by Matthew Falduto
What an amazing, theatrical year it has been. We’ve seen some shocking shows like Blackbird, some powerful musicals like Rent, and some shows that showcased how the theatre community can work together such as All in the Timing. We covered the pursuits of four relatively new theatre companies, Red Door Ensemble, Working Group Theatre, Paraphrase Theatre and Combined Efforts Theatre, as they’ve worked to find their niches in this crowded theatre community. We’ve watched and cheered as the venerable Iowa City Community Theatre regained its footing and ended its season with a smash hit holiday show, Cinderella.
2010 also saw Theatre Cedar Rapids return to a newly remade theatre as they produced hit after hit, beginning with the Producers and ending with White Christmas. Along the way, we’ve been challenged by Dreamwell to consider how we confront taboo subjects and situations with shows like Poona the F*ckdog and Innocence. City Circle showcased the talent of our younger actors with two excellent musicals: You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Godspell. The Amanas were certainly alive with theatre as newcomer Iowa Theatre Artists, fresh off their Icky win in 2009, offered an original vaudeville show as well as the classic A Walk in the Woods. And the Old Creamery Theatre entertained us with a variety of old favorites and newer fare. SPT Theatre in Cedar Rapids continued to offer their unique blend of sketches and music. It’s been a great year. For part one of our look back at what was, here are some comments from our readers followed by the thoughts of some of our reviewers.
“City Circle’s, The Baltimore Waltz, such a lovely story, and beautifully brought to the stage with top notch acting by Bryant Duffy, Nicole Vespa, and Kehry Lane. Very emotional, there was not a dry eye in the house when I saw it.”
“I agree that The Baltimore Waltz was one of the best shows I attended this past year.”
“City Circle’s production of Godspell was amazing! Director Michael Stokes always puts together a group with great chemistry and energy – and this was no exception. Wish I had a “soundtrack” CD of the songs by this talented group!”
“I was moved by Rachel Howell’s performance in Proof at TCR, awed by the energy and cool choreography of City Circle’s production of Godspell, and haunted by Dreamwell’s production of Blackbird.”
“Dreamwell’s Blackbird, sculpted to its frank and disturbing portrait of the characters, stopped my breath.”
“Once on this Island was a blast. Some of the most creative staging I have seen, and a cast that made you want to come down and dance along with them. It was infectious to say the least. Some talented High Schoolers in that show too. Future is lookin’ good for Iowa Theatre!”
“Hey, I thought End Days at Riverside Theatre was simply amazing. Such a clear story and wonderful acting from the whole company.”
“I thought ICCT’s Wonderful Town was a great show. I know, as an actor it was a great show to be a part of. Hats off as well to ACE’s Twelfth Night at the Iowa Children’s Museum. I was nearly in tears from laughing.”
“Theatre Cedar Rapids’ “Underground Theatre Festival” was a great weekend of live theatre. My personal favorite was A Midnight Clear with Bryant Duffy and Rob Merritt. Hope they do this again next year.”
“I loved Mary’s Wedding.”
“9 Parts of Desire blew me away more than anything. The piece itself is timely & timeless, and it was a truly brilliant use of an ensemble (and a very talented one, at that!) to reinterpret the one-woman show.”
“Dreamwell’s “Taboo Bijoux” theme may have been realized most chillingly by Ken Van Egdon in Innocence. In his portrayal of Pedro Lopez, “Monster of the Andes,” who raped and murdered 350 young girls, Ken broke the wall with the Audience repeatedly as he stalked, spoke to, and entered the Audience repeatedly to rationalize his horrific acts.”
“ICCT’s All in the Timing was a neat collaborative effort with multiple directors and a talented, diverse cast. How to Heal the Hurt by Hating, presented by Red Door Ensemble, was a fun script interpreted by some talented actresses.”
“For me, it’s all about the moments. These are [some of] the moments I remember most fondly from a year of great theater:
* Rachel Howell’s searing, lived-in, specific performance in TCR’s Proof. A personal best, I think.
