moments, most notably a country two-step at the top of the second act, but the show’s big production numbers, especially its famous finale, are under-danced.
“Footloose” is, though, a special show. It is that rare adaptation that is willing to part far enough from the original to be something fine of its own. The cast and crew at Theatre Lawrence render it well and launch the inaugural season in the new building with toe-tapping style.
Theatre Lawrence’s Vintage Players troupe has a single goal.
“The mission statement is ‘Just have fun,’” says Mary Ann Saunders, the group’s longtime director. “If other people want to come along – like the audience – the more, the merrier.”
That approach will be on display tonight in the troupe’s annual performance, “An Evening of Senior Moments.”
Composed of senior citizens, the Vintage Players specialize in script-in-hand readings of comedy sketches and classic one-liners. They meet regularly and take their show on the road to retirement communities and anywhere else they can find an audience.
“We’ll perform for anyone who will let us,” Saunders says.
Among the material the Vintage Players will perform tonight is a cutting from a show at Theatre Lawrence several seasons back, “Over the River and through the Woods.” The group adapted a scene and performed it in competition at a local Lawrence nightspot.
“We went up against stand-up comedians and other people who do comedy regularly, and we won,” Saunders enthuses.
The skit had to be unique to Lawrence, so the group put in references to a number of local history events, including a bank robbery committed by Clyde Barrow in the 1920’s.
The number of performers varies. Saunders notes she has 14 for tonight’s event.
“We’ve got folks coming from all over,” she says of the participants. “We’ve got retired secretaries, retired teachers, we’ve even got the husband of KU’s chancellor, Shade Little!”
Little became involved due to his desire to work with young people. In addition to performing their particular brand of humor at nursing homes and around the area, the group runs the theater’s Kids at Heart program. The Vintage Players visit Cordley and Deerfield Elementary Schools monthly to teach second-graders classic fairytales through re-enactment.
“Several years ago, a Deerfield teacher discovered that, if Disney hadn’t made a movie out of it, the kids didn’t know any of the classic fairytales,” Saunders explains.
The Vintage Players read stories like “Three Billy Goats Gruff” and “The Three Little Pigs” to the students and then have the children re-enact them.
As fun as it all is, tonight’s event does have a somber note to it. Agnes Engelmann, a longtime writer and performer for the group, is in the final stages of terminal cancer.
“She’ll be with us in the audience tonight, but she won’t be able to perform,” Saunders says. “We’re dedicating tonight’s show to her.”
Somehow that seems appropriate too. The Vintage Players are all about having fun. Her legacy will be on display tonight.
“An Evening of Senior Moments” plays tonight at 6 p.m. at Theatre Lawrence. Admission is free.
When the folks at Theatre Lawrence imagined opening night of their brand new building, they likely had something other than a plodding, hand-wringing show rife with technical and design problems in mind. Unfortunately, “Ragtime’s” paper-thin plot and running time of nearly three hours from opening curtain to final bows got the 36-year-old theater company off to an uncertain start in its new digs despite some strong individual performances.
With a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, “Ragtime” is set in the first decade of the 20th century. Telling the stories of three very different families — upper-class whites from New Rochelle, African-Americans from Harlem and Jewish immigrants from Latvia — the show intends to say something about the quintessential American experience of the last century and the importance and struggles of change by wrapping it all in the music of the period. The stories of the three principle characters — Mother (Sarah Young), Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (Robert McNichols, Jr.) and Tateh (Patrick Kelly) — are interwoven, but only Mother gets enough time onstage to truly establish any kind of real character development.
McNichols and Kelly pour their hearts into their roles to try to make them three-dimensional, but neither is given much to work with in terms of growth from beginning of the show to end. Coalhouse, in particular, is barely seen until 40 minutes into the first act (he does appear in the overly long opening number), and he isn’t given much to do, plot-wise, until the second act, when he essentially becomes a terrorist, vanishes from the story altogether and then surfaces again at the end for the predictable and overwrought climax. Conversely, Tateh seems to be important in the early part of the show, but he, too, vanishes in the second act and then re-emerges improbably successful before disappearing again until the denouement.
