Reviews

“Sleuth - Brandon Palmer and Mark Rubald” (Provided by RDG Photography) In 1971 SLEUTH received the Tony Award for Best Play. The following year playwright Anthony Shaffer adapted his play for a film, which starred Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. According to Shaffer, the play had been partially inspired by his friend, Stephen Sondheim, who loved playing games. Shaffer sets this thriller in Andrew Wyke’s Wiltshire manor house. Wyke, who is a huge success as mystery writer, has created a home which reflects his obsessions with the deceptive inventions of fiction and game-playing. The author invites his wife’s lover, Milo Tindle, to come over to his home, and coerces him to stage a robbery. The chain of events which then spiral out of control leave us as audience to decide where imagination ends and reality begins. In this critic’s not so humble opinion this cat and mouse game is written with such delightful skill and wit it’s impossible not to get swept away by it. The acting stuns! Mark Rubald’s whirlwind reading of the part of Andrew Wyke is breathtaking in its shifts of accent and persona. Brandon Palmer’s Tindle, who struggles to keep up with the quicksilver nature of Wyke’s imagination, is the perfect foil. All of Bernie Cardell’s magical directorial instincts are at work here allowing playwright Shaffer’s world of mystery and mayhem to do its work magnificently. Alex Polzin’s beautifully appointed set design is an astonishing work of art. The wrap-around nature of Polzin's design is full of character-defining detail that allows Wyke’s home to become a character all unto itself. The costumes by Susan Rahmsdorff-Terry and lighting by Vance Mackenzie enhance the production.   By David Marlowe "Marlowe's Musings" - February 5, 2018 Original Review ...

“Sleuth - Mark Rubald and Brandon Palmer” (Provided by RDG Photography) Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth is one of those thrillers where the less said about the plot, the better.  Vintage Theatre and Lowry's Spotlight Theater's whimsical, maniacal production is so good, I don't want to spoil a thing. Suffice to say, that even with a lesser script, this exceptional cast and brilliant director could wring out a must-see show. Wealthy and successful mystery writer Andrew Wyke (Mark Rubald) invites his wife’s lover  Milo Tindle (Brandon Palmer) to his country estate, where their battle of wits quickly turns sinister. The two play an often hilarious, abruptly menacing, and ultimately deadly game of cat-and-mouse, as they seek to turn the tables on one another and walk away with an ephemeral prize. The dialogue is loaded with irony and double entendres. It's disconcerting to hear jokes originating from anger, jealousy, and contempt, and laughing anyway. Oneupsmanship is the order of the day, and yet Rubald and Palmer have such a rapport and are so generous in their performances, it's almost as if the actors are working against their own characters to boost the others' mastery of the game. Wyke begins with the home-court advantage, but Tindle rises to the challenge. Rubald gives a tour de force performance as the seasoned game-player, with malice aforethought. Palmer bides his time and ends up giving as good as he gets. It's all deliciously wicked fun, with inevitably lethal consequences. The show has so many twists and turns, the term "Sleuth virgin" has been coined as a way of distinguishing those "in the know" from those who have yet to experience the myriad surprises. This is my third time seeing Sleuth, and it's easily my favorite, beating out even the Laurence Olivier/Michael Caine 1972 film version. Kudos to director Bernie Cardell for bringing out such layered performances and pacing the show like a fencing match. Alex Polzin's set design in the Vintage Theatre's intimate space is exceptional, and I want to give special mention to whoever arranged the Hollywood-caliber special effects involving gunplay. Sleuth is about much more than two men butting heads over a patently unworthy trophy woman. It raises questions about racism, class bias, and even the worthiness of mystery fiction. The facts, Tindle warns Wyke, are never as tidy as the fiction. In Sleuth, no one is truly innocent, and the reality of revenge isn't nearly so much fun as the seeking.   By Patrick Dorn - February 5, 2018 Original Review ...

