Rep’s ‘Wandaleria’ Mixes Fantasy and Reality

Scott Stekel, playing Rocky, hands flowers to Annette Schuler, playing Wanda Mae Pretty, while acting out a scene with Becca Messick, playing Ivy, and Pam Whitfield, playing Betsy, during a rehearsal for the play on Nov. 7, 2019 at Rochester Repertory Theatre. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)

“Imagination is silly,” Frank Sinatra sang, “you go around willy-nilly.”

That’s the problem for Wanda in the play “Wandaleria,” which opens Nov. 22 at the Rochester Repertory Theatre.

Wanda adds spice to her dull life with an active imagination — but before long, reality shows up and being willy-nilly isn’t much silly fun anymore.

“She’s a slug,” Debbie Fuehrer, who is directing the show, said of Wanda. “She’s got a boring life, watches TV all day.”

The dreams make Wanda’s life more interesting. But dreams turn into reality when her prison pen pal shows up at her house looking for a place to stay.

Fuehrer said the play mixes fantasy and reality, as well as humor and sadness.

“It’s a little more light-hearted,” she said. “You have the humor, but in the second act you have that poignancy.”

Fuehrer has cast Annette Schuler as Wanda, with Scott Stekel as the pen pal, Pam Whitfield as Wanda’s no-nonsense roommate, Becca Messick as Wanda’s restless niece Ivy, and Scott Koon and Jim Hencinski playing a variety of fantasy characters.

Playwright David Valdes, who lives in Boston, will be at the Rep for the opening weekend of the show. Fuehrer was in a Valdes play, “Brave Navigator,” several years ago, and wanted to direct one of his shows this season at the Rep.

Many audience members will likely see themselves in the play, Fuehrer said.

“I hope they walk away feeling uplifted, and that someone understands what they’re going through,” she said. “A lot of people are living lives of quiet desperation.” People face a daily barrage of news reports, obligations, demands.

“If they walk away knowing if they can make a connection with another person, healing can take place,” Fuehrer said.

Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin, November 13, 2019

 

Delightful Casting Creates a Fun Rep Opener in ‘Miss Holmes’

Actors in the Rep Theatre production of “Miss Holmes” include (from left) Beth Regener as Dr. Watson, Rebecca Sands as Sherlock Holms, Lisa Modry as Lizzie Chapman, and Lauren Elias as Mrs. Hudson. (Ken Klotzbach/kklotzbach@postbulletin.com)

If you think you’ve seen every possible permutation of the Sherlock Holmes legend, then you haven’t seen “Miss Holmes.”

The play, which opened Friday at the Rochester Repertory Theatre, is an imaginative take by playwright Christopher Walsh, in which Holmes and Watson are women.

Miss Sherlock Holmes is every bit as finicky and brilliant as her male counterpart. And Dr. Dorothy Watson is as bewildered by Holmes’s genius as Dr. John Watson is in the original stories.

It’s a clever take on what is known as the Holmes canon, and the Rep production benefits immensely from the delightful pairing of Rebecca Sands as Holmes and Beth Regener as Watson.

Sands, who continues to be one of the most interesting talents on local stages, portrays Holmes as haughty and headstrong, with nervous ticks and a devious look in her eyes. Regener, who always taps into an inner joy with her onstage roles, appears to savor bringing Watson to life.

They are joined by an all-star cast of local talent assembled by director Mary Pyfferoen: RJ Traff as Mycroft Holmes, Sean Lundberg as the menacing Thomas Chapman, Bill Schnell as a Scotland Yard inspector, Lisa Modry as the seemingly innocent Lizzie Chapman, John McDougall as superintendent of an asylum, Rich Dietman as Greener and Cheryl Frarck as ancient Eudora Featherstone.

Standing out among the several newcomers are Lucas Simonson, required to spit out sloppy German as Dr. Stamford, and Raquel Hellman as Dr. Anderson.

It’s meant to be fun, but there are also some well-placed messages about the strengths and abilities of women. Meanwhile, the costumes by Cara Edwards are outstanding.

We found the staccato nature of the play, with numerous short scenes, nearly all of them separated by movement of props and furniture, to be disruptive. The longer scenes, allowing the actors to settle into their characters, were better played. Along with that it was occasionally difficult to hear the lines spoken by voices that were either too quiet, rushed or muffled.

