Friday, February 28, 2014

Rapture, Blister, Burn by the Aux Dog Theatre Company

Oh, we humans... our foibles, our tendencies to dream, as well as to torment (mostly ourselves) with the question, "What if?" So many of us have faced a "crossroads moment" in our lives and taken (by choice or happenstance) one path, only to look back and wonder about that other road we didn't travel, and to ponder. This is the essence of the dilemma behind Aux Dog Theatre's latest work, "Rapture, Blister, Burn," a Pulitzer nominated comedy by Gina Gionfriddo that's now its Southwest premiere.

It begins with a love triangle from college -- two girls, roommates even, and one guy. When Catherine loses Don to Gwen, events are set into motion that provoke each of them to later wonder, "What if?" Don and Gwen (Ryan Montenery and Jessica Osbourne) are married with children, living a life of suburban normality. But Gwen recalls the education and career she never pursued, and wonders if she would be happier if she had. Catherine (Sheridan Johnson) recalls the love she shared with Don, and despite giving her life to her career, realizes that when her mother (Gail Gillock Spidle) passes, there will be no one left who truly loves her, and questions her life's choices as well.

Catherine's informal classes on feminist theory held in her home provide the premise of this play something meaty and thought provoking to hang its love triangle on. As Catherine instructs her two students, Gwen and Avery (Sara Rosenthal), the flippant teenager whose outlook on femininity is somewhat pessimistic, she's also joined by her martini-making mother, Alice (Gail Gillock Spidle).

Avery provides the youngest perspective on the feminist discussions; her outlook is bleak yet realistic, if overly simplified. Observing Gwen and Catherine twist in the discomfort of their own life choices between career versus marriage, she declares, "Women are fucked!" Alice voices the views of an older generation, and the rules women lived by, giving us perspective on how things have changed (and how they haven't).

The characters discover their own solution to the dilemma of how to have it all, or as Catherine put it, "Create a life that makes you happy." But... well, we're human, and even with the best laid plans things still fall apart. Perhaps one detail that spoke to me most poignantly was the use of the set during scene changes, when telephone sex ads, love scenes from classic films, and other images of women, love, and sex are projected onto the walls. After all, what more are these "What if?" moments we torment ourselves with but our own internal projections?

It is Avery who says, "We all have personal mythologies," just as we all have these crossroad moments in our lives that make us wonder about the greener grass we never found. Directed by Kristine Holtvedt, the clever comedy left me still pondering some of the show's concepts, and I love when art provokes that kind of introspection, emotion and analysis. To find out more, or to buy tickets online, visit their website at, or give the theatre a call at 505.254.7716.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Swan Lake by Ballet Repertory Theatre at the Kimo

Now in their 24th season, Ballet Repertory Theatre is serving up "Swan Lake," a classical and tasty Tchaikovsky treat for the dance lovers in our community. Despite having seen this show often in times past, I never grow tired of it; there are so many options for dancers to choose from when approaching such iconic roles, and so many ways for the choreographer to choose to present this tale. BRT's newest staging of the classical ballet does exactly this, combining elements of the familiar with new moments of discovery for the audience to enjoy.

Placing equal emphasis on acting ability as well as technical ability, choreographer Alex Ossadnik stages this story in four acts, allowing the fairy tale to take precedence instead of being the afterthought that some choreographers have treated it as. Ossadnik also deviated from the expected in casting the role of Odette/Odile, White Swan/Black Swan, who is often performed by the same dancer but is danced by two dancers for this production. Erika Ray plays the delicate Odette, a princess doomed to appear as a white swan who falls in love with Prince Siegfried, danced with clean precision by Mauro Villanueva. In pursuit of the Prince's kingdom, the scheming Baron von Rothbart (Michael Smith) seeks to place his daughter, the seductive Odile, danced by Briana VanSchuyver, in line for the throne instead. Using trickery at the masquerade ball, Rothbart switches Odette for Odile, and consigns the Prince to marry the wrong woman.

The technique required by this classic's choreography is always of a high caliber, and the entire company sets the artistic bar(re) quite high. By Ossadnik's vision, we see moments that recall pure Petipa, such as the pas de deux in act two when Odette and Siegfried first fall in love, while others are completely unique, such as the Black Act's pas de quatre between Odette, Rothbart, Siegfried and Odile. With such strong pointe technique displayed by Ray and VanSchuyver, and superb partnering technique by Villanueva and Smith, as well as Smith's ability to find his brooding villain, the principle characters combine their personal expression with the story they're given and in return, believably embody the characters' archetypes.

Ray must remain delicate, tortured, and innocent in her movements, while VanSchuyver is aggressive, powerful and seductive in hers. Beside the foreboding character of the Baron and the innocence of the Prince, the dancers build their characters' stories as equally as they do their choreography. One role, that of the Queen, was also notably changed, and allowed for dancer Annie Cormier to bring her own pointe technique to the part. Most often presented in character shoe, Cormier's pointe shoes allow for Siegfried and his mother to perform their own pas de deux in act one, a bit different from most productions.

