Archive for June, 2012

Review: The Mousetrap has Stamina Idaho Shakespeare Festival Tackles the Long-Running play by Agatha Christie

June 13th, 2012
The Boise Weekly, by Deanna Darr
Published June 13, 2012
For something to become a cliche–before it gets replayed, tweaked and spun off–it has to start somewhere, a point when it’s a groundbreaking idea that sets the template.
It’s rare that we get to go back and examine the origins of such an idea, but that’s exactly the chance Idaho Shakespeare Festival is offering audiences with its latest production, The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie.
And popular is an understatement when it comes to this play–it has been running for 60 years in London. In honor of the anniversary, 60 theater companies around the world were granted permission to stage their own productions this year.
In true who-done-it form, The Mousetrap pulls audiences through a maze of hidden motivations, secret identities, red herrings and, of course, murder in grand fashion, keeping everyone guessing the killer’s identity up until the big reveal.
The ISF production is a new take on the classic, giving it an edgier interpretation. Plot points are introduced by characters using old-fashioned microphones onstage–a nod to the radio play that was the origin for the theatrical production–and the dialogue of the final scene is a recording played as the actors go through the motions. The effect highlights the contrast between the devastating effects such an event would have and the light wrap-up of the script.
Director Drew Barr plays up moments of levity made possible by the sometimes antiquated language (haughty vs. hottie, for example) and eclectic cast of characters. While fun, it sometimes breaks the building tension necessary in a mystery.
The set somehow combines period 1950s while radiating a steampunk, industrial vibe. A single central set piece serves as the entrance, and its Tim Burton-esqe angled door, black color palette and walls covered with radios set the tone.
The cast of eight rarely leave the stage, instead using the background to serve almost as a police lineup for the audience to continually review the suspects.
The cast is a nice mix of familiar faces (Lynn Allison, Sara M. Bruner, Jodi Dominick) and new players (Paul Hurley, Dan Lawrence, Ryan David O’Byrne), and all found their rhythm.
Unfortunately, there are some moments of what should be quick, tension-filled dialogue that are instead peppered with overly long pauses. Additionally, the choice of leading into intermission with a modern song rather than a period one is jarring and messes with the continuity.
Still, the play is undeniably fun and audiences are pulled into the guessing game with such ease that they don’t realize how involved they are. For those who love a good mystery, you can’t go wrong with Christie, and the ISF production does a great job of honoring the master.

Click here to read at Boise Weekly

Review: Get caught in Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s production of ‘The Mousetrap.’ It’s worth it.

June 12th, 2012

Published: June 12, 2012 By DANA OLAND —

The Idaho Shakespeare Festival is one of 60 theaters commemorating the 60th anniversary of Agatha Christie’s classic mystery. Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s production of “The Mousetrap” is a big, juicy bite of theater as director Drew Barr employs layers of storytelling and theatrical techniques to reenergize Agatha Christie’s solid whodunnit.

The play opened Saturday and will run in repertory until July 27.

“The Mousetrap” evolved from a radio play titled “Three Blind Mice” that Christie wrote for Queen Mary’s 80th birthday in 1947 and later adapted into a short story of the same name.

Both were inspired by the real-life case of 12-year-old Dennis O’Neill, who died of neglect and abuse in foster care in Shropshire, England, in 1945.

(Dennis’ younger brother Terence, who was 10 at the time, recently published a memoir about the case.)

In the next few years, Christie merged her two versions into the stage play that has been running in London’s West End since 1952. It is the longest-running play in the history of modern theater.

On its 60th anniversary, the producers decided to allow 60 other productions to happen around the world. This is one of them.

In his 10 years at ISF, Barr has proved his ability to reinvent trite and well-worn theater, such as “The Fantastics” in 2003 and “The Woman in Black” in 2010.

With “Mousetrap,” Barr digs deep into the play’s history and the techniques of mystery to bring it solidly into contemporary times.

Christie’s story has become a central core of the mystery writing formula. Eight strangers are trapped in a country guest house by a snowstorm. They each bring their own secrets with them, then the mystery really gets going when someone is murdered.

Two murders in the outside world — an old woman in London and the O’Neill case — are referenced, but what could they mean?

