Rep’s ‘Evil Dead’ Finally Coming to Life

Isaiah Asplund as Ash in Rochester Repertory Theatre’s production of “Evil Dead the Musical” which opens Oct. 8 at the Rochester Civic Theatre. John Molseed / Post Bulletin

It’s the musical that refuses to die.

Rochester Repertory Theatre’s production of “Evil Dead the Musical” will finally hit the stage Oct. 8 at the Civic Theatre main stage. Two scheduled runs of the comedic horror were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It looks like we’re really doing it this time,” said director Annie Landkammer.

The show has a new cast and makes use of the Civic’s larger theater space than the Rep’s home which is under renovation. Cliché horror tropes are given a send-up as five teens find themselves facing an ancient evil in an empty cabin in the woods. The actors straddle the line between parody and believability.

“The goal is to have the actors, as their characters, not believe they’re being silly,” Landkammer said.

Based off of the movie series, the stage musical version features the same camp humor, over-the-top horror tropes and self-referential Easter eggs as Ash battles demons, zombies (and his own hand) in the secluded woods. The new cast brings youthful energy to the show, Landkammer added.

“Every single one of them — even though they’re new to the Rochester theater scene — has a lot of experience and education,” she said. “It makes my job easier.”

Cast members add a bit of their own humor and twists into their roles and find ways they can push a joke a bit further for extra laughs, Landkammer said.

“The cast really gets into it and adds their own stuff,” she said. “Or we’ll all come up with an idea and they make it work.”

If you’re looking for something creepy and frightening, this show might not be what you need. This production also tones down on the gore the script calls for.

“The show actually calls for a ‘splatter zone,’” Landkammer said. “We’re not doing that — liquids and COVID don’t mix.”

Humor is at the forefront of the show. However, sound and lighting techs have their hands full.

“They’re the ones that bring (the evil) to life,” Landkammer said.

–John Molseed, Post-Bulletin, September 29, 2021

Plot Tightens and Twists in ‘Turn of the Screw’


Daria Koon, left, and Chris Kuisle rehearse a scene from Rochester Repertory Theatre’s two-person show “Turn of the Screw” on Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Rochester. (Traci Westcott /


Rochester Repertory Theatre presents a play adapted from a 19th-century horror novel.

Daria Koon was excited to portray the long character arc of the governess in Rochester Repertory Theatre’s “Turn of the Screw.”

“There’s so much to dive into with this character,” she said.

As events unfold in the stage adaptation of Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw,” the audience sees a young governess changed by the events she witnesses.

“In the span of two seconds, I play three characters,” he said.

Each role makes an opposite demand of its actor in the two-person show. Koon and Kuisle said they found their respective challenges equally enticing. After seeing a notice for auditions, Koon read the play script, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, then she read the original 19th-century novel. A recent graduate with a BFA in musical theater from Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., Koon said she was excited for the role.

“There’s so much in this story as a young woman in this time period, and how she deals with all the challenges presented to her and how they affect her,” she said.

Kuisle has focused on making distinct characters clear to the audience without making them into caricatures.

“I think and I hope I have been successful in creating believable characters,” he said. “These guys can attest that I would slide in and out of accents and characters in rehearsal at the beginning.”

Director Kami Sim said Kuisle has been successful, but agreed it took time and practice.

“A lot of times at the beginning, I’d say, ‘That was hilarious, don’t do that,’ ” Sim said.

The show follows a young governess who, caring for two children at a remote estate, begins to see apparitions and becomes convinced that the grounds are haunted. The audience, unsure of whether the ghosts are real, is pulled into the suspense, Sim said.

“Two pages into the script, you just want to know what happens next,” she said.

The show is set for performances in the blackbox theater at the Rochester Civic Theatre. The sparse set includes one antique chair and a platform.

“It allows for the audience to fill in those details in their own minds,” Sim said.

