“No matter one’s Kinsey Scale rating, the fictional collegiate audience merges with the actual, present one to take a big, gay ride with Dan, Robyn, and sexy A/V guy Stefan (a flawlessly sculpted Bradley Allen Meyer). For 75-minutes, broken up neatly into six segments that correspond to chapters from Dan’s celebrated book, we get ad-libbed lessons in hair tossing, hand jobs, dressing sexy (but not slutty), and the poetry of drunken flirting from a maestro we never get to know personally. Dan, as inhabited by the incredibly winsome Adam Fane, is a cipher for the impish naughtiness that lives inside us all, just waiting for the right tease to release it.
However, the bulk of the play’s segments rely on individual audience member participation, and this is where the aforementioned authentic social awkwardness becomes a factor. While the Greenhouse Theater Center maintains a proof-of-vaccination mandate, masking in one’s seat is optional. Like so many social settings encountered in the last two-plus years, it’s choose your own level of risk aversion.”
“Most are familiar with the broad plot lines of A Christmas Carol. Elderly miser Ebeneezer Scrooge (played for the 14th consecutive year by the wonderful Larry Yondo) sits in his office counting coins and totaling debts on Christmas Eve while handing out doses of ‘Bah, humbug!’ to anyone who tries to engage him with the holiday spirit. This unpleasant attitude applies equally to family and trusted employees and goes double for well-wishing strangers. Casting himself in the light of the practical, one-dimensional businessman devoid of time for pleasantries, Scrooge is the determined enemy of frivolity, gaiety and generosity.
However, after the old man returns home to the cold, all-but-abandoned mansion once occupied by his deceased partner in profits, Jacob Marley (Kareem Bandealy), a succession of spirits visit, forcing Scrooge to take a hard look at his place in the world — past and present — and how he might eventually leave his mark upon it. The audience learns that Scrooge wasn’t always devoid of love and compassion, and he still has time to change his ways before death permanently imprints a nihilistic legacy.
There are timeless but sober questions that remain as relevant to the living today as they were to Londoners in the 19th century. Where is the line between kindness and foolishness? Is it more important to protect oneself and one’s assets or risk reputation and riches in the pursuit of bettering the lot of your fellows? And at the end of one’s life, does any of it matter if you die alone?”
“Originally staged in Germany in 1891, 12 years after the premiere of A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler reinforced Ibsen’s growing reputation for realism and social provocativeness. The idea that a woman of privilege would mess with the lives and minds of others in her social and family circles — from a need for entertainment, spite, existential ennui, or all of the above — was quite subversive at the turn of the 20th century. In 2020, a time when women running for the nation’s highest office still have to worry about ‘likability,’ not much social edge has been shaved from Hedda’s unapologetic, mercenary approach to create an engaging existence for herself.
In a prosaic vacuum, the character remains easy to experience as a singular act of naked and arbitrary cruelty. However, the TUTA Theatre reimagining, as adapted and directed by artistic director Jacqueline Stone, takes away that audience privilege, with the inventive addition of an angry rock opera device that lets us deeper inside the mind of a living, breathing borderline personality disorder.
Giving theatergoers hints of Alanis Morrisette’s seminal 1995 feminist scream, Jagged Little Pill (recently adapted into a Broadway musical), with a dash of Trent Reznor’s disaffected nihilism, this take on Hedda leverages strategically deployed musical numbers to help audience members get at the “why?” that drives the title character to depraved indifference. From the mournful, wistful ballad that opens the first act, through the strobe light-flashing, bass-pulsing growls that predict Hedda’s ultimate downfall, the TUTA production team takes an interesting, if not always transparent approach, to filling in the character blanks left by Ibsen.”
“The play’s denouement still has the power to produce audible gasps in the 21st century. The audience, privy only to the superficial thoughts and actions of both Nora and Torval, becomes trained to take both spouses at face value. Director Lauren Shouse and her talented cast prove that a well-known conclusion can still offer genuine surprise, dropping subtle breadcrumbs throughout the play that suggest Nora’s ‘Aha!’ moment is subconscious work years in the making.
Torval — shallow, unimaginative and condescending — is a man who enjoys telling anyone who will listen about his hard work and moral rectitude. He is at his most interesting when interacting with longtime family friend and secret Nora acolyte, Dr. Rank (Terry Gallagher). Rank, physically aggrieved and cynical, is all-too-aware that life’s pleasures are ephemeral and meant to be enjoyed. While his bond with the hedonist-lite and beautiful Nora makes perfect sense, it’s hard to understand the character’s amusement with kill-joy Torval.
Yet Wallace allows his character to display endearing flashes of heroine worship toward his wife that hint at greater, if repressed, emotional depth. His clear, superficially besotted yearning must have weakened the knees of a young Nora, as undoubtedly as it does the audience. It is easy to love someone who routinely espouses one’s perfection.
But thanks to Danan’s commanding performance, we sense that Nora never fully trusted her husband’s placement of her on that pedestal. It’s evident that she sees herself as window dressing, albeit fluent in niceties. Danan infuses Nora’s Act I trifling dialogue with a sort of omniscient dread that makes a familiar journey feel novel. This character sees it all coming – even if she doesn’t know it until the moment she picks up her small bag and walks out the front door.”
“Middleton creates a fully realized portrait of Norma as sexually and ideologically conflicted, the product of a broken home, and an uneducated addict with a shifting moral code. The multi-dimensional portrayal is engaging. The real Norma was no saint. Neither was she a villain. Instead, like so many impoverished women trapped by society’s legal control of female reproduction, she needed options, support and validation. Middleton’s interpretation of these dramatic tensions gives the audience a Norma McCorvey who is desperate for acceptance, aware of her limitations, and always in search of her personal truth.
That said, some of the play’s other characters are difficult to endure, and in the quest of fair and balanced dogma, the playwright performs too many narrative contortions to make them work. For example, there’s Flip (Ryan Kitley), the “minister of the Free Methodist Church and future head of Operation Rescue.” Norma meets Flip and his family while volunteering, post-Roe v. Wade decision, at an abortion clinic. Audiences can see Flip for the manipulative, flim-flam spiritual practitioner that he is, just as easily as we understand why Norma is seduced by the ideas of forgiveness, salvation and community.
So why for God’s sake (pun intended), does Loomer bother with Flip’s reformed, dissipated youth backstory? It’s frustrating, inauthentic, and seems to imply, however unintentionally, that Flip now walks the right moral path and is a fit judge of Norma’s spiritual journey. Egads. Hasn’t she endured enough without the extra heavy helping of mansplaining?”