I spoke with Ossadnik after the opening night performance and asked about another directorial choice he made, removing the famous (or infamous?) 32 fouette turns that traditionally are Odile's to perform in the Black Act. Over a century later, the turns are almost expected, ever since Pierina Legnani performed them in 1895, but dance critics question are they necessary? Romantics insist they embody Odile's bewitching power to seduce the Prince, but detractors compare the choreography to a circus act, calling them superfluous and meant to entertain a less sophisticated audience. Upon questioning, Ossadnik demurred, insisting that by his vision the fouettes are only needed when technically called for.

They were not missed, especially given the dense amount of complex choreography to be seen, and the lovely work done by the entire corps de ballet, in cannon and otherwise. Another iconic moment the company resonated with was act two's dance of the "little swans," which brought cheers and whistles from the house on opening night. "Little swans" was another example of Ossadnik holding true to the Petipa classic, where the choreography was not watered down to accommodate an imperfect dance technique, but instead kept true to the original and all four dancers performed the fast, intricate and challenging pas de quatre superbly.

Other moments in this production recall a child like sense of delight, most especially the climactic ending where Rothbart stirs the waters of the lake into a storm, reminding me of the effects you read of that were accomplished in the Maryinsky Theatre where this ballet debuted well over a century ago. Yet another choice "Swan Lake" choreographers must make is how to end it... there are several versions, some happy and some sad, and without giving anything away, I can definitively say the Ballet Repertory Theatre's ending left me feeling satisfied. Like a harmonious four course meal, the ballet in four acts has moments of light, airy sweetness tempered with heavy, and saucy, choreography that is meaty, complex and delicious, and meant to be savored and enjoyed.

Under the direction of Artistic Director Katherine Giese, BRT has continued to develop their company's repertory so that it is chock full of classic and modern ballet forms, delighting both types of balletomanes. To get your tickets, and to find out about their classes and workshops, visit their website at or you can visit the Kimo Theatre website for "Swan Lake" tickets at

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Max's Magic Theatre, featuring magician Max Krause

Something about watching magic awakens the child in me, and I know I'm not alone. When we watch something seemingly miraculous happen, even if our cynical, grownup mind knows it's all an illusion, we still marvel at the moment when it unfolds. This sense of wonderment is what Max Krause brings to his own magic show, playing several nights every week at Max's Magic Theatre, located along Central in Albuquerque.

Is magic an art, you might be asking? You better believe it; any performance artist worth his salt has spent hundreds (at least) of hours in practice, and rehearsing their act, until it becomes the flowing, uninterrupted performance which easily suspends that stubborn "window of disbelief." Having performed in 48 of the 50 states, Krause is no stranger to stage, but started his one-man Albuquerque show last year in March as an adjunct to Max's Magic Shop which he also owns (naturally). 

The performance space is an intimate 24-seat theatre which allows every audience member not only the chance to see everything Krause does from a close vantage point (which certainly enhances the "How did he do that?" effect) and, even better, Krause pulls every willing member of the audience onstage to become a part of at least one of his magic tricks.

The show itself is a combination of many traditional magic effects (sleight of hand, card tricks, cup and ball) but also many more effects which defy immediate explanation, perhaps as good magic should. The rubber band trick? That was the one I was called onstage for, and despite the magic happening only a foot away from my nose? I couldn't find the trick! 

By the end of the evening, I left with my cheeks hurting from smiling for so long (fact). A family-friendly show, Krause keeps his act clean so that even the kids in the audience can enjoy the performance, and take their parents on an outing for a change. So skip the babysitter, bring the kids, or delight the kid that still exists in you... it's that kind of event.

The shows play at 7:30 and 9:30 on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as 7:30 on Mondays, "Weekend Workers Night". To find Max's Magic Shop and Magic Theatre, look for the Lily Barrack awning near Central and Richmond, and you can find the sign that points you to the door where you can enter. Tickets are also available online at or call them at 505.255.2303. The curious are more than welcome to shop the store, either online, after the show's conclusion where some of Krause's own effects can be found, or any other time when (guess what) Krause may just surprise you with a trick the moment you walk in. It's a card trick, it blows my mind... and that's all I'm gonna say. (Wink!)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Other Place by Fusion Theatre Company at the Cell

One reason we go to the theatre, I believe, is to find ourselves. We cast projections of our Self on to what we see onstage, and from that, build compassionate, emotional responses, and so we laugh or cry as the story unfolds. This notion of self, as well as what is found and lost in a lifetime, is integral to "The Other Place," presented by Fusion Theatre Company at the Cell Theatre in Albuquerque, as well as the Lensic in Santa Fe. Brilliantly written by Sharr White, this show just finished its last season on Broadway and is enjoying its Southwest regional premiere to many sold out houses in Albuquerque.

