(text reprinted from original review)
Directed and Designed by Joel Froomkin
Different Stages Theater – Huntington, Indiana
WHATZUP Magazine, December 11, 2014
'"Powerful Performances in Les Mis"
by Jennifer Poiry-Prough
Huntington’s Different Stages Theater ends its freshman season with the beloved musical Les Misérables. The musical is based on the Victor Hugo novel about an excon who gains redemption after breaking parole, stealing silver from a bishop and being entrusted by the bishop to use the silver to turn his life around. He changes his identity, adopts an orphan girl and is constantly pursued by a law officer hell-bent on justice, no matter how morally unjust it might be. The story has been compared to Charles Dickens’ holiday classic, A Christmas Carol. In both, the protagonist has lost faith in humanity, but a small, underprivileged child helps them recover their belief in goodness and love.
This production promised an intimate setting with strong, professional voices and acting, and youthful passion for the show. It does not disappoint.
The performers faced a number of obstacles on opening night. In addition to being a technically challenging production with nonstop singing, constant movement, stage combat and lots and lots of wigs, there were sound balance issues and a small, quiet (albeit appreciative) audience. The audience was hesitant to applaud, even after numbers that were designed to allow them to, but this did not seem to dampen the cast’s enthusiasm or energy.
Landon Sholar is a perfect Jean Valjean. Last summer, according to his program bio, he became the youngest actor to play the role as a professional. This is his third time in the role, and he completely embodies the aging, beleaguered ex-con who turns away from God and back again. More than any other actor in the show, Sholar seems to connect directly with the audience.
Robert Teasdale is likewise perfect as his foil, Inspector Javert. Tall and imposing, Teasdale brings a touching vulnerability to Javert, who suffers from a tragic sense of justice. He speak-sings the beginning of his song “Stars,” but as the number progresses, the lines become longer and more powerful as Javert becomes more resolute in his conviction that he is who he is. No matter the cost, he must punish Valjean for his crimes.
Particularly passionate in his role is Charlie Tingen as the student revolutionary Enjolras. He is operatic and almost too intense for such a small stage, but as a leader who convinces a bunch of privileged “schoolboys” to give their lives for the rights of the oppressed poor, the elevated performance is appropriate.
Melissa Weyn and Brooke Anne Quintana as Fantine and Eponine respectively, have beautiful, rich voices. Raynah Tyler plays Young Cosette. She is tiny and adorable but sings her solo “Castle on a Cloud” with poise and professionalism, especially for someone so young
Raynah Tyler played Young Cosette on opening night (she alternates with another young actress, Naomi Vincenti). Amelia Story plays the little boy Gavroche with spunk and perfect comedic timing. She got one of the show’s biggest laughs on opening night during a confrontation with Javert. But the biggest laughs rightly go to the story’s comedic villains, the Thernardiers. Played by Matt Hill and the show’s choreographer Erin Baltsar, the duo are gleefully and deliciously evil.
The entire ensemble is strong, with everyone having their moments to shine. British accents were used well by the cast with varying dialects by the different classes. The men’s chorus were difficult to understand during the prologue, partly due to overly loud orchestration, but the women’s diction was, collectively, impeccable. The student revolutionaries have a believable camaraderie and you truly feel their heartbreak as members of their band begin to fall.
The costumes were constructed by Cat Lovejoy and are quite beautiful. The set, designed by artistic director Joel Froomkin, and the lighting, designed by Jacob Ziegler, allow the stage to transform into many different settings. Walls open and close, the barricade comes together like a 3D puzzle, and Javert’s fate is portrayed cleverly.
Many of the cast members have appeared in other productions of Les Misérables, and their youthful passion shines through. Once the kinks are worked out of the sound system, I have no doubt this production will be one that northeast Indiana theater audiences talk about for years to come.
Moonlight and Magnolias
Directed and Designed by Joel Froomkin
Different Stages Theater – Huntington, Indiana
WHATZUP Magazine, August 21, 2014
'"New Huntington Stage Shines Again"
by Jennifer Poiry-Prough
Moonlight and Magnolias, a sort of “historic farce” by Ron Hutchison, is the sophomore offering by Different Stages Theater in Huntington. The four person comedy features actors from the company’s inaugural production, The Sound of Music, and the production is just as polished and entertaining as last month’s musical was.
Like The Sound of Music, the play is set in 1938 when the air crackled with pre-war tensions. But Moonlight and Magnolias is set in Hollywood and is based on the ridiculous, but true story of how the screenplay to Gone with the Wind was written.
As the audience enters the auditorium prior to the show, video clips of Gone with the Wind screen tests are projected onto the set. Although not addressed in the play itself, this extravagant screen testing process of over 30 of Hollywood’s top actresses was largely a publicity stunt by producer David O. Selznick to fuel public interest in a film that had been stalled due to a lack of script and a lack of funding.
The play opens three weeks into production, and Selznick is under a lot of pressure. He has no usable script, he’s just fired his director, and the studio owner (who is also his father-in-law) keeps hounding him for a progress report. He brings in prolific screenwriter Ben Hecht to churn out a script. Selznick has removed director Victor Fleming from the set of The Wizard of Oz and brings him on board to help complete the script and direct the picture. Selznick locks them in his office for five days with nothing to eat but bananas and peanuts, while Fleming and Selznick act out the entire 60-chapter story for Hecht who has never even read the book.
