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All the Worlds of Stage: Mike Schulz and Thom White Discuss Area Theatre in 2011 - Page 4 PDF Print E-mail
Theatre - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Thursday, 15 December 2011 11:53

Desmond Grasker, Curtis Wyatt, Joe Obleton, and Betty Cosey in A Lesson Before DyingI didn’t get to see Playcrafters’ A Lesson Before Dying this summer, which I really wanted to ... .

Oh, that one was fantastic. Very stirring. And that was the one ... . [Laughs.] When I reviewed that show, that was the one where you pointed out that I had a tendency, in my writing, to say, “It moved me to tears.” You said that readers were going to think I cry easily. Which I do. [Laughs.] But in that one, I wrote “It moved me to tears” three times in my original review that I sent to you.

[Laughs.] Well, one of your original lines, I think, was “It’s not easy to get me to cry at the theatre ... .” And I was like, “Are you kidding? You talk about crying every other week! It’s totally easy!”

[Laughs.] So that was my Lesson Before Crying.

Ah-h-h-h ... ! See what you did there?

Yes, I do. [Laughs.]

What was your year at [the] Richmond Hill [Barn Theatre] like?

They had some really good shows. Like Escanaba in da Moonlight. I’m not one for crass, lowbrow humor, but that thing was a raucous laugh riot. That show was fantastic. So funny.

Don Faust and John VanDeWoestyne in Escanaba in da MoonlightThat was another one with John VanDeWoestyne, wasn’t it? I swear, the man can do no wrong.

Right? Don’t Talk to the Actors, I think, was one where the script was supposed to be more ridiculously over-the-top than the way it was presented, and I was so thankful that director Susan Simosky kept it at a sincere and believable level. I think it helped make the show more enjoyable.

The Importance of Being Earnest – that’s one that I did in college, and really enjoy. I like Oscar Wilde. But that was one where I cringed a little before the show, because I thought, “They’re going to mess this up.” Not because it was at Richmond Hill, but because the material is so frequently messed up.

But the staging was actually quite good. I thought, “This is not going to work in the round. Importance of Being Earnest in the round? This is ridiculous!” But they handled it really well. It wasn’t perfect, but the material was treated better than I expected. Again, I’m not trying to make a statement about Richmond Hill not being able to handle it ... .

No, but it’s a show that does get screwed up a lot. Like Our Town. Too many blah productions of Our Town have ruined, I think, people’s appreciation for how good that script actually is. And it’s the same with Importance of Being Earnest. Too many bad presentations can ruin your taste for it.

And I’m not a fan of accents on stage, either. I would rather you play a Scot and not do an accent, if you’re going to do it badly, than do a bad accent that pulls us away from your performance. I find that way more distracting. And for Importance of Being Earnest, of course, everybody has to do an English accent. But fortunately, most of them at Richmond had good ones. [Laughs.]

Allison Scherer, Nancy Teerlinck, and Cait Bodenbender in the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's The Spitfire GrillI got to see and review Richmond Hill’s Spitfire Grill, which I would totally have gone to see anyway. I saw three different productions of that show this year, which I don’t think has ever happened to me before. I saw Richmond Hill’s, Timber Lake’s, and one at North Scott High School in February, which was just wonderful.

I remember I wanted to review Richmond Hill’s, but we discussed it, and it was opening the same weekend as Timber Lake’s production, and we thought it would be more appropriate for the same person to be looking at the two of them together.

Yeah, it seemed silly to have two sets of plot synopses about the same show. But I thought Jennifer Kingry just did a fabulous job directing that show, and the cast was so good – Cait Bodenbender, and Allison Scherer, and Diane Greenwood giving a classic Diane Greenwood performance. I had a ball. It was also the first musical Richmond Hill has ever done, and I’m so glad it went so well, because now it opens the doors for them doing more musicals if they want.

That’s great. I hope they do more.

And speaking of musicals, you reviewed two Music Guild shows this summer – Cinderella and The Music Man while I reviewed Drowsy Chaperone. And I’ll just say it: That might have been my favorite production out of everything I saw this year. It was so good it was ridiculous. I hurt from laughing during that show.

I remember that was one of the few where you wrote to me and said, “If you can see this, you should! It’s great!”

I actually loved all of Music Guild’s shows this summer. I thought Cinderella was a terrific production. I especially loved Melissa Flowers, who played Cinderella. Where has she been my whole life? [Laughs.] And the prince [James Pepper] was great, and the stepsisters [Katie Casey and Maureen Malley] were a riot ... .

