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Cassandra Black as the Snow Dragon at Skylight Music Theatre.
Cassandra Black as the Snow Dragon at Skylight Music Theatre. (Photo: Dragon Media Photo)

Skylight's "Snow Dragon" roars across the stage with passion and elegance

Now, THIS is what live theater is all about.

Forget, for a moment, form or design or lights or actors or singers. Think of the one thing that matters more than anything: the story!

And that’s what Skylight Music Theatre delivers in "The Snow Dragon," a powerful and insightful opera that opened over the weekend.

It’s an evening that grabs hold of your heart and your head and shakes both until you holler "uncle" and try to get some kind of equilibrium back into your life.

Imaginative and daring don’t come close to capturing the web woven by this production, but it’s a good place to start.

Somtow Sucharitkul composed the opera based on a short story he wrote. The subject is perhaps the most uncomfortable you can imagine: abuse of a child by an adult. There have been countess books, movies and plays written about child abuse, but they all seem to have a focus on the perpetrator and how we as a society should deal with him.

This opera moves the focus to all the victims, and there are more than one.

Billy Binder, played by Luke Brotherhood, is the young boy who has been victimized. But Dora Max, sung by Colleen Brooks, is also a victim as a counselor who has seen too much too often and has lost her sense of compassion and confidence in helping children like Billy.

Billy has a place called "The Fallen Country" (the title of the short story) where he can retreat to in order to find succor from the horrors of his life. He finds solace but is unable to find any outlet for the rage that all but overwhelms him.

His imaginary place is not a circus or field of dream, but rather a place where emotion has no place. It’s an easy place not to feel anything and is therefore a welcomed spot for a character who suffers such emotional trauma at the feet of the physical abuse.

If he can’t feel, maybe he won’t feel.

The country is ruled by a Ringmaster (Dan Kempson) the embodiment of Billy’s tormenter, and it is in this land that Billy meets "The Snow Dragon" (Ca…

The Mollusk Cast brings Big Nate to joyous life at First Stage
The Mollusk Cast brings Big Nate to joyous life at First Stage (Photo: Paul Ruffolo)

First Stage displays solid grasp on sixth grade in "Big Nate: The Musical"

Think back, if you will, to that special time in life, the time when you, or a child of yours, was in the middle of the turbulence of being a sixth-grader, filled with both the hopes and the fears of that period of life.

Those moments are the key to "Big Nate: The Musical," which opened a month long run Friday night at First Stage.

The hero of a comic strip and a series of books, Nate has now become the hero of his very own musical, and what a hero he is. Nate is honorable, he has his principles, he won’t compromise, he’s a little shy and he always tries to tell the truth.

Goals are relatively fluid things when you’re in sixth grade, but Nate has two of them firmly in sight.

One is that he wants his band, "Enslave the Mollusk," to win the school battle of the bands. The other goal is Jenny, the girl of his life.

Like every good story, this one has plenty of obstacles in front of our hero.

The band doesn’t have enough time to rehearse, and the growing pile of detentions threaten the ability of the band to even compete. If Nate has 25 detentions, the band is out, and he is at 24. Not much room for error.

As if the detentions aren’t enough, there is Artur, a classmate from Belarus who has his eyes set on Jenny and who has the kind of foreign born appeal that has melted American hearts throughout the world of literature.

Nate is a brave hero, however, and he steers his three-piece band through rehearsals, manages to keep detention 25 at bay and managed to keep his hidden pursuit of Jenny on fire.

In typically realistic fashion, the First Stage production doesn’t end with happily ever after. Oh the band does great, but Jenny ends up with Artur, which Nate has to keep his mouth shut as he watches the boy and girl start to go steady.

The Mollusk cast opened the show, and Darius Gaskin took full charge of the role of Nate. He is a warm and expressive singer and led this pack of young actors both musically and theatrically.

The actors were blessed …

Michelle White (left) and Donna Lobacz play wives in "God of Carnage" at Off the Wall Theatre.
Michelle White (left) and Donna Lobacz play wives in "God of Carnage" at Off the Wall Theatre. (Photo: Donna Welter)

Off the Wall's "God of Carnage" plagued by faulty memories and overacting

The ultimate voyeur play may well be "God of Carnage," the comedy written by Yasmina Reza about two couples who descend from civility to the horrors of barbarity right before our eyes.

The play opened at Off the Wall Theatre Thursday night under the direction of Jeremy C. Welter. It's a play that has great good humor that – both subtle and over the top, almost at the same time. It’s a play with four equally strong characters. Unfortunately in this production, there is a vast cavern between these characters.

The men, Welter and Max Williamson, bring savvy and comedic timing to their roles, but they are like two rowboats trying to head upstream without any oars. Because the two women in this production, Michelle White and Donna Lobacz, are beset by two of the worst enemies any actor can have: a faulty memory and a profound desire to overact.

White and Williamson are visited in their apartment by Lobacz and Weller to discuss a fight their young sons had at school. What starts as a civilized discussion soon becomes a descent into shifting alliances, one couple against the other, the men against the women, brief alliances between the two opposite spouses.

There is an element of slapstick to the whole thing, but like every comedy, timing is a critical element to both get the jokes and to move the story along.

The obvious flustering with lines by the women managed to put the brakes on any kind of rhythmic movement of the play. Far too many times, there were gargantuan pauses as one or the other woman struggled to remember what the line was. And far too many times, they stumbled over lines once they got started.

Perhaps the uncertainty over their lines also led to the sudden examples of over the top acting. It was almost as if the women had decided that the more they exaggerated their characters, the less we might recognize the weaknesses.

Actors have several obligations, but chief among them is to at least know their lines. Before you can make a playwright’s…

Jason and Peter share their love for each other despite the fears that circle their relationship.
Jason and Peter share their love for each other despite the fears that circle their relationship. (Photo: Sue Northey)

"Bare: A Pop Opera" doesn't have the kind of urgency we'd expect

Think back to the days of high school, when hormones raged and everything was oh so serious, from pimples to study hall to learning how to kiss like an adult.

It was a time, for so many of us, full of the angst that is peculiar to teenagers, a time of uncertainty and wonder.

That’s the setting for "Bare: A Pop Opera," which opened over the weekend at Soulstice Theatre under the direction of Matthew Northey.

There is tremendous potential in the story of two gay boys in a Catholic boarding school. Jason (Shane Skinner) is inside the closet, holding onto the doorknob to keep it shut. His boyfriend, Peter (Doug Clemons) is outside, pulling on the same doorknob, trying to crack the door open.

The boys are surrounded by the expected clan: the easy girl, the girl who thinks she’s too fat, the kindly priest, the nun with the biting sense of humor, the ditzy blonde and assorted other kids who are both having fun and suffering through life.

The kids in this cast have all the earnestness that you would expect from young people let loose on a stage with a very difficult and complex score to sing. They all worked hard to make us believe in the story they were telling.

The problem may be that they, like any high school kid, took themselves too seriously.

There is hardly any dialogue in this play. There are, however, 36 songs. And they are incredibly uneven. Some have some bite and emotion. A lot of them are cliches and border on absolutely trite.

Watching this reminded me of nothing so much as an overwrought episode of "Glee" where everyone danced and sang around whatever the crushing issue of the day was.

Perhaps the biggest difficulty with this production was an inability to hear all the singers. Soulstice is a small space, but frequently lyrics were lost before they got to where I was sitting. In a play with nothing to move the story forward except lyrics, this was a crushing problem.

In addition there was such a predictability about the play that nothing this co…