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A Brilliant Glass Menagerie

By Flora Lynn Isaacson No Comments

Ross Valley Players celebrates its 94th season with The Glass Menagerie on stage now through October 14. The show opened for one weekend in March 2020, then closed due to the pandemic. Some of the original team has returned along with new cast, crew and designers to produce an entertaining and moving production of Tennessee Williams’ classic drama.

David Abrams does a fine job as director and also acts in the role of Tom Wingfield, a young man living with his mother Amanda (Tamar Cohn) and sister Laura (Tina Traboulsi) in a small St. Louis apartment in 1937. The only other character is Tom’s friend Jim O’Connor played by Jesse Lumb. These extraordinary actors along with a fabulous production team bring the fragile existence of these characters to life.

As the play begins we see Tom staggering home after a heavy night of drinking. Abrams brings out the character’s discontent, boredom and ambivalence with the obligations he feels to his single mother and sister.

Traboulsi is brilliant in the role of Laura. Her voice, movements and mannerisms well reflect a shy young woman whose main interest in life is her collection of small glass animal figurines.

Cohn is spectacular and convincing playing Amanda, a middle aged woman who escapes her disappointment with denial and memories of her youth as a Southern belle surrounded with beauty, grace and charm.

Lumb is excellent as Jim, the friend and hoped for (by Amanda) gentleman caller for Laura. Lumb is spot on as the promising kind suitor. When he and Laura meet, they discover they knew each other in high school and slowly, with the help of a little wine and a dance, Laura begins to come out of her shell. The two actors shine in the last half hour of the play. Their acting is truly outstanding.

Kudos to Michael Berg (Costumes), Billie Cox (Sound), Tom O’Brien (Set) and the entire production team for their dedication and talent, especially Steve Price (Producer). Coming up next at Ross Valley Players is It’s a Wonderful Life by Joe Landry and directed by Adrian Eifenbaum, November 17-December 17.




Merveilles from Compagnie Un château en Espagne presented at Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionnettes

By Jo Tomalin No Comments

Written and directed by Céline Schnepf and performed by Natalia Wolkowinski, Compagnie Un château en Espagne presents Merveilles at this year’s Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionnettes at Charleville-Mézières, France.

The very attractive compact round set of this piece is immediately impactful. Leaves cover the small space and tiny trees surround the edges. A tall lamp is to one side and our storyteller appears. She starts to talk to us in a low tone that is well articulated, has enough volume and is spare in text. For this story is about the natural wonders of nature and its animals and geared towards the young. 

The seating area is organized in a semi circle with swathes of comfy dark brown fabric to sit on at the front for the very youngest with several benches for the adults. The storyteller relates to the entire audience with empathy immediately, she is very compelling to watch and to listen to as she tells us about the wolf, it’s relatives and other animals from temperate climates. At each first mention of an animal, she takes out a figurine of that animal and shows us carefully then places is somewhere in the circle.

Sometimes there is no speaking needed and she does some interesting movement to the beautiful eclectic score which runs from classical to contemporary and beyond.

One thing that is immediately apparent is that this story and the show appeals to the adults in the audience just as much to the very young. About one third of the audience at the show I attended were families but the vast majority were adults without children. I looked around at one point and saw that the adults were rapt in the storyteller’s spell.

This show is artistic as well as beguilingly educational and transports the audience far away. It is wonderful way to spend half an hour and even more so if it introduces the very young to imaginative and meaningful stories and theatre.

The storyteller sang a little song, did several short movement pieces and interacted gently with the audience, all from her small stage. Wolkowinski is completely invested in the storytelling and creating special moments for the audience – all deftly and so creatively led by Schnepf.

The result is an utterly charming piece of theatrical storytelling that appeals to all ages!

Schattenwerfer-L’ombre des choses at Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionnettes

By Jo Tomalin No Comments

The shadows appear out of the darkness and they show a detailed fantasy village. Charming music gently envelopes us from the silence and the scene is set! Two figures appear in person and they begin to play with simple items on the table, they have a cup of tea and suddenly a tiny figure walks out of one of their cups! Between them, the two puppeteers make it walk very effectively and it helps to solve their problems with quick ideas, which seems like magic. The little figure has a mind of its own and wants to explore the world!

Sarah Chaudon, Clara Palau Y Herero and Tobias Tönjes of TANGRAM Kollektiv based in Germany, have created an original show incorporating shadow puppetry presented at the Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionnettes 2023, Charleville-Mézières, France.

