Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Eureka College's "Birds" Take Flight

I'll be honest -- when I first thought about reviewing Eureka College's "The Birds," I was thinking it'd be the parody version of the Alfred Hitchcock movie that's been done on stage in Chicago. I was really looking forward to seeing how they dropped all those birds on their actors' heads.

It only occurred to me that it was more likely to be the Greek comedy a few days ago. Even though Aristophanes was going for political and philosophical humor and Hitchcock was going for horror, they do have their central fowl in common, and there is pecking and attacking of humans in both. But that's pretty much where they part ways.

Aristophanes (AKA "The Father of Comedy") wrote his "Birds" in about 414 BC to lampoon Athenian society. In the play, two Athenians frustrated by the rules and regulations and financial obligations of their lives set out on a journey to reach the kingdom of the birds far above their heads. They're looking for a place with no debt, no taxes, just the joy of being free. In other words, they're kind of like the teabaggers of Ancient Greece.

After some difficulty, they get to meet the King of the Birds himself, and the wilier of the two, Pithetearus, comes up with a plan to elevate the birds, so long pawns of humans down below and gods up above, to the ultimate status -- rulers of the universe. He (or she, in the Eureka College production) proposes that they build a bird city to block the gods' access to earth as well as demanding a share of their tribute from the humans below.

Things go swimmingly until certain unwelcome folks from Athens pop up. Once again, Pithetearus comes to the rescue, convincing the birds to round up and dispose of the grabby Athenian poet, prophet, lawyer, tax agent and real estate developer before they can ruin the new city of Cloudcuckooland, too. And then they have to face off with the gods themselves, who are not pleased to have their airspace cut off.

This style of ancient comedy isn't easy for today's actors or audiences, but guest director Mark Baer does his best to make it all seem current and fresh, and costume designer Linda Schuerman deserves special mention for the bright and varied array of capes and ponchos and headgear that makes up the bird outfits, from the king (a crowned Hoopoe) to a red-winged blackbird, a pink flamingo and a toucan that looks like Groucho Marx.

Becky Collins and Cat Davis are the Athenian ne’er-do-wells (called “slackers” in the program) who put the whole plot into motion, and they’re both as energetic and fizzy as they need to be. Others in the cast who make an impression are Blisse Stanford and Chris Funk as mouthy (beaky?) birds, Justin O. Stewart and Betsy Snobeck as pesky troublemakers from Athens, and Jacob Coombs and Jason Hasty as amusingly quirky Olympians.

“The Birds” is played for fun, and it works pretty darn well, considering it’s 2400 years old and most of its cast is hovering around 20. Catch it while you can -- "The Birds" continues at Eureka College's Pritchard Theatre through February 28th.

Becky Collins, Cat Davis, Hilary Schneider, Kerri Rae Hinman, Erin Cochran, Erica Lawver, Sable VanDermay-Kirkham, Hillary Thomas, Blisse Stanford, Chris Funk, Kelly Beaty, Jacob Coombs, Jason Hasty, Sami Hubbard, Betsy Snobeck, Justin O. Stewart.

Production Staff:
Director: Mark Baer
Assistant Director: Nicole Zare
Set Designer: Kenneth Johnson
Lighting Designer: Grace Maberg
Costume Designer: Linda Schuerman

Monday, February 22, 2010

Watch Out! Steven M. Keen Takes on "Killer Joe" at U of I.

My friend Steven M. Keen, an actor and director in this area for many years, agreed to guest-blog his reaction to Tracy Letts' "Killer Joe," playing in the Studio Theatre at U of I's Krannert Center. I think you're going to enjoy this one.

It was with a fair amount of fear and trepidation that I walked into the Krannert Center to see the University of Illinois Department of Theatre's production of "Killer Joe." I wasn't afraid that I would be assaulted with full-frontal nudity, violence, graphic sex acts, and profanity -- I was afraid that I wouldn't be assaulted enough. I have long believed that if you can't do a show as it is intended to be done, then you have no business doing the show in the first place. And I was afraid that a university theatre department would censor themselves and water down this potent stewpot of a play to make it palatable to more sensitive audiences.

