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Curtain Call: Mike Schulz and Thom White Discuss Area Theatre in 2010 - Page 4 PDF Print E-mail
Theatre - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Monday, 20 December 2010 06:00

ensemble members in the Clinton Area Showboat Theatre's RentI unfortunately didn’t get to see any of their shows this year, but I thought it seemed like a pretty risky season for Clinton. Considering the small venue, they did a season of really huge shows, like Big River, and Show Boat, and Sunday in the Park with George ... .

Part of what’s working against them, you know, is that they rehearse a show in two weeks. I think they have all day to rehearse – eight hours a day, or whatever – which is good. But Sunday ... it was just not polished. They needed more time, especially with that music. But otherwise, it was my favorite staging of that show I’ve seen. I thought that director Patrick Stinson borrowed ideas from other performances, but I think he made them his own, and I really liked how he put it together. And were it polished, it would be my favorite Sunday to date. It just needed a little more work.

And it was interesting because I knew that the guy who played George [Michael Detmer] could handle it. I knew he could handle it. But I could see that he knew that he wasn’t quite there. He was so nervous – it was this constant deer-in-headlights thing – and I felt so bad, because he’s the one, actually, who I really liked during the summer. And I just felt like saying to the poor guy, “You’re not bad. You just needed more time, that’s all. It’s Sondheim.”

Yeah, it’s ballsy to try to pull off Sunday in two weeks, and in such an intimate space, no less.

But they made it work. I didn’t feel like it was too big for the space. Show Boat felt cramped. In that one, the stage felt small; it was just too limiting. But I was really impressed with Big River, and I’d say that overall Clinton had a fantastic summer. Not a perfect summer, of course, but I really liked it. I was glad to finally be able to see a show there. And were I no longer reviewing, I’d still go up there to watch shows.

That brings us to Harrison Hilltop, which did two of the same productions as Clinton did this year – Sunday in the Park and Rent. What is that like to have to review two productions of the same show in such a short span of time?

It’s hard not to compare them, you know? Although it may be appropriate in some ways, it’s hard not to, and it really wouldn’t be fair. And beyond the comparisons, there’s this feeling of “I just saw this. Let me see something new!” So there’s an unfairness to the group that does it second. It’s not their fault.

So was it difficult to review those shows on your second go-around with them?

You know, I think it was actually a bit easier than reviewing them the first time. Since I’m sort of comparing them in my head, it’s easier to find words for what I like or don’t like about the second production, because there’s a frame of reference.

Matt Mercer and David Turley in the Harrison Hilltop Theatre's Waiting for GodotWhat did you think of the Harrison Hilltop’s season as a whole? Offhand, I can’t think of anything that you didn’t enjoy.

Yeah, it really was just consistently enjoyable. But there were also some really stellar standouts. I loved Virginia Woolf. I just thought that was fantastic. And [The 25th Annual Putnam County] Spelling Bee was so funny ... .

I think that people sometimes get the impression that critics want to be critical. You know, that idea of, “Oh, you’re just in it because you want to be spiteful and you want to say bad things.” To which I’d say, “You know what? We have to go to every single show. You think I want to go to seven bad shows in a row? No way.”

Theatre reviewers want to love theatre as much, if not more, than anybody, I’d say. And when you get to share that joy of a really great production, that’s the most fun part of the job. Like with Waiting for Godot, I’d imagine – a show that you really, really liked ... .

Yes! Absolutely! And because Godot was so odd and weird, I wanted, all the more, to make sure people knew, “Oh my gosh, this was so exciting!” Because I think people might be less likely to see it because it’s so weird, and I think they shouldn’t have that impression. It’s like Peter Pan, you know? “If you enjoy theatre, you should see this!”

Let’s talk a little bit about familiarity with scripts. You hadn’t read Godot before you saw it, had you?

Nope.

Do you find yourself wishing you knew more about, for instance, Godot or August: Osage County before seeing them, or do you prefer knowing as little about them as possible? I guess what I’m asking is: Do you like going in blind?

I do. There’s the two schools. One would be researching fully and getting an understanding of the show before seeing it, and I have done that with some Prenzie and Genesius Guild stuff. Like, “I’m gonna be lost, so I have to know the plot, at least.” And so I’ll read a plot synopsis. But I don’t read other reviews beforehand, or read other studies of a show’s meaning, or its underlying messages, or whatnot.