In the imaginative interactions between the two puppeteers, Sarah Chaudon and Clara Palau Y Herero, they mirror each other and they copy their own images so there appear to be double the pair of them on the stage. Their shadows and that of a small table with tea cups are projected on a large three-section screen. The combination of their clever trickery with lights, shadows and their nimble physicality shows them in different places both in front or behind a screen which changes the perspective and is never predictable – and the element of surprise is powerful!

A very amusing piece is when tea cups on a shelf start falling and tumbling by themselves. This brought the young children in the audience to roars of laughter, even from the very young – as well as us adults. The cups defy gravity in their playfulness and we are transported to a gently place of make believe. We know it can’t happen really but the magic of the shadows allows it, which is wonderful!

The inventive way TANGRAM Kollektiv play and move from one segment to another is very free and yet linked somewhat at the same time. Their shadow play moves from one place to another whimsically experimenting with tiny then larger lights growing and getting smaller, that hold everyone’s attention before move on to their next idea. In this show, shadows create a world where it is the shadows themselves that interact with the puppeteers. If you are looking for a family show that will appeal to the very young and hold their attention throughout, then this is the show to see!

“The Full Monty”, a Musical by Terence McNally at Avon Playhouse, Rochester Hills MI

By Greg & Suzanne Angeo No Comments

Reviewed by Suzanne Angeo (member, American Theatre Critics Association; Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle), and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)

Photos by Bryan Clifford


(from left) Patrick Sullivan, Nic Folson, Eric Rodman, Adam Wager, Clayton Hargrave, Matt Cason


The Naked Truth


Based on the popular 1997 British comedy film of the same name, “The Full Monty” is being presented to sold-out audiences in all its raunchy, fun-loving glory by Avon Players, now in its 76th season. The award-winning musical adaptation by noted American playwright Terence McNally, with music and lyrics by David Yazbek, ran for almost two years on Broadway starting in 2000, and is now seen almost everywhere. The story’s premise is a little skimpy (pun intended) and highly implausible. But maybe that’s why it’s so much fun to watch. The original movie was set in the steel mill town of Sheffield, England. In the local slang, “The Full Monty” means “the whole lot”…full nudity.

The musical’s new, Americanized setting is Buffalo NY, where a steel mill is laying everyone off, including best friends Jerry and Dave, due to hard times. If this wasn’t bad enough, as luck would have it the Chippendale Dancers are performing in their town. When they see how much the local women love the Chippendales (including Dave’s wife and Jerry’s ex), and how much money these guys make just stripping down to their G-strings, they get the idea to form their own striptease act with four other out-of-work men. They even consult with one of the Chippendales, a hunky guy named Keno, played by the amazing Matt Druminski. (Warning: He opens the show with a bang, by stripping down to his bare…well, let’s leave something to the imagination.) Jerry and Dave need to beat the Chippendales at their own game, so their act (called Hot Metal), will come with a daring, naughty twist. They will bare all – The Full Monty.  What could possibly go wrong? These are just ordinary guys, after all. Some of them start to lose their nerve, especially when they confront their own “shortcomings”. The real fun starts as they recruit, then train and finally rehearse their act, with hysterical results.

Eric Rodman, Robby Carrigan

The ten-piece orchestra, led by Ron Pietrantoni, plays some splendid jazz, rock, and lovely ballads to accompany the enjoyable cast. Leading the way is Eric Rodman, who really shines as Jerry, especially with his vocal in the touching “Breeze off the River”. His ex-wife Pam (Lia DiFonzo) is breaking his heart over his desire to see his 12-year-old son, Nathan (Robby Carrigan). Clay Hargrave as Jerry’s best bud Dave offers another sympathetic character. He’s incredibly unsure of himself and his relationship with his wife, the vivacious Georgie, played with energetic charm by Emily Brown. She and her girlfriends relish their new-found independence in the number “It’s a Woman’s World” (with Caroline Dargay, Joy Oetjens and Pamela Plewa). While the whole cast is great, standouts include Nic Folson as Horse, with his excellent voice and dance moves in “Big Black Man”; Adam Wager as the goofy Ethan; nimble-footed Patrick Sullivan as Malcolm; and the tall and gorgeous Caroline Dargay as Estelle/Ensemble. Plus a special shout-out to the dynamic Lori Smith as Vicki. She shows real star power whenever she’s onstage, especially in the jazzy bossa nova number “Life With Harold”.