A rehearsal for Rochester Repertory Theatre’s two-person show, “Turn of the Screw.” on Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Rochester. (Traci Westcott /
Chris Kuisle, left, and Daria Koon rehearse a scene from Rochester Repertory Theatre’s two-person show “Turn of the Screw” on Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Rochester. (Traci Westcott /








–John Molseed, Post-Bulletin, July 26, 2021

“Love Letters” Shows Distance Doesn’t Diminish Connection

Anne Black-Sinak and Larry Sinak read their lines at the first in-person rehearsal for Rochester Repertory Theatre’s “Love Letters” on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, at the black-box theater at Rochester Civic Theater.

Anyone who’s acted in live theater knows the scenario: You’re about to go onstage, everyone is waiting for you, and you don’t know your lines.

It’s a classic actor nightmare.

Two experienced actors are preparing for a show that will make that anxiety dream a reality.

Rochester Repertory Theatre is resuming live performances with “Love Letters,” featuring veteran stage actors Anne Black-Sinak and Larry Sinak. The show opens Friday, June 11, and neither actor is expected to have the script memorized. And neither is a bit worried about it.

They’ll have “scripts” in front of them — the letters their characters exchange over decades of friendship and, later, more than friendship.

The play’s author, A.R. Gurney, specifically instructs directors not to have the actors memorize their lines. The “lines” are letters that begin as a series of thank-you notes after a birthday party where the characters met. Later, they exchange summer camp postcards, and then continue the correspondence through school into adulthood.

Because the actors are married, they aren’t required to maintain a distance under COVID-19 safety protocols, which helped make the show a contender for director Mary Pyfferoen. However, she said her choice was motivated by more than logistics. Pyfferoen wants people to consider their relationships after a year of distancing, she said.

“Part of what drew me to this show was how a relationship can keep going and growing no matter the distance, the time, or isolation,” she said. “I think as we’re coming out of all this isolation, it’s important to start thinking about our own connections and realize that it’s not too late to reach out.”

Pyfferoen said not memorizing the lines can evoke a more honest emotional response to the letters’ contents.

“You want to get to the feeling without going over the top or trying to force it,” she said.

The show will be performed at the Rochester Civic Theater Black Box space. The Repertory Theatre’s building is still under renovations, and its theater space doesn’t have the room to accommodate COVID distancing guidelines.

The show includes no blocking or stage directions. Subtle lighting changes help enhance or reflect the mood of the letters. With the show opening Friday, the director, stage manager and lighting technician met Tuesday for the first in-person rehearsal.

Pyfferoen said she isn’t worried. “I trust (Sinak and Black-Sinak) implicitly,” she said.

Larry Sinak reads a “letter” at the first in-person rehearsal for Rochester Repertory Theatre’s “Love Letters” on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, at the black-box theater at Rochester Civic Theater.
Anne Black-Sinak reads a “letter” at the first in-person rehearsal for Rochester Repertory Theatre’s “Love Letters” June 8, 2021 at the black box theater at Rochester Civic Theater.

–John Molseed, Post-Bulletin, June 9, 2021

Searching for Artistic Meaning Should Have You Seeing ‘Red’

Larry Sinak plays Mark Rothko and Lucas Simonson plays Ken during rehearsal for the Rochester Repertory Theatre’s production of “Red” on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, at the Rochester Civic Theatre. (Joe Ahlquist /

When we first see Mark Rothko, played by Larry Sinak, in silhouette staring at one of his paintings at the beginning of the show, the audience can only guess how the impressionist artist is regarding his work.

Sinak plays the temperamental artist in Rochester Repertory Theatre’s production of “Red,” which opened Thursday to a standing ovation at the theater’s black box. Through Rothko’s assistant, Ken, played by Lucas Simonson, we learn Rothko’s proclaimed assessments of his work are layered and not as unflinchingly honest as he’d like Ken and himself to believe. Brief moments of hesitation give the onstage relationship between the two enough air so as not to suffocate the audience with Rothko’s overbearing attitude.

