Queen City Theatre is back after a short hiatus with a hilarious, frothy, entertainingly lightweight bedroom farce. Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight by playwright Peter Ackerman opens with a young couple making vigorous love. As excessively white Nancy (played by Michelle Fleshman) reaches her . . .um . . .crescendo, she calls her partner Ben (Aaron Mize) a "hook-nosed Jew," ostensibly in the heat of passion. The young couple try to make sense of the outburst and what it might mean, Ben even going so far as to suggest we never really know who we are, and that though he sees himself as straight, he believes humans are simply sexual, and he could just as easily be gay. This revelation upsets Nancy quite a bit.
The rest of the evening involves two other bedrooms, one belonging to Nancy's best friend Grace (Shannon Wightman-Girard), who is having what she hopes is a meaningless affair with a hitman named Gene (Lamar Wilson), the other belonging to Grace's too-young therapist (and Gene's brother), Mark (played by Alex Gagne). Mark has a thing for geriatric men, and we find him in bed with the much older Mr. Abramson (John Xenakis). Nancy runs to her friend Grace to reveal she thinks the love of her life is gay. Much of the play involves a conference call between all parties that plays just a little too long.
The ensemble, as always, is top notch. Michelle Fleshman is both vulnerable and sexually boisterous. Her neurotic tendencies are particularly entertaining as the play moves on. Aaron Mize is likable and befuddled, and Lamar Wilson's hit man Gene is as layered and quirky as this remarkable actor can get away with in a script that doesn't like layers. Shannon Wightman-Girard is caustic and shallow and provides a good counterpoint to Fleshman's sweetness. Alex Gagne as the too-youthful therapist is appropriately sincere and clueless. John Xenakis is adorable in his Calvin Klein briefs and manages to come off as fatherly and wise despite the costume.
Director Michael Harris shepherds his ensemble well, keeping the pace taut and not letting us dwell too long on any one thing. The farce demands a broader-than-life performance style, and Harris was able to capture this very well.
Kristian A. Wedolowski keeps the setting simple with a collection of four chandeliers and a simple white bed that breaks apart. Tony Wright's lighting nicely delineates time and location, and Glenn T. Griffin steps away from his director chair in order to provide some wonderful commentary via song choices during transitions.
Playing to a sold out and very enthusiastic crowd, it was clear the humor of Ackerman's play was well served in this production. One liners landed to great effect, and the play only dragged occasionally. Unlike "Cock," the last production at Queen City Theatre, these characters are fairly one dimensional, and though I enjoyed their banter, and the wonderful performances, I was not particularly invested in their journeys.
All-in-all this fluffy confection was a lot of fun and good way to spend an evening. Now, more than ever, we must support our local theatre companies. Be sure to make time for this hilarious bedroom farce. It's perfect summer fare, light and breezy and a little tart.
Review by Tim Baxter-Ferguson
Tim Baxter-Ferguson is professor of Theatre at Limestone College and Chair of that program. He has had his plays produced throughout the United States and Canada.
Misplaced passions provide plenty of plot points in romantic comedies, from Plautus to Shakespeare to Chekhov to recent works. Adam Rapp's play (a Pulitzer finalist in 2006) has many funny moments, but it also explores the darkest dimensions of lonely young people throwing their hearts in the wrong direction or defensively refusing to catch the other's love. Suicide, prostitution, drug use, and AIDS enter the picture. Yet there's a wonderful poetic playfulness that infuses the characters' desperate delusions with hope, along with bitter ironic humor.
In this production by a new theatre company in a small performance space in NoDa, Chris Herring plays the eloquent yet anxious Matt, a hard-working, squirmy, agoraphobic, creative writer or self-described "nerd." Brian Seagroves plays his charmingly expressive and slyly manipulative buddy, Davis, a book editor who brings the apparent gift of a French prostitute to their tiny hotel room in Amsterdam, where the glow of the "Red Light District" appears in the window. Both actors perform these roles with fine-tuned details, exploring the mystery of their relationship: college friends from Brown who tease each other, wrestle on the floor, compete for significance, and share a strange intercourse of subconscious passions through words, memories, and a woman's body.
Jenny Lee Wright (who appeared in a play of mine some time ago) performs the object of the boys' complex desires with amazing dexterity: her face and body morphing through many shades of pretense and revelation. Wright tempts the audience, too, with a voyeuristic fascination through and yet beyond her lovely, tragic physique, presenting her character's mind as the heart of the play's romantic mysteries. Although she adores Davis, traveling from Europe to the U.S. to find him, and forgets about Matt, whose life she may have saved, she then develops a deep compassion for him. Or is she just using them both, like they're using her, and lying in various ways, even to herself?
