Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodybe to 2011, Part 2, The EEEPs

by Matthew Falduto

Last year, I created the EEEPs, which stands for Excellence in Exercising our Emotions Prizes. Just as we strengthen our minds and our bodies through exercise, emotional exercise strengthens our spirits. Experiencing theatre provides that emotional exercise. We need to feel joy and sadness and glee and fear and wonder and anger in order to thrive in this life. Theatre allows us a safe place to do that. So what follows are ten shows that have earned the 2011 Iowa Theatre Blog Excellence in Exercising our Emotions Prizes.

I do not pretend that this list is exhaustive of the great work done in our community over the past year. I am certain there are shows you believe should be on this list that are not. This is just my opinion. If you'd like to share your opinion, the comment section awaits!

All My Sons
Riverside Theatre

Thank goodness for Riverside Theatre. They so rarely disappoint. Their production of All My Sons was a masterpiece. Jody Hovland gave us a wonderfully heartbreaking portrayal of Kate Keller. As I think back on the show, it is her performance that stands out. Which is not to say the other actors were forgettable - far from it. Both Ron Clark and Scot West imbued their characters with pathos and passion, particularly in Act Two. This was simply a powerful production of a masterpiece of the American Theatre.

Old Creamery Theatre

Sometimes it's just all about the actors. Such was the case with Art. Three immensely talented actors - Sean McCall, Tim Budd and Patrick Dulaney - using every bit of their skill and talent to create a funny and thought provoking play. From the review:

"Budd does needling well, but he also delivers when he has to verbally attack, using a vicious cadence and an unyielding posture."

"Dulaney's face is a canvas upon which he can create any expression, each more thought provoking or humorous than the last."

"McCall wring[s] out all of the humor and all of the pathos. His ability to reinterpret again and again the word "Yes" in one scene is truly masterful."

Are we not truly lucky to have the opportunity to watch master class actors ply their trade?

Theatre Cedar Rapids

Eurydice is the sort of show I absolutely love. It's a fantasy redrawn for a modern audience that offers a new and at the same time familiar examination of the father-daughter relationship. As the father of three daughters, Eurydice is the sort of strong heroine I want to see more often onstage. Powerful performances, strong direction, a simple set that offered the audience the opportunity to participate in its creation... this show was fantastic from beginning to end.

The Drowsy Chaperone
Iowa City Community Theatre

Last April I had the opportunity to see 42nd Street at a professional theatre company in Illinois. It was astounding. As we left the theatre, I lamented to my wife that you never see that kind of skillful tap dancing in our local productions. So color my shocked when a few weeks later I witnessed some of the most marvelous dancing in ICCT's production of The Drowsy Chaperone. Kudos to choreographer Jill Beardsley with a special "Wow!" to dancers CJ Jones and Adam Kopfman. Of course, the show had more to recommend it than the choreography. From the review: "This production also contains the single best lighting design and sound effects I have seen in any ICCT production...The set is... one of the most complex and sophisticated I have witnessed in a community theatre production. There will be times where you’ll see someone make an entrance and marvel at the ingenuity of the design." And of course, then there was the spot on comic timing, not to mention the strong singing. All in all, an excellent show from ICCT, the old kid on the block.

Henry V

The Unitarian Universalist space was not Dreamwell's first choice for Henry V. They searched for something larger, but in the end returned to a space they knew well. Realizing an epic play required an epic space, Director Angie Toomsen bravely moved in a new direction, creating an amazing thrust space by utilizing the small stage as well as the main floor, while seating the audience in a horseshoe, just two rows deep. It was only the first of many impressively creative decisions Toomsen made in creating Henry V. She was fortunate to have a stellar cast, particularly K Michael Moore in the title role, Mark McCusker as Pistol, and James Trainor as the Dauphin. As with all Shakespearean plays, it's easy for our modern ears to lose our way, but this cast understood the words they spoke and emotions they embodied so well that every moment was clear from beginning to end. If this is what Dreamwell can do with Shakespeare, let's hope we see more of it soon.

