Another round of ‘Skillet Tag’ at the Living Room

The Kansas City Star

“Skillet Tag,” a memorable R-rated farce that made its debut at the Kansas City Fringe Festival last summer, returns to the Living Room in somewhat different form.

The show, written by Pete Bakely and produced by Play On Productions,  depicts a corporate retreat at which a megalomaniacal boss insists that his employees engage in a game of “skillet tag.” Things get out of control, to put it mildly. The company, by the way, makes greeting cards somewhere in the Midwest.

Bryan Moses is directing the Living Room production, which features Matt Leonard and Aurelie Roque, both of whom appeared in the Fringe Festival version. Other cast members include Missy Fennewald, Briana Marxen-McCollum, Jeff Smith, Coleman Crenshaw, Tim Ahlenius and Devon Barnes. The show runs through Dec. 22 at the Living Room, 1818 McGee St.

For more information, call 816-308-2131 or go to

Here’s my KC Star review of the Fringe Festival production:

Posted on Wed, Jul. 25, 2012 11:05 PM

The Kansas City Star

I can’t say why, but there’s something highly amusing — and imminently satisfying — about seeing somebody get hit on the head with a frying pan. Let’s face it: A pie in the face isn’t half as funny.


Matt Leonard and Aurelie Roque in the Fringe Fest production of “Skillet Tag.”

That particular brand of comic violence is central to Pete Bakely’s “Skillet Tag,” a raucous farce that finds time to satirize the global economy between outrageous acts of onstage violence.

The set-up is a “team-building” exercise called by Jeff, an executive at a global greeting-card company that happens to be based in Kansas City. He brings together his office assistant, his staff attorney, his I.T. guy, a junior executive and a woman who shows up at the office each day to do nothing but drink.

This exercise is carried out in Jeff’s home and his idea is for the assembled employees to play an unusual game of tag in which the “tagging” is done with cast-iron skillets and steel frying pans. This can lead to nothing good, naturally, and when one of the characters is “tagged” with fatal results, a chain reaction is set in motion. Before the final curtain, the stage has been littered with bodies.

What makes the show fun is what Bakely does with his characters and plot. Revelations and reversals are cleverly woven into the story and the R-rated comedy is often so over the top that laughter is the only natural response.

The talented cast has varying levels of experience but director Sam Slosburg gives them a good run. Timing is key, and while some of the action was off a beat or two Wednesday night, much of it was on the money.

Of the men, the best performance comes from J. Will Fritz, the insecure computer technician, who finds himself reluctantly drawn into a hedonistic nightmare. Fritz plays the role like a little kid who just wants to go home and he scores some of the biggest laughs in the show.

Matt Leonard gives us a successful, aggressive performance as the megalomaniacal boss with a bizarre sex life that becomes clear as the play progresses. He’s the kind of employer who expresses frustration at the Human Resources Department for its insistence on things like firing with cause and its fussy rules about sexual harassment.

Phillip Shinn is amusing as a glib executive who looks for ways to turn the evening of murders to a business advantage and Kyle Wallen makes an impression in a brief but indelible appearance as a cop, whose incongruous beard and long hair would lead you to peg him as a heavy metal musician or resident of a hobo camp.

The women offer nice comic performances across the board, but none is more impressive than Kenna Marie Hall, whose transition from PMS-crazed office assistant to sexually aggressive serial killer is something to see.

Laura Jacobs gives us a smart, smoothly realized performance as the blithely inebriated corporate untouchable who settled a sexual harassment lawsuit by choosing to keep her job without having to do any work. Aurelie Roque seems a bit straitjacketed as the lawyer, although she knows how to deliver amusing one-liners. Chelsey Tigue, who shows up as a second cop in the closing minutes of the play, uses her obvious miscasting to her comic advantage.

Bakely exhibits a gift for absurdist humor and shows us that farce is far from dead. But with his penchant for the grotesque and wild sexual humor, Bakely is unlikely to see his work produced at the dinner theater anytime soon.

Slosburg puts together a clever curtain call, in which each actor comes on stage to be murdered by another, until at last the cast is piled in a heap at center stage. A fitting end to a show that delights in homicide.

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(c) 2012 by the Kansas City Star

KC Fringe: It’s all about the ripple effect

The Kansas City Star

Funny thing about KC Fringe — even when it’s over, it’s not over.