They could have stolen the show, but fortunately, the other cast members were so good that they were hard to steal from. Yeah, that show was really magical.

Erika and Christoper Thomas in The Music ManAnd that’s another musical I’d never seen before. I’d heard several of the songs, like everyone has, but that was a Rodgers & Hammerstein that was new to me. It’s a really good one. And I loved Music Guild’s Music Man. That performance of “Till There Was You” on the footbridge?


Christopher and Erika Thomas just really got to me in that show, and on that number in particular. They really got to the heart of what those lyrics are saying. And you’re watching these two people who are obviously very deeply in love in real life playing these characters who are just realizing how much they love each other ... . I kinda lost it. It was just so simple and moving and gorgeous.

I think, in my review, I didn’t mention the actress who played the mom [Susan Granet]. And that was one where, looking back, I wish I would have mentioned her. Because her performance was notable and very worthy of praise, but it was just one of those things where with a limited amount of word space and whatnot, you can’t say everything you want to ... .

And sometimes, as a reviewer, you just forget to praise elements of a show that you intend to. I know I’ve certainly done that, and you read your review later, and you’re like, “Oh damn it.” [Laughs.] But I unfortunately didn’t get to see Music Guild’s two one-weekend shows this year [Shout! and Scrooge], which I always try to catch. Do you feel guilty about missing shows in general?

Only if someone mentions it. If someone says, “Are you coming to see this show?” and I have to say, “No, it’s only running one weekend ... ” or whatever, then I feel bad, because someone specifically wants feedback. But it’s just, you know ... . You can’t see everything.

I know. My problem is that I think I’m going to be able to see everything, and so I say, “Yep, I’ll be there.” And then you realize, “Oh, I really need to learn lines tonight,” or, “I really have to do laundry,” or whatever. Again, that damned real-life stuff gets in the way. But what’s cool, at least, is that theatre people understand that, because generally, they’re exactly the same way. You want to see stuff, but other stuff gets in the way.

It does.

Which brings us to one of my excuses for missing a bunch of shows in the spring and fall – working for the Curtainbox [Theatre Company]. It would be awkward and really self-serving to linger on the subject, of course, since I’m a company member and was in both shows this year. But you seemed happy with Time Stands Still and Speed-the-Plow, yes?

Yes. I loved them. What I really appreciate about the Curtainbox is that with every play, I walk away with some internal introspection. Something that inspires me to think about my existence in the world. There’s a thing to be said for pure entertainment, of course. “I went and I enjoyed this show fantastically for a few hours.” But then there are those shows that just stick with you, and every single Curtainbox production has stuck with me. I don’t know if I can give any more praise to [company founder] Kimberly Furness or to the Curtainbox company.

Mike Schulz and Erin Churchill in Speed-the-PlowPersonally, I was just thrilled that you gave so much attention to Erin Churchill’s work in Speed-the-Plow. I think she absolutely made that show, because that role is almost impossible to play.

Well, I had seen Erin before in Hedda Gabler and Wit, and was impressed by her performances, but this one ... . It was so nuanced. There was just such an ebb-and-flow of different personality aspects coming from her, and the way her manipulative nature was revealed ... . It was so fascinating. It was like a master’s class in acting.

Agreed. And that’s why it kind of floors me to be in that company. I mean, I get to play with actors like Erin Churchill? And Kim and Eddie Staver and Jessica Denney? I mean, come on.

I keep saying I don’t go into the theatre with specific expectations. But with Curtainbox shows, I do go in expecting, “I’m going to be impressed with this production.”

Well, hopefully, we’ll keep it up.

You’d better. [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] So, wrapping up the 2011 theatre experience, are there any productions you’re especially looking forward to next year?

Legally Blonde [the Musical] at Circa. I have the soundtrack, and I’ve seen a performance from it on the Tonys or on The View or something, but I’ve never seen the show. I’m really excited to see that one. And owning a chihuahua myself, I’m really interested to see how they handle an actual chihuahua, because mine would not handle well. [Laughs.]

Company at the District Theatre. That’s one of my top-two-favorite Sondheim shows. I cannot wait for that one. And Augustana is doing Bat Boy the Musical?!

Yes, they are. You seem really excited! Have you seen that one before?

No! Again, I know the music.

(clockwise from left) Mike Millar, Valeree Pieper, Erin Lounsberry, James Turilli, and Mark McGinn in The Drowsy ChaperoneThe show’s just as wonderful, and funny, as the soundtrack. I know I really want to see the Prenzie Players’ Titus Andronicus. That’s a Shakespeare I’ve never seen before, and the Prenzies, I’m sure, will make it impressively gross for us. Music Guild is doing Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which is one of my favorites. And they’re doing [The 25th Annual Putnam County] Spelling Bee. I still haven’t seen that on stage.