As the days go by, and wads of paper (and banana peels and peanut shells) pile up on the stage, the men grow more and more exhausted, malnourished and punchy. Fleming forages like an animal through the office for food. Hecht’s fingers lock up. Selznick goes catatonic. Even Selznick’s unflappable secretary, Miss Poppenghul, becomes flapped.
Hecht is the moral compass of the show. A former Chicago reporter who happens to be Jewish, he speaks out against the treatment of slaves in the story and advocates making Scarlett more sympathetic, particularly when she slaps the 10-year-old slave Prissy while Melanie is in childbirth.
Hecht also provides the play’s audience with an unexpected history lesson on American Jewish oppression in the 1930s. The second act of the script turns slightly didactic, but it does offer an interesting perspective on the era and the struggles encountered by many of Hollywood’s elite, including Selznick and himself.
But the play is at its most fun when it satirizes the film. The macho Fleming acts out Melanie’s childbirth and Prissy’s “dawdling.” Hecht derisively mocks such trite dialogue as “tomorrow is another day” and refers to Scarlett as an “adulterous, two-timing, slave-driving heroine.” The play also peppers in tidbits of trivia without seeming too “pop-up video.” Fleming describes the Munchkins’ antics on the Oz set, Fleming’s slapping of Judy Garland is referenced, and he dismisses rumors of a men’s room dalliance between Clark Gable and George Cukor.
The Different Stages actors have an easy chemistry, excellent comedic timing and mastery over the script’s fast-paced, rapid-fire dialogue that echoes that of films of the era.
David Wiens as Selznick does a fantastic job with his long, heartfelt and sometimes frenetic monologues, and he bears a striking resemblance to Selznick himself.
Robert Teasdale is a brash and manly Victor Fleming, barking out his lines with confidence and panache. He also has the funniest lines, and he delivers them brilliantly.
IPFW graduate Nick Tash, as Ben Hecht, walks the fine line of moral righteousness and ambition. He plays the comedic with the serious moments equally well.
Christy Richardson’s Miss Poppenghul is the classic ultra-competent secretary straight out of a screwball comedy (“Yes-Mr.-Selznick-no-Mr.- Selznick”) and is hilarious as she slowly unravels throughout the course of the play. It’s a small role, but Richardson handles it perfectly and memorably.
Director Joel Froomkin understands the language and the sound of the 1930s and keeps the pace of the show flowing. His clever set design makes perfect use of the intimate stage space.
Moonlight and Magnolias proves that the success of their first production was not a fluke. With this mix of talent and heart, and with the support of audiences who appreciate excellent, entertaining and thought provoking theater, Different Stages will be around for a long, long time.
The Sound of Music
Directed and Designed by Joel Froomkin
Different Stages Theater – Huntington, Indiana
WHATZUP Magazine, July 17, 2014
'"A Gift to Northeast Indiana Theatergoers"
by Jennifer Poiry-Prough
One of the great differences between theater goers and the general populace is their ability to differentiate between the movie version of a beloved classic musical and the original stage production. When NBC aired The Sound of Music: Live in December 2013, it was hardcore theater fans who calmly explained to the rest of the internet that Carrie Underwood is not, in fact, Julie Andrews, and the songs were actually in the “right order.”
Granted, live theatre translates awkwardly to the small screen, and the NBC production was, at times, difficult to watch.
The same cannot be said for Different Stages’ gloriously fresh production of The Sound of Music, running through July 27, at the New Huntington Theatre in downtown Huntington.
Does the plot really need to be summarized? Maria, a young, orphaned postulant is sent by her Mother Abbess to serve as governess to the seven unruly children of the wealthy Georg Von Trapp, retired naval captain. Following the death of his wife, Capt. Von Trapp has banished music (and love) from his home. He falls in love with the governess, despite being almost engaged to fellow millionaire Baroness Elsa Schraeder. When he is called back into service under the Nazi regime he despises, he flees with his family over the mountains into Switzerland with the help of his friend Max Detweiler, First Secretary of the Ministry of Education and Culture. You might have seen the movie?
As Maria, Lauren Lukacek is spirited and tomboyish. Her voice is beautiful, and she sneaks in a few understated nods to Julie Andrews’ film performance (holding her hand to her head as she hits the high note in “Do Re Mi,” to name one).
Robert Teasdale’s Capt. Von Trapp is every bit as dashing and debonair as he should be, but when he finally accepts music – and his children’s love – he is heartbreaking.
David Wiens and Stephanie Cowan as Max and Elsa are the perfect balance of smarmy charm (Max) and frosty elegance (Elsa). On a scale from Mildly Sympathetic to Despicable Shrew, Cowan’s baroness falls a little to the right. But unlike her film counterpart, Elsa breaks her engagement to Von Trapp not because of his love for Maria, but because of their differences in political views (he is anti-Nazi, and she is pro-Elsa). Max proves himself not entirely self-serving by helping the Von Trapps escape the Nazis. The look Wiens exchanges with Lukacek and Teasdale as they silently thank him brought me to tears.
Justin Schuman (Rolf) and Rachel Osting (Liesl) are true triple threats in every sense of the word. Their “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” dance, choreographed by [Schuman] and Erin Baltsar, who also plays Sr. Sophia, is a beautiful highlight of the production. Osting also has a droll delivery that is unexpectedly hilarious.
The younger Von Trapp children were cast locally, and it is astonishing that so much talent exists in such small form. Rebecca Short (the sassy Brigitta, who always tells it like it is) and Gabriella Betterly (the adorable, bespectacled Gretl) are standouts, but all the kids (Sam Smiley, Arianna Betterly, Nick Scheiber, and Amelia Story) have their moments to shine.
