2015 Reviews

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

‘Wait Until Dark’ fun thriller at Bickford in Morristown

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The classic thriller Wait Until Dark has kicked off the Bickford Theatre's 2015 season in exciting style. This is a first rate thriller (with plenty of chills) of the 1940's 'film noir' genre originally written for the stage by Frederick Knott with a 1966 setting and cleverly reworked by Jeffrey Hatcher to the 1944 wartime period. If the title is familiar, a movie version with Audrey Hepburn was released in 1967. This Bickford production is the East coast premiere following a run in Los Angeles. Director Eric Hafen (Bickford's Artistic Director) has assembled an all-star cast with first class production values for Wait Until Dark. The six character play features Lauren Klemp as Susan; Michael Irvin Pollard as Harry Roat; Duncan M. Rogers as Mike; Jeff Maschi as Carlino; Bob MacKay as Sam; and Sydney Soleil Stovall as Gloria. 

The play is set in a 1940s Greenwich Village basement apartment... home to a freelance photographer, Sam (fresh from WWII) and his recently blinded wife, Susan. On Sam's return from a trip to Philadelphia via train, a woman accidentally places a doll in his open bag... a twin of hers. The mysterious doll contains something of great value...great enough to result in murder. The plot centers on the attempt to retrieve the doll from the apartment by any means-- from a hoax to a knife. The play's exciting climax has Susan in a life or death struggle with the killer. She cleverly levels the playing field by plunging the apartment into darkness, thus the meaning of the title Wait Until Dark. You can guess the outcome. In the hope that you will have the good fortune to see Director Hafen’s excellent production, we will provide no further plot details. This play is a constant roller-coaster ride with surprise twists at every turn.  

WaitUntilDarkKlemp on phone All the performances are excellent; Lauren Klemp (photo right) is very convincing as the blind Susan who slowly transforms from the young innocent to full knowledge of the danger she faces. Michael Irvin Pollard is a chilling villain with no hesitation in using his knife; Duncan M. Rogers (our recent NJ Footlights Best Actor award winner) nicely projects a degree of sympathy for Susan's plight; Jeff Maschi couldn't be more perfect as Carlino; Bob MacKay is fine in the minor role of Susan's husband, properly attentive and sensitive to his wife's sight condition; lastly is young Sydney Soleil Stovall making a very impressive New Jersey stage debut as Susan's teen-age neighbor.
Director Hafen's creative team includes: Scenic Designer:  Roy Pancirov; Lighting Designer:  Roman Klima; Costume Designer:  Fran Harrison; Properties Designer:  Dani Pietrowski; and Production Stage Manager:  Yumi Matsuura.  All aspects of this production are standouts; marvelous set, sinister lighting (a major part of the plot), appropriate period costumes, and believable props. 

Wait Until Dark will play at the comfortable Bickford theatre through February 15. The remaining performances are: Thursday, 2/5 AT 7:30PM; Thursday, 2/12 AT 2PM*, Friday, 2/6, 2/13 AT 8PM, Saturday, 2/7, 2/14 AT 8PM, and Sunday, 2/8, 2/15 AT 2PM. There is an Audio Described Performance on Thursday, February 12. 

Tickets​: $45 General Public; $40 Seniors, Museum & Theatre Guild Members; $33 Groups (10+); $20 Students (under 18 or w/valid college ID).
Tickets may be purchased by phone at (973) 971-3706, or in person at the Bickford Theatre Box Office. The Bickford Theatre is an integral part of the Morris Museum, located at 6 Normandy Heights Road in Morristown, NJ, and offers free parking and full accessibility. Box Office hours for phone sales are Monday through Friday, 10 am to 5 pm. Walk-up hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11 am to 5 pm.