In between, we are given number after number, stretching out the story, clumsily piling on the history lessons and making us wonder how and if it all fits together. Several songs add nothing to the show except running time. “Crime of the Century” tells the story of celebrity personality Evelyn Nesbit (Sarah May Pippitt) and adds virtually nothing to the plot. “What a Game!” is supposed to be about a failed bonding attempt between Father (Bruce Douglas) and Little Boy (Liam Elliott), but nothing comes of it whatsoever. And there are cameo appearances by historical figures such as J.P. Morgan (Charles Whitman), Henry Ford (Peter Hansen), and Harry Houdini (Brody Horn), none of which is necessary. Only famed anarchist Emma Goldman (Amy Kelly) adds anything to the story with her presence.
“Ragtime” is slow, unfocused and fails to say anything important about America or the time period beyond the facts that it was turbulent and people had dreams.
The ponderous nature of the show was unfortunately worsened by a number of technical problems both in the production and the design of the facility. Theatre Lawrence effectively maintained the intimacy of its old building despite a vastly larger stage and almost twice as many seats. But the rows are narrow, making the otherwise comfortable chairs feel cramped. Because of the design, you can’t put your feet under the seat in front of you, creating an uncomfortable experience for patrons with long legs.
Moreover, the rows are long, with few aisles, making them difficult to exit quickly. That, along with long lines in the bathrooms and at the bar, led to a 25-minute intermission. The increased seating capacity seemed to be working against the theater, even though there are vastly more toilets than at the old building.
Technically, the show was beset with problems. All of the leads were mic’ed, but they were potted up so loud that, when an unmic’ed actor had a line or a solo, it could barely be heard. Worse, several of the microphones were broadcasting static when the performers sang or spoke. In particular, Jake Leet’s mic was so full of static he sounded like he was making a call from outer space.
Director Mary Doveton made a lot of use of the theater’s 30-foot revolve, but it rotated so slowly many scene changes moved every bit as glacially as the plot. Doveton and set designers Jack Riegle and Phil Schroeder also made a curious decision in the show’s design. With a spacious new stage, they opted for a minimalist set. There were several large pieces — most impressively a full-size, wooden Model-T roadster — that were moved on and off, but the stage was otherwise bare, and we saw all the pieces before the first act was over. Consequently, the underused space sucked a lot of the intended pageantry out of the show.
And yet “Ragtime” does have its moments. Flaherty’s music and Ahren’s lyrics are gorgeous and often stirring. Music director Mary Baker created impressive sound on the group numbers, especially the Act I finale, “’Til We Reach that Day.”
Many of Theatre Lawrence’s longtime actors seemed inspired by the opportunity to open the new building, giving their finest performances. Leet is exceptional as the fiery Younger Brother. He sings beautifully, and, without overdoing it, he perfectly captures the archetypal young man searching for what he should believe in.
Patrick Kelly is mesmerizing as Tateh. He plays father to his own daughter Brynn onstage, and not only do the two have natural chemistry but they also provide some of the show’s most uplifting moments. His song, “Gliding,” in which he comforts her fears, is sweet and moving.
Newcomer McNichols’ lyric baritone is easily the best male voice to grace a Theatre Lawrence production in at least the last 10 years, if not ever. It might be the best voice the troupe has ever had. He infuses Coalhouse Walker with passion and beauty, making one wish he had more scenes.
Genée Figuieras has the daunting task of playing opposite him. Not only does she hold her own against his formidable voice, she complements him perfectly with a floating mezzo that dazzles both in their duet, “Wheels of a Dream,” and in her haunting solo, “Your Daddy’s Son.”
But as strong as many of the individual performances are, they simply can’t overcome the slow, meandering plot, the technical difficulties and the design issues. As the perfect grand opening for Theatre Lawrence’s new facility, “Ragtime” misses the mark by a long way.
To be fair, the creative staff has only been in the building for a few weeks. Attempting to get a show on the stage in that short period of time was extremely challenging. One hopes and assumes that, as Theatre Lawrence grows into its new space, future productions will be much stronger.
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.
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.
