Leading Ladies Review

Review: NRP’s Leading Ladies now at The Alley Theatre by Ray ZuWallach

It would be easy to think that “Leading Ladies,” billed as a cross between “Some Like It Hot” and Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” is just another men-in-drag farce. However, Ken Ludwig’s clever handling of his story and characters allows the play to rise above the cliché of guys dressing up as women. We also get a generous helping of the playwright’s pet theme of depicting show-biz folks as vain, erratic, and fallible; theme’s also in “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Moon Over Buffalo.”

Set in Pennsylvania in the early 1950s, the action starts with Leo Clark (Garrett Olson) and Jack Gable (Eric Henderson), a couple of down-at-heel Shakespearean actors, languishing on the Moose Lodge circuit, where their hammy overacting turns off an already hostile audience. When they learn that an elderly woman in the town of York has died, the perpetually broke duo decides to impersonate Max and Steve, the missing British nephews to whom she has bequeathed a fortune. Learning that the nephews are really nieces, Maxine and Stephanie, doesn’t deter them. They break out their finest female garb along with lipstick, rouge, and face powder.

Other surprises await the duo: The old lady, Florence (Sheila McCormick), is actually still alive. Her lively niece Meg (Lorna Norgueira) adores Shakespeare and pines for the life of an actor, causing Leo to fall for her. Jack likewise meets his dream girl, Meg’s best friend, Audrey (Victoria Kirichok). Meg is engaged, Audrey has a beau, and both think the two guys are women, adding to the plot’s complications.

Director Jess Wilson mounts a wholly engaging production that sparkles from first moment to last. Her high-octane octet of actors display great timing in both line delivery and in effecting the play’s  physical aspects. Olson and Henderson are a study in contrasts. Olson’s Leo is a polished ladies man, all high-toned speech and mannerisms, while his Maxine is a flutey-voiced ,boisterous odd duck.  Henderson’s Jack is a practical Brit who hates the idea of masquerading as a woman; his Stephanie is like a gentle breeze wafting about the stage.

The objects of their affections are likewise dissimilar.  As Meg, Nogueira is  bright and intelligent and engaging while Kirichok’s Audrey is endearingly ditsy. The remaining characters are essentially straight men for the starring quartet’s antics. Steve Doherty’s Duncan Wooley, the snippety, hidebound local minister engaged to Meg, who is immediately suspicious of Leo and Jack, is a classic foil.  Alberto Rizzotti parlays the character of the blunt, lusty, inept Doc Myers into some fun wacky bits.  As Doc’s son Butch, Jeffrey Ruel is funniest in depicting the young man’s abominably bad acting in the “Twelfth Night” performance (a play within a play.)  McCormick’s Florence lends stability and imperiousness to the proceedings.

The visual elements—Max Verg’s set, Elena Murphy’s costumes, Bill Purcell’s hair and wig designs, the Watermans’ lighting—are all of a piece. The scene changes are cleverly accompanied by enjoyable American pop tunes of the early ’50s. This is first-rate staging that makes the most of Ludwig’s genius for farce.

Leading Ladies by Ken Ludwig continues at the Alley Theatre, 133 Centre Street, Middleboro April 21,22,28,29 at 8pm with a 2pm matinee on April 23rd . Tickets are $20 General Admission and $18 Seniors & Students, Matinee $15.

Performances can be combined with “Dinner and a Show,” a dinner theatre experience in collaboration with Lorenzo’s (Rt 28, Middleboro) 508-947-3000.  Three course meal including glass of wine for $21.95 bring receipt to our box office before the show and tickets are only $15.00. For more info about NRP please visit us on our website: www.nemasketriverproductions.com or on our FB, Flicker, Twitter, Tumble or Instagram sites.  You may also call our virtual box office 866 -244-0448 for reservations. Credit card purchases via EventBrite (through our website) and at the door.

What’s this Leading Ladies thing all about??

“A HIT, A VERY PALPABLE HIT!” cries Leo during the Shrewsbury Moose Lodge sword fight of “Hamlet;” an early scene in the Nemasket River Production  “Leading Ladies” now at The Alley Theatre, those hits are palpable indeed.

Productions of “Hamlet” are often distinguished by verse speaking or physical design.  In this “abridged” version,  a part of the current staging of “Leading Ladies,”  (a play within a play) this celebrated scene is mixed in with a wide range of Shakespearean soliloquies, and it is the face-off between Hamlet (played by Garrett Olsen) and Lacerates (Eric Henderson) that the Shrewsbury Moose Lodge is watching (with mixed enthusiasm); an audience more interested in the food served AFTER the entertainment!

Lasting no more than four minutes, the duel leaves both the actors and the audience breathless;   “A lot of it is about the skill of the swordplay,” said Henderson, who studied staged swordplay at Priscilla Beach Theatre 20 years ago with Geronimo Sands.  The play within a play is a set up as a pre-dinner entertainment, an artificial game, which then goes mad.” Especially as the disinterested Moose Lodge members start leaving … much to the chagrin of it’s leading actor. “Don’t you people know what acting is?” Leo hollers to the diminishing audience.