My fears proved to be groundless. "Killer Joe" was presented in all its graphic glory in a very brave, fearless production. This was a long way from the type of "educational theatre" that we so often see on college campuses. This was no Shakespeare, Shaw, or Moliere. It wasn't Miller, O'Neill, or Williams. This was visceral, contemporary stuff by a hot new playwright. I first saw this play in an early Chicago production several years ago. I will readily admit that it takes a lot to shock me, but even I was shocked when I first saw this volatile, in-your-face, thrill ride of a play. How could a university theatre department do justice to it? And is it right to expect them to do so?

"Killer Joe" is an early play from the pen of Tracy Letts, better known as the playwright who gave us "August: Osage County," which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Tony Award for Best Play on Broadway, and just about every other major theatrical award out there. Like "August: Osage County", "Killer Joe" deals with an American family -- warts and all. The families in the two plays are from different social strata, but they both share dirty secrets, and they both share the same propensity for going at each other's throats.

The plot is fairly straightforward. The lights come up to find Chris, a wayward, druggie son, pounding on the door of his father's house trailer in the middle of the night. Chris is in hock to a local drug dealer and needs money fast. Of course Chris's deadbeat dad, Ansel, doesn't have that kind of money laying around. Neither does Sharla, Ansel's trashy second wife (who evidently abhors the idea of wearing underwear). What to do? Chris has an idea that he wants to bounce off his dad. What if they hire a hitman to knock off Chris's mother who is now living across town with her new boyfriend? It seems that Chris's mother is the only member of this clan with an insurance policy, and the beneficiary of that policy is none other than Chris's dim, ripe sister, Dottie. Once Mom is dead and Dottie has the insurance money, Chris will use it to pay off the drug dealer. Enter Killer Joe, a local law enforcement agent who moonlights as a hitman. Joe states his price and demands his money up front. Chris and Ansel explain that they don't currently have the money, but they attempt to persuade him to do the deed anyway, on the guarantee that he'll receive his money once the insurance policy has been cashed in. Killer Joe, of course, scoffs at this idea and is on his way out the door -- until he sets eyes on Dottie. Killer Joe knows hot stuff when he sees it, and he agrees to the deal with the stipulation that he receives Dottie as a retainer. Done deal. Of course, anyone within a hundred miles of the theatre knows that things will not go as planned. And one outrageousness after another piles up until the entire play explodes under its own force.

Director Robert Quinlan puts the pedal to the metal from the minute this play begins. However, the entire production moves at such a fever pitch that nearly all of the humor in the script is lost. "Killer Joe" is not unlike watching a particularly nasty Jerry Springer episode. We may hate and ridicule what we're seeing, but we can't turn away. And a lot of the reason for that fascination is our guilty pleasure of the wicked humor inherent in such bad behavior. Without that humor, "Killer Joe" comes across as a rather unpleasant experience. And this play is more than just an exercise in shock and titillation. There are real power struggles happening between the characters as things spiral out of control. None of these power plays really has a chance to develop in this production, however, because everything is played full-throttle. It is only in the long, candle-lit seduction scene between Killer Joe and Dottie that things are allowed to breathe and find their real power. Conversely, an extended scene involving two mysteriously overstuffed Hefty bags sitting in the kitchen is totally underplayed and ineffective. Also, I have to say that I've always believed that when an audience doesn't know when a play is over, there are huge problems with how the play has been directed. The night I was in attendance, the audience remained sitting in silence until well after the lights came up for the curtain call.

