Thursday, April 24, 2008

Review – BFA 2008 – Final Productions - 4-1/2 stars (4 of 4)

“I wish I took more pictures.”


This year’s collection of completely random scene work had a great hook, something which also gave the performance its own peculiar structure and place in the larger framework of these final projects. The actors were asked to choose some text – be it song, poem, letter, speech or scene – which they wanted to serve as a snapshot of their work as part of the larger portrait or performance “yearbook” of the class as a whole. In many cases, it was a way to offer up a completely different side of their performing chops that weren’t on display in their roles in the three new plays, and they all took full advantage of it.

Nicole Rodenburg, a comic neurotic mess of a character in "The End," here takes on the regal bearing of Hermione in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” on trial for her life for adultery and treason, facing down the man she loves who no longer trusts her. Kelsey Olson, a mousy character in pursuit of a famous childhood friend gone missing in “When I Was A Ghost,” walked out and blew the roof off the place with an aria from Handel’s opera “Rinaldo.”

Joseph Newton and Allison Snow, such a cute awkward couple in “Be Here Now,” become a lecherous fraud and the woman trying to lure him into showing his true colors in a scene from Moliere’s “Tartuffe.” Rolando Martinez, the lovelorn empathic superhero in “The End,” takes on the role of murderous Richard III, in his early days of villainy as the deformed Richard of Gloucester in Shakespeare’s “Henry VI, part 3.”

A trio who all played more reserved characters in “When I Was A Ghost” all get to open up in a big way – Christine Weber belts out the song “Meadowlark” from “The Baker’s Wife;” Daniel Jiminez threads together three of Shakespeare’s sonnets into an ode to the pleasures and pitfalls of love; and Sam Bardwell gets to rip into a rousing speech to the troops before battle from “Henry V.”

Two of the sister characters from “Be Here Now” also get to tackle larger than life roles from the Bard – Alia Attallah slips into the skin of Cleopatra (of “Antony and…” fame), and Kate Durand shows us the unraveling mind of Lady Macbeth. Duncan Frost, a damaged soldier who knows the score in “Be Here Now,” breathes life into poor clueless Lenny from “Of Mice and Men” – a sweet guy who doesn’t know his own strength, for which everyone else around him always seems to pay the price.

Ladies who either did or didn’t get a turn to sing in their new play roles got to switch places. Whitney Hudson sets aside her killer singing voice, so fully on display in “When I Was A Ghost,” to interpret two letters of love – one from Beethoven to an unknown paramour, the other from an Elvis fan to her well-known beloved. On the other side, Ashley Marie Peterson, a reserved, non-singing superhero in “The End,” got to open up in song about her bewildering but nonetheless intense love for “Taylor, the Latte Boy.” And Courtney Roche, agent to the music stars in “…Ghost,” here gets to sing a little song herself about the comedic perils of dating men from “Baltimore.” And yet another person with a musical number in “…Ghost,” Grant Heuke, this time got to go the Arthur Miller drama route, as a damaged soldier from a different era, Chris Keller from “All My Sons.”

A couple of performances even got me interested in plays that hadn’t been on my radar. Hugh Kennedy, who I liked very much as Patrick the castoff fiancé and sustainable architecture geek in “Be Here Now,” took on the title role of the Shakespeare’s beleaguered “Richard II,” looking on very hard times indeed, and losing his faith in his hopes to prevail – all of which got me very curious about the rest of that script. And Grant Chapman, no longer in superhero drag from “The End,” was so heartbreaking in the grip of unrequited love as Housman in “The Invention of Love,” I was actually compelled to go out and buy myself a copy of Tom Stoppard’s script. I don’t remember the last time that happened.

Before a rousing chorus of the bittersweet anthem “(I Wish I Could Go) Back To College” from the naughty puppet musical “Avenue Q” by the whole gang, Christopher Peltier and Elizabeth Stahlman reminded me again how much I love David Hare’s play “Racing Demon.” The collision of devotion to a religious calling and the needs of the heart and the flesh is expertly examined in a scene of a man and a woman headed toward some kind of break – a breakthrough, a breakdown, a break-up. Great stuff, and again, a very different sort of couple than the college kids on the verge of graduation, and perhaps a break-up of their own, which Peltier and Stahlman played in “The End.”

The other thing I really was drawn to, apart from the sense of cohesiveness about the whole affair, was the support that all the members of the ensemble lent to each other’s scenes on a regular basis. Rather than let Lady Macbeth or Lenny or Richard III or Chris Keller or Cleopatra or Housman or Hermione or Richard II wander about by themselves, pretending to talk to or be observed by people the audience couldn’t see, cobbling together a monologue out of something that was meant to be a scene with several characters, everyone pitched in and fleshed out those smaller roles around the edges. The person being spotlighted wasn’t alone. They had context. They had partners. If a person needed a hand, that hand was there. One gets the sense that all these actors really enjoy working together, and will miss being a part of a regular ensemble. Just another thing that made “Snapshots” a fitting send-off, and a great companion piece to the three new plays.

Highly Recommended

“Snapshots” plays only one more time, on Saturday night, April 26,
2008 at 7:30pm. Tickets are free, but you should call for a reservation at the Guthrie box office - 612-377-2224. Performance is in the Dowling Studio on the 9th floor of the new Guthrie theater complex at 818 South 2nd Street in Minneapolis.

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