The ensemble cast is a wonderful mix of longtime company members and talented newcomers.

Jodi Dominick and Paul Hurley hold the center as hotel owners Mollie and Giles. Dominick shows a real vulnerability as Mollie, who has dark secrets of her own. But should she trust Giles, her new husband? He’s hiding something, too.

Lynn Allison is perfect as the difficult, complaining Mrs. Boyle; Sara M. Bruner makes an affable cross-dressing Miss Casewell, who hides her tragedy under men’s clothing; Aled Davies is the stalwart Major Metcalf, who slinks around and hides in cupboards; Tom Ford is delicious as the creepy and very foreign Mr. Paravicini; Ryan David O’Byrne is delightful as the tragic and childlike Christopher Wren; and Dan Lawrence makes a dashing Detective Sargeant Trotter, who skis in to the rescue.

In grand Christie tradition, no one is what they appear to be, and there are clues to help you solve it if you pay attention. But for 60 years, audiences have been sworn to secrecy about who did it, and that tradition will continue here.

Barr sets his production on Russell Metheny’s angular, hypnotic set — an off-kilter square suspended above the stage by metal bars that look like radio wires. Its perspective reminds one of Alfred Hitchcock’s camera tricks.

The center square is packed with old radios that light up and play during the performance. Two old-style microphones stand on each side of the stage, from which actors announce themselves; and like an old radio show, when the actors aren’t on stage in their scenes, they wait in chairs.

Kim Krumm Sorenson’s costumes are spot on — beautifully British drab.

Sound designer Daniel Kluger creates some effective moments by amplifying the radio programs and voices through the microphones and using increasingly creepy versions of “Three Blind Mice.”

Like “The Woman in Black,” this play does rely on a dose of atmosphere to heighten the mystery. Dark and creepy is hard to pull of in sunlight. To that effect, the Sunday performances, with their 7 p.m. start, won’t be as intense as the later nights.

Still, there are moments that transcend lights and sound, and they make “The Mousetrap” work.

After all the secrets are revealed, the guests — strangers no more — must deal with the real effects of their lies. As you hear Christie’s original happier ending over the radio, the characters struggle to find their way back to normal.

Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland

Click here to read at Idaho Statesman and see photos.

Voices from the Company: The Boards

June 7th, 2012

You may call me silly, childish, foolish or an idealist. You should then know that I will always be the first to admit that I am still very much a little girl inside, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. I am a sentimental sap.

All prologues aside, you will need a little back-story for the proper level of perspective on this tale.

Twelve years ago, just headed into high school, my parents moved here (with the resentful, ungrateful child that I was) from a small college town in central Pennsylvania. Like many teenagers uprooted from their social circle, I was less than pleased. Already not the most social creature for my age, the amount of self-consciousness, teenage angst and general negativity I carried around throughout the next few years did not make me a likely candidate to make many new friends.

The bright light for my new, uncomfortable home, the only time I felt completely lost in a sheer, full, over-whelming happiness and joy was when I got to see shows at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. I had an unusual interest in Shakespeare from a young age and seeing shows at the Festival, in the beautiful outdoor amphitheater, was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. It was, (watch out, here comes the silly, childish, hopeless romantic) magical.

It was then, at fourteen that I knew I wanted to perform on that stage at some point in my life. Had you known me then, you may have thought that it would have been nearly impossible. I was shy, awkward and couldn’t speak in front of a group of people to save my life without getting a severe case of the shakes. Shakespeare’s work however, was so mysterious and enticing to me that I awkwardly stumbled onward.

Years later I studied theater at Boise State, graduated and began working for ISF through teaching at The School of Theater (which was where I got my first training as an actor) and performing in Shakespearience, ISF’s educational outreach tour (still the best job I’ve ever had, luckiest girl in the world, cannot say enough good things about the work that gets done with the tour).

It was over a decade after I had had my first magical experience in the outdoor amphitheater on a nature reserve when I was offered a role in the season’s opening production of Romeo and Juliet. For those of you that don’t know, the show that opens the season here has already been running at Great Lakes Theater in Cleveland, Ohio for about a month. Many of the cast members are brought along with the production out west, while others that move onto different projects back east, are replaced with different actors from all over, including some local ones. What that really means from an actor’s perspective is that we have a considerably shortened rehearsal process (two weeks, as opposed to the usual three) and a LOT to learn.

