John Cleese Taunts Richmond a Second Time [11.10.17]

I’ll be honest; when tickets went on sale in June for an appearance by John Cleese that included a screening of the film ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ I was on the fence. I had seen Cleese along with fellow Python member Eric Idle in 2015, performing together and answering questions in what became a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. And tickets for The Holy Grail evening were close to $100 face value (over $100 with fees), so I was not certain that the evening would be worth it.

But the more I thought about it I told myself, ‘Remember back in 2004 when you were stunned that Eric Idle stopped in RVA on his solo tour? And you were floored that any member of Python would bother to stop in Richmond for any length of time?’ So the fact that a) John Cleese would be coming to the city where I live for the second time in two years, and b) He’ll be dead soon (as he admitted on stage) led me to buy a ticket for a film that I already own and have seen over one hundred times.

I thought I bought my ticket to see John, and trust me, he was great, but the true star and biggest surprise of the evening was the 4K Ultra-HD Digital Transfer of the film. I seriously doubt that the film looked that clean and vibrant when it premiered in 1975. I sat there in my fourth-row center seat completely in awe of how truly beautiful this film now is as a piece of ‘cinema.’ Yes, it’s silly, yes it’s absurd and yes the ending is horrible, but it is now truly majestic in its depiction of the times of King Arthur and his ‘English Kni-iiiiiiiiigh-its’

Soon after the film concluded, the house lights rose and Cleese’s daughter Camila walked onstage and announced that the interviewers on the previous leg of the tour were far too nice, so she was brought along to ‘get the dirt.’ She welcomed her dad and Cleese promptly announced that the movie we had all just seen wasn’t nearly as good as its followup, ‘Life of Brian.’ He’s right, ‘Brian’ is a better film, it was just a surprise to hear the star attraction admitting as much.

Over the next hour, Cleese lovingly berated all other members of Python. At one point he cracked himself up almost to the point of choking while telling the audience ‘You [Americans] elected someone [to the presidency] who has never read a book!!’ After collecting himself, he finished the thought, adding, ‘Now, if we’d written that ten years ago, Hollywood would’ve said ‘Yeah it’s funny, but it’s not believable.’

The kindest most sincere words of the evening were, not surprisingly said about his former writing partner in Python, Graham Chapman, whom Cleese said ‘became totally divorced from reality around 1968 and never returned.’ But, he said, Chapman’s greatest asset was as a sounding board and that ‘if Graham laughed, I knew I had something that would make the audience laugh.’ After that comment, the two Cleese’s left the stage while a film clip from Chapman’s 1989 memorial service was shown, where Cleese delivered a truly uproarious and fitting eulogy.

The 2014 Monty Python Reunion was momentous, and I’m very glad it stayed in England and didn’t have a US leg. That brief run of shows was a lovely way for them to make up and say ‘Thank you’ and ‘Goodbye’ at the same time. Michael Palin prefers to make travel programs, Terry Gilliam is a director, Terry Jones is ill and silenced by dementia, it’s possible though unlikely that Eric Idle would tour the US again, so this tour by Cleese, even though most of the evening was spent watching a film, was a way for Richmond’s Monty Python fans to say ‘Thank you’ to John and his comrades for for almost fifty years of laughs, which made for a truly wonderful evening.

-Barry

‘The Last Five Years’ at TheatreLab is Mesmerizing; Not To Be Missed

This weekend I had the pleasure of witnessing a bit of magic right here in town at Richmond’s TheatreLab Basement.

Production Photography by Tom Topinka

Christie Jackson and Alexander Sapp as Cathy and Jamie [Production Photography by Tom Topinka courtesy of TheatreLab’s Facebook page]

Jason Robert Brown’s musical ‘The Last Five Years’ is one of the most unique pieces of theatre to be produced in the last twenty years. Instead of lavish sets and a ‘cast of thousands,’ the play is simply a series of monologues-in-song, alternately performed by the play’s only two characters, Jamie and Cathy. In this production, which is a partnership between TheatreLab and Yes, And! Entertainment, ambitious young writer Jamie is portrayed by Alexander Sapp, while Christie Jackson is struggling actress Cathy.

 

What sets this work apart from your usual ‘boy meets girl’ musical is that the characters tell the story of their relationship from meeting to marriage to divorce, but they tell it from opposite ends. The very first number, ‘Still Hurting’ shows Cathy at the end of the relationship, in pain and in pieces. That Jackson is able to immediately grab the audience and hold them in her hand as she crumbles in front of them is awe inspiring. Lest you think it’s a complete downer, the very next song ‘Shiksa Goddess’ brings us Jamie just as he’s met Cathy. Sapp bounces along the minimal stage, smiling ear to ear, possessed with the youthful exuberance that the potential of a new relationship brings. Throughout the show, each person tells their story from their point of view with almost no interaction with the other performer.

The Basement performance space is very intimate: about 40 seats, a barren wood plank stage with two benches. Even though the space is sparse, the audience is captivated by a fantastic piano and string ensemble (directed by John-Stuart Faquet), a masterful score, nuanced stage direction from Chelsea Burke, expert lighting, and most importantly, two stupendous actors who move from joy and humor to heartbreak and sadness with a smooth effortlessness that is a wonder to witness.

