Friday, July 1, 2016

Star-Spangled Director's Note

We wrapped our Houghton run last night (June 30) and open in Wellsville tonight (July 1) with a matinee tomorrow (July 2).  I am really digging this show and the audience so far has loved it.  Here's my director's note:

Director’s Note

When it comes to theater, two of the things I love most are small cast plays and Neil Simon. The Star-Spangled Girl checks both of those boxes very well.  This is my second collaboration with both Mike and Eric on a Neil Simon show, having directed Eric in a 2010 production of Jake’s Women and starring opposite Mike in our 2014 production of The Odd Couple.  (Sarah is new to the world of Neil Simon, but is no stranger to Valley Theatre.)  I love Simon’s dialogue and it’s always nice to hear it come out of talented actors.
      Over the years I’ve worked with the members of this cast many times, but I realized midway through that they had never worked together before (unless you count Eric’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in Cinderella).  Hard to believe, but true.  With that in mind, I’m even more impressed with how well they play off of each other.  They have a natural chemistry that has made it a lot of fun for me to observe and guide.  I think you’ll like it too.      -Nic

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Star-Spangled Preview

I'm exited about returning to the director's perch with a play I'm excited about.  I liked The Star-Spangled Girl right away and am excited to have Mike, Eric and Sarah all in a play together.  Rehearsals begin tonight.  Should be good times.  Here's the initial announcement that went out:

The David A. Howe Public Library is kicking off their 2016 Adult Summer Reading Program, “Exercise your mind.  Read!,” with a weekend of theater from The Valley Theatre, directed by Nic Gunning.
From Neil Simon, the award-winning playwright of such hits as The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park, comes the zany comedy, The Star-Spangled Girl.  The lives of two small-time newspaper men, Andy (Mike Cox) and Norman (DAHPL’s own Eric Mikols), are turned upside down when Sophie (Sarah Keeler Badger of Genesee Dance Theater), a flashy Olympic swimmer, moves in to their small apartment building.  Norman falls hard for Sophie and can’t seem to focus on his writing.  Meanwhile, Andy is doing all he can to keep the bill collectors at bay.  Can Andy get Norman back on track or will this “star-spangled cornpone” be the ruin of both their publication and their friendship?
You can first catch the show on Thursday, June 30 at 7pm at the Houghton Fire Hall.  Tickets cost $5.00. 
Shows continue the next two nights at the Nancy Howe Auditorium, sponsored by the Friends of the David A. Howe Public Library.  These performances are free and open to the general public on Friday, July 1st, at 7pm and Saturday, July 2nd, at 2 pm at the Nancy Howe Auditorium in Wellsville.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


     As soon as Eric came on board with me at the David A. Howe Public Library, I wanted to start up a podcast.  I knew he'd know how to do it and I thought it would be super fun.  He started in March of 2015 and it took us a few months to get it started.  All the Books aired it's first episode in August of 2015.  
     The format consists primarily of us talking about books we've read recently, followed by talk of new releases, discussing the NY Times Bestseller list, library news and a rotating segment.  We started with a Lonely Hearts Book Club selection, choosing Thinning the Turkey Herd by Robert Campbell in our inaugural episode.  In this segment, I choose a book from the stacks that has never circulated and we try to figure out what the problem was.  It's become one of our favorite segments.  Others include author and subject spotlights, giving first lines of classics and reading negative reviews of highly regarded books.  When we started we would record and Eric would edit the episode to streamline things and get the timing right.  Then once out of necessity we had to record and post right away with no time to edit.  We liked the energy that that brought and since then have left the episodes uncut (with a few exceptions.)  I think we've managed to find a pretty good audience and we even air weekly on the Angelica Radio Station.  Since we began there has been an episode every single week.  We most recently wrapped episode 31, a spotlight on Superman, just in time for the movie Batman V Superman to hit theaters.
    The podcast is a win-win because it's a popular program at the library, and it's something we look forward to every week.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Halloween Team 2015 ends with a bang

I'd say our little trek though Halloween movies has been pretty successful.  We got a nice of classics and newer stuff and quite a variety in genre.  My last post ended with Hilary's pick on the horizon, so we'll start there.

Hilary's Pick: Identity starring John Cusack, Ray Liotta and Amanda Peet
     This is the only movie in the bunch that I'd actually seen before.  Because a lot of the suspense hangs on the resolution, I wasn't particularly thrilled to watch it again.  I ended up being pleasantly surprised because even on a rewatch it still managed to hold some tension.  I didn't remember the particulars so I still ended up being a little surprised.  John Cusack is always fun to watch.  It was nice having him as a centerpiece.  The violence was a little more than I usually like, but not enough to ruin the experience.  I found it to be a taut, twisty thriller that managed to stay original.  Good pick.

Bonus Pick: She-Wolf of London starring June Lockhart (of Lassie/Lost in Space fame)
    This was another feature in my Wolf-Man Legacy set.  We popped it in one night while doing laundry and ended up getting sucked in.  This was interesting because all of the major players were female.  This had more of a mystery/thriller vibe than that of horror.  Still it was compelling and suspenseful, much better than Werewolf of London. Definitely worth a watch.

