Sunday, July 10, 2011

Was Flannery O'Connor 'bananas'?

Often, the first words that students in my Writing II class at Kent State at Ashtabula use to describe Flannery O'Connor's writings are 'weird, out there in left field, and strange'. As Enoch Emery dons the gorilla suit in Wise Blood or in “Enoch and the Gorilla”, those readers guffaw at his quest to be accepted. Read the passages!

However, this news article about a Wireless Center’s gorilla mascot (the guy who holds the sign announcing the day’s bargains) may just out-Herod Herod when it comes to being stranger than fiction:

Ohio shop’s gorilla mascot attacked by banana
By Yahoo! Local | Local Cleveland – Fri, Jul 8, 2011

Jeff Stacklin, Yahoo! Cleveland Editor

It's not your everyday assault.
Fox8 Cleveland reports that the gorilla mascot at the Wireless Center, a cellular phone retailer in Strongsville, was attacked last week by a kid in a banana costume.
According to Fox8, the store has the gorilla as a marketing tool a couple of days a week. Brandon Parham, the store manager, told the TV station that he had seen the kid inside the store prior to the attack.
"Then he just emerged, dressed up as a banana, and sprinted as fast as he could at our gorilla," Parham said. "The kid just speared our gorilla."
Check out this video from Fox8, complete with audio from a police dispatcher when the attack was reported to police:
Fox8 reports that after the attack, the person dressed up as a banana split and headed south on Pearl Road.
Meantime, the store manager feels his guy got a bad deal: "The gorilla should have won," Parham said.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Doubt - A Parable

‘Doubt’at Rabbit Run’ good as any production
By ROGER SMITH - For the Star Beacon
Star Beacon The Star Beacon Fri Jun 24, 2011, 01:00 AM EDT

MADISON — Having seen “Doubt” at The Cleveland Play House and on the silver screen, the goal for seeing the play at Rabbit Run Theater on Chapel Road was simply to answer a question: Does this version measure up to others that have been produced in the area?

One’s perspective is called into play once the curtain goes up on “Doubt,” the script that addresses the questionable actions of a Catholic priest toward a 12-year-old boy who is a student in St. Nicholas Parish School where Father Flynn is the pastor. Many people — even after viewing the 80 minute/no intermission offering — still were ‘on the fence’ about whether Father Flynn was guilty of the things Sister Aloysius accused him of doing.

At Rabbit Run, audience members have the opportunity to stay after the show for coffee, desserts and the sharing of perspectives and asking questions about the play. Needless to say, when 30 or more people are in conversation and offering their own ideas, it is impossible to definitely conclude anything other than “I’m not sure.” Though the scene is set in 1964, the show plays to an audience that, sadly, has seen that same theme time and time again in the last 10 years on the front pages of newspapers.

Expect your own perspective to be influenced by the stellar performance of Nancy Shimonek Brooks in the role of Sister Aloysius, whose accent alone lets you know she is street wise. Brooks’ portrayal of the determined nun who has to deal with many factors as she decides whether to pursue her ‘gut feeling’ about Father Flynn elicits a variety of emotions which range from distaste of her actions to cheering her on.

Maria Thomas Lister is cast in the role of Mrs. Muller, the mother of the youngster in question. Mrs. Muller, a person of color, is the mother of the young boy who is the only black student in the school. Lister’s performance is outstanding as she confronts Sister Aloysius’ fears and her own, as well.

Sister James, Aloysius’s on-again / off-again supporter, is very ably played by Evie Koh. In her role as the 8th grade teacher with the desire to know her students and have them know her, Sister. James may very well be the catalyst for Sr. Aloysius’ hidden doubt. Koh, too, was excellent in her assigned role.

Father Brendan Flynn is portrayed by David Malinowski. As a parish priest, Malinowski was strong and kind. As the one who was accused of improper behavior with the young boy, Malinowski’s Father Flynn exhibited strengths and weaknesses as he plead to be believed — thereby raising the doubt. Malinowski was able to move in and out of moods and stances with ease, the sign of a weathered priest and a seasoned actor.

Back to the question: Does this version measure up to others that have been produced in the area? Quite simply put, the answer is yes. As a matter of fact, it may surpass most.

“Doubt – A Parable” runs tonight and Saturday night at 8. Tickets may be reserved by phoning the Rabbit Run Theater box office at428-7092.

Jersey Boys Review

July 1, 2011

What a night with ‘Jersey Boys’
By ROGER SMITH - For the Star Beacon
Star Beacon The Star Beacon Fri Jul 01, 2011, 01:00 AM EDT

CLEVELAND — Oh, What a Night!

