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by Rod Serling, and directed by Eric Fraisher Hayes for Role Players Ensemble.
By Pat Craig, Correspondent
Requiem 1For many, it was a strange scene — cigarettes poking from nearly every mouth, a world in glorious black-and-white, where doctors selected Camel Cigarettes as their favorites and everyone brushed with Ipana toothpaste.
Enormous, tube-fired television cameras with red lights on top, moved like robots to capture the action on stage and created a tiny time warp transporting the audience in Danville’s Village Theatre back to 1956 for the TV debut of Rod Serling’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight.”
The Role Players Ensemble Show was a wildly ambitious project for director Eric Fraisher Hayes and his time-tripping cast and crew, who created a remarkable and thoroughly engaging presentation of that Thursday night in 1956, when the Serling teleplay premiered on the second edition of “Playhouse 90.”
“Requiem,” considered to be one of the major accomplishments of television’s Golden Age, remains of compelling drama about a washed-up fighter, Mountain McClintock (Khary Moye). We meet the Mountain when he is helped into the locker room by his cut man, Army Hakes (Craig Eychner), and manager, Maish Resnick (Michael Sally). A doctor (David Weiner) declares Mountain unfit to fight, because the damage done by the current fight, plus 14 years of previous abuse may very well kill him if he enters the ring again.
But the end of a boxing career doesn’t just involve Mountain. There are those, Army and job counselor Grace Miller (Katy Hidalgo) who wants to help find the now-punch-drunk boxer some kind of work. Then there’s Maish, who may well be killed by the mob if he doesn’t get one more big payday to pay of his gambling debts.
The piece quickly becomes something much more that, a desperate fight between good and evil over the destiny of a washed-up boxer. Love, loyalty and greed are also doing battle here, with several lives at stake.
It makes for compelling drama in this beautifully acted and directed show.
Beyond that, though, is the painstaking effort involved in creating the show-within-a-show, and the creation of a look that captures the detail of the period. Hayes and his crew scoured the Bay Area in search of authentic vintage TV equipment, and got some amazing stuff with the cooperation of the Media Museum of Northern California (currently without a permanent location), Broadcast Legends and the local chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Scientists.
But even that high-powered help isn’t going to get you loud sport coats and vintage “men’s magazines” (you know). That sort of detail you get with lots of legwork and sewing. Costume designer Lisa Danz, who fit the cast with an impressive array of vintage costumes and Property designer Megan Lush, who dressed the set with tremendous accuracy.
Set and lighting designer Chris Guptill, created an effective look for the TV set, where walls moved and changed to serve as the various settings for different scenes, all with gigantic boom microphones looming over them under the watchful eye of the camera.
And, all the while the show was under the pressure of time – vintage commercials, on screens at either side of the set, as changes were made for the different scenes, and even the acting – had to race the clock to accommodate the 90 minutes the whole program filled.
“REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT”
Below is Sally Hogarty’s review in her Curtain Calls Column in the Oakland Tribune May 8
Danville’s Role Players Ensemble has crafted an entertaining, highly educational production with its current show “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” Running through May 18, the show is staged as a live television recording of “Playhouse 90,” the original debut of Rod Serling’s Emmy award-winning drama about the underbelly of professional boxing.
Requiem 2Director Eric Fraisher Hayes and lighting/scenic designer Chris Guptill and sound designer Robert “Bo” Golden have gone to great lengths to create an authentic 1950s television studio complete with genuine studio cameras, boom mikes and control board on loan from the Media Museum of Northern California. In keeping with the period, costumer Lisa Danz has clothed the large cast in a fine array of period styles.
A replay of a Groucho Marx show, projected on two large screens, gets audience members into the time period as soon as they enter the theater. The immersion in the 1950s continues as period commercials take over the screens during the television show’s “commercial breaks.” Whether pushing the cereal of the week or touting the pleasure and implied sophistication of smoking cigarettes, the commercials had audience members of all ages enthralled.
Sterling’s gritty characters, well played by most of the cast, bring out the harsh realities of life in the fighting game once a fighter has taken too many punches. Such is the case for Mountain McClintock, whose disappointing last fight has left his manager in debt to the wrong people and the fighter declared medically unfit to enter the ring. Khary Moye gives a well-rounded performance displaying McClintock’s vulnerability and loyalty as well as the toughness and integrity that once made him a champ. His scenes with Katy Hidalgo as Grace are especially effective. Craig Eychner also delivers a nicely nuanced performance as McClintock’s trainer, with Michael Sally portraying McClintock’s despicable manager.
For tickets, call 925-314-3400 or go to http://www.roleplayersensemble.com/
More for “Requiem”…
Charles Jarrett, Rossmoor News:
“The Role Players Ensemble in Danville has really brought its productions to an even greater level with its current re-creation of Rod Serling’s career-launching teleplay. Artistic Director Eric Fraisher Hayes has gathered real television studio equipment (from the 1950s) to provide an experience as near as humanly possible to being in a real television studio in 1956…I strongly recommend this unique production as you are not likely to experience anything like this.”