Piet Knetsch has been directing at Theatre Lawrence for years, and he likes taking on challenging material. “Time Stands Still,” the Tony-nominated play about conflict journalism that opens Saturday, is exactly the kind of drama he enjoys.
On the surface, it’s a play about what is ethical when it comes to journalism. But...
“The story is really about their relationship,” Knetsch says of Sarah and James, the main characters.
She is a photojournalist. He is a reporter. Together, they’ve been wherever war and genocide have occurred. Sarah is injured on assignment, and she spends a year recovering. The action of the story follows the relationship of the two during this time.
“They find themselves asking each other all sorts of questions about the nature of their work and their relationship,” Knetsch says. “Should they go back? Should they get married after having been together for eight years? Should they have children? Both of them are in their early 40s.” It’s through this exploration of the couple’s relationship that the larger themes of the play come out.
“Is it appropriate to just observe and document horror?” Knetsch says. “What is the role of the photographer?"
After the injury, James wants out. He’s seen enough. Sarah isn’t so sure.
“He accuses her of being addicted to her work,” Knetsch says. “At its heart this is a love story. It’s the story of their love and what changes after she is injured.”
“Time Stands Still” features two other characters. Richard is the couple’s editor and gets their material published. He’s in his 50s, and he becomes involved with a much younger woman, Mandy.
“She comes across initially as an airhead,” Knetsch says. “Sarah and James scoff at the relationship at first, but they come to discover there is much more there.
“The author uses her to raise the moral/ethical questions he wants to discuss. She’s a lot more insightful than they initially give her credit for.”
And Richard and Mandy’s relationship serves as a contrast to the conflicted one of Sarah and James.
“Richard and Mandy have very different interests, and they’re obviously very different in age,” Knetsch notes, “but they have a much stronger, much happier relationship than these two people who are closer in age and are interested in the same things. It’s a wonderful, wonderful bit of writing.”
When Knetsch started considering “Time Stands Still,” he wasn’t just interested in directing it.
“As soon as I read the play, I was drawn to the idea of designing the set,” he says. “I hadn’t done any set design in about 15 years, and I’ve really enjoyed picking up that process again after a break.”
He’s hung pieces from the ceiling to suggest a loft apartment in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.
“The author describes the apartment as one room where everything happens,” he says, “and Williamsburg is a warehouse district, so I interpreted the set as a warehouse type of apartment.”
The overhead pieces cast shadows onstage, and that’s part of the design.
“When you are dealing with a drama, I sort of like the idea of passing through the shadows,” he says. “I learned a lot about how to play with those shadows.”
“Time Stands Still” runs Feb. 23, 24, 28, and March 1, 2, and 3 at Theatre Lawrence. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m., except on Sundays when it is 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 843-7469 or online at www.theatrelawrence.com. (Note: "Time Stands Still" was originally supposed to open Friday, Feb. 22, but was canceled because of poor weather and driving conditions. Anyone with questions is asked to call 218-8145.)
Fights to benefit charities are nothing new. Pit two or more celebrity combatants in the ring, have them duke it out for a good cause, and you’ve got the makings of a good fundraiser.
Theatre Lawrence knows a good thing when it sees one. So, Saturday night, an eight-woman battle royale is happening live onstage.
Well, it’s not exactly a fight. It’s a sing-off between eight local performers to raise money for the group.
“Dueling Divas” features a friendly competition, in which eight contestants will sing two songs each. The best performer at the end of the night receives the coveted title of “Diva” complete with crown.
But this is a fundraiser, so musical talent alone won’t be enough to earn diva glory. The audience members vote for their favorites, and the contestant who raises the most money wins.
“$1 equals one vote,” says Kay Traver, Theatre Lawrence’s marketing director. “The more money someone spends voting on any particular diva, the more likely she is to win.” And audience members are not discouraged from “voting” for more than one contestant.
“You can vote as many times as you like for as many divas as you like,” Traver says.
In fact, voting is open now, so the participants can attempt to come in with a lead. Friends, colleagues and family members are encouraged to pre-give to hand their favorites an edge.
“It’s all in good fun for a good cause,” Traver says.
