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Critical Mass: Mike Schulz and Thom White Discuss Area Theatre in 2012 PDF Print E-mail
Theatre - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Monday, 31 December 2012 06:00

Mitch Donahue, Alexander Robin Kass, Samantha Pauly, Kristin Gilbert, and Tristan Layne Tapscott in the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Legally Blonde: The MusicalFor our third-annual conversation on the Year in Theatre, Thom White – the Reader’s chief theatre reviewer – and I thought we’d shake things up a bit. So instead of meeting for an hours-long breakfast to discuss the area stage scene, we met for an hours-long dinner to discuss the area stage scene.

And while I managed to keep things lively by spilling a completely full glass of water not 10 minutes after sitting down, we also managed to touch on many of the varied experiences that Thom (occasionally accompanied by his partner’s daughter Madison) and/or I had during another eventful year for fans of the theatre. Pack a lunch, sit back, and dive in ... .

 

Mike Schulz: So what are your immediate thoughts about the 2012 theatre year?

Thom White: I almost want to say, with caution, that last year [2011] was just a great year for theatre, and then this year was ... . I mean, it was good, and there were a few productions that really stood out. But I also think there were a few more shows that I just didn’t like – more than in previous years.

Hey, at least your reviews only got a minimal number of [negative] comments on the Reader Web-site this year. [Laughs.]

There were a few. [Laughs.] There was a comment on my review of [the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre’s] Greater Tuna. And then there was one on [the Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse’s] Legally Blonde.

What was that one?

I made a reference, in the review, to the character of Warner, but it said “Warren.” My second reference to him had him as “Warner,” but the first was “Warren,” and somebody commented, “If you’re someone who’s seen the play and watched the movie and loves all this stuff about Legally Blonde, how would you not know this was wrong? You should read the program.”

Bruce Carmen and John VanDeWoestyne in the Richmond Hill Barn Theatre's Greater TunaOh, yeah.

And I thought that was funny, because if the commenter had realized I got it correct with the second reference, it was obviously a typo. I mean, hello! [Laughs.]

In the comment on Greater Tuna, what the person said was that I should get over my abject negativity, or something like that. And at that time in the year – I looked it up – I had reviewed 23 productions: I loved 10 of them, I liked seven, and I only disliked six. A three to-one-ratio is not abject negativity.

Both of those comments were actually really easy to shrug off. I mean, I liked Greater Tuna. [Laughs.] But when I looked at the Legally Blonde comment, I saw that three people pushed the plus sign next to it [liking the comment], and that was what bothered me. I was like, “Wait a minute. This commenter went out of his way to be rude, and three people agree with him? I don’t know what to make of that.” It took me a few nights to be upset about that before I got over it.

Well, you got so few of them compared to years past that I wanted to ask: Were you consciously trying not to get anyone riled up with your reviews this year? Is that something you think about more now, the idea of, “That opinion is gonna engender some dispute and maybe make people mad, so I’m not even gonna say it”?

I don’t know. Maybe. There have been times where, when I’m writing, I’ve come up with what I thought was a clever turn of phrase that was mean but funny, and I didn’t go with it because it was mean, and I could get my meaning across in a softer way.

The only thing of yours I remember reading that seemed on the verge of, like, “Uh-oh” was when you ended your review of Circa’s Spreading It Around with a reference to manure. [Laughs.]

You know, with that review, I put that line in there and thought you would edit it out. [Laughs.]

Lora Adams in the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Spreading It Around[Laughs.] Were you hoping I would?

No. I thought, “Well, if it gets by Mike, it’s okay.” I have thought a couple times, with that review, that that ending was pretty harsh. But I really hated that production.

That script was pretty terrible.

The show did have some good things in it. I loved the set, and I thought the casting was pretty good. ... .

I thought Lora [Adams] did some nice things in it. For sure.

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

And Brad [Hauskins] was funny.

Yes. But that script – ugh. You know, I think with a professional theatre company, there’s a standard that needs to be a bit higher than with community theatre, so if you produce a stinker, it should probably be called out.

What else do you remember from this year? Certain performances or shows you really, really liked?

Well, I immediately think of [the QC Theatre Workshop’s] Red. Which you were in. So, you know ... .

Yeah, we’ll scoot off that subject fast. But thank you.

Well, if we can talk about that for a moment, it’s always kind of awkward to review you, because you edit my reviews.

Thomas Alan Taylor and Mike Schulz in the QC Theatre Workshop's RedSure. And I add in a few adjectives and things. “Mike was really good in this production ... !” [Laughs.]

“Really, really, really, really good!” [Laughs.] I will say that if I err, I think it’s on the side of being more critical than less critical. I try not to tone down my opinions, but I do want to make sure that I don’t come across as being too pro-Mike, because you’re my supervisor. But with Red, everything was just phenomenal. I mean, the whole production was just fantastic. I’m looking forward to more.

