Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Halloween Team 2016 Debrief

Just like last year the gang assembled to do Halloween right.  We each took a turn picking a Halloween movie to show the rest of the team.  The results were fun and eclectic.

Eric, dubbed the King of Halloween, ended us right last year with his pick, What We Do in the Shadows.  He had the honor of starting this year.  His pick, The Frighteners (1996) featuring Michael J. Fox in his last live action starring role to date.  I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this.  It was much more slapstick and goofy than I expected and yet it was scary at times.  Some of the humor flopped and Jeffrey Combs' character was completely unnecessary, but overall it's weird tone and unexpected turns won us over.  We all agreed we were never bored and it did capture that elusive Halloween feel.  Solid Pick.

Next was Sally's turn.  Last year, she showed us Psycho which I don't think anyone had seen.  It was great.  This year, she stuck with the Hitchock vibe and showed us Shia LaBoef's take on Rear Window, Disturbia (2007).  This was a weird, 90's-esque teen thriller and we all got in to it.  (Sometimes for it's badness and sometimes for it's nail-biting sequences.)  I'm sure if Sally had her way she would have shown us a truly terrifying movie, but some of us (#me) can't handle that.  I remember wanting to see this movie back when it came out, so it was nice to finally do it.  It wins points for it's truly spooky climax.

It was my turn next.  Last year I went classic with The Wolf-Man.  I went slightly more contemporary with Nicole Kidman & Daniel Craig in the most recent update of Jack Finney's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Just dubbed Invasion (2007), this plays as a moody, low-key Zombie movie.  I like it because it does a good job of updating the story while staying true to the original.  It's slow march to destruction is tense and well-paced.  It was more Halloweeny than I expected, even having scenes set on Halloween.  It loses points for Daniel Craig's unfortunate and beguiling hairdo.

Kendra's pick was a movie I've long wanted to see, Murder By Death (1976).  This has been on my list of to-watch, mostly because of my love for Peter Falk & Neil Simon.  Unfortunately they didn't deliver. It had funny moments, but it mostly came across as dated and trying to hard.  This movie falls into that category of "things you loved as a kid, but should never revisit in adulthood."  We've all felt the sting of that.  (I'm looking at your Helen Slater's Supergirl.)  Regardless, I'm glad we watched it because now I can strike it off my list.  Plus, it was nice to experience every cringe-worthy thing Peter Sellers did surround by squirming friends.

We ended on one of my favorite spooky movies.  Hilary's pick was the Harrison Ford/Michelle Pfeiffer supernatural thriller, What Lies Beneath (2000).  Hilary and I first watched this together when we were dating and neither of us had seen it in over a decade so we'd forgotten most of the twists and turns. To me this is the perfect Halloween movie.  It is just exactly the right amount of scary. Eric was reluctant to watch this because the trailer spooked him back when he was watching the first X-men movie, but he came around.

All in all, it was a pretty successful run.  I have no idea what to pick next year.  Maybe Primal Fear...

(As a bonus you can tune in to All the Books Show to hear Eric, Sally and me discussing all things Halloween.)

Friday, October 7, 2016

Star-Spangled Debrief

Looking at me writing my debrief in the same calendar year.  Progress!  
In the summer of 2016 we decided to revisit our old friend Neil Simon (Jake's Women, The Odd Couple) and mount a production of his little-known flop, The Star-Spangled Girl.   SSG tells the story of two fellas who are happily publishing a newspaper out of their apartment until an Olympic swimmer moves in next door and, through no fault of her own, leaves chaos in her wake. 
I discovered it in much the same way that I discovered Allegro.  I picked up a collection of Neil Simon's writing to read Barefoot in the Park and found SSG instead. Several things appealed to me about this show.  First, I'm a Neil Simon fan so I find his dialogue and timing to be always entertaining.  It also had shades of The Odd Couple, so I thought it might be fun to approach that relationship from another angle.  The small cast, just three characters, was very appealing as well.  My first instinct was to cast Mike and me in roles that would mirror the ones we had in The Odd Couple.  It was tempting, but the pull to direct was stronger.  Plus I kept reading Eric in the role of Norman.  (I typically do this when I read shows, mentally cast actors I've worked with.  It helps me visualize what a performance would look like.)  With Eric as Norman and Mi

ke as Andy (the "Oscar" role),  my mind jumped right to Sarah to play Sophie, the southern swimmer.  This cast energized me because they are some of my favorites to work with and I'd never had any of them in a play together before.  We decided to do one show in the Fire Hall and two shows in the Nancy Howe Auditorium at the library to tie in with the adult summer reading program.
The rehearsals were fun from the get-go.  We had a really great readthrough, which helped to get everyone excited.  Neither Mike nor Sarah had read it prior to that.  Eric had, but was unimpressed with his first read.  Hearing it all come together gave us an early vision of what the show would be.  The final performance stayed very true to that original readthrough.  Now that can be a bad thing, but in this case it's because things just clicked early on.  That gave us plenty of time to play around with the jokes and rapid-paced delivery.
Memorization was a major issue with this show.  Because of the small cast and tendency to rehash conversation from earlier scenes, it was difficult to lock things in to place.  The script is very dependent on things being said exactly right, meaning that if one person was off then so was the whole scene.  They were scared, but I wasn't.  I've been in shows where the cast peaks too soon.  It makes things feel stale and can effect the quality of the actual performances.  On the flip-side, I've directed shows where things landed exactly right just in time for the curtain to rise.  (This was never more true than it was with Guilty Conscience, one of my personal favorites.) SSG definitely landed just in the nick of time.
We opened in the Houghton Fire Hall, something that we skipped (and really missed) for Spinoff. I think we were all more excited about that performance than we were for the ones at the Howe.  I like using the Fire Hall because it speaks to the indie roots of Valley Theatre.  It feels more alive and urgent.  The Houghton show killed.  In the Fire Hall the crowd is so close to the action, that they don't miss a thing.  It makes it more frenetic and engaging.  SSG borders on the absurd and played much better to crowd that really felt like they were along for the ride.  The show climaxes with a fist fight between Eric's Norman and Mike's Andy.  In was perfection, particularly for that first show.  The Houghton crowd was in tears and we were right there with them.  In what would become a signature move of the show, Eric's watch actually broke during the fight.
For the next few shows we moved to the Nancy Howe Auditorium.  It's a beautiful space and everything looked just right.  The show didn't play nearly as well in that space though.  The crowds definitely enjoyed it and were very enthusiastic at the post show meet and greets, but it lost something with the distance between cast and crowd.  The cast played nicely off of each other. They adapted to the space well.  Eric broke a trophy in the first show and knocked over a fireplace in the second.  Classic stuff.  In the end we all agreed that we liked the Houghton show best.  
It's funny how that happens.  We originally used the Fire Hall for Art and Telephone Roulette out of necessity.  Now, even with a beautiful theater at our disposal, it has become our old-school preference. 
Bottom line, I really dug directing The Star-Spangled Girl.  It felt like the old days, like a return to form.  Something I hadn't really felt since Wise Women three years earlier.  I think the show itself was lost in the shadow of The Odd Couple, which to be fair is a better show.  It failed to get the acclaim of its predecessor and never really found a footing in area productions or even with it's lukewarm film version. Still, it worked just right for us.  It was nice to dust if off and breathe new life into it. 

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.