The annual festival of music, dance, theater, film and visual art in venues scattered across the Crossroads and midtown officially wrapped up Sunday. But the ripple effects continue.

Katie Kalahurka, for example, will reprise her Fringe show, “Lessons From Marlene,” this Friday and Saturday at the Fishtank Performance Studio to coincide with First Friday.

Vicki Vodrey’s impressive play, “Thank You Notes: Headed to Heaven With Flat Jimmy Fallon,” which received its world premiere at the Fringe, moved on to New York to be seen as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival this week.

Samn Wright and the creators of “Slaughterhouse Opera,” a rock musical about the zombie apocalypse, plan to mount a Kickstarter campaign to record the piece.

And David Gaines, who attracted sizable audiences with his “7 (x1) Samurai,” stayed over to conduct a clowning workshop Tuesday at Just Off Broadway Theatre.

Marcie Ramirez, left, Eric Tedder and Amy Hurrelbrink in “Sexing Hitler.” (Susan Pfannmuller/Kansas City Star)

The eighth edition of KC Fringe appeared to come off without a hitch, although some spectators were still confused by the requirement to buy a $5 festival button before buying a ticket to an individual show. But most people who attend the festival and learn how it works tend to take its general inefficiency for granted.

There were 160 artist entries this year, which translated into 459 performances at 20 galleries, theater spaces and other ad hoc performance venues. Events followed a complicated, staggered schedule. The festival’s website is well-organized and fairly simple to negotiate. But this all happens with a volunteer work force. The only people who get paid are the tech crews who run lights and sound for performances.

Throughout the year the organization is run by an operations committee of 23. During the festival itself, that number jumps to 140. The front-of-house volunteers — the people who sell and tear tickets — put in an estimated 3,000 hours this year, according to festival director Cheryl Kimmi.

Part of the time is consumed by the nightly task of tallying that day’s attendance by physically counting paper tickets.

“We have a team that does that every night, and we’re usually here until 2 or 2:30 in the evening,” Kimmi said.

David Gaines performs his one-man show “7 (x1) Samurai” at KC Fringe. (Jill Toyoshiba/Kansas City Star)

Kimmi said the festival leaders have a wish-list that includes an automated ticket system, but there’s no money for one in the immediate future. The festival receives small grants from the ArtsKC Fund, the Missouri Arts Council and the city of Kansas City, but most of the festival’s revenue comes from the sale of the $5 festival buttons.

Kimmi said the festival has formed a development committee to explore more fundraising options. Kimmi is glad the tech crews can be paid, and she said the next step would be to pay the house managers at the venues.

“We’re planning to take it to the next level,” she said. “We have to grow it correctly.”

Last year the festival attracted an audience of about 14,500, and Kimmi said the festival was on track to match that figure once the final tally is in. Anecdotally, this reporter saw no sparsely attended shows this year, and two were standing-room-only.

Kimmi said attendance on most nights grew by double digits compared to last year, including a 27 percent jump on the first Saturday of the festival. But midweek performances, which usually attract fewer spectators than weekend shows, experienced a huge increase: 49 percent on Monday and 55 percent on Tuesday.

The final Friday of the festival saw a big drop-off, which Kimmi jokingly attributed to the opening night Olympic ceremonies on television.

From a critic’s perspective, the festival has played a significant role by allowing performing artists an opportunity to take risks and by exposing the public to experimental performances. It has also helped break down some of the barriers between art forms.

“There are different crowds for different things,” Kimmi said. “The fashion-show crowd is very much focused on the fashion show. But we have some crossover. That’s what our goal is, to cross over these audiences so we give the hard-core theater crowd an opportunity to experience dance and music, and we have the hard-core dance crowd who has the opportunity to experience theater.”

Fringe Festival highlights

The final week of the KC Fringe Festival, which ended Sunday, offered typically diverse performances. Here are some highlights:

“Sexing Hitler,” written by Bryan Colley and Tara Varney and directed by Varney. This peek into a weird corner of Nazi history — Heinrich Himmler’s decision to manufacture inflatable “comfort dolls” to prevent the spread of venereal disease among the troops — managed the neat trick of being raucously amusing, touching and ultimately haunting all in one package.

It was a loose-jointed performance, but central to the show’s success was dancer/choreographer Amy Hurrelbrink, who played the doll prototype. In the eyes of her manufacturers and the soldiers who “test” her, she gradually acquires human characteristics, only to be destroyed in the Allied firebombing of Dresden.