Perhaps the biggest problem I had with this production was the lack of authenticity in the cast. We all know (or think we know) how people like this look and talk and behave. But as I sat in the audience, I couldn't help but think that I was watching a group of well-educated, well-groomed college students trying to dumb down and slum it. Mike DiGirolamo brought an edgy quality to Chris, but I never got the sense that he was strung out on drugs or wiley enough to hatch this bizarre plot. Nile Hawver lacked stage presence and any sense of physicality in his portrayal of Ansel, the beer-swilling father of this clan. Plus he looked entirely too young and clean cut to be convincing in his role. Monica Lopez, as Sharla, is certainly trashy enough, but only superficially so, lacking any depth to her character. And she also looks much too young and clean-cut. Anastasia Pappageorge also misses the mark as Dottie. Dottie is probably mentally challenged. She's certainly slow on the uptake. She's the unwilling pawn in this scheme that's swirling around her, but this aspect of Dottie's character totally escaped Pappageorge. The character of Killer Joe should be a tightly-wound coil of sex and danger. Killer Joe was played by Scott Carpenter in New York, and that's the kind of actor you need for this role -- someone who has that snake-y kind of smile and oozes menace from the minute he steps through the door. Killer Joe says and does some really outrageous things, and the colder and more in control he is, the more frightening and disturbing he is. Only rarely does he explode, but when he does -- watch out. It was a very strange experience to sit in the audience and recognize that Samuel Ashdown is probably a very good actor, even though he wasn't doing full justice to the role of Killer Joe. Ashdown's Killer Joe was much too ordinary and likeable. And his explosions, when they came, came out of nowhere.

Ian James Anthony's scenic design was the most successful element of the production in terms of authenticity. Played against one long wall of the Studio Theatre, I could easily believe that I was peering through the fourth side of a double-wide house trailer with all of its attendant trash and clutter. Annaliese Weber's costumes, however, missed the mark. Once these characters put on more than their dirty underwear, they didn't look nearly trashy enough. In a play like this, subtle doesn't cut it. Darren W. McCroom's lighting design unfortunately left enough light onstage after each scene to allow us to watch actors get up and exit the stage, thereby negating any dramatic impact. And Elizabeth Parthum's sound design was just annoying. At first, I thought the sound I was hearing was intended to be rainfall outside the trailer, but I ultimately decided that it was probably intended to be the background static on a dead channel of a television set. All I can say for that is -- you try sitting through that noise for thirty minutes before a show starts and for another twenty minutes during intermission! I was desperately searching for a plug to pull. The production could have benefitted immensely from some well-chosen music instead, not only before the show and during the intermission, but also between individual scenes. Also, one of the running motifs in the play is the presence of a vicious dog tied up just outside the trailer door that sounds as if it will take the leg off of anyone who approaches or leaves the trailer. Unfortunately, this particular dog didn't sound all that vicious, and it also sounded like it was chained up in a neighbor's yard somewhere down the road. Hardly a threat at all.

I think "Killer Joe" ultimately trumps just about everything else out there in terms of its sex, violence, profanity, and overall outrageousness. It makes Martin McDonaugh's bloodbaths seem tame. And it makes David Mamet seem like an old codger. But there is something bracing and exhilarating afoot here, and I find it to be a real rollercoaster of a play. However, as I left the theatre, I felt like there was a little Sarah Palin sitting on my right shoulder, whispering doubts into my ear about whether or not this was a play that should be done by a college cast. My liberal self immediately responded with a resounding "Yes!" but I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Krannert Center box office doesn't find itself fending off calls from patrons unused to seeing such actions on a college stage. As for me -- I say "Go for it." Just do it better next time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"Southern Comforts" Opens at Heartland Theatre

Is love really lovelier the second time around? Playwright Kathleen Clark offers a definitive yes in “Southern Comforts,” currently on stage at Heartland Theatre.

Clark’s play involves Amanda, the Southerner in the title, and Gus, a more taciturn Yankee in New Jersey. They’ve both loved and lost in the past, and neither is looking for any kind of romantic entanglement at this late stage in their lives. But when Amanda stumbles into Gus’s sparsely decorated home trying to drop off some church envelopes, they discover they have more in common than they might’ve guessed.

On the outside, it’s a classic match-up of opposites beyond just the Southern/Northern thing. She’s chatty and perky while he’s laconic and reserved. She dreams of traveling to other countries, while he prefers to stay within sight of his garden. She likes to fill her life with lace curtains and soft pillows, while he wants his house and his life to stay virtually empty. She loves books and used to be a librarian, while he’s a retired stonemason who’s very good at putting up walls.

