Tag Archives: plays

The Year of Women and Frankensteins

Well, it’s October again and just as with the past two Halloween seasons, my play Frankenstein lives again!

This time around, the show is being produced by River Company, a troupe who not only knows how to stage plays, but also design one really stellar Franken-bird.

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The genesis of the project started with a dear colleague of mine, Allison Eddyblouin (as seen in Heartwood’s Our Town), approaching me about production. What caught her eye about my adaptation, was the central focus of the Elizabeth character, and how well it would fit into the season theme of “Year of Women”. Not to mention, it happens to be 200 years since Mary Shelley published the famous tale. With all that, I’m happy and honored that my own version as found yet another incarnation three years running.

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Frankenstein from the Hampstead Stage Co. Dir. by Jay Pastucha. 

Therefore, if you happen to be in coastal Maine this October and are in the mood for a classic spooky tale, featuring a strong female character, I’d highly recommend! Torie DeLisle directs and more info can be found here: http://www.skidompha.org/event/river-company-production-trifles-frankenstein/2018-10-20/

 

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What’s Bloomin’ this Spring?

Two years after I ended my first run on the Heartwood boards, I find myself back in coastal Maine performing in a staged reading of Bloomsday by Steven Dietz.

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Directed by Griff Braley and featuring the talents of Deirdre Manning, Mary Fraser and Cliff Blake, this is a play that… well, it’s a bit trippy to explain, but it’s a play that examines the choices we make and whether or not it’s truly possible to go back and alter our timelines. Fate is a huge theme, and yes there’s a fair bit of “time traveling”, but what makes it so effective to me is that it’s really about the crushing hope of that first love.

Oh, and it is set in Dublin and uses James Joyce’s novel Ulysses as the lens through which to view the story. Characters quote the novel, reference is a hundred times, and though I’ve never read Ulysses I have to imagine Steven Dietz has modeled his characters off of Joyce’s. The date in the play is even June 16, which if you happen to be an English lit nerd, is the date in which the action of Ulysses take place.

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After the novel became a smash, that date has become known as “Bloomsday” and has become a giant festival celebrating Joyce and his exaltation of Ireland and the city of Dublin. (The name comes from the central characters of the book – Leo and Molly Bloom). While you can find parades all over the world, it’s the one in Dublin that is the biggest and where folks dress up in Edwardian clothing and walk the same route that Leo Bloom does in the novel, ducking in and out of shops and pubs.

Sounds right up my alley and while I am aware that Ulysses is a “doorstop of a book”, I’d like to take a crack at it. This play, Bloomsday, has enlightened me to what is often hailed at the greatest novel of the 20th century; quite the reputation! For now, however, I will be content and privileged to read/perform this intimate (and yet heavy) little play.

Previously the only character I knew as Leo Bloom. Apparently not a coincidence.

 

 

 

 

Vincent Hannam Goes to the Dark Side (Guest Blog)

This blog was written and originally posted by my colleague Ting Ting Cheng for Park Square Theatre on the theatre’s own website. You can read it here.

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In Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Vincent Hannam plays the cruel and menacing Curley, the boss’ son at the ranch where migrant workers George and Lennie have just arrived. Upon their first encounter, George immediately sizes him up as a “son-of-a-bitch.” It’s an accurate assessment supported by the older ranch hand Candy’s description:

“. . . . Curley’s like a lot of little guys. He hates big guys. He’s all a time pickin’ scraps with big guys. Kinda like he’s mad at ’em because he ain’t a big guy. You seen little guys like that, ain’t you–always scrappy?”

Curley’s insecurity is also evident in his controlling nature toward his new wife. He treats her like a prized possession to show off as a testimony of his power and masculinity. She’s forbidden to talk to the workers, but she does so behind his back anyway, which simply highlights his lack thereof.

Vincent himself lacks admiration for his character, describing Curley as “a punk and a brat, used to getting his own way” and “a bully.” To play Curley three-dimensionally, though, he needed to find even a shred of sympathy for him. To do so, Vincent built a backstory that explores Curley’s familial relationships. He asked questions, such as: In what way does Curley really care about his wife or his father? Why is his mother never mentioned? Did he grow up without one? How might that have impacted his relationship with his father? Did his father give him the attention that he needed?

Despite being the mean antagonist in Of Mice and Men, Vincent is having a blast on the set. He basically gets to play cowboy, wearing Western boots and a hat and getting into fights.“Hate and love are close emotions,” Vincent said. “Sometimes the only way that some people can express love is through hatred.”

“It’s also a fun change of pace to show that villainous side,” admitted Vincent, who has played plenty of “good” characters throughout his career.

“There’s nothing like being on stage, connecting with someone and doing a scene,” Vincent said of acting, but he is also a multi-talented theatre professional who directs, writes and teaches. Amongst his other skills are the ability to do Chewbacca and Godfather impressions and to whistle (but not simultaneously).