“Lessons From Marlene,” written and performed by Katie Kalahurka. Kalahurka is a gifted comedian, and her trippy, absurdist step into a kaleidoscopic dream-world populated by the ghost of Marlene Dietrich and a character named Katie, among others, becomes a showcase for a memorable performance. The show, directed by Vanessa Severo, has been extended through the weekend. Kalahurka will perform the piece at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Fishtank, 1715 Wyandotte St. Call 816-809-7110 or go to

“Buck Hoss,” written by Scott Cox and directed by Trevor Belt. Cox’s attempt to transpose “The Bacchae” by Euripides to a backwoods Americana context didn’t quite work, but the Fringe production showcased some strong performances, particularly by Corbin Hernandez and Chris Roady as cousins, both preachers, each claiming divine ordination. The show admirably addressed heavy questions about human spirituality and our conceptions of God.

“Pilgrimage,” written by Ry Kincaid and directed by Bob Paisley. Kincaid’s rock musical based on Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” was an impressive achievement. Kincaid’s rhyming verse was consistently clever, and his songs were irresistible. He had a formidable cast to help him bring the show to life, including Cody Wyoming, Katie Gilchrist and Vi Tran.

“Skillet Tag,” written by Pete Bakely and directed by Sam Slosburg. This was the second memorable R-rated farce I saw at the festival — the first was Natalie and Talia Liccardello’s “Ice Cream Social…Issues” — and it again demonstrates that there’s an appetite out here among the great unwashed for rude, crude comedy. This show depicts a “team building” exercise at a megalomaniacal executive’s home that goes terribly wrong, resulting in a series of murders and some very strange sex. The festival cast was strong, with standout performances from J. Will Fritz and Kenna Hall.

“7 (x1) Samurai,” written and performed by David Gaines. This was the most polished show I caught during the festival. Gaines celebrates and spoofs Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” in this 60-minute performance.

Gaines has performed this piece a lot and it showed. He’s a highly skilled clown, and his mime-based performance, punctuated with guttural samurai “dialogue” and the occasional phrase in English, was very funny but also conveyed something of the film’s epic sweep.

More than luck takes KC’s Coterie Theatre to NY

Posted on Thu, Mar. 15, 2012
The Kansas City Star

NEW YORK – Let it be written that the Coterie Theatre got here first.

Kansas City’s theater profile in New York has experienced some spikes through the years. A few local playwrights have had work produced in the Big Apple. Kansas City Repertory Theatre has earned a handful of rave reviews from The Wall Street Journal and Time. And Marilyn Strauss, founder of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, has some bona fide Broadway producing credits on her resume.

Jennie Greenberry as Serena in "Lucky Duck" (Robert Trussell)

But the holy grail has never before been grasped — a theater company taking a show handmade by Kansas Citians to an important New York venue where the mere fact of its existence is enough to command attention.

The moment has arrived. At 5 p.m. today, the Coterie Theatre will officially open a lighthearted musical called “Lucky Duck” at the New Victory Theater on 42nd Street just off Times Square.

Actors based in Kansas City — graduates of the University of Kansas, University of Missouri-Kansas City and Stephens College — will perform next door to the playhouse where “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” unfolds each night and right across the street from Disney’s long-running production of “Mary Poppins.”

“This project is all Kansas City people,” “Lucky Duck” director Jeff Church said. “There is not a New York ringer inside this cast. These people are going to go back to their Kansas City lives.”

The New Victory, a 499-seat playhouse where Abbott & Costello once performed and Gypsy Rose Lee danced on a runway, isn’t officially a Broadway theater. But for the Coterie it’s about as good as it gets.

Mary Rose Lloyd, New Victory’s director of programming, said she had seen “Lucky Duck” in Kansas City and thought it was ideal for her theater, which specializes in entertainment for young audiences.

“We’re just looking for the best work,” she said. “We don’t care where it comes from. … We’re giving a cross-section of the performing arts for a cross-section of young audiences.”

Katie Karel, Seth Golay and Emily Shackelford (Robert Trussell)

“Lucky Duck” is the second consecutive show with a Kansas City connection to play the New Victory. The first was “Tom Sawyer,” a co-production from three regional theaters, including the Rep.

And another Kansas City production may be poised for a New York run. Kansas City Rep has remained guarded about plans for “Venice,” the hip-hop musical that had its world premiere in Kansas City, although artistic director Eric Rosen has already staged two workshops of the show in New York.