Initially, all they have in common is baseball. Soon, however, they discover that they share a yearning for companionship and warmth, for a love that could be eminently more satisfying than their first marriages.

“Southern Comforts” is a sweet, gentle play – there are no huge bombs or explosions, literal or metaphorical, in this script – about the difficulties and transformative power of love, no matter the age of the lovers. It’s about being set in your ways, and yet flexible enough to accommodate change, a scary proposition even if you go in with your eyes wide open. That’s illustrated on stage when Amanda and Gus discuss her moving in with him. He knows she’ll be bringing a lot of baggage – books, pictures, knickknacks – but the reality is something else altogether. And in the end, it’s his baggage that’s the problem. I can pretty much guarantee that “Southern Comforts” is the only play you’ll ever see where choosing a headstone is both an obstacle and a sweeping romantic gesture.

Heartland director Mike Dobbins chooses to set the play in 1986, which makes Amanda and Gus somewhere in their early 60s by my calculation. That works well for his actors, Carol Scott and Michael Pullin, who certainly wouldn’t be realistic as 80-somethings if it were given a contemporary setting.

Dobbins emphasizes the humor in the script, keeping the tone playful and light, and that also keeps the story skimming along without too many sticky moments. He notes in his opening remarks that “Southern Comforts” is a perfect play for this Valentine’s season, and I think he’s got that exactly right.

His actors are also on target. Scott and Pullin play well together; she shows a nice touch of mischief under Amanda’s Southern charm, while he gives Gus a heart under the American Gothic, no-nonsense exterior.

Pullin also designed the set, and it looks good both in its initial spare phase as well as the girlied up version later on.

“Southern Comforts” runs through March 7th at Heartland Theatre. For reservations or more information, you can click on that link over there on the left.

Heartland Theatre Company presents
“Southern Comforts,” a romantic comedy by Kathleen Clark
Sponsored by George & Myra Gordon
Donor Advised Fund – Illinois Prairie Community Foundation

Carol Scott and Michael Pullin

Production Staff
Director: Mike Dobbins
Scenic Designer: Michael Pullin
Costume Designer: Gail Dobbins
Lighting Designer: Jesse Folks
Properties: Victoria Hill
Sound Designer: Robert LaSalle
Sound Engineer: Christopher Jaynes
Stage Manager: Ben Layman
Dramaturg: Christopher B. Connelly
Sound Board Operator: Brock Watkins
Floor Manager: Kevin Woodard
Dressers: Gayle Hess and Jaron Myers
Photography: Jesse Folks
Publicity & Program: Gail Dobbins
Niche Marketing: Ann B. White

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My "Breakfast at Tiffany's" Conundrum

I've never really understood why "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is as beloved as it is. Yes, Audrey Hepburn is her most incandescent and stylish, and yes, her Holly Golightly has become an icon. I also like the cat. A lot. And the view of New York and Tiffany's in 1961.

But the movie is so brittle, with its depiction of fashionable 60s "cafe society," and the people are so morally ambigious. Ambiguous is charitable, really, since both Holly and "Fred" (his name is really Paul, even though she calls him Fred) are paid for their company by richer, older "patrons." Holly seems to keep financially afloat based on fifty-dollar powder-room tips proffered by men in nightclubs, while Paul gets an apartment and a lot of nice suits in return for keeping company with a wealthy woman called 2-E. Holly hosts wild parties and tries to latch onto sugar daddies, while Paul attempts to break his writer's block on a typewriter without a ribbon. I guess it's supposed to be sophisticated and daring, but their lives strike me, when watching "Breakfast at Tiffany's," as more sordid than sophisticated, more empty than fizzy or fun. One of the men who advises Holly, an imprisoned gangster named Sally Tomato, says as much when he looks over the little notebook in which she keeps track of her finances. "This is a book would break the heart," Sally says. I'm with Sally.