Bonus Pick: Dracula Untold starring Luke Evans
    Hilary and I had been wanting to see this since it came out.  The reviews have been awful so our expectations were low.  Eric and Kendra ended up joining us.  I didn't find this to be a particularly good movie, but it was enjoyable enough to keep my attention.  I think there were a lot of elements there that could have made for a very good movie, but those took a bad seat to stilted story telling and puzzling fight scenes.  The epilogue was awful.  There was a talk of this starting a updated monster movie series, but I think that has been abandoned.  Don't watch this for a movie, but it's a fun popcorn movie for a Saturday night.

Sally's Pick: Psycho directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins
    This movie has been on my list for years.  (We had actually planned to watch this last year, but it didn't work out that way.)  I thought this was very good. I know Hitchcock is an icon, but I've found that the films I've watched have been very hit or miss for me.  Psycho was definitely a hit.  It managed to feel both timeless and modern at the same time.  The surprises were good and they acting was great.  I always like Janet Leigh and she was definitely on point here.  Anthony Perkins managed to pull off charming and sympathetic which is tough to do when playing a deranged killer.  This was a great Halloween pick.  Good work, Sally

Eric's (aka The King of Halloween) Pick: What We Do in the Night written, directed by and starring Jermaine Clement
    This was straight up hilarious.  This takes the form of a documentary about Vampires preparing for a big annual event.  The comedy was just right.  I think one of the keys to this sort of movie is that everyone has to play it straight.  It doesn't work to mug for laughs or act like you're doing slapstick.  I loved the interchanges between the vampires.  The werewolves cracked me up too.  This was a great one to end on and is definitely worth watching.

Next up, Christmas Movies?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Halloween Team 2015 Catch-Up

     It was about halfway through Secret Window that the thought came to me.  I don't want to do this.  I hate scary things.  But I'm in it and there's no going back.  I'm a little behind in my Halloween movie blogging, so here's a quick catch up.

Kendra's Pick: Secret Window starring Johnny Depp, based on a story by Stephen King.
     I've actually wanted to see Secret Window since it came out forever ago.  It seemed like the right kind of spooky for me, and for the most part it was.  I'm going to spoil this movie, so skip the paragraph if you care.  First of all, I KNEW that dog was going to die.  I knew it.  I hated that.  I actually didn't guess the big twist.  Hilary did.  She said something that alluded to it and it put me on the trail.  I'm not sure when it would have occurred to me if she hadn't given me a hint.  It's a good twist.  My only complaint was that there weren't more bread crumbs along the way.  There were a few instances of an internal monologue, but I think layering that in better would have made a stronger film.  I was  most fascinated when Mort (Johnny Depp) externalized his conscience and tried to stop crazy Mort from killing more.   That bit was too small to really sell it and I think more should have been done with it.  I also feel the movie went on one scene to long.  The whole thing is that "Shooter" wants the story to end right.  Mort with shovel, repeating that final line was it.  The epilogue felt tagged on and only served to belabor a point that we already got.  All in all, a good thriller with some minor missteps.  Also, does Timothy Hutton ever play a nice guy?

Bonus Pick: Werewolf of London, the precursor to the Lon Chaney classic
    My pick was the The Wolf Man so I picked up the legacy set from Barnes & Noble.  It comes with a whole bunch of other films so Hilary and I decided to check out the first of Universal's werewolf movies.  This movie follows botanist Wilfred Glendon and felt more Jekyll and Hyde than Wolf Man.  It wasn't terrible, but you can see why the Lon Chaney version gets all the love.  It's a decent suspense movie, but I prefer the Warren Zevon song.

Bonus Pick:  The Visit by M. Night Shymalan
     Eric and I took advantage of a conference in Painted Post by first popping in to a matinee of M. Night's latest film.  Now there was a time when you'd see his name and get excited.  Now it's like when your friend decides he wants to give stand-up comedy a try so you go to be supportive and spend the whole time cringing, waiting for the clock to run out.  This film was not the next Signs, but it also wasn't the next Lady in the Water. Or the next The Last Airbender. Instead it was... OR the next After Earth.  Sorry. Instead it was somewhere in the middle.  It's scary.  It's suspenseful.  It's about to get spoiled so skip the paragraph if you care.  You come to expect the M. Night twist.  This was a letdown.  Crazy people.  That's it.  Crazy people pretending to be Grandpa and Grandma.  I don't know.  They make such a big deal about 9:30.  It's even on the poster.  They get crazier after dark.  That's all.  They sundown.  Because they are crazy.  Plus there was a lot of rapping.  It was an entertaining movie, but very forgettable.

Nic's Pick:  The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney, Jr.
     From what I've seen of the Universal Monster Movies, I like them.  I enjoyed the whole run of Mummy movies and so far the Wolves are pretty good.  The Wolf-Man was much better than it's predecessor.  I liked the gypsy connection (featuring a cameo from Bela Lugosi). I liked the pentagram showing up on the next victim.  You never really knew how it was going to go.  Having him kill the werewolf with a silver cane, then having the cops just find a dead gypsy was a cool start.  The whole movie had a fun, menacing drive that Werewolf of London lacked.  We plan to watch more in the set.  

