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Offering a fresh way of helping you keep up with art and entertainment happenings around the Capital District.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Kill Me Now produced by Kaliyuga Arts

Over the weekend I attended a production of "Kill Me Now" by Kaliyuga Arts at Cross Street Theater Center in Hudson, NY. The company is relatively new to area and was unfamiliar to me. They invited me and the lure offered was their commitment to challenging and unconventional work.

They told the truth. "Kill Me Now," written by the edgy Canadian playwright Brad Fraser, is one of the most compelling plays I've seen this summer and this has been a season for challenging work.

Because I saw the play at its final performance, I was frustrated because I couldn't write about it for my newspapers (The Troy Record and The Saratogian. I wanted to send the company the audience it deserved. However, I quickly realized not having to write about the play was a mixed blessing.

I told everyone I knew about the experience but it seemed impossible to describe the work so it would seem an enjoyable experience - even to my devoted theatre-going friends. They looked at me in horror when I described the pathetic lives of the characters. They were wrong but I lacked the eloquence to state the beauty of the show.

This is one of the reasons I am so in awe of the company. To do a work like this is to respect there is an audience for tough material. This production was in Hudson, NY, which is not the largest population market in the area and though the community has a strong arts culture it is not really noted for its edgy life-style. Happily the Sunday afternoon show had a sizeable and appreciative audience.

"Kill Me Now" is a story about people we avoid knowing in real life because their lives are too painful.

It concerns a man who is raising his 19 year old disabled son, Joey, alone because his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash. His only personal time is one night a week when his 29 year old sister watches Joey. Twyla has her own personal issues with relationships. On Tuesdays Jake meets his girlfriend Robyn, who is a married woman.

Joey's best friend is Rowdy, a young man who lives in a group home because of slight brain damage. Rowdy cannot self-censor and has a strong sex drive. Eventually he and the sister Twyla form a friends-with-benefits relationship.

It sounds complicated and maybe even a little naughty - but essentially "Kill Me Now" is a tender, affecting love story about people who form unconventional relationships that give them the strength to endure.

As things get worse with the extended family, some very tough decisions have to be made and it is the love they have for each other that makes what could be intolerable to watch, become a moving and beautiful experience.

The performances were perfect. Seven Paterson finds the vulnerability of the father who suddenly finds himself helpless to take care of his son. JD Scalzo was both flip and loyal and even charming as Rowdy. Molly Parker-Myers as the girlfriend Robyn was pragmatic but loving, while Kay Capasso as the sister was strong to all while hiding her own emotional frailties.

However, the performance of Samuel Hoeksema as the disabled Joey was no less than brilliant. Though Joey is speech impaired the actor delivered his slurred lines with a certain clarity. More important Hoeksema brought Joey on a emotional journey that was heartbreaking, wise and wonderful to watch.

Work this good does not happen in a vacuum and director John Sowle's invisible hand had to shape this memorable theatrical experience.

A week ago I did not know anything about Kaliyuga Arts. Now I wouldn't miss one of their productions.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Greek Festival/ all Ethnic Festivals

When you speak to someone about any ethic festival usually the first topic of discussion is the food. However, the events are usually about more than the ethnic food specialties.

That said, over the past weekend I attended the Greek Festival at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Schenectady and yes the food was fantastic. The Moussaka was perfection, the Stuffed Pepper fantastic and the spinach pie (Spanakapita) was delicious. And that last comment is coming from a person who avoids his veggies. Another point is most of the above was eaten warmed up the next day. At the festival I went for the Pork Souvlaki. Mostly because it looked so good and wouldn't travel well. That and despite a yogurt type dressing it appeared the most decadent of the offerings.

As I sat a the long tables eating and listening to live musicians play music that was probably thousands of years old and watched costumed dancers offering traditional dances I realized these ethnic festivals are truly a way to express communal pride.

The food servers were pleasant and patient as they served long lines of people. Indeed, behind the counters I recognized several prominent community leaders toiling cooking over hot stoves. I'm sure they did so, willingly and graciously, because they and their families were connected to the Greek community and to the capital district community at large.

But the take-away experience for me was after the costumed dancers left the floor the dance area became filled by local people who wanted to dance.

Of course the most heartwarming was to watch the young children teaching themselves dance steps to the music. But too, watching a father with a teenage son begin a dance and see them joined by various others - men, women, grandmothers, and mothers with infants - all celebrating their culture was the most satisfying aspect of the evening. It was a sight filled with joy.

A day or so later, a warm feeling came over me as I wondered in how many countries throughout the world would a celebration of ethnic traditions be so embraced by those outside the specific culture. It made me proud to live in my community.

