My favorite moments in theater are when I’ve been caught off guard by a performance, or was surprised to love a piece I hadn’t expected to. Director Nick Abounader and company pulled off something close to theatrical alchemy with their recent production at Players of Utica, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee: the ensemble was so in sync with the material and each other that the whole thing became gloriously more than its parts.
Players of Utica
Sarah brought a striking reality to her key scenes. She introduced an element of danger, the sense that what was happening on stage had real consequences – something was at stake…I have to think others in the audience shared my sense – before everyone sung Happy Birthday during the bows, there was a subtle gasp from the audience when it was announced that Sarah was celebrating her 16th birthday.
The piece’s themes are interesting – guilt, revenge, submission, and how all are mixed into lust and love. Although Japanese representations of those can seem kinky/bizarre, they are truer to real human emotional lives than most Western depictions, which value bland propriety above all else (think Hallmark).
What I really want out of a review is “I saw this, I felt this, and THIS IS WHY.” Criticism needs to be more than reporting, more than a PR opportunity for the theater group, more than pap for the incurious masses.
If there’s a given in stage work, it’s that performers and directors get most of the attention (and the credit). Many of my theatergoing friends say, “I don’t really think about lighting.” Well, I’ve been thinking about lighting, a LOT.
Hana Meyers gave the best performance I’ve yet seen from her… Sweet, self-effacing; powerful vocals. I’d recommend seeing this production just for her, but I wish she had a better showcase.
In June 2012, Dan Fusillo directed Avenue Q at Players’ State St. theater. I was cast as Nicky, the Ernie-like puppet who sings If You Were Gay to his Bert-like roommate. The show was a success, and I couldn’t wait to get back into lighting and maybe perform more frequently.
One day, I was discussing dream projects with my friend Jackie Osterman. I said I wanted to do Little Shop of Horrors… “Believe it or not, I’d love to play Seymour.” This is what Jackie said: “OK, so you’re Seymour.”
The first time I walked into Players of Utica was May, 1994. The group performed in a former church on Oxford Rd. in New Hartford, NY, where they’d been located since 1962. I remember a ramshackle building, peeling blue paint on the outside, entering through the downstairs and going up to get to the theater. The floors groaned, the stairs creaked, it smelled like a hundred years of must. I found it absolutely charming.
Sarah Crill is gently magnetic as Musoka, a terminally ill woman who may or may not be a woodland creature. My eyes stayed on her the entire show – a study in graceful movement.