Date with a diva: Interview with E Faye Butler & other theater news

Recently I reviewed the new Goodman Theatre production of Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a play with many Chekhovian and other theatrical references. I thought it was very good but regretted the fact that Goodman has been promoting it as a slaphappy summer comedy. That means the audience members think they have to be entertained and therefore find every line absolutely hilarious. As I said in my review:

“Durang’s treatment certainly contains much wit and draws the fine line between comedy and tragedy, but the opening night audience’s raucous laughter throughout both acts weakened the poignancy of the characters’ stories. Really, this isn’t the Marx Brothers.”

GB-Cassandra-EFayeButler

The Goodman publicity team was offering actor interviews and I was asked if I would like to interview one of the lead actors. After seeing the play, I said, “No, I want to interview the actor who played Cassandra. I want to hear her story about how she created her character.” And so one morning last week, I went back to the Goodman Theatre with my tape recorder (my iPhone actually) and a set of questions to ask E. Faye Butler.

I don’t do interviews often, because they’re time consuming and can end up being bland if the subject is afraid of sounding undignified. But E Faye was fabulous. She’s a classically trained actor who also sings and has a powerful voice and a magnetic persona. She is smart, articulate and funny and was absolutely the best interview I’ve done. Turning her recorded interview into an interesting story was easy. At least I think it’s interesting and I hope you do.

Here’s my date with the diva. My reviews of VSMS also appeared here and here.

Review: Brilliant Adventures at Steep Theatre

GB-Steep-Brilliant (1)Last week I reviewed the new gritty British drama at Steep Theatre. It’s a US premiere of a play by Alistair McDowall, a new English playwright. Excellent play, directed by Robin Witt, with a group of six fine actors. The fascinating thing about Brilliant Adventures is that it starts out like one of those 1970s British working class films, but then devolves into sci-fi and fantasy. Really, it’s fascinating and it works.

As I said in my review, “It is a deeply classist play that explores the lives of those who live in Middlesbrough, a failed industrial city on the River Tees in northeast England.” The Steep playbill and the lobby exhibits do a good job of acquainting you with the environment and language of Middlesbrough.

Brilliant Adventures is an outstanding two hours of theater and I recommend it. You can see it through August 15. Steep is located on Berwyn, just east of the Berwyn Red Line station. You can also see my review here.

Review: Ring of Fire at the Mercury Theatre

GB-Ring of Fire-Goodrich,GoodmanI also had a chance to review the Johnny Cash musical tribute in its extension through the end of August. (I missed it when it first opened this spring.) I went with friends who are music lovers like me and fans of rock, blues, bluegrass and country). June Sawyers has written dozens of books about music and musicians. It was a treat to see the show with two music fans and discuss the music at intermission and afterwards.

We all agreed it’s a great piece of entertainment but we thought it lacked the depth that the tortured story of Johnny Cash’s life would have added. But no, it’s strictly a jukebox musical with about 30 songs by Cash and other songwriters performed by a talented group of seven musicians.

Here’s a song from the show that was often performed by Johnny Cash but it was written by Geoff Mack (an Australian) and Hank Snow (who wrote the North American lyrics). I describe the lyrics as a tongue-twister travel itinerary. This is a Hank Snow version from 1965.

The Mercury Theatre is a comfortable venue with an excellent sound system. Ring of Fire is a pleasant evening of entertainment in the same way that Million Dollar Quartet is. But even that play is built around some narrative elements.

My Gapers Block review is posted now. You can read it here.

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