In the mood for sketch comedy, musical theater or classic drama? Here’s a rundown of a few offerings currently on local stages.
Magnolia Theatre Company, a professional theater troupe, joins Dayton’s budding arts scene with a terrific production of Mo Gaffney and Kathy Najimy’s two-hander sketch comedy “Parallel Lives” inside the Mathile Theatre of the Schuster Center.
The brainchild of founding artistic director Gina Handy, Magnolia Theatre Company, established in Pennsylvania in 2012, is dedicated to producing fresh, funky and feminine plays incorporating female actors, technicians and administrative staff. “Parallel Lives,” a smart, thought-provoking account of modern life told from the female perspective notably filmed by HBO in 1991, is the epitome of the organization’s creed because it embraces the wonders of womanhood with tremendous feminist spunk. At the same rate, the play examines love, truth, communication, friendship, performance art, sisterly strife, and more with an impactful, gleeful purpose that doesn’t ostracize the male audience.
Gaffney and Najimy’s 11 flavorful skits, a playground of possibilities deftly staged by Marya Spring Cordes particularly encompassing ruminations on “West Side Story” and a comical support group for Disney moms, are superbly inhabited by Handy and Andréa Moralés in their local acting debuts. Portraying multiple characters, male and female, this colorfully energetic duo impresses with transformative finesse. Handy is very touching as an elderly aunt discovering her nephew is gay, but she is also a genuine laugh riot as Southern cornball Hank, who only has a few pick-up lines to his credit which he doesn’t mind incessantly repeating at his favorite bar. The dazzling Moralés, displaying great physicality, utilizes her chameleon strengths in the funny, tender “Three Sisters,” and marvelously interprets the mundane morning grind in the exceptionally expressive “Silent Torture” set to the brisk music of Georges Bizet.
Presented under the auspices of the Victoria Theatre Association’s formerly dormant ImPACt program, Magnolia Theatre Company isn’t planning to produce another show until next season. Even so, I eagerly anticipate its return.
“Parallel Lives” concludes March 8 at 2 p.m. in the Mathile Theatre of the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets, Dayton. The play is performed in 100 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $20. Call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com. The production will also be performed March 26 and 27 at the Garden Theatre of Short North Stage in Columbus. For more information about Magnolia, visit www.magnoliatheatrecompany.com
THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE
Playhouse South delivers a thoroughly charming and entertaining presentation of composer William Finn, librettist Rachel Sheinkin and conceiver Rebecca Feldman’s 2005 musical comedy “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
Casting is paramount to the success of this witty and tender show, which contains some of Finn’s most vibrant, beautiful melodies. Director Carrie Thurston assembles a winning cast who pours equal amounts of zaniness and warmth into engaging, relatable characters that are more than mere kooky caricatures. In particular, the six actors who must be believable as smart-mouthed, fiercely competitive, highly peculiar, and emotionally scarred kids absolutely hit the mark.
Brett Norgaard (Chip Tolentino/Jesus Christ), Meagan Kuchan (Logainne Schwartzandgrubenniere), Jose Gutierrez del Arroyo (Leaf Coneybear/Carl Dad), Bobby Escamillia (William Barfee), Caitie Erker (Marcy Park), and Megan Weyrauch (Olive Ostrovsky) are a delightfully humorous bunch. Bolstered by Annette Looper’s energetic choreography and smoothly handling crucial audience participation (audience volunteers join the actors onstage), they cohesively work together to make the comedy sparkle, an important attribute that keeps the focus from tilting toward one character or characters. Still, it’s imperative to point out how distinctive they are as individuals as evidenced in Norgaard’s comical agony, Kuchan’s unyielding perseverance, Gutierrez del Arroyo’s outstanding intertwining of hilarity and heartbreak, Escamillia’s oddball agitation, Erker’s disgust, and Weyrauch’s endearing sensitivity. Also, Kristen Danley (as bee coordinator Rona Lisa Perretti/Olive’s Mom), Steve Voris (Vice Principal Douglas Panch) and Michael Shannon (comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney/Dan Dad/Olive’s Dad) provide solid support. The lovely Danley and vocally strong Shannon join Weyrauch for a stirring rendition of the gorgeous “I Love You Song,” a fantastic, dreamlike sequence centered on Olive and her parents which fittingly reminds how vital the presence of a supportive parent is to a child’s well-being.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” continues through March 15 at Playhouse South located in the Clark Haines Theatre (Kettering Board of Education Building) 3750 Far Hills Ave., Kettering. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Act One: 50 minutes; Act Two: 45 minutes. Tickets are $13 for adults, $11for seniors and military and $8 for students. Call 1-888-262-3792 or visit www.playhousesouth.org
DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS
The Dayton Theatre Guild’s valiant attempt at Eugene O’Neill’s 1924 drama “Desire Under the Elms” feels stiff, awkwardly paced and conceptually askew.
Directed by Craig Smith, the dysfunctional, soap opera-esque “Elms” moves to a frustrating rhythm as engrossing themes of betrayal, greed, jealousy, lust, pride, and vengeance intermingle unevenly in three acts. A constant flow of sturdy moments followed by weaker moments hinders the allure of this forgotten tragedy about a rural New England family dismantled by the new bride of its patriarch.
Smith significantly acquires three convincing leading players, but I wonder if the production, in dire need of scene transition music to sustain momentum, would have benefitted from a completely different artistic approach. Instead of a literal mounting that adheres to the material’s melodrama and extraneous ensemble, perhaps a darker, minimalist, scaled down take would have given the action a more compelling immediacy or contemporary sting. Also, the pretty exterior of the Cabot family farmhouse (the largest set built at the Guild’s new space courtesy of designer Fred Blumenthal) could have been replaced by projections. The farmhouse satisfies visually but forces Smith into producing cumbersome blocking, especially for audiences unfamiliar with the play’s intricacies.
Nonetheless, Dave Nickel (as hardnosed patriarch Ephraim), Alexander Chilton (as Ephraim’s conflicted, haunted and distraught son Eben), and Danielle Dawler (as Ephraim’s treacherous young wife Abbie) give completely committed portrayals. Nickel, furious and harsh, excellently interprets Ephraim’s monologue reflecting on the history of the farm, a former “field of stones.” He also gives credence to Ephraim’s laughably clueless inability to recognize Abbie and Eben are infatuated with each other. Chilton, delivering a remarkable breakdown in Act 2, and Dawler, fiercely manipulative and an effective emotional wreck in Act 3, are compatible lovers although I prefer “Elms” served passionately unbuttoned. Oddly, skin is not in, which seems disingenuous considering the first word in the title. The cast includes Mark Anderson (Simeon), Adam Clevenger (Peter), William Styles (Sheriff/Old Farmer), Rick Flynn (Fiddler father), Alex Bindemann (Fiddler), Breanna Caron (Young Girl), Harry Shepard (Man), and Sarah Saunders (Woman).
“Desire Under the Elms” continues through March 15 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave., Dayton. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. The production lasts two hours and includes two intermissions. Patrons are advised the play contains mature themes. Tickets are $19 for adults, $17 for seniors and $12 for students. Call (937) 278-5993 or visit www.daytontheatreguild.org