Lori Smith, Matt Cason

Some of the vocals can be somewhat uneven, and the story, for the most part, resembles a typical sitcom. But it displays unexpected depth in a number of ways, addressing the issues of suicide, depression, and same-sex attraction. It also turns traditional gender roles upside-down. We see female empowerment: ladies can earn their own living, be independent, and can see men as sex objects, too. We see male vulnerability: needing the approval of their mates, disappointment in their own bodies, and feeling despair at the loss of their traditional role as providers. But at the end of the day, it proves one thing – that even ordinary guys can be sexy.

Director John “JD” Deierlein handles the comedy, musical numbers, and the more sensitive moments with flair, but his strategic lighting at the end of the show really shows his skill – and timing. A fraction of a second too late, and we really would see “The Full Monty”. It’s lots of laughs, lots of fun, and really worth seeing – especially for Ladies Night Out.


Joy Oetjens, Caroline Dargay, Eric Rodman

Note: Due to frequent flashes of male nudity, this show is recommended for mature audiences

Now through September 30, 2023

Tickets $26.50 at box office, $3.50 fee online, $2.00 fee for phone order

Avon Playhouse

1185 Washington Rd

Rochester Hills, MI 48306

(248) 608-9077

“Monty Python’s Spamalot” at Stagecrafters, Royal Oak MI

By Greg & Suzanne Angeo No Comments

Reviewed by Suzanne Angeo (member, American Theatre Critics Association; Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle), and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)


Photos by Bureau Detroit


Chris Bateson, Nick Cupelli, Jeffrey Weiner (with coconut shells) Dan Rose, Katie Fairgrieve



A Look on the Funny Side


Monty Python’s Flying Circus revolutionized television back in 1969, breaking all the rules with off-the-wall sketch comedy and bizarre animated sequences. The legendary comedy troupe Monty Python (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin) soon branched off into music, films and live shows, including a number of successful musicals.

One of these is “Spamalot”, based on their 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” that totally skewers the Arthurian legend. “Spamalot” became a critically acclaimed smash hit, previewing on Broadway in February 2005 and running for four years. Seen by over two million people, it garnered 14 Tony nominations, winning three, including for Best Musical, Best Actress in a Musical and Best Direction of a Musical. It went on to performances and tours worldwide, with a Broadway revival coming up in November 2023. According to Idle, who wrote the book and lyrics (with music by Idle and John DuPrez), the title “comes from a line in the movie which goes: ‘we eat ham, and jam, and Spam a lot.’ ”

Dan Rose, Jeffrey Weiner

To open their 68th season, Stagecrafters has really pulled out all the stops, talent-wise. Their bright and jubilant presentation of “Spamalot” offers wonderful performances from cast and crew. Everything is top notch – from staging, costumes, song and dance (even real tap-dancing!) to the excellent 14-piece orchestra. Colorful animated backdrop projections really make the show, allowing for scene changes in the blink of an eye and some memorable images.

Trying to describe the plot would be futile. As Jones (co-director of the film version) said: “Spamlot is utterly pointless…it’s full of air.” A souffle of silliness, to be sure. In no particular order, expect flying cows, gross dismemberment, singing plague victims, the mysterious hand of God, a Trojan rabbit, cancan dancers, and shrubbery. Plus a Very Expensive Forest. Oh, and of course, Spam. You get the idea.

Deanna Daly makes a strong directorial debut with her fast-paced, never-a-dull-moment staging and guidance of the 22-member cast (some playing multiple roles). Among the standout performances: Katie Fairgrieve as the Lady of the Lake (“Whatever Happened to my Part?”) has just the right balance of great comedy chops, dance skills and a real belter’s voice. Stagecrafters set design and directing veteran Dan Rose, as King Arthur, can deliver a song and kick up his heels with the best of them, even though his last outing onstage was almost ten years ago. Nick Cupelli as Sir Belvedere, and Jeffrey Weiner as Patsy (a virtuoso on coconut shells), really ham it up with authority.

The rest of the ensemble cast demonstrates some notable dancing (splendid fan kicks) and comedy skills in numbers like “Not Dead Yet”,  and the show stopping “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway (if You Don’t Have Any Jews”), which features a dance sequence that has to be seen to be believed. “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, performed near the start of Act II, also closes the show in a dazzling, exuberant finale.

Also deserving a shout-out: choreographer N’Jeri Nicholson; music director Matthew Kush; costume designer Kimberly Wallace and technical director Becca Wisniewski.

Whether you’re a fan of Monty Python or never heard of them, you’re sure to enjoy this joyful, irreverent and hopelessly silly show. For a little over two hours, you get to look on the bright side of life. Well worth a visit.