This is just the early stages of this silly, outrageous, tender plot unfolding under the inspired direction of Jess Wilson and the professional staging of Nemasket River Productions.

Leading Ladies by Ken Ludwig continues at the Alley Theatre, 133 Centre Street, Middleboro

April 21,22,28,29 at 8pm with a 2pm matinee on April 23rd . Tickets are $20 General Admission and $18 Seniors & Students, Matinee $15.

All performances can be combined with our “Dinner and a Show” special, a dinner theatre experience in collaboration with Lorenzo’s (Rt 28, Middleboro) 508-947-3000.  Three course meal including glass of wine for $21.95 bring receipt to our box office before the show and tickets are only $15.00. For more info about NRP please visit us on our website: www.nemasketriverproductions.com or on our FB, Flicker, Twitter, Tumble or Instagram sites.  You may also call our virtual box office 866 -244-0448 for reservations. Credit card purchases via EventBrite (through our website) and at the door.

Review: Round and Round the Garden

Middleboro – SET to the glorious backdrop of an English Garden, Nemasket River Productions’ fall show,  Alan Ayckbourn’s “Round and Round the Garden” has much to recommend it.   There’s affairs, mix ups and a copious amount of Mother’s home-brewed parsnip wine all set in the chaotic 70’s.

We meet Annie (Karin Page Henderson, the ever dutiful daughter) who is fed up with having to look after her bed ridden Mother. She wants excitement in her life; to get away from the mundane to the glamorous; yet …..still in love with the tentative but not quite so glamorous Tom, (Eric Henderson).
Enter Norman (Paul Collins), Annie’s brother-in-law, a bumbling, chaotic, self-centered man, who just seems to want to make all the women in his life happy but fails. Norman has promised a weekend away, but really Annie is not so sure this is a good idea for she truly cares for Tom, a vet, who is clearly better with animals than with people; if only he could get Mother’s cat to come down from that tree.

Too add to the chaos Annie’s brother Reg (Michael McGill) and his wife Sarah (Kristina Dahlene) arrive to house-sit so that Annie may get away.  Is that Bossy Sarah casting a lingering eye on Norman? It’s hard to keep up with who wants whom. Norman, it seems, wants all the women, except of course his very attractive but no nonsense wife whose been “called” to come collect him.  “I am rather fond of him, really. Being married to Norman is like owning a large unmanageable dog. He’s not very well house trained, he needs continual exercising and it’s sensible to lock him up if you have visitors!”

This inspired ensemble cast takes us through a joyous  if confusing romp in the garden. Tom (Eric Henderson) & Annie (Karin Page Henderson) have some very tender moments fraught with humorous misunderstandings. Sarah (Kristina Dahlene) and Reg (Michael McGill), always squabbling and insisting on their points of view, are endearing in there prickly way.  Then there is Norman (Paul Collins) and Ruth (Grace Carlozzi) who have the perfect marriage, in some respects, it is after all the 70’s in England, and they make us enjoy their machinations!

Director, Bob Gillet, has set this timely (yet deliciously retro) production in the round, which brings the audience right into the play. He directs with great gusto and appreciation for Ayckbourn’s humor.  The Light and Sound team, WW Lighting, create the delights of a summer day in the country, and the incomparable décor Master, Max Verga, completes the pastoral picture.

A silly British farce, laughter and nuance, and lots of humorous slapstick moments. Well worth a watch if you’d like to brighten up an evening – pull up a deckchair and escape to the warm, sunny garden for a couple of hours. Round and Round the Garden  continuing  at the Alley Theatre, 133 Centre Street, Middleboro October 15, 21, 22, 28, 29 at 8pm . Tickets are $20 General Admission and $18 Seniors & Students, Matinee $15.  See NRP’s website or FB page for more info: www.nemasketriverproductions.com

Review: Moonlight and Magnolias

Reviewed By Dr Raymond ZuWallack, Cape Cod

Nemasket River Productions’  Summer Show, opening last weekend, brought my wife and myself happily off Cape.  Perhaps a more telling title for Moonlight and Magnolias might be “Peanuts and Bananas!”  According to Ron Hutchinson’s fast, sharp and funny account of how the screen-play for Gone With The Wind got rush-written in five days, this was the only nutrition Hollywood mogul David O. Selznick allowed his collaborators, the writer Ben Hecht and the director Victor Fleming.

“The digestive juices get mixed up with the creative ones – it’s a scientific fact,” he informs a bleary-eyed Hecht, who drools in vain over bagels and orange juice.  The play is well suited to the intimate space of The Alley Theatre. The action never strays from Selznick’s office, and yet you can sense, through this pressure-cooker environment, the wider world beyond: the production crew standing by, as costs mount; the looming spectre of humiliation and failure; and even, this being 1939, the rumblings of war.

