Thursday, August 21, 2014

ISU Completes Casting for Fall CPA and Westhoff Shows

The Department of Theatre and Dance at Illinois State University has conducted their annual fall auditions, meaning the shows you'll see at ISU's Center for the Performing Arts and Westhoff Theatre this September, October and November now have actors attached.

The first show of the season will be Noel Coward's Hay Fever, a daffy 1924 script about an eccentric family enjoying a weekend at their home in the country. Father David Bliss is a novelist, while mother Judith is an overly dramatic grande dame of the theatre. Their children Sorel and Simon are just as flaky as their parents, enjoying playing games and tricks to keep themselves entertained. Each member of the Bliss family has invited a guest for the weekend without telling anybody else, which adds confusion (and a few extra crazy people) to the equation. Tennis, anyone? Sonja Moser will direct Hay Fever for ISU, with a cast that includes MFA actress Bethany Hart as Judith and Nico Tangorra as her husband David. Sorel and Simon will be played by Kaitlyn Wehr and Kyle Fitzgerald, with Lauren Sheffey as Judith's former dresser who is now the housekeeper and Eliza Palumbo, Alejandro Raya, Gabriela Rivera and MFA actor Colin Trevino-Odell as the hapless guests. Nicole Greco will appear as Amy, a character who appears to have been added to Hay Fever for this production. Look for Hay Fever at Westhoff Theatre from September 24 to 28.

Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) is a very different kind of drama. MFA directing candidate David Ian Lee will take the reins of Ruhl's frisky look at how women might've come to discover the pleasure of the vibrator back at the end of the 19th century. For ISU's Center for the Performing Arts, MFA actors Colin Lawrence and Natalie Blackman have been cast as Dr. and Mrs. Givings, the couple who discover a new use for electricity, with Allison Sokolowski and Graham Gusloff as a patient and her husband, Brandi Jones as a wet nurse with a different outlook, Dario Carrion as an artist who makes an impact on the household, and Kelly Steik as the doctor's assistant. In the Next Room will take the CPA stage October 2 to 11.

Next up is Quiara Alegria Hudes's Water by the Spoonful, which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It is the second of three "Elliot" play by Hudes, all involving an Iraq war vet named Elliot Ortiz who has a tough time adjusting to life back in the US. Water by the Spoonful shows us not just Elliot, but his mother and his cousin, as well as a group of friends who only know each other through an internet support group for recovering addicts, charting the difference between the families we're born with and the families we create for ourselves. Water by the Spoonful is scheduled for Westhoff Theatre October 23 to November 1, with MFA candidate Leah Cassella directing MFA actor Ronald Roman as Elliot, Lauren Pfeiffer as his cousin Yasmin, Eddie Curley as a phantom of Elliot's imagination, and Jaime Taylor, Joey Banks (also in the MFA acting program), Anastasia Ferguson and Hananiah Wiggins as the denizens of the online forum.

Continuing the list of strong female playwrights represented on this year's ISU schedule, Lynn Nottage is up next. Nottage is another Pulitzer Prize winner, although she took that award for Ruined in 2009 rather than By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, the 2011 play to be directed by Don LaCasse for ISU. Vera Stark is funny and irreverent, a take on a black actress from the 1930s who leapt off the screen and into Hollywood history. Vera was a maid in real life before she played one for Hollywood, but she was a big hit before she suddenly disappeared forever. What happened to Vera Stark? We'll find out November 6 to 15 in the Center for the Performing Arts, with MFA actress Faith Servant as Vera, Mary DeWitt as the star who plays Vera's high-maintenance boss on and off the screen, Brianna Haskell and Gabrielle Lott-Rogers as Vera's friends, also looking for stardom, Dan Machalinski and Wesley Tilford as a director and studio head, and La'Mar Hawkins as Vera's one great love. That's all in Act One. In the second act, they all take different roles as a panel of academics and TV guests trying to solve the Vera Stark mystery.

There will also be a production of David Mamet's Oleanna, that misogynistic potboiler about a feminist student with an agenda who tries to take down her male professor, apparently taking place in Centennial West 207 at some point in the semester. The eighth MFA actor in the program, Robert Michael Johnson, has been cast as the professor opposite Betsy Diller as the student.

