‘Hold Tight to your Mothers… Reach out to your Sons’

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Bruce caricatureBruce the Blog Reviews Theater
BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act


There’s one more weekend of performances in Armonk to see Mothers & Sons actress Misti Tindiglia, seen here with director Anthony Valbiro. The longtime friends and theater veterans have worked together frequently with much success. Photo by Bruce Apar

 

Mothers & Sons
by Terrence McNally
Directed by Anthony Valbiro
Through Nov. 21
Whippoorwill Hall
19 Whippoorwill East, Armonk
The Armonk Players
ArmonkPlayers.org

In his powerful one-act play, Mothers & Sons, celebrated playwright Terrence McNally gives full voice to a specific strain of intolerance. He reminds us that if hate comes easier to some more than others, it may be because of an inner sadness — call it a deficiency of happiness — that leaves the hater feeling forever alone, even when surrounded by family. That unshakable sense of aloneness, without the salve of distraction, invites resentment and even ridicule of others.

And so it is with widowed Katharine Gerard (Misti Tindiglia), a Westchester native from Port Chester (but tells folks she is from Rye), who long ago relocated — or, more precisely, dislocated — to Dallas, whose people and culture she virtually grades with a big D.

As the play opens, Katharine’s just arrived in the Big Apple to reluctantly visit her late son Andre’s lover, Cal (Adam Welsh), who now is married to Will (Brad Metz). The same-sex couple have a 6-year-old son, Bud (Nathan Ilany).

A Wall Between Them

Cal and Katharine — who’ve met only once before, at Andre’s funeral 20 years prior — are facing the audience when the lights go up. Each may as well be standing on either side of a brick wall running down the middle of the room, for all they have in common.

Cal is a money manager whose success landed him in a posh Central Park West co-op with panoramic views of the park and beyond. Given his apparent wealth, there’s no small irony in his down-to-earth sincerity placed alongside the haughty airs of Mrs. Gerard.

Without any evidence to support her suspicions, the imperious woman implicitly blames Cal for her son’s death by AIDS. She also resents Cal’s upwardly mobile fortunes since her son’s demise. In her jaded eyes, she has lost her son and suffered while Cal has taken her son and prospered.

Katharine hails not only from a different generation, but from a different universe. She admits to having difficulty “transitions,” which means any kind of change whatsoever.

‘Choice’ Words from a Mother in Mourning

To Katharine, who is emblematic of many others, being non-heterosexual is a “choice,” like choosing a place to go on vacation.

She goes so far as to say her son was not gay when he left Dallas for New York. She objects to the very word “gay” being co-opted from her comfortable context of when it meant “something good.”

Adam Welsh invests Cal with a beautifully affecting and tender earnestness as he tries valiantly and respectfully to joust with the steely Mrs. Gerard.

Veteran and versatile actress Misti Tindiglia is perfectly cast as a woman who doesn’t let anybody in and lashes out at whatever she disapproves of. As the play progresses, the skilled actress lets us see the hurt deep inside that accounts for her character’s lifetime of corrupted emotions and judgmental impulses.

Doting Father, Politically Promiscuous

As Will, who is 15 years younger than husband Cal, Brad Metz plays a doting father to Bud, and is far less concerned with being politically correct than the more self-conscious and proper Will.

Kudos too to Nathan Ilany, whose Bud is as bouncy, curious and unvarnished as you’d expect a six-year-old boy to be. He is a little like a Greek chorus, commenting on the adult activity.

The play is lovingly directed by Anthony Valbiro, a man of many roles who is a master of the theater arts. His personal note in the program is both achingly poignant and inspirational. It talks of his own life experience and relationship with his mother, which mirrors what we see on stage.

Despite the differences between him and his mother, “I never gave up,” writes Mr. Valbiro. “Gay men connect to their mothers like no other… I hope this piece speaks to you in a way that will make you forgive… love… that’s what it’s all about. Hold tight to your mothers… reach out to your sons.”

In life, as in the play, redemption is within reach, if you stretch enough.


Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar, also known as Bruce The Blog, is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner agency.  He also owns APAR All-Media, a Hudson Valley marketing agency that works with The Winery at St. George, Yorktown Feast of San Gennaro, Jefferson Valley Mall, Yorktown Stage, Axial Theatre, Armonk Players and others. He writes a weekly column for several periodicals and hosts public access TV series Hudson Valley WXYZ with Bruce The Blog. Follow him on Hudson Valley WXYZ on Facebook, Twitter & YouTube. Reach him at bapar@pinpointmarketingdesign.com or (914) 275-6887.