As for the plot, it seemed overly developed and too long, when all this play needs is a simple focus on the interplay between Holmes and Watson.

O.K., so “Miss Holmes” is not the best twist on Holmes. But it is creative, and in the hands of this cast, especially Sands and Regener, it’s a fun start to the Rep’s new season.

–Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin October 7, 2019

Rep’s ‘Miss Holmes’ Offers a Feminine Twist on Sherlock Stories

Actors in the Rep Theatre production of “Miss Holmes” include (from left) Beth Regener as Dr. Watson, Rebecca Sands as Sherlock Holms, Lisa Modry as Lizzie Chapman, and Lauren Elias as Mrs. Hudson. (Ken Klotzbach/kklotzbach@postbulletin.com) Ken Klotzbach / kklotzbach@postbulletin.com

If you think you’ve seen and read every possible variation on the Sherlock Holmes stories, get ready for something that is possibly entirely new: “Miss Holmes” at the Rochester Repertory Theatre.

The play, which opens Oct.4, places two women, Miss Holmes and Dr. Dorothy Watson, as the lead characters in a murder mystery. Everything is what you might expect: brilliant deductions by Holmes, foggy London locales, including 22B1 Baker Street, and Holmes’s mysterious brother Mycroft.

But one thing is not so elementary for Holmes and Watson in this play: As Victorian-era women, they have to struggle against the limitations set for them by society.

“The women definitely take the lead,” said Mary Pyfferoen, who is directing the show. But, she added, any missteps on their part will likely force them back into traditional female roles.

The play features Rebecca Sands as Miss Holmes and Beth Regener as Watson, with R.J. Traff as Mycroft. Beyond that, Pyfferoen has assembled a cast of local stage all-stars: Lisa Modry, Cheryl Frarck, Bill Schnell, Sean Lundberg, and Rich Dietman.

“And I have six new people who have never performed at the Rep and are making their debuts,” Pyfferoen said. “I’ve got a great combination of new people and experience.”

In rehearsals, the cast has been dealing with the quick changes of scenery, a variety of British accents, and, to top it all off, the requirement for a couple of characters to speak in German. The German phrases, by the way, will not be translated for the audience.

Pyfferoen said “Miss Holmes” was exactly what she was looking for during a search for scripts.

“I had seen a play in the Cities written for Sherlock and Watson to be men, but it had women playing the parts,” she said. “I wondered if there were any written for women, so I started looking.”

That’s when she found “Miss Holmes,” written by Christopher Walsh. But as more than a gimmicky turn on the Holmes stories, this play explores conventional gender roles in the buttoned-up society of 19th-Century England. There was no room for error for women who wanted to break the mold.

Aside from that, “Miss Holmes” offers the same attractions as the original Sherlock Holmes stories. “It makes you think, ‘How on earth did she figure that out?'” Pyfferoen said.

–Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin, September 26, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

‘That’ New Rochester Theatre Debuts with ‘The Rainmaker’

Cast members, from left, Mitch Gibson, Jacob Dreher, John Shaffer, Tommy Rinkoski, Samantha Gibson and Blake Hogue walk through a scene during a rehearsal for “ The Rainmaker” in THAT Theatre Company’s first production at Rochester Repertory Theatre. (Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)

A new live theater company in Rochester officially launches Aug. 2 with a production of “The Rainmaker.” The new group, That Theatre Company, consists of a small group of actors, directors, and technicians who, for now, will rent performance space at Rochester Repertory Theatre.

“We’re looking at our own space, hopefully, in the future,” said Blake Hogue, one of the organizers of the new company. “We want to go small, maybe a storefront theater with 40 to 50 seats.” Hogue said the intention is to pay theater artists for their talent.

The group, working informally, has already done a couple of original shows in the upstairs black box space at the Rep. For “The Rainmaker,” though, the company is moving to the main stage at the Rep and officially debuting as That Theatre Company.

“We want to bring in more people to see what we do, what we’re about,” said Samantha Gibson, who is directing “The Rainmaker.” “It’s a recognizable show. This is our diving board, and we want to make a bigger splash right off the bat.”

After “The Rainmaker,” she said, they hope audiences will return to see what That Theatre Company can do with upcoming original shows.

“The Rainmaker” is a comedy/drama about a Depression-era farm family. The daughter, Lizzie, who thinks herself too plain, is verging on spinsterhood. Meanwhile, a drought threatens the family’s way of life. Enter Starbuck, an apparent huckster who claims he can make it rain in exchange for $100.

