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Reviews

The sign of a good show is how long it takes you to stop thinking about it after you’ve walked out of the theater. Little Dog will be a topic of conversation the next day at breakfast and stay with you for a long time AURORA | We all want a Hollywood ending. Credits roll, love has been found, the good guys have come out on top and everyone rides off into the sunset. It’s why we see crap movies and plays. No it’s not shocking when the ingénue who visits home leaves her big city boyfriend for her childhood sweetheart. But audiences generally don’t want shock, they want schlock. The ridiculousness of the Hollywood ending is exactly why “The Little Dog Laughed” is such a wonderfully heartbreaking play. It exposes both the false veneer of Hollywood’s manufactured dreams and the facade we all put up to protect ourselves from heartbreak. And Vintage Theater’s production is a pitch-perfect interpretation of the 2007 Tony nominee for Best Play. “The Little Dog Laughed” centers around the relationship between up-and-coming actor Mitchell, forced into the closet to pursue his dream of Hollywood, and callboy Alex, a confident hustler whose bravado is both genuine and a front for someone looking for a home. Drew Hirschboeck as Mitchell and Christian Munck as Alex have chemistry for days. If these two couldn’t work together, the play would be doomed. Instead the audience is treated to two actors whose back and forth feels so real that it shows just how much work the two put into their characters. Miranda Byers plays Alex’s best friend and somewhat girlfriend Ellen. Byers has the least amount of stage time among the show’s four actors but her presence is felt even when she walks off stage. Ellen’s jaded persona is only a paper-thin disguise to hide her desire for the happy ending. Byers gives us the real Ellen in stages and doesn’t rush to tip her hand to the character’s true center. We get to see the sarcastic shield Ellen carries slowly break down and by the end, we share in her desperation to be anything but alone. Our guide through this little love story is Mitchell’s agent, Diane, played with total glee by Jacqueline Garcia. She seems to relish every line she delivers as the wickedly sharp agent who long ago gave up being true to herself in order to make it in the film industry. From her perch as someone who has survived for years by knowing how to play the game, Diane has already seen how this story is going to end. And Garcia is a true joy to watch as she tries to steer the rest of the cast to the inevitable ending. Throughout the show, playwright Douglas Carter Beane uses intersecting monologues to pull back the curtain on his characters. And director Rachel Bouchard has worked with her cast to make these continuous monologues flow smoothly throughout the show. There’s the risk of a show so filled with monologues having clunky timing as characters keep breaking the fourth wall but Bouchard and her cast have a solid handle on the show’s timing. The sign of a good show is how long it takes you to stop thinking about it after you’ve walked out of the theater. Little Dog will be a topic of conversation the next day at breakfast and stay with you for a long time. BY RAMSEY SCOTT. Staff Writer. Updated: September 21, 2017 10:20 am Original Review ...

Theater review: 4 Stars - Vintage’s “August: Osage County” long, but it delivers The Weston family patriarch lays out the arrangement pretty clearly in the first scene of “August: Osage County,” Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer-winning tale of a seething clan that emphasizes the “dys” in “dysfunctional.” “My wife takes pills, and I drink; that’s the bargain we struck,” says Beverly Weston (Roger Hudson) to Johnna Monevata (Emily Gerhard), the home care aide he’s interviewing to help his wife, Violet, who has cancer. Just why Violet takes pills and he drinks reveals itself slowly over the next 3 1/2 hours in this condensed epic fraught with addiction, jealousy, guilt, fury, adultery and long-guarded secrets. When the audience dispersed after last Sunday’s matinee, one woman told another, “Thanksgiving at my in-laws’ doesn’t look that bad now.” The Westons seem pretty typical at first glance. Bev is genial enough, if undeniably drunk, in Hudson’s exaggeratedly careful diction and deliberate movements. His tiny wife Violet (Deborah Person) is a terrifying piece of work, igniting at the thought of a spark and so brittle that her relatives seem to hold their breaths in her malicious presence. Only her sister Mattie Fae (Darcy Kennedy, a savage belle, remains unintimidated. The extended family rallies when Bev Weston goes inexplicably missing. Violet is vaguely fretful, divided between speculating about Bev and sniping at her daughters Ivy (Kelly Uhlenhopp), who is single, and Barbara (Haley Johnson), who arrives from Colorado with her husband and teenaged daughter in tow. The tension between Barbara and Violet is nearly palpable when Violet accuses Barbara of “breaking her father’s heart” by moving away from the Oklahoma homestead. And gimlet-eyed Violet doesn’t miss the friction between Barbara and her husband (Marc Stith), tacitly separated after his affair with one of his students. Things are bad, and get worse. Bev’s empty boat is found, and then his body is discovered. After the funeral, the