An announcement is expected eventually that there will indeed be a full production of the show at a major off-Broadway nonprofit theater company, perhaps as early as next fall.

That will further elevate Kansas City’s status as a performing arts town in a big way.

But the Coterie, the little, hard-working, young-audiences company that has operated for decades on the lower level of Crown Center, has earned a permanent distinction: It has made Kansas City theater history.

“Lucky Duck,” a satirical retelling of the Ugly Duckling fairy tale, was written by composer Henry Krieger, best known for writing the score to “Dreamgirls,” and Bill Russell, who worked with Krieger on the Broadway show “Side Show.”

“Lucky Duck” was originally called “Everything’s Ducky” and was envisioned as a piece for adults. Church persuaded Krieger, Russell and playwright Jeffrey Hatcher to let him reshape the show, shorten it and tailor it to a young audience.

That’s the version that audiences saw when the Coterie staged the revised show in 2010, and that’s the one New York audiences will see for the next two weekends.

Director Jeff Church (Robert Trussell)

And the show isn’t exactly sneaking into town. The New Victory expects reviews and notices from The New York Times and other papers. As you walk down 42nd Street toward the theater, you can’t miss the enormous placards on the front of the theater promoting the show and featuring larger-than-life photos of Kansas City actors Jennie Greenberry and Seth Golay.

“It’s very surreal,” Greenberry said during a lull in technical rehearsals Tuesday.

Amy M. Abels Owen, the Coterie’s production stage manager, said running relatively small-scale shows at the Coterie is one thing. At the New Victory, a classic proscenium theater, it’s a bit more complex. But the show is a milestone for her personally and professionally.

“I’ve never been in New York before,” she said. “Every time I’m not in this facility, I’m trying to have an adventure.”

The cast includes talented artists familiar to regular Kansas City theatergoers. Kip Niven, a Broadway veteran, is in the show. So is veteran performer Julie Shaw, who has appeared often at Quality Hill Playhouse. And some of the brightest young actors in Kansas City are on hand: Greenberry, Golay, Tim Scott, Katie Karel, Emily Shackelford, Francisco Villegas, Greg Krumins and Tosin Morohunfola.

Veteran musical director Anthony Edwards is with the company and will be performing at the keyboards with a small group of New York musicians. Lighting designer Jarrett Bertoncin and sound designer David Kiehl are in New York to work on the show. And the vibrant costumes were designed by Georgianna Buchanan, whose work has often been seen at the Coterie.

But the hero of the production may be Scott Hobart, the Coterie’s technical director and master carpenter. Hobart had the job of loading all the sets, props and costumes into a 12-foot rented diesel truck, driving it from Kansas City to New York and backing it up to the New Victory’s loading dock on 43rd Street.

“It was all packed to the gills, by the way,” Hobart said.

Hobart, who has an alternative life as a musician, has spent a good deal of time on the road as Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys, and he had experience driving a mini-school bus in New York traffic. Still, this was a daunting exercise. He knew he’d be driving the truck through the Lincoln Tunnel at rush hour.

“I had a steak dinner the night before,” he said. “It felt like my last meal.”

Sitting at the back of the house one day as the actors tested their body mics in front of a big red barn wall he had built, Hobart reflected on the significance of bringing a show to New York.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s a little surreal, because our home theater is such a different animal in the basics. … It’s fun to look up there and know I made every cut in every single piece of wood. It’s kind of like I’m up on the stage.”

By any measure, New Victory’s Lloyd said, the Coterie is an exceptional company.

“If you don’t know what you’ve got there,” she said, “you should.”

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A class act: ‘Earnest’ at the Heartland

The Kansas City Star

Terrific comic performances, creative direction and a handsome physical production make “The Importance of Being Earnest” one of the best shows I’ve seen at the American Heartland Theatre in 20-plus years of reviewing theater.

The witty, silly 1895 comedy by Oscar Wilde is a delight in the right hands, and director Paul Hough has assembled an exceptional cast to make this show fly. Wilde’s comedy of manners may be a trifle but its humor is couched as a satire on Victorian high society, allowing him to make clever observations and amusing asides about class distinctions, marriage, money and the idle rich. Considering the current state of the economy and the cries of condemnation against the “1 percent,” this determinedly frothy play actual gives viewers plenty to think about once you stop laughing.