Becky Rosky plays the Mother Abbess with a gravitas tempered with maternal love. Her concern for the state of the world is written all over her face from the moment she steps on the stage, but she manages to counsel her young postulant and to speak with her on her own level through an old folk song. Her voice is staggeringly beautiful on “Climb Every Mountain,” and her voice blends perfectly with the other nuns’ during “Maria” and the Latin vespers.
Christy Richardson does double duty as Sr. Berthe and the captain’s stoic housekeeper, Frau Schmidt. Fort Wayne actor Jeff Moore plays Franz, the equally stoic butler. Both actors bring out the humor of their roles, and Moore subtly conveys Franz’s gradual acceptance of the Nazi party, despite his obvious affection for the Von Trapps.
It’s easy for today’s audiences to forget the horrors these characters were actually facing. However, Artistic Director Joel Froomkin sets the tone from the moment the lights come up with projected images and sounds from newsreels of 1938. In the second act, following the wedding of Georg and Maria, the set is bathed in a huge red, white and black swastika. The image is unsettling but extremely important for the emotional undertone of the end of the story.
Little reminders of the movie are sprinkled carefully and lovingly throughout the production. A particularly clever staging of the song “I Have Confidence” (which was written for the movie, but is often added to current stage productions) includes a brief (but hilarious) bus ride.
The set, designed by Froomkin, manages to evoke images of both the mountains of Austria and the damaged buildings of war-torn Europe. The stage is small, but set pieces rolled in and out of the back of the set, coupled with projections, create a variety of different locations and moods.
Executive Director Richard Najuch and Artistic Director Joel Froomkin have worked seven years to create Different Stages. Their work is a gift to Huntington and the northeast Indiana region and deserves to be seen by anyone with an appreciation for great storytelling and world-class talent.
The Infliction of Cruelty
(Winner, Best Direction, NY Fringe Festival ’06)
Directed by Joel Froomkin
The New York Times
“In New York, Shows Can Be Slow or Fast in the Making”
By JASON ZINOMAN
Published: August 26, 2006
Andrew Unterberg and Sean McManus’s “Infliction of Cruelty” takes its name from a quotation from Bertrand Russell, and concludes abruptly with a reference to Balzac. In between are enough borrowed words to make John Bartlett proud. The problem with incessant quoting is not that people don’t talk like that, it’s that it gives the impression that the playwrights aren’t confident about their own voices — or at least not sure enough to make a point without the endorsement of Charles Dickens.
It’s too bad, because this play about a dysfunctional family is the kind of clever, literate and occasionally incisive drama that fans of Richard Greenberg would appreciate. Taking place in a side room of the well-appointed house of a composer on the night of a party in his honor, the play concerns his three boozy, hyperarticulate offspring, who have become purposefully disengaged from the family ever since they discovered a secret 15 years before. Credit the director, Joel Froomkin, with staging a slickly handsome production. From the elegant costumes (Alana Israelson) to the actors’ sculpted hair, the show gleams with a careful polish.
It's easy to detect the influences of everyone from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Eugene O'Neill, and Evelyn Waugh to Whit Stillman and Jon Robin Baitz on The Infliction of Cruelty. Moreover, playwrights Andrew Unterberg and Sean McManus are obviously well-versed and very likely acquainted with and have respect for the Old and New Testaments -- even if they view them as man-made and not divine dictation.
The pair has digested a lot of material about the rich, bright, and precocious -- and crafted a genuine tragedy about the manner in which privilege and precocity can go destructively awry. Brilliant but troubled siblings Thomas, Jonathan, Prussia, and Benjamin -- joined by Benjamin's fiancée, Zoe -- are home for a dinner honoring their (unseen) composer father, but they're unable to remain with the revelers led by their (unseen) psychotherapist mother. They repeatedly seek refuge in their father's study, where the older three are planning imminent action to right a secret they've been harboring for 15 years. It's something about which Benjamin doesn't know and which he awkwardly learns. The result of the premature revelation leads to disclosure of a worse secret that forever threatens the family's future serenity.
Because the plot's influences are so conspicuous, it's tempting for an audience member to try to guess the finale to which events are pointing. But the playwrights turn out to be consummate foolers. They're helped to their doleful denouement by a handsome, polished cast -- Justin Barrett, Aimee DeShayes, Holter Graham, Pawel Szajda, and Elizabeth Van Meter -- and Joel Froomkin's insightful direction. – D.F.
If you are lucky enough to see The Infliction of Cruelty, clearly the most impressive new work I've seen at this year's FringeNYC, you might be reminded of Broadway's recent Festen, highly anticipated but a disappointment to many. In contrast, The Infliction of Cruelty, a masterfully constructed debut script by the duo of Andrew Unterberg and Sean McManus, sparkles and crackles in its magnificently agile dialogue crammed with mind-tingling literary allusions that range from Thoreau to Bertrand Russell to Biblical mythology. Like Festen, this impressive work centers on the young and privileged adult children of an immensely successful father, who apparently has a remarkable Achilles heel that transforms family relationships. In this case, the father and mother both are famous, yet neither is seen. He is a famous opera composer, while she is a noted psychiatrist. Their four children, Thomas, Jonathan, Benjamin, and the amazingly-named daughter, Prussia, all are gifted, intellectual, attractive, and extraordinarily articulate. They gather in a study (they refer to it as a sanctuary) of the large family house while a celebration honoring their father proceeds downstairs. The cast of five (including the girlfriend of the youngest son) are uniformly strong under Joel Froomkin's masterful direction. Secrets and indiscretions are at the core of this story, and while some of the plotting may defy plausibility, the engaging theatrical results are a fabulous payoff in this crisp, efficient, and stylish contemporary drama. This deeply thoughtful and theatrical play is in good company with the best work of T.S. Eliot, Edward Albee, and Tom Stoppard. At Players Theatre. 1 hour, 50 minutes. [Bradley]
“FRINGE 2006 (Encore): The Infliction of Cruelty”
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
Friday, September 08, 2006
Pinter meets Cruel Intentions. In a good way. The kind of way that makes you really like a bunch of people, and then really hate them. And then fall in love with them all over again. Remember when shows were about characters? See The Infliction of Cruelty.
