Lee Blessing’s thought-provoking 2000 two-hander “Going to St. Ives” receives a compelling local premiere at the Dayton Theatre Guild.
Delicately directed by Greg Smith, “Ives” centers on the dueling agendas of two strong women, particularly the life-changing decision to rid the world of evil. At the titular England home of renowned eye surgeon Dr. Cora Gage, May N’Kame, the distinguished mother of a murderous African dictator, shockingly requests a deadly souvenir that thrusts Cora into a considerable moral dilemma, personally and professionally. As situations swell six months later in an African garden, the consequences of their actions speak volumes. May and Cora are cultural opposites (which fuels most of the play’s humor) but each is effectively bruised by the past yet connected through loss and the bond of motherhood. With great potency, they boldly address the individual’s responsibility toward humanity.
In less capable hands, Blessing’s low-key, intellectual, conversation-driven script, a female counterpart to his 1988 Tony Award-nominated international relations drama “A Walk in the Woods,” could easily dissipate in a boring fog of sluggish pacing and implausible characterizations. Thankfully, Smith keeps the action engrossing with a smooth ebb and flow that his first-rate leading ladies consistently uphold. Marianna Harris, attractively costumed in African attire, impressively embodies May’s complex persona, a huge feat considering she joined the production during its opening weekend. Mastering an African dialect and appearing appropriately regal, Harris radiates with inquisitiveness while being an acute source of unexpected levity. She also has the genuine power to break your heart and bring you to tears, especially as May shares more insight about her son as well as her inherent guilt in the gripping Act 2. Katrina Kittle, in a welcomed return to dramatic fare, is equally striking as the conflicted Cora. She particularly soars in Act 2 as Cora’s emotional scars become more prevalent and her frustrated attempt to remedy a dire situation spirals beyond her control.
“Going to St. Ives” continues through April 1 at the Dayton Theatre Guild, 430 Wayne Ave. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10-$18. Act One: 50 minutes; Act Two: 45 minutes. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Marianna Harris freely uses her script. For tickets, call (937) 278-5993 or visit www.daytontheatreguild.org. In related news, the Guild’s 2012-2013 season, dubbed “’Til Death Do Us Part,” will consist of Michael Hollinger’s “Opus” (Aug. 24-Sept. 9, directed by Greg Smith), Paul Zindel’s “And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little” (Oct. 5-21, directed by Debra Kent), Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s “Ghosts” (Jan. 11-27, directed by Matthew Smith), Kate Fodor’s “100 Saints You Should Know” (Feb. 22-March 10, directed by Ellen Finch), Tim Clue and Spike Manton’s “Leaving Iowa” (April 5-21, directed by Rob Willoughby) and Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman” (May 17-June 2, directed by Natasha Randall).
Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman’s deliciously satirical 2002 Tony Award-winning “Urinetown: The Musical” greatly entertains at the University of Dayton. This smart, wacky and marvelously melodic tale of corporate greed and environmental disaster, filled with superb Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill influences and efficiently designed by Darrell Anderson, concerns a drought-stricken city and its ban on private toilets. Despite tough economic times and the sheer reality of paying to urinate, budding romance and a cyclone of revolt propels the cause of the downtrodden against the privileged (shades of the Occupy Movement) with a hilariously tongue-in-cheek sensibility.
In a sharp contrast to previous “Urinetown” productions in our area, director Gina Kleesattel and choreographer John Ueber surprisingly dial down the clever musical theater parodies within the material, especially the “Fiddler on the Roof”-inspired “What Is Urinetown?” Even so, both work in tandem to create an atmosphere playfully grounded without blatantly or excessively going over-the-top.
Kleesattel’s vocally strong cast (“Run, Freedom, Run” is a highpoint) particularly features firm contributions from its principals. Brennan Paulin’s crowd-pleasing portrayal of tightly-wound Officer Lockstock is uniquely crafted in a delightfully quirky, mildly flamboyant fashion with a glimmer of mystery underneath. Kate Hunt, the epitome of goofy authoritativeness, is outstanding as public amenity supervisor Penelope Pennywise, specifically delivering a knockout rendition of “It’s a Privilege to Pee.” Tim Gorman supplies a cool demeanor as Caldwell B. Cladwell, the CEO of Urine Good Company. Stephen Kallenberg and Stephanie Jabre are tenderly intertwined as the rebellious Bobby Strong and winsome Hope Cladwell. Emily Smith endearingly shines as the wiser-than-her-years Little Sally. Natalie Adler as Josephine Strong, Patrick Lillis as Hot Blades Harry, Alexandra Cole as Little Becky Two Shoes and Bryan Bryk as Officer Barrel are notable among the lively ensemble. Musical director Susan Carlock conducts a fine orchestra.
“Urinetown: The Musical” continues through March 31 in the Kennedy Union Boll Theatre at the University of Dayton, 300 College Park. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. Act One: 65 minutes; Act Two: 55 minutes. Tickets are $7-$10. For tickets or more information, call (937) 229-2545 or visit www.udayton.edu/artssciences/theatre
The Dayton Playhouse adequately tackled William Inge’s classic 1955 comedy “Bus Stop,” presented March 16-25 under the direction of Matthew Smith. Inge’s engaging, folksy account of strangers connecting at a Kansas diner during a snowstorm looked great (Josh Hollister’s inviting, detailed set was the most eye-catching thus far this season at the Playhouse) but was specifically hindered by an unbalanced cast with colliding interpretations. In fact, a few featured roles surpassed the leads, a problematic concern that stifled the play’s impact.
Ellen Ballerene as ditzy singer Cherie and Scott Knisley as rugged cowboy Bo Decker were supposed to be squabbling lovebirds igniting emotional fireworks. However, issues of age-appropriateness and chemistry in addition to a frequent desire to rush the dialogue halted their momentum. Ballerene, unwisely emphasizing personality above all, was particularly unable to transform Cherie into a three-dimensional woman. Interestingly, she was stronger opposite the authentically understated performances of Margaret Foley as waitress Elma Duckworth and Mike Rousculp as Bo’s guitarist cohort Virgil Blessing.
The most richly satisfying portrayal stemmed from the delightfully earthy Lorrie Sparrow as proprietor Grace Hoylard. Sparrow wonderfully revealed the vulnerability of a woman satisfied with her independence yet craving for more. Her final scene, transpiring at closing time and excellently shared with Rousculp, was infused with a brutal honesty that made Inge’s relatable slice of life briefly resonate with aplomb. After all, in search of one’s purpose it is very easy to be left behind without a clear path in sight. This production certainly could have used more convincing, reflective moments on par with its memorable conclusion.
Craig Smith as amiable sheriff Will Masters, Rick Flynn as the self-absorbed Dr. Gerald Lyman and Mark Hassel as bus driver Carl completed the cast.
In conjunction with its local premiere of August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean,” which opens Friday, March 30, the Human Race Theatre Company will present an August Wilson Symposium Saturday, March 31 at 1 p.m. at the Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St. The panel, moderated by local attorney/musician David Greer, will feature Mark Clayton Southers, the director of “Gem of the Ocean,” Sala Udin, an actress and childhood friend of Wilson, Christopher Rawson, senior theater critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Charles Holmond, an Earlham College professor. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 on Saturday. For more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com