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Live Culture: Vermont Arts News and Views


December 18, 2013

'Curves in the Capital' Brings Holiday Heat to Montpelier

Fishnets1Here's something to help you shake off the shivers. Green Mountain Cabaret is performing tonight at Montpelier's Lost Nation Theater in a one-night-only, 21+ burlesque show. And if you don't feel like shaking — or shimmying — Alexa Luthor and Her Sugar Shakers will do it for you. And then some.

Formerly living in Chicago, Luthor returned to her native Vermont a couple years back and brought professional burlesque along with her, not to mention her husband, MC Leif Peepers. Since then, she's trained other dancers in the North Country, some of whom will be entertaining central Vermont hippies, er, Montpelierites tonight — Trixie Hawke Siouxsie Chrisse, Aeshna Mairead, Swizzle Schtick and Merrique Hysteric.

And if any readers are expecting, I strongly suggest you consider one of these names for your impending child.

LNT actually said in a press release that Green Mountain Cabaret is "Ass-tronomically talented," so what more do you need to know? Except that tickets are $15 and the show starts at 8 p.m. tonight and you can only go if you are 21 or older.

Photo by Matthew Thorsen accompanied a story about Luthor in February, which you can read here.

November 08, 2013

A Review: Alison Bechdel's Fun Home the Musical

FunHome1This review was contributed by former Seven Days associate editor Ruth Horowitz, who now lives in Providence, R.I. She and her husband, David Christensen, recently headed to Manhattan to see Fun Home the Musical, at the Public Theater off-Broadway. It is based on Fun Home, the graphic memoir, written/drawn by Vermont-based cartoonist Alison Bechdel. This originally appeared in Ruth's blog, Giving Up the Ghost.

David and I took a quick trip to New York last weekend to see Fun Home, the incredible musical based on Alison Bechdel’s incredible 2006 graphic memoir about her closeted gay father’s suicide not long after she came out as a lesbian.

Alison was writing Fun Home at the same time that I began to write my novel. We swapped drafts. She commiserated with me when I faltered (I’m still fussing with my book), and our whole family celebrated with her as she finished her project — to much acclaim.

The “best of” lists, the interviews, the awards — all that success made sense to me. But when Alison told me someone had optioned the rights to turn Fun Home into a musical, I wasn’t convinced. That is, I thought it was the most ridiculous idea I’d ever heard. The book is so intricately crafted, and makes such rich use of the graphic-novel format, the rhymes and ironies and reiterations between words and pictures so perfectly expressing the narrative’s conflicted point of view — how could that possibly translate to the stage?

I was skeptical. But also intrigued. So naturally, when I had a chance to attend an early “lab” performance of the play in progress, I bought tickets, and David and I Megabussed it down to New York to see the show.

That was a strange experience. But not for the reasons I had anticipated. The set featured a meticulous replica of Alison’s Bolton studio, a room I had been in lots of times, but not since David and I moved out of state, a few years earlier. I couldn’t stop staring at it. Actor Beth Malone’s portrayal of the adult Alison was so spot-on, with so many gestures and postures and inflections that were just right, I couldn’t stop noticing the few she got wrong. And I was so curious about which parts of the book the play would leave in, I couldn’t stop thinking of the parts it left out.   

Even with all those personal distractions, lots of parts of the play blew me away — the performances, the songs, some achingly poignant scenes. But as a whole, it felt disjointed, uneven, off balance.

 Fun Home is a coming-out story, a coming-of-age story, a family story, a story about growing up in a funeral home, and a story about coming to terms with the past. It’s also a story about the necessary and dangerous business of turning our lives into stories — necessary because storytelling helps us make sense of events; dangerous because how can we know if the stories we tell ourselves accurately convey the facts, or are just the version we want to be true?

Continue reading "A Review: Alison Bechdel's Fun Home the Musical" »

When the Ogre Met the Princess: 'Shrek' at Town Hall Theater

ShrekMike Meyers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy are hard acts to follow, but that hasn't stopped any number of contenders from taking on the roles of the grumpy green ogre Shrek, the demanding Princess Fiona and a nonstop-talking Donkey  in Shrek the Musical.

In the production that launched last night at Middlebury's Town Hall Theater, they are Leigh Guptill, Kim Anderson and Justin Bouvier, respectively (pictured right).

