Posts tagged with Theatre

‘Fox’ delights with over-the-top comedy

“Golf is a good walk spoiled,” Mark Twain famously said. Whether that’s true or not, golf makes an excellent subject for comedy.

Theatre Lawrence exploits this to fine effect in its new staging of the Ken Ludwig farce, “The Fox on the Fairway.” A cast of six throws caution and dignity to the wind in an effort to squeeze every available laugh out of the script, which aims to be an homage to Marx Brothers-style films, and pulls it off with aplomb.

The plot concerns the latest installment of a long-running interclub tournament between two rival country clubs. Quail Run, the setting for the play and the site of this year’s match, has lost five in a row to Crouching Squirrel, and club manager Bingham (Shawn Trimble) is going to lose his job if it becomes six. But he’s brought in a ringer to tip the scales in Quail Run’s favor, and he makes an extravagant bet with Dickie (Dennis Tyner), Crouching Squirrel’s smarmy and conniving manager, on the outcome of the tournament. Unfortunately, Bingham’s ringer is actually playing for Crouching Squirrel, a fact Dickie doesn’t disclose until after the bet has been agreed on.

But it turns out that Bingham’s new assistant Justin (Jake Leet) is a scratch golfer. Bingham and Dickie’s ex-wife, Pamela (Amber Dickinson), hastily have Justin made a member so he can play and then watch with glee as Dickie is about to get his comeuppance. But when Justin’s fiancée, Louise (Julia Peterson), accidentally flushes her engagement ring down the toilet, he melts down, and his eight-shot lead may be in danger.

Leet is hilarious as the youthful and slightly maniacal Justin. He understands perfectly how to vary his delivery to alternate between sunny optimism and crazed meltdown. He flings his body around the stage with reckless hilarity in a way only a young, fearless actor can.

Peterson is likewise hysterical as the naïve Louise. She is at once innocent and wise. She jumps up and down with gleeful excitement anytime something good happens and goes to pieces hilariously when things go wrong.

Trimble plays Bingham with over-the-top cynicism. He yo-yos breathlessly between triumphant conceit and abject depression and weaves a fine mix between closeted desire for Pamela and open spite for his wife, Muriel (Natalie Jensen).

And Tyner doesn’t miss a beat as the ridiculous Dickie, constantly messing up his metaphors, coming on to every woman he meets and wearing comically hideous sweaters in scene after scene.

There are no new jokes in “The Fox on the Fairway.” Ludwig is not mining new material or even reviving old jokes in a new way. If you’ve seen a farce or enjoyed vaudeville, you’ve seen everything “Fox” tries to pull off.

But it just doesn’t matter. “The Fox on the Fairway” is packed with laughs, and the cast is so delightful one is sorry to see the final curtain come down. “Fox” is a comic treat that leaves one laughing long after the final bow.

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The power of art: Robert Skloot uses theater to educate audiences about Lemkin, genocide

Don’t tell Robert Skloot the arts aren’t important.

“I’m a firm believer in bringing the arts into the discussion of important human issues,” he says.

The Professor Emeritus of Theatre from the University of Wisconsin is in town to star in his own play, “If the Whole Body Dies: Raphael Lemkin and the Treaty against Genocide”, opening Thursday in the Inge Theatre at KU.

Lemkin, who first coined the term, “genocide,” is one of history’s more important but lesser known figures. Born in Poland in 1900, Lemkin grew up to earn two Ph.D’s – one in Linguistics and the other in Law. He taught at Uppsala University in Sweden in the 1930’s, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1941.

Lemkin was Jewish, and, while he personally escaped the Holocaust, 49 members of his family died in Nazi concentration camps. He went to work for the U.S. War Department, and, in 1944, wrote a definitive treatise on Nazi Law. It was in this document he first used the word, “genocide.”

After the war, he wrote the Treatise on Genocide, which became the basis for the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Lemkin then spent the rest of his life advocating U.N. member-nations to adopt it.

“He had no official position,” Skloot says, “only his own brilliance and persistence.”

And persistent he was. Lemkin traveled the globe meeting with leader after leader to get the treaty signed. In 1951, 20 nations had agreed – enough for formal U.N. ratification.

“He spoke nine languages and knew 11,” Skloot says. “He was truly a world citizen.”

Skloot first became interested in Lemkin back in 2006.

“My research interests ran to the Holocaust and Theatre,” Skloot says. “In the late ’90’s, Holocaust Studies expanded to become Genocide Studies. Lemkin was virtually unknown when he died in 1959. More attention was given to him in Samantha Power’s book, ‘A Problem from Hell: American and the Age of Genocide’ in 2003. The first 80 or so pages of the book are about Lemkin.”

Skloot wrote “If the Whole Body Dies” to bring more attention to the anti-genocide crusader.

“Towards the end of my career, I wanted to write a play,” he says. “I hadn’t written one, but I’d doctored many.”

That’s where that passion for the arts tackling the human issues moved him.

“These big questions can be investigated, not better, but differently by the arts,” he says. “Theatre brings a whole new perspective to an issue.