 Monday, January 19, 2015

Review: 'Yankee Tavern' fun thrills at the Barn Theatre in Montville


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A fascinating, thought provoking thriller, Yankee Tavern, by Stephen Dietz and directed by Jeff Knapp has opened at the Barn Theatre in Montville.  No, the play has nothing to do with the New York Yankees. The four character play is  about conspiracy theories and 'how much we often choose to believe something that may not be true regardless of the evidence...where there is smoke there must be fire reasoning.' The play is set in a shabby bar located in a condemned hotel in Lower Manhattan near Ground Zero (excellent set) in 2006. The owner is Adam (Nick Wolf) a young university grad student in International Studies who inherited the tavern from his father who may or may not have committed suicide.
Adam is about to be married to Janet (D'Angelique Dopson) who is visiting the bar to complete arrangements for the wedding as the play opens. Enter Ray (Tom Morrissey) a close friend of Adam's father and a master freeloader who describes himself as an “itinerant homesteader.”   He lives in the vacant, rat infested hotel along with ghosts including Adam's father.
Ray obsessed with conspiracy theories believes what you don't know can hurt you. He has non-mainstream theories on major events such as the JFK assassination, the moon landing (faked?), global warming, and naturally the 9/11 attack. He questions the actions of  the U.S. Government including President Bush, numerology,  Saudi Arabian princes, and even  the owner of the World Trade Center.
The trio are joined by Palmer (Alan Van Antwerp) a quiet mysterious stranger  who orders two beers...but only drinks one. The plot thickens when a former female professor asks Adam to come to Washington DC for meetings with a certain secretive  agency. Adam assures Janet that he has no close relationship with his former professor. Does he or doesn't he? Who is Palmer? Why is he at the tavern. Why does he order two beers but only drinks one?  Will Adam return? What is the mystery about the jukebox? Can Ray be right about his 9/11 conspiracy theory?  The play is dark, and a wee bit scary, but it has some very funny moments largely provided by Ray and his over-the-top theories. It is crisply directed by Jeff Knapp (yes, the same Jeff Knapp who doubles as one of the most in demand sound designers in the NJ/NY area).
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Knapp has nicely cast the Yankee Tavern. D'Angelique Dopson is an attractive, caring Janet, Nick Wolf perfectly projects the intelligent, but somewhat trapped and confused (at least about marriage) Adam.  As does Alan Van Antwerp as the mysterious, confident stranger. (photo L-R: Dopson, Wolf, Van Antwerp, Morrissey)
ytt - tom mNow, Tom Morrissey as Ray: For the past four years we have each December published our New Jersey Footlights awards. The winners come from both the professional and community stages. Yes, this is only January, but we have already picked one of the 2015 winners. The actor we have selected is Tom Morrissey of Lincoln Park. His performance, particularly in the first act, is at a show stopper pro level. It may be an over used line, but to see his Ray is worth the price of the admission.  You have until February 7th to join the fun as this fine cast  untangles the intriguing events at the Yankee Tavern.
Acknowledgement is also in order for Jeff Knapp's creative staff; Jonathan Wentz is responsible for the impressive set; Lauren M. Grof-Tisza not only is the producer but also the lighting designer; Tommy Pravata covers the light and sound operation; Lauri MacMillan keeps everything together as the stage manager; Mindy Knapp provided the costume design; Claudine Boucher props; and Jessica Phelan the hair and makeup design.
Special note is in order regarding the very effective mood music titled "Bridge Music."  The unique sound was created by Joseph Bertolozzi, a percussion genius, who literally "played" one of the upper Hudson River bridges (you can sample it at www.josephbertolozzi.com).
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio  Saturday 2 pm January 17, 2015
The remaining performances are January 24, 30, 31, February 6 and 7 at 8 pm; and on January  25, and February 1st at 2 pm. Tickets are $18 (senior/student tickets are $16 on matinees only).
The Barn Theatre is located on Skyline Drive in Montville, NJ, just minutes off Exit 47 from Route 287. For more reservations, information or directions, call The Barn Theatre Box Office at (973) 334-9320, or visit The Barn Theatre on the web at www.barntheatre.org
Photos by Joe Gigli/Barn Theatre


Monday, January 12, 2015


Review: ‘Swimming at the Ritz’ by Charles Leipart at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch


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Reviewed by Michael T. Mooney (Saturday, January 10, 2015 at 8:00pm)

In 1950, Broadway producer Leland Hayward presented Ethel Merman in the Irving Berlin musical Call Me Madam, in which she played Sally Adams, a wealthy socialite appointed ambassador to a European country – in this case, Luxembourg. The character was a highly theatricalized version of real life Oklahoma native Perle Mesta. Ten years later, Hayward married wealthy socialite Pamela Digby Churchill, who, many years after his death, would be appointed ambassador to a European country – in this case, France. Both women were well-known Washington party-givers - “hostesses with the mostesses.” Now playwright Charles Leipart has created a theatrical showcase for Pamela as well, SWIMMING AT THE RITZ, currently enjoying its US premiere at NJ Rep in Long Branch.