The story of Juliana Smithton unfolds in vignettes that give us glimpses into her patchwork identity. Like each of us, she is many things, a professional and company representative of the drug "Identomil," prescribed for dementia, i.e. loss of self. Yet she is also a mother, a (perhaps soon to be ex?) wife, and many other identities that allow the audience to glimpse her truth, yet question the veracity of what we're seeing as Juliana's tale spins out. Played superbly by Jacqueline Reid, this character's complexities are teased out, moment to moment, as Reid shifts clearly and seamlessly into and out of many realities for the entirety of the show, which is presented without intermission, allowing it to build to a momentous finish. Her sustained focus and approach allows Juliana to become more than one identity, something that refuses to be pinned down.

Around Juliana we see Ian, her husband, strongly played by Scott Harrison. Like a counterbalance to the emotional swings that are Juliana, Ian struggles to maintain an even keel with his clearly brilliant, yet troubled wife. Celia Schaefer is described as "The Woman" in the program, and we see her brilliantly interacting with Reid intimately on so many different levels as she embodies the various female characters that tell Juliana's tale, some reoccurring, such as Dr. Teller, Juliana's psychiatrist. "Have you always been this elusive?" the doctor asks, as Juliana resists any singular description of herself, or even one singular reality. Also playing many characters is Peter Diseth, called "The Man," and embodying the other masculine projections of Juliana's multiple visions of reality.

Under director Shepard Sobel's care, Sharr's writing shines in a cast as tight and talented as this, and in a house as intimate as the Albuquerque production offers. Never losing focus, Reid gives deeply to each actor in their scenes together, and yet carries her long solo moments with breathtaking storytelling. Woven into and out of real time is the dementia drug Identomil's presentational pitch, where Juliana's eloquent soliloquies become taken over with "the girl in the yellow, string bikini," whom she ridicules, then examines, then empathizes with, as the entire tale of Juliana's reality unfolds. When the stunning truth of the girl is revealed in the last moment of the play, I was overcome with tears to see the story I had just witnessed. Which is not to characterize the story as being a downer, it's certainly not... but it carries an emotional gravitas to its finish that moved me deeply.

The opening weekend was sold out every night, Thursday to Sunday, so be sure to book your tickets to see this one ahead of time on their website at or call their office at 505.766.9412. Albuquerque audiences have until February 23 to see the show at the Cell Theatre, and one additional opportunity that is new to Fusion. On Saturday, March 1st at 8 pm, the show will play at The Wool Warehouse, The Cell's neighbor to the south.  This is their inaugural visit, and because of the larger venue, a "Pay What You Wish" performance is being offered. And, Santa Fe crowds can see this gem too when they pull into the Lensic on March 7 & 8.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Mousetrap at Albuquerque Little Theatre

Classic Agatha Christie is what's caught for audiences to enjoy in "The Mousetrap," currently playing at the Albuquerque Little Theatre. Still running since its October 1952 premiere in London's West End, this show holds the record for the longest initial run in theatre history, to the delight of audiences everywhere, since you don't have to visit London to see it for yourself. (Incidentally, it's never been published either, as Christie stipulated it could never be published nor produced in film until the theatre's run concluded... and it still hasn't).

Mollie Ralston and her husband Giles are the new owners of Monkswell Manor house and are eager to begin their business adventure when their opening is riddled with mishaps. An unexpected snowstorm ensures that the scene has been set, and we watch as a classic murder mystery unfolds, including the twists and turns Christie is known for. Molly greets her new guests, played by a well cast ensemble, each of whom knows how to skillfully conjure their character (and their character's secrets) for the audience to enjoy.

With many memorable moments, Matthew Van Wettering creates the cackling Christopher Wren, a huge character in his own right who cavorts and swishes through the manor house with a child-like, simpering glee. Dour and stern is Carolyn Hogan as the disapproving Mrs. Boyle. Major Metcalf (Stephen Zamora) carries authority, while Miss Casewell is the worldwise and well-traveled woman, played by Sarah Daum. One unexpected guest arrives last, the mysterious Mr. Paravicini (Miguel Martinez) whose car, he claims, has "overturned in the snow."

The last on the scene is Brian Haney as Detective Sergeant Trotter, who becomes the classic Christie detective, explaining to us the nuances in these characters' stories and unraveling the hidden back stories that each player seeks to conceal during their stay at the manor house. "You never know what anyone is really like," remarks Christopher Wren early on, and the meat of the story is trying to puzzle out exactly that. But when met with stubborn silence upon questioning, it's the cop who concludes, "If one of you gets murdered, you'll only have yourselves to blame!"

Directed by Vic Browder, this cast keeps the show tight and keeps its pace, with a story that's brilliantly told by one of our best mystery writers in modern time. The 1950's inspired set is exactly what you would hope to see, and cleverly camouflages the current lack of stage curtains, as ALT (much like Monkswell Manor) is in the midst of her own personal makeover. With over 25,000 shows playing in London alone, audiences everywhere continue to enjoy this play and as Agatha herself was known to despise reviewers who spoiled her stories' endings, you can be sure that myself and fellow audience members are keeping secret the ending of this enchanting classic. But it's so worth the surprise!

Houses were running very full, so advance tickets are recommended. Visit their website at and remember to stay sharp, even while seated... there's a killer on the loose!