Sinak almost appears to pull his acting punches. He approaches scorn for his younger foil (and the new generation of artists Ken represents), but never embraces a convincing outright dismissal or disdain. Sinak gets louder, yes, but he doesn’t portray a convincing antipathy toward his assistant. Maybe Sinak softens to make Rothko appear more sympathetic. Or, Sinak sees Rothko as, deep down, implicitly supporting the new pop artists he vocally scorns. (A theory that gets some weight when Rothko eventually dismisses Ken as an employee.)

Whatever the reason, Sinak isn’t pulling punches for Simonson’s sake. The younger performer holds his own opposite Sinak’s intensity. We watch Ken go from pushover to pushing back, though the transition isn’t as clear as it could be.

Early on, when Rothko hurls names of artists and philosophers he believes Ken should know, he doesn’t appear entirely cowed. He does a more effective job when he holds his own against Rothko after having read Nietzsche’s “Birth of Tragedy.” Ken offers his own take on Rothko’s Apollonian and Dionysian motivations, which lets Sinak play Rothko slightly more off balance.

While Simonson’s emboldened Ken is more convincing than the meek version, Sinak showing vulnerability and uncertainty elevates the second half of the show.

On the cusp of selling his murals to the newly opened Four Seasons restaurant (which he bitterly describes as “a temple of consumption”), we see his face as he gazes at his work. Sinak, staring at the imaginary fourth wall of his New York studio between the audience and the stage, shows vulnerability as Rothko contemplates doing that to his creations.

“Will they forgive him?” he wonders out loud.

It’s Simonson’s turn to be dismissive, as Ken says the works are only paintings. Their verbal sparring is fun to watch, but the choreography between Sinak and Simonson, priming a canvas in burgundy red, is as smooth as the fresh layer of paint they end up with.

Crew for the show have a massive mess to clean after each performance and hours of setup prior. The reproduction canvases, set against a cluttered and drab art studio, radiate in the Civic Theatre’s black box. Doug Sween, who designed the set, said crew members used “layer after layer” of paint to recreate Rothko’s murals. These efforts, combined with Sinak and Simonson’s excellent performances, make “Red” a work of art. Just don’t try to define what that means to Mark Rothko.

–John Molseed, Post-Bulletin, October 11, 2020

Rochester Rep Makes Intense Return with “Red”

Larry Sinak plays Mark Rothko and Lucas Simonson plays Ken during rehearsal for the Rochester Repertory Theatre’s production of “Red” on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, at the Rochester Civic Theatre. (Joe Ahlquist /

“Red” returns Rochester Repertory closer to its primary goal: the stage.

Expressionist artist Mark Rothko was known as much for his intensity as his art. Larry Sinak, who plays Rothko in Rochester Repertory’s production of “Red,” will have to channel that in a familiar space.

Sinak will be performing in roughly the same spot where he carried Absolute Theatre’s “An Iliad” in 2018. The two-person show opens Friday for the Rep’s first live show since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Lucas Simonson plays Ken, opposite of Sinak.

Based on true events, the Tony-winning show by John Logan presents a challenge for actors, but also an opportunity for a theater company under pandemic restrictions.
Larry Sinak playing “Mark Rothko” and Lucas Simonson playing “Ken” during a rehearsal for the Rochester Repertory Theatre’s production of “Red” Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, at the Rochester Civic Theatre in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist /

In March, the pandemic cut short the Rep’s run of “Strange Snow.” “Red” was originally scheduled to be directed by Philip Muehe and performed earlier this year. “We thought this would be a small-cast show we could use to dip our toe in the water with COVID,” said director Merritt Olsen, who took over direction of the show because Muehe was no longer available.

The Rochester Civic Theatre’s black box accommodates a larger audience than the Rep’s main stage — especially under state health department guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Households will be seated at least 6 feet apart, and audience members will be at least 6 feet away from the actors.

“That’s not something we could do (at the Rep),” Olsen said.