From left, Todd Carlton Lanker, Emily Peterson, Natalie Liccardello and Rusty Sneary (Shane Rowse/American Heartland Theatre)

The three-act play opens in the home of Algernon Moncrieff (Todd Carlton Lanker), a young man with a permanent sparkle in his eye, who at the outset is visited by his best friend, whom he knows as Ernest Worthing (Rusty Sneary). Ernest has come from the country, where he keeps a home, to propose to Algernon’s cousin, Gwendolyn Fairfax (Natalie Liccardello).

But Algernon is able to deduce from an inscription in a cigarette case that “Ernest” left behind weeks earlier that his friend is leading a double life. Indeed, Algie’s friend confesses that he’s “Ernest” in the city and “Jack” in the country, where he supports his 18-year-old ward, Cecily Cardew (Emily Peterson). Indeed, Cecily believes Jack has a brother (whom Jack has invented) named Ernest, a wastrel whose excesses are continually getting him in trouble in London.

Algernon takes note of Jack’s country address, and appears at the country estate posing as “Ernest” just as Jack had decided to announce the “death” of the unseen brother.

Jim Korinke and Emily Peterson (Shane Rowse/American Heartland Theatre)

Hovering over these activities is Algernon’s aunt, Lady Bracknell (Jim Korinke), who is the final arbiter when it comes to marriage. Ultimately, Algernon (posing as Ernest) falls in love with Cecily and asks her to marry, but there can be no weddings until family secrets are unearthed in the third act.

Dominating the production is Lanker, whose Algernon is a marvelous creation. The performance is at all times crisp, specific, disciplined and unpredictable. Lanker’s handling of Wilde’s language is pitch-perfect and his sense of comic timing is flawless.

But then this show is full of good performances. Sneary is a memorable Jack and allows the performance to grow from reasonably restrained dimensions in the early going to absurd heights in Act 3. As Gwendolyn, Liccardello embraces the character’s ridiculous emotional expectations and creates a vivid, appealing performance. Peterson is sublime as Cecily, who lives in a fantasy world so rich that she writes letters to herself from a nonexistent fiancé. An extended scene between Gwendolyn and Cecily in Act 2 is a highlight of the production.

Cathy Wood is on the money as Miss Prism, Cecily’s tutor with secrets in her past. And John Rensenhouse has fun with some choice supporting roles. He first appears as Lane, Algernon’s dryly observant manservant; next we see him as the celibate Rev. Chasuble, who finds himself in a growing romantic relationship with Miss Prism; and, in some remarkable quick costume changes, he also plays Merriman, the ancient, hard-of-hearing butler at Jack’s country home. It’s as Merriman that Rensenhouse gets the biggest laughs with his tottering gait and ear-horn gags.

And Korinke, the old pro, brings his refined sense of comic timing to his impressive incarnation of Lady Bracknell. Watching Korinke play a Victorian woman is inherently campy, but the actor is smart enough to let Wilde’s writing generate the laughs. All he has to do is play the role, which he does with integrity. Read the rest at

Gregory Harrison plays a different tune in ‘Pump Boys and Dinettes’

Posted on Wed, Feb. 01, 2012
The Kansas City Star

Gregory Harrison never gets tired of trying something new.

So here he is, in Kansas City — well, Overland Park if you want to get technical about it — making his first appearance at the New Theatre and performing a show he’s never done before: “Pump Boys and Dinettes.”

The off-Broadway musical that became a Broadway hit in 1982 and has enjoyed a long life in regional theaters ever since had a special allure for Harrison. For one thing, he’s playing guitar for the first time in 25 years.

“The theater here introduced the idea,” Harrison said during a lunch break one recent afternoon. “It’s not the kind of thing I would generally be offered or cast in, so it appealed to me on that level. I normally play CEOs and doctors and presidents, so the idea of playing a gas station attendant immediately appealed to me.”

Marya Grandy, left, with Gregory Harrison and Jennifer Mays (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

The show revolves around four guys who work in a gas station and two waitresses in the Double Cupp Diner somewhere in North Carolina. The show was written by the people who first performed it, and most of the music comes out of pop music and county rock traditions.

Harrison has enjoyed a long career on stage and screen. He’s remembered for his performance as Dr. George Alonzo “Gonzo” Gates on television’s “Trapper John, M.D.,” which ran from 1979 to 1986, but he’s also produced his own films, run his own theater in Los Angeles and appeared on Broadway in Kander and Ebb’s “Steel Pier” and the long-running revival of “Chicago,” as well as Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies.”