gloves come off — along with the men’s jackets, until Violet shames them into putting them back on, galvanizing a grim laugh from the audience. “August: Osage County” gets darker with the arrival of Karen (Lauren Bahlman), the remaining of the three Weston Sisters, and her sketchy fiancé Steve (Andrew Uhlenhopp). Their presence excavates terrible secrets, old and new, about Ivy, about Mattie Fay, about Bev, about Steve, and Violet. Almost nobody goes unscathed. Even Mattie Fay’s unflappable husband Charlie (John Ashton, in full mensch mode, rails at his wife’s unforgivable attacks on their son, Little Charlie (Brandon Palmer, so fragile he seems breakable). Barbara attacks Violet, who only briefly is rattled before unraveling into a genuinely terrifying she-devil. Sounds like fun, huh? Well, buckle up. This is a long play — there are two intermissions — and the stellar cast is more than equal to the demanding script. Even the smaller roles shine, particularly Ashton and Kennedy, and anyone who saw Persoff as affable Maud in “Harold and Maud” will see Maud’s venal doppelganger. “August: Osage County” is a play that insists on picking at scabs, and at fresh wounds, for that matter, but it will leave you thinking about truth, lies and love. And it probably will make you feel a lot better about your own family reunions. By Claire Martin. September 7, 2017 Original Article...

REVIEW: ‘Ring of fire’ at the Vintage pays off in Cash — 4 of 5 stars The cast of “Ring of Fire” at the Vintage Theater doesn’t shrink from the challenge of covering the master. The musical review of Cash’s work, which first debuted on Broadway in 2006, skips loads of exposition and instead tells the story of Cash’s life through his music. Sets of Cash’s songs are tied together with a quick conversation with the audience about that time in his life. AURORA | The face of Johnny Cash features prominently on the Mount Rushmore of country music. Yet the man in black transcends any one musical taste or style. He is the musical hero of country music fans like my grandfather, a master sergeant in the Air Force from Kentucky coal country and as much  a straight arrow as an Okie from Muskogee. An album of Cash’s gospel numbers would be fine accompaniment to any church Sunday picnic. But Cash isn’t just claimed by country and gospel fans. He is a hero to the disciples of punk. Cash albums can be found in music collections next to Black Flag, The Ramones and The Dead Milkmen. And his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” is the rare instance of a new version outshining the original. With an almost universal love of Cash’s music throughout society, trying to pull off a review of his music is an unenviable task. To paraphrase a popular meme, one does not simply cover Johnny Cash. But the cast of “Ring of Fire” at the Vintage Theater doesn’t shrink from the challenge of covering the master. The musical review of Cash’s work, which first debuted on Broadway in 2006, skips loads of exposition and instead tells the story of Cash’s life through his music. Sets of Cash’s songs are tied together by a quick conversation with the audience about that time in his life. Since “Ring of fire” isn’t a straight biographical play, no one performer is burdened with trying to bring Cash completely to life. Actor Benjamin Cowhick is the closest thing the play has to someone trying to embody Cash. He represents Cash in brief interludes among musical sets. Instead, the cast is free to focus on the reason why the audience is at the Vintage in the first place: to hear the music of Cash. And the band Vintage has pulled together nails the performance of more than 30 Cash songs. Not only is the band full of talented musicians, the sound is tight beyond what could only have been a few weeks of rehearsals at best.  The  group is worthy of any music venue in the metro area. The performers eschew microphones, and their un-amplified voices fill the theater. Except for a few instances, this move pays off. It’s not just a cover band playing some Cash hits, it’s a talented band bringing Cash’s work to life. The show has the feel of musicians trading covers of their favorite Cash classics. Cowhick succeeds at impersonating one of the most iconic bass baritone voices in history. Cowhick’s impersonation of Cash is on the money. The exception is when Cowhick reaches for those famous low notes without a mic to beef up his voice. It’s a testament to Cash’s famous range and power. When bass player Ray Anderson shows off his voice, the audience registers the feat. He parallels the voices that used to come through my grandfather’s record player when he schooled me on what country music is and why it’s the greatest art form ever. And while the band as a whole deserves praise, it’s Isabella Duran as June Carter Cash that gets away with stealing the show. Duran, who embodies the love of Cash’s life, mesmerized the audience each time she sang.  Duran’s epic voice certainly rattles windows in the lobby. She owns the performance not just with her amazing voice but with the zeal and sass she brings to the songs. With lesser musicians by her side, Duran’s performance would overshadow why they were all there. Instead, in the midst of such talented musicians, Duran is just one highlight in this tribute to Cash. By Ramsey Scott, staff writer, Updated: June 29, 2017 2:07 pm Original Article...

