Thursday, March 19, 2015

"August: Osage County" – Spring cleaning in summer


The cast of “August: Osage County” is filled with talented EPAC veterans


It’s not quite the first day of spring, and the Weston clan is already heavily into spring cleaning. Spiritual, psychological spring cleaning.

Beverly Weston is making sure his cancer-ridden, drug-addicted wife, Violet, is taken care of by a housekeeper he’s hiring. Violet is trying to get her middle daughter, Ivy, to spruce herself up and attract a man. Beverly and Violet’s three daughters are trying, half-heartedly, to fix all that’s wrong with their mother, and they’re all in the process of making significant changes in their lives with respect to the men they’re in relationships with.

OK. It isn’t really spring within the world of “August: Osage County.” In fact, it is summer in a non-air-conditioned house, and it’s as hot as H-E-Double-Hockey-Stick –too hot to be doing the kind of cleaning that's about to be done.

Welcome to the Weston household in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Relatives are returning to the family homestead on the Plains, which eldest Weston daughter Barbara describes in the play’s first act this way: "This is the Plains: A state of mind ... some spiritual affliction, like the Blues." 

But the Plains aren't her spiritual affliction at the moment. Her family is.

“August: Osage County,” Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play the Ephrata Performing Arts Center is presenting beginning tonight – Thursday, the eve of the first day of spring – is filled with people trying to cleanse themselves of their pasts, their toxic relationships with other family members, their issues and their pathological patterns. But, as if they’re foundering in quicksand, the harder the Westons struggle to spring clean, the deeper they sink into the muck.

Not far into the play, Beverly – a poet and professor – winds up missing, and the family must gather to deal with this crisis, and many more in each of their personal lives. Pretty quickly, the issues siblings have with their parents, each other and their partners come spilling out in chaotic, unconstructive and nasty ways. Drug-addled Violet wants everyone to engage in “truth-telling.” She should be careful what she wishes for.

In this production of “August: Osage County,” the terrific cast of veteran EPAC actors basically had to learn stage-combat choreography for a domestic dinner-table scene. This play – this family – is not for the faint of heart.


Elizabeth Pattey, left, is Violet, Ken Seigh is Bill and Susan Kresge is Barbara in “August: Osage County” at EPAC.


But the play IS for anyone who has experienced moments of dysfunctional family drama. It’s for those who want to laugh and gasp at a black comedy that’s an examination of human foibles, parent-child relationships and the ways in which relatives can wound each other.

It’s for those who can feel sadness for feckless characters the audience can see are headed for disaster. It’s for those who don’t mind adult themes and some fairly salty language. The Westons, you see, don’t speak nicely to each other when they’re spring cleaning.

It’s for you, if you love challenging theater that examines family relationships and the human condition. It’s for you, if you want to try to hold on for a wild ride of a play that may leave you exhausted at the end of the evening.

And it’s for you, if you start your spring by ordering tickets from EPAC for “August: Osage County,” playing Thursday through April 4 at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre. Call the box office at 733-7966.



Thursday, October 16, 2014

'Cabaret' entertains – and gets under your skin

Martha Wasser, center, as Sally Bowles, dances with the girls of the Kit Kat Club in EPAC's "Cabaret," now through Nov. 1 at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre.



If you think you know the “Cabaret” story from watching the 1972 Liza Minnelli / Joel Grey movie, think again.

The stage musical, which opens tonight and runs through Nov. 1 at EPAC, came first (opening on Broadway in 1966). And it remains a deeper exploration than the film of both the 1930s decadence of Berlin and the menace bubbling just under the surface as the Nazis began to assert their authority during their rise to power.

I watched the last rehearsal before “Cabaret’s” preview at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre earlier this week, and found it to be a really well-cast show, firing on all cylinders!

As the show opens, the writer character Cliff Bradshaw (played by Sean Deffley) tells us of his eye-opening experience in Berlin: “It was the end of the world … and I was dancing with Sally Bowles, and we were both fast asleep.” It’s a provocative invitation for us, as audience members, to lean forward in our seats, to watch Cliff’s story unfold, and learn why he described his Berlin sojourn in those terms.

In addition to Cliff, we meet the one-and-only Sally Bowles, an English girl who dreamed she’d be fascinating, and woke up to realize she’d made herself fascinating – creating a persona right at home on the Kit Kat Club stage. Sally’s not really supposed to be all that talented, but we can suspend disbelief and forgive EPAC’s Martha Wasser for being VERY talented, as she sings the heck out of Sally’s familiar songs!