–John Molseed, Post-Bulletin, October 7, 2020

If you go

What: Rochester Repertory Theatre’s production of “Red”

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9, through Saturday, Oct. 10; 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 11; 7;30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15, through Saturday, Oct. 17; 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 22, through Saturday, Oct. 24; 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25

Where: Rochester Civic Theatre

Tickets: $23 Available online at or by calling 507-289-1737.

More info: Masks are required on the premises at all times.

All the World’s a Stage

Drive-in theater is making a comeback in the age of COVID, and stage theater is getting in on the act.

Dubbed “Getting Our Act Together … Together,” Rochester Repertory Theatre is leading the drive-in experience. It will feature multiple acts, music and performances in collaboration with seven other theater groups Aug. 13-16 in the Rochester Community and Technical College parking lot.

The idea came from the Rep’s reluctance to let go of their summer musical — “Evil Dead The Musical.” A short-lived plan to perform it as a drive-in was abandoned due to logistical hurdles.

“But we just couldn’t let go of the idea of doing a drive-in,” said Sue Schnell, managing director of the Rochester Rep.

Instead of the musical, actors, singers, musicians and performers from eight area theater companies will participate in a showcase variety performance. Greg Miller, Jerry Casper and Nick Mezacapa will emcee the event.

“They’re a team of guys that are great fun to watch,” Schnell said.

Joining the Rep are: Absolute Theatre; Calliope Theatre Company; Immersion Youth Repertory; In Heart Theatre; Rochester Civic Theatre Company; That Theatre Company; Theater du Jour. Upstage Theatre and Z-Theatre will provide support volunteers for the performance.

Pandemic Pictures will provide the stage and, as usual, dedicated volunteers will bring the production to life with lights, sound and props.

Rep actors from “Evil Dead The Musical” will perform scenes from the show, and the company plans to perform it for audiences next year. The play publisher is allowing the group to present the scenes this year for free as a preview to next year’s production, Schnell said.

“We’re reevaluating the next two seasons,” she said.

The Rep will present “Red,” which was scheduled for this spring, in October in the black-box space at the Rochester Civic. That space allows for a bigger audience under mandated distancing guidelines than the Rep could offer in its smaller space.

It’s also intact at the moment. Rep leaders decided to move forward with renovations of their bathrooms while they were shuttered during the pandemic. The Civic agreed to share its space to give them a temporary home while the work is completed, and about four times the size audience they could have fit in their theater. “Red” is tentatively scheduled to open Oct. 8.

The drive-in performances are Aug. 13-15 at 6 p.m., with matinees Aug. 15 and 16 at 2 p.m.

–John Molseed, Post-Bulletin, August 3, 2020

Play Review: Blizzard of Emotions

Rehearsal of “Strange Snow” a play about Vietnam veterans dealing with PTSD. (John Molseed/ Forum Communications Co.

Four years before the movie “Platoon” was released, “Strange Snow” hit stages depicting two Vietnam veterans coping with life after service.

Before then, Vietnam soldiers and veterans were absent in popular culture, said Jim Crawley, a U.S. Marine Vietnam veteran.

Steve Metcalfe’s “Strange Snow,” which is currently in production by the Rochester Repertory Theatre, shows how two veterans cope with their experiences. It’s a depiction Crawley and other veterans who attended a preview performance Thursday night say is an accurate portrayal.

“Everybody coped differently,” said Chad Stowers, a U.S. Army veteran who was deployed in Iraq in 2004.

In the show, David, played by David Derby, and Megs, played by Alex Wilkins, are coping in opposing ways with their trauma and loss from their experiences in Vietnam. They’re headed for a confrontation, and when it comes, it’s explosive and intense.

Director Jeanne Skattum cast two actors who each have different approaches to their roles. Derby, leaning toward the method, is present and reacting in every scene. Wilkins plays Megs with rhythm — memorizing the cadence and flow of his lines and building character reactions around his proficiency with the script.

In a small cast, mixing those approaches can create an awkward performance. For this production, the two actors with different approaches to their roles is one of the show’s biggest strengths.