Review: Terrence McNally's It's Only a Play Creates a Hilarious Night of Theater Terrence McNally knows theater — as do the folks at Spotlight and Vintage Theatre— and his It’s Only a Play, which the two local companies are producing together, flays the skin off that lunatic, star-studded, crazily artificial yet deeply heartfelt profession. The action takes place in the penthouse suite of Julia Budder (a sweetly ignorant Anne Myers), a rich woman spending a lot of her husband’s money so that she can be the sole producer of a show called The Golden Egg and stand alone on stage to accept the play’s anticipated Tony award. Downstairs there’s a post-show party featuring just about every significant name you can think of, including Al Pacino, Rudy Giuliani and Rosie O’Donnell, who’s been spotted chatting with the Pope. Meanwhile, Julia and a handful of others wait for those all-important reviews. There’s naive young Gus (a lithe and rather charming Seth Harris), carting coats around and running errands, trembling with excitement about his proximity to fame, and waiting for his turn in the limelight. James Wicker (Bernie Cardell), who stars in an up-until-now successful sitcom (though cancellation threatens), is a friend of the playwright, Peter Austin (Perry Lewis), who originally wanted James as his lead — but James turned him down because he thought the script was shit. Now James is torn between hoping his judgment was wrong for his friend’s sake and hoping for his own that it was spot-on and he hasn’t missed a chance for a Tony. Pretentious British director Sir Frank Finger (Leroy Leonard, spikily funny, though not very British) is on hand, too, asserting that he’s tired of success and feels the need for a soul-cleansing flop. We also meet the temperamental, coke-addicted actress Virginia Noyes (Kelly Uhlenhopp), complete with ankle bracelet and instructions to check in with her parole officer every two hours. And finally, acerbic critic Ira Drew (Michael O’Shea, a big presence with a killer laugh) has somehow slipped in; his opinion carries some weight, but not nearly as much as the words everyone’s awaiting: those of the New York Times’s Ben Brantley. The Golden Egg might live up to its name, but this production succeeds for several reasons. For one, the script is delightfully vicious. McNally’s zingers hit home, and his language is uninhibited. Judging from audience laughter, I’m not the only person who’s tired of our culture’s ridiculous timidity about language: F-bomb, potty mouth — what are we, four years old? For another, McNally thoroughly understands the world that he satirizes. He endured some rough times before winning a Pulitzer and four Tonys, and there’s a real feeling in his characters’ response to bad reviews. Theater people live out their work in the open, and their flaws and strengths are very publicly dissected; months of work can be upended by the words of a single writer. No wonder they’re thin-skinned! So along with all the satirical pokes (the Kardashians as Chekhov’s Three Sisters) and farcical goings-on, there’s real truth here. Playwright Austin has a profound, though ridiculously idealistic, view of theater, and actor Lewis gives him some genuinely touching moments. Austin’s right on the money, too, when he laments the British takeover of New York theater, along with the sloshing-with-sentimentality Disney-to-stage musicals. And, of course, deep in his cynical critic’s soul, Ira really wishes that he were part of the creative tribe he judges rather than a professional observer. Although director Katie Mangett could have urged a bit more finesse here or there, the relish with which the entire cast leaps into their roles provides much of the evening’s pleasure. Virginia has absolutely no redeeming qualities; she’s a walking id, and her vanity is so huge that it threatens to obliterate everyone around her. Kelly Uhlenhopp’s performance in the role is equally huge — at times you can only wonder at her sheer audacity. For James, Bernie Cardell channels a hilarious mixture of Rowan Atkinson and Nathan Lane, who actually played the role on Broadway. And when, in an attempt to cheer up the crestfallen crew, young Gus leaps onto the bed and starts singing Wicked’s ghastly “Defying Gravity,” the moment encapsulates all the wonderful absurdity of that always-dying, never-quite-dead art form: theater. JULIET WITTMAN | JULY 11, 2017 | 5:46AM Full Review ...