Tag Archives: Theatre

Great Lakes Theater Festival's An Ideal Husband: An Ideal Complement to Othello

Sir Robert Chiltern (actor, Richard Klautsch, right) seeks advice from Lord Goring (actor, David Anthony Smith, left) in the Great Lakes Theater Festival production of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband. Photo by Roger Mastroianni.

My first inclination when Great Lakes Theater Festival announced their Fall Repertory of Othello and An Ideal Husband was to focus on the differences between the two plays. The first is a tragic, psychological, Shakespearean thriller.  The second, a witty “social comedy” by Oscar Wilde.  However, after seeing the second half of the Fall Rep when Scott’s parents recently visited, I realized they were surprisingly very complementary.

At the heart of both plays are the ideas of trust and truth, how they can be manipulated, and how others react to that manipulation. In Othello, there’s Iago’s manipulations of Othello, which corrupts the title character’s trust in his wife Desdemona with disastrous consequences.  In An Ideal Husband, Sir Robert, a prestigious member of the House of Commons, is trusted by his supporters and his wife, the proper Lady Chiltern, to be the exception to the rule — an upstanding politician without  fault. However, a mistake Sir Robert made as a young politician threatens his success and marriage when the scheming Mrs. Cheveley uses his past to blackmail him into supporting a fraudulent scheme he was planning on denouncing. 

Although there is political intrigue in An Ideal Husband and Othello (much of which can be tied into the current election season), Sir Robert is fortunate to have much better counsel than Othello did in Iago.  And in a nice twist of casting, GLTF company member David Alan Smith portrays both main characters’ confidantes. As Iago, Smith’s standout performance drove the action in Othello with his manipulations and lies. In An Ideal Husband,  Smith humorously plays the charming bachelor Lord Goring who may seem like he only wants to socialize all night (according to his father) and talk about nothing (according to himself), but instead is the voice of brutal honesty and subtle reason that reunites Sir Robert and Lady Chiltern and saves his friend’s career.  Casting the same actor in these two roles was a clever way to connect the overlapping themes in both productions.

Even without Othello to complement it, the Great Lakes Theater Festival’s production of An Ideal Husband would stand on its own beautifully (and if I had to choose, I actually preferred it). When I walked into the Hanna, I was first struck by the sparseness of the scene. I had partially expected an ornate set inspired by Wilde’s time; rather, four simple columns, a series of steps, a handful of chairs, and a white curtain dressed the stage.  

A simple yet elegant set provided the perfect canvas for GLTF actors Richard Klautsch (as Sir Robert) and Jodi Dominick (as Lady Chiltern) in An Ideal Husband. Photo by Roger Mastroianni.

However, by the end of the first few scenes, I’d argue that Nayna Ramey’s design was more effectively used to tell the story than a period set would have been. The formal, classic simplicity reflected the societal demands for propriety, while the open starkness echoed the unveiling of secrets. To fill the canvas of the set were Jason Lee Resler’s costumes. Each character or couple had its own color note that carried throughout the show — the bright blues and turquoises of Sir Robert and Lady Chiltern, the oranges of Viscount Goring and Mabel Chiltern, the ostentatious fuchsia of Mrs. Cheveley.  

These technical aspects were an excellent foil to the cast’s performances. Sara M. Bruner, who had played the faithful Desdemona in Othello, was cast as Mabel Chiltern, the dizzying and fickle younger sister of Sir Robert who has a particularly shining moment in the last scene when she sums up Wilde’s theme of reality vs impossible idealism.  Richard Klautsch and Jodi Dominick both did excellent jobs capturing the moral dilemmas their characters (Sir Robert and Lady Chiltern, respectively) struggled with.  And Laura Perrotta, a twelve-season veteran of GLTF, portrayed a devious Mrs. Cheveley whose persuasiveness and Machiavellian cunning rivaled Iago’s. In the background, a tableau of footmen set each scene and provided their own ongoing, comedic backstory – a nice touch to the main action.

If you haven’t seen either production yet, Othello runs until this Sunday (10/31) and An Ideal Husband until Saturday (10/30). I’d recommend seeing both for a clever and unexpectedly complementary experience.   Great Lakes Theater Festival will then return in December for A Christmas Carol, and in March and April with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and Two Gentlemen of Verona.

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As a side note (which I’ve apparently become fond of making): After Saturday night’s production, Scott, his parents and I stuck around for that night’s installment in GLTF’s Nightcap Saturday series. I’ve been to other Audience Enhancement events at the Hanna, but this was my first time at Nightcap Saturday. I may have been distracted when we walked into the theater or just unobservant, but I have to credit the GLTF staff because I didn’t notice that they had a full band set up in the back corner of the theatre. As the applause from the final bow faded and the house lights came up, the Helen Welch Quartet struck up their jazz and blues covers in the lounge bar. Having the opportunity to relax in our banquette seats right in front of the bar, talk about the show, and enjoy a drink or two was a delightful way to end another night at the Hanna.