“And,” he admits, grinning roguishly, “I’m egged on by people who are opposed to this idea. There are some social scientists who have little patience for how the arts can voice these discussions. They think it should only be analyzed in papers and articles.”

“If the Whole Body Dies” has enjoyed wide consideration. It’s been translated into several languages, among them Hebrew, Spanish, and Polish. It’s been read or performed all over the world, including productions in Peru and Cuba. A staged reading of it at KU last year prompted University Theatre to bring it back for a fuller production under the direction of KU Theatre Professor John Gronbeck-Tedesco.

“I’m fascinated to see what John thinks of it,” Skloot says, noting that, as a playwright, it’s interesting to see what a director finds in his work.

But if the show is based on the heavy material of genocide and the struggle of one man to eradicate it through international law, Skloot is mainly interested in telling a very human story.

“I want the audience to know how Lemkin lived his life and what he wanted to do,” he says. “The message has to do with the struggles to carry out a decent life – what we can learn from Lemkin’s life about living forthrightly.”

“If the Whole Body Dies” plays November 29, 30, December 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Performances are at 7:30pm every night except Sunday, the 2nd, when curtain is 2:30pm. Audience talkbacks follow the November 29 and December 2 performances. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 785-864-3982 and online at www.kutheatre.com.

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‘Into the Woods’ recreates power of fairytales for modern audiences

There may be no form of literature more beloved in Western culture than the fairytale. “There is something very basic about them that is deeply ingrained in the human psyche,” says John Staniunas, Associate Professor of Theatre at Kansas University. “They’re a gateway to the unconscious mind.”

Staniunas is directing University Theatre’s new production of “Into the Woods” – the Tony Award-winning, Stephen Sondheim musical that re-imagines several classic stories, among them “Cinderella,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” and “Little Red Riding Hood.” He notes they are one of the oldest forms of literature.

“These kinds of stories go all the way back to ‘The Odyssey’ and ‘The Illiad’. Then the Grimm Brothers took oral traditions and wrote them down.”

He sees fairytales as important to us at all stages of life.

“They relate to a step toward maturity,” he says. “All fairy tales are about growing up or becoming more mature. There’s a discovery process in them. We shouldn’t tell children what they mean. We should let them discover the lesson for themselves. And the great thing about them is we discover something different in them at different times in our lives. As we mature, the stories change.”

Likewise, cultures change, and old stories sometimes have to adapt with them to stay relevant.

To that end, Staniunas is taking his stylistic cue from ABC’s hit series, “Once Upon A Time.” Like the show, “Into the Woods” blends several fairy tales and recreates them in a new way.

“We’re a changed society,” he says. “‘Once Upon A Time’ and ‘Into the Woods’ reflect that.”

Modern audiences don’t want stories wherein the heroine has little to do but wait for her prince to come and villains are motivated to do harm by more than being jealous over someone’s beauty.

“We have two choices,” Staniunas says. “We can live in the fairytale realm, or we can live in a world of total realism. Neither of those choices is useful. We need something in between. In ‘Into the Woods’, Cinderella and Jack both long to live between those two extremes. They want more than a fairytale existence, but they don’t want no magic either. They discover that what we need and what we want are often different things. The show is about trying to find a comfortable place in between.”

But, he notes, as instructive and revealing as fairy tales are, they have another compelling attribute – they are rousing entertainment. Audiences coming to the show will get an abundance of that.

“This is a truly epic production,” he says. “We’re using every single inch of space in the Crafton-Preyer Theatre. We’re using the revolve a lot; we’ve got 40 revolve cues alone.”

He has a strong cast to execute the production as well.

“The voices onstage are just beautiful,” he says. “This is one of the strongest casts of voices I’ve had the pleasure to work with for a very long time.”

The symmetry is perfect. A new cast of talent brings to life a 25-year-old show that takes some of the oldest stories of our culture and tells them in a new way. Like any good fairytale, “Into the Woods” promises lots of discoveries.

“Into the Woods” plays November 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, and 18 in the Crafton-Preyer Theatre at the University of Kansas. Curtain is 7:30 for all performances except November 11 and 18, when the show begins at 2:30pm. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 785-864-3982 or online at www.kutheatre.com.

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‘Dog Sees God’ turns ‘Peanuts’ inside out to explore teen issues

What if Charlie Brown wasn’t perpetually eight years old but instead grew a little, went to high school and began questioning everything, including the existence of an afterlife and his sexual identity?

“Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead,” an unauthorized parody of “Peanuts,” tries to answer those and other questions. Authored in 2004 by playwright Bert V. Royal, the play turns the characters and the world of Peanuts inside out. Pigpen has become a germophobic jock, Linus is a pot-smoking, high school philosopher, his sister Lucy has been institutionalized for setting the Little Red-Haired Girl’s hair on fire, and everybody’s favorite beagle? Well, the play opens right after he’s been euthanized because he got rabies and killed a small, yellow bird.

Royal has changed the names of the characters to avoid copyright infringement – Peppermint Patty is now Tricia, Schroeder is Beethoven, etc. – but they are all familiar and recognizable. Audiences won’t have any trouble determining who’s who.