To keep up to date on all of these productions, visit ISU's Upcoming Events page, check out their Productions page, or take a look at the CPA Facebook page. The graphics in this post are all taken from other productions or printed versions of the plays. When ISU releases the graphics for their productions, I will try to update it with those.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Phil Shaw's Memorial Tribute in Three Acts at ISU's CPA August 24

Phil Shaw, 1948-2014
It's an understatement to say that Philip Shaw was a major force in Bloomington-Normal theater.

As an actor, singer, director, playwright, composer, collaborator, mentor, colleague and friend, Phil played a huge role in many lives and many productions, adding an amazing amount of creative energy and too many memories to count to the local theater scene.

Phil Shaw in Send the Light

That's one of the reasons it will take three acts to stage a tribute to Phil, who passed away last February at the age of 65. As an Illinois State University student and alum, he was on and around their stages constantly. As one of the founders of Heartland Theatre, he launched an artistic home for countless local actors and directors. As one of the creative forces behind Send the Light, the documentary style musical drama about bringing electricity to rural communities, Phil illuminated the material with his joy and larger-than-life contributions. As an advisory board member and supporter of New Route Theatre, Phil once again generously shared his talents and his vision to make theater more accessible and more inclusive in Bloomington-Normal.

Given all of that (and countless more performances, directing gigs and contributions to theater around these towns), it makes perfect sense that Phil's family and friends would put on a show to pay tribute. What they've organized is a three-act memorial performance, including photos and presentations. No specific word has come out on what will be included, although Sally Sparks Hoffman Gowdy has talked about "breathtaking rehearsals" that include talented people like Jeni Bratcher-Crafton, Barb Lemmon, Rhys Lovell, Mario Mancinelli, Michael James McNeil, Kyle O'Daniel, Jennifer Rusk, David Shields, and Leslie and Rachel Sompong. It isn't at all surprising that a lot of people want to share their memories of Phil in the way he would've loved most -- on stage.

This Tribute in Three Acts tribute will take place at ISU's Center for the Performing Arts on Sunday, August 24, beginning at 1 pm.

Monday, August 18, 2014

John Chu, Ann Leckie, Mary Robinette Koval and Charles Stroud Win Hugo Awards

Science fiction's highest honors, the Hugo Awards, were handed out last night in London at the World Science Fiction Conference, this year affectionately known as Loncon 3.

And I am happy to say that my friend, John Chu, took home the Hugo trophy for Best Short Story. It's a wonderful honor, much deserved for a beautiful story called The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere, published by Tor.

John gave a lovely, heartfelt speech, most of which is included in this Guardian article about the Hugos. John said, "When I started writing, so many people told me... ''I'm not racist, but…' or 'I'm not homophobic, but…' There were so many buts, and they all told me, in polite, civil and sometimes these exact words, that no one was interested in or would publish ever anything that I would ever write. So to win a Hugo, and for this story, I can't, I literally cannot put into words how much that means to me." He added, "Thank you to anyone who has ever said a kind word to me."

Bravo, John Chu! If you want to see exactly why he won, you can read The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere, a story that combines love, family, telling the truth and a meteorological rebuke for telling lies, at And if you want to see his speech or any other parts of the ceremony, the World Science Fiction Society has provided video of the event from start to finish here.

Other Hugo winners included the film Gravity, which took the prize for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, and "The Rains of Castamere" episode of Game of Thrones, which was named Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form.

Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice won Best Novel, probably the most prestigious of the Hugos, one that has been given in the past to stars of the science fiction and fantasy world like Isaac Asimov, Lois McMaster Bujold, Philip K. Dick, Neil Gaiman, Robert Heinlen, Frank Herbert, Ursula LeGuin, J. K. Rowling, Verner Vinge and Connie Willis. Ancillary Justice also took home a Nebula, an Arthur C Clarke award and the British Science Fiction Association's top award, making Ann Leckie a very well-lauded author with her debut novel.

Best Novella went to Charles Stroud for Equoid, while Mary Robinette Koval won Best Novelette for The Lady Astronaut of Mars.

Kameron Hurley was a double winner, nabbing the award for Best Fan Writer as well as Best Related Work, which we won for an insightful and important piece called We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative. The link here is to the article as it appeared on SFWA's site, but it was first published by A Dribble of Ink, the blog that won Best Fanzine.

And the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, an award presented by Dell Magazines, went to Sofia Samatar, author of  A Stranger in Olondria.

To see a list of all the winners, visit the Hugo site here. To watch the Hugo awards ceremony, click here. Approximately the first 20 minutes are a slideshow of book covers and other relevant images, after which hosts Mur Lafferty and Sheila Williams begin the awards program.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Community Players Has a Rummage and Bake Sale for You!