We meet the Emcee of the seedy, decadent Kit Kat Club. As played by Nick Smith, he’s a sly, androgynous version of the Shakespearean fool – the guy who uses art, wit and performance to help us understand the truth about what’s going on in frightening outside world.

There’s Cliff’s friend, Ernst, portrayed by Preston Schreffler, whose persona, and politics, aren’t what they initially seem. And there’s the emotion-stirring relationship between Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider (Gene Ellis and Tricia Corcoran) – struggling to embrace love in middle age, amid the menacing change that’s coming to Germany.

Elements of the story alternate with wild numbers beneath the theatrical lighting of the Kit Kat Club; the performances enhance the creepiness of what’s happening to German society, and how it’s affecting all the characters’ lives. The song-and-dance numbers will delight you; the romances in the show will engage you; and the realization of what lies beyond the walls of the Kit Kat Club will make your skin crawl.

You don’t want to miss this show!

One word of caution: This show is definitely not for kids.  EPAC recommends it for adult audiences. The musical deals with adult issues and situations, and performances in the Kit Kat Club are sexually suggestive. You’ll see plenty of very flexible ladies and gents in their underwear – it’s a seedy club in decadent Berlin, after all!

Kudos, in advance, to the cast, crew and creative team … and thanks to the sponsors who are helping EPAC provide “theater that matters” in our community:

12:34 MicroTechnologies (show sponsor)
Blue RidgeCommunications (season media sponsor)
Hill Top Inn (individual show sponsor)
Lily’s on Main (opening night party sponsor).

Thanks for your support!


For tickets to “Cabaret,” call (717) 733-7966, or visit our website to order online. 

-- Merv Wright

Thursday, September 4, 2014

'DEATH OF A SALESMAN' SELLS POWERFUL FAMILY STORY

From left, John Kleimo, Keven Fennell, Josh Kirwin and Elizabeth Pattey 
star in EPAC's "Death of a Salesman" 


There’s something terribly wrong with Willy Loman, who has been a traveling salesman for more than three decades. He talks to himself. He has lost confidence in himself. He dreams about the past, and wonders aloud how he might have changed things along the way for himself and his family.

And he’s a working man who’s worn out.

Willy must contend with unfamiliar faces in his present working life, and all-too-familiar ghosts from his past that box in his mind the way newly constructed buildings have boxed in the house where he lives with his loyal, supportive wife, Linda.

Who hasn’t felt at least some of the things Willy is feeling as “Death of a Salesman” opens? Who hasn’t examined his or her life – work or personal – and tried to figure out how things might have been different for us? Who hasn’t known someone like Willy, and been concerned for his welfare, and tried to be a supportive friend?

When the fa├žade you present to the world doesn’t match the person inside, it can be as exhausting as carrying those sales valises up and down New England for thirty-something  years. Just ask Willy. Or his son, Biff, who is also in the midst of a personal, self-examining crisis during this play, which he discusses with his younger brother, Happy.

There’s a reason “Death of a Salesman” is a theater classic. It deals with the American dream, capitalism, self-awareness, the relationship between parents and their adult children, how the past informs the present and so much more. But, beyond all that, it’s a play about a family in crisis. It will engage you, touch your heart and make you think.

And EPAC has assembled a marvelous cast for this production of this play – led by John Kleimo as Willy, Elizabeth Pattey as Linda, Josh Kirwin as Biff and Kevin Fennell as Happy.  I watched a recent rehearsal of the play, and was blown away by all the fresh, new things I noticed about the show – which I’ve studied in many classes, seen a couple of times on stage and watched many times in its film versions. 

It’s the cast, and how they’re approaching their roles under Michael Swanson’s direction, that taught me so many new things about this American standard, and made me emotional to the point of tears about the Loman family’s plight.

Whether you’ve never seen “Death of a Salesman,” or feel as if you’ve seen it a hundred times, this production will give you a fresh perspective on an evergreen classic; it will grab you and not let you go. It’s a pure expression of EPAC’s mission of presenting “Theater That Matters!”

The show runs through Sept. 20 at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre; call 717-733-7966 for tickets, or visit our website to order online.

EPAC extends a huge THANK YOU to the sponsors for this show: Season Media Sponsor Blue RidgeCommunications;  Show Co-Sponsor EphrataNational Bank; Opening Night Sponsors Dr. Evan and Dr. Karen Cooper;  Opening Night Party Sponsors Larry and Dr. Cindy Gessler;  Individual Performance Sponsors Karl and Marilyn Soutner; and Closing Night Sponsor PPL!

EPAC could not present this play without you!

See you at the theater!