Searching for a Ray of Sunlight in the Darkness

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Bruce caricatureBruce the Blog Reviews Theater
BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act


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Writer-director Joe Albert Lima (right) and actor Steve Allen enjoy meeting playgoers after each performance of “A Short Walk into Sunshine,” in Ossining through Nov. 28. Photo by Bruce Apar

‘A Short Walk into Sunshine’
Written + Directed by Joe Albert Lima
Through Nov. 28
Steamer Co. Firehouse
117 Main St., Ossining
Westchester Collaborative Theater
WCTheater.org

K.C. Johnson is a charmer–on the outside. He has a knack for stylin’ and jokin’ and swaggerin’. On the make with a foxy lady, he’s liable to break into the pop song “Lean on Me.” In the talented person of highly animated actor Steve Allen, the persona rings true. Who doesn’t know someone like that?

What’s going on inside K.C. is another matter. He’s a tempest of torment and lost chances. K.C. is the first person we meet in Joe Albert Lima’s arresting drama “A Short Walk into Sunshine,” at Steamer Co. Firehouse in Ossining through Nov. 28.

K.C. is a 41-year-old recovering drug addict and psychiatric patient who’s camping out on the living room sofa of older sister Sarah Bates (played by the superb Tracey McAllister) in her Queens apartment. She took her brother in to help see him through outpatient treatment at a neighborhood clinic. Trouble is that K.C. doesn’t like going to treatment because he doesn’t want to be medicated.

Fractured Families

K.C. and the girlfriend he courts in Act I, Peaches (Maiysha Jones), are a pair of lost souls from fractured families. Having met at the treatment center, their kinship in large part stems from their history of addiction and depression mingled with a mutual struggle to clear a path to a fruitful future.

The tagline for Mr. Lima’s work is “Destiny is not a matter of chance.” In a refreshingly straightforward and concise style, he probes the proverbial influences of “nature vs. nurture” in shaping personalities and life histories.  Environments play a role in who we become, but, ultimately, it’s only our “self” who can shape personal destiny.

K.C. may have had a fraught family life, but so did sister Sarah, who is self-sufficient, disciplined and responsible. She administers tough love to K.C., but he continually chafes under her tightly-held reins. We also learn K.C. was academically accomplished, having attended Columbia University, if only for half a semester before drugs dragged him down and out.

Looking Forward to Fatherhood

It’s only when the prospect surfaces of K.C.’s becoming a father that he begins to pull himself up and act with a sense of responsibility. His entire outlook changes, as he starts to walk out of darkness and into the sunshine, as Mr. Lima poetically phrases it.

As writer and director of the slice-of-life play, Mr. Lima brings a facile way with dialogue. His words and idiomatic locutions sound like they are spontaneously spoken by real people rather than written by a disembodied dramatist.

The author told me his goal was to humanize the mentally ill, and he certainly succeeds in that pursuit. He added that, despite Sarah’s obvious good heart and love of her brother, many audience members side with K.C. against her. I guess some people just don’t love tough love.

Charisma + Naturalism

Mr. Allen and Ms. McAllister are extremely effective actors who are able to convey both stage charisma and deeply-felt naturalism at the same time. They propel the play in a way that keeps you engaged every moment, which is no small feat.

As glazed Peaches, whose hazy past of post-partum depression has left her pregnancy-phobic, Maiysha Jones is suitably fragile and frightened. In the role of Sarah’s ex-husband Max — who is opening a “healthy soul food” restaurant — Keith Bullock’s dry delivery makes him a fine foil for the firecracker that is Ms. McAllister’s Sarah.

Adding to the immediacy of this theatrical experience is the intimacy of the performance space, on the second floor of the Steamer Co. Firehouse on Main Street. You can’t get any closer to actors than here.The proximity helps glue audience members to the action, tension, and emotion — not to mention humor — that suffuses this provocative and thoughtful look at lives that matter even when they go tragically astray.


Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar, also known as Bruce The Blog, is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner agency.  He also owns APAR All-Media, a Hudson Valley marketing agency that works with The Winery at St. George, Yorktown Feast of San Gennaro, Jefferson Valley Mall, Yorktown Stage, Axial Theatre, Armonk Players and others. Follow him on Hudson Valley WXYZ on Facebook, Twitter & YouTube. Reach him at bapar@pinpointmarketingdesign.com or (914) 275-6887.


A Show that Floats my Boat

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Bruce caricatureBruce the Blog Reviews Theater
BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act


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Michael James Leslie (as Joe, center) and Ensemble perform “Ol’ Man River.”

Westchester Broadway Theatre calls its current production of Showboat, a landmark Broadway musical stuffed with tuneful standards, “Our most spectacular production in years!

The only thing that bothers me about that boast is they beat me to it!

I’ve seen a lot of the mainstage productions at this regional dinner-theatre and I couldn’t agree more. This impeccably staged two-plus hours of top-deck entertainment knows how to float your boat, as the admiring audience made clear at curtain call with waves of cheers.   

No sooner does this Showboat pull into dock than you are buoyed by the energy, talent and high-stepping professionalism that washes across the stage with every exquisitely-penned and expertly-delivered number. There are more of those in this historic musical than in any 10 lesser Broadway shows combined.


