From the Times Union...
Letter: Curtain Call troupe a gutsy, theatrical gift
To the editor
Published 5:25 pm, Tuesday, May 2, 2017
Do we in the Capital Region begin to appreciate the theatrical gifts and genius we have in the guise of Curtain Call Theatre in Latham?
Founded by Carol Max, producing artistic director, and her husband, Peter Max, technical director, Curtain Call began 25 years ago in the famed Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, moved to a reconstructed church in Latham and is in the process of moving on to a different plateau in the former home of the Little Sisters of the Poor, also in Latham. In keeping with their stated goal of first-rate theater at an affordable price, the Max entrepreneurs just keep moving up.
Their current production is a riveting performance of "The Normal Heart," which was written in 1985 by AIDS activist Larry Kramer during the early days of the plague that killed thousands of gays and hemophiliacs and people who received transfusions of tainted blood while the medical world and the government ignored their plight.
A large cast on a small stage, "The Normal Heart" posits that, in matters of the heart, there is no such thing as "normal." The actors, screaming with passion for their characters to be recognized, to be respected and to be valued equally to all as human beings, offer a daring piece of writing and are a cast never to be forgotten.
I commend those responsible for this presentation for having the guts to produce a play of this magnitude and, in a community theater venue, how astonishing.
Rhoda Curley Palmieri
What are people saying about The Normal Heart? Check it out below and make your reservation today! The Normal Heart continues through April 30th.
"The Normal Heart endures and remains timely becasue it is a story about everyone's struggle to overcome and fight human indifference, to demand truth and and the universal right to love unconditionally."
~The Daily Gazette
The writer Larry Kramer has been screaming in rage, frustration and grief for 36 years.
Those decades of AIDS activism, a field of which Kramer was a founder and remains a figurehead, get compressed into the knowledge that viewers bring to his furious yawp of a play, "The Normal Heart," running this month in an angry, bracing production at Curtain Call Theatre. It's legitimate to question whether you wish to subject yourself to two and a half hours of harrowing diatribes and death scenes, but the production rewards those who make the choice.
First staged in 1985 as a fictionalized stage autobiography of the first several years of Kramer's activism, the play is so outraged and polemical that you start to understand how wearying it must have been in those years to be subjected daily to the volcanic tirades of Kramer. That's still true even knowing as we do now how right his indictments were of, well, almost everything, from slow-reacting government and mainstream media to gay men's refusal to curtail the sexual freedoms they'd started to win just a decade before.
"The Normal Heart" starts in June 1981, when 31 gay men in New York City have died from an unidentified condition that destroys their immune systems and renders them vulnerable to rare cancers and "germs that wouldn't hurt a baby," in the words of Dr. Emma Brookner (played by the production's director, Carol Max), a character based on Linda Laubenstein, an early HIV/AIDS physician.
Kramer's stand-in, here called Ned Weeks, heeds the alarm sounded by Brookner and spends the next several years trying to rally support for behavioral changes and medical advances among the gay, scientific, governmental and media communities. Because it was seen as a "gay disease," what would come to be known as AIDS was ignored, misunderstood, minimized and marginalized to a degree unprecedented among 20th-century health crises. (Weeks reminds people more than once that the 1982 Tylenol poisonings that led to seven deaths were the subject of 54 New York Times articles in three months; the paper's first major AIDS story came 20 months into the epidemic, by which point almost 1,000 had died.)
Weeks, who is in almost every scene, usually in a lather, is an epic and difficult role; his full-boil anger scalds friend and nemesis alike, and yet as portrayed by Kris Anderson he's both admirable and even a little bit likable. Weeks' human klaxon doesn't moderate as the play progresses, but he gets something of a diversion, however occasional, from Felix, a New York Times style writer who becomes his lover. Anderson and Chris Foster, who plays Felix, are among our best area actors, and their complementary talents contribute to tender, intimate scenes every bit as powerful as the group chaos and mad rages of earlier in the play.
Working on a clinical, all-white box of a set by Frank Oliva, director Max and her excellent cast mostly succeed at the challenging task of finding contemporary immediacy in a work that, 20 or 30 years hence, likely will be seen as a museum piece, historically important but a relic. For now, the AIDS death toll stands at 40 million worldwide, with another million-plus deaths annually. There is neither cure nor vaccine. Kramer, still vitally irascible at 81, and his work are here to remind us of the dangers of forgetting the past.