I'm not even going to discuss the horrific performance by Mickey Rooney as Holly's much-beleaguered upstairs neighbor, a Japanese man named Mr. Yunioshi. It's so racist and appalling there's just nothing to say. You can hold your nose or hide your eyes when he's on screen. Or maybe they can photoshop a different neighbor into some future edition of "Breakfast at Tiffany's." We can only hope.

Screenwriter George Axelrod and director Blake Edwards changed quite a bit from the Truman Capote novella, most notably turning the unnamed narrator into a straight romantic match for Holly, and giving it a semi-happy ending. At least they saved the cat this way. (Yes, I admit it -- the cat is the one I want to live happily ever after.)

Still, Hepburn does a beautiful job hinting at the vulnerability, fragility and depth under Holly's shallow exterior, and George Peppard is fine as her straight man (pun intended). Also on the plus side -- they both look fabulous (her gowns were by Givenchy, while his wardrobe was done by Edith Head, and co-star Patricia Neal got Pauline Trigere outfits that are pretty nifty, too) and it's refreshing to see Audrey paired up with someone age-appropriate. Plus, you know, I love the cat.

But there's just something so melancholy about this movie, even with the Hollywoodized ending. It's not just the influence of "Moon River," either. Henry Mancini's Oscar-winning song does make you want to cry, but that seems like true emotion. It's real phony, as one of Holly's friends would say. The problem for me is the plain old phony phony parts, like Holly's party where a drunk guest takes a header and somebody almost sets the cat on fire, the bizarre idea that Audrey Hepburn could ever be believable as someone who grew up dirt-poor in Tulip, Texas and got married to Buddy Ebsen at 14, or the "Breakfast at Tiffany's" song in the score, with its cheesy, swoopy, plastic chorus, or poor Mickey Rooney doing racist slapstick upstairs. But I promised I wouldn't discuss that, didn't I?

Oh well. That's why "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is a tough call for me. My romantic heart wants to buy into the idea that a shallow celebutante could really be Audrey Hepburn inside, that she could fall in love and realize that Cracker Jack prizes are just as good as a Givenchy wardrobe, that the cat and man you love should be held onto and treated properly, not just tossed out the door of a cab in the rain... I want to believe it. I just can't quite make it over the threshold of disbelief.

I invite you to see "Breakfast at Tiffany's" yourself, playing tonight and tomorrow night at the Normal Theatre, and let me know if you think I'm being too nice, too mean, or somewhere in between.

Friday, February 12, 2010

"A Body of Water" opens at Urbana's Station Theatre

Lee Blessing’s “A Body of Water” is one murky little play, about two people who find themselves in a mysterious mountain-top home with no memory of who they are or how they got there. I reviewed "A Body of Water" for the Champaign News-Gazette, so if you want to read the full review, you'll need to pick up a copy of the Sunday paper.

"A Body of Water" opened last night and runs through February 20th, with all shows at 8 pm. For more information, visit the Station Theatre website linked at left.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Is "Sabrina" Still Fair After All These Years?

I can't even say how many times I've seen the movie "Sabrina." I loved the Cinderella story of the chauffeur's daughter with a massive crush on the wealthy family's golden boy, the girl who starts as a waif but grows up to acquire a fabulous wardrobe and the ability to attract every male in sight. Yep. Cinderella, all right.

But that was when I was eight or ten, and the idea of Audrey Hepburn, luminous and impossibly lovely at 25, matched up with world-weary Humphrey Bogart at 55, didn't seem all that weird. After all, I was already familiar with Audrey as a love interest for Fred Astaire (also 30 years older) and Gary Cooper (a spring chicken at 28 years older) and I adored "Funny Face" and "Love in the Afternoon."

That worked for me when I was ten, but would it work for me now, when my sensibilities are quite different? Would "Sabrina" seem creepy and sexist and all the other things I complain about now when they pair senior-citizen men with teenage girls?

Well, no. Watching "Sabrina" again, I was caught up in Billy Wilder's magic pretty much from the opening "Once upon a time." Wilder produced and directed "Sabrina" and also collaborated with Ernest Lehman on the script, a script that is lighter than air, terribly romantic, and quite often hilarious. And I buy every bit of it, every time.