“We’ve compared him to Harold Hill in ‘The Music Man,'” Gibson said. “He stirs up a ruckus, divides the family, but ultimately unites them.”

Hogue will portray Starbuck, while Gibson is Lizzie. Also in the cast are John Shaffer, Tommy Rinkoski, Mitch Gibson, Jake Dreher and Mike Tri. All are local stage veterans. They’re part of a core group that will be involved in the company’s productions.

“There’s a lot of talent, not just performers, but people in light design, set design, all the technical ability,” Hogue said.

For now, That Theatre Company does not have a set schedule. Plays will be produced as space, talent, and scripts become available, Hogue said.

Asked if Rochester needs yet another live theater company, Hogue said, “I think it does. There are others that will do the big budget musicals, the big ticket-setters. What we’re willing to do is smaller-scale productions, more intimate, professional.”

Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin  July 25, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

Play Looks at Life in Minnesota for Iraqi Newcomers

“Birds Sing Differently Here,” a play based on the stories of Iraqi refugees and immigrants in Minnesota, will be presented by the Reconciliation Project Saturday and Sunday at the Rochester Repertory Theatre, 103 Seventh St. NE.

The play is performed in both English and Arabic by a cast of six Iraqi community members and four professional actors. Together, they offer a look at the personal lives of those trying to build bridges of communication and understanding.

The play was developed in 2017 and premiered that year at the Guthrie Theater, with additional material added earlier this year. The performances at the Rep are the opening of a four-city tour. Post-performance discussions will include director Taous Khazem, cast members and community representatives.

 

Performances are at 7 p.m. both days. Tickets are $10, available through the Rep box office at 507-289-1737 and at the door.

Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin  July 11, 2019

Local Theatrical Group Takes on a New Role

 

Director Jeanne Skattum, center, one of the co-founders of the Rochester Repertory Theatre, works with cast members during a rehearsal of the theater’s production of “Avenue Q” in February. On Thursday, the theater bought the building it has been performing in since 2007. Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com

After years as an understudy, a longtime Med City theatrical group is taking on a new role as theater owner.

On Thursday, the Repertory Theatre Co. purchased the 62-year-old building where it has performed in northeast Rochester since 2007.

“We’ve been looking for a permanent space for a while,” said Rep Board Chairman Mark Masbruch. “This is a perfect fit for us.”

The Rep Theatre purchased the two-story building at 103 Seventh St. NE for $410,000 from William Kolb and the Kolb family, who owned it for 13 years. That complex once housed the early version of the Studio Academy Charter School.

Masbruch said several things, including the theater’s history, played into the decision to buy a building.

The Rep Theatre started in 1984 and performed 23 seasons in a leased building at 314 1⁄2 S. Broadway. The group was surprised in 2007 when it was abruptly notified that it had a few weeks to vacate the building, despite having performances scheduled.

While there wasn’t concern that would happen in the Seventh Street building, the theater group didn’t want to ever be put in that position again.

Once negotiations were worked out with the Kolb family, the Rep began raising funds for the building’s purchase. Mayo Clinic provided a matching grant, and the family of longtime supporter, the late Eric Donaldson, also helped with donations among other “numerous generous” donors. F&M Community Bank handled the mortgage.

The purchase comes during a time of growth for the Rep, which sold out almost of all of its recent performances.

“It’s been a very good year,” Masbruch said.

Owning the building opens the door for the non-profit group to work on a Phase Two renovation plan.

The hope is to expand the 90-seat theater space to eventually accommodate 120 seats, he said.

Jeff Kiger  Post-Bulletin  June 26, 2019

Rep’s New Show is a Fine, Fizzy Drink

Grab a drink and settle in — you’re about to make some new friends.

The Savannah Sipping Society,” the first show held in the Rep’s newly purchased theater (don’t worry, it’s the same building they’ve performed in since 2007) is a refreshing treat.

The two-hour show only features a handful of middle-aged characters, each one down-and-out. The ostensible protagonist is uptight career woman Randa (Lisa Shields) who’s just been canned from her architecture job in favor of a much younger man. She’s joined by bubbly and well-meaning Dot (Christine Boos), widowed just after retirement, and the brazen, recently divorced Marlafaye (Taresa Tweeten). Aspiring life coach Jinx (Karen Masbruch) rounds out the group. She wants to prove that the three others can move onward and upward after their roadblocks.