The director, Sheila Kelleher, has an eye for the anti-heroic absurdities and  embraces the farce as well, in this entertaining revival.  Set by Max Verga is a vivid and eye catching black and white art deco backdrop, while the light and sound is accurately provided by the amiable father and son team of W.W. Lighting.

Packed with fascinating facts, it shows us real-life players almost turning into characters from a screwball caper, slapping and scrapping. In their quest for celluloid gold, Steve Doherty’s intense, incredulous Hecht, James Koonce’s pent-up Fleming and Ed Krasnow’s endearing, perspiring Selznick, wind up quivering wrecks; while the ever loyal  secretary, played by Rachel Sullivan,  becomes increasingly disheveled as the days dissolve into chaos and peanut shells!  There are many belly laughs in this production as well as knowing laughter from an audience that warmly remembers Gone with the Wind.  Then, at the end, they pull themselves together and prepare for similar traumas on their next projects. You gotta love them, and America, for it.

Don’t miss NRP’s final weekend (August 12,13) with additional Thursday night, August 11th 8pm show, Moonlight and Magnolias  at the Alley Theatre, 133 Centre Street, Middleboro.  Tickets are $20 General Admission and $18 Seniors & Students, Matinee $15.   All performances can be combined with our “Dinner and a Show” special, a dinner theatre experience in collaboration with Lorenzo’s  (Rt 28, Middleboro) 508-947-3000.  Three course meal including glass of wine for $20.00 bring receipt to our box office before the show and tickets are only $15.00. For more info about NRP please visit us on our website: www.nemasketriverproductions.com or on our FB, Flicker, Twitter, Tumble or Instagram sites.  You may also call our virtual box office 866 -244-0448 for reservations. Credit card purchases via Brown Paper Tickets through our website and at the door.

Review: Lost in Yonkers

Reviewed By Ray Zuwallack 

After experiencing the warmly satisfying revival of “Lost in Yonkers” by Nemasket River Productions it amazes me that it has taken two decades for this Pulitzer- and Tony-winning 1991 Neil Simon play to come to my attention!

Similar to his Bright Beach trilogy, Simon is working here not as king of the snappy one-liner but from the heart, with a depth of character and humanity that place “Lost in Yonkers” among his more affecting works.

The insightful and straightforward director, Mike Pevzner, and his accomplished cast strike an ideal balance between poignancy and humor in this modest, carefully calibrated production. The music is wonderful, the sound of the 1930’s and 40’s is not only nostalgically retro its currently hip!

The action is filtered through the eyes of 16-year-old Jay played with great skill and poise by Ethan Child and his cherubic cheeked younger brother, Arty, Owen Connolly, who’s natural reactions and easy humor endear him to the audience. When their father, Eddie, played with great compassion by Brian Hurley, is forced to take a job on the road to pay off debt from his deceased wife’s cancer treatment, the two junior Bronx boys are sent to stay with their unwelcoming Grandma Kurnitz (the unflinchingly stone faced Elizabeth Morrell).

A steely Jewish refugee from Germany, Grandma lives above her candy store in Yonkers, but there’s nothing sweet about her. That deficit is countered by the boys’ over excitable Aunt Bella (the ever sensitive and tender Corinne Mason), a childlike woman in her mid-30s, described by Jay as “closed for repairs.” Thanks to winning work from the young actors, the play glides through familiar coming-of-age territory amiably enough. But its real dramatic engine is the slowcombustion clash between unyielding Grandma and emotionally starved Bella.

On Broadway, Irene Worth and Mercedes Ruehl won Tonys for those roles. In this local production Corinne Mason and Elizabeth Morrell permeate the characters with complex layers of painful experience.

Having witnessed violence as a girl and endured the loss of two of her six children to illness, Grandma has encased herself in loveless solitude. Like stunted Bella and timid Eddie, her other remaining adult children carry the legacy of her fearsome coldness. Gert (the indomitable Jess Wilson) is a walking respiratory complaint, and Louie (the very entertaining & charming Paul Collins), a swaggering bagman for the mob, attributes his toughness to Ma’s example.

Not only is the cast a treat to watch, the set work by Max Verga, is welcoming to the eyes and reassuringly vintage; while the sound and tech crew create another time and space right before our eyes. This lovely production suggests that there’s much to savor in NRP’s opening show of their 17th Season in Middleborough.

Don’t miss the final two weekends of NRP’s spring show, April 22,23, 29,30 at The Alley Theatre. Evening performances are at 8pm. All performances can be combined with a “Dinner and a Show” special, a dinner theatre experience in collaboration with Lorenzo’s (Rt 28, Middleboro) 508-947-3000. Three course meal including glass of wine & taxes for $20.00 bring receipt to our box office before the show and tickets are only $15.00. Or call NRP box office at 866-244-0448 for reservations or for online ticket sales visit NRP website: www.nemasketriverproductions.com.