Wednesday, November 24, 2021

DC Bookshop Christmas wins raves

Photo by Cindy Kane Photography

As the theater world crawls slowly back to normalcy, it's nice to see local media outlets support that comeback with enthusiasm. Preview articles, of course, are a big part of that. But I've also been heartened lately to see it include reviews as well.

Reviews are a funny beast. When I was the theater critic for the Colorado Springs Gazette, area theater companies--especially the smaller, hungrier edgier ones--were desperate to have me review their shows. They'd send me special invitations, make sure I got the best seats in the house. And of course, they all said they looked forward to reading what I thought of their production--both the good and the bad.

As it turned out, they didn't really want to hear the bad. More often than not, my negative comments would earn a firestorm of  would Which is fine. It's human nature to defend yourself when you feel yourself being criticizes. Perhaps I was a bit more critical of the local productions than a small-city critic had a right to be. But my reviews were always honest and heartfelt.

After that experience, I vowed I would always read reviews of my own work with an open mind. I would try to understand what they were getting at and see of I could learn from it to make my won writing better. Just as important, I would never, ever respond to the review directly. The work should speak for itself. If it doesn't, then that's on me.

Of course, as a writer of youth plays, I'm mostly immune from negative reviews. Nobody wants to be "that guy" who rips apart a kid show in the local press. The reviews are pretty soft, as they should be.

Plus, the reviews almost always focus on the talent--the local actors, directors and designers who put the show together. Also as it should be. I'm lucky if I even get my name mentioned as author of the play.

So it's refreshing when I actually receive constructive criticism in a review. That happened this last week with a couple review of last weekend's production of An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas at Arlington, VA's Encore Stage.

The first review, published Sunday in the online-only DC Metro Theater Arts, said that the plot has a lot of fun moments, and singled out the dog-ear scene and the Gift of the Magi update as highlights.

Interestingly, it also notes that Cinderella got a lot of laughs. Which is cool because I didn't even have this character in my script. Apparently, the theatre company modified the script to have this famously lovelorn princess frantically search for her slipper at the start of each night.

As I've said before, I'm all for having theatre companies add their own favorite literary characters to the show. But you have to be careful. My dialog is tight. There isn't a single line in the script that doesn't advance the plot. So adding dialog tends to make things drag. But if Encore Stage was able to delight the audience with their additions, I say more power to them.

The review concludes by saying that the show is full of spirit and a great way to kick off the holiday season.

The second review, which came out Tuesday in the Sun Gazette, liked the way I set up the promise of the second act with the ominous curtain closing line at the end of the first act ("What could possible go wrong?"). But it also complains that there are too many literary characters thrown at the young audience, resulting in "a bit of visual and verbal clutter."

Okay, this is completely fair. And it bring sup to one of the dirty little secrets of youth theater. The script isn't written for the audience. It's written for the director. And directors of youth plays want lots of parts with a fairly balanced number of lines among the parts.

So yeah, if it gets a little confusing trying to follow all of the characters, I apologize. But believe me, the director and the kids performing the play love it because it means more of them get to perform in the first place.

The reviewer goes on to praise the way I tied up all of the intersecting plot elements at the end. Which I find especially gratifying because I worked really hard on plotting this one.

The show runs one more weekend (December 3-5) at the Gunston Arts Center in Arlington. If you want to see what the raves are about, I encourage you to get yourself down there. And maybe read some of the stories of the characters to your kids ahead of time (I especially love The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams). It'll make the show that much more meaningful for them. And you.

For tickets and information, visit the

Photo by Cindy Kane Photography

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The purrfect fundraiser

Photo by Jordan Simal

Well, my heart is nice and toasty now.

That's because I just came across a write-up in the News Virginian on Crimora Players' production of The Purrfect Crime. Turns out they're doing the show as a fundraiser for Presley Kelso, a nine-year-old girls who's been battling leukemia since 2019.

"Sometimes the kids come, the ones that we're doing the program for," says Carla Coffey, one of the actors in the show. "When they come, you can see their faces laughing and shining. It just makes the whole show. It really does."

What other reason do you need to write than this?

The show runs November 19 to 21 at the Crimora Community Center. Visit the theater company's Facebook page for complete details.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Hitting it out of the park

What do you do when you want to perform a play for thousands of schoolkids but COVID restrictions prevent the performance from being held indoors? You move it to the local ballpark! At least that's what the Enchanted Playhouse Theater Company of Visalia, CA is doing with this weekend's production of The Enchanted Bookshop.

Founded in 1991, Enchanted Playhouse was the first theater company in the area to cater to young audiences. Over the years, they've produced dozens of classic children's tales, from Beauty and the Beast to Treasure Island, working with local schools to offer free performances at the Fox Theatre. The program has been hugely successful, drawing upwards of 3000 students per show.

Unfortunately, COVID hit them hard, and when the Fox shuttered its doors, the directors were forced to cancel several shows. But they didn't give up, and eventually inked a deal with the local minor league baseball team, the Visalia Rawhide, to produce a show in their 2468-seat stadium.

Performing in such a spacious venue is not without its challenges, especially in making scene changes invisible to the audience. But the production as a whole has been a real win-win. The theater company gets to present The Enchanted Bookshop in a less intimidating atmosphere than a full-blown theater while the baseball team gets people gets to expose their venue to people who may never have attended a game.

Enchanted Playhouse looks forward to returning to the Fox in April. But the deal with the ball team has worked out so well, they plan to produce at least one show a year at the ballpark. "Not only do we want to help local school children with literacy and the chance to see a live theater performance," says EPTC board president Shanna Meier, "but also expose them to our local treasures."

Sounds like a home run to me.