“This play hit me like a bolt of lightning,” says Danny Devlin, the doctoral student in theater, who’s directing the new production at University Theatre. “Like the first time I heard The Ramones, or saw ‘The Godfather’ or read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ I couldn’t shake it. I still can’t.”

Despite the designation, “parody,” Royal doesn’t try to make fun of “Peanuts.”

“It’s very funny,” Devlin says of the play, “but it treats its subjects with a great deal of sensitivity.”

And those subjects are broad and intense: teen suicide, homosexuality, underage drinking and drug use, what happens after death, bullying and grief over the loss of a friend. Audiences only familiar with the sentimentality of Charlie Brown’s holiday TV specials might be surprised to find the Peanuts gang dealing with this type of mature subject matter.

“I think the stark cynicism of Charles Schulz is lost in the sentimentalism of the TV specials,” Devlin says. “‘Dog Sees God’ is honest to Schulz’s intention. He had children asking these existential questions about life. Bringing these characters into adolescence and having them deal with all the problems modern teenagers face points to the fact that adolescents are stuck between childhood and adulthood.”

Devlin first came to the play in 2010 around the time there were several high-profile suicides by gay teenagers. In particular, Tyler Clemente’s death at Rutgers University affected him.

“These were teenagers that, like me at their age, didn’t have the perspective afforded by a couple of years of distance,” he says. “The difference between me and them was that their reality, their mythic self, their intrinsic sense of importance about right now was defined by bullying, by an uninvited, unwanted, horrible daily violence.”

But is Charlie Brown the right character to tell this story? Do audiences really want to see him question his sexuality and grieve over a dead Snoopy?

“The script really demands you not be afraid of the reaction,” Devlin says of the potential of audiences not liking seeing familiar characters in very unfamiliar situations. “Otherwise the production reflects that fear.

“The script does a good job of standing on its own. It’s uncompromising, unforgiving.”

And if it seems strange to have characters we’ve grown up with talking about sex and dropping F-bombs, Devlin contends Royal is respectful of the original material.

“He treats the characters with reverence,” he says. “This is an honest, if theatricalized, version of what kids are dealing with today.”

He hopes that’s what stays with people. While noting that the adolescent problems portrayed in the play are taken to an extreme level, Devlin believes it is an important show that has a lot to say.

“I hope this play sticks to people as it stuck to me,” he says. “I hope it encourages the audience to stand up to bullies, to treat people with the decency and respect they deserve. I hope they’ll offer help to someone in need.”

“Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” runs October 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31, and November 1 in the Inge Theatre at the University of Kansas. The show contains strong language and simulated instances of alcohol and drug usage by teenagers. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 785-864-3982 or online at www.kutheatre.com.

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EMU Theatre incubates monsters, local playwrights with ‘Horrorshow VI’

It’s October, and that means, among other things, it’s time for monsters. EMU Theatre has your scary show needs covered with its annual 10-minute play festival “Horrorshow.”

This is the sixth annual presentation of the horror-themed event, and, like the undead coming back from the grave, three of the six plays return for encore performances – Dean Bevan’s “The Grim Reaper,” as well as “Blood Ties” and “The Further Tragedy of Rome(r)o and Juliet” by Andy Stowers.

Nick Stock, who is co-producing the event for EMU, directing “Rome(r)o,” and acting in two of the other plays says there is something for every fan of horror theater.

“Of the six shows, three are comedies, one is an introspective, one-man show, one is very serious and straightforward, and the other goes in a lot of different directions and can’t really be described,” he says. “Audiences should expect to be surprised.”

The idea for a macabre play festival happened by accident. EMU had been holding a fall play festival for years. Six years ago, they got an unusually high number of submissions with a Halloween theme. So the experimental theater group decided to make that their theme. It’s become a tradition now, and that, along with celebrating the troupe’s 15th anniversary, is one of the reasons Emu decided to bring back some its “greatest hits” to mix with fresh new material.

“We wanted to give new life to some of our more successful plays from the past,” Stock says, but he maintains EMU is about finding opportunities for area playwrights to have their material staged, noting, “It’s always pleasing to do someone’s work for the first time.”

EMU has always seen itself as an incubator of local talent, and the success of past Horrorshows has raised the group’s profile. That’s raised standards in the selection committee.

“We’re trying to move towards being more selective,” Stock says of the submissions the group receives for its festivals. “We look at things and decide whether they are ready for an audience or need to go back to workshop.”

As for this year’s faire, Stock cautions “Horrorshow VI” is intended for mature audiences.

“It’s totally an 18-and-over show,” he says. “Mostly for language, but there is also quite a bit of gore. People sitting in the front row should wear slickers or bring tarps” due to what he described as “explosive gore.”

Monsters and horror come around every October. With EMU’s continued growth, one imagines Lawrence artists and audiences will get to enjoy them for the foreseeable future.

“Horrorshow VI” runs in the black box theater at the Lawrence Arts Center October 19, 20, 26, 27, and a special performance on October 31. Curtain is 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $6 at the door.

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