The Infliction of Cruelty is a smart play about secrets, big secrets. It's a glossy, sleek affair for the first act, filled with the kind of quote-lobbing games you'd expect of Tom Stoppard. In the more mature and plot-driven second act, the characters finish the games and unleash the drama. Too elegant for the harsh honesty of Neil Labute, the play could be Pinter's take on Cruel Intentions. The erudite yet emotional writing (Andrew Unterberg and Sean McManus), the natural direction (Joel Froomkin), and the outstanding ensemble: what more does it take to get off-Broadway?
The only barrier The Infliction of Cruelty faces is that it's the quintessential highbrow play. The father's a famous composer, the mother's a famous psychiatrist, the children are extremely intelligent, handsome, and witty (and, of course, far too smart for their own good). They sit down and quote both Emily and Charles with ease, they go into the merits of free-associative therapy, and they might as well be George and Martha's children for our purposes. The deep secret that's reunited this "Pascal triangle" of siblings is that after fifteen years, they're finally ready to stop punishing their father for having an affair with his sister-in-law. Well, almost. The eldest (and brooding-est), Thomas, is having second thoughts, much to the chagrin of the well-rounded, charming Jonathan, and their sister, Prussia. As for Benjamin, the youngest: he doesn't know yet -- but his girlfriend Zoe just overheard the truth, so he's bound to find out about the infidelity and the horribly subtle punishment by Act II.
There's a lot of character development and exposition, but it's so damn clever that it just rolls into the silver-tongued pacing. And yes, while everybody's smart, they're not smug: Holter Graham, for instance, is one of the most likeable and natural actors I've seen. The whole cast's chemistry is superb: it's as easy to believe their familiarity as it is to enjoy it. Normally, I'd make a bad pun here that worked the title into my tag-line, but the play is verbal enough without me adding any wordplay. Go see The Infliction of Cruelty. It's a great play.
THE SIEGEL COLUMN in TALKIN’ BROADWAY
By Barbara and Scott Siegel
Crisp and smart, The Infliction of Cruelty is one of the few Fringe plays we saw this year that really felt like a professionally produced show. The script runs a little heavy with its characters spouting quotations, showing off both their own (and the authors') erudition, but that's a minor quibble. The plot has one too many "oops, I overheard your big secret at the open door" scenes, which is a more substantial quibble, but the polish of the piece and its genuinely original revenge premise far outweighs this problem, as well.
Not only did we like the play and Joel Froomkin’s direction, we were very impressed with a couple of the actors. Justin Barrett as the oldest brother (and the leader) of this clan of intellectually gifted siblings gives a stunningly dark and brooding performance. The power he exudes pulls your attention to him throughout the play. Unexpectedly impressive is Aimee DeShayes in the role of the youngest sibling's girlfriend. We say unexpected because she makes something of what should be the play's least expressive role. Nice when that happens. And it's even nicer to find so many of these nuggets of talent throughout The Fringe.
“The Infliction of Cruelty”
By Victor Gluck
August 24, 2006
The older children of the famous composer Franklin Pascal know a terrible secret about their father that they stumbled on as teenagers. Nicknaming themselves the "Pascal Triangle," they have made a pact to cut their father out of their lives. After 15 years of this arrangement, they have returned home on the occasion of their father being honored with a major award. Their plan is to end the estrangement tonight. However, things do not go smoothly. First of all, younger brother Benjamin arrives home with his college girlfriend, too interested in family history. And Aunt Lillian has flown in unexpectedly from Sydney, Australia.
This is the intriguing premise of Andrew Unterberg and Sean McManus' sophisticated and slick new thriller, The Infliction of Cruelty, stylishly directed by Joel Froomkin and elegantly designed by Alana Israelson (costumes) and Jerome Martin (set). Unfortunately, there is a glaring hole in the middle.
How is it that no one in 15 years has asked why these children of a celebrity have cut him out of their lives? Didn't their psychiatrist mother notice something was wrong? And even if the family traveled in rarefied circles, do intellectual celebrities talk almost entirely by spouting famous quotations?
Froomkin has directed at a fever pitch, and the actors throw themselves into their roles with total commitment. Justin Barrett as Thomas, the realtor; Holter Graham as Jonathan, the magazine publisher; and Elizabeth Van Meter as Prussia, the sculptor, conduct themselves as if they were in a wittier play by Philip Barry or S.N. Behrman (though Van Meter is a bit more affected than necessary). The younger characters, Pawel Szajda as the out-of-the-loop brother and Aimée DeShayes as his psychology-major girlfriend, add a bit of reality to the hothouse atmosphere.