THT's newest resident company, called, um, the Company, is tackling the stage-musical version of the Oscar-winning 2001 DreamWorks movie. The Hollywood actors named above lent their voices only to the animated characters. Onstage the actors are, of course, human. With silly costumes. I can't tell you who plays the Gingerbread Man or the Mirror or the evil Lord Farquaad. You'll have to go and see for yourself.

What I can tell you is that Shrek the Musical has proven popular nationwide, revealing the country's belief in magic, love and happily-ever-after despite all indicators to the contrary.

Shrek the Musical, staged by the Company, Thursday to Sunday through November 17, Town Hall Theater, Middlebury. $23/18. 



November 07, 2013

Better Late Than Never, the Burlington Fringe Festival Is Back

Andy Gordon called it a "big mix of whatever" last year. But that minimalist description from one of the actors in Potato Sack Pants Theater certainly didn't augur the three-night variety show that was Burlington's Fringe Festival in August 2012. Tonight at the Off Center for the Dramatic Arts, the Fringe returns at last.

As it happens, Potato Sack isn't performing this year, but 18 other acts are. And did I mention variety? The performers include stand-up comedians, dancers, musicians and theater artists of serious and silly sorts. Or, as John Alexander puts it, from "drama to madcap craziness."

Each of the three nights will have a different MC, explains Alexander, the Off Center cofounder. Mastering the ceremonies tonight is actor/playwright Seth Jarvis; Phinneus Sonin will be in charge on Friday, and Kim Jordan on Saturday. 

While the performers are not exactly juried, there is some quality control, Alexander suggests. But, he adds, "We want to give new people the chance to get out there. That's why Off Center was created."

Each act will have just 10 to 20 minutes onstage. And, judging by last year's shows, this one promises to be just as deliriously entertaining.

The shows start at 8 p.m. $15 at the door, or order online via the Off Center's website.


November 04, 2013

Seth Jarvis Makes the Theater Scene With New Series

SethandchrisLike live theater? Seth Jarvis has got a "play group" for you! The Burlington actor and playwright hasn't been sitting on his thumbs since his former employer, the late, great Waterfront Video, closed in May. (That's Jarvis, left, with Chris LaPointe at the store.) He's gotten married, for one thing. And for another, he's cooked up a monthly theater event called Playmakers.

Consisting of a directed reading and up to three "cold readings by local writers," Playmakers launches at 7:30 tonight, November 4 — "by the nature of bookings it will always be on a Monday," Jarvis says — at the Off Center for the Dramatic Arts in Burlington.

"I'm hoping once we begin, people will come forward and join in," he says. And by people he means "new playwrights, and actors and directors who've wanted to try their hand at writing."

Continue reading "Seth Jarvis Makes the Theater Scene With New Series" »

October 23, 2013

7 Questions for Dead North Owner Mike Boudreau


Though it was a fictional story, much of the "Fright Night" piece in this week's print edition was based on actual events that happened on a recent visit to Dead North, the haunted corn maze in North Danville.

My girlfriend and I did pass by a creepy abandoned farmhouse on our way to the maze. We were frightened by various ghouls and spooks moving through the corn. There really is a Marko the Magician. And the chainsaw-wielding gentleman pictured to the right freaked us both into a, ahem, dead run.

(The back story about the Butcher Brothers and the traveling circus was based on literature passed along by the folks at Dead North and is fiction … I think.)

Having just finished its 13th season, Dead North, which occupies part of the massive Great Vermont Corn Maze for two weekends in early October, is a monstrous undertaking. DN comprises about a 3/4-mile walk that leads through dozens of frightening scenes, including eerily quiet paths in the corn, a demented fun house, a slaughterhouse and the ghost town of North Village. Its spooky environs are populated by some 100 ghouls and ghosts. 

The Travel Channel recently documented this year's Dead North fright fest for an episode of the show "Making Monsters," which airs this Sunday, October 27. In advance of that airing, Seven Days spoke with Dead North owner and operator Mike Boudreau to ask him about what goes on behind the scenes of a haunted corn maze.

Continue reading "7 Questions for Dead North Owner Mike Boudreau" »

October 01, 2013

Being Margaret Bourke-White, and Sally Matson

MargaretBourke-WhiteMargaret Bourke-White (1904-1971) was a pioneering photographer, a hang-with-the-big-boys righteous babe. Not only did she take amazing photographs throughout the 20th century, but she looks good in one, as the 1943 self-portrait here shows. (Courtesy of the Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Collection.)

No wonder Sally Matson likes playing Bourke-White. And this Wednesday, October 2, she'll do just that at the Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury.