Walking into any rehearsal space for the first time has a general thrill of it’s own but this one has been particularly amazing. The members of the cast that had already been a part of the production not only welcomed us warmly, but were patient, sweet, and helpful when it came to incorporating new members of the cast. Not only have I been working with some truly inspiring, talented and genuinely kind people, but many of them I have admired from an audience vantage point for years.

And so, on opening night–an experience so surreal and enchanting–I was waiting in the wings to make the final entrance into Capulet’s tomb off stage and looked at the nearly full moon, heard the text I’d read fifteen years earlier that convinced me I wanted to be an actor, and I was overcome with an inexplicable joy and satisfaction (okay, yeah, and some tears), knowing that I had made my first traipse across the boards of a stage that I had longed to walk for many years- surrounded by actors that I’ve admired for years that were suddenly co-workers and friends.

Aptly, for the play selection, and although I am now well into my twenties, I feel like a fourteen-year-old girl with the biggest crush on this show and all the amazing talent and beauty with whom I am privileged to share it.

Sarah Gardner

Behind the Scenes at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival Costume Shop

June 5th, 2012

Designers and seamsters prepare for the opening of Romeo and Juliet

Boise Weekly by Deanna Darr

Published May, 30, 2012

Inside a warehouse off Warm Springs Avenue, there’s a distinct feeling of the calm before the storm.

Racks of carefully labeled clothes line the walls and the dull hum of sewing machines punctuates the quiet as sleeves are taken in. Bolts of fabric rest in a corner, while carefully styled wigs wait for their wearers.

Soon, the sense of urgency will increase as final fittings are done and last-minute details are ironed out before opening night for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s first production of the 2012 season, Romeo and Juliet.

“It’s stressful but we know how to handle it,” said Rachel Reisenauer, costume assistant for ISF.

The shop crew has been doing fittings for two weeks, and crunch time has arrived. But when the star-crossed lovers take the stage on opening night Saturday, June 2, the chaos of preparations will transform into the thrill of performance as the cast and crew transport audiences to Italy in the late 1920s.

It’s a transition that costume designer Star Moxley has grown used to after 31 years of working with ISF. Moxley started as a volunteer during the company’s second season, and her work has grown to include memorable productions like ISF’s Japanese-inspired production of Macbeth, which won a World Stage Design award.

But good costume design rarely earns audience accolades–in fact, when done best, it becomes a seamless part of the entire production.

“It’s good design in any production,” Moxley said. “Costumes alone won’t carry a show.”

For Romeo and Juliet, the process started in Cleveland with the Great Lakes Theater, where the company spends its winters. The closing show there is transported west, where it becomes the opening show in Boise. But it’s not quite as easy as just boxing up a bunch of costumes.

The new season brings new actors, and costumes have to be re-fitted or sometimes changed altogether. For this production, the crew of 18 at the ISF costume shop had more than 30 costumes to fit for 13 actors.

On a recent afternoon, stitcher Jeni Montzka worked on the cuff of a suit jacket while draper and assistant shop manager Leah Loar reworked the sleeve of a dress, and wardrobe supervisor Angela Dunn carefully styled several wigs.

Between fittings, the shop staff craft, recraft or seek out each item an actor will wear on stage. They do everything from dying fabrics to creating custom jewelry to putting a rubber coating on the soles of shoes.

For every production, Moxley said the process starts with finding a common idea with the director and then bringing in the set designer–a process that can start up to six months before the production hits the stage.

“It’s always about the text, too, especially with Shakespeare’s work,” Moxley said. “I like grounding it, rooting it in some kind of historical timeline, but not necessarily staying true to that so that it can become somewhat abstract. I need to know where theses characters live, what kind of life, what kind of world I’m creating.”

Moxley works on rough sketches, which she brings back to the director before she creates final line drawings, at which point the color palette is finalized.

“Color is everything to me–everything, as far as my design work,” she said.

Her use of color has been one of her trademarks, like the punch of red in the otherwise black-and-white world of Macbeth, or in the upcoming Romeo and Juliet, where a monochromatic world of gray is punctuated by Juliet’s violet.

