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Home / Articles / Arts & Entertainment / Theater /  A New Brain, Eleemosynary & Roundup
Theater

A New Brain, Eleemosynary & Roundup

Small Stages: Three community theater companies bring new productions.

By City Weekly Staff
Posted // November 11,2009 -

A New Brain
If a musical is going to go the “throughsung” route, it’s usually because something about the subject matter feels particularly operatic. William Finn’s musical aims for that level of emotional grandeur, and instead it swings between pleasantly quirky and merely overwrought.

There’s a certain appropriateness to telling the story of Gordon Schwinn (Jon McBride) in this fashion: He’s a composer who dreams of producing great work.

Unfortunately, his current job finds him penning silly ditties for a children’s television program—and his chance for ever creating something more profound is in doubt when he’s diagnosed with a rare brain disease.

Not surprisingly, the diagnosis puts Gordon in a contemplative frame of mind— and from there, Finn’s score spins in multiple directions. We get a glimpse of his childhood with a horse-betting father; a male nurse gets a solo describing himself as “Poor, Unsuccessful and Fat”; a wandering homeless woman (Julie Carrillo) offers odd insights. And it’s hard to get a handle on what a lot of this has to do with a man facing his mortality and turning it into a dark fantasia.

Dark Horse Company Theatre does put together a solid cast of performers to provide an evening’s entertainment. Carrillo is a vocal standout, as is Rhett Richins as Gordon’s lover Roger, who gets a gorgeous solo moment with “Sailing.” And there’s an effectively emotional scene of Gordon’s mother (Karin Gittins) letting loose her parental anguish in “The Music Still Plays On.” You’ll just need to make it through the parts of the story that didn’t quite require a whole song and dance.

—Scott Renshaw

Dark Horse Company Theatre
University of Utah Post Theatre
245 S. Fort Douglas Blvd.
801-581-7100
Through Nov. 15
DarkHorseCompanyTheatre.com

Eleemosynary
The 1980s were a good decade for thinky, conceptual plays that don’t really go anywhere but instead analyze things like “the relationships among three generations of women.” Lee Blessing’s Eleemosynary is one of those. As such, it’s a humdinger; it’s the kind of script that people describe as “delicate.” This is because it’s all about those relationships, which are tricky.

A_E_1_091112_b.jpgThese plays are really psychological whodunits: After the characters are introduced in all their inscrutable quirkiness, the main point is to drill down through layers of their past traumas until a common root to all their conflicting neuroses and motivations is miraculously revealed. In this case, the three generations of women are represented by metaphysical adventurer Dorothea (Jan Frederickson), her daughter Artemis who had eidetic memory of past events (Holly Fowers), and monomaniacal granddaughter Echo (Aly Dowe).

This particular psychological drill-down centers around the issue of intellectual development: Dorothea’s desire for an education was thwarted during an era when women were discouraged from such pursuits, so she made damned sure Artemis went to college; later, their mother/daughter conflict was played out in Echo, making her a shockingly fierce spelling-bee champion. The sins of the mothers are visited upon the daughter.

As Echo, Dowe is the standout in this production with her budding emotional range. Fowers’ Artemis remains stiff and reticent, and I was wishing for a broader performance from Frederickson as the wacky, free-spirited Dorothea.

Still, despite a few technical glitches, the show’s pacing is remarkably snappy. It’s a modest production, and an ambitious one. And, if Blessing’s play was an odd choice for Pinnacle, the challenge was well met. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

—Brandon Burt

Pinnacle Acting Company
Midvale Performing Arts Center
695 W. Center Street
Through Nov. 14
PinnacleActingCompany.org

Roundup
In Kurt Proctor’s world-premiere play Roundup, the romanticizing of the Old West is explored through family stories and a pile of old cowboy poems. We’re left wondering if that West ever really existed—or if that’s even a question worth asking.

A_E_1_091112_c.jpgCarl (Joe Welsch) feels he’s missed out on something. His dad was a real cowboy, keeping herds on the land before freerange was a catch phrase. His brother, Randy (Greg Peters), followed in those near-mythical bootprints but doesn’t see what all the fuss is about.

It’s a promising premise, and Peters in particular offers a strong performance. However, the show doesn’t quite hold together. Rather than build and develop its themes and characters, Roundup pummels the audience with history, relationships and prejudices in the opening scene.

Characters talk over each other in a manner that is supposed to come off as naturalistic, but instead feels like an improvised rehearsal exercise.

Similarly jumbled is the depiction of the drinking problem of one of the characters. His alcoholism, its causes and the related concern of his family are unevenly portrayed, giving the development a disingenuous air.

However, the play does give insight to the core question of what it means to live in the West in the shadow of rugged individuals, be they real, imagined or somewhere in-between. The show is at its best when this territory is covered by two characters onstage, talking around a fire, under the stars—like we do in these parts.

— Rob Tennant

Utah Contemporary Theatre
Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center
138 W. 300 South
801-355-ARTS
Through Nov. 21
UtahContemporaryTheatre.org

 
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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // November 20,2009 at 07:33

I agree with you, Sonny. Here's a weekly paper that does its best with a handful of talented staffers to put out reviews and commentary alongside harder news.

Out of three very brief reviews, "new2saltlake" didn't really care for any of them. With an average score of zero, why do you read the paper, new2saltlake? Buy a subscription to Variety or some other industry publication that dismantles a production into its constituent atoms looking desperately for something worthy of column inches and ink. How many different ways can you sing about "corn as high as an elephant's eye?" Good God, y'all.