News from AmericanTheater Web
“Style and Substance - The Infliction of Cruelty”
New York International Fringe Festival
Review by Laura Shea
Finally, a Fringe production with some style....
Four young-adult siblings have come home to honor their celebrated father, a noted composer. The two older brothers and their sister decide that tonight is the night, but to praise their father or to bury him has yet to be determined. No one plans to kill dear old dad, just to inflict a little more cruelty for a wrong that one sibling saw him commit long ago. In retribution, the three have kept their physical and emotional distance, attempting to protect their mother and younger brother. A plot twist lurks, and by the middle of Act II, it cannot be avoided.
The Infliction of Cruelty, by Andrew Unterberg and Sean McManus, has two distinct personalities: Act I and Act II. Act I is full of intellectual games and the apt quotation, as befits a cultured family: they do love their quotations. It’s good to know that the playwrights are so well read, but when the Huxley quotation follows hard upon the Dickens, and then we move to the Bible, there may be something to be said for the unexamined life. In Act II, the characters come up for air, and the human drama takes over. Both acts have their strengths, but like the siblings, their connection is tenuous.
The oldest brother Thomas (Justin Barrett) is angry at their unseen father for a reason that their psychiatrist mother, had she known of it, could have spent her career treating. A life dedicated to revenge takes its toll, and Thomas moves through life with a steely control, while his brother Jonathan (Holter Graham) is all complacency, the perfect follower. Their sister Prussia (Elizabeth Van Meter) travels the world on a sustaining stream of alcohol. Younger brother Benjamin (Pawel Szajda) has also come home; with him, his even younger girlfriend Zoe (Aimee DeShayes). Shades of meaning are revealed when Ms. DeShaye’s Zoe tells the superior siblings that she drives a DeLorean—and it’s a convincing lie. There are solid performances from the entire cast, with Ms. Van Meter a tad shrill as the madcap heiress in Act I.
Stylishly directed by Joel Froomkin, the production has a stylish design by Jerome Martin, right down to the divan, and the cast is stylishly dressed by Alana Israelson. The sound design credited to Mr. Froomkin includes an impressive selection of music and party noise that punctuates the action. The play, primarily the first act, is too clever by half, but even so, The Infliction of Cruelty is an upscale offering.
By Rupert Holmes
Directed by Joel Froomkin
Cape Playhouse, Dennis MA
CAPE COD CHRONICLE, July 11th, 2002
'"Thumb-thing' Wonderful At Cape Playhouse"
by Michael Lach
"Eat your heart out Regis, and watch out for your thumbs, as Kathie Lee Gifford seizes the stage in the latest Cape Playhouse comedy-thriller. Playwright Rupert Holmes has returned to the famous theatre and takes the audience on another wacky ride with his new murder mystery titled "Thumbs".
Set in an isolated cabin tucked away in the mountain woods of Vermont, the play centers on two female character trying to outwit, outplay, and outmaneuver each other around a murder scene spiraling out of control. Laughs and gasps abound as downright deceptive Diana Canova and the infamous Kathie Lee try to out dupe one another.
In the past, Holmes as won multiple Tony Awards for his plays, and "Thumbs" appears to be in step with his successful track record. Holmes and director [Joel Froomkin] combine their talents to bring the script to the stage and guide the professional acting process. This show is unique because its plot revolves around two leading women instead of the usually male dominated dramas onstage., in the movies or in television. The strong female characters played by Gifford and Canova really elevate this production. Each actress draws on her extensive experience to turn out a lively summer show.
Kathie Lee plays Marta Dunhill, a narcissistic, power-hungry TV talk show host who shows up at her ex-husbands mountain cabin retreat, much to his dismay. She and her downtrodden husband, Freddie Bradshaw, played by Brad Bellamy, duke it out with 'he said, she said" verbal sparring. Tension builds, but as is true throughout, we're not quite sure who will snap first or what will happen next.
As the play progresses the last two acts gain such momentum with comic twists and surprising hairpin turns that no one can possibly guess which femme fatale will emerge victorious. The fact that "Thumbs" takes you on a trip where anything is possible while everything goes wrong and right simultaneously (huh?) is this play's real strength. In other words, there's 'thumb-thing' very unpredictable about this show.
And then there's that thumb theme. The mysterious killer has a nasty habit of sawing off his victim's thumbs. At the outset you'll get wind of this wacko dubbed "Tom Thumb" by local police, from a radio news broadcast cleverly woven into the opening scene by sound designer Ben Young. You certainly won't be twiddling your thumbs during the rest of the action.
Hot of the trail of Tom Thumb is small-town Sheriff Jane Morton played by Diana Canova, and her seemingly dopey deputy Wilton played by Sean McCourt. Sheriff Morton's beat might be backwoods Vermont, but she's as cunning as a street-wise big-city cop. Hats off to Diana Canova for her stellar performance. She portrays a convincing, almost endearing character reminiscent of the leading police woman in the equally bizarre Hollywood flick "Fargo".
Sheriff Morton's slow, drawling manner is magnified 10 times over in Deputy Wilton's personality. The slack jawed, air-headed, goofy-looking sidekick may stare off into space more often than not, but even he may throw a few shockers your way. The same surprise factor applies to Marta Dunhill's studly tennis instructor Todd Monroe, played by Steve Wilson of 'Visiting Mr. Green" fame last season.
It's so hard to put your finger on what's around the cabin corner that "Thumbs" keeps you glued to your seat until the very end. So on the next warm thumber evening at the Cape Playhouse, check out this classic comedy-thriller, even if you have to thumb a ride".