 

Great Lakes Theatre Festival 411:    

The Fall Repertory    

The Hanna Theatre    

PlayhouseSquare's 13th Annual Cinema at the Square

   

The historic Palace Theatre located at 1615 Euclid Avenue (photo from playhousesquare.org)

 

In my last post, I covered the Capitol Theatre and their ‘Classic Movie and Brunch’ series.  However, the Capitol is just one venue in Cleveland where you can see classic movies on the big screen.  Before the Capitol started their monthly series, there was PlayhouseSquare’s annual Cinema at the Square festival.  

Now in its 13th year, Cinema at the Square runs for a few weeks in August and gives audience members the opportunity to experience classic favorites at the beautiful Palace Theatre.  Visiting the Palace for the history alone is worth it – it opened in 1922 as the flagship of B.F. Keith’s vaudeville chain and once showcased the likes of Fanny Brice, Bing Crosby, Houdini, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and The Three Stooges.   

The series’ movies are shown on the theatre’s 20-foot-high by 47-foot-wide super Hurly-Glo projection screen – the largest non-Imax screen in Ohio.  This year’s Cinema at the Square started yesterday, August 5th, and will run until August 22nd.  It features 16 films with a range of options for moviegoers, such as a sing-along Wizard of Oz, James Bond double feature, and The Muppet Movie.  

Prior to the film, audience members are treated to pre-show organ recitals on a restored 1927 Kimball Organ that contains 16 sets of pipes, a xylophone, Glockenspiel, a complete set of drums and cymbals. The organ, which was donated to PlayhouseSquare in 1975, was restored by volunteers as a unique complement to the evening festivities.   

Tickets for Cinema at the Square are $5 each with the exception of yesterday’s screening of Fletch which was free.  If this wasn’t already a cheap datenight, PlayhouseSquare also offers their FlixTIX pass which saves 50% on tickets.  It’s $15 for 6 vouchers, which can be used in any combination and at any movie. Because Scott and I were interested in seeing more than one movie, it ended up being more cost-effective to get the FlixTIX – so now we’re seeing Wizard of Oz, Love in the Afternoon and Back to the Future.  

I’m definitely excited about heading over after work tonight for the sing-along version of Wizard of Oz.  I’ve only seen bits and pieces of it before, so it’ll be nice to experience the whole movie at the Palace.  But if Wizard of Oz isn’t for you or you can’t make it tonight, here’s a list of the rest of the movies:  

Cinema at the Square 411:
Ticket and Show Information
The Palace Theatre
@playhousesquare
PlayhouseSquare on Facebook

John Lithgow: Teller of Tales at the Hanna Theatre

 

Photo Credit: Nigel Parry

 

Why do we love to be told stories?         

This past Sunday, actor John Lithgow returned to the Great Lakes Theater Festival for a performance of “Stories by Heart” which examines why people are entranced by listening to — and in some cases, telling — stories.   Both a former member of GLTF and the son of its founder Arthur Lithgow, the younger Lithgow gave two performances of his show — a donor event on Saturday night and a public performance on Sunday afternoon.       

Stories by Heart” was born from Lithgow’s visits to his father when the older Lithgow was seriously ill and recovering from a very difficult surgery.  John Lithgow, who joked he was the only sibling out of work at the time, went and stayed with his father and mother to help them while Arthur recovered.  As can often happen when recovering from an illness, his once jovial father was reduced to a quiet shell of his former self.        

When nothing seemed to be bringing his father out of this despondency, John happened upon the idea of reading stories to his parents each night at bedtime.  With Tellers of Tales in hand – a collection of short stories compiled by W. Somerset Maugham that his father used to read – John would re-tell these stories to his father and mother, and amazingly his father was able to find his humor and strength again.       

From this experience, Lithgow created two theatre pieces – performances of the short stories “Haircut” by Ring Lardner and “Uncle Fred Flits By” by P.G. Wodehouse.  Lithgow initially performed them separately in 2008 and 2009.  Now, he’s combined them into “Stories by Heart” which he’ll start touring nationwide this fall. Prior to the tour, he very fittingly returned to the Great Lakes Theater Festival to run the full show in front of an audience.         

