5 Shows This Weekend and Not a Single Stage Set in Sight

I had another jam-packed weekend of theater in the Capital Region but much of it wasn’t spent in traditional theatres, most of the shows weren’t memorized, the production values were scarce or non-existent and all of it contributed to the illimitable possibilities and opportunities available to the area’s performers and audiences.

“Ella the Ungovernable” at Valatie Community Theatre

Playwright David McDonald has crafted a piece of local interest theater and director Tanya Phelps has filled the stage with a diverse cast to tell this historical tidbit. Ella Fitzgerald, declared in court papers by her caretaker aunt in Harlem as ungovernable, was sent to a girl’s reformatory in Hudson where she eventually sang in a choir, was recognized for the massive talent she was and sent to compete at the age of 15 in the Apollo Theatre’s very first Amateur Hour securing her future. I had driven by this building for a decade on my way to Mac-Haydn Theatre or The Ghent Playhouse and always wondered if they ever produced theater so I was very excited just to enter the building. The production itself had a cast of 20 with many young black girls including the very charming Hannah Wisdom singing “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” accompanied by Music Director Andrew Stein. The house was packed and it was a fun local tale of a brush with greatness, even if it came from the rather sordid source of a girl’s prison. I hope there will be more theater in this building soon and I did notice that it is used for children’s productions in the summer and at the holidays.

“Sea Marks” presented by Theatre Voices at Steamer 10 Theatre

Theatre Voices has been presenting staged readings for over 30 years and for the past decade or so they have been performing at Steamer 10 in the Pine Hills neighborhood. It’s free staged readings of mostly contemporary American plays with small casts which they say focuses on the written word. Once again it was a nearly capacity house to hear this ‘70s play about a lonely fisherman who meets a lively Liverpudlian publisher at a wedding and strikes up a late in life romance through letters. Theater Voices has done a great job expanding the area’s offerings by complementing the local theater’s season schedules with Capital Region premieres like “The Treasurer” and “The Watson Intelligence” or neglected two-handers like this charmer which would not otherwise be scheduled. It also has a low commitment rehearsal schedule which encourages actors new to the area stages like Mark Brubaker who played Colm or allows the schedule challenged like new mother Ellen Cribbs to return luminously to the stage. Another Theater Voices’ invaluable contribution to Capital Region theater? Saturday matinees. Next on their schedule is a Capital Region premiere, “Ghost-Writer” by Michael Hollinger running 4/3-4/5.

“A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and A Prayer” presented by J.A.M. Productions at The Women’s Club of Albany

As part of J.A.M. productions annual V-Day campaign which is a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls, director Jeremy Ward brought a starry cast to The Women’s Club of Albany Saturday night for this reading of 12 monologues. Local celebrities Benita Zahn, Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, Eileen Schuyler, Angelique Powell and newcomer Jennie Huling read monologues assisted by narrator Maryhelen Lounello about the female experience by such noted writers as Maya Angelou, Kathy Najimy, James Lecesne, Edwidge Danticat, Kate Clinton and the V-Day’s founder and editor of these pieces Eve Ensler. It was my first time in this building even though I am a Pine Hills neighbor and it was quite impressive and promising for future theatrical events with two floors of gracefully appointed rooms. The evening’s proceeds went to benefit Equinox Domestic Violence Services.

“A Marriage of True Minds” at Schenectady Civic Players

Bill Hickman & Rita Russell

SCP presented a veteran’s valentine on Sunday afternoon by inviting real-life couple, the greatly experienced actors Rita Russell and Bill Hickman to read John and Abigail Adams’ letters to each other as compiled and edited by longtime area journalist Martin Kelly. They each sat at desks in Colonial drag in the filled to nearly overflowing lobby of the playhouse in Schenectady’s Stockade district. SCP has been supplementing its season for a few years now with lightly staged readings of classics (last weeks was “The Odd Couple”) or special occasions like this one which was produced as a benefit for the theater and came accompanied with a very fine selection of deserts for your ticket price. Everyone present was happy to pay tribute to the couple with their attendance. Next up at SCP is Opera Saratoga’s Opera-To-Go “Jack and the Beanstalk” on 2/29 and their Mainstage Production “This Random World” by Steven Dietz 3/20-3/29. Next play reading is “Ladies of the Camellias” by Lillian Groag, directed by Ellen Cribbs Sunday 4/5.

“The Vagina Monologues” presented by J.A.M. Productions at The University Club

Debra Burger & Michelle Sanders

J.A.M. Productions are in its fourteenth year of presenting “The Vagina Monologues” as part of their V-Day campaign to end violence against women and girls and they’ve moved across town to the tonier University Club which is a great room for the production. There are 14 tables set up in the banquet room and each table has a performer sitting with you. We were heading home and saw a “Free Preview” posting on Facebook and dropped everything and scrambled over for the invited dress rehearsal so we didn’t get the full dinner and a vagina experience but it was a very welcome return to this experience with many friends in the production team, cast, and audience. An added bonus this year is a valedictory sing-along by Debra Burger to recently, dearly departed local performers Mother Judge and Chardonnay LeTease. There are still $35. tickets for dinner and a vagina this Saturday and Sunday, 2/22 & 2/23 by calling director and producer Amanda Brinke at 518-253-9821. Proceeds benefit Planned Parenthood of Upstate New York.

None of these theater experiences are what one would think of when one would say they’re going to see a play but all of them are an absolutely vital and essential component of the Capital Region theater experience and they all contribute greatly to the health and well-being of the local dramatic arts scene. There couldn’t have been more than a dozen seats available at the first four offerings of the weekend so, the secret is out but I just want to encourage everyone to look out for these singular events that are happening more and more often.

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