"...Everyone Is Entitled To My Opinion." ~Madonna

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Summer Reading Summary

This has been a very busy time. Summer theater schedules are winding down; school schedules starting up; garden vegetables waiting to be processed. You know the routine. As a result, my reading has been light and fun. I did find two new authors who might be of interest to you... if you are not familiar with them.

I have been meaning to try Erica Spindler for sometime so picked DEAD RUN from a stack beside the bed. I was glad that I finally got around to her.

Liz Ames has a message on her answering machine from her sister Rachel that causes her to rush to Key West, Florida. Rachel is pastor of Paradise Christian Church and no one seems to know what happened, only that she has disappeared. Within hours of Liz’s arrival two ritualistic killings take place. The style is hauntingly similar to those committed by the “New Testament” killer who is currently on death row. 

Not able to get the police or neighbors to help or even to be concerned, Liz calls on Rick Wells, a former Miami policeman who worked on the “New Testament” case. They discover that they have aroused a terrifying enemy and an unspeakable evil in this paradise.

I liked DEAD RUN. The characters were well developed and the plot full of twists and turns. There was just a touch of the supernatural to the story, just enough to have the reader wondering. Erica Spindler is a keeper.

Kathleen O’Brien’s HAPPILY EVER AFTER was not as tightly written as the Spindler book, but I have to admit that I did not figure who was the guilty party until the end and then I felt slightly cheated.
Ten years ago Thomas Beckham walked away from the church and his bride-to-be. He could not marry her after being witness to something that he could not forgive, nor could he confide in anyone.
Ten years have passed and Kelly Ralston,along with the other members of the wedding party have gotten on with their lives. After attending the funeral of her friend and fellow bridesmaid from that long ago wedding, Kelly discovers that the members of the wedding party are dying in the order that they appeared in the rehearsal picture. Kelly is next in line.
I liked the main characters in this book, but felt that the author was not consistent in some of the others. It felt as if the inconsistencies were meant to keep the reader off balance about who was committing the murders. When the denouement finally happens it is almost a let down.  There are so many really good authors of suspense out there; Kathleen O’Brien did not overly impress me.

Monday, September 23, 2013

THEATER: August: Osage County

State College Community Theatre has done an excellent job this season in giving audiences a well balanced selection of plays. AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY  will appeal to the person who enjoys good, well written, black humor that deals with dysfunctional families, drug abuse, alcoholism, and suicide. All of the things that make being part of a family “painfully funny”.

The atmosphere for the evening was set by actor Tom McClary as Beverly Weston, the father of the Weston clan. Tom’s ability to speak clearly  with feeling and humor made- what could have been a rather long speech- a good explanation of some of the difficulties surrounding his family.

The problem that is pivotal to the family is the mother Violet’s addiction to prescriptions. Melissa Lee Brannen played the part very well. Violet is not a very likable character and Melissa was not afraid to show us the ugliness that the role demanded.

The chemistry between Susan Kleit and Rod Egan as Mattie Fae, Violet’s sister, and Charlie Aiken was very believable. Susan always brings an energy to the stage that seems to be contagious to her fellow actors. She was perfectly cast as the “comedy relief” who also gets her dramatic moment..

All three of Violet’s daughters were well defined. Lindsey Allison as Ivy was the quiet, reliable one. Amy Farkas had the most dramatic role as daughter Barbara. Daughter Karen was played by Lindsey Schrott. I felt that I knew them well by the end of the evening. Madeline Biever as granddaughter Jean also had her moment to shine and show that young actresses can hold their own.

Chris Brannen as the college professor Bill Fordham who is involved with one of his students was one of the family members that I liked and felt sorry for. Steve Raybuck and Rob Arnold can always be counted on to do a good job.

Jackie Gianico as Johanna, the hired girl, had the difficult job of being the normal, calming influence. The cast was rounded out by the good looking Christopher Hirsh as Sheriff Gilbeau.