[The Playcrafters Barn Theatre’s] The 39 Steps wasn’t “high-art theatre,” but oh my gosh, it was so funny! It had just enough slapstick, and it was so perfectly cast ... . I thoroughly enjoyed that show. I took Madison, who’s nine, and she loved it, too – she thought it was hilarious. We just had a ball.

Come to think of it, that review got a comment, too, saying that I praised Jason Platt too much, and should’ve spent more time on other actors in the show. And I was just like, “Well, maybe. But please ... .”

It’s Jason Platt, for Pete’s sake. I’m gonna talk about him.”

Yeah. He really did deserve the praise. And I also thought Legally Blonde was fantastic.

I absolutely loved that show’s female leads [Samantha Pauly and Sara King]. They were wonderful.

The one who played the hairdresser ... .

Yeah. Sara King. Not the Sara King at the District Theatre, though. The other one. [Laughs.]

Right. [Laughs.] She was also in a children’s show at Circa – The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley and was remarkable in that one, too.

And in [Circa ’21’s] Smokey Joe’s Café. She had some really fine numbers.

Oh yeah, she did. I hope she comes back to the area.

I quite liked Parade at the District Theatre. But if I may admit ... . You know, I’m not perfect. I have flaws, and one of them is that I sometimes get caught up in the emotion of a show, and your personal emotions can kind of blind you to a show’s flaws. And I was just so taken with that musical that, after we talked and you’d mentioned a few problems you’d had with it that I thought maybe were true ... . I wouldn’t say that I’d go back and rescind any of my praise, because I still think the show deserved its praise, but I don’t know ... . Usually we agree, and this year we disagreed more often than usual.

Bryan Tank and Kelly Lohrenz in the District Theatre's ParadeActually, we did. And yeah, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Parade. I like the material a lot, but I didn’t think they quite found the emotion that they needed for that show to really play. It had some lovely things in it, but I was just ... unmoved, I guess? But hey – that happens.

And that’s what I love. When people make comments like “I thought this show was great, and how dare you not praise it enough,” I just think, “Well, we’re different people.” I love that about theatre, that we each get a different reaction. Someone may love something, someone may hate it, someone else may think it’s okay, and that’s fantastic. It is not a negative that people have different opinions. It’s beautiful.

One thing that happened in 2012 was that you got to be on stage again.

Yes! We both did!

In the District Theatre’s reading of 8. Was that fun for you?

It was fun! I felt so self-conscious, though, because there were all these fantastic actors, and fantastic people – people I esteem highly in local theatre – and most of them I hadn’t actually talked to before. So going into that first rehearsal, I was just like, “Oh my gosh, do some of these people hate me? Do they want to tar and feather me? I don’t remember what I said about this person in my last review!”

And I know you’ve had this experience, where you wonder if people are going to be judging you more harshly because you review others. Like, “You’d better be the best actor we see up there ... !”

Sure! [Laughs.]

So that was nerve-racking. But everyone there was so kind, and there was such a spirit there ... .

Yeah, and you’re right about the talent. John VanDeWoestyne, who’s just so awesome, and Tom and Shelley Walljasper, and Bryan Tank ... . And I can’t believe I finally got to meet Jenny Winn, whom I’d never met before, which is kind of ridiculous – that I’ve been a fan of hers for so many years and our paths never crossed.

Yes. She’s such a talent. And so kind.

the 8 ensemble at the District TheatreAnd how fun to watch [area theatre reviewers] David Burke and Jonathan Turner up there! It really was a cool event.

I loved David Burke as the bad guy! [Laughs.] He and I get along, and we often sit together at shows; we don’t discuss our thoughts or anything, but we often sit together, and so I say that in fun. But it was just so neat to see him as this kind of this villainous character. He was great.

And I got to be married to Pat Flaherty in the show, which was like a dream come true.

Right? [Laughs.] Though Patti [Flaherty] might have something to say about that.

She might. [Laughs.] Another thing I was thinking about that happened this year, of course, was our losing Brian Nelson, who passed away in the spring. That was just horrible and shocking. Brian’s one of those rare people you can’t say anything bad about. At all. Did you know him personally?

I did not. But he was such a talent, and I knew of his reputation – his kind heart, which came through on stage even. Sometimes you can just see someone’s soul, even when they’re pretending to be somebody else. And it felt like his was something I could just see. It was obvious that this guy was something special.

Yeah, he just exuded warmth. A lovely man. An amazing man.

You attended his visitation?

Mmm-hmm.

I heard that so many people came to see him, and that’s a great testament to the quality of who he was as a human being. Much loved.