For more than 20 years, I've had a bookshelf devoted to AIDS. The programs from memorial services of friends and colleagues were long ago tucked away in my files. Thankfully, those days of attending wakes are long gone, as are the marches and rallies against obstinate drug companies and indifferent politicians. Yet there's still something important about keeping the topic of AIDS in my active library.
Aside from the literary value of the works at hand, the footprint that they occupy in my home is a tangible form of remembrance of those that are gone and an honoring of the work that got us to a better place.
My collection of books on the subject has evolved and changed as the epidemic has shifted from being an immediate crisis to somewhat manageable health condition. Early studies have been put aside. Lately, some histories have entered the fold. The most recent addition is "How to Survive a Plague" by David France, a meaty history of ACT-UP and the Treatment Activists Group, the activist organizations that changed the course of medicine and ultimately saved countless lives. If you want to get a feel for the tone of those group's weekly meetings and see the fraught, urgency in peoples' faces, dip into the 2012 documentary, also titled "How to Survive a Plague." It's easy to find on Netflix.
There are some volumes that I'll probably never toss or sell. These include the memoirs of the late Paul Monette and Reinaldo Arenas. Another keeper is "Angels in America" by Tony Kushner, a monumental stage drama that's leavened with generous doses of humor, a humor that we really needed in the early '90s. Besides the full script in two volumes, I've proudly held on to my Playbills from the original Broadway production of "Angels," and also own DVDs of the brilliant HBO adaptation, starring Al Pacino and Meryl Streep.
Also worth keeping is anything written by Larry Kramer, who today at age 81 is a revered elder of the gay community. But in his heyday, Kramer was despised by many. And his heyday stretched from the earliest days of AIDS through most of the '90s.
To say that Kramer made a nuisance of himself is an understatement. But he was effective. With the blunt force of his anger, he rallied legions of men and women to get organized, put aside their mourning and fight for their lives.
Kramer was one of the founders of the Gay Men's Health Crisis, which has a budget of more than $22 million devoted to prevention, care and advocacy of people with HIV/AIDS. When GMHC became too organized and gentlemanly, Kramer launched ACT-UP. It all started with one speech by him in Manhattan's Lesbian and Gay Community Center in March 1987. After that, we hit the streets in our Doc Martens boots, raised our fists into the air and screamed until we were hoarse.
Besides being an instigator, Kramer has been a novelist, essayist and playwright. His most famous work, "The Normal Heart," opens at Curtain Call in Latham on Thursday. The new production is directed by Carol Max and stars Kris Anderson as Ned, the slightly veiled alter ego of Larry Kramer himself.
In the course of the play, Ned/Larry watches his companion die, confronts The New York Times for not giving adequate attention to the burgeoning crisis, and taunts his friends to be more aggressively out and work more urgently.
A couple years ago, HBO also made an excellent film out of "The Normal Heart," starring Mark Ruffalo and a host of other stars. But I'm still looking forward to the live show, partly just out of curiosity to see how Kris Anderson handles the lead role. During a recent phone interview, he was the shyest actor I think I've ever spoken to.
"I'm playing Ned Weeks, the polar opposite of me," admits Anderson. "I'm not an activist, nor a bully. I'm from Rotterdam, the height of repression. We were a very Protestant, WASP-y family. We didn't discuss emotions."
There was a point in my life when you could say the same about me, just substitute Fort Worth for Rotterdam. But being swept into the group dynamic of ACT-UP certainly got me in touch with some emotions.
I'm betting that despite his modest phone manner Anderson will rise to the impassioned role of Ned. He's a trained actor and popular presence on the local theater scene. Also, his insights into the writing are revealing.
"Four or five months ago, I thought this play was a time capsule of the '80s," says Anderson. "But now, it's taking on a whole new meaning. Health care as a political issue, immigration, the Holocaust, same-sex marriage and gay conversion therapy are all in there. I even have a line about the government of Russia interfering.
"It's crazy how relevant it's become," continues Anderson. "Thematically, the play is about people with power and people with no power, those with a voice and those with no voice."
God bless the rebel rousers like Larry Kramer. We may not appreciate them when they're in our midst. Yet they help the rest of us find our voice.
Joseph Dalton is a freelance writer based in Troy.
"Dial M for Murder is well worth a call...the audience gets to witness the actual event and how the best laid plans can still get botched with a twist and a punch. Curtain Call’s production has some fine moments with its more than capable cast....As Tony, Steve Leifer extends the right amount of smug, oily unctuousness in his portrayal of the murder-dialing, retired tennis pro. Pamela O’Connor is smooth and graceful as the unfaithful wife Margot. And Gary Maggio, as the bumbling and brilliant Inspector Hubbard, entertains as he investigates.
