Reviewed by Tom Jones
August 9, 2016
Tiny Creede, Colorado, (year-round population of less than 400) continues to make theatre history by being home to the terrific Creede Repertory Theatre (CRT). This summer the highly respected company basically has seven different shows running, including the musical “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” Noel Coward’s classic comedy, “Private Lives,” and the improv “Boomtown.” My wife and I were able to see two productions this summer, coming away delighted with each — “Kind of Red” and “The History Room.” Both were world premieres this summer, and both received acclaim a year ago when the company was looking at not-yet-produced shows at the Annual Headwaters New Play Festival.
“Kind of Red”
Is a spot-on reincarnation of the antics of Lucille Ball and her “I Love Lucy” of the 1950s. John DiAntonio, Associate Artistic Director of CRT, has written this as a love letter to his incredibly talented and zany wife, Caitlin Wise. His imagination is in full throttle as the story revolves around a trumpet player, Rick (played by DiAntonio), living in a shabby New York Apartment, overlooking the church were his latest girlfriend is set to be married. He is down on his luck, no musical prospects in sight, and hiding stashes of alcohol throughout the place to use “as needed.”
The plot is wild, with Rick being struck by lightning while on the apartment fire escape, and winding up in a world of “I Love Lucy” sitcoms. Lucy physically emerges from the TV set, and sets about to put Rick’s life in order. During Rick’s delusions, his neighbors Frank and Esther turn up as Mertz-like neighbors, complete with canned TV laughter. Anne Butler and Logan Ernstthal are both in great form as Frank and Esther.
No canned laughter is required in this delightful farce, however. Mehry Eslaminia is basically a riot as the former girlfriend who storms the stage with unyielding energy and enthusiasm. There is an over-the-top scene when everyone takes on Latin American costumes, salsa music, and accents, emerging from the set’s closet.
The cast is uniformly excellent, with everyone having substantial experience with CRT. We first became entranced with Wise and Butler several years ago in the marvelously silly “Fools.” DiAntonio is so talented that a couple of seasons ago he tricked me into not realizing that he was actually playing two leading roles in the same show. When the cast took their curtain calls, I asked my wife what happened to the “other man.” She looked at me in amazement noting: “DiAntonio played both roles!” Mehry was a super Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls” a year ago. Ernstthal was the wonderful Pseudolus in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum a few years ago, and is at CRT this for his tenth season
“The History Room”
It takes great talent to tackle such a somber subject as Alzheimer’s, and keep the audience completely entertained, as well as educated. Playwright Charlie Thurston, is up to the task. He is only 32 years old, but shows enormous skills as a writer and humanitarian. One of his former teachers was Ron Clark, who now takes center stage in this incredibly interesting look at disease, making promises, keeping promises, and struggling to retain memories that want to vanish! Many in the audience were emotionally affected during much of the show!
The show’s star, however, is the incandescent Christy Brandt. She is brilliant as the ageing Helen who is sometimes quite aware of what is going on, sometimes completely lost. One by one she retrieves incidents from her past to share with family and friends, before sending them out of her memory. Many years ago when Helen was younger, her mother was stricken with Alzheimer’s, and she made her close friend, Steve, promise that he would kill her if she ever became as ill as her mother. Kate Berry plays the young Helen, with Graham Ward as the young Steve. Helen and Steve are now older, and Helen is in the same sad situation her mother faced. Steve realizes the promise he made to his friend so many years ago, and struggles with his long-ago decision. Steve is very well played by Stuart Rider, with Ron Brown as Robert, the older man now married to Helen.
This is marvelous theatre. Everyone is in excellent form, with some comedy relief provided by Graham Ward as the Young Steve, and a young friend, Peter. Graham is a wonder, sitting deformed in a wheelchair, then rollicking the audience with a “dying scene” which goes on forever, taking over the entire stage.
Helen. Brandt, however, is the show’s true wonder. She has been part of CRT for 42 years, and I have never seen her better! At the conclusion of the show, while greeting the cast, I asked Brandt if she was physically exhausted. She looked up ever-so-brightly, and noted, “No, I am invigorated!”
“Kind of Red” and “The History Room”
And other shows playing in repertory to September 17, 2016
Creede Repertory Theatre
124 Main Street, Creede, CO 81130