I'm sure I'm going to feel much the same way after leaving the Irish Festival this weekend which is at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds in Ballston Spa.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

bravery on stage

Albany Civic Theatre is offering a wonderful production of “Big Maggie” at 235 Second Avenue in Albany weekends through September 15.  It’s a harsh play about a woman who is hard on her four adult children.  Hard is an understatement.  She is downright cruel.

At ACT Big Maggie is played by Kathleen Carey.  In my review of the play (the previous blog) I called her performance “brave.”  It is brilliant work by an exceptional actress.

Anytime an actor has to go to the darkest part of their psyche it is always an emotionally dangerous choice.   Because few actors are able to do it, it is one of the factors I use in evaluating the talent of an actor. If you cannot visit .your dark side, you will always be limited as an actor.

But this performance took even more bravery by Carey.  In local theater the final week of opening a show is torture and pressure filled.  The nights are long, tense and filled with fear, doubt and last minute adjustments.

Few people outside the acting company know that week brought added tensions to the actress, a Troy native who teaches second grade at Sacred Heart School in Troy.

The Monday before opening, Kathleen’s 85 year old mother fell and broke her hip.  They operated on Tuesday. On Wednesday complications set in she was placed in ICU.  On Friday – the day the show opened – it was uncertain if Kathleen’s mother would survive.  

She did and will be discharged to rehab within days.

On Friday night, Kathleen Carey temporarily put aside her mother’s problems and gave the performance of her life. 

Ironically, the role was a mother who in trying to make her children stronger made them suffer.  The character was the opposite of Kathleen’s mother but finding a mother’s love within this harsh, cruel woman demanded the actress understand the deepest love a mother can offer – it had to be an exhausting and emotionally disturbing experience. This is what I think defines a “brave performance.”  

By the way, it is an excellent performance by Carey and everyone else in the cast and “Big Maggie”  should be seen. 

“Big Maggie” is at Albany Civic Theatre through September 15.  Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 3.  462-1297,

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

review Big Maggie at Albany Civic Theatre

Review  “Big Maggie” at Albany Civic Theatre

ALBANY -For some reason you are supposed to warn people about plays that do not have loveable central characters.   The same is true for plays that make you feel and think.  Too, people feel they should be cautioned about plays that force them to understand life is complicated. 

“Big Maggie” playing at Albany Civic Theatre is all of the above.  Nonetheless it is a brilliantly executed piece of theater that proves depreciating the taste level of audiences is humbug.  This is a production that deserves an audience. 

“Big Maggie” is about a woman who has been in a loveless, brutal marriage for 25 years. When her rotter of a husband (who was 20 years older than she) dies, Maggie takes firm control over the family store, the farm and, most importantly, the lives of her 4 young adult children.

She is hard to the point of being cruel as she dominates their lives.  She has no sympathy for weakness, no compassion for those with emotions and most of all, no tolerance for anyone who disagrees with her.

She not only pushes her family away, she rejects any act of friendship from the people of the town and she even rebukes one gentle man who would have her for a wife.  Eventually she chases each child away and lives in isolation in her small rural community in Ireland.

Though it is impossible to like or to even have compassion for Maggie, the magic of the play is, no matter how begrudgingly it happens, you tend to understand the woman because she believes her actions are best for her children. However, the tragedy is even when she is right, her emotionally cruel behavior negates any long term good she might do.

As Maggie, Kathleen Carey offers a smart, brave and emotionally true performance.  She creates a Maggie who cares nothing about consequences or loss.  She only cares that her will be done.  The beauty of the performance is without showing any softness, Carey creates a woman who is strangely vulnerable. Carey makes it clear no matter how much Maggie bends people to her will the woman will never be able to be happy.

Through this stoic, mean woman Carey show the John B. Keane play is not simply a play about a harsh woman.  It is also a play about raising children in a cruel unforgiving environment.  Though, its themes are not epic, in many respects Keane has written the Irish version of “Mother Courage and her Children.” And too, it becomes a play about life in a specific place, time and culture.

Though Carey’s marvelous performance is essential to the success of the play, Chris Foster’s direction is equally as important.   By setting a gentle mood for the people who live in the village, he creates and almost claustrophobic atmosphere that illustrates the oppressiveness of living life in a small world.

Foster also nurtures strong performances from his large cast. Patrick White brings a needed sense of humor to Byrne, the simple man who would have Maggie for a wife.  Isaac Newberry, though perhaps seeming a little more American than Irish, brings a believable charm to Teddy a man who has a taste for women.

Annie Bunce finds the trusting naiveté of the fragile Gert, Maggie’s youngest daughter, Amanda Martini-Hughes, could be more saucy as the oldest daughter Katie, but she excels in going head to head in a losing battle with her mother.   Patrick Rooney and Paul Dedrick are strong as the sons who are humiliated by the controlling nature of Maggie.