-- merv wright




Wednesday, July 23, 2014

"LEGALLY BLONDE" HAS A GREAT STORY TO TELL



Amy Ward, seated, is Elle Woods and Niki Boyer Swatski is Paulette in the Ephrata Performing Arts Center's production of "Legally Blonde: The Musical," opening Thursday at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre.  

On his public radio show, “This American Life,” Ira Glass recently remarked that he learned a lot about storytelling by going to musical theater a lot as a kid.

If you want a great example of what Glass is talking about, then check out “Legally Blonde: The Musical,” opening Thursday (7/24 – tomorrow!) at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre.

A lawyer’s daughter, Amanda Brown wrote the novel “Legally Blonde,” based on her own experiences at Stanford Law School. It told a great story about a young woman who, because of personal heartbreak, works hard to get into law school – a place decidedly outside her comfort zone. Once there, she must defy other people’s stereotypical view of her as a dumb-blonde sorority alumna. And she learns that, once she stops trying to conform and decides to be true to herself and the gifts she recognizes in herself, she can triumph and be useful in ways beyond anything she’d previously imagined.

The 2001 film, “Legally Blonde,” changed some of the details, but kept true to that wonderful story about Elle Woods, a protagonist the audience can’t help falling in love with and rooting for.

The musical takes that great story and layers on songs, dance numbers and extra complexity to some of the other characters we all loved from the movie.

You’ll love the story of Elle Woods; her dog, Bruiser (played at EPAC by an adorable, rescued Chihuahua who’s available for adoption at the end of the run of the show!); her college BFFs; her manicurist buddy, Paulette; the men in her life, and her Harvard Law School frenemies. Director/choreographer Cody Smith, an EPAC veteran (as performer, director and choreographer), has assembled a young, talented cast that fills the stage with energy, great dance moves and clever, catchy songs.

It’s a fun show with a lot of heart and a great message about self-confidence, defying other’s expectations, not judging a book by its cover and being true to oneself.

And, at its core, “Legally Blonde: The Musical” has a great story to tell. Call 733-7966 or visit our website, and get your ticket today (the show runs till Aug. 9). Oh-my-God-you-guys! Let this great cast tell you a wonderful story!

--Merv Wright

  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A PERSONAL NOTE FROM AN EPAC VOLUNTEER




Twenty years ago this week, I was standing in the wings at the sweltering “old” Ephrata Playhouse, waiting to step onstage as part of the ensemble in the musical “The Robber Bridegroom.” Our darling, now-departed Brian Adams, who played Little Harp, was making funny faces at me to help calm my nerves.

 Our rehearsals in an Elizabethtown church basement had been filled with laughter along with the hard work; our cast had bonded into a family. We went out together nearly every night during rehearsals and the run of the show, and had a great time enjoying each other’s company.

While I’d been an audience member at the playhouse for years before those nights in July 1994, “The Robber Bridegroom” marked my first practical involvement with the Ephrata Performing Arts Center.

Here we are, 20 years later. I’m still friends with several people I met while doing that 1994 show. I’ve helped out around the theater, from ushering to working the concession stand, from posting on social media to passing out brochures to helping out during school-day performances.

In those 20 years, I’ve sat in the audience and marveled at the theater being created by this community troupe that rivals professional theaters in the quality of the shows and the talent of the casts and creative teams.

I’ve watched young kids grow up on EPAC’s stage and become wonderful adult performers. I’ve seen EPAC veterans come and go, and watched newbies fill the stage with talent and magic. I’ve laughed my head off; I’ve bawled my eyes out; I’ve scratched my head, and let characters get under my skin.

And, in the last 10 years, I’ve watched creative teams make fabulous use of the beautifully renovated theater space that’s now the (air-conditioned!) Sharadin Bigler Theatre.

Through it all, I’ve remembered that sense of FAMILY I first experienced during the run of “The Robber Bridegroom.”  EPAC is, indeed a family – a family of performers, directors, technical wizards, creative teams, crew members, volunteers, sponsors, patrons, supporters and audience members.

And that family comes together dozens of times every year to create evenings of THEATER THAT MATTERS – plays and musicals that are thought-provoking, joyous, heart-rending, toe-tapping and glorious – sometimes all at the same time.

Whether you move set pieces, direct the pit orchestra, act, direct, throw the opening-night party, show people to their chairs or buy tickets and sit in those seats, you, too, are a part of the EPAC FAMILY.

With the delightful, high-energy musical, “Legally Blonde,” opening next Thursday, we’re about halfway through EPAC’s 2014 season. We’ve experienced great theater so far, and have plenty more to see through the end of the year.

Welcome, family, and thanks for your continued support. It’s been a great 20 years!