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” (Provided by RDG Photography) Denver’s First Lady, Mary Louise Lee aka Ms. Michael Hancock, stars in this delightful evening of music. “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill plays through Feb. 18th at the Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St., in Aurora.  For ticket information, visit www.vintagetheatre.org., or call 303-856-7830.  From there, the show goes on the road and will move to the Garner Galleria Theater in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts where it plays Mondays at 7:30 p.m. from Mar. 5th through Apr. 23rd. For ticket information for the DCPA, visit www.denvercenter.org.   The show is set in 1959 at Emerson’s Bar and Grill in Philadelphia. Billie Holiday was also known by her fans as “Lady Day.” The very talented Ms. Lee is joined on stage by the equally talented Trent Hines, in the role of her pianist (Jimmy Powers.) Billie Holiday had a rough childhood and her trials continued into adulthood. Billie had great difficulty staying away from alcohol and drugs. In fact, she died from cirrhosis. Mary Louise Lee’s beautiful voice makes songs like “God Bless the Child” fill the theater with bliss. Jimmy Powers tried his best to get the singer to moderate her drinking…with no success.     By Around Town with Harriet Hunter Ford - February 2, 2018 ...

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” (Provided by RDG Photography) Mary Louise Lee is back in her signature role, inhabiting the autobiography and singing the songs of jazz legend Billie Holiday. Lee previously won awards for turns in the role in 2002 for Shadow Theatre Company and in 2016 for the DCPA Theatre Company. This time, her performance is part of an unusual co-production, taking her to two Denver stages across several months. Currently, the Vintage Theatre production of Lanie Robertson’s “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” directed by Betty Hart, is running through Feb. 18. The show moves to the Denver Center’s Garner-Galleria Theatre on March 5 and continues Monday-night-only performances through April 23. The setting is the Philadelphia club of the title. It’s 1959 and Lady Day (Lee) is doing one of her last shows. She opens by explaining why she hates Philly, the site of her trial and conviction for drug possession, which led to time in prison and the loss of her New York cabaret card, which severely limited where she could perform. Lee’s tone veers from angry to boozy, her language from salty to obscene, as she sprinkles dialog between songs. Lady Day explains that her strength is “a blues feeling with a jazz beat.” Lee’s strength is her powerful voice, exuberant on the upbeat numbers like “What A Little Moonlight Can Do,” sultry on “When A Woman Loves A Man,” and wrenching on the classic tragic protest of “Strange Fruit.” When she demonstrates her notable vocal range within a single phrase on “God Bless The Child,” or does a rousing Bessie Smith-style rendition of “Gimme A Pigfoot (And A Bottle of Beer),” she offers a winning night of cabaret-style theater. She puts across the dialog but, really, she’s about the singing. The facts of Holiday’s 44 short years are well known: Lady Day tells of the racism she confronted, particularly on the road with Artie Shaw and his band touring the South; she talks about her struggles with addiction, to both drugs and alcohol; and her dismal relationships with men and the poverty and abuse (raped at age 10!) that marked her turbulent life. “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill” (Provided by RDG Photography) The American society that welcomed Lady Day at Carnegie Hall but barred her from using certain bathrooms still struggles with racism. As Denver’s First Lady (Mayor Michael Hancock’s wife), Mary Louise Lee reminds us that, in the era of Black Lives Matter, the fight goes on. The structure of the play suffers from a certain streamlining. The storytelling, particularly as concerns Holiday’s heroin addiction, is less pointed than Audra McDonald’s Tony-winning version on Broadway (and on HBO). Here, Act I ends abruptly and Act II never quite builds to a crescendo. Director Hart has chosen not to include one stunning bit from that earlier production, when Holiday leaves the stage for a break, then returns with one long glove dangling from her arm, revealing telltale tracks. It seems a significant omission. Trent Hines as pianist Jimmy Powers doesn’t just play; he talks with the singer, trying to keep Holiday focused even as she swigs gin from bottles on either side of the stage. At Vintage, the first couple of rows are seated at cabaret tables, setting the tone and allowing Lee to interact with the crowd. This isn’t the best example of dramatic theater in town. But the singing by a favorite Denver native carries the day. 3/4 stars  By By Joanne Ostrow Jan 25, 2018 Original Review ...