Little binds these women together except loneliness and a hatred of hot yoga. But that’s going to change very quickly.

Though it has a much smaller cast, the feeling of the show is reminiscent of the 1939 film “The Women,” which invited the audience into the rich lives of its all-female cast with no need to present their men’s perspective.

These women, who form a tight bond in the first 20 or so minutes, have plenty to say. As anyone with older female relatives knows, the best talk happens when the men are gone … possibly after the application of alcohol and snacks.

And through a mixture of snappy veranda chat and monologues, the vibrant, animated women do their best to get you invested in their mid-life makeovers. As one character points out, it’s still possible to live life to the fullest after age 40 or 50 … or 60. But time is of the essence.

Tweeten, as the bold, brassy Marlafaye, gets many of the best (often bawdy) one-liners. She deserves props for committing entirely to the character’s slightly unhinged, larger-than-life energy. But Shields, as Randa, sneaks in some subtle physical comedy — keep an eye out for that.

The play hits the emotional highs perfectly, but falters a bit on the dips. Many of the characters suffer even bigger blows over the course of the play, like deaths, health issues, and relationship deterioration.

None of those hits fully register, though — with a laugh and a quip, the script moves on to the next joke. And while it’s enjoyable to poke fun at ageism and sexism, it’s a little jarring to reach for emotional resonance, then for a punchline.

Still, the show is well worth seeing, especially with friends. And grab a drink before or after — the ladies of the Savannah Sipping Society certainly won’t judge.

Anne Halliwell, Post-Bulletin  June 24, 2019

Women of Rep’s ‘Sipping Society’ Learn to Laugh Through Tears

Cast members, from left, Karen Masbruch, Christine Boos, Taresa Tweeten, and Lisa Shields rehearse a scene in the REP Theater production of “The Savannah Sipping Society.” Ken Klotzbach/kklotzbach@postbulletin.com

 

Cheryl Frarck likes to describe the four characters in the play “The Savannah Sipping Society” as “women the age of fine wine.”

The play, which opens June 21 at the Rochester Repertory Theatre, might best be described as a comedy with tears — and with an occasional glass of fine wine.

“You find yourself laughing, and the next thing they’re tugging at your heart strings,” said Frarck, who is directing the play. When she read the play, Frarck said, “I laughed out loud. I could see the characters.”

The four women in the play are facing challenges in their lives.

Randa, who has lived for her work, suddenly finds herself with a career challenge. Dot is struggling to overcome the early death of her husband. Marlafaye’s husband ran off with a younger woman. Jinx serves as a life coach for the other three, but has huge problems of her own.

The women meet at a yoga class, decide to get together for a sip of wine, and become fast friends.

“They laugh, they fight, they disagree,” Frarck said. “They’re sometimes thoroughly unlikable. They’re real, they’re human. It’s not just a chick flick. These are real people.”

Frarck has cast Rep veterans Christine Boos and Karen Masbruch alongside newcomers Lisa Shields and Taresa Tweeten.

“Each rehearsal is fun,” she said. “It’s a delight to work with them.”

The play is written by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, who have written for TV sitcoms.

For Frarck the play, and its message of resiliency and laughing through tears, holds special poignancy.

She recently retired from 45 years of teaching in Kasson-Mantorville. “My first thought in the morning was the kids, and my last thought at night was the kids,” she said. “People asked, ‘What are you going to do?’” That caused her to re-evaluate her life, just about the same time her husband received a difficult cancer diagnosis.

Against that background, Frarck has found particular meaning in a play that she said is not “fluff.

“Celebrate a day at a time,” she said. “If you’re looking down the road, you’re not taking advantage of opportunities staring you in the face.”

That’s a lesson well-learned by the women of the Savannah Sipping Society.

Get Your Tickets for “The Savannah Sipping Society” June 21-30, 7:30pm Here!

Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin   June 13, 2019

 

Casper’s Loss is Also His Gain

Photo by Joe Ahlquist

 

Jerry Casper is stretched thin these days, even though he doesn’t have a lot on his plate. Oh sure, there’s this upcoming comedy show he’s performing Friday and Saturday at the Rochester Repertory Theatre to keep him busy. But the fact that he literally has less on his plate is the reason for this show.