Historically speaking, Pamela Digby, a well-heeled Dorset UK native, married Winston Churchill's only son after their first date, largely in order to provide him with an heir. Their marriage ended in 1946. Before wedding Hayward in 1960 (at the height of his success with The Sound of Music), she had a parade of paramours, most notably Fiat's Gianni Agnelli. Often described as “a modern day courtesan,” it was winkingly said that Pamela became “an expert on rich men's bedroom ceilings.” The very day of Hayward's funeral, she rekindled one of her more torrid affairs, with DC political insider W. Averell Harriman, making him her third husband in 1971. After his death, she inherited Harriman's fortune, much to the chagrin of his daughters.
In Leipart's play we catch up with Pamela in 1995, in her suite at the Paris Ritz, as she is boxing up her copious treasures for a Christie's auction. Alone, having spent her entire fortune on luxuries, she has no one to regale with her social-climbing saga, so she turns to us – the audience – and (somewhat reluctantly), her Italian valet, Pietro. Playwright Leipart doesn't so much ignore the fourth wall as skillfully deconstruct it during the play's opening dialogue. Pietro, we learn, believes she is either talking to him or the furniture. Once we are fully in her grasp, she takes no prisoners – slyly winking to the male members in the audience (even tossing one a throw pillow) while embarking on her name-dropping romp through the social register.

The success or failure of this two-act diatribe squarely rests on the padded shoulders of the performer playing Pamela – and Judith Hawking does not disappoint. She regally swans around her luxurious suite like a scheming doyenne on a soap opera – graceful and imperious, deliciously chewing the scenery with impeccable diction and razor sharp timing. Hawking's Pamela relishes her role as storyteller, and that energy is both irresistible and charming. Her put-upon valet Pietro (Christopher Daftsios), on the other hand, only occasionally gets in on the fun. At first he's like a shy schoolboy called to the headmistress's office – all nervous tics and downward glances. When he is eventually cajoled into role-playing as Pamela's many lovers or husbands, the tone turns wildly comic – nearly resembling a musical comedy. Not to be outdone by Irving Berlin and Ethel Merman, Leipart even concocts a song and dance moment for the pair.

The script is peppered with names and dates, and doing the arithmetic, Pamela would be age 75 during our visit to her suite. Hawking in no way resembles a septuagenarian – even a spry one - but Leipart cleverly explains away the anomaly with the play's surreal epilogue. One thing he doesn't explain away is why Pamela is presented as so wildly theatrical. She confides to us that she is an expert listener, and claims “I never could talk.” She not only talks (for nearly two solid hours) but tells her story as if she were a giddy Tallulah Bankhead on a late night chat show. Hawking dips in and out of accents, exotic vocal inflections, and perfect pantomime like the skilled trouper she is, but her revealing banter seems to indicate that the real Pamela was a quieter presence – wielding her influence from the back room (and the bedroom) rather than in the limelight.

Fittingly, director SuzAnne Barabas runs with the concept that this is a fantasy embodiment of Pamela, one that could only live on stage. She peppers the narrative with fantastic lighting and soundscapes that move the material firmly in the direction of the footlights. As usual, NJ Rep's production elements are first rate. The set design by Jessica Parks is an exquisite rendering of a Paris Ritz suite complete with a prop list that would intimidate a less intrepid troupe. Pamela's room is jam-packed with such objet d'art as a Toby Jug resembling Sir Winston Churchill, replicas of famous paintings by Picasso and Renoir, a silver plated drum, and a pair of throw pillows embroidered with the Digby family crest – not to mention piles of furs, jewels, and silver bric-a-brac galore. The rich-looking production also features spot-on lighting by Jill Nagle and tastefully executed costumes by Patricia E. Doherty.

In 1950, the Playbill for Call Me Madam humorously noted that "neither the character of Mrs. Sally Adams nor Miss Ethel Merman resemble any person living or dead." SWIMMING AT THE RITZ might want to adapt a similar statement for its Playbill. Living or dead, swimming at the Ritz with Pamela Digby Churchill Hayward Harriman is a memorable experience.
SWIMMING AT THE RITZ is onstage now through February 1 at New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ. For tickets and information, visit www.njrep.org or call 732-229-3166.

Photo of Judith Hawking and Christopher Daftsios by SuzAnne Barabas

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