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Savannah Sipping Society
Comedy By Jones, Hope, Wooten

The Savannah Sipping Society review by Jeri Tellez, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN


One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest Dramatic Comedy By Ken Kesey, Dale Wasserman
By Rusty Harding, Playwright, Co-founding member of Lunatic Theatre
I remember reading Ken Kesey’s contemporary classic in high school, back when it was still “politically correct” (showing my age here, sorry!), and I remember thinking that, while I didn’t particularly care for the novel’s bleak overtones, I couldn’t help be fascinated by Kesey’s non-conformist, radical anti-hero, the incorrigible Randle McMurphy. I also couldn’t help thinking how the story wasn’t so much about insanity, but rather, how society defines insanity. That’s exactly the take that Rachael Lindley has adopted in her stunning adaption of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at Richardson Theatre Centre.
The minute you walk into the theatre, you’re convinced you’re in an institution. Jake Blakeman and Budd Mahan have designed a sterile, almost scary environment, complete with “comforting” pastel walls and a nurse’s station that seems like a kind of fortress; and indeed, the hospital’s cold and distant staff does take a sort of refuge behind the glass walls as they dispense medications and archaic psychology. You feel the same emotionless detachment the patients feel, and it isn’t pleasant. The soundtrack, created by Richard Stephens, Sr. and executed by Leigh Wyatt Moore, is an evocative blend of 60’s psychedelic rock, which tends to enhance the overall atmosphere.
The cast of the play is stellar – an ensemble of some of the finest DFW-area actors available – which is always a trademark of RTC’s productions. Robert Banks plays McMurphy; the cocky, freethinking renegade who has deliberately chosen to be institutionalized rather than serve a jail sentence. Admittedly older than the novel’s character, Banks nonetheless slips into the role comfortably and easily, and creates an extremely believable “cuckoo”; even playing much of the character to sly comic effect. His bravado against the “system” – and the diabolical Nurse Ratched – provides much of the play’s impact.
Kristi Smith is Nurse Ratched – a cold, emotionless vessel of pure evil in white stockings and heels – and she plays the part to perfection. The hospital is hers, and nothing – and no one – is going to wrest it out of her control. Her attitude toward each of the patients is nothing less than loathing; they are merely animals in her own private zoo. Smith is nearly flawless in this role, especially when she is forced to confront the incorrigible McMurphy, and the challenge he represents to her authority.
Raul Flores is Chief Bromden; the Native-American “giant”, who may or may not be the catatonic lunatic he’s assumed to be. Flores is outstanding – nearly to the point of stealing the show – and he brings this character’s inner turmoil to excruciating life. His surprising and hesitant friendship with McMurphy ultimately results in life-changing events for both of them.
The remainder of the cast are no less laudable in their respective roles: Audie Preston as Dale Harding, a self-committed inmate whose problems are more sexual than psychotic; Collin Miller as Billy Bibbit, a tragically shy recluse who wants only to be loved; Richard Stephens, Jr. as Scanlon, the bomb-making serial rapist; Jonathan Dickson as Cheswick, the paranoid schizophrenic; Gustavo Rodriguez as Martini, the delusional psychotic; and Steven Shaw as Ruckly, whose entire personality has been wiped away by electroshock therapy, leaving him little more than a vegetable. (It’s noteworthy that Shaw has only one line, repeated throughout the play – though not repeatable here – and he delivers it with incredible gusto!) Budd Mahan plays Dr. Spivey, the spineless hospital administrator; Dan Slay and Leonardo Rodriguez as gleefully sadistic orderlies; Emory Lambert as Nurse Flinn, whose time is regulated to administering medications, but who would obviously rather be anywhere else; and Sara Schochler and Kimmy Mauldin as Candy and Sandra, two hippie friends of McMurphy’s who provide a very interesting – and extremely illicit – “office party”.
Rachel Lindley always gives her actors “breathing room”, allowing them to expand and experiment with their characters, and it definitely shows in this production. All of these individuals grow significantly thorough their bond with McMurphy, and it’s a joy to watch their incredible chemistry as they make this journey.
Feven Tesfaye does a terrific job of stage managing, and the transition scenes were nearly flawless. Richard Stephens Sr.’s lighting was also spot-on, recreating the cold, impersonal glare of an institutional recreation room, and then quickly switching to an almost eerie “moonlight” for Chief Bromden’s soliloquies.
As I said earlier, Ken Kesey’s story is incredibly bleak, but it takes a hard, uncompromising look at the way society treats those with mental health issues, and forces us to realize that they are also human beings, with feelings, hearts, and ultimate worth. You might not appreciate the resolution, but you will applaud the sprit.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is playing at Richardson Theatre Centre for two more weekends (to Aug. 6th). Go and see it, please…