CAPE COD TODAY
"Kathie Lee Struts Her Stuff,”
by Libby Hughes
Artistic Director Evans Hale always charms his opening night audience at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis. He manages to give tantalizing previews of coming attractions. And on occasion he introduces special guests in the audience. Opening night of "Thumbs" was no exception. He brought the esteemed playwright Rupert Holmes down the aisle for a round of applause. Next he turned the spotlight on Frank Gifford and his children. A flurry of excitement rippled across the audience as heads turned to catch a glimpse of the famous sportscaster and husband of this week's star, Kathie Lee Gifford.
Playwright Rupert Holmes is no stranger to the New York sage. His musical "The Mystery of Edwin Drood", pulled him down three Tony Awards. Holmes was born in Northwich, England, to a father who was a bandleader for the U.S. military. Before playwriting, young Holmes played the clarinet as well as bass in a rock band. He also was a successful composer. Barbra Streisand used some of his songs in "A Star Is Born". Now, his versatility even extends to a first attempt at a novel.
Like most mysteries, the plot is convoluted and fraught with hidden surprises. The marriage of a glamorous television diva has gone sour. The two parties have been divorced for a year, but reunite at their ski cabin in the mountains of Vermont. Still smarting from marital wounds, they rehash their years together. In the intervening year, Marta Dunhill has snared her tennis instructor into a love duet. When her ex-husband, Freddie Bradshaw, announces his intention to write a "tell-all" book about his ex-wife, his minute son this earth are numbered. Some serial killings in the small ski village are the perfect setting for the twist of "Thumbs" to follow....
And what about Kathie Lee Gifford? How does she pan out as a living, breathing actress? Not bad. In fact, pretty good. You won't see the champagne fizz of cheerfulness that we usually associate with her from the "Regis and Kathie Lee" TV show. The bubbly bubbles of an animated Barbie are nowhere to be seen. Her hair color and hairdo are different. Even her voice is different. Occasionally, the laugh is recognizable. She begins in a low key and works up to a full characterization, extracting as much humor as she can from the thoroughly obnoxious femme fatale. Let's see her in something to stretch her talent eve more in future. Bouquets to KLG.
Diana Canova and Sean McCourt really picked up the pace of the show. Each builds a characterization that unravels in the third act. Canova is a connoisseur of comedy as the southern sheriff, stationed in Vermont. McCourt portrays Wilton Dekes, a Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle) type with a Maine accent. Plaudits for a slice of great slapstick acting, born out of disguise. Brad Bellamy was a sort of winsome alcoholic as the scorned ex-husband and Steve Wilson charmingly overplayed the handsome young tennis instructor.
The set by Dan Kuchar was absolutely stunning. The barren trees above the cabin and the stove fireplace made us feel the winter in Vermont as did the lighting design by Michael J. Patterson. Nan Youngs costumes for Kathie Lee were bright and svelte. Director Joel Froomkin puts excellent thumbprints on the show's creative direction around the soaring stone fireplace.
For a change of venue at the Cape Playhouse, "Thumbs" is easy entertainment. There are even quips directed at the O.J. Simpson trial. Even Dominique Donne would have a ball!"
CAPE COD TIMES
“Thumbs! deserves a big hand,'”
by Debbie Forman
Dennis, MA - Dare I say it? Thumbs up. That's the verdict.
Rupert Holmes new comedy-thriller, "Thumbs" at the Cape Playhouse is a clever bit of stagecraft with enough twists and turns and false leads to keep you dangling (Dare I say it?) by your thumbs.
Holmes, best known for his Tony-award-winning "Mystery of Edwin Drood", has a lot of fun sprinkling those 'thumbs' phrases throughout. The play is contrived and sometimes corny, but you know Holmes intends that. He's having a lot of fun amid the murder and mayhem he's cooked up in this once-quiet little town of Barnstock VT.
Needless to say, I can't say too much or I'd spoil the entertainment. And it's just that. Behind every murder there's a wink or two. it's not to be taken too seriously. Actually, not at all seriously.
Kathie Lee Gifford plays the tough-as-nails TV star Marta Dunhill, who visits her ex-husband, Freddie, in their Vermont retreat. Theirs was a marriage best ended, but they still have issues, and now Freddie plans to write a tell-all book that he hopes will ruin his ex-wife's career.
Gifford is smooth and sleek and full of sparks; she gives a polished performance as the nasty wife. Gifford also has wit and charm and an easy way with comedy.
Marta meets her match in Sheriff Jane Morton, who arrives on the scene in the second act to investigate a murder. Diana Canova is a delight as the aw-shucks, small-town sheriff, who's a lot smarter than you might think.
Reminiscent of Frances McDormand's police chief in "Fargo", Canova takes charge, swaggering through the cabin, pretending to be a bit of a bungler, yet meanwhile stringing the net that will catch the murderer.
Gifford and Canova ably play off one another as they tackle Holmes game of one-upmanship. Marta and Jane are smart and determined woman. No shrinking violets here.
Steve Wilson oozes the wily charm of the L.A. opportunist Todd Monroe. Marta's current boyfriend. Sean McCourt is very funny as the nerdy sheriff's assistant, Wilton Dekes, an apparently dim-witted local yokel, who works as an able distraction, muddying the waters and further complicating the plot.
As Freddie, Brad Bellamy aptly sets the mystery in motion, taking us off-guard from the very beginning. One clue: No one is to be trusted.
