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They Promised Her the Moon

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When they go low, we go high,” are words that could have easily been spoken by Jerrie Cobb (Amanda Quaid) in Laurel Ollstein’s new play They Promised her The Moon.  The play tells the relatively unknown story of mid- Western Cobb, a girl with a speech defect and a critical mother, but a dream that proved stronger than her limitations.

Cobb’s dad (John Leonard Thompson) was a pilot and after flying with him at age ten, Cobb was hooked. With his encouragement, she became pro and broke records in speed, distance and absolute altitude. Still, with so much discrimination against women pilots, she struggled to find work. When famed pilot Jackie Cochran, (Andrus Nichols), considered top female aviator in the world, created the Mercury 13 program to train female astronauts, Cobb’s luck changed. She out tested everyone including her male colleagues in the Mercury 7 program, but was not permitted to go up because women were not considered The Right Stuff.  John Glenn testified against hiring women for the space program and so Russia got there first with a lesser qualified Valentina Tereshkova.

This story of strength and resilience is beautifully told in this insightful and humorous play. Cobb had to compete not only against men but her own gender; Cochran, at fifty-five was too old to be an astronaut and consciously worked against Cobb’s success. She is brittle and tough, but we understand what she had to fight against, too.

The performances are all top notch, some playing several characters.  John Leonard Thompson as Cobb’s pilot father and Congressman is a quiet sensitive man and wholly believable as a father who can see a future in his daughter’s eyes.  Edmund Lewis, Polly Mckie and John Russell are all terrific with a wide range.

Amanda Quaid, our pilot hero, who discovers romantic love but chucks it for the skies, is so good at bringing an awkward young woman into existence in front of our eyes. When her career takes the obvious fall it must from not being permitted to become an astronaut, she doesn’t give up…she just moves…to the Amazon where she works with tribes and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1981.

Ms. Ollstein, an original member of Actors’ Gang in LA, has a great ear for real talk and imbues the story with sensitivity and humor.

As directed by Producing and Artistic Director of the Miranda Company, Valentina Fratti brings this too little known story beautifully to life. Graham Kindred’s set and lighting design is simply perfect.

Hopefully, this wonderful show, having run its course at St. Clement’s will soon find a new home. It deserves it.

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Written by nancykoan

June 2, 2017 at 8:52 pm

Music To Soothe the Lonesome Traveler

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There is nothing about feeling lonely in Lonesome Traveler, a musical playing at 59E59  Theaters that spans the history of American folk music from the dust bowl days to the present. It’s the kind of music that represented a country able to recognize its own suffering and injustice and express that recognition through song. Of course, folk music couldn’t by itself resolve the problems of unfair wages, unjust wars, and racism, but it went a long way in helping to reduce the pain. Folk music helped bolster the creation of communities, including the unions, and in rallying support against war.

The U.S. was a less populated country when singers like Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and Odetta brought the news to the people through song.  And people were spread out… riding box cars, moving west to look for work…always hoping to better their lives. Songs helped tell their stories and help relieve the pressures of life’s challenges.

In this wonderful production, a group called the Lonesome Traveler folds and unfolds on itself, portraying the different periods of folk music and the bards who led the songs. The narrator, a brilliant Justin Flagg playing guitar, banjo and stand-up bass, portrays the music of Pete Seeger, Dave Guard, Peter Yarrow and others. This is the style of the show. Whether singing as Woody Guthrie or Joan Baez, they are all extremely accomplished performers who bring the different periods of musical history alive.

We learn a little bit about the lives of each of these singers and writers, and what inspired them to write what they did, some literally lifting old songs that were long part of musical history and updating them for the time. The audience is encouraged to join in, and This Land is Your Land started the ball rolling.

The video projections help convey the different periods, from dust bowls to mountain shacks to the March on Selma.  We see how the tunes corresponded to our lives,  from union busting, Talkin’ Union, to Hitler and Pete Seeger’s, Last Night I had the Strangest Dream.

Two of my favorites were represented, Judy Collins and Joan Baez, but I missed hearing “Joanie Mitchell” sing Big Yellow Taxi’s folk rock anthem to gentrification.

By the second half, tears stared to flow. Ian and Sylvia’s beautiful tune Someday Soon was like stepping into a time machine. “The Kingston Trio” sang Where Have All the Flowers Gone, so poignant after all these years of lost lives in the Middle East and other wars.

Lonesome Traveler is the kind of show that should play college campuses and music schools and certainly PBS. It is an oral history of our country…with music. As the performers are all so great, I will mention them by name: Matty Charles, Sylvie Davidson, Jamie Drake, Justin Flagg, Sam Gelfer, Anthony Manough, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, Jennifer Leigh Warren and Trevor Wheetman. The show is directed by its writer, James O’Neil, with Trevor Wheetman as musical director. Mr. Wheetman’s bio sweetly gives thanks for the job which also led to meeting his now fiancé, musician Syvlie Davidson. Ah, the power of music.

 

Lonesome Traveler runs till April 19th @ 59E59 Theatres.

Written by nancykoan

April 2, 2015 at 9:52 pm

Let’s Hear it for the Irish– Man in the Moon

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The Irish deserve their reputation for being the greatest storytellers. And an actor who spits is usually very, very good.

From what could have been a simpering complaint tale about the growth of suicides in his hometown, Pearse Elliott has created a wonderfully layered picture of one man’s life on the council estates of Belfast and the demons and angels that fill his imaginative head.
As played by the most amazing, Ciaran Nolan as Sean Doran , we are on a trip — travelling through smelly bogs, to a day in the life of a roaring lion and his pride to a movie premiere with Brad Pitt—all of this in only an hour and fifteen. This one man’s show produced by the fantastic Brassneck Theatre Company and directed by Tony Devlin, swept them away in Edinburgh and will do the same for you if you can get over the thought that you might not understand the accent.