I urge you to go see this show. You’ll be supporting great local theatre, you’ll see a truly mesmerizing performance, and, as you watch Jamie and Cathy on the carousel that is their relationship, you’ll undoubtedly see a bit of yourself in those two characters.

This engagement will sell out, so I advise you to purchase your seats before they’re all gone. The run resumes Thursday September 28 and plays every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night through October 14, Now EXTENDED thru Saturday October 28! All shows start at 8pm, seats are general admission and are $30.

 

Don’t miss it, because I assure you, this production will be talked about long after the final bows have been taken. It is that good, and it is that memorable, so go…be ‘a part of that.’

‘Food, Clothing, & Shelter’ a Wonderful Surprise 

‘We know…it’s a show.’ 

Richmond writer Bo Wilson’s latest creation, ‘Food, Clothing, & Shelter’ is anything but the ‘typical theatre going experience.’ For starters, it’s staged at The Firehouse Theatre, a local space that I have always had a soft spot for because it is able to be funky, inviting and intimate all at once, which suits this production perfectly. As you enter the building and grab a program, you are greeted by ‘circus freaks’— A man with a boa constrictor around his neck, a woman doing hula hoop tricks and a man offering a game of three card monte. Within seconds, you know that this will not be a ‘typical’ evening. It’s an exercise in ‘Immersion Theatre’ where the audience and cast have the chance to interact. For some theatergoers, this may seem awkward or uncomfortable. Even if you fall into that category, don’t let that stop you from seeing this show while you can.   

It’s 1927 and as the play opens, The Yankee Doodle Circus Train has derailed and left its passengers stranded in the very small town of Vinton, Indiana. Over three scenes, the circus folk interact with the townspeople in hopes of obtaining food, clothing and shelter for the penniless troop.

The results are at times hilarious, sweet, and deeply moving.

The cast, which includes Kirk Morton, Frank Creasy, Foster Solomon, Keisha Wallace, Rebecca Turner and Donna Marie Miller along with many other ‘roustabouts’, is able to convey in three scenes how we are all more alike than we are different and, no matter if you’re from Small Town, America or a passenger on The Circus Train, all of us are, in our unique way, freaks, trying to find our way and gain acceptance.
I could write a lot more about this play, but I don’t want to give anything away and, more importantly, I want you to go see it! I will simply say that I did not have any idea what to expect as I walked in, and by the time of the final bows, I was deeply moved, knowing I had seen something that I will carry with me for a very long time.

 

You can see eveing shows at 7:30 on Wednesday, September 13 thru Friday, September 15 and then your last chance to catch it is a Sunday matinee at 3:00pm on the 17th. You might be hesitant, because it’s different, but trust me. Go see this show.

You can thank me later.

 

Happily, forever a freak….

–Barry

Theatre Review: CRUMBLE (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) by Shelia Callaghan

Now playing at The Firehouse Theatre is a production that I promise you is unlike anything else you’ll see in the city of Richmond. The Firehouse has always been a haven for funky, thought-provoking theatre and, ‘CRUMBLE (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake)’ carries on in that fine tradition.

At its heart, ‘CRUMBLE’ is a story of neglect and disrepair. Janice [Christina Billew] is ‘a cantankerous, tedious pre-teen with bad hygiene and a mouth like a trucker’ and her Mother [Jen Meharg] is a woman ‘so deep in sorrow she can’t see past her nose.’ Janice escapes daily to her room to listen to music on headphones, dream of Justin Timberlake [played by Matt Hackman] and argue with her dolls. Mom busies herself cooking gourmet meals that her daughter won’t eat and dreams of Harrison Ford. They live in a rundown apartment house that at one time was a mansion but is now in great disrepair [personified by Frank Creasy]. While they all share the same space, each character almost always speaks in monologue, which suits the isolationism and alienation that every character is dealing with.

The Apartment speaks of past tenants and past glories while tolerating Janice and her mom. Janice and her mom are dealing with the loss of a loved one and, basically they don’t speak when they don’t have to. Mom leans on her sister Barbara [Lisa Kotula] for advice on how to ‘handle Janice’ but Barbara is as broken and lost as her sister.

The show is dark and it will make you think, it might even make you cringe. But, it’s not all bleak and dreary. The show has some very funny moments…just don’t expect the froth and sugar you might see at another local theatre.

I’ve not seen anything quite like this show. I highly recommend this if you’re a daring sort who’s looking to be challenged and pushed. The performances were great. Creasy provides the comedy just when the audience needs a moment to exhale, and Billew’s Janice is achingly nuanced and yet child-like in her excitement and wonder.

The overwhelming lesson I took away from seeing this show is quite simple to say, but at times difficult to execute: Parents, TALK TO YOUR KIDS!! No matter their age, or if you think they’re ‘fine’ and handling things well, TALK TO YOUR KIDS. You never know what they might be doing alone in their bedroom. And, the advice goes both ways: Kids, TALK TO YOUR PARENTS!! No matter how uncool you may think they are, or how unfair you may think they treat you, talk to them. They need you, and even if you don’t believe it now, one day you’ll realize you need them.

Say something before it’s too late.

[Directed by Bill Paxton. Playing weekends now thru March 20. Tix $25. Curtain at 8pm Thurs-Sat and at 4pm Sunday. http://www.firehousetheatre.org or 804.355.2001]

Barry Hall

03.01.10