Three thousand people can’t be wrong. That’s how many were standing and clapping and yelling at the end of “Jersey Boys,” now playing in the State Theater at Playhouse Square in Cleveland.

And clap and yell they should! “Jersey Boys’” is one of the most exciting shows going. It won the Tony Award for the Best Musical in 2006, the Best Musical Album 2006 Grammy Award, and the Olivier Award in 2009 for the Best New Musical.

Because I began dancing to the pop songs of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons at Eastern Kentucky University in 1962, the music brought back part of my youth — and I like that. Most of the audience at the State had either white hair or no hair, but they had big smiles and lots of ‘do you remember’ conversations as they exited the theater. I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on in the minds of the teenagers I saw at the production, teenagers who are subjected to a different kind of music and a different kind of society.

The singers onstage treated the audience to 30-plus memorable songs, each of which could be sung by almost everyone in the theater. And there was some audience singing going on. Ultimately, the show is about Franki Valli and The Four Seasons, sung and acted by a quartet of pure talent.

Of course, the favorite of the evening was Joseph Leo Bwarie, who was cast in the role of Valli. In addition to having toured 35 cities in that role, his recent film roles include “The Princess Diaries 2,” “Race to Witch Mountain” and “Valentine’s Day.” Oh, What a Voice! This young man grabbed the audience and held them in the palm of his hand the entire evening. His vocal range and onstage presence combined to amaze everyone within earshot.

Steve Gouveia, Quinn Vanantwerp and Matt Bailey as “Seasons” Nick Massi, Bob Gaudio and Tommy DeVito, were equally talented players in “Jersey Boys,” making the evening nothing short of a magical return to the 1960s. Each of these guys boasts musical and theater experience that most actors would kill for.

Simply but effectively staged, the sets and scenes changed rapidly, allowing for no break in the action. And the “Jersey Boys” orchestra was nothing short of spectacular. All in all, the songs, the memories, the music and the visual ambiance combined to make an evening that will hang around for a long, long time.

Oh, What a Night you’ll have if you make the trek to Playhouse Square between now and July 17 to see “Jersey Boys.” And just a little heads up, Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons will be at Playhouse Square performing his catalog of hits on Dec. 10. Tickets for all Playhouse Square events may be ordered by phoning 241-6000 or at

Friday, June 18, 2010

June 18, 2010

Brigadoon’ needs a few more rehearsals
Star Beacon

ASHTABULA — Sometimes when I write a review of a show that just isn’t ‘up to snuff,’ I hear that it really came together at the end of its run and that I should have reviewed it then.

My constant comment is that I write about what I see, when I see it. That’s only fair to those who lay out money to be entertained.

I expect the opportunity for me to hear that it “really came together” will present itself often, as there is much room for improvement in “Brigadoon,” the opening of summer offering at Straw Hat Theatre on the grounds of the Ashtabula Arts Center.

The first word that popped into my head as the show opened was ‘hesitant’, a signal to me that at least another week of rehearsals — or two — would be in order. When the second act began at 9:55 p.m., I was certain that I could also use the term ‘slow’ in my description of the play.

The cast members did not exude confidence as they sang and danced on the limiting Straw Hat Theatre stage; there was, however, evidence of concentration in trying to get it right.

Vocally, the entire cast could have used a bit more coaching. There were flat notes and screeching notes and notes that were out of range of the vocalists. A change from one octave to another in the middle of a phrase indicates a misplaced singer.

Judging from the array of colorful clan kilts on stage, it is safe to assume that some research had been done when assembling the costumes. I suggest that perhaps a wee bit of washing and ironing might have helped their appearance.

The orchestra for Brigadoon was one of the show’s bright spots. However, when considering the l-e-n-g-t-h of the production, someone should have taken the initiative to eliminate some of the second act opening music.

No one knows why audiences go to see plays. I suspect that word of mouth is the biggest seller. There is much work to be done with this show before it finishes its run. I hope it does come together; I hope word of mouth fills the tent.

Brigadoon continues tonight, Saturday and Sunday, and next week on Thursday, June 24 and 25. Curtain time each evening is 8. Tickets may be reserved by phoning the Ashtabula Arts Center at 964-3396.
June 11, 2010

Catch ‘On Golden Pond’ while you can
Star Beacon

MADISON — The summer theater season and the midges along the lake in northeast Ohio have both arrived at about the same time.

Though their appearances are annual calendar events, one might just be a bit suspect of Rabbit Run Theater and its role in these two summer happenings.

“On Golden Pond” is the opening production at Rabbit Run Theater. Set in one of the few remaining barn venues in Ohio, this show is lent an air of the rustic by its theatrical surroundings.