Once designs are set, then comes the balancing act of deciding which pieces can be constructed, which can be reused from the company’s stockpile, and which need to be bought or rented.

A large portion of the costume shop is packed with items from past productions, each carefully labeled. Body padding and petticoats hang above racks of period gowns, which are just down from religious clothing and armor. A dizzying array of shoes rests in one corner.

“Shoes are our bane,” sighed Reisenauer as she looked at the pile.

For the pieces that will be built, Moxley heads to Los Angeles to find fabrics, spending days pouring over thousands of options.

Then comes the shopping. While Moxley said she buys pieces locally when she can, her dependence on online shopping has grown exponentially in recent years.

“You’ll be in a dark theater and a pair of shoes doesn’t work and you’ll literally get on a laptop and order a pair of shoes almost in the middle of the night so you can get them the next day,” she said.

Then, of course, there’s the challenge of moving a production from an inside theater to an outdoor amphitheater.

“Some colors don’t work when you get them on the stage,” Moxley said. “It plays different outdoors vs. indoors. … It’s like designing two different pieces.”

If one of those moments happens, it might be a matter of last-minute re-dying or even rebuying something.

But once the actors take the stage, the designer’s work is done and he or she moves on to the next project. For Moxley, it will be revamping last season’s production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona for the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival.

The shop crew is already working on costumes for the next two productions, The Mousetrap and The Imaginary Invalid, but regardless of the production, Moxley’s favorite part comes at the end.

“I love curtain calls–when they’re all standing out there and the magic of it, to a warm welcome after all their hard work,” she said.

Click to read at Boise Weekly with photos

REVIEW: Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ smells as sweet

June 4th, 2012

Published: June 4, 2012

ISF opens with an energetic, fresh take on an old favorite.

BY DANA OLAND © 2012 Idaho Statesman

“Romeo and Juliet” is a tough play to produce, simply because everyone knows how it ends.

The payoff, then, is the journey: the progression from innocent all-consuming love — the kind you’re willing to die for — to the real the cost of that love.

Charlie Fee, the Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s producing artistic director, has deftly made The Bard’s greatest love story about that journey.


Photo by DKM Photography

The play’s hurdles, hubris, human failing and missteps are a reminder that love is a powerful drug.

“Romeo and Juliet” opened the Idaho Shakespeare Festival’s 36th season Saturday. The production marks an energetic start to the season with ribald comedy, dynamic fight scenes by fight choreographer Ken Merckx and heart-rending tragedy.

Saturday also marked the 20th anniversary season of the Fool Squad’s Greenshow, a comical prelude that has become a festival signature.

Fee sets his “R & J” in 1920s Verona. Set designer Gage Williams has crafted a beautiful bombed-out city that serves as a physical metaphor.

As the night progresses, Rick Martin’s rich lighting in cool blues and hot amber brings the set to life. Likewise, Peter John Still’s sound design surrounds the amphitheater with bird calls and foreshadowing.

Star Moxley’s luscious and elegant costuming embraces a palette of soft grays and rich purples that binds the show together. As always with Moxley’s clothing, there are things everyone must have: Juliet’s flowing party dress and Mercutio’s military long coat.

Fee installs an act break just as Romeo and Juliet, played by Christian Durso and Betsy Mugavero, run off to marry.

That break divides the play’s comedy from tragedy and further emphasizes the turn from happy promise to dust and destruction.

Many of ISF’s mature company members play the adults: Aled Davies and elegant Laura Perrotta as the Capulets, Stitch Marker and Lynn Allison as the Montegues. David Anthony Smith is the Prince, Lynn Robert Berg is Friar Laurence and M.A. Taylor is comic servant Peter.

Mugavero is a delightful Juliet, able to reach teenage joy and passion along with great depth of feeling.

Durso brims with frustration of young love that allows him only to spout poetry until Juliet undoes him. They have a lovely chemistry.

J. Todd Adams is marvelous as Mercutio, Romeo’s testosterone- and wine-fueled friend. Laurie Brimingham is wonderfully motherly as Juliet’s Nurse. Perrotta is a cool contrast as Juliet’s mother. Dana Oland: 377-6442

Click to read more at Idaho Statesman

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