Wilkins, as Megs, is talkative to the point of babbling. Derby plays David more reserved and brooding — until he’s pushed too far.

Those acting approaches mirror the differences in the characters’ personalities and set the viewer up for the eventual confrontation in subtle ways.

When the two do hash things out, they’re at the same level of intensity and rage in a believable and satisfying scene. Derby’s in-the-moment acting ends up being the more believable of the two for most of the show. However, Wilkins adeptly brings more humanity to post-confrontation Megs.

Beth Regener, as David’s sister Martha, does not have as intense scenes, but portrays a woman walking a fine line of impatience and empathy with a balanced sincerity.

Some of the most effective moments are when nothing is being said on stage. Silence can be frightening for actors.

Following the intense confrontation between Megs and David, their restraint and ability to let nothing be said allows the impact of the emotional moments to settle on the audience with its full weight. That the cast has the discipline to hold those moments in silence for the right amount of time serves the audience well.

The set is nicely detailed, but space limitations on the small stage make it unclear in some scenes whether characters in different parts of the home can hear each other. When David delivers some damning assessments of Megs, whether those wounding words land on the man who’s keeping a friendly facade carry implications in later scenes. Some clarity via the set would have helped.

Since “Strange Snow” was written, a plethora of Vietnam pop-culture depictions have followed. In that light, “Strange Snow” might seem like it follows some familiar tropes. However, it was one of the first non-politicized works to give voice to a generation of veterans that still face struggles.

Repertory’s production honors that intention well.

–John Molseed, Post-Bulletin, March 9, 2020

“Strange Snow” Explores Psychological Impact of War

Rehearsal of “Strange Snow” a play about Vietnam veterans dealing with PTSD. (John Molseed/ Forum Communications Co.

The terms change, but the trauma soldiers experience in war is as old as conflict itself. Whether it’s called shell shock, battle fatigue or PTSD, people’s reactions and adaptation to combat experience are varied.

In the Rochester Repertory Theatre’s production of Stephen Metcalfe’s drama “Strange Snow,” two Vietnam veterans with shared combat experiences find themselves coping in disparate ways.

“The friends are very far apart on this — who’s to blame, or how much they blame themselves,” said Jeanne Skattum, director.

Davey, played by David Derby, who prefers not to talk about his experiences, is withdrawn and surly. Megs, his gregarious friend, is more talkative but prone to an occasional window-punching outburst. As Megs drops into Davey’s life and charms Davey’s sister, Martha, the two friends, carrying old wounds and assigning blame for past events, are on a collision course.

Skattum saw the show in the early 1980s when it was relatively new and got a copy of the script.

“When I decided to submit it for this season, it was this tattered-looking thing,” she said.

Although it addresses veterans of Vietnam, its content is timeless as veterans of current conflicts deal with PTSD.

“I think maybe we understand it a bit better now,” Skattum said.

However, that doesn’t mean veterans are getting the help they need. Especially after decades of warfare have created so many veterans.

“We kind of move from war to another war to another war to another war,” Skattum said.

“Strange Snow” was published in 1982 as the U.S. moved to forget an unpopular and futile war that claimed more than 58,000 American lives. Veterans are invited to a preview performance before the March 6 opening. The script doesn’t pull punches, Skattum said. Could seeing the show be opening old wounds for vets who see it?

“It could be, it could be,” Skattum said.

However, seeing the characters in “Strange Snow” dealing with experiences from another war might soften the impact of the message about the psychological impact of war even if the message is the same, she added.

“Some people never learn to work through it, and some do,” she said.

Skattum said the timeless message of the script has stuck with her in part because it provides challenges for the actors.

“It’s such a beautiful acting piece,” she said. “It’s very touching.”

Performing such an emotional play can be a challenge in an intimate space like the Rep’s main theater space.

“The first time you perform on this stage, it can be a bit of a challenge,” Skattum said. “You look out there and there are eyes everywhere.”

For some actors, that intimacy can be an asset when you can see and hear the audience respond to the show.