As my fellow Park Square blogger, I know Vincent as a lighthearted, easygoing individual. But I can’t wait to see him unveil his dark side as Curley in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Bring it on!

 

Ting Ting Cheng
Ting Ting Cheng joined Park Square Theatre’s Front of House staff in 2014. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Los Angeles, she became a Minnesotan after graduating from Carleton College with a B.A. in English Literature. She loves live theatre and has a passion for writing.

Of Mice and Kids

Running right now at Park Square Theatre is Of Mice and Men, and it’s a show you can catch on the weekends or if you’re bold enough, every weekday morning with dozens of high schoolers!

Yep, Of Mice and Men plays just about every morning between now and mid-December to students who get to enjoy a field trip to the theatre. If you’re not familiar with Park Square Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota, you should know that it’s kind of something they’ve earned as a reputation over the years. Steinbeck’s classic has been produced every-other-year in this fashion for at least a decade now. When I tell friends that I’m in it, they say, “Oh, I remember seeing that when I was a kid!” (For the record, I’m 26).

It seems darn near everyone takes the trip to Park Square and enjoys the show! Which I think is amazing, for so many thousands of people to share such an experience in the Twin Cities and throughout the region. I mean, the evening schedule is wonderful but I get such a unique joy from performing my role for teenagers who may never make a habit of watching theatre. I feel that’s a common sentiment among actors, but I really do take a pride in it and that’s thanks to my own field trip to see a play back in middle school.

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The cast of Of Mice and Men. Directed by Annie Enneking.  

I can’t even remember what the production company, but I remember taking a field trip in eighth grade to see a production of The Tell Tale Heart (and The Monkey’s Paw) at the Tupperware Center in my home town of Kissimmee, Florida. It was certainly a touring company of some sort, maybe even a high school production, but I remember superb production quality and the thrill of watching a man slowly lose his mind over the incessant beating of the heart under the floorboards. I wasn’t even an actor then! At that point in my life, theatre as nowhere near the forefront of my mind. It’s only now, looking back, that I can recognize it as a formative experience in my life’s chosen path.

Who knows if these students will think about this show after they get back on the bus, and back to class. I hope they do, not just for the sake of being exposed to the arts, but because the themes in Of Mice and Men are so poignant and relevant. The idea that people can only live for so long in an oppressive society. That sometimes you need action in order to make your life a better place. Surface-wise, there’s not too much hope being offered in this play, but just scratch that surface and you’ll find a wealth of courage and resolution.

This is what I hope to share with these kids.

Return of Frankenstein!

Speaking of work that gets seen by hundreds upon hundreds of people (assuming you’ve read my previous post), my touring stage adaptation of Frankenstein is once again on the road for the Hampstead Stage Company.

Frankenstein2017-1.jpgAs you remember from last year, I was charged to write this play by my bestie Jay Pastucha (Artistic Director) as they were trying to integrate more material for high schools/ young adults. The feedback was really great and with that jolt of confident (and a bigger budget), Jay and I were inspired to revamp the script and add… wait for it… a third character! And what’s more, cast a woman! What an insane concept, right? 

Jokes aside, we found that to tell a one-act version of Frankenstein with two people, for children, was a little restricting in our own creativity. We resolved, therefore, to actually write in the character of Elizabeth, rather than have her represented by hard-to-hear voice overs. To use a monster metaphor, there is just so much more meat on the bones, with characters, intentions and scenes fleshed out to a point that I can comfortably be proud of as a playwright.

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Last year’s Frankenstein. Hampstead Stage Company. Directed by Austen Edwards with Robert Wright III and Patrick Sylvester.

Currently the show is being toured throughout New England and the Midwest, but not just to schools. Hampstead Stage is great in that they are willing to perform for anyone anywhere. Productions that I’m excited about were staged at the Heartwood Regional Theatre Company in Newcastle, Maine and FrankenFest in Indianapolis.

Praise to Jay and managing director, Anna Lynn Robbins, for believing in the show enough to take a risk on improving the show. In a world controlled by bottom lines, it is a beautiful thing to make art for art’s sake on such a scale. So if you’re looking for a short yet explosive adaptation of Frankenstein, let me know! I don’t know if it will hit the road again next year on tour, but it won’t be the last you’ll see of Victor and the Monster (oh, and Liz now too). 

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I’m afraid Elizabeth just can’t catch a break.

 

 

Headed back to Almost, Maine

Almost is a town in northern Maine that most people haven’t heard of. I mean, it’s way north – hundreds of miles from any major point of civilization, where the moose and lonely-hearts roam. What the heck am I going there for? What the heck am I going back there for?

Well, because Almost doesn’t exist.