Harrison has gray hair, but he’s a fit-looking baby boomer, emanating the bronze aura of a California native who grew up swimming and surfing.

He was born in Avalon, on Catalina Island, off the coast of Los Angeles. He was a third-generation islander. It was a small community — there were 31 kids in his high school graduating class and he had gone to kindergarten with 28 of them — but it was a popular movie location.

And he does carry some vivid memories of his father’s boat being used for a romantic comedy called “The Glass Bottom Boat” with Rod Taylor and Doris Day.

Harrison never went to college but served in the Army as a conscientious objector for three years. Two of those years he was a helicopter medic in Germany and, because of his C.O. classification, never was assigned to serve in Vietnam, although some conscientious objectors were. After the Army he decided to study acting in Los Angeles on the GI Bill.

Most show business careers have humble origins, and Harrison’s was no exception. In 1974 he was cast in a film called “Jim, the World’s Greatest.” According to Harrison, it was made by two 18-year-olds for $100,000 their parents had given them, and they needed a non-union actor.

“We shot it on weekends for a year,” Harrison said. “We’d rent the equipment on Friday night and take it back Monday morning. We wouldn’t sleep. We’d shoot from Friday night to Monday morning straight through.”

Harrison wasn’t getting paid, but eventually the movie was picked up by Universal Pictures, where executives thought the quality was so poor that parts of the film had to be reshot. Harrison said he earned a little money from Universal because of the reshoots.

“It got released, opened and closed in about 10 days,” he said. “But it got me in the union; it got me a rave review by Charles Champlin in the L.A. Times. An agent saw (the review) and called me. So here I was: I was a movie star and still had about $100 in the bank.”

Gregory Harrison and Pernell Roberts

But it wasn’t long until Harrison landed a regular role on the sci-fi series “Logan’s Run.” He’s kept working ever since. He started his own production company and produced about 20 movies, and he bought a theater where, “I taught myself to act on stage.”

“Trapper John,” was technically a “M*A*S*H” spinoff. Pernell Roberts played the middle-aged version of the character played by Wayne Rogers in the first three seasons of the TV series and Elliott Gould in the Robert Altman film. Beyond that, there was virtually no relationship between the two shows.

“ ‘M*A*S*H’ was still on, still a big hit, and they found a way to sell a show idea by taking a character from ‘M*A*S*H,’ updating him to the present, turning it from a half-hour comedy to an hour light drama, and the only real connection to ‘M*A*S*H’ was that one character. So it was probably a way to sell it to the affiliates. I often thought if it wasn’t named ‘Trapper John, M.D.’ it might have had more credibility as its own entity, its own personality and its own rewards.”

Roberts had become famous as one of the Cartwright brothers — sons of the ranching patriarch played by Lorne Greene — on the Western series “Bonanza,” but after several seasons decided to leave the show. Harrison once asked him why he left, and Roberts told him: “There’s an actor nine years older than me and I’m calling him Pa.”

“Pernell was a wonderfully talented man,” Harrison said. “He had a lot of demons, but when he wasn’t fighting them, he was one of the most charming men I had even known. Incredibly bright. Things didn’t work out the way he had hoped they would, and he had to deal with that on some days. … He was sure he would have a good film career and stage career. But he wasn’t cut out for compromise, and network television then required lots of compromise.

“I think what he wanted was to flaunt his independent streak. He wanted everyone to know he was nobody’s fool and nobody’s pawn and he would make up his own mind about how to present himself and how to play a scene. I loved him and embraced him, good and bad, hard and soft.”

Harrison just finished a film for the eccentric director Henry Jaglom with Michael Imperioli and Tanna Frederick. Called “The M Word,” it was largely improvised at Jaglom’s insistence. It’s all part of the actor’s life, according to Harrison. One thing he doesn’t want to do is repeat himself.

“I’m here for a couple of months doing something really different in a city I’m not familiar with,” he said. “I think the reason I became an actor in the first place, aside from the fact that it’s magical, is that it appeared to be something that would never be boring. Different faces, different places, different voices, different characters to play. All that appeals to me. Because I’m never bored.

“I think I fear boredom the way most people fear death.”

Read the review at

© 2012 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All rights reserved.

Not all Christians are alike: ‘Next Fall’ is a story about a gay couple, but it’s not what most audiences might expect.