Hilary is up next.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Halloween Movie Review: Dragonfly

       I guess it's kind of a stretch to call this a Halloween movie; it only had two mildly spooky scenes.  I think it's a mistake to classify it as a supernatural thriller too. There were supernatural elements, but it wasn't particularly thrilling.  Really, it was a series of missed opportunities.  The premise, and even the resolution, could have been worked into a good movie.  Instead they just have KCos running around pestering sick kids and chilling with Kathy Bates.  
       The title is a misleading.  Dragonfly.  It implies that that is somehow important or relevant to the story.  It is not.  His wife liked dragonflies, so early on, after her death, a rolling dragonfly paperweight helped to convince him that she is trying to communicate from beyond the grave.  That's it.  You've probably seen the poster so you're thinking what about that abstract drawing of a dragonfly that reoccurs.  Nope.  It's a (spoiler alert) waterfall.  No connection is ever made between the fact that she loved dragonflies and this recurring image that she is using to communicate strongly resembles a dragonfly.  It's like the writers didn't even notice the similarity.  That's a serious missed opportunity and one that would have helped the film immensely.  (Notice I didn't say it would have saved the film.)   It could have been the connecting thread.  They could have set it up like: KCos sees the dragonfly image, knows it's her and wonders what she's trying to tell him with the dragonfly.  It would still have worked for it to be the waterfall of her accident.  The dragonfly represents the waterfall!  But no.  It doesn't.  It's just a map image of a waterfall.  Any similarities to the dragonfly are unintentional.  The titular dragonfly is completely irrelevant.  

(Also, why is the waterfall significant?  He always knew where the crash was.  He went there early on in the film.  The location of the crash wasn't a mystery, they just never found the bodies.  Never mind.)
     I was okay with the resolution.  He finds his baby.  That's nice.  The setup for that was pretty heavy handed early on, but it still made for a happy end.  I didn't hate the movie; it just wasn't very good.  

(Also, I think Kathy Bates was a lesbian.  But it was subtle.)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Spinoff Debrief

     Back in 2009, right on the heels of House on the Cliff, I came across a play called The Second Lady by Jack Sharkey.  I was looking for a simple, small-cast comedy for my second show with Houghton College.  Second Lady had a lot of good, but the ending was just too ridiculous.  I toyed with rewriting the ending a bit, but ultimately I passed on it in favor of Jake’s Women. 
     Cut to 2011, after the ordeal that was Father of the Bride, I wanted something light and fun.  Second Lady popped into my head, but that stupid ending was still a problem.  The humor was right, so I decided to see what else old Mr. Sharkey had up his sleeve.  That’s when I found Spinoff.  Here’s my review from my first dry reading of Spinoff:

Looks like I've found a strong candidate for the Spring play. Its brisk pace and quick dialogue give Spinoff a fresh comedic feel. It's the story of an inside bank robbery gone wrong. The six characters that make up the cast each play a part in making this initially contained scenario spin out of control. It's quirky and it's very funny. It's the kind of play I'd go to... it's the kind of play I'd be in!

November 2011

     Now as the story goes, I did not do Spinoff because it was requested I do a classic. That led to my selection of The Glass Menagerie, which in turn, ended up being my last show with Houghton College.  It’s a long story.  You probably know it already. 
So now it’s 2015, and I just finished a production of Spinoff as director and cast member.  It had been in the back of my mind for a long time and when the opportunity came up to do a show as part of the Summer Reading Program at the library, I knew it was finally time for Spinoff.

     Turns out, my old review ended up being both accurate and prophetic.   I didn’t start out planning to direct and act in Spinoff.  In fact, I asked five other guys to play Peter before I reluctantly took it myself.  Because we were partnering with the David A.Howe Public Library, we didn’t have much flexibility with the show dates and it just wouldn’t work for the fellas I knew.   On the bright side, I got to work with Eric and Ben again not just as their director, but as a cast member too.  That was a great experience.  I was dead certain that Crimes of the Heart, would be my last show with Eric and thought surely Wise Women would be my last with Ben.  I’m glad I was wrong on those counts.
      Rounding out the cast was Kendra (whom I only directed once, Allegro), Anna (Plucky Pipsqueak, Allegro and The Odd Couple) and Meg (#steelymags).  It was good cast and fun to work with.  We had a lot of good times… ice cream, taco parties, Chinese buffets, Anna and Meg’s lack of cultural knowledge. The show was as funny and as fun as I’d hope it would be.  I had my doubts here and there, but we rallied and the audience roared.
     Over the years, I considered trying the actor/director thing, especially considering how difficult it can be to get men to participate sometimes.  I was always curious how it worked. I wondered if I’d enjoy it.  Well, I have my answer now.  I don’t think I’ll ever do it again.  Maybe some small one-scene role, but never a full-fledged lead.  I felt like I could never really focus on being the director or on my performance as an actor.  It all worked out in the end and ended up being a good experience overall.
I’m already excited about our next production.  We are diving into the murder mystery genre, with what will be the large casts we’ve ever had.  I’ll be glad to be back in the director’s chair for that one.