But I prefer going in blind. You know, I think some readers assume that critics think they’re authorities on something. But I just view it as, you know, I’m a theatre-goer sitting next to another theatre-goer. The only difference is I get to write up my thoughts and have them published. And I don’t ever want to go into a theatre any other way. I like to take my impression of a show as an audience member, and my guess is most audience members don’t research a show beforehand.

With Godot, though, I maybe should have. (Laughs.) I kinda felt badly – and I put this in the review – that this is considered to be the greatest play of the 20th Century, and I wasn’t able to speak to its themes, or anything meaningful. I was just so entertained.

Patti Flaherty in New Ground Theatre's August: Osage CountyWell, at the end of the day, that’s why we go to the theatre. It’s lovely when we can learn about the human condition, too, but that’s not why we’re paying the money. We want to have some fun.

Exactly.

Since we mentioned August: Osage County, let’s discuss New Ground Theatre a bit. We talked about 100 Saints, which you really liked. What about August?

August: Osage was one of those shows where there was a lot of buzz beforehand, because the local theatre community – probably any theatre community – just reveres it as this amazing script. And so it was hard not to go into that one with expectations, because there was so much buzz and talk. And it does have this fantastic script, and I think the show was really well-done, but the reactions to that review ... . It was similar to the Midsummer comments I got.

Now to clarify, these weren’t comments on the Reader Web site ... .

No, these were things on Facebook that weren’t necessarily meant for my eyes – but things I saw because everything goes on your news feed – and personal conversations, and e-mails. You know, I’m still certain that I gave that show a really good review, while mentioning some things that I thought were okay but could have been better. I certainly didn’t give it a negative review.

I think you said it got a standing ovation and deserved it.

And I hate standing ovations. (Laughs.) Because they’re overused. But that one did deserve one, and then I found out from mutual friends that the director and others were telling people that I hated the show, which was absolutely not true. Often when I get a negative comment on a review, I go back and re-read the review to see, “Did I say something wrong?” And that was one where I went, “No, that got a really good review.”

So that was tough to deal with. I mean, Midsummer did not get a great review. People disagreed, and they bitched about it, but I could see why there were hurt feelings, and that was fine. August got a great review and there was complaining?!

Well, that’s the thing about being a critic. You really can’t win sometimes.

No. And I still run into people who just don’t understand that reviews are an individual’s opinion. You can disagree, and there’s no right or wrong, you know?

Tom Walljasper, Carrie Sa Loutos, and Autumn O'Ryan in the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Whodunit... the MusicalNew Ground tends to use a lot of the same people over and over – Lora Adams, and the Flahertys, and Jason Platt – and the Curtainbox and the Hilltop and other theatre groups do, as well. Do you like seeing performers working with a company again and again, or would you prefer to see more variety in casting?

Well, like at the Showboat, I think it’s nice to see the same actors in different roles in one setting. I know that some groups get flak for it, because a lot of their shows are pre-cast, and there are other actors who’d like the opportunity to get into one of their shows and can’t. But I have no doubt that Curtainbox and Harrison and New Ground cast based on appropriateness to the role, and availability, and talent, and it’s not favoritism.

And I can see how having the same actors to work with over and over is sometimes really helpful. You know, “I want to do August: Osage County, but I can’t if I don’t have somebody who can play Violet.” So if you start with, “Okay, I have Patti Flaherty, I know she can play Violet,” then you do August: Osage County. Looking at it from that end, sometimes it makes sense to pick specifically for certain actors.

Patti Flaherty in August. Jesus, that was a stunning performance.

Yeah. It really was.

And that bring us to the Curtainbox, which, since I’m a company member, is kind of awkward. (Laughs.) But that group is one of the main reasons I stopped reviewing theatre myself, because I wanted so badly to play with those people.

So it was similar to my experience! Did you ever sit in the audience and cry, like I did? (Laughs.)

No, but I did see Glengarry Glen Ross four times.

I think they can do no wrong. But I say that carefully, because I don’t mean that I play favorites with them, or that I’m always going to give them good reviews. They just always seem to deserve them. I have given them reviews for shows that, I thought, were not as good as others, but that’s only relative to what’s in their body of work. You know, with Fool for Love, I didn’t care for the script as much as I did the script for Wit, but Fool for Love wasn’t bad by any means.

It’s just nice to know that there’s just such a high level of professionalism there, and a really highly concentrated level of talent. I just end up being amazed at them.