-- Merv Wright, proud EPAC volunteer




Tuesday, June 24, 2014

HAPPY RE-BIRTH-DAY TO EPAC!





More than 10 years ago, the old Ephtata Playhouse was stripped to its essentials and rebuilt as the lovely Sharadin Bigler Theatre space you enjoy today. 


Ten years ago tonight, the Ephrata Performing Arts Center’s theater space reopened – bigger, taller, cooler and better equipped – after extensive renovations.

Hundreds of seats had been added in the theater, rehearsal and dressing rooms had been installed downstairs, the roof had been raised 9 feet – and the place finally had indoor restrooms!! 

The venue was eventually renamed the Sharadin Bigler Theatre in honor of the decades of generous financial support EPAC has received from Terry Bigler and the late Michael Sharadin.

 Here's a snippet from one of the Lancaster Newspaper accounts of how that evening began for the audience 10 years ago – just before the start of the first show of the 2004 season, “1776”:

"Before the show got under way Thursday night, Ephrata Performing Arts Center artistic director Ed Fernandez bounced onto the stage and said with open arms and a grin, 'What a dump!' "The audience, laughing, erupted in thunderous applause, and looked around the revamped theater with a sense of pride. " 'Welcome to our new home,' Fernandez said. 'Isn’t she beautiful?' " “Though the new Ephrata Performing Arts Center, formerly Ephrata Playhouse, looks shiny and new, its history – with its numerous transformations – runs deep, as far back as the 1700s. "Fittingly, the theater’s debut production is '1776: A Musical,' a hilarious show about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. "... Fernandez calls the building’s architecture 'techno–rustic.' " 'It’s very modern,' he said. 'But yet there is a 200-year-old wood beam running through the ceiling. … Tonight is when theater really starts to happen here again.'
... The spacious 23,400-foot facility has 300 seats – 200 more than the old pavilion. The roof also was raised 9 feet.  'Lights used to sometimes hit actors on their heads,' Fernandez said. There are dressing rooms, classrooms, laundry rooms and a kitchen downstairs now. ..."

For 10 years since that night, the EPAC family has continued to celebrate the creation of “theater that matters” here at EPAC.

The psychological thriller “Agnes of God” continues in this lovely, air-conditioned theater space Wednesday through Saturday this week. Call 733-7966 for tickets, and help celebrate the anniversary of this theater’s rebirth.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

'Sunday in the Park' connects with audiences


Have you ever had a bright, bold new idea that no one else at the office understood or embraced? Have you ever had to make a difficult choice between two important things – or people – in your life?

Have you ever felt like your creative energy was at a low ebb, or that you can’t find a new voice or vision in your work? Have you ever felt like you don’t live up to the standards of your ancestors who went before you? 

If you’ve experienced at least one of these feelings – and who among us hasn’t? – you’ll find something to connect deeply with in EPAC’s production of “Sunday in the Park with George,” playing now through Saturday at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre.


The musical presents a version of what composer Stephen Sondheim and writer (and Franklin & Marshall College alumnus) James Lapine imagined artist Georges Seurat’s life might have been like – along with the lives of the characters in his paintings, and those of Seurat’s descendants, if he’d had any.

The show also explores how Seurat rebelled against the French art establishment by using pointillist techniques – replacing the Impressionists’ brush strokes with dots of pure color arranged in such a way that the human eye would “combine” the dots to see blended colors and shimmering light in his painting. The show is also about the heart-rending sacrifices an artist must sometimes make in his personal life.



And the musical is about Seurat’s (fictional) artist great-grandson in America, also named George, who has lost his unique vision amid his mad scramble to woo patrons and attract commissions. 

Sondheim’s music is glorious, and Lapine’s book is emotional and thought-provoking. Many audience members have regretted leaving their Kleenex at home!
And EPAC has pulled out all the stops to make this a memorable production of a wonderful musical. You’ll be delighted with the show’s creative vision, the acting, the singing, the musicianship, the set and the costumes. Kudos to the cast, crew, creative team and musicians who have been “Putting it Together” for weeks, to the delight of audiences and critics.


The show only runs through this Saturday, May 17th. You do NOT want to miss your chance to see this show that EPAC audiences will be talking about for years.

Thanks to EPAC’s season sponsor, BlueRidge Communications, and “Sunday’s” show co-sponsors, Lily’s on Main and SugarArts at Donecker's. When you patronize these sponsors, or run into their employees, please give them a huge "THANK YOU!!" for supporting “theater that matters” at Ephrata Performing Arts Center.

Order your tickets to “Sunday in the Park …” online, or call the box office at (717) 733-7966.

-       -- Merv Wright