Dan Kuchar's nicely appointed set of a mountain cabin is an unlikely setting for a murder, but don't be fooled. You're in for a night of whodunits.
In charge of this Cape Playhouse production is [Joel Froomkin] who's sure sense of precision timing keeps the audience walking on a narrow tightrope between comedy and suspense.
Holmes and cast have a lot of fun keeping you guessing. From the very beginning you know it's a game they're playing, and Gifford and Canova play it to the very end, even with their bows and departing gestures."
By Susan Tammany
Directed by Joel Froomkin
Spotlight-On Festival, NYC
Review by Louis Lopardi, November 1st, 2002
Let my love be ever doomed
if guilty in its intent,
for loving you is a crime
of which I will never repent.
Sometime in the late seventeenth century, a Spanish Nun wrote these words in a convent south of Mexico City. She has been called "... a Poet Nun, a woman of genius, and a person of intellectual prowess whose ideas and accomplishments were ahead of her time." She was indeed a visionary and a mystic, albeit not the sort Mother Church was used to, and she in fact did come dangerously close to the inquisitor's wrath. Visionary and Mystical are also words that describe Susan Tammany's exquisitely wrought play about the Poet Nun Sor Juana Ines - a play with far more real depth than the Broadway Luther. This is a language play, of as poetic a nature as the subject. Of her forbidden books, Juana says "This is living water, and I'll drink it no matter what the cost."
In this version of her complex story, Sor Juana's problem is appropriately simplified to a triangle, or more precisely two overlapping triangles: A rabid priest is torn between his love of God and his repressed love for Juana, while the nun herself sees no conflict in loving the Countess Luisa as well as her God. In a carefully placed (and played) scene, the Countess presents a portrait of Juana (actually painted posthumously); it was symbolic of the care present throughout this magical production.
The Countess Maria Luisa was carefully crafted by the author. In a tiny moment which in a lesser play would have gone unnoticed, she tellingly refuses chocolate in favor of coffee, thus subtly reinforcing her hatred of things native. She was just as carefully played by Carmela Marner, always aware of her station even as she basked in the light of Juana's love or shuddered in the shadow of the hated Father Antonio. Michael DiGioia warmed to that role and made it his own, especially when his passions drove him to what seemed a hysterical physical blindness to mirror that of his own soul.
Both co-leads suffered in being rather too keyed-up right from the start. The Priest a little too transparent and not supporting his voice, the Countess a little too eager. A minor quibble, and probably due to the hectic nature of Festival producing; within a scene both reached perfection. As Juana Ines, Agnes Tsangaridou was perfection right from the start - striking the right combination of devout innocent and visionary with more passion than was healthy in such repressed times. A servant played by Nancy Wilcox, an eager Nun (Margaret Stockton) and a severe Nun (Betsy Johnson) balanced out a superb cast.
The wide, shallow space of Studio A has defeated many, but it was tamed by this production team. This was a "director's set design", in that it had simply a few elegant pieces, perfectly placed to provide enough obstacles for the cast and still create exquisite stage pictures. This was a careful production - in that so much care was lavished on the details. Director Joel Froomkin has an eye for the poetical balances in the text, and creates visual poetry with it on the stage. Costumes (by the author?) were perfect, making it seem too easy to suggest the 17th century Spanish world. An excellent Sound Design (uncredited, probably by David Gilman and Joel Froomkin) constantly superimposed pagan sounds on Liturgical music, a macabre canvas that framed the play well. The Repertory lighting plot by Alexander Warner which cursed the entire rest of the Festival simply blessed this play. How evident the Director's eye even here.
By the end we are reminded that "warriors float in the thirteenth Heaven" - and the floating image is reinforced as Juana and the Countess dance and whirl in rapture in a signature Judy Jamison fadeout.
by Sherry Braun
December 18th, 2002
The new play is based on the life of Sor Juana de la Cruz, a major Baroque literary figure recognized to be one of the most extraordinary people to come from the Spanish-American tradition. The setting is New Spain, Mexico, in late 17th Century. This absolutely beautiful play by Susan Tammany shows Juana (Agnes Tsangarido) and her relationships with the misogynistic (victim of his times?) Father Antonio (Michael DiGioia) and a loving supporter, Countess Maria Luisa (Carmela Marner). Their lifetimes pass before our eyes, and we are compelled onward through each logical phase as if voyeurs to an inevitable conclusion. One can easily see this play, and this very production, on a Broadway stage. The Helen Hayes is just the right size to appreciate every nuance of poetic and theatrical acting. The fine roles already mentioned are backed up by the powerfully solid Sor Iris (Betsy Johnson), Sor Barbara (Margaret Stockton), and Manuella (Nancy Wilcox). These supporting actors play it so straight-forwardly that all theatrical and poetic moments are left to the three principals, as they should be.
And moments do they have: of prostration to whip themselves for guilt and punishment; of love; of dance; of the lifting of the spirit and the dream. Director Joel Froomkin succeeds in more than raising the acting like a phoenix. Scenes are cleverly punctuated and re-set with the simple movement of a bench. Sound (David Gilman) is exquisitely haunting. Froomkin deftly uses the festival's side-illumination (repertory plot by Alex Warner) in such a subtle way that it appears magical. A slow disclosure of feelings on a face lets the audience slip into the tale.
The writing symbolically devolves the Father as he shows his Dark Ages mentality by literally going blind. Desires and actions are bold and large as the love triangles evolve. The language is as sophisticated as good drama gets and contains enough comic relief to make us relate. Tammany "invites me in" so well that tears come to my eyes.