Theatre Lawrence has assembled a diverse group to compete for the crown this time, the third year it has held the event. Five of the women have never performed on Theatre Lawrence’s stage before. Many of them have extensive musical training, including Rachel Black, who performed professionally in Boston and New York; Kristian Noel Bucy, a chorister with the Kansas City Lyric Opera; Erica Fox, who performed professionally in Salzburg, Germany, and Pittsburgh; and Hilary Morton, Free State High School’s director of choral music. Downtown Lawrence Inc. Director Cathy Hamilton is also back in the competition. She was scheduled to perform in the event’s inaugural year of 2011 but was struck with laryngitis and couldn’t participate.
The event will also feature a special appearance by Sarah Young, who won the first two installments. Young will perform at the end of the first act but is not competing this time.
The evening begins at 6:30 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres from Maceli’s. The curtain goes up at 7:30 p.m. There is also a silent auction featuring some special items, including a basketball signed by the KU men’s team, a four-night stay at a luxury condo in Washington D.C., and a one-night stay locally at the Circle-S Ranch.
Tickets for “Dueling Divas” are $60. The price includes food, soft drinks and alcohol. Call the Theatre Lawrence box office at 785-843-7469 to make reservations. Bios for all the contestants and the chance to pre-vote by making a pledge are available online at theatrelawrence.com.
Charlie Goolsby is well acquainted with Ken Ludwig. Not personally, mind you. But Goolsby is very familiar with Ludwig’s work.
That’s why he was pleased to be asked to direct Theatre Lawrence’s new production of Ludwig’s comedy about country club politics, “The Fox on the Fairway.”
“It’s laugh-out-loud funny,” he says. “Even just reading the script, I was laughing out loud. My daughter came to check on me, because she heard me laughing, and she knew I wasn’t watching TV.”
Ludwig describes the play as an homage to Marx Brothers-style farces of the '30s and '40s.
“That’s how we’ve played it,” Goolsby says. “There’s a lot of mugging for the audience, and it’s very fast-paced.”
In fact, he notes, getting that pacing down was a key component of putting the show together.
“We were really dependent on getting the lines memorized,” he says. “You can’t pick up the pace until you know what you’re supposed to say and what everyone is going to be saying to you.”
But, if trying to get the pace right is a lot of work, it’s also what makes the play fun.
“The pacing of the humor is great,” he says. “There’s always something happening — something to look at, laugh at, or figure out.”
Goolsby has worked with Ludwig’s material before. His favorite of his shows is the Tony Award-winning “Lend Me a Tenor.” He’s directed a Ludwig show at Theatre Lawrence before, too, taking the helm on the Gershwin music tribute, “Crazy for You.”
“This is probably my second favorite script of his,” he says about “Fox.” “It’s more like ‘Lend Me a Tenor’ — you laugh continuously.”
“The Fox on the Fairway” is set at a country club, and the plot concerns an interclub golf tournament. The owner has brought in a ringer to secure the championship against their snooty competition, and he’s bet heavily on him. But, of course, things go horribly wrong, leaving our “hero” in search of a replacement before he loses everything.
But audience members who know little about or have little interest in golf needn’t worry.
“You don’t need to know much about golf to enjoy the show,” Goolsby says. “Saying ‘A Fox on the Fairway’ is a play about golf is like saying ‘Lend Me a Tenor’ is a play about opera. It’s just not true. Golf is just the vehicle for telling this very funny story.”
With this much experience with Ludwig comedies, does he have a favorite moment or something that stands out in this one he’s looking forward to audiences seeing? He smiles and leans back in his chair when you put the question to him.
“As a director,” he answers, “the thing I’m most interested to see is what the audience finds funny that we didn’t know they would. It happens in every show. You’re in a scene, and suddenly they laugh when you weren’t expecting it. I always like to see when that happens.” With as laugh-out-loud as this play is billed, he may not get the chance. Audiences may be laughing the whole way through.
“It’s a fun script,” he says, beaming.
“The Fox on the Fairway” runs Jan. 18, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 26 and 27. Curtain is 7:30 p.m., except on Sundays, when it is at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 785-843-7469 or online at www.theatrelawrence.com.