Mr. Nolan is such a gifted performer that even the colloquialism don’t concern you because his energy and physicality convey everything you need to know to understand this guy whose lost so many pals to suicide. His self-effacing portrayal of the loser of course belies the power of the true survivor…the one whose left to tell the story. And boy is he funny. He has all the moves – from a wee bit of a lost soul named Hatchet who survived the ‘troubles, to an itchy guy who dispatches bad tips on the horses, to a young gay kid from pampered Boulder.. When he attends the wrong wake for a different Soupy Campbell than the one he thought had suicided and turns into Elvis, you think “ shit, I hope he comes to my funeral.”
This is Belfast…this is today…with all the sense of loss that a perpetually poetic country can offer. There is something really noble about having terrible experiences with love and jobs; you build if not character, an absurdist view that this author has in pounds.

If I have one bone to pick, it’s the tie in of all the suicides…I wanted to understand that they were economic based with a dash of war wounds. But when he throws in a Gazelle…a jogger from the upper classes who takes his fancy and who also perishes by her own hand, I am set adrift. Obviously, people don’t off themselves just because of a laundry list and rich people are miserable as well as poor. But something about the landscape Mr. Elliot created in the top of the play felt right for keeping it in the realm of the caste system… in this case, council estates.

But that’s a small criticism for an otherwise wonderful production. Mr. Elliot is a feminist whether he knows it or not and yet the story of the online monster who shows up at the Sean’s door, is as awful as any man on the prowl but as played by multi-accented Mr. Nolan, much, much funnier.

All involved have wonderful credits. Go to the show, read the playbill. Or just take my word. This is a beautiful piece of art.

Written by nancykoan

September 14, 2014 at 4:20 am

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Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory, no one can steal.

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ImageThis quote refers to both plays infused with Irish sensibility.

 

A lovely revival of Sea Marks has opened at the Irish Repertory Theatre. The play was written by one time television god, Gardner Mckay, star of the sixties hit Adventures in Paradise. I feel strangely close to this play as Mr. Mckay lived in my apartment in here while working on changes for its New York debut. The play won the “Los Angeles Drama Critic’s Circle Award” for Best Play in 1979.

Sea Marks tells the story of a lonely virgin fisherman (Colm Primrose) from a remote island in Ireland who falls for woman from Liverpool (Timothea Stiles) he meets at a wedding. Writing her, they develop a relationship primarily driven by his passionate prose. He speaks of life in ways foreign to urban ears and it’s his poetic voice that brings them together.

 

Facing his fears, he goes to the big city where he finds himself entrenched in the glories of first love and overwhelmed by the onslaught of sudden celebrity. It’s hard to imagine in this day and age of anyone turning down the chance to be famous…but not everyone is Colm Primrose.

 

Besides the celebrity issue, the innocence of the man is  a wee hard to buy except that Patrick Ftizgerald does such a good job of making Colm quirky and original, that we do indeed buy it. As Timothea is written, Xanthe Elbrick  has a real challenge. The character is so coolly tempered. She is ambitious and loves her urban life and also loves Colm, but it’s sometimes not clear whether she is interested in being his agent more than a lover. Still, her surprising independence is refreshing and though I was confused somewhat by the accent choices, Welsh to Liverpool to London, she is a strong partner for this budding love affair.

 

Lighting and sound are  evocative of the seascape we all dream of running to.

 

Beautifully directed by Ciarán O’Reilly,  Sea Marks never lets the fish tale become more important than the emotions of the lovers who get caught in its net.

 

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At another Irish inluenced theatre, the Cell, has been showcasing The International, an amazing production by the Origin Theatre Company. Written by first time writer, actor Tim Ruddy, the play explores the horrors and occasional humanities of the Balkan War, seen through the vistas of three separate characters linked through time and space.

 

Carey van Driest as the Balkan villager is every lover, daughter and mother who has had to withstand the atrocities of war at her doorstep. She effuses warmth and charm as the local native who holds on to hope until the word is erased from her mind. She is the center for this three person piece…the one you root and perhaps even pray for.

 

The UN solder Hans, played by Timothy Carter shares with us his confusion at what his job requires. Is he there to actually help these people he has begun to admire? And what about his own fear and the life back in the Netherlands that he wants to protect? No character could have felt as impotent as this poor Hans, the soldier without direction.

 

As the lost American Dave, played by Ted Schneider, is unemployed, depressed and riveted by the possibility of watching a war on television and even betting on the outcome. The goal? Disneyland! He is real as well as a metaphor for the lack of comprehension most Americans exhibited during this horrible history. Has it changed much, however, with equally incomprehensible atrocities happening in Africa and Syria every day?

 Many questions are raised in this riveting show which should be seen by everyone in the political sphere who can make decisions for our exhausted war worn world. By witnessing this play, one is also being a witness to history.. The truths of the emotions of these three characters have been so beautifully written by a man who never visited Bosnia, but who as an actor has the empathy to truly understand the lives of others.

 

Christopher Randolph directed this production, keeping it moving elegantly along from one voice to the other; separate at first and then closer and closer as the three distinct worlds begin to collide.

 

The play is no longer at the Cell but keep eyes opened for productions at other venues. It should not be ignored.

Written by nancykoan

May 4, 2014 at 4:21 am