In “Uncle Fred Flits By,” Lithgow portrays nine characters in a story about Wodehouse’s lively Lord Ickenham and the misadventures he carries on with his sheepish nephew ‘Pongo.’ Pongo, who is always reluctant to have his Uncle visit, is pulled into a hilarious scheme of impersonations and on-the-spot plottings that the mischievous Uncle Fred puts into play. In reenacting the story, Lithgow plays all the characters with gusto — from Pongo and Uncle Fred, to a young ‘Pink Chap’ and his fawning love interest, to the disapproving mother of said love interest and even a parrot.  Uncle Fred’s madcap machinations to bring ‘sweetness and light’ were the first thing after Arthur Lithgow’s surgery that made him laugh. And with John Lithgow’s dynamic retelling of Wodehouse’s tale, it’s no wonder.       

In the second act, Lithgow performs “Haircut” by Ring Lardner. Lardner was an American sports columnist and short story writer, as well as the father of Ring Lardner, Jr. – one of the blacklisted Hollywood Ten and screenwriter of M*A*S*H*.  Originally from the Midwest himself, Lardner Sr.’s “Haircut” is a wry look at what goes on in a small Michigan town through the eyes of the town’s barber.  Over the course of a haircut that the barber gives to a nameless customer, he weaves a tale of love triangles, revenge, seemingly inconsequential gossip, and the kindness and wickedness that often go hand-in-hand in a small town.        

John Lithgow as The Trinity Killer in Showtime's Dexter - a striking difference from his performance in 'Stories by Heart.' Photo from Showtime's Dexter.

 

Prior to the retelling of “Haircut,” Lithgow shares stories of his childhood growing up in the Midwest.  Specifically, he recounts how his family moved a lot due to his father’s theatre and teaching engagements. When he was an adolescent, they moved to a small town in Ohio close to the Michigan border. Early on that year, he read “Haircut” for the first time in a textbook and the peculiar combination of decency and maliciousness resonated with him.  He recalls a fellow classmate who showed kindness to him as the new kid in school, then shortly after bullied him with a horrible game of ‘Squirrel.’ Or the teacher whose excessive use of corporal punishment was later celebrated by his classmates when they graduated.  Given Lithgow’s recent portrayal on Dexter of a barbaric serial-killing family man who exhibits this same disparity,  I definitely geeked out when he reflected on these ideas.       

Telling both of these short stories in the same show was an excellent choice for Lithgow as they were definite contrasts to one another. Although humorous at times, “Haircut” was much more darkly tinged than “Uncle Fred.”  And with “Uncle Fred” written by a notably British author and “Haircut” by an American short story master, the styles and sensibilities of both were also quite different.  By playing their differences against one another, Lithgow aptly demonstrated how storytelling can have very different purposes for the storyteller and contrasting effects on the audience.      

The Hanna Theatre - home to GLTF

 

The afternoon with John Lithgow at the Hanna Theatre was a very intimate and entertaining experience.  We not only got to sit in our favorite seats – the banquettes, support one of our favorite Cleveland theatres, and enjoy delicious pumpkin ice cream during Ice Cream Social Sunday, but we also had the rare opportunity to listen to a gifted storyteller of Lithgow’s caliber weave a variety of imaginative, touching and humorous scenes for us.       

By rereading “Uncle Fred Flits By” and “Haircut” to his father when he was ill, Lithgow realized how storytelling was a powerful healing force and raised his father’s spirits. And in sharing “Stories by Heart” with audiences, he continues to spread a ‘sweetness and light’ akin to the inimitable Uncle Fred.      

Great Lakes Theater Festival 411:        

John Lithgow’s Stories by Heart  
The Hanna Experience and Seating Options
Parking and Directions
Tickets and Subscriptions

No 'offending shadows' at the Great Lakes Theater Festival

The Hanna Theatre at PlayhouseSquare, home of the Great Lakes Theater Festival

 

Before I moved to Cleveland, I worked for a couple of theatres in Philly.  I enjoyed it a lot — working in subscriptions and marketing departments and working backstage on a show for a year.  Even when I stopped being involved, I still loved experiencing Philly’s vibrant theatre community and the shows it produced. Because of this, I get very excited by seeing well-executed theatre.     

When I first got to Cleveland, I saw a number of touring productions at PlayhouseSquare, and while they were all consistently entertaining, I missed seeing a show that was produced in house. To me, there’s something extraordinary when you have a theatre company with a group of actors, technicians and administrative professionals working together under an established mission.  Oftentimes these teams have worked together on previous productions and have an established sense of community that shines through in a show.  Subsequently, when I found out about the Great Lakes Theater Festival, which stages productions at PlayhouseSquare’s Hanna and Ohio Theatres, I couldn’t wait to see a performance.    

The Festival features a resident artistic company committed to producing Shakespeare and other classic theatre in a rotating repertory throughout the year. It was initially founded in 1962 when members of the Lakewood Board of Education wanted to fill the Lakewood Civic Auditorium with cultural events during the summer.  They reached out to a Shakespeare troupe founded by Arthur Lithgow who made the Auditorium their home.  Over the years, they moved into PlayhouseSquare and expanded their scope to include non-Shakespearean classics and musicals; however, each season still sees a few productions by the Bard.    