Community Players Theatre has announced a combo rummage and bake sale to be held at the theater on Saturday, August 23 from 8 am to 2 pm. No word on whether the sale will include any overflow from their props or costume stock, or whether your sales clerks might be actors you recognize from previous productions, but... Hope springs eternal! And you'll certainly find out if you stop by.

They are promising "great bargains and delicious treats" for sale if you stop by. And if you'd like to partake of some Mexican food before trying out the newly purchased baked goods, you can see what Oogie's food truck has to offer on the sidelines.

Community Players is also open to donations to boost their stock and add to the array. If you want to donate something, you're asked to bring it by the theater on Robinhood Lane on Thursday, August 21, between 3 and 8 pm.

For more information, check out the Facebook page created for the event.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

It's Cary Grant Day Tomorrow on TCM

Yesterday was my birthday, but tomorrow is the day Turner Classic Movies sends me the gift of a whole day of Cary Grant movies. I can't think of a better birthday present.

The Cary Grantapalooza starts at 6 am Eastern/5 am Central time with one of Mr. Grant's best. The Awful Truth, directed by Leo McCarey, is what has come to be called a screwball comedy. Specifically, it's a divorce comedy, with Grant and Irene Dunne as a husband and wife who split up and then flirt with getting back together. Dunne combines a certain daffy charm with intelligence and wit, making her an excellent match for the dashing Mr. Grant. Add Ralph Bellamy as the Wrong Man and Joyce Compton as the Wrong Woman, a performer named Dixie Belle Lee whose act includes fans blowing up her skirt, and the always adorable Asta, a very famous fox terrier, as Mr. Smith, their dog, and you end up with a winning romantic comedy that makes it clear why Cary Grant was already a hot item by 1937.

After The Awful Truth, it's time for Howard Hawks' Bringing Up Baby, the 1938 Katharine Hepburn/Grant comedy which plays both actors against type. Hepburn is a loopy heiress with a missing leopard named Baby and a mischievous dog (once again played by Asta), while Grant is a bespectacled professor of paleontology whose entire life is turned upside-down by Hurricane Hepburn. It's a famous example of another niche in the romantic comedy genre, the one where a woman with wild ways hooks up with (and loosens up) a buttoned-up man. See: Ball of Fire, The Lady Eve, Something Wild... Bringing Up Baby was famously not a hit at the time, just about when Katharine Hepburn hit the Box Office Poison list. But it's been rediscovered by generations of film students and rom com fans, making it a perennial favorite. Bringing Up Baby starts at 6:45 am Central time.

Howard Hawks also directed His Girl Friday, the super-fast-talking 1940 comedy based on The Front Page, which airs at 8:30 am. Rosalyn Russell plays Hildy, the reporter (and ex-wife) trying to work around her controlling editor, played by Grant, while he does everything he can to keep her on his payroll and in his life.

My Favorite Wife, which pops up at 10:15 am Central time, will look familiar to fans of Move Over Darling, a Rock Hudson/Doris Day trifle from 1963. You'll recognize the old Enoch Arden plot, where a presumed dead spouse (Dunne) returns at the precise moment the left-at-home spouse (Grant) is moving on with someone else. And, yes, it's a comedy. It pairs Grant with Irene Dunne again, this time with Garson Kanin in the director's chair and Randolph Scott as the Wrong Man. It's also much, much better than Move Over Darling.

His Girl Friday, My Favorite Wife and The Philadelphia Story, playing on TCM at 11:45 am Central time, were all released in 1940, a banner year for Cary Grant. Jimmy Stewart won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as a "man of the people" writer who vies against dapper ex-husband C. K. Dexter Haven, played by Grant, for the affections of Hepburn's Tracy Lord. Hepburn was nominated for Best Actress, as was Ruth Hussey, who played the fourth member of the quartet. Why no nomination for Grant? I have no idea. He and Hepburn are perfect for each other and perfectly directed by George Cukor.

Arsenic and Old Lace brings Grant up to 1943, putting him into a classic comedy about two older ladies cheerfully dispatching lonely men into the Great Beyond by way of poisoned elderberry wine. He's the normal nephew, trying to juggle corpses, gangsters and cops while hoping to keep his aunties out of trouble. Arsenic airs at 1:45 pm Central time, followed by The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, with Myrna Loy and Shirley Temple, at 3:45 pm Central time.