The Kansas City Star

Geoffrey Nauffts wants to sucker punch you.

At the moment, the playwright is keeping an eye on regional productions of his “Next Fall,” a 2010 hit on and off-Broadway, especially those in theaters down south.

The reason, Nauffts said in an interview from Los Angeles, is that his dramedy, which opens this week at the Unicorn Theatre, is a play about a gay relationship unlike others theatergoers have encountered. The lovers — Adam and Luke — are as different as night and day in one crucial way: Adam is an atheist and Luke’s a Christian.

Charles Fugate, left, and Rusty Sneary in "Next Fall" (Susan Pfannmuller/Kansas City Star)

It happens to be one of the most-produced plays in regional theater companies this year and he’s curious to see how it plays in the Bible Belt.

“I’m interested to see how it goes,” he said. “So far there haven’t been any bomb threats or buses full of protesters parked outside theaters.”

“Next Fall” seems to be one or those rare plays that poses a legitimate moral and philosophical question: How do we reconcile religious beliefs with the way we really are? Read the rest at

Evening with LuPone and Patinkin spotlights duo’s many talents

The Kansas City Star

It wasn’t really a straight concert. It wasn’t exactly a stroll down memory lane. And it was something more than a Broadway greatest-hits revue.

And although all of those ingredients are found in “An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin,” the show more than anything is LuPone and Patinkin doing their own thing, which met with unbridled approval on opening night Tuesday at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin (photo by Brigitte LaCombe)

What LuPone and Patinkin demonstrated, to no one’s surprise, was that the two Tony Award winners are terrific performers, skilled actors and passionate singers, even if they qualify for senior discounts. They were in fine voice Tuesday, although to be fair, there were fleeting moments when their pitch was less than 100 percent. Even so, Patinkin can take his bass-baritone from a low rumble to a delicate whisper in the upper registers and LuPone still is a master of her signature tunes.

The eclectic song selection includes material many of us can hum in the shower and songs so obscure that we’ve never heard them before. Accompanied by pianist Paul Ford and bassist James Albright, Patinkin and LuPone worked their way through a variety of show tunes that provided a cavalcade of romantic relationships.

Inevitably, Stephen Sondheim is well represented, starting with the opening number, “Another Hundred People” from “Company.” I’ll happily cop to being a philistine for not worshiping at the temple of Sondheim, but the carefully selected songs in this program are performed with deep feeling and high style. Read the complete review at

‘Carnage’ descends to glorious chaos |This uncivil war is tense, nasty and toxic.

The Kansas City Star

Taut as a snare drum, Roman Polanski’s claustrophobic “Carnage” is a tightly wound piece of filmmaking that crackles with tension.

The movie is the fourth variation of playwright Yasmina Reza’s bleak comedy, but the premise remains the same: Two couples whose children have had a playground conflict meet in a Brooklyn apartment to come to an “understanding.”

Over the course of the next 78 minutes the underlying tension comes to the surface in various ways, as polite banter gives way to open hostility. Alliances seem to shift — at first it’s couple vs. couple, but after the Scotch starts flowing we see the women at odds with the men, or one character suddenly feeling a burst of admiration for someone he or she despises.

John C. Reilly, Jodie Foster, Cristoph Waltz, Kate Winslet

Using alcohol to allow characters to express their “true feelings” is a familiar device in plays and films, but nothing about “Carnage” seems trite. It hums with an immediacy that wouldn’t have been possible without an excellent cast.

As the film opens we witness from a distance the confrontation in a Brooklyn park as one boy hits another with a stick. We don’t know what it’s really about, but the incident is discussed in detail later.

Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly are Penelope and Michael Longstreet, the parents of the boy who lost a couple of teeth in the incident. Michael sells pots and pans for a living, and Penelope is working on a book about Darfur. Their opposite numbers are Alan and Nancy Cowan, a corporate attorney and an investment banker played by Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet. Read the complete review at

‘Beer For Breakfast’ delivers laughs despite forced plot and unconvincing characters

The Kansas City Star

Workin’ hard.

That’s what I thought as I watched a talented cast put its collective shoulder to a new comedy called “Beer For Breakfast” and push it uphill at the American Heartland Theatre. Playwright Sean Grennan writes clever dialogue and his play delivers some serious laughs, but the plotting seems forced, to put it mildly. This is a situation comedy beefed-up with sexual humor and, inevitably, a big helping of sentimentality.