Costumes (uncredited) are stunning. A cross in the shape of a phoenix hangs around the neck of Antonio. There are other fine details very economically used (such as the framed portrait) in this wonderful production. Stage Manager: Drew Van Diver. Prop Manager: John D. Alfone.
Bravo to Cassandra Productions and Spotlight On Productions for having selected such a lovely, sensitive work which is relevant to the lives of women, of men, of artists, of feminists, of religious fanatics, and of lovers.
Asking For It
By Johanna Rush
Directed by Joel Froomkin
59E59 and the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Reviewed by Scott and Barbara Siegel
Considering the built-in fringe nature of the shows that we've caught in this year's expanded East to Edinburgh series at 59E59 Theatres, the quality has been outstanding. Except for a lumbering one-person show titled I Miss Communism, everything else has ranged from respectable to exciting. Here are two examples: Asking for It, another one-person show, starts off as a modestly amusing personal journey through the guilt-infested world of Catholicism but soon becomes a far more rangy piece that encompasses show business, AIDS, single-motherhood, etc. Well acted by its author, Joanna Rush, it is also tightly directed by Joel Froomkin, who gives the show a real sense of ambience despite its presentation in a black box theater.
The Complete Works Of Shakespeare Abridged
Directed by Joel Froomkin
Weathervane Theater, Ohio
The Newark Advocate
“Weathervane's Shakespeare spoof: Comedy at its best”
By Bonnie Davis
July 16, 2005
Shakespeare! You want me to deal with Shakespeare on a hot summer night? Those were my thoughts when entering the Weathervane Playhouse on opening night this week. Well, this theater experience was not what I expected.
Joel Froomkin, has directed such stars as Tony nominee Judy Kuhn and Emmy-winning star of "The Nanny," Charles Shaughnessy. Joel also has directed Tony winner Rupert Holmes' "Thumbs" starring Kathie Lee Gifford. He has been a professor of speech and dialects at New York University's musical theater department and has coached many major productions.
Weathervane is honored to have Joel in the directing spot light for "The Compleat Works of WillmShkspr (abridged)" and the Reduced Shakespeare Company, a three-man acting team consisting of Raven Peters, David Shane and Linwood Young. All did a magnificent job of creating a most entertaining and fabulously funny rendition of 37 Shakespeare comedies, tragedies and sonnets. These three guys carried a big load. The energy, timing and interaction between them and with the audience were natural and refreshing. The audience became caught up in the hype of entertainment to the point that patrons participated in the actors' antics with raw reaction.
If you've never seen "Othello" performed as a rap song, "Macbeth" presented with Scottish accents, "Richard II," "Henry VI" and "Henry VIII" staged as a football game, "Titus Andronicus" presented as a cooking class and "Hamlet" performed backward, then you really need to see this Weathervane production. Knowledge of the works of Shakespeare is not necessary to enjoy this play.
Several parts of the play had adult themes and might not necessarily be suitable for viewing by children, but as the actors stated before the presentation, the script was meant to be entertaining and funny, not offensive. These young actors played off of each other so well and used such smooth timing techniques while maintaining such high energy that this reviewer feels this presentation deserves a rating of five, the best I can give.
As Shakespeare himself said in one of his monologues: "What a piece of work is man."
The Unexpected Man
Directed by Joel Froomkin
Bermuda International Arts Festival
The Bermuda Sun
An Unexpected Ride
Review by Robin Holder
“Exceptional performances in the Bermuda Festival production of The Unexpected Man redeem a play imbued more with ideas than drama.
Written by Yasmina Reza and directed by Joel Froomkin, Monday night’s opening at City Hall explored the unfolding relationship between a man and a woman on a Paris to Frankfurt train journey.
The man (Charles Shaughnessy), a writer bitter at life and undergoing a creative crisis is joined in a train compartment by the woman (Judy Kuhn). She has a copy of The Unexpected Man but is reluctant to open it because the author of the book is sitting opposite her.
Neither of these individuals talks to each other until late into their journey but engage in a series of internal monologues. The subject of these meandering soliloquies sometimes border on banal – an unsuitable son-in-law, use of laxitives, among others.
Somehow rather than descending into tedium Reza’s writing takes the experimental risk of gradually building character development before plunging into action.
With little variation in tempo during the opening 20 minutes, the audience could not imbibe the dialogue passively. But surmounting these constraints Shaughnessy gives a marvelous account of himself in exploring the nature of this disaffected roué. There is also a sense of emotional dislocation in Kuhn’s fully realized character study.”
The anticipated exchange between the writer and his fan was well worth the wait. This can be largely attributed to finely delineated character portrayals of the cast breathing life into a script fraught with potential pitfalls.
Shaughnessy’s curmudgeon may be bitter but he is certainly a charming, witty and sly observer of human frailties. Kuhn equally brings spice to her role as she is not the typical uncritical book fan but has her own perceptive ideas about loss, the desire for intimacy and the value of literature.
Shaughnessy’s sympathetic rendering of the writer in turmoil is poignant and very comical when he considered various schemes to approach her. As the climax approaches when they actually break the ice, one had to revel in the way each character mulled over, hesitated and pulled back.
The Unexpected Man is on one level a romance but it also raises other philosophical questions. Hardly esoteric, these questions relate to the relationship between a writer and his audience, human nature and disconnectedness.
Froomkin’s apt direction is spot on and kudos must go to him for his minimal set, notable for its spiral train motif suspended in mid air.”