I am sure that one of the joys of a show with this many layers has to be the fun that the actors are having on stage. The chance to play such intense, flawed characters must be a treat. I have to admit that there were times that I was caught up in the drama to the point that I forgot that I was ”audience”. 

This is a play that if you are not familiar with, you will be. It has won the Pulitzer Prize and has been made into a movie starring Meryle Streep, Julia Roberts, and Sam Shepard. I suggest that you see what SCCT can do with a show this complex before you see what Hollywood does.

AUGUST:  OSAGE COUNTY will be at the Mt. Nittany Middle School until September 28th. Call the box office at 814-466-7141, SCCT office at 814-234-7228 for tickets or visit them online at http://www.scctonline.org.

Monday, September 9, 2013

THEATER REVIEW: Beyond Therapy

BEYOND THERAPY is funny! Once again The State College Community Theatre provided its audience with a good evening of entertainment. The show was a new one for me so the outrageously funny lines were unexpected and made me laugh until I hurt. I even found myself applauding the truth expressed by these zany characters. Thank you director David Williams.

The plot starts with Bruce and Prudence meeting in a restaurant. Each had placed an ad in the personal section of the newspaper, hoping to meet the person of his or her dreams. We learn that Prudence has serious commitment problems and Bruce has a lover named Bob.
We also get to see each of them during a weekly therapy session and two more inept therapists would be hard to find. When we finally get to meet Bob, the cast of lovable maniacs is complete.

The casting was well done. Jonathan Hetler as Bruce was charmingly vulnerable. His facial expressions could have carried the humor of the play without his speaking one line. Val Harper played confused Prudence with a quiet acceptance of the craziness around her so nicely that her handling the gun in the second act was surprising. (That is a deliberate teaser if you have not seen the show).

Nowhere in the known world could there be any therapist like those played by Eric Lindquist and Ellysa Stern Cahoy. “Sleazy” would be the word that I would use to describe Eric’s Dr. Stuart Framingham and the only word that I could think of while Ellysa was on stage as Dr. Charlotte Wallace was “wacky”.

Michael J. Tews gave us a Bob who went beyond “flaming”. His merely getting on the couch in Charlotte’s office had the audience roaring. Although we never saw or actually heard his mother, I expected to see her during the curtain call. Matthew Jadlocki made the most of the small part of the waiter. We probably will see more of him as his history with SCCT has been very small roles.

One of the advantages of moving away from theater in the round is the chance to do real sets. Jon Vickers-Jones did his usual great job of creating the right look for the show, but the length of time it took for set changes bothered me. The tempo of this comedy was hurt by the slowness of the changes. I hope that was fixed for further productions.

This is a hysterically funny play. You may not want to take the very young or the very innocent with you, but if it is an evening of pure entertainment you need, go see BEYOND THERAPYIt is beyond funny!

Beyond Therapy will be at the Mt. Nittany Middle School until the 14th of September. Call 814 234 SCCT for ticket availability or go to their website for more information:  http://www.scctonline.org

Friday, September 6, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Spandau Phoenix

History, especially the strategies involved in war, falls outside my area of expertise. As a result, I depend on my son-in-law and Wikipedia to help me understand the times that an author deviates from fact into fiction. SPANDAU PHOENIX by Greg Isles had me asking quite a few questions.

In West Berlin in 1987, Spandau Prison is being torn down. Former Allies, France, Great Britain, the United States, and Russia have rotated guarding the prison on a monthly bases. Now the last prisoner, Rudolf Hess, is dead and representatives from each country, including East and West Germany, are monitoring the destruction of the building.

In the debris, a young German policeman finds what appears to be a diary written by the prisoner known as Rudolf Hess. These papers not only maintain that the prisoner had not been Hess, but his double and that some of the top men in Great Britain had been Nazi sympathizers and actively planned to kill Winston Churchill.