“I’ve lost 75 pounds since the end of August last year,” Casper said. That’s why his Rep show is titled, “Less of Me … More for You.” The show will be a mix of humor and storytelling, along with some improv with Casper’s longtime partners in comedy crime, Greg Miller and Nick Mezacapa.

The weight loss, Casper said, led to a rebirth of interest in his art and his life. “It re-sparked my creativity,” he said. “I started writing again. I started rethinking the way I approach life. In the process of losing weight, I gained new insight into my art.”

Casper, who is director of theater at Rochester Community & Technical College, has been a frequent presence as well on local stages. He’s a teacher and director at RCTC, and an actor, largely in comedy roles, at community theaters. He has also performed improv shows now and again with Miller and Mezacapa.

“Less of Me…,”  though, will be something different. There’s a serious side to what Casper wants to present.

He lost an older brother to cancer a few years ago. In the aftermath, Casper said, he was struck by how positive and upbeat his brother had always been, even when facing death.

“I call it the Kip Principle,” Casper said of his brother’s positive-thinking habits. Casper wondered if he could he adopt that principle to his own life.  “I wasn’t feeling well,” he said.  “My attitude was bad. I thought ‘I’m going to feel bad and die.’ I wanted to change.”

The weight loss, which Casper did with the help of an online program and plenty of positive thinking, has reversed all that. The question now, he said, is whether he can keep the weight off and continue on an upward path.

“I’ve been here before where I’ve lost weight and ballooned back out,” Casper said.

“Less of Me…” will include tales of his battles with weight and attitude. “I use a lot of comedy, but also a lot of heartfelt storytelling,” he said. “It’s all new material,” he said. “The show ended up being about loss and gain.”

Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin   May 29, 2019

Rep’s ‘Actors’ Features Two of the Best Local Talents

Rochester Repertory Theatre’s “Don’t Talk to the Actors” cast, from left, Rene Stiller, Laurie Helmers, Larry Sinak, Rich Manfield, Christina Stier and Nick Rudlong.
Andrew Link

 

What a treat it is to watch two “seasoned” pros at work.

We’re talking about Larry Sinak and Laurie Helmers, two Rochester stage veterans, who play a couple of seasoned actors in the comedy “Don’t Talk to the Actors,” which opened Friday at the Rochester Repertory Theatre.

The play, by Tom Dudzick, is about Jerry, a young playwright from Buffalo, N.Y. Jerry’s script has been picked up by a Broadway producer. It’s Jerry’s first trip to the big city, and he and his fiance, Arlene, can’t believe their luck as they arrive for rehearsals.

And to make it even more exciting, Arlene’s favorite actor, Curt Logan, has agreed to do the play. Of course, Curt’s got more on his mind than playing the milquetoast character Jerry has written.

The Rep’s production, directed by Mary Bruns Pyfferoen, reaches for all the farcical comedy there is in the script — and then some, thanks to Sinak, as Logan, and Helmers as bawdy actress Beatrice Pomery.

Sinak, who is normally seen in dramatic roles, here pulls out all the stops to create a character who is grounded just enough in reality to be both hilarious and sad.

Helmers also stretches herself, applying a comic twist to her musical-theater talent.

Watching Sinak’s Logan and Helmers’ Beatrice battle it out during rehearsals and rewrites of Jerry’s play is an absolute delight.

“I thought you were dead,” Beatrice says when she meets Logan at the first rehearsal.

“Death is looking pretty good right now,” he answers.

When one of the two isn’t on stage, the play seems more frenetic than focused. There is good, clever dialog in the script, although some of the jokes announce themselves in advance, and others — one character’s complaints about how much things cost in New York, for example — wear out their welcome in a hurry.

Nick Rudlong, a reliable comic actor, portrays Jerry as an awestruck nervous wreck. Rich Mansfield is Mike, the director, who tries to get Jerry’s show off the ground. Christina Stier has fun as the finicky stage manager (who for some reason is written as a British expat), and Rene Stiller makes her Rep debut as Arlene.

Is this really how a Broadway show is made? If so, there’s a lesson here for all aspiring playwrights who dream of Broadway, a Tony and a Pulitzer: Be careful what you wish for.

As for us, we wish for another show with Sinak and Helmers going toe-to-toe.

Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin   May 6, 2019