It helps that Sabrina is clearly the heart of the movie and Audrey Hepburn is absolutely perfect in the role. She's believable as the ragamuffin who hides in trees to eavesdrop on the Larrabees' fabulous parties, and just as believable as the sophisticated beauty wearing Givenchy gowns. (I chose the French poster to accompany this piece because it shows off the famous dress. I think about 90% of girls who see "Sabrina" wish they could wear that dress just once.)

But there's more to recommend in "Sabrina" than just Audrey. Humphrey Bogart, as tight-laced Wall Street wizard Linus Larrabee, and William Holden, as David Larrabee, the careless playboy Sabrina pines for, are both playing against the type we expect from them. This is not the thug or tough guy Bogie from "The Maltese Falcon," not even the crazy Captain Queeg from "The Caine Mutiny" released earlier that same year. Instead, he's a conservative businessman who doesn't remember how to have fun. It's to Bogart's credit that he's so very good at playing stuffy Linus, and that he was willing to look silly in a too-small Yale sweater and beanie.

Ditto for William Holden, best known for playing cynical, hard-luck smart guys in serious films like "Stalag 17" and "Sunset Boulevard." Here, he's gone blond and a little silly, but it doesn't stop you from rooting for his character. Holden really does look like a Golden Boy.

The supporting cast is one of the highlights of this upstairs/downstairs plot, as you'll notice Grandma Walton (Ellen Corby) showing up as Linus's secretary, Miss Jane Hathaway from The Beverly Hillbillies (Nancy Kulp) as a servant in the Larrabee household, and silent film star Francis X. Bushman as David's prospective father-in-law. John Williams is also terrific as Sabrina's father, who knows no good can come from a chauffeur's daughter falling in love above her (or his) station.

But I think most of the credit for "Sabrina" has to go to Billy Wilder. There's just something about the way humor and sentiment combine in this movie that works like a charm.

"Sabrina" plays the Normal Theater tonight and tomorrow night. What a treat to get to see it on the big screen!

Monday, February 8, 2010

New on DVD: Season 2 of thirtysomething

[My friend Jon Alan Conrad guest-blogs about one of his favorite series now available on DVD. Enjoy!]

Every once in a while, a new hourlong television drama breaks with custom and decides not to be about lawyers, doctors, or police (or detectives, firefighters, or vampires); instead, it aims to find drama in the ordinary events of life. Most of the time, such efforts fail to attract an audience, and fail artistically as well. But for the four seasons (1987-91) it was on the air, thirtysomething not only did this, but did it well enough to establish itself in TV history as the standard for a certain kind of drama (alongside later efforts from its creators, Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick). Those who recall it will still mention how it captured tiny nuances: the way people deal with longtime friends and new acquaintances, how they communicate in little jabs and jokes, complaining about little disappointments while fumbling for words when real tragedy strikes. And it didn’t wallow in naturalism, either; every episode included a dollop of fantasy, flashback, parody, or slapstick.

After a long delay (largely, we’re told, because of the challenge of getting music clearances), season 1 appeared on DVD last fall, and now we have season 2 (with season 3 announced for May).

This is the season in which Nancy and Elliot were separated throughout, Michael and Elliot closed their own business and went to work for Miles Drentell, Gary met Susannah, Melissa met Russell, Ellyn ruined her relationship with Woodman, and Hope started writing again. It’s the one with such classic episodes as “We’ll Meet Again” (the past history of the Steadmans’ house), “The Mike Van Dyke Show” (anxieties filtered through a classic sitcom), “First Day/Last Day” (the closing of the Michael and Elliot Company), and “Michael Writes a Story.”