And Skattum expects a response.

“It’s our intention to do the things that aren’t expected of community theater,” she said. “I don’t always do things that are easy to watch and see.”

–John Molseed, Post-Bulletin, March 5, 2020

‘Screwtape,’ by Some Measures, Falls Short

Laurie Helmers, playing Slumtrimpet, left, Rich Mansfield, playing Screwtape, and George Skare, playing Wormwood, rehearse on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, for the upcoming production, “Screwtape,” at the Repertory Theatre in Rochester. (Traci Westcott /

Part of the fun of “Screwtape” is seeing a depiction of what the “underside” of god’s creation thinks of the people populating the earth and how they can be brought to temptation and eventual damnation.

The script, written by James Forsythe as a stage adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ “The Screw Tape Letters,” has a healthy dose of satire. However, most of the humor is cerebral and requires an articulate cast to convey that humor. Unfortunately, some of it gets lost in this production.

In Rochester Repertory’s production of “Screwtape,” Rich Mansfield, as Screwtape, does exactly that when he’s perched on the various levels of a tight but intricate set. When he’s later joined by Laurie Helmers, as Slumtrimpet, Mansfield gets an equal on stage from both the script and the acting.

Screwtape’s charge is to oversee his nephew, Wormwood, who is on his first mission to bring a young man, Mike Green, referred to as “the Patient,” to the infernal depths.

George Skare, as Wormwood, brings a nervous energy to the stage conveyed with a dash of adept physical humor. He conveys an earnestness of wanting to do well at doing bad. However, his delivery and articulation keep his depiction of Wormwood from holding his own with Screwtape and Slumtrimpet.

For physical acting, Anna Landkammer, who glides across the stage as a prim and proper Judy Macadam, takes an excellent and convincing fall with the assistance of Ben Menning, who plays a directionless and rather lifeless Mike Green.

Despite clever satire, the script itself doesn’t give much depth to the human characters. However, proselytizing doesn’t create engaging dramas. The characters seem to have just enough dimension to fit into what is essentially an adaptation of a clever sermon.

–John Molseed, Post-Bulletin, January 20, 2020

Farr Returns to Repertory Helm with “Screwtape”

Laurie Helmers, playing Slumtrimpet, left, Rich Mansfield, playing Screwtape, and George Skare, playing Wormwood, rehearse on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, for the upcoming production, “Screwtape,” at the Repertory Theatre in Rochester. (Traci Westcott /

In the Rochester Repertory Theatre’s latest show, “Screwtape,” unseen influences dog the characters.

Director Dawn Farr wonders if their presence is more than fiction.

The production brings Farr back to the helm of a Rochester Repertory Theatre show for the first time since 2015. Farr had to step away for health reasons during the production of “Making God Laugh.”

“I wanted to make sure I was well enough to do some things before I directed a show,” she said.

Farr, who is now walking with the aid of a cane, has worked to regain enough mobility to return to the director’s seat. Despite having graduated from needing a walker to get around, the progress has felt slow, she said. But staying away wasn’t an option.

“I breathe theatre,” she said. “I’ve done theatre since I was a little girl.”

“Screwtape” is a stage adaptation written by James Forsyth of C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters.” Farr said it was the first show she was involved with when she transferred to Bethel University (then Bethel College) to study theatre.

“I’ve always wanted to do this show,” she said.

The concept behind the show of unseen hands playing with our decisions and fates appeals to Farr. Looking back at “Making God Laugh,” she wonders if there was a bit of that occurring. Four cast members ended up dropping out of the show and Farr herself had to step back as her own health problems set in.

“Whatever beliefs you have, sometimes it feels like there’s an exterior force influencing our lives,” she said.

The show will also include live quartet performing music between scenes and during intermission. Much of it is improvised and moody with dissonant tones.

“If we do something we like, we try to duplicate it,” said Alecia Meline, who plays violin. The music is supposed to be dark but a little bit playful.

–John Molseed, Post-Bulletin January 16, 2020