From left, Martin English, Sean Grennan, Cathy Barnett and Scott Cordes (AHT)

The burden is on the actors – one of whom is Grennan – to make the artificial relationships onstage seem plausible, if not convincing. That they succeed at least part of the time is a testament to their talent.

I can’t really call the play imitative, because Grennan seems to be doing his own thing. But it has the feel of something we’ve seen before.

On one level it’s a sort of male response to “Menopause the Musical.” No, this isn’t a musical, but bringing together three male middle-aged characters who have been slapped around by real life and now seek meaning in an uncertain world does invite comparisons to undemanding shows we’ve seen about world-weary gals finding strength in each other.

The setup: On a cold winter night three old college friends come together in a lakeside vacation house for a weekend of drinking, eating bad food and horsing around like they did back in the good old days. The good old days, however, are long gone. Mark (Grennan) is a newspaper writer who’s been laid off but continues writing as a freelancer. Richard (Martin English) has had a stroke and now walks with a limp and can’t speak clearly. TJ (Scott Cordes) is an advertising executive who finds himself being pushed out by young hipsters.

Playwright/actor Sean Grennan (AHT)

They expect to be joined by a fourth friend but he never arrives. As they proceed to drink and prepare to whip up some heart-clogging chili, they are surprised when Jessie (Cathy Barnett), the wife of the missing friend, shows up with sacks of healthy snacks from Whole Foods and proceeds to throw away all the potato chips and outdated hamburger meat.

The animosity between TJ and Jessie is palpable and takes the form of a male vs. female “contest” that involves playing truth or dare and competitive belching, among other things. The notion of a “dudes against the chicks” game of one-upmanship seems pretty trite, but the actors make the most of it.

As the play progresses we see that TJ and Jessie don’t really hate each other. Quite the contrary. Ultimately the missing friend’s absence is explained in an unconvincing revelation that provides the four characters a reason to bond and move forward with optimism.

Director Paul Hough (who also designed the utilitarian costumes), keeps things moving at a lively pace, although a number of the jokes misfired at the Wednesday night performance. Dominating the proceedings is Cordes, who chalks up another expansive performance as he slips inside the skin of a big talker who isn’t quite as smart as he thinks he is. Cordes gets many of the best lines and with his acute sense of timing delivers them with sharp-edged flair. Read the complete review at

Sean Grennan is acting in his own play; In ‘Beer for Breakfast,’ Sean Grennan is performing his work for director Paul Hough.

The Kansas City Star

And so Sean Grennan returns.

The New York-based actor/playwright has been a fairly regular presence at the American Heartland Theatre since 2003, when the Heartland’s Paul Hough cast him in “The Diaries of Adam and Eve.”

Since then he’s been seen there as an actor (James Sheridan’s “Influenza,” Mitch Albom’s “Duck Hunter Shoots Angel”), a co-writer with Leah Okimoto of clever musicals (“A Dog’s Life,” “Married Alive!”) and as a playwright (“Another Night Before Christmas.”)

This season Heartland audiences will get both versions of Grennan (actor and playwright), beginning with his new play “Beer for Breakfast,” which begins previews Friday.

The comedy depicts a reunion of three middle-aged guys whose attempt to re-create the carefree weekends of their younger days is thrown off balance by the arrival of the wife of a fourth friend.

Playwright/actor Sean Grennan (AHT)

Grennan finds himself in the odd position of performing his own words under the eye of a director (Hough) with a cast that includes Scott Cordes, Martin English and Cathy Barnett.

Grennan explained that he had already written a draft of “Beer for Breakfast” when he was appearing in “The Love List,” which opened the Heartland’s 2010-2012 season. Cordes was in that show.

“We had a reading,” Grennan said. “The character I’m playing was kind of thin in the preliminary draft so I gave him more background and more depth.”

Grennan plays a newspaper reporter who lost his job and his now a stringer. The other characters include a guy recovering from a stroke; another is aging out of his job as the creative director at an ad agency. A fourth member of the group doesn’t show up, but his wife does. And none of the guys have ever liked her.

“These guys are at a crossroads and they’re trying to put that thing back together they had in their 20s,” Grennan said. “A lot of truths get revealed.”

Grennan said he thought the challenges facing his characters are familiar to a lot of people these days. People in their 50s, he said, have honed their skills to their highest level, but they’re nonetheless perceived as “too old” for some professions. Read the rest at