Scott Hazard, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN review of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

Arsenic and Old Lace Comedy by Joseph Kesselring
By Riley Niksich age 14 years old
Arsenic and Old Lace is a comedy written by Joseph Kesselring in 1939. It appeared on Broadway in 1941. With over 1,400 performances, Arsenic and Old Lace was the most successful play written by Kesselring. Arsenic and Old Lace is “So funny that none of us will forget it” (New York Times)Arsenic and Old Lace was performed by the Richardson Theatre Center, and Directed by Rachael Lindley. I went and saw the show on Saturday, February 4, 2017, and I was amazed by the set as soon as I walked in. With the smell of delicious hot-buttered popcorn* from the lobby, and the beautiful atmosphere inside the theatre as created by Set Designer Kevin Paris, and Lighting Designer Richard Stephens Sr., the stage was set for a great show.Abby Brewster was played by Karen Jordan, a remarkable actor who has appeared in many shows before at Richardson Theatre Center. I was thoroughly impressed by her portrayal of Aunt Abby, and she truly made me believe that she was a helpless old woman.Martha Brewster was played by Fradonna Griffin. Fred, as she likes to be called, was absolutely hilarious as Aunt Martha. There was never a dull moment when she and Karen were onstage together. The two of them were the most charming-religious-“evil” sisters you will ever meet. You would have thought that all of their lines were written as jokes with how the audience reacted.Josh Bangle was absolutely amazing as Mortimer Brewster and I can only imagine how tired he must have been after the workout he endured in this show. He was tied up, pushed around, he ran around yelling almost the entire show, and never once did he break character.Budd Mahan was seen as the dark and gloomy Jonathan Brewster. He looked just like the actor who originally played Jonathan Brewster on Broadway. Although not a mean person at all, Budd completely changed himself into Jonathan, and unless you talked with him after the show, you would have assumed that he was always like the way he was onstage.

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The Dixie Swim Club By Jones, Hope, Wooton
Review John Garcia's The Column

Patron Spootlight Review for The Dixie Swim Club
I suppose it's fair to say that any Jones-Hope-Wooten production is somewhat predictable, in that they all share the common thread of being set in the south, and are all populated with quirky, crazy, and incredibly eccentric characters. Dixie Swim Club is no exception, but Richardson Theatre Centre’s latest production transcends the predictable, and takes what could have been a maudlin “chick-flick” story into a hilarious, touching, and sweetly sentimental tale of enduring friendship.
Five Southern women, whose friendships began many years ago on their college swim team, set aside a long weekend every August to recharge those relationships. Free from husbands, kids and jobs, they meet at the same beach cottage on North Carolina’s Outer Banks to catch up, laugh and meddle in each other’s lives. The Dixie Swim Club focuses on four of those weekends and spans a period of thirty-three years.
Robin Coulonge plays Sheree; the somewhat obsessive-compulsive health food addict who’s fond of making the schedules for the group, along with preparing extremely offbeat – and decidedly inedible – party snacks (herring and seaweed hors d'oeuvres, anyone..?). Sheree is the “glue” that holds the group together – even making certain they know the right escape route during a hurricane – and is always there to take charge during any crisis. Yet her confident façade masks a host of personal insecurities.  Robin plays the character somewhat low-key, yet comfortably, turning what could have easily been a skittish caricature into a genuinely believable person.
Heather Walker Shin is Lexie; the outlandish party girl, who slips in and out of marriages like she does her designer clothes. Lexie is fond of men, wealth, and plastic surgery – seemingly in that order – and doesn’t seem to realize her behavior is the cause of most of the group’s ongoing friction (“what do you mean it’s not about me..?”). Heather plays her straight, skillfully avoiding any annoying “bimbo” clichés, and manages to create a character you end up truly loving.
Jennifer Stubbs is Dinah; the obvious leader of the group. A seemingly hard-as-nails Atlanta attorney, Dinah carries a cocktail shaker along with her briefcase (“and I’m not afraid to use it..!”). Dinah provides the logic and levelheadedness for the others, seemingly aloof from the sort of romantic trappings that entangle Lexie, yet it soon becomes obvious that her own life is not as stoic as she’d have everyone think. Jennifer fits the role perfectly, maintaining a terrific balance between the “iron lady” demeanor and the lonely, vulnerable woman lurking within. A poignant scene between Dinah and Lexie – when they finally reveal deep, personal secrets and fears – is genuinely moving.
Leigh Wyatt Moore plays Vernadette; a woman who has managed to make lemonade out of the endless batch of lemons life has thrown at her. Married to a shiftless lout, and with two miscreant children – “my son made inmate of the month!” – Vernadette nonetheless approaches life with a carefree and flippant attitude. Leigh is incredibly comfortable in this role, portraying the hapless woman with an obvious sense of lighthearted mirth. Her rousing, hilarious “speech” – praising the patriotic virtues of the southern biscuit – is a highlight of the play.
Rounding out the cast is Debbie Deverich, who plays Jeri; the quiet, shy, mousy girl who entered the convent shortly after graduation, but whose arrival in the first scene reveals a BIG – not to mention incredibly “un-nun-like” – surprise. Jeri’s transition from nun to – well, you’ll have to see for yourself – provides some of the funniest moments in the entire play. Debbie is absolutely stellar in this role, playing the part with just the right sense of naiveté and innocence, yet definitely not afraid to embrace the outrageous (“let’s play TV reporter and naughty weather girl…”). Priceless!
The ensemble cast is marvelous. As always, Rachael Lindley has done what she does best; allows the actors to find their “comfort zone”, and then run free with the characters. It’s obvious everyone involved is having a great time, and that attitude transitions to the audience.
Andrew Dillon did a great job with the set design. There were a few rough spots during the production I saw, but I think that was mainly due to opening-weekend jitters, and nothing detracted from the overall performance. The only “downside”, if you will, was what seemed like an overly-long transition time as the set was cleared between scenes, but Joan Leonard and Hal Heath did a terrific job, especially when you consider everything has to be done in the dark. But the addition of classic 60’s pop – I can’t remember the last time I heard Do You Love Me by the Contours! – made the wait more than worthwhile.
Once again, Richardson Theatre Centre has provided a great evening’s (or Sunday afternoon’s) entertainment. I urge you to go as soon as possible, as there are only two weekends remaining. Be sure to check out the brand-new sign just outside the main door – RTC is finally in the “big time”!