By Steve Barnes | Times Union, December 11, 2016
You know a farce is doing something right when the audience exclaims or applauds successively more outrageous plot developments. The opening-night crowd did just that on Friday at Curtain Call Theatre during its new production, British playwright Ray Cooney's 1990 comedy "Out of Order," where the opening bit, a dead body in a windowsill, is just about the tamest thing in the show.
"Oh, my God!" yelled one woman — twice. Another so startled herself with a shriek of laughter at the surprising appearance of Curtain Call stalwart Jack Fallon that she clapped her hand over her mouth. A man, nodding his head as he guffawed, spontaneously clapped in the middle of a scene while further shenanigans unfolded in a London hotel suite as a junior minister in Margaret Thatcher's government attempted to complete a planned tryst with a secretary from the opposing party.
Such is the overall success of the production, directed by area theater vet Chris Foster. Farce can be impossibly hard, especially at the community-theater level, requiring a deft touch, uniformity of tone from the actors and an intuitive sense of how far to push the ridiculousness. Not far enough, the weighted-down play can feel like a slog, a waltz done in ski boots; too far, the effortful zaniness becomes forced, exhausting, garish.
Foster and crew have it almost perfect. Despite a few opening-night technical glitches and an occasional lapsed British accent, the exuberant air never goes out of the production. My attempt to tally up all of the entrances and exits through the three doors and one window of the hotel-room set (by Andy Nice) soon became impossible, and I gave up at the end of the first act.
Besides Foster's direction, the biggest standout is Kris Anderson, another busy regional theater presence, as George, the private secretary to the junior minister. Playing a nerdy, unmarried man who still lives with his mother, Anderson, a skilled comedian, has never been funnier, whether he's simply turning his head to follow conversation or, as George rises to the occasion with improvisational skills he didn't know he had, conducting a marionette routine with the corpse.
Pity poor George. He's working late, expecting his boss (Rob Weber, good but hampered by needing to be the anchor of the action) to go to the House of Commons for an all-night debate, when he's summoned to the hotel room, where the boss was planning an assignation. By the time George arrives, the body (Dennis Skiba), which the minister and his secretarial inamorata (Jennifer Lefsyk) have moved, is hanging from a hook in a closet. It doesn't stay put. Nor do any of the living people, who soon enough are running in and out of door and window and include a waiter (Patrick White, hilarious), the secretary's suspicious husband (John Schnurr, excellent as a dim but sensitive hunk), a nurse (Jennifer Van Iderstyne), the minister's wife (Susan Dantz) and, as the apoplectic hotel manager, John Sutton, whose outraged delivery of the word "Adultery!" is on par with Lady Bracknell's famed exclamation, "A handbag!" Each maneuver by the minister to extricate himself without causing scandal makes things worse, which prompts progressively preposterous scenarios and behaviors until it seems Cooney couldn't possibly write his way out of it. He does, and with Foster at the helm, this zany zeppelin lands mirthfully after being spun through a hurricane.
By Bill Buell/Gazette Reporter | December 7, 2016
The laughs just keep on coming in “Out of Order,” opening Friday at the Curtain Call Theatre in Latham.
That’s according to Rob Weber, who plays the lead character, Richard Willey, in Ray Cooney’s 1990 farce about a junior minister in the British Parliament who must lie to get out of an adulterous predicament.
“It’s hilarious, non-stop action, as Ray Cooney plays usually are,” said Weber, a Long Island native and Hunter College graduate. “The audience barely has time to laugh. Before they’re done, there’s a new one coming along.”
Weber, who moved up from New York City to the Kinderhook area a few years ago, is making his second appearance at Curtain Call Theatre.
“This is by far the largest role I’ve tackled since I moved up from New York,” he said. “He’s pretty much the main guy, and he’s kind of the straight man that’s facilitating all the craziness. The play is set in London in the 1980s, and he’s a junior minister who is in a hotel suite about to have an affair with a young secretary, but then everything falls apart.”
Jennifer Lefsyk plays Jane Worthington, the object of Willey’s affections, while also in the cast are Kris Anderson, Jack Fallon, Dennis Skiba and Patrick White. Chris Foster is the director.
“Rob Weber plays the member of Parliament who has told his wife he is at a late-night sitting at the House of Commons,” said Foster.
The glue of play
“I have thoroughly enjoyed working with this cast and particularly Rob Weber, who is the glue for the play and must keep the crazy plot of this play held together by using his charms and wiles. Rob is a pleasure to work with. He works hard, takes direction well, and is generous to his fellow actors.”