Sally Hogarty, The Oakland Tribune:
“Sterling’s gritty characters…bring out the harsh realities of life in the fighting game once a fighter has taken too many punches….Such is the case for Mountain McClintock..Khary Moye gives a well rounded performance displaying McClintock’s vulnerability and loyalty as well as the toughness and integrity that once made him a champ. His scenes with Katy Hidalgo as Grace are especially effective (pictured).”
Susan Steinberg, The Independent:
“Noted Bay area actor Michael Sally inhabits Maish’s skin with every gesture and facial expression, nuancing his painful moral failings… Craig Eychner is terrific as the conflicted Army, torn between loyalty to Maish and disgust at his treatment of the vulnrable Mountain… A strong supporting cast including Jerry Motta, Charles Woodson Parker, Nolan Mecham, Katy Hidalgo and Kimberly Ridgeway enhance the stellar principals’ impact.”
A Goldstar reviewer:
“The concept behind this production is sheer genius… The actors across the board, all excellent! Having the “studio interplay” with camera, grips, sound techs etc. keeps your eyes riveted on the stage and transports you back to the period even before the show begins… Rod Serling’s genius shines… Treat yourself to a fantastic production, in a comfortable community theater, for less than you’d pay to get into the latest “blockbuster” movie…”
A Goldstar customer:
“Wonderful . The best play we have seen here. The set was so realistic. Loved the old commercials. The actors really put their Very enjoyable evening…..wonderful show!”
Good show all around. It felt like 1956, very well performed
'Expecting Isabel’ a hilarious, poignant look at pursuit
By Pat Craig, Correspondent
From pastel-illustrated guidebooks and family advice to emotionally wrought support groups and hamster eggs, “Expecting Isabel” presents a hilarious and sometimes painful look at the pursuit of pregnancy.
Miranda (Sylvia Burboeck) and Nick (Damien Seperi) are pushing 40 when they decide to have a baby, a quest that becomes a lot like opening a can of worms and falling down a rabbit hole at the same time.
For anyone who has had difficulty conceiving or knows people who have, the show, presented by Role Players Ensemble, will be a good memory-nudge of the seemingly endless trail to having a baby and of the increasingly complicated, chemical-laced and frustrating things science has discovered to facilitate the process.
It’s a tale that covers everything from adoption to zygote, but not necessarily in that order, with breaking up and going crazy somewhere in the middle. What makes “Isabel” so compelling isPat C the fact it could happen to anybody. As I watched Miranda and Nick go through their ordeal, which included selling their Manhattan apartment, I felt a bit smug, already being a parent.
Not long after, while watching a family Thanksgiving onstage, with the ensemble cast — Monica Cortes-Viharo, Alisha Ehrlich, John Hale, Nicole Analise Javier, Daniel Lupa-Chazan and Mary Jo Price – playing two branches of the family tree, I realized I likely have grandparenthood in my future, meaning I can anticipate that crazy ride all over again.
At least with the Role Players production, the ride is fun. The ensemble cast is terrific, each creating several of the show’s 33 characters. And the characters that playwright Lisa Loomer has created are various-sized gems, offering the actors a chance to make magical moments throughout the show.
ExpectingIsabel 014A smallerDirected by Katja Rivera, the play has a delightful and often frantic pace that can move the leads from moments of extreme sorrow to wild hilarity. Rivera takes full advantage of what the script offers to create a wide-ranging and emotional roller coaster. I recall thinking early in the show that I wanted to know more about the characters’ backgrounds — from Miranda’s WASP upbringing to Nick’s pile-on-the-love-and-guilt family. But I realized that doing so would result in a very different play, probably not nearly as compelling as that presented on the Role Players’ stage.
What we get instead is a series of tightly connected vignettes, which accommodate both the wild bunch of supporting characters and an effective slideshow of the process leading to a baby. Loomer has written a very crafty script that draws us in with wonderful, take-no-prisoners comedy, then delivers a considerable amount of emotion and personal detail.
Looking back the next morning, I realized I really know the characters, which gave me an increased appreciation of the play. (For one thing, few plays leave you thinking about them the following day).
The set, by Megan Lush, is minimal but effective, and it is introduced at the beginning with the various characters approaching the jumble of chairs, baby things and other small items, and removing them from the stage. And throughout, pieces are moved on and off to effectively create a huge number of locations throughout New York City.
The piece is also enhanced by Lisa Danz’s costumes, Robert B. Golden’s sound design and Chris Guptill’s lights.
Described by the Nobel Prize winning playwright as the childhood he wished he had. Ah, Wilderness!
“Ah, Wilderness!” by Eugene O’Neill – Sept.7 – 22, 2012 and the Role Players Ensemble first production of the season.
Susan Steinberg – The Independent- Sept. 13,2012
“What a happy surprise to enjoy the sweet and even funny ‘Ah, Wilderness!’ brought lovingly to life by Danville’s Role Players Ensemble …….. this first rate theatre company.”
Pat Craig – San Ramon Valley Times – Sept. 20. 2012
“Ah Wilderness!” — “The performances are well done all around with some particularly nice touches …………….. Staged on remarkably flexible sets