* Megan Sands and John Smick playing monkeys with me in All in the Timing. Oh, and Matthew James as Tolstoy with an axe in his head in James Trainor’s perfectly calibrated All in the Timing piece.
* Most valuable player of the year: Michael Blake, set designer/builder extraordinaire! His spinning doors at the Children’s Museum were used in three productions alone!
* Finally, as productions go, the most fully realized for me was Love’s Labor’s Lost at the Riverside Shakespeare Festival. Productions like this point to why this festival is a treasure and a delight–classic works made so clear and clean that they transcend time, culture and class to resonate in present day.”
And some of our reviewers…
“Even though I reviewed both community and professional theatre this past year, my favorite of all the shows I went to — much less reviewed — was the sparse, cheaply produced and staged Dreamwell production of Poona the F*ckdog. When I’m still giggling with my girlfriend about throwaway lines from a play I saw 10 months ago, I know I’ve seen a quality show.” –Andrew Juhl
Though I loved the solid work in more straightforward theatre offerings such as Dreamwell’s A View From the Bridge and Theatre Cedar Rapids’ Proof, there have also been several poetic, intelligent and visually expressive pieces that have pushed the creative envelope. Working Group Theatre–some of whom teamed for the beautiful and effective Mary’s Wedding at Riverside–recently produced Atlas of Mud, an epic environmental tale told with lyricism, imagination and compassion (and a really cool set). In a similar melange of a-linear, episodic storytelling and scientific allegory, I must also mention the Hancher/UI production of guest artist Rinde Eckert’s Eyepiece. It was effusive (possibly even too much so, at times) with poetic experiments, stunning imagery, soundscapes and a strong company of performers. When I see work like Eyepiece and Atlas of Mud, where writing and directorial imagination run full bore, it seems like the beginning of work that is more than worth evolving, refining and taking on the road. –Angie Toomsen
“Obviously, my favorite theatrical production of the year was City Circle’s Once On This Island, though I’ll have to cop to a bit of stage-mom bias in that regard since my daughter Rachel was the star of the show. (Wasn’t she?) It was also a great, fun show with wonderful singing, dancing, and choreography.” – Sharon Falduto
Dreamwell Theatre’s choice to present a season under the “Taboo Bijou” banner resulted in several memorable productions including Blackbird and A View from the Bridge. Both featured strong, convincing performances not only from Rip Russell in leading roles but from virtually everyone involved. I’ll remember these productions as highlights of the season, but there are moments that will, I suspect, take up permanent residence in my memory, next to the still-vivid entrance of George Grizzard as Hamlet in Tyrone Guthrie’s 1963 production. For example, Kevin Moore as Marco, entering the theatre and calling out Eddie Carbone’s name—a terrifying summons that gave me chills. And Ken Van Egdon’s serial killer in Dreamwell’s production of Innocence leaving the stage and walking out through the house: also frightening but a wonderful theatrical moment.
Another production that made the 2010 season memorable is the Old Creamery Theatre’s Studio production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? This relatively early Albee play has long been a favorite and I can never resist seeing it. Happily, this production on a tiny stage with a minimal set ranks very high in my estimation. Tom Milligan and Marquetta Senters as George and Martha delivered sensitive, nuanced portrayals of the clever, unhappy, but deeply committed couple, hitting all the right notes from delight to despair. They were very ably supported by David Tull and Jackie McCall as their unsuspecting guests.
One more production I found exceptionally memorable was Iowa Theatre Artists Company’s A Walk in the Woods by Lee Blessing. Directed by Meg Merckens, Robert Gardner and Patrick O’Brien as Russian and U.S. diplomats respectively, demonstrated that effective theatre requires only an actor and an audience. And a bench. Although the play is set during the Cold War, the issues do not seem at all dated as Blessing explores the human element behind the politics of negotiation. – Gerry Roe
Tomorrow we will present one theatre guy’s 2010 journey in his own words. And after that will be my reflection on the theatre of 2010… where some (virtual) awards will be given. Eeep!