Despite the intimacy of the UpStage space, director Caroline Renfro stages explicit sex scenes. These appear clumsy at times in order not to reveal too much flesh. Yet they also show the courage of the actors in exploring their characters' physicality with the audience. Production designer Robert Lee Simmons puts the first act's red-lit hotel room to the left of the audience, forcing some spectators to spend an hour twisted in that direction, and the second act's New York apartment to the right. But the couches and soft chairs of this tiny theatre (where dinner and drinks can also be ordered) implicitly join the spectators with the characters onstage, in their cozy, contorted, living spaces. The audience even enters the theatre through the same door that the characters then use.
So, kudos to ACT for staging this challenging play in their initial season and at a very modest price for the audience. After the demise of another, long-standing, "experiential" company this year, the emergence of ACT with such risky, risqué, yet highly intelligent shows offers a hopeful sign to Charlotteans who enjoy exploring complex characters and tragicomic plots, in live and intimate performances.  Review by Mark Pizzato
Mark Pizzato is Professor of Theatre at UNC Charlotte and author of Ghosts of Theatre and Cinema in the Brain, Theatres of Human Sacrifice, and Inner Theatres of Good and Evil. His plays have been published by Aran Press and his screenplays, produced as short films, have won New York Film Festival and Minnesota Community Television awards. He blogs at mpizzato.wordpress.com .....here
How ironic that the generation that came of age in the 1960s, that wanted to break all boundaries and be free, have become a cliché. That's what's happened fifty years down the road, but it doesn't make this musical any less entertaining, and it is well worth a trip to Actor's Theatre. The short, messy history of the The Mama's and the Papa's singing group as written here by its member Denny Doherty, and Paul Ledoux, is a microcosm of the time, but also drenched in regret. How many people say when older, "That's the person I should have loved, should have been with, but for some reason, couldn't."
I commend Mr. Doherty's need to create the mood of those years, even touching on social and political changes in the early 1960s, and the forces that helped transform folk to folk-rock, but it unnecessarily forces the play to be too long and episodic. Not every scene needed be included or given equal weight. What makes the play engaging is the combination of the four people who make up the singing group.
John Phillips (Grant Watkins), ambitious and obsessed with making it in the music business pushes his beautiful hippie, free-love wife Michelle (Caroline Bower) to join him onstage, though in the beginning she is clearly not a performer. Ms. Bower does a credible job showing the evolution of Michelle as both a singer, starting out with arms hanging at her side, and later as more than just a pretty body and empty head.
Along the way they meet up again with singer Denny Doherty (Jon Parker Douglas). Many of the singers of that era knew the others and partied together, assessing each other's skills while "playing for baskets" (passing the hat, if you will). He joins the couple's act and tries many times, unsuccessfully, to bring in Cass Elliot (Brianna Smith). While she clearly has a superior voice, John resists, with Denny castigating him for his reason for denying her inclusionher obesity. Here's another paradoxical twist: she's the one who gets them an audition with music producer Lou Adler (Matt Cosper), and makes their career.
Through the struggles of being so penniless they have to sell their instruments, to drug-induced states of self-pity and inertia, to becoming famous and living like rock royalty, it is their powerlessness to control their attractions and repulsions to each other that eventually dooms the group. Cass loves Denny from the start, he falls in love with Michelle who is furious at John, who wants to control the others.
Since the play was written by Denny it is no surprise that he comes off as a tortured man, desperately in love with someone who will never be with him, but equally in pain and guilt-ridden over his inability to return Cass' love. Jon Parker Douglas, who convincingly and sympathetically embodies Denny, and Brianna Smith, have considerable rapport onstage, that of best friends who give love and support. As sometimes happens, one develops intense romantic feelings. It is all the more poignant for Cass since her weight, and having to stand on stage next to a beautiful woman, must be torture of another kind. She was intelligent enough to know how people, especially men, judged her. Apparently, later on, she tried to lose large amounts of weight quickly, which may have contributed to her early death. In fact, this play is really a tribute to Cass. Brianna Smith's outstanding performance brings out all the best of her character, culminating in a lovely rendition of Cass' signature song, "Dream a Little Dream of Me".
The play incorporates many of the group's hits, and the highlights include an excellent version by the singers of "California Dreamin' " and Jon Parker Douglas' compelling "Monday, Monday". Also included are songs by other groups and artists, with special note of Joseph Klosek's excellent rendition of "San Francisco", not an easy song to sing without sounding too affected.
Director Tod A. Kubo meets the challenges of the play and manages to give the correct emphasis to the individuals. Though, John Phillips comes off a bit of a ghost, through no fault of the director or actor. He isn't the focus of the play, but his character here, for unknown reasons, lacks whatever depth is given the other three singers. Nice ensemble work is contributed by Matt Cosper, Joseph Klosek, Chaz Pofahl, and Nicia Carla in multiple roles. The band, Brian Quick, Jeremy DeCarlos, Don Jaeger, and musical director Mike Wilkins are also to be commended.
Dream a Little Dream evokes the life and times of an early 1960s singing group who earned some notoriety, made some captivating music, but in the end couldn't control the chemistry that made them stars. Review by Ann Marie Oliva
Ann Marie Oliva is co-founder and film/theatre review editor of ARTS à la Mode. Vive les arts.