On Golden Pond By Ernest Thompson
January 22–February 7, 2016
Patron Spotlight Review for On Golden Pond By John Mead
As a multi-year patron of Richardson Theatre Center (RTC), I was both excited and nervous when I saw Ernest Thompson's On Golden Pond as the lead-off show for the 2016 Season. While I have come to expect superb experiences from this outfit, I was worried that such an iconic and emotional story might prove a stage too far. I am pleased to report that such concerns were unfounded.
First off, Thompson's script is superb in its telling of the story of the Norman and Ethel Thayer and their relationship with their adult daughter, Chelsea. While a bit slow paced in places relative to more recent scripts, the story masterfully welcomes the audience in to the lives of Norman and Ethel and their lifetime of summers spent on Golden Pond. The combination of the script and proximity of Charles Alexander's authentic set to the audience makes audience members feel a part of the family as we sit close to their conversations.
A great script and well-designed set would do little to carry this show if it were not for the well-crafted performances by both cast and director. Karen Jordan plays the role of Ethel and does a fine job of portraying a loving wife and mother who serves as the glue that binds the past and present of the Thayer family together. At various times Jordan needs to move from comedienne to stern mother to loving grandmother to nostalgic senior citizen. She managed these transitions flawlessly and I never felt I was watching an actor playing a part. Budd Mahan playing the role of Norman was the true stalwart of the show. The role of Norman requires a range of emotions, each with subtleties that are critical to the success of the show. Mahan is clearly comfortable in the role of curmudgeon, but easily slides from crusty to playful and back again as if it was second nature. Mahan's performance anchors this strong cast.
In supporting roles, both Leigh Wyatt Moore (Chelsea) and Eddy Herring (Bill) both do a fine job in roles that require authentic performances to translate both the comedy and drama of intergenerational family politics. Moore's transformation from wounded daughter to self-realized woman is both subtle and emotionally rewarding. Herring's interactions with Norman during their first meeting are priceless, as the rather shy Bill has to try to befriend Norman while not being intimidated. The interplay in this scene is one of the highlights of the show. To me, the show stealer was 13-year-old Riley Niksich who played the role of Billy Ray Jr. His portrayal was simple and honest and showed a genuine chemistry in his interactions with the difficult Norman. The growth of their relationship may well make you wish you could go to your own Golden Pond and reconnect with grandparents.
The whole production from casting to set decisions to directing were well done by Rachel Lindley who clearly knew she had a fine cast and guided them to allow the warmth and chemistry of this story to come to life. Get yourself to Richardson Theatre Center and take a most enjoyable theatrical trip back to On Golden Pond; it's time well spent.

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