Feet First in the Water
with a Baby in my Teeth

Riverside Theatre

It's hard for a show I did not personally see to make this list, but there were two shows friends would not stop talking about and so I had to include them. One was Megan Gogerty's solo show about motherhood. I have seen Megan perform many times in the past - she's fearless. It's clear from James Trainor's review that fearlessness continued in this show: "Gogerty's acting style is unabashed, heightened and resourceful... She throws herself completely into a bit, commanding the full stage with ease and energy." But it's not just her acting, but her writing that is fearless. In this show she dared to ask, "Is motherhood worth it? Do you regret it?" And according to one friend who saw the show, she did not provide a glib answer, but rather delved into the complexities of emotion involved in being a parent. Kudos to Riverside for providing such a unique artist a wonderful stage.

City Circle

Sharon Falduto began her review of Hairspray with one word: joy. It was the ideal descriptor for this theatre experience. The actors clearly enjoyed every moment of the show and the audience left the theatre tapping their toes and humming the songs. City Circle chose a perfect show to open their new performance venue, the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts. They brought back Chad Larabee, a favorite son director who has since gone on to the professional theatre world. They found an amazing cast lead by the immensely talented Elizabeth Breed, who was staggeringly good as Tracy Trueblood. If this is what we can expect of City Circle in their new home, the future for theatre is very bright in Coralville.

Rabbit Hole
Urban Theatre Project

Urban Theatre Project's Rabbit Hole is the other production I missed, but still included on this list. So many people commented on how wonderful this production was. As a lover of unusual theatre, I was delighted that they performed the show in an actual house. Creating theatre off a traditional stage is exciting and challenging, and it's part of UTP's ongoing mission. We've seen some excellent examples of that in our area, from City Circle's performance of Metamorphosis in a swimming pool a few years back to Dreamwell's Soldier's Daughter performed on a farm just last July. The mansion chosen by UTP fit the show perfectly. In addition, the talented cast-Leslie Chariper, Sarah Jarmon, Nick Ostrem, Cheryl Moon Thomason, and Jason Alberty-was well directed by Angie Toomsen. I am sorry to say I missed Alberty, one of our very talented comedic actors, in a dramatic role. Hopefully, we'll get the chance to see him stretch those drama muscles again. And UTP, don't make us wait another couple of years for your next show!

Old Creamery Theatre

Ah, Pinocchio. A story we all know well. One that continues to captivate children even today in our tech heavy world. Two of my children, Rachel, age eleven, and Piper, age four, experienced this show. They both loved it, as did I. Old Creamery must be commended for creating their Theatre for Young Audiences series. What was truly magical about this production was the use of classic theatrical tradition of “Commedia dell’Arte.” The actors played actors in a troupe creating the story of Pinocchio using just masks, sound effects, and simple set pieces. This allowed the children to see behind the scenes of the show, encouraging them to create their own shows at home. An inspiring and fun performance, the actors dived into the action letting their inner children shine. Particularly fun was Andrew Bosworth as the Cricket. If you have children, or even if you just want to let your inner child out, check out the next season of Old Creamery's Theatre for Young Audiences series.

Summerland Project
Theatre Cedar Rapids

Of all the shows I saw this year, Summerland affected me the most. I think part of that was the fact that I was witnessing a brand new play and thinking this was as good or better than so many published plays I'd seen over the years. But more than that, the story of a man desperate to bring his wife back from death and of a women trying to understand her new self was riveting. So many questions arose from Summerland. Who are we? What makes us human? Our memories? Our emotions? Our bodies? Some combination of all three? The genius of Rob Merritt's play is that he offers no definitive answers, allowing the audience to leave the theatre asking these questions. Brian Tanner noted in his comments about 2011 that there were so many original shows offered by many different companies. This is definitely a strength of our theatre community. Summerland is an excellent example of the creative talent in our community.

So those are the ten shows I've chosen to receive an EEEP this year. Congratulations to all and Happy New Year! I am sure 2012 will be even better.

Matthew Falduto founded Dreamwell Theatre over 14 years ago. He has served on the board of the Iowa City Community Theatre and the board nomination committee for City Circle. For close to twenty years, he has produced, directed, and acted in many shows in the Iowa City area with many different companies. A playwright, he is also a member of the Black Doggers. Two of his shows, Pop Tart Hero and Soldier's Daughter have been produced in recent years. He started the Iowa Theatre Blog in 2007 because he felt the excellent theatre productions of our area were not getting the coverage they deserved.

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