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The large cast of ‘Showboat.’

As long ago as Showboat was written and premiered — early 20th Century — part of its brilliant simplicity is that it feels fresh and full of life as ever.

From the poignant torch song “Bill” to the soaring romantic ballad “You Are Love” to the upbeat comic relief of “Life Upon the Wicked Stage,” the unforgettable score by composer Jerome Kern and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II has legs longer than the bevy of Ziegfeld showgirls.

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Julie (Sarah Hanlon) center and Ensemble perform “Can’t Help Lovin’ that Man of Mine.”

Showboat enjoys a unique place in musical theater history. It is the first musical of note — produced by no less a legend than Florenz Ziegfeld himself — to depart from the lighter-than-air plots that defined musicals of the day.

Until Showboat paddled into town — to widespread acclaim from critics and theater-goers alike — the books (stories) written for musicals were as mind-numbing as “boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl.” (Think 42nd Street or Anything Goes.)

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Sarah Hanlon (as Julie Laverne) and Eric Briarley (as Steven Baker).

Showboat changed all that. Based on a novel by celebrated writer Edna Ferber (who also wrote “Giant” — movie starring James Dean — and “So Big”), it spans five decades and three generations of family, from the late 19th Century to the 1920s. Under the firm hand of director Richard Stafford, the staging is smart and dramatic at every turn, with the passage of years smoothly and clearly conveyed to the audience.

Subject matter previously considered out of bounds for a musical comedy– namely racial intolerance — is what anchors Showboat. We learn of mixed-race marriage, broken dreams, and abandonment, all handled tastefully, and with just enough gravitas to make a point and move swiftly ahead.

From the shores of the MIssissippi River to Chicago to Broadway, we see show folk, dock workers and others struggling, falling in and out of love, and staying one step ahead of the law.

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Amanda Pulcini (as Ellie May Chipley) and Daniel Scott Walton (as Frank Schultz) perform “Goodbye My Lady Love.”

There’s no heavy-handed preaching or self-righteous moralizing here. There’s also never a dull moment. Ultimate credit for striking a perfect balance of story, song and acting goes to Mr. Stafford, whose mounting of this classic is as accomplished as anything we’ve seen at this venue.

As rakish Gaylord Ravenal, a riverboat gambler who weds the daughter of the showboat’s Captain Andy, John Preator brings strong acting and a rapturous tenor.

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John Preator (as Gaylord Ravenal) and Bonnie Fraser (as Magnolia Hawks) Perform “Only Make Believe.”

The goosebumps come out when bass baritone Michael James Leslie (as dock worker Joe) stands center stage to sing “Ol’ Man River,” and bring down the house. It is a bravura performance that rings in your head long after the show ends.

Also deserving special mention is Jamie Ross as Cap’n Andy Hawks and Karen Murphy as his wife Parthy; Bonnie Fraser as their songstress daughter Magnolia; Amanda Pulcini and  Daniel Scott Walton as vaudevillian duo Ellie May and Frank Schultz; Inga Ballard as Joe’s wife Queenie; and Sarah Hanlon and Eric Briarley as showboat headliners Julie LaVerne and Steven Baker.

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The ensemble performs the Charleston


Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar, also known as Bruce The Blog, is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner agency.  He also owns APAR All-Media, a Hudson Valley marketing agency that works with The Winery at St. George, Yorktown Feast of San Gennaro, Jefferson Valley Mall, Yorktown Stage, Axial Theatre, Armonk Players and others. Follow him on Hudson Valley WXYZ on Facebook, Twitter & YouTube. Reach him at bapar@pinpointmarketingdesign.com or (914) 275-6887.


Facts & Figures from Westchester Broadway Theatre

Reservations Call (914)-592-2222 Also at  www.BroadwayTheatre.com   

Group Reservations Discounts for Groups of 20 or More: Call 592-2225.

Luxury Boxes Call 592-8730, for private parties of 6 to 22. Enjoy dining and theatre in an elegant private box. Additional features include an expanded dinner menu, hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, private powder room, and Luxury Box reserved parking. Additional cost, call for details.    

Ticket Prices Dinner & Show range between $56 and $84 PLUS TAX depending on the performances chosen. Beverage Service & Gratuities are not included in the ticket price. Discounts are available for children, students, and senior citizens at selected performances. Also check the website for on-going Special Offers! More news at: www.BroadwayTheatre.com

WBT Mainstage Schedule

Showboat – Sept 24 to Nov 29 2015 and returns Dec 30 to Jan 31, 2016

Tim and Scrooge– Dec 3 to Dec 27

Always Patsy Cline – Feb 4 to Feb 28

Man Of La Mancha– Mar 3 to May 1

Happy Days – May 5 to July 17

The Million Dollar Quartet –July 21 to Sept 11

Saturday Night Fever – Sept 15 to Nov 2