Archive for October, 2011

St. Petersburg Times Fine Arts Writer John Fleming was knocked out by the  American Stage production of “August: Osage County” at the Palladium. This show runs only through Sunday, so if you love theater, you don’t want to miss this production.

Here’s an excerpt from Fleming’s review:

ST. PETERSBURG — It’s got the kind of dramatic twist you don’t often experience in American Stage productions: A play about alcoholism, drug addiction, incest, divorce, pedophilia, suicide and cancer. But this unrelenting tale of woe does not come across as a tragedy. Instead, it had the audience howling with laughter at Sunday’s matinee.

And in a further twist, the performance isn’t even in the theater’s own downtown building, but in the Palladium a few blocks up the street.

Combined, these elements make for one of the most satisfying theater experiences in recent memory.

Just about every hot-button topic you can think of is part of August: Osage County, except for perhaps homosexuality (and there are a couple lesbian wisecracks). Yet Tracy Letts’ celebrated play kept the audience in stitches during its almost four-hour performance. Never has the dysfunction of the American family been so hilarious.

Do you believe that an absurd, graphically vulgar account of a drug-addicted old woman smuggling Darvocet into a psych ward could be roll-in-the-aisles funny? Don’t ask me why or how — the genius of plain-spoken American vernacular is the only explanation I’ve got, and I realize that sounds pedantic for such a scene — but it brings down the house.

At the center of Letts’ black comedy is Violet Weston, the sharp-tongued, pill-popping matriarch of an Oklahoma clan, brought to monstrous life by Lisa McMillan in the sprawling production, directed by Todd Olson, artistic producing director of American Stage. In McMillan’s ferocious performance, Violet is a Medea of the plains, psychically destroying her three grown daughters, who have gathered for the funeral of their father, Beverly (Michael Edwards), an alcoholic and failed poet. Not for nothing does Beverly mention John Berryman and Hart Crane, a pair of American poet-suicides, in his opening soliloquy before he vanishes from the play.

What makes McMillan’s performance so compelling is that along with the vehement venom of Violet’s truth telling, the actor also communicates her warmth, though it surfaces only in fleeting, quicksilver moments: a line from Emily Dickinson dredged up from a drugged stupor; a bizarre, heartbreaking childhood story about some boots, told to her daughters.

To read the full review  visit: http://www.tampabay.com/features/performingarts/review-august-osage-county-is-comedic-masterpiece/1198369


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Here’s an excerpt from the Sarastoa Herald-Tribune’s review of August: Osage County. The American Stage  production is playing through Sunday at the Palladium. The reviewer is Jay Handleman. For the full review visit:

ST. PETERSBURG — You don’t need to see Tracy Letts’ “August: Osage County” because it’s the biggest show in American Stage’s 33-year history. It’s reason enough that this Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winner is one of the best American plays in decades, and the play’s powerful area premiere crackles with the drama of real life.

In the tradition of O’Neill and Williams, Letts has created a dark and surprisingly comedic look at a dysfunctional family gathered together after the disappearance of the patriarch, Beverly Weston. Hidden feelings get drawn out as the family shouts, fights, mixes and tangles with a wonderful naturalness in the gripping production staged by Todd Olson in the large Palladium Theatre. In the process we see how family problems carry from one generation to the next, no matter how much we may fight them.

The cast is led by by Lisa McMillan, who will be remembered by Sarasota audiences for her roles in Florida Studio Theatre’s “Shear Madness” and “The Savannah Disputation.” She displays far more layers here — fierceness, loss and an undertone of tenderness — as the pill-popping Violet Weston.

She is surrounded by an equally strong cast of American Stage veterans that includes the marvelous Julie Rowe as the oldest daughter, Barbara, who really makes you feel every emotional twist she experiences dealing with a troubled marriage and her mother’s problems. Katherine Michelle Tanner draws you into her role as the meek middle daughter, Ivy, who tries to assert herself with disastrous results. Meg Heimstead gets a few strong moments as the youngest daughter, Karen, who works to cover up her own relationship problems.

During the play’s fast-moving three-plus hours, you may feel like you’re passing by a horrific car crash that you can’t stop watching for the humanity, pain and suffering involved. It’s a tragedy but richly funny, filled with strong language, frightening and ultimately enlightening.

Olson, who is starting his ninth season as producing artistic director, has clearly taken American Stage in new and expanding directions that have only made it more worthy of a drive to downtown St. Petersburg.

Though the strong language may offend some, this fast-moving three-hour play is a tragedy that is richly funny, frightening and ultimately enlightening.

“August” is a daring choice for the theater company because of its scope and the ways it tests an audience that is probably accustomed to far more intimate productions at American Stage’s home base in the Raymond James Theatre. But Olson, who is starting his ninth season as producing artistic director, has taken American Stage in new and expanding directions, mixing challenging, new works with classics and far more audience-friendly productions that have only made the theater company more worthy of a drive to downtown St. Petersburg.

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Everybody here at the Palladium is still recovering from a very historic Sunday of jazz. Our tribute to WUSF Jazz Director Bob Seymour and his 30 years on the air was historic enough, with dozens of world-class players on our Hough Hall and Side Door stages. Then, of course, there was all that smoke  and the five fire trucks descending on our beautiful old building.

The motor in the Palladium’s original elevator burned out, sending smoke into our back hallways. Thankfully, the show stopped right at the end of the first set, after Dick Hyman and Ira Sullivan had combined on a beautiful ballad – “Autumn in New York.”

As we filed out onto the street not knowing what was burning, Ira told me – “I’m glad we weren’t playing an uptempo number – the place really would be burning down!”

The first set had been pretty magical – what with Fred Johnson, Gumbi Ortiz, Michael Ross and David Pate jamming on one of Fred’s improvised odes to Mr. Seymour; Kym Purling and Nate Najar almost setting the place on fire with a  hyper-kenetic version of  “Sweet Georgia Brown;” And the ever-amazing Dick Hyman’s set backed by Mark Feinman and Alejandro Arenas. As Dick tossed off note after note, the smoke begin to rise both metaphorically and literally. 

After waiting outside for about 40 minutes – and just as the rain started to fall – St. Pete’s finest cleared the smoke and let us back into the building. I can’t say enough good words about the SPFD. 

The second set was equally special – with Dick Hyman joining the USF Jazz Ensemble; the rollicking version of “Satin Doll” by Ellington band veterans John Lamb and Buster Cooper, along with singer Rose Bilal; and Ira Sullivan’s closing set, ending with “Amazing Grace.”

Thanks to all the musicians, the Al Downing Jazz Soceity and the Tampa Jazz Club for their help and support. Thanks for John Lamb for working with me. to Dwayne White for organizing the Side Door jam session. And thanks to everybody who turned out – and came back after our evacuation!

I’ll add more stories and photos from this memorable day but for now, I’ll post some snapshots by Marian Seymour, Bob’s wife.

John Lamb, Bob Seymour and me on Sunday after the smoke cleared

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