Wyatt Setty, Chris Bateson, Nick Cupelli, Jeffrey Weiner, Dan Rose


Not recommended for young children

Now through October 1, 2023

Tickets $35; $25 on Thursdays ($3 ticket fee for all tickets purchased online, by phone or at the door)

Stagecrafters at the Baldwin Theatre, Main Stage

415 S. Lafayette

Royal Oak, MI 48067

(248) 541-6430


Stagecrafters is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit performing arts organization with support from: Michigan Arts & Culture Council; National Endowment for the Arts; Royal Oak Arts Council; Oakland County; Royal Oak Downtown Development Authority; and DTE Foundation

Dimanche at Edinburgh International Festival 2023

By Jo Tomalin

Climate change is around us and two award-winning companies from Belgium have chosen to show and tell us their take with their inimitable wit, on this topic. The two companies are Focus Company and Chaliwaté Company and they create performances based the theatre genres of puppetry, video, mime and clowning. The former, Focus Company works with miniature objects and puppetry and Chaliwaté Company focuses on the body and gestures.They present their show Dimanche as part of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival.

Therefore, their artistic expression and sense of humour will reflect all of these art forms in some way while dealing with an important topic. Climate change is no laughing matter but these companies are optimistic that humans will turn it around. A creative way to bring attention to some of the current effects of climate change is through the power of theatre and enacting situations – in their own idiosyncratic way!

Written, Directed & Performed by Julie Tenret, Sicaire Durieux and Sandrine Heyraud, Dimanche is the French word for Sunday, a family day, when friends get together and have more time to reflect on what’s happening around them. Through a series of creative scenes, some linked throughout these three performers play several characters, manipulate props and objects, including an outstanding sequence of puppetry with a large fish!

Not wanting to give away spoilers, because much of the impact of this show comes from the element of surprise and exaggerated literal and imaginative visual expression, here are some hints! A brilliant global warming scene shows what happens when a family needs relief from the heat and things get way out of hand reflects on a sadly realistic situation and then turns into full on humour. 

Projecting video above the actors is an effective way to change location and add dimension to the terrain. Then back to the mysterious lighting of the stage we are suddenly transported under water accompanied by a huge fish puppet with very realistic movement and panache from the puppeteers.

Dimanche is a show that builds and continues to entertain and surprise through the never ending imagination and quirky creativity of this collaboration of these two companies. Highly Recommended!

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Guys & Dolls at Sonoma Arts Live

By Flora Lynn Isaacson

Don’t miss one of the best musical productions of the year—Guys and Dolls now through July 30 at Sonoma Arts Live. Based on the book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, Director Larry Williams brings New York City in the 1950’s to life with a fine cast of “colorful characters, bustling gangsters, sassy showgirls, and mission workers.” The live orchestra led by Sherrill Peterson (Musical Director) is fantastic performing Frank Loesser’s familiar songs including “Luck Be a Lady” and “I’ve Never Been In Love Before.”

The play begins with a lovely overture and dance movements by the cast foreshadowing events to come. The story revolves around a gambler, Nathan Detroit (Skyler King), and Miss Adelaide (Jenny Villeux), a nightclub singer who have been engaged for 14 years. Also central to the plot is another gambler and friend of Nathan’s–Sky Masterson (Andrew Smith). Ironically, Sky becomes smitten with a local God-fearing mission worker trying to save the world (Sarah Brown played by Maeve Smith). Both couples’ chemistry is electric–a joy to watch. Other performers that stand out include Jonathen Blue as Nicely Nicely (his Broadway quality voice is incredible) and Owen Hardisty as Benny Southstreet.

The entire large cast has great energy and timing. It was a great idea to block many of the scenes right in the audience space. The cast moves on and off the stage, and up and down the aisles making the audience feel part of it all. The choreography is very entertaining (Liz Andrews) and the costumes beautiful (Barbara McFadden & Sylvia Gregory). Kudos to Emily Cornelius (Stage Manager) Gary Gonser (Set Design), Frank Sarubbi (Light Design), Jaime Love (Artistic Director) and Rick Love (Executive Director) for all their contributions bringing this grand and spectacular production together.

Coming up next at Sonoma Arts Live is Dames at Sea September 8-24 directed by Larry Williams with musical direction by Jonathen Blue.

Co-written by Lori Wood

Café Müller – Choreographed by Pina Bausch in Paris!