Weber, also a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, also performed in “Charley’s Aunt” at Curtain Call and “Our Town” at Albany Civic Theater.
“I also still go down to New York a lot to do background work on movies and tv shows,” he said. “I’ve done theater since junior high school, and I also did a lot of theater at Hunter College and a lot of regional theater. It’s always been a big part of my life.”
Also in the cast are John Schnurr, Jennifer Van Iderstyne, John Sutton and Susan Dantz. Andy Nice is the scenic designer.
Also opening this weekend are a Home Made Theater production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at The Spa Little Theater in Saratoga Springs and a Confetti Stage production of “The Santaland Diaries” at WAMC’s The Linda.
“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” adapted for the stage by Eric Schaeffer, is based on the classic television special created by Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson. Aaron M. Lambert plays Charlie Brown, while Frank Perilli is Linus, Rebeca Rodriguez is Lucy and Kristine Hanlon is Snoopy. Laurie Larson is the directing the play, and Mary Fran Hughes is the scenic designer.
“The Santaland Diaries,” a creation of humorist David Sedaris, is being directed by Nate Beynon and will star Larry Brock. The story is a humorous account of Sedaris’ brief stint as a department store elf, and is recommended for adult audiences.
‘Out of Order’
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 210 Old Loudon Road, Latham
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Dec. 31; performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sundays
HOW MUCH: $24
MORE INFO: 877-7529, www.curtaincalltheatre.com
‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’
WHERE: Home Made Theater, Spa Little Theater, Saratoga State Park
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Dec. 18; performance times vary
HOW MUCH: $18-$12
MORE INFO: 587-4427, www.homemadetheater.org
‘The Santaland Diaries’
WHERE: Confetti Stage, WAMC’s The Linda, 339 Central Ave., Albany
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and Dec. 16-17
HOW MUCH: $15-$10
MORE INFO: www.confettistage.org, 460-1167
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Being the political junkie he is, Steve Fletcher didn’t have to think twice when Carol Max asked him to direct “Farragut North,” Beau Willimon’s 2008 play about political campaigning during the presidential primary season.
“I’m hooked on ‘The Roundtable’ on NPR and I’m constantly watching MSNBC and CNN,” said Fletcher, who is directing the Curtain Call Theatre production opening Friday and running through Nov. 26.
“I’ve always been interested in the political process and all the infighting and backstabbing that goes on in the campaign. There’s a lot of smart, ambitious people out there looking to get ahead, and there’s a lot of competition to become press secretary or campaign manager and a lot of other positions. It’s like any arena. People are thinking about their careers.”
Max, founder and artistic director at Curtain Call, called Willimon’s play the “most timely piece of theater this fall. The title refers to the Washington D.C. metro stop where many politicians travel to and from on the red line on Connecticut Ave. The play is like watching CNN. It’s as if the playwright was a fly on the wall in today’s political arena.”
Willimon, creator of the Netflix series “House of Cards,” worked with the congressional campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer as well as the presidential bids of Bill Bradley and Howard Dean.
“He’s still a young guy, only 38, and to have written a play like this takes a lot of insight,” Fletcher said of Willimon. “But I looked him up on line and he’s a lot like the character in his play. He’s had some of that same experience. It’s a very cutting edge kind of play. It’s rather risque, and very hip and very current in its feel. You can tell he’s got his finger on the pulse of the young culture out there today.”
“Farragut North,” based loosely on Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, enjoyed successful runs in New York and Los Angeles, and was turned into a film in 2011, “The Ides of March,” starring George Clooney.
Survival of the fittest
Steve Maggio, a former student of Fletcher’s at Siena College, plays press secretary Stephen Bellamy, while Ed McMullen and Kevin Barhydt play campaign managers.
“It’s a Democratic primary for president, and like any competitive marketplace, the people are looking to survive and get ahead,” said Fletcher. “It won’t turn off conservatives. It doesn’t really shine a positive light on any of the characters except the one guy running for president, but he’s not in the show. It could be about the Democrats or the Republicans, so if you like politics you’ll like it. There is some humor in it, but I wouldn’t call it a ton of laughs. It’s about people who find humor in destroying others.”
Also in the cast are Nick Bosanko, Jack Fallon, Laura Graver and Elizabeth Pietrangelo. Frank Olivia designed the set.
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 210 Old Loudon Road, Latham
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through Nov. 26; performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $24
MORE INFO: 877-7529, www.curtaincalltheatre.com