David Caso’s lights are an important element in establishing the mood of the play while enhancing Foster’s dramatic stage pictures.  Beth Ruman’s costumes are equally as good in establishing character and setting.

“Big Maggie” is a triumph for Albany Civic Theatre. It is a beautiful production of a play that few local companies would have the courage to produce.  It is a work that deserves an audience.

“Big Maggie” Albany Civic Theatre, 235 Second Ave., Albany  Through September 15.    Performances 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sunday.  Tickets $15  462-1297,

Thursday, August 22, 2013

review Beauty Queen of Leenane

Review Beauty Queen of Leenane at Shakespeare & Company  by Bob Goepfert

LENOX, Mass.  – Martin McDonagh is a contemporary Irish playwright who is the heir to other great Irish playwrights like John Synge, Sean O’Casey and Brendan Behan who made tragic figures out of flawed common people.

His play, “The Beauty Queen of Leenane,” which is playing at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass., through September 15 is dark, comic, and insightful.  But McDonagh takes it one step further by adding brutal consequences to the situation.  “Beauty Queen…” is a play that is painfully honest and disturbingly violent in its portrait of people held together through of fear of being alone.

“Beauty Queen” centers on the dysfunctional relationship between 40 year old Maureen and her mother Mag.  Maureen is almost an indentured servant to her slovenly 70-year old mother.  It’s made clear Maureen has given up her life to care for her bullying mother to the point she is still a virgin.

Mag knows she is dependent on Maureen and will go any length to keep her from having a life outside their small, impoverished home.  When Pato Dooley shows romantic interest in Maureen, Mag’s behavior becomes extreme and tensions between mother and daughter become dangerously high.

The production is excellent, especially during the dark second act when Maureen comes to realize how her mother has betrayed her.  When her resentment boils over the relationship becomes searing and the unleashed emotions become powerful.  Though the play’s fierce climax is almost painful in its fury, the true pain comes when at play’s end Aspenlieder makes clear the price she must play for her freedom.

Tina Packer offers a carefully crafted portrayal of a controlling woman which helps the audience to understand Maureen’s frustrations.  Packer’s passive-aggressive manipulations demonstrate her cunning control of Maureen and soon the audience comes to understand Maureen needs Mag as much as Mag needs Maureen.

Director Matthew Penn stages the first act as a simple story of a daughter unwillingly trapped by a needy mother.  There are sweet moments and enough humor to make the turns in act two as surprising as they are gruesome.

In supporting roles David Sedgwick plays Pato as a decent, awkward man who might rescue Maureen.   However, it is Edmund Donovan who brings the necessary lightness to the production that the plays with a funny and charming portray of Ray Dooley, Pato’s dimwitted brother.

My quarrel with the production is technical as Maureen’s costumes are too sophisticated and seem contrary to the woman who is described as dressing “strangely.”  And because the home is open and neat it fails to set the claustrophobic mood of the play to reflect the mind set of the characters.

“Beauty Queen of Leenane” is not a play for the faint of heart, but it is excellent theater for people who want to understand the humanity of love, even when it goes amuck.

“Beauty Queen of Leenane” in the Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, Mass.   Performances Tuesday through Sunday until September 15.  Tickets $15-$50.  413- 637-3353,


Thursday, August 8, 2013

review Musical of Bridges of Madison County at WTF

Review Bridges of Madison County by Bob Goepfert

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass.  “The Bridges of Madison County,” which is being given its world premiere at the Williamstown Theatre Festival through August 18, is a musical that is often beautifully romantic.  At other times the production boarders on the tedious and cloyingly sentimental.

The work, which is scheduled to open on Broadway in February of 2014, is based on the novel by Robert James Waller, which was also the source of the Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep film.  Both were so popular there is probably a core audience that will automatically adore this musical adaptation.

Even those (like me) who find the material predictable and sometimes overwrought, will find it difficult not to be moved by the gorgeous score of Jason Robert Brown which defines characters and captures the emotional turmoil of two decent individuals who unintentionally fall in love knowing their love is doomed.

Too, there is no denying the emotional pull of the story about a four day love affair that touches lives forever.  Anyone who has ever been in a loving relationship that is destined to fail will understand the heartbreak of the characters.  And because the love between Robert and Francesca is so sincere and honest, many who have not had such an experience might feel they’ve been denied a life-altering experience.

Without denying the inherent charm of the material, it is not a story that should take three hours to tell.  While there is hardly a song that is not a pleasure to hear, the long expositional aspects of the story tend to make Brown’s remarkable score seem repetitive.  This is true mostly for the first act and a drawn out ending.

However, when the work focuses on the passion of the couple the music soars and the story is tender and touching.  The second act duet “One Second More and a Million Miles” is breathtaking in its passion and Francesca’s solo “Almost Real” is as character defining as it is beautiful to hear.  The same can be said for Robert’s first act “The World Inside a Frame.”  