For me, the problem with many critiques and reviews of musical theater is that they get too deeply detailed in the nuance, the old roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd, the unseen spirit of the theater that permeates the environment and makes you forget the fat lady can't really sing and the whole thing can be silly beyond boredom. And the whole production, no matter how pathetically staged or acted or directed, is supposed to be magic somehow and forgiven for its shortcomings because it's just so...so...so...adult pretend and self-important.

Face it. Musical theater is like starting an insurance agency: If it weren't for family and friends, the audience would consist of a van-load of elderly citizens from the retirement home and a musical theater class from a local high school. Oh, yeah, and lots of gay people, for some reason. Haven't figured out the attraction there quite yet. Disconnected fantasy world, perhaps? Happy endings most of the time? Can't be the costumes and make-up, could it?

The line about having to make it through parts of the story that didn't require a whole song and dance is vintage Renshaw and I knew instantly what he meant because musical theater, as a form of entertainment, can be summed up with that line.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // November 20,2009 at 07:31

I agree with you, Sonny. Here's a weekly paper that does its best with a handful of talented staffers to put out reviews and commentary alongside harder news.

Out of three very brief reviews, "new2saltlake" didn't really care for any of them. With an average score of zero, why do you read the paper, new2saltlake? Buy a subscription to Variety or some other industry publication that dismantles a production into its constituent atoms looking desperately for something worthy of column inches and ink. How many different ways can you sing about "corn as high as an elephant's eye?" Good God, y'all.

For me, the problem with many critiques and reviews of musical theater is that they get too deeply detailed in the nuance, the old roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd, the unseen spirit of the theater that permeates the environment and makes you forget the fat lady can't really sing and the whole thing can be silly beyond boredom. And the whole production, no matter how pathetically staged or acted or directed, is supposed to be magic somehow and forgiven for its shortcomings because it's just so...so...so...adult pretend and self-important.

Face it. Musical theater is like starting an insurance agency: If it weren't for family and friends, the audience would consist of a van-load of elderly citizens from the retirement home and a musical theater class from a local high school. Oh, yeah, and lots of gay people, for some reason. Haven't figured out the attraction there quite yet. Disconnected fantasy world, perhaps? Happy endings most of the time? Can't be the costumes and make-up, could it?

The line about having to make it through parts of the story that didn't require a whole song and dance is vintage Renshaw and I knew instantly what he meant because musical theater, as a form of entertainment, can be summed up with that line.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // November 18,2009 at 13:43

I've always enjoyed the reviews in the City Weekly and have always felt they were fair and honest. There's a lot happening in theatre in Salt Lake sometimes and I appreciate City Weekly squeezing them all in, especially before they have to close (some of these plays have terrifically short runs).

Speaking of honest, I've also always found City Weekly's reviews to address the core of the plays reviewed. They are reviews, after all, not critiques although the City Weekly reviewers are pretty good at critiquing as well. And they are always much better than the drivel standing in for reviews in both the Trib and the Deseret News.

I go here first to find out about theatre in Salt Lake. For me, keep up the good work.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // November 16,2009 at 12:57

Thank you for your feedback. We can take it as well as we can dish it out.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // November 12,2009 at 10:03

It's a sad day when a newspaper review reveals more about the writer’s lack of research, experience, and/or writing abilities than about the work they he or she is reviewing. Obviously the above reviewers had only a few short paragraphs' space to describe and critique three entire shows. But that's no excuse for writing an incoherent, rambling synopsis then tacking on a couple critical sentences to pass off a half-assed assessment as a "review."

This does NOTHING for the theatre-going public, the performers, or the producing organization. A review should adequately discuss a production, and give the reader an idea of why your assessment is valid...or at least why you think your assessment is valid. Regardless of whether the reviewer is dissecting a professional production or a “community” theatre piece, a valid, well-written, critical assessment is essential to the vitality of the theatre community…both the artists and the theatre-goers. If your newspaper can’t spare the resources to write an intelligent review, simply publish the company’s press release and leave it at that.

With a statement like "If a musical is going to go the “throughsung” (sic) route, it’s usually because something about the subject matter feels particularly operatic," Mr. Renshaw simply reveals either his lack of knowledge about the musical theatre genre or his laziness in formulating an opening argument. His entire review, but especially the opening paragraph, is a waste of the reader’s time and the newspaper’s space.

Mr. Tennant’s sweeping generalizations about UCT’s Roundup make the core of his review muddled and unreadable. In his middle paragraphs he has written nothing specific enough to be useful to either the artists or the public. The entire review feels like a first draft, hastily cobbled together from notes he made during the performance--all the while wishing he was working on one of his other "more important" deadlines.

Mr. Burt’s review of Eleemosynary is at least well written, but falls woefully short when, after three long paragraphs about the material, he takes two tiny paragraphs to actually discuss the production. Once again, the reviewer gives the reader very little information about the quality of the performances, direction, and overall production.

Finally, Mr. Renshaw, what the hell is “You’ll just need to make it through the parts of the story that didn’t quite require a whole song and dance.” supposed to mean? Your excruciating review of A New Brain is an embarrassment, plain and simple. If you find the material “swing[ing] between pleasantly quirky and merely overwrought” could you please take a moment to explain why? It sounds to me like you coined (or stole) an intelligent-sounding phrase with big five-dollar words but then not only failed provide context, you failed to check the dictionary to see what the words actually mean.

Rarely does a local reviewer actually write something useful anymore. Perhaps it’s because the newspaper industry is dying and reviewers are most often staff writers whose primary job is something more glamorous. But that’s no excuse for shoddy work. City Weekly readers expect and deserve better.

 

 
 
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