Yeah. I was doing Wit last year when Harrison Hilltop did it.

That is a great show. I’m also really interested to see how Richmond Hill pulls off Noises Off in the round next year.

As am I. I always thought you needed a two-tiered set for that one. Preferably with a revolving stage.

Clinton Showboat did it last year, and they turned the set around in this big intermission production. But doing it in the round? I just can’t imagine it working in the round. So I’m really curious.

Well, it’s being directed by Jalayne Riewerts, so at least the show’s in good hands. And Playcrafters is doing The 39 Steps next year – the comedy where they re-stage the Hitchcock movie with only five people. I’m totally excited about that one. I only know the show by reputation, but it sounds like a blast.

Yeah, I’m looking forward to one that, too.

And, of course, you’re looking forward to How I Learned to Drive at Augustana in January, right? ’Cause I’m in it. And doing an accent.

Oh, no. [Laughs.] What accent?

Southern. The character’s from South Carolina.

Oh. Okay. I think, of all of them, Southern’s the easiest.

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A Lesson Before Dying  A Midsummer Nights Dream  A New Brain  A Streetcar Named Desire  Adam Michael Lewis  Adam Overberg  Agnes of God  Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day  Alfred Hitchcock  All Shook Up  Allison Scherer  Altar Boyz  And They Dance Real Slow in Jackson  Andy Curtiss  Angela Rathman  Annie  Augustana College  Bat Boy the Musical  Big River  Black Hawk College  Brian LeTraunik  C.J. Langdon  Cait Bodenbender  Children of Eden  Chris Jansen  Christina Myatt  Christopher Thomas  Cinderella  Circa 21 Dinner Playhouse  Clinton Area Showboat Theatre  Columbinus  Company  Countryside Community Theatre  Curtainbox Theatre Company  Dakota Jones and the Search for Atlantis  Dana Moss Peterson  Daniel Rairdin Hale  Davenport Junior Theatre  Deidra Grace  Derek Bertelsen  Diane Greenwood  Dirty Rotten Scoundrels  District Theatre  Dont Talk to the Actors  Eddie Staver III  Erika Thomas  Erin Churchill  Escanaba in da Moonlight  Frost/Nixon  Genesius Guild  God of Carnage  Green Room Theatre  Guys and Dolls  Gypsy  Hairspray  Happy Days A New Musical  Harrison Hilltop Theatre  Heather Beck  Hedda Gabler  High Fidelity  How I Learned to Drive  I Love You, Youre Perfect, Now Change  Jalayne Riewerts  James Alt  James Pepper  Jennifer Kingry  Jennifer Weingarten  Jessica Denney  Jesus Christ Superstar  Jim Loula  John VanDeWoestyne  Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat  Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells  Katie Casey  Kelly Lohrenz  Kelsey Nagel  Kevin Grastorf  Kimberly Furness  King Lear  Lauren VanSpeybroeck  Leaving Iowa  Legally Blonde the Musical  Lend Me a Tenor  Maureen Malley  Melissa Anderson Clark  Melissa Flowers  Metamorphoses  Moliere  Neil Simon  New Era Dinner Theatre  New Ground Theatre  Noises Off  North Scott High School  Once Upon a Mattress  Our Town  Pat Flaherty  Patti Flaherty  Playcrafters Barn Theatre  Prenzie Players  Quad City Music Guild  Rachelle Walljasper  Real Girls Cant Win!  Red Herring  Rehearsal for Murder  Richmond Hill Barn Theatre  Rodgers and Hammerstein  Romeo and Juliet  Saffron Henke  Same Time, Next Year  Scott Community College  Scrooge the Musical  Shout!  Speed the Plow  St. Ambrose University  Stephanie Moeller  Stephen Sondheim  Steve Flanigin  Sunset Boulevard  Susan Granet  Susan Simosky  Sweeney Todd  Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street  Sweet Charity  Tartuffe  The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee  The 39 Steps  The Drowsy Chaperone  The Importance of Being Earnest  The Last Five Years  The Marvelous Wonderettes  The Miser  The Music Man  The Seagull  The Spitfire Grill  The Taming of the Shrew  The Wasps  The Wizard of Oz  Timber Lake Playhouse  Time Stands Still  Titus Andronicus  Tom Walljasper  Tristan Layne Tapscott  Under the Radar  Visiting Mr. Green  War of the Worlds  William Shakespeare  Wit  chicago 

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