Brown is not only a great composer, he is a brilliant orchestrator and his lyrics create lovely stories within a story.  By the way, the 9-piece pit orchestra, conducted by Tom Murray, is phenomenal as they bring an added lushness to a rich score.

Steve Pasquale is gentle, smart and sexy as Robert the National Geographic photographer who in1965 spends a couple of days in Madison County, Iowa to photograph their covered bridges.  He is an exceptional actor with a dynamic singing voice who creates a finely etched portrayal of a loner who surprises himself at the depth of his love for Francesca.

In this Marsha Norman version of the story, Francesca is the focus of the work.  She is an Italian World War II war bride, who lives a content life with a caring but dull husband (Daniel Jenkins) and two constantly quarreling kids (Caitlin Kinnunen and Nick Bailey).  Elena Shaddow  is lovely as the woman who discovers the dissatisfaction with her life and is courageous enough to grasp happiness and noble enough to sacrifice it up out of love for her family.

One of the strongest aspects of Norman’s book is the creation of Marge (Cass Morgan)and Charlie (Michael X. Martin) the long-married, neighbors who are happy with their simple existence.  Having Morgan sing “Get Closer” as Robert and Francesca physically draw closer is a genius idea that defines the universality of longing.

The entire cast is ideal but special mention should be given to Whitney Bashor who gives a breakout  performance singing the marvelous “Another Life” as Robert’s former wife and the touching “He Forgave Me’ as Francisca’s sister. 

It’s all played on an awesome set designed by Michael Yeargan and period perfect costumes by Catherine Zuber.  The most important technical success is the mood defining lighting by Donald Holder.

“The Bridges of Madison County” is an erratic and sometimes slow moving show but it is never the fault of director Bartlett Sher who ingenuously keeps the movement fluid and the focus of the show on the love between Francisca and Robert.

This is a superior production that sometimes falls victim to the flaws of the source material.

“The Bridges of Madison County” through August 18 at the mainstage of Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, Mass.  Tickets $65-$70.  413-597-3400,



Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Mother Courage - Brecht without Brecht

Review Mother Courage by Bob Goepfert

LENOX, Mass. – “Mother Courage and Her Children,” a play written by Bertolt Brecht in 1939, is considered to be one of the great plays of the 20th century.  Yet, it is rarely produced. at least in the United States.

This production which runs at Shakespeare & Company through August 25 both displays the greatness of the material and helps one understand why the theater companies avoid the material.

Overall this is a tame version of a play that should be almost harsh.  Instead of offering the material in what is known as “Brechtian-epic” fashion, which means stripping away all theatrical elements for a bare bones in-your-face style, director Tony Simotes offers the play in a more traditional and conventional style with moody lighting, and genuine characters.

This choice makes the play more emotionally accessible but it mutes the confrontational and didactic aspects of Brecht’s approach to Parable Theater and makes the work seem tame and even vague.

However the brilliance and passion of Brecht’s material remains. Written as a response to Hitler and the start of World War II, “Mother Courage” is an honest, harsh look at the insanity of war and the human cost of living in a perpetual state of terror.  It forces the audience to look into their own conscience and wonder to what degree we all sustain and support  wars because they good for business.

Academy-Award winning Olympia Dukakis plays “Mother Courage” as a street-smart single-minded woman whose only interest is the survival of her children.  The second most-important thing in her life is her wagon filled with supplies from which she sells goods to the soldiers during the years 1624-1636 in the midst of the European Thirty Year War.

The tragedy of the play is that her business eventually costs the lives of her two sons and daughter.  Each dies because of an excess of a single virtue – kindness, bravery and honesty which Brecht makes clear in times of war those traits are weaknesses rather than a virtues.  

Even if you disagree with Dukakis’ single-note stoic performance you will respect her choice which succeeds more often than not.  For sure you will leave the Tina Packer Playhouse with respect for her courageous performance and admiration for this 82 year old actress willingness to tackle this monstrously demanding role.

Brooke Parks, is wonderful as the mute daughter Kattrin, Apollo Dukakis grows into the role of The Chaplin and the charismatic John Douglas Thompson,( though too young for The Cook) finds moments of brilliance with the character.  Paula Langton is delightful as the whore Yvette Pottier and, arguably, comes closest to capturing the performance style associated with Brecht.  The rest of the large cast is uneven, often because they permitted to utilize a confusing variety of performance styles. 

This Shakespeare & Company production of “Mother Courage” is not the epic theater one associates or craves from a Brecht play – but it is a decent production of an important play.

“Mother Courage and Her Children,” at Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, Mass.  Through August 25, in rolling repertory at Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, Mass.  413-637-3353,