The 2009-2010 season included The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Twelfth Night, A Christmas Carol, Bat Boy: The Musical and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Although I missed out on the Fall Repertory, I was determined to see their Spring Repertory of Bat Boy and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Since they’re produced in a rotating repertory, on days when there is a matinee and an evening show, the crew has to quickly strike the set of the first and load in the second in between.  Additionally, the majority of the actors pull double-duty — featuring as characters in both Bat Boy and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.    

From greatlakestheater.org: "Don’t deny your beast inside!" exclaim the residents of Bat Boy’s hometown in "Bat Boy: The Musical." (Photography by Roger Mastroianni)

 

I saw Bat Boy on its opening night on April 10. Now, Bat Boy may seem like an unusual choice for a theatre company focused on classic works, as Director Victoria Bussert mentioned in her Director’s Notes.  However, as she explained, the plot of the musical – inspired by a tabloid story about a half-boy/half-bat found in West Virginia – has a level of tragedy and an underlying story about prejudice and acceptance that are the backbone of a lot of classic fare.  And even though GLTF is more accustomed to traditional theatre, they still produced an amazing version of Bat Boy that was both campy and beautiful, entertaining and relevant.  The actors and musicians did a wonderful job with an unusual set of characters and loud gospel-rock score. Particularly, I thought that Lynn Robert Berg who played Dr. Parker was outstanding. I found myself in one second despising how villainous he was, and then feeling sad for his pathetic state of affairs.  I was equally impressed by the set – loving how they worked the cows (which served as a sort of MacGuffin to the story) at odd angles into the set pieces.  Between the set, the music and the storyline, Bat Boy definitely proved to be a surreal experience.    

If Bat Boy – as a non-classical show – was an unusual choice for GLTF, the uniqueness of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was in its execution. Directed by Charles Fee – who is also the GLTF’s Producing Artistic Director, this production was set in 1960s London. Taking the spirit of The Beatles’ songs and both directly and indirectly working them into the play placed a different spin on the story and demonstrated its timelessness.  Although purists may shy away from contemporary productions of Shakespeare, there was something amusing about the lover Lysander dressed in a young-Lennon-esque ensemble and his paramour Hermia dressed like a love-struck fanatical groupie.  On the other hand, Puck (played by Eduardo Placer) was a classic ‘flower-child’ whose master, the fairyking Oberon, was inspired by the later-Beatles’ Indian influences.  In what has become one of my favorite entrances of a character, Placer’s playful Puck literally swung onto the stage from a beautiful harvest moon. Not to be outdone, though, the Mechanicals – dressed as Srgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — stole the show at the end with their play within a play.    

From greatlakestheater.org: the stylish fairy Puck (actor, Eduardo Placer) makes a grand entrance atop a 1960s Volkswagon Beetle in "A Midsummer Night’s Dream." (Photography by Roger Mastroianni)

 

In addition to exhilarating productions, the GLTF provides a unique theatre-going experience in how they approach the audience.  The non-traditional seating options – in addition to conventional fixed seats – allow for a more social environment.  While the balcony box provided a private setting for entertaining a group of people at Midsummer’s, the banquette – a  wraparound couch that we sat in for Bat Boy – was the most comfortable  experience I’ve had while seeing a show.    

A view from the Hanna Theatre's bar seating shows the GLTF crew switching out the sets for Bat Boy: The Musical and A Midsummer Night's Dream

 

 To make the most of the theatre experience, the Hanna is also opened 90 minutes before and after the show. So I can arrive early, grab a drink and watch the artistic company prep for the performance. And if I’m not ready to head home after the curtain, the bar at the back of the Hanna stays open where I can hang out with my friends and the artistic company on Night Cap Saturdays.    

The GLTF’s Spring Rep runs through next weekend closing on May 16. After the spring shows, the festival’s fundraiser has John Lithgow – former GLTF member and Arthur’s son – returning for 2 performances of ‘Stories by Heart’ on May 22nd and 23rd. The show has Lithgow invoking three generations of family history while looking at his own life as an actor and storyteller.  I’ll be there for the matinee enjoying the banquette seating again.     

After the Lithgow performance, the 2010-2011 Season starts back up in September with Othello and An Ideal Husband in the Fall, followed by A Christmas Carol, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  Now that I’ve finally found the Great Lakes Theater Festival, I’ll definitely be back for more.    

     

Great Lakes Theater Festival / Hanna Theatre 411:  

The Shows
Bat Boy: The Musical
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
John Lithgow’s Stories by Heart    

The Theatre
The Hanna Experience and Seating Options
Parking and Directions
Tickets and Subscriptions