Matson's one-woman show, titled "Margaret Bourke-White, Courageous Photographer," is part of the Vermont Humanities Council's "First Wednesdays" lecture series. But don't expect some dry, academic lecture. Matson becomes Bourke-White in what VHC calls a "living history" presentation.

She clearly has a yen for scrappy women (and who doesn't, really?): Matson also performs as a godmother of the suffrage movement in a show called "Susan B. Anthony — the Invincible!" 

Continue reading "Being Margaret Bourke-White, and Sally Matson" »

September 20, 2013

This Verse Business: Lost Nation Theater Brings Robert Frost to the Stage

Freelance theater critic Alex Brown contributed this review of Lost Nation Theater's production of This Verse Business. 'Robert Frost- This Verse Business' _ Courtesy of Lost Nation Theater

Television and stage actor Gordon Clapp is now appearing at Montpelier City Hall Auditorium as Robert Frost in a one-man show by A. M. Dolan.

In a brisk, funny hour and a quarter, Clapp performs the very neat trick of making you forget there’s a script and making you believe you’re spending an evening with the sharp, fiercely independent poet.

The play is an intimate construction, allowing us to feel we’re truly getting to know Frost and what makes him tick. While the deeper and darker sides of his personal life aren’t on view, we get to see his humor, self-deprecation and keen ability to observe.

Thanks to a fine performance by Clapp, a strong script, and smart direction by Gus Kaikkonen, this production solves the primary problem of one-man shows. Many monologues are plagued by unrelenting artifice when a subject recounts a life story sans any of its other characters, but this show feels natural and alive.

This Verse Business begins with Frost, onstage to give a poetry reading, apparently ad-libbing about the brightness of a stage light. Clapp gives us a character with a little problem to solve and a relationship to the audience, his only ally against the tech crew. Frost’s wit and bluntness shine through immediately. He has a reason to be onstage, and a way to connect with us.

Continue reading "This Verse Business: Lost Nation Theater Brings Robert Frost to the Stage " »

September 03, 2013

The Queen Is Coming to Vermont, and She Is Helen Mirren

Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren)I don't know about you, but I think Helen Mirren is more than a queen; she's a goddess. But in the live National Theatre broadcast of The Audience this week — at Town Hall Theater in Middlebury — she is indeed playing Queen Elizabeth II. Word has it, Mirren is stunning, and I'm not surprised.

Actually, the show isn't "live" from across the pond this time — The Audience played at THT in June to rave reviews and sold-out shows. This week's two encore performances are literally back by popular demand.

Peter Morgan's play, which has been a huge hit in London, is structured as a series of "audiences" the Queen holds with a series of prime ministers who have served during her long reign. Who remembers John Major?

The Audience will be screened at 1 and 7 p.m. at THT in Middlebury. But that's not all! In honor of the occasion, the Middlebury Inn will be serving a British-style high tea after the 1 p.m. showing. Plan on a few extra squats to work off that clotted cream and trifle, mates.

Tickets for both The Audience ($17) and the high tea ($15) are available through the THT box office at 382-9222 or online.

August 28, 2013

More Produce, and More Summer Theater, From Fable Farm

02-Fable-Farm-Theatre-Seth-Butler-SB-20130818_0409-pressLast summer I had the immense pleasure of attending a "stone soup" dinner and a play, Sea Marks, smack in the middle of tiny Barnard, just a block from the general store and pretty Silver Lake. The vegetable growers and thespians both were from nearby Fable Farm, cofounded by brothers Christopher and Jon Piana. If you missed my story about their enterprise last summer, you can read it here

The creative agrarian entrepreneurs at the charmingly named Fable Farm not only provide local CSA members with veggies; in August, they provide drama. This is courtesy of the New York City actors who spend their summers working on the farm.

It's a lovely experience, sharing a rustic meal and then huddling in front of a makeshift outdoor stage on mismatched seats and hay bales. Were it not for the electric lights illuminating the stage, this rural entertainment would have seemed timeless. 

Since my schedule is not going to allow seeing this year's production, I'm hoping some of you might go instead and report back.

This time, Fable is putting on Crimes of the Heart, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Beth Henley. The Southern tragicomedy concerns a dysfunctional family, so everyone should be able to relate. Last weekend, two out of three shows sold out, so reservations are advised. Note that the farm dinner is BYOB.

Farm Fresh Dinner Theater with Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley, produced by Fable Theatre, Thursday through Saturday, August 29-31, 7 p.m., at Clark Commons, Barnard. $25. 

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