Wait. No. It does exist, but – oh, gosh…. lemme explain.

Almost, Maine is really Almost, Maine – a play by John Cariani. There, does that make more sense? I hope so, unless you don’t know what a play is and if that’s the case…

OK, so Almost, Maine is one of those whimsical, charming little gems of the theatre that is so popular that this is actually the third time I have performed in the piece. Not surprisingly, I’m even playing the same character as before. No other play holds such a distinction on my resume and when I heard the Paul Bunyan Playhouse was seeking actors, I was eager to go back.

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The cast of my second stab at the play, with the Lanesboro Community Theater, co-directed with Tod Petersen. 
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My first Almost, Maine was an independent student production at the University of Central Florida.

What makes this production so different from the others, however, is the fact that it will be present by a cast of four, playing all the various residents of the town: Here’s the official synopsis via Dramatists Play Service:

“On a cold, clear, moonless night in the middle of winter, all is not quite what it seems in the remote, mythical town of Almost, Maine. As the northern lights hover in the star-filled sky above, Almost’s residents find themselves falling in and out of love in unexpected and often hilarious ways. Knees are bruised. Hearts are broken. But the bruises heal, and the hearts mend—almost—in this delightful midwinter night’s dream.”

Due to the nature of the show, the cast can include as many as a dozen actors or as few as four. That’s why this time is unique, because now I’ve got the chance to relish several more of Cariani’s delightfully flawed characters. Along with, of course, my fellow actors Diana Jurand, Carol Foose and Nic Delcambre who are a joy to run around on stage with.

Another real treat is the venue of the show itself. While the Paul Bunyan Playhouse is the producing company, the space is in the historic Chief Theatre in downtown Bemidji. Opening in 1933, it was a classic Art Deco movie house before 1992 when it was renovated to serve as the home of the Playhouse. As for Bemidji, well, how can I not love the fact that I get to spend my July with Paul and Babe. So if you happen to find yourself in northwest Minnesota this month, come by and check us out. The show is directed by Jim Williams and runs July 19th-23rd and 26th-29th.

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You wouldn’t have guessed it, but these two are a couple of serious theatre junkies.

 

 

 

It’s a *Death* trap!

This past weekend I had the immense pleasure of opening Deathtrap at Theatre in the Round Players in Minneapolis. From the cast to the director and most certainly the script, it has been an all round joyful experience.

deathtrapplaybillWithout revealing too much, Deathtrap is a thriller that tells the story of a veteran playwright named Sidney, who’s a bit washed up and eager for inspiration. Inspiration then walks in, in the shape of Clifford- an eager young playwright and former student of Sidney’s. There’s so much more that ensues, but I’ll leave you with words like “diabolical”, “conniving”, “murder” and “thrilleritis malignis” – the fevered pursuit of the one-set five-character moneymaker. The play itself was just that, running on Broadway for four years and 1,809 performances. Good enough for fourth all time (when it comes to straight plays).

Now in Minneapolis in 2017, Theatre in the Round Players (TRP) has it’s own venerated distinction as one of oldest theatres in town, opening in 1953. Amazingly enough, in 65 seasons, Deathtrap has never been produced. A thousand other plays have, for sure, including a production of The Great White Hope in 1975 that starred Ernie Hudson and is still talked about in the theatre community here.

deathtrap-promotionalAside from working at TRP, the show itself has been great. My director, Shanan Custer and stage manager, Stacey Britt, have made the process a delight, as well as my stage companions Charles Numrich, Meri Golden, Tina Frederickson and Todd O’Dowd. Ira Levin, too, who is the playwright and mastermind behind the curtain. In addition to Deathtrap, Levin is stupid famous for works such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives and The Boys from Brazil. If you know me, you know how much I love a good thriller and how much I relish the chance to play the genre on stage.

Part of Deathtrap‘s charm is that it references the famous stage thrillers of it’s day; shows like Sleuth, Angel Street and Dial “M” for Murder. I’ll admit that I was not familiar with those plays before, but I’ve loved the chance to revisit some of my favorite movies of that grisly ilk. Why I love playing in Deathtrap so much is because it’s the closest I can get to being in Misery or Psycho or The Silence of the Lambs. Of course now that Misery is itself a play maybe I can get even closer…

So without having said too much about the actual plot of Deathtrap, I hope I’ve still managed to paint an enticing picture nonetheless. If you love any of the aforementioned titles then by all means comes to Theatre in the Round. You’re guaranteed to jump, laugh and cover your ears!

Theatre in the Round Players
presents

DEATHTRAP
by
Ira Levin

Directed by
Shanan Custer

With
Charles Numrich Vincent Hannam
Tina Frederickson Meri Golden and Todd O’Dowd as “Porter”

February 17 – March 12, 2017