Every Girl Should Be Married, a bit of a mess of a film from 1948, is notable only because Grant plays opposite Betsy Drake, one of his real-life wives. It plays at 5:30 pm Central, a good time to take a snack break and wait for Hot Saturday, in the marquee spot at 8 pm Eastern/7 pm Central. This little-known 1932 potboiler is all about small-town girl Ruth Brock, a good girl bank clerk, whose reputation is unfairly sullied. If you want to see what Cary Grant looked and acted like before he was CARY GRANT, check out Hot Saturday.

You'll see a very different, older, more settled Cary in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, a movie that's more about how tough it is for a city-dweller to move to the country. Note that his character's name is Blandings. If you'd like to see mature Cary put-upon by house-building nightmares, check out Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House at 8:30 pm Central time.

Gunga Din shows yet another side of Mr. Grant. Adventure Cary goes to India with pals Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. to stop the Thuggees. And Sam Jaffe, a Jewish guy from New York City, plays Indian water carrier Gunga Din. You can judge Gunga Din's questionable politics for yourself at 10:15 pm Central time.

Destination Tokyo, the after-midnight movie, is a more standard war story from 1943, with Grant captaining a submarine that ventures into dangerous waters. That leads him into 1952 and Room for One More, a family film about parents "Poppy" and Anna Rose, who build their family by adopting orphans. It's sweet and a little sappy, not one of the movies people usually think of when they think of Cary Grant, but still... It has its charms, and it's another opportunity to see the wonderful Cary with Betsy Drake, wife no. 3.

I'm afraid that's the end of Cary Grant Day. TCM is on to Charlie Chaplin Day at 5 am on Thursday. But if you're like me, you'll pull out DVDs of Holiday, Notorious, North By Northwest, Charade, To Catch a Thief and maybe even Mr. Lucky to keep the party going.

Robin Williams 1951-2014

I don't know what to say about the loss of Robin Williams. It's just so sad and tragic and impossible to describe with any words that remotely capture someone so original, someone I always thought was dancing (and riffing) as fast as he could to try to contain the darkness nipping at his heels. He was hilarious, yes, a dynamo of energy and inspiration and insanity. But, like his hero Jonathan Winters, there was also something fragile there.

I prefer to remember the funny.

Ken Levine, the sportscaster/TV writer who runs a great blog, has written it as well as I can imagine. So let's read that, eat Fruit Punch Oreos, sing the Genie's songs from Aladdin, share quotes from Dead Poets Society or Good Will Hunting, take a look at The Fisher King or Popeye, and maybe refresh our memories of Mork from Ork.

Goodbye, Robin Williams. We shall not see your like again.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Alan Ayckbourn's A SMALL FAMILY BUSINESS On Screens Tomorrow

We don't seem to get many National Theatre Live screenings -- stage performances, direct from London, filmed and shown in movie theaters -- here in central Illinois. More's the pity. A few of these shows pop up at The Art in Champaign or somewhere in Peoria, but Bloomington-Normal is usually not a site.

And, no, we're not getting Alan Ayckbourn's A Small Family Business around here, either. But that doesn't mean lucky people in Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Milwaukee shouldn't make every effort to get to a movie theater to see this sharp, dark farce about a man who slides down a slippery slope of compromise and corruption when he takes over the reins of a family furniture business.

A Small Family Business at the National Theatre
The Telegraph judged this production as a "fine revival of an ambitious play" and noted that it "delivers both laughs and chills with great panache." But it's Time Out London that sums it up best, calling this Family Business "one of [Ayckbourn's] very best, a semi-farcical family drama that serves as a quietly devastating metaphor for the ravages of Thatcherite capitalism, as decent businessman Jack finds his scruples eroded by his spectacularly venal family."

Because it's Ayckbourn, it's funny, but it has a real bite, too. The cast of 13 includes Nigel Lindsay, Debra Gillett, Niky Wardley, Matthew Cottle and Alice Sykes, with Gerard Monaco as an entire family by himself. And this production features a fabulous set design by Tim Hatley that garnered rave reviews.

A look at Tim Watley's two-story scenic design
Let's hope local movie theaters will see their way to screening more of the National Theatre Live offerings. And more local theater companies will see their way to including Ayckbourn on their schedules.

In the meantime, you can see interviews about A Small Family Business, the entire cast list, and galleries of rehearsal and production images at the National Theatre Live site for the show, as well as a list of venues.