By Jo Tomalin

Théâtre de la Ville presented Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch + Terrain performing Café Müller at La Villette, Paris July 6-12, 2023. Choreographed by Pina Bausch in 1978 this piece was produced by Théâtre de la Ville in 1985 and 1992, with the late Pina Bausch performing in it regularly. Under the new artistic direction of Boris Charmatz since last year, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch presents Café Müller in a stand alone forty-five minute performance with three different casts each night.

A revolving door is centre stage through which customers arrive and leave. The wide stage space of Café Müller is strewn with almost fifty chairs and small round tables where sparse customers move around and into these objects – save for an agile man who moves them out of the way of a woman who apparently does not see them. This act is at once endearing and selfless – but there is more.

Café Müller has been called a psychodrama as scenes among the cast of six intermingle sporadically. Two women in ethereal pale silky dresses stay on stage the entire time and others come and go. A duet enacts repetitive dramatic moments between a woman falling on the floor out of the arms of a man, suggesting a rise and fall in a relationship.

The idea for Café Müller came out of the childhood memories of Bausch herself when her parents owned a Café and she spent time in the evenings observing the customers as they jostle between the sadness of reality and hope.

The choreography and mise en scène by Bausch includes breathtakingly fluid movement, sudden bursts of music and emotive dance, the visual of a woman slowly sliding down a wall to the floor, a person arrives and totters about not understanding the situation yet she seems to grow to accept it.

Set to music by Henry Purcell this piece is beautifully poignant and impactful.

Set and costume design by Rolf Borzik of black walls, chairs and tables with plexiglass, and the elegant evening dress work together to create a mysterious moody environment for the cast of six superlative performers as they discover themselves and form relationships.

Having seen this piece performed by this company many years ago as part of an evening performance, this stand alone forty-five minutes is extraordinary for the emotional impact. Highly recommended!

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Palermo Palermo by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch at Montpellier Danse Festival

By Jo Tomalin

The 43rd festival of Montpellier Danse in France and Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch + Terrain Boris Charmatz presented Palermo Palermo /REPRISE/ on June 29, 30 and July 1, 2023 in Le Corum, Montpellier. Choreographed by Pina Bausch in 1989, this is the second piece of the series she created after visiting several countries and expressing her observations in dance theatre through her company of international dancers.

Palermo Palermo is immediately impactful when a huge wall of bricks wavers and falls backwards, then dancers emerge wearing high heels and dresses or fur coats walking across the broken bricks. Prescient in this image is the fact that the Berlin Wall fell a few months after her creation. Pina Bausch works are singular in their glorious construction, choreography, use of space, theatrical dance with movement and the Tanztheater Wuppertal company of outstanding dance theatre performers who also create characters with no or minimal words – sublimely.

Bausch created her works in collaboration with superb designers: Peter Pabst for stunning scenography and beautiful costume design by Marion Cito. Musical collaboration by Matthias Burkert is at the forefront in Palermo Palermo which includes a range from Grieg, Paganini, traditional music from Sicily, Southern Italy, Africa, Japan, Scotland – to music from the Renaissance and American blues and jazz.

This three hour piece with intermission is a feast for fans of Pina Bausch choreography and creative work and a bold introduction to new audiences. The Montpellier Danse festival has made an inspired choice to invite this company, whose ground breaking work needs to be seen in the world canon of choreography.

An international cast of twenty five dancers comprising several original Tanztheater Wuppertal company members who worked with Bausch before her death in 2009 are joined by recent cast members. They all create images and emotive sequences with verve and commitment. Character quirks and poignant expressive physical commentary unfold to reveal themselves with dramatic scenes and irony – then move on to a change of pace with ensemble dances that are fluid and abstract yet involve specific individuality, that are so visceral and moving.

Flashes of ideas and observations expressed by Bausch from her research in Palermo include gunshots, church bells and cocktails! Relationships are explored such as when a couple breathe on each other then perform a beautiful angular and flowing duet, so delicate and sensitive.

Long time (and now ex) company member Nazareth Panadero is an invited guest at this performance run. She is notable for her bold and fascinating character portrayals both physical and verbal. In one of her scenes in Palermo Palermo a male character irons her dress while she is wearing it and then she is taunted by another male character – her reactions evoke the possibilities of male and female relationships and attitudes at the time. Panadero also performs a brief and demonstrative scene about spaghetti, it’s absolutely wonderful!

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch + Terrain Boris Charmatz have produced a superb provocative and highly creative production that is memorable – and an experience that would be greatly welcomed again at Montpellier Danse, in the future!

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Jo Tomalin, Ph.D. reviews Dance, Theatre & Physical Theatre Performances
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