Though there are many subliminal messages to be discerned as we watch the principal characters on stage deal with aging, distant children and a memory that sometimes doesn’t function as it once did, the show is also a slice of life that we can all hope for. It is a fun script that is acted by talented, seasoned actors.

The passing of time on Golden Pond is measured by the kinds of flying creatures that try to invade the cottage via the sometimes attached, sometimes falling down screen door.

In the first act, Norman Thayer (Joe Petrolia) is obviously resigned to a slowing down of life because there is nothing new or exciting for him to do. His wife, Ethel Thayer, (Patty Page) is still vibrant and happy for the berry picking and the loons and the views of the pond. Their relationship is one that has spanned decades. Petrolia and Page do outstanding jobs in the portrayals of their characters, each one depicting personal idiosyncrasies that are endearing.

The audience is introduced to Charlie, the mailman (Larry Gasch) who not only brings letters and cards, but shares the local news as he makes his rounds. Through conversations among Norman, Ethel and Charlie, the audience discovers Charlie’s longtime crush on Chelsea, the daughter of the Thayers, who lives in California. She is coming for a visit. Gasch makes everyone believe his seriousness for his job and his feelings for Chelsea.

Enter Chelsea (Kitty O’Shea) who calls her mother “mother” but refers to her father as “Norman.” Those names reveal the relationship Chelsea has with each parent. Accompanying Chelsea on her stopover visit are Bill Ray (Tom Milligan) and Bill Ray, Jr. (Zachary Janouskovec).

Chelsea and Bill Ray are headed to Europe for a month, and they ask if his son, Bill Ray Jr,. could stay with the Thayers for the duration of the summer. O’Shea, Milligan, and Janouskovec all are convincing and delightfully charming in the character bodies they inhabit.

In a not unusual manner, the first act readies the audience for what is to follow; the groundwork is laid. The stage is now set for the second act of the play and the second act of life for Norman Thayer, as Billy Ray, Jr. offers purpose and rejuvenation. The cottage, Norman, Ethel, the moths and the loons all come alive as the show heads for the final curtain.

This entire cast is professional and well-rehearsed. Stephen Rhodes did an excellent job in casting as well as directing. The set is believable — even livable. All of the parts that go into making a good show are present in “On Golden Pond.” Sadly, this production is up and running tonight and Saturday night only; its run was scheduled for just two weeks. A call to the box office at 428-7092 will tell if there are tickets still available for this summer’s outstanding first production.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Way of Life

St. Francis reminds us to “Keep a clear eye toward life’s end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s Creature. What you are in His sight is what you are and nothing more. Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing you have received … but only what you have given: a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage.”

Friday, June 11, 2010

Lost in Yonkers

After this review appeared in the Ashtabula Star Beacon, I received a phone call from the marketing director at The Cleveland Play House informing me that I had been quoted in the New York Times (imagine that!) for the same show that had moved to the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey. I'll try to post the ad.

January 20, 2010

‘Lost in Yonkers’ keeps them laughing


CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Play House audiences are being treated to yet another smash hit.
Neil Simon’s “‘Lost in Yonkers” is wowing patrons at the East 85th Street theater and those patrons are responding with spontaneous laughter — a good sign that the show is well-received. Armed with a cast loaded with talent from top to bottom and a sure fire playwright’s script, there can’t be anything but success on the stage.
Actors young and old with resumes that boast experience from around the country set about to entertain, and entertain they do.
The young boys in the play (Maxwell Beer as Arty and Alex Wyse as Jay) are the spigots through which the comedy begins to flood the stage. Their aunt Bella, played by Sara Surrey, is a comic-tragic figure who wraps her fingers around the hearts of everyone in the theater but her mother.
Rosemary Prinz as Grandma Kurnitz to the boys and mother to Bella is staid and staunch in her child rearing, denying hugs and words of love that youngsters need in order to feel complete. Looking and acting every bit the part, Prinz made it perfectly clear she knew what she was doing in her portrayal of a demanding matriarch.
Anthony Crane, John Plumpis and Patricia Buckley in the roles of the adult children of Grandma were convincing in their continued childhood fear of the woman.
Though the script by Simon is somewhat predictable, its interpretation is what makes the house ring with laughter. The Play House sets are usually eye-catching; the interior of Grandma’s house is no exception.
“Lost in Yonkers,” directed by Michael Bloom, won a Pulitzer Prize and it received the Tony Award for Best Play. The show runs through Jan. 31 at the Drury Theatre. For tickets, call 216-795-7000, est. 4 or visit