Cody E. Johnson, Stacy Phipps, and Tim Stompanato in Dakota Jones & the Search for AtlantisEvery year, St. Ambrose University's theatre department produces four mainstage shows over the nine months that school is in session. It's somewhat surprising, then, that given the myriad authors to choose from, the university opted to reserve half of the slots in its 2011-12 season for works by a single playwright.

Yet what's more surprising is that the author in question isn't one of the usual theatrical suspects - Shakespeare or Williams or O'Neill. Rather, it's St. Ambrose student Aaron Randolph III, a 32-year-old pursuing additional degrees after graduating in 2002 from the school's music department. His family musical Dakota Jones & the Search for Atlantis will be staged in the university's Galvin Fine Arts Center December 3 and 4, and his comedy The Plagiarists runs February 24 through 26.

Eddie Staver III, Kimberly Furness, Mike Schulz, and Jessica Denney in Time Stands StillI quite appreciate the way Kimberly Furness and Eddie Staver III work with tension, using silence, emotional distance, anger, and passionate desire, among other acting tools, to portray the intensity (or lack thereof) in their onstage relationships. Their violent, sometimes stunted, oftentimes broken, yet undeniably sensual connection in both the Curtainbox Theatre Company's Danny & the Deep Blue Sea in 2008 and Fool for Love in 2010 was breathtaking to watch. And while their current efforts in Time Stands Still are much more subtle, they're no less dramatic. Instead of their stunning physical work in the previous two shows, Furness' and Staver's performances here rely on the verbal and emotional aspects of their relationship, one superbly crafted by these gifted actors.

Adam Michael Lewis and Cari Downing in Same Time, Next YearMy enjoyment of the Harrison Hilltop Theatre company's Same Time, Next Year was inhibited by the moral issues at the core of the play.

Mike Schulz, Erin Churchill, and Daniel M. Hernandez in Speed-the-PlowErin Churchill is the reason to see the Curtainbox Theatre Company's current production, Speed-the-Plow. Actually, that's a bit deceptive, as it implies that she's the only reason to see the show. Curtainbox founder Kimberly Furness' directorial debut with her company is applause-worthy, as are the stellar performances of the play's other cast members, Mike Schulz (a Reader employee) and Daniel M. Hernandez. However, it was Churchill's sincerity, earnestness, and diversity that closed the deal for me, leaving me in utter awe during Saturday night's performance.

Kimberly Furness[Author's note: The following was written for TheCurtainbox.com, the Web site for our area's Curtainbox Theatre Company, of which I've been a proud member for nearly a year.]

 

Recently, Curtainbox Theatre Company founder Kim Furness and I sat down over a glass of wine - all right, maybe a couple of glasses - to celebrate her company's 10-year anniversary. She had recently taken over the directing position for the Curtainbox's latest production, Speed-the-Plow (in the wake of original helmer Philip W. McKinley's recruitment as new director of Broadway's Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark), and during our conversation, was happy to share her thoughts on the company's history. (The David Mamet comedy Speed-the-Plow - featuring Erin Churchill, Dan Hernandez, and myself - runs at the Village of East Davenport's Village Theatre from April 10 through 23, with preview performances April 8 & 9.)

Kevin Grastorf and Paul Workman in Frost/NixonSitting down for Thursday's performance of Frost/Nixon, the set for the Harrison Hilltop Theatre's production heightened my concerns that I would likely be bored during the show. Even before arriving at the theatre, I anticipated struggling to concentrate, knowing I'm not much interested in history. But adding the minimalist approach to the set, with three platforms embellished by a strip of black rising up their centers, my hopes that the visuals, at least, would offer some interest dwindled. (While the look of the set is creative, I'm just not into minimalism.) It didn't take long, though, for director Tristan Layne Tapscott's efforts to prove my worries unwarranted, and by the end of the play, I was actually thankful for the simple set, as it didn't at all distract from the players' performances.

Adam Michael Lewis, Aaron Randolph III, and Mike Schulz in ArtI distinctly remember, in 1998, watching a PBS documentary prior to the 52nd Tony Awards ceremony, one in which I was enraptured by a segment featuring a nominated play. Captivating me with its quick-paced, witty, and sharp-tongued dialogue, the play was author Yasmina Reza's Art, and the clip featured the original Broadway cast of Alan Alda, Victor Garber, and Alfred Molina, making my desire to see it all the deeper. The show's premise, though, seemed almost stupid, involving the purchase of a white painting for $200,000. "How could anyone create a play around that concept," I thought, "and make it remotely interesting?"