Eddie Staver III and Kimberly Furness in the Curtainbox Theatre Company's Fool for LoveWell, in the ensemble, you’ve got Cory Johnson, you’ve got Michael Kennedy, you’ve got Eddie Staver ... .

Eddie Staver I remember first seeing in [the Prenzie Players’] Life’s a Dream, and he quickly became my favorite Quad Cities actor. And then he left!

Yeah, he’s performing in Virginia right now.

And then Jessica Flood, from Virginia Woolf and August: Osage, became my favorite local actress, and I hear she’s leaving!

For Florida. Are you starting to take it personally?

(Laughs.) A little bit, yes!

Well, we still have plenty of good ones sticking around.

Oh yeah. There’s quite a talent pool.

So who are some of your favorites? Who, in the Quad Cities, do you look really forward to seeing on-stage?

Definitely Eddie and Jessica. Pat Flaherty’s consistently good. I’ve only seen Patti Flaherty in two shows – August, and the comedy at Genesius Guild. She showed great comedy delivery there, but it was very one-note, so I was concerned about how she was gonna be in August. But she was very nuanced, and showed great ability. I was so impressed. So I look forward to seeing her again.

I like David Turley. There’s a quirkiness to his performances that I think is so amusing. And Matt Mercer, who I find funny no matter what. He always brings a slight humor to his roles, even if they don’t call for it, and it still seems appropriate. You know, it still works. I adore Kimberly Furness. Stephanie Burrough – do you remember her in Troilus & Cressida?

I do!

She was this totally drunken, crazy street person ... . Oh, I loved her in that! I love her in general. Jeff De Leon, especially in comedy, is great. I could listen to Bryan Tank sing for hours. I really like Denise Yoder a lot – although, you know, she is a friend. I met her in Cuckoo’s Nest. But there’s something really approachable about her talent. It’s kind of like her characters could live on your street, or be your neighbors, and something about that is really nice.

I also like people in smaller roles who can make a special impact. In Midsummer, I just adored Lisa Pilgrim. She got a sentence in my review, but I wish I would have given her a paragraph. She had this fiery spirit that really added nuance to her role. I just found her captivating.

Do more, Lisa!

Absolutely! Come on! Get out there and audition!

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100 Saints You Should Know  8 Track The Sounds of the 70s  A Coupla Bimbos Sittin Around Talkin  A Midsummer Nights Dream  Andrea Braddy  Andromache  Andy Koski  Angie Mitchum  Annie  Anton Chekhov  August Osage County  August Wilson  Augustana College  Big River  Bryan Tank  Chess  Christina Myatt  Christmas Belles  Church Basement Ladies 2 A Second Helping  Circa 21 Dinner Playhouse  Clinton Area Showboat Theatre  Corinne Johnson  Countryside Community Theatre  Curtainbox Theatre Company  Curtains  David Turley  Denise Yoder  Diane Greenwood  Don Wooten  Ecclesiazusae  Eddie Staver III  Edward Albee  Equus  Fences  Fool for Love  Fred Harris Jr.  Genesius Guild  Glengarry Glen Ross  Grease  Hard to Believe  Harrison Hilltop Theatre  J.C. Luxton  Jack Frost Saves Christmas  Jason Platt  Jeff De Leon  Jessica Flood  Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat  Kimberly Furness  Lifes a Dream  Lisa Pilgrim  Lora Adams  Maggie Woolley  Marvins Room  Matt Mercer  Michael Kennedy  Mike Detmer  Moon Over Buffalo  Nathan Porteshawver  Neil LaBute  New Ground Theatre  One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest  Pat Flaherty  Patrick D. Stinson  Patti Flaherty  Paul Workman  Pericles, Prince of Tyre  Peter Pan  Plaid Tidings  Playcrafters Barn Theatre  Prenzie Players  Proof  Quad City Music Guild  Rabbit Hole  Rent  Richard III  Richmond Hill Barn Theatre  Romeo and Juliet  Samuel Beckett  Scott Community College  Show Boat  Stephanie Burrough  Stephen Baldridge  Stephen Sondheim  Sunday in the Park with George  Sweeney Todd  Taylor Wiebers  The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee  The Full Monty  The Gift of the Magi  The Internet Players  The O Conner Girls  The Seagull  The Shape of Things  The Tragedy of Sarah Klein  To Burn a Witch  Troilus and Cressida  Waiting for Godot  West Side Story  Whodunit... the Musical  Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  Wicked  William Shakespeare  Wit  Wrestling with Angels and Demons