Great Britain is desperate to get the papers, but so are certain people in West Germany, Russia, and the United States. If the papers are true, Israel wants the real Rudolf Hess to pay for his war crimes. What follows is a true espionage novel. Spies, blackmailers, double crossers, and sadistic evil doers are on every page. The mixture of historical fact and the author’s imagination make this a fascinating read. 
Greg Isles is one of my favorite authors and you have to forgive me if his books keep appearing on this blog. SPANDAU PHOENIX was his first novel and he admits that he wrote it to make a name for himself as an author as well as to prove that he could make a living writing. 
This was not my favorite book of his. It gets a little wordy at times, mainly because characters have to explain what has and is happening. The story goes between the early war years and 1987 and I felt that some of these could have been eliminated. The chapters involving Hitler and Reinhard Heydrich were longer than needed. 

SPANDAU PHOENIX was not only Iles’ first novel but the first of his books to make the New York Times best seller list. His books are never “formula” books and he has said that he would never write a series. Breaking his own rule he is currently working on a trilogy while he recuperates from a near fatal automobile accident. I am waiting.

Monday, September 2, 2013

THEATER: Doubt: A Parable

We really appreciate the fact that Penn State Centre Stage decided to extend the run of their production of DOUBT: A PARABLE. The local theater scene was so rich this summer that I was afraid that it would be one production that I would have to miss. I am very glad that I had the opportunity this week to see it.

On the surface the story of DOUBT: A PARABLE is simple. The year is 1964 and the setting is a Catholic church and school in the Bronx. The conflict deals with a strict nun who is the head of the school and the young priest whom she accuses of inappropriate behavior with one of the young boys. Also involved are the mother of the boy and the young nun who reports that the boy came from the priest’s office very upset. 
As to be expected, the Penn State Centre Stage did a professional job. The set was beautiful. Dan Robinson designed a church and garden that was elegant and, yet, simple. The change from church to principal’s office was smooth and effective.

Costumes by Richard St. Clair were authentic. The black dresses of the nuns contrasted with the beautiful vestments of the priest in the pulpit. 
This is an actor’s show and depends on the believability of the characters. All four members of the cast were excellent. Jane Ridley was a very stern Sister Aloysius, the principal of the school. Although her lines drew laughter from the audience at times, she had a tragic air about her. She was so certain that she was right in her accusations of misconduct and her holding on to the mores of the past had a pathetic quality. 
I liked Sister James. Kenzie Ross captured her innocence and her enthusiasm for her job so well that her uncertainty at the end was painful to watch.

The ambiguity of the “doubt” of the title depends on the actor who plays Father Flynn, the young priest.  Tyler Reilly hit the tone perfectly. His Father Flynn had the audience asking even after the show if such a good, godly man could be capable of such deviate behavior.

My favorite scene was between Sister Aloysius and Mrs. Muller, the mother of the boy who was the first black student at the school as well as the center of the scandal. Here was the meeting of two strong women; one who was holding on to tradition and one who realistically knew that her son had to face a tough life and needed to graduate from this school to get into a good high school, no matter what was happening. Stori Ayer as Mrs. Muller showed a quiet strength that was impressively moving.

I hope that audiences saw beyond the local relevance of this “parable” to the layers of other worthwhile themes running through this thought-provoking play. I was still teaching in the classroom in 1964 and was aware of the changes of that time. The education system was torn between keeping to old, traditional ways and the new more liberal ways of thinking. The country’s idea of dress, morality, social behavior and issues, as well as the arts, was changing.  One of those “liberal” ideas was that blacks could have the same rights as other American citizens.

Author John Patrick Shanley won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize and a Tony for  DOUBT: A PARABLE. Shanley also wrote the screenplay and directed the 2008 movie with Meryl Streep, Philip Seymore Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis. 

DOUBT: A PARABLE runs at Centre Stage in Stage College through September 5th.  Information about tickets and location can be found on their website at:  http://theatre.psu.edu/performances/shows/doubt-parable.