To see these episodes intact again, after so many years, is to be reassured that memories of its quality are no nostalgic illusion: it really was as exceptional as we thought. Certainly there’s a line here or a concept there that doesn’t quite come off, but the general quality puts it on the highest level among series of its time -- or any time. At several points on commentaries we hear a director or writer murmur, “You’d never be allowed to do that now” (let a scene play so long, or so quietly, or in the background in dim lighting), but they’re forgetting that they weren’t allowed to do it on other series back then either. From all that we hear from the commenters (and indeed can see for ourselves), Herskovitz and Zwick ran an exceptional ship: giving chances to novices they trusted (directors came from off-Broadway, feature film, acting -- eventually including most of the regulars -- and the writing staff), and encouraging directors to treat each episode as a one-hour movie with its own style (all the while allowing long-term stories to progress).

Fans of the series will have their favorite moments to treasure; mine are all here just as I remembered: Michael drifting in and out of a black-and-white sitcom as he worries about his religion and his wife; Michael and Elliot shutting down their ad agency, even as we watch their younger selves start it up; Melissa getting a big professional break and not wanting to tell friends about it; Susannah, the newcomer, being abrasive at dinner with the circle of friends (and they with her); Michael visually erasing the details of his excessively fancy short story for his writing class; and the first glimpses of iconic boss Miles Drentell (David Clennon). One delight afforded by hindsight is the chance to watch the names who turn up as guest stars: in this season, Jo Anderson, Rita Wilson, Jack Gilford, Courtney B. Vance (overaged for a high school student, though), Lynne Thigpen, Sylvia Sidney, Phyllis Newman, Estelle Reiner, and many more.

Five discs contain the 19 episodes, beautifully restored, 6 with commentaries by writers and directors, accessed from the most user-friendly menu setup I’ve seen; plus featurettes (with newly filmed interviews) about Miles, Susannah, and Snuffy Walden’s music. On to Season Three!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

February Fever!

February is a great month to shake off the dust and expand your mind with a play, a movie, a book... Something!

This month, I'm recommending SOUTHERN COMFORTS, by Kathleen Clark, playing at Heartland Theatre from February 18 to March 7th. Heartland calls it a "tour-de-force journey of a widow and widower who meet later in life and find a way into each other’s hearts." SOUTHERN COMFORTS stars two terrific local actors -- Carol Scott and Michael Pullin -- as the widow and widower, and is directed by Heartland Artistic Director Mike Dobbins. I'll write a full review once it opens, so come back and look for that!

One other reminder about Heartland -- the annual 10-minute Play competition closed on February 1, but Heartland's New Plays from the Heartland competition for one-act plays is open till March 15th. You can see details at Heartland's website, linked at left.

On other area stages, you can catch the Greek classic LYSISTRATA, about women who withhold sex to put an end to war, at Illinois Wesleyan, running February 16-21, or two very different plays at ISU. ISU is offering DON JUAN COMES BACK FROM THE WAR, by Ödön von Horvath, at ISU's Westhoff Theatre February 17-21, and Tennessee Williams' A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE at the Center for the Performing Arts from the 18th through the 27th.

This DON JUAN is, like LYSISTRATA, about war and love. Set after World War I, the play looks at what happens when Don Juan decides to look for his lost love in a landscape of bitter cold and terrible post-war deprivation. Everything has changed; nothing has changed. What's a Don Juan to do?

STREETCAR is more familiar to American audiences, and it's always intriguing to see what a college-age cast can do with such iconic characters as Blanche DuBois, the faded Southern belle in search of softer lighting, and Stanley Kowalski, the rough-and-tumble man's man symbolized by the raw slab of meat he brings home to his wife. Even after all these years and a whole lot of productions, STREETCAR is still a fascinating play.

Also on my must-see list for February is the mini-Audrey Hepburn festival at the Normal Theater, with one of my favorites, SABRINA, playing on the 11th and 12th, and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S on the 13th and 14th. Either movie could work nicely for your Valentine's celebrations and I'll try to review them both before they hit the screen.

At the bookstore, you'll find a sure-fire way to heat up your winter in Jess Michaels' NOTHING DENIED, where a Regency-era shrew is unleashed more than tamed. The book is available right now from Avon's Red line (its spicier, sexier imprint), and I'll be posting a full review a bit later in the month. (FYI: Jess Michaels is one of local author Jenna Petersen's alter egos.)