The substitute comes into the football game and scores the winning touchdown. This is stuff that dreams are made of. The Human Race Theatre Company mounted a substitute and scored a winning touchdown and a triple play all at once.
August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean was scheduled to be a vehicle for theater icon Sheila Ramsey. Her ill health prevented her appearance. Wisely, since there is only one Sheila, the show was cancelled and Ethel Waters: His Eye is on the Sparrow became the game-winning substitute.
Ethel Waters was, to me, a storied name – a singer of great songs. I knew of her but did not know her. Larry Parr created a one-woman show based on the Waters’ 1950 autobiography. Daytonian director Schele Williams and musical director Scot Woolley added significant refinements to the play. The result – pure theater magic.
The one woman in the show is Danielle Lee Greaves. Seeing and hearing her amazing range of vocal and acting talent, it is hard to believe that anyone else, perhaps even Ethel Waters herself, could create such an aura.
Graves is an experienced New York singer/actress with many credits to her name. From the first moment she stepped on the Loft Theatre stage until the final notes of the title song, her performance can only be described as mesmerizing.
While it was billed as a one-woman show it also had a one-man component. Pianist Scot Woolley provided superb musical accompaniment. His piano was the essential segue between the songs, telling and illustrating the amazing life story.
Waters was born in Philadelphia, the bastard child of a 14-year-old rape victim. Her life was fraught with desultory prejudice from every side. Whites kept the blacks in a downtrodden state. Her own people exercised painful prejudice as well.
As a child, Ethel had a lofty ambition – to be a maid for a rich white lady. What materialized was a unique talent and a unique social statement. She became a black entertainer who emerged into the full panoply of show business as a great success. What remained of her painful background was the tortured pilloried child she could never forget.
The songs – wow! They just don’t write them like those anymore. Imagine using “Frankie and Johnny”, “Sweet Georgia Brown.” “Dinah,” “Taking a Chance on Love,” “Stormy Weather” and “Black and Blue” as integral parts of a story – a saga.
The result was the best that theater can offer. The audience entered knowing Ethel Waters as a mythic name. They left knowing Ethel Waters, knowing her well and never forgetting her and her tale of woe and triumph.
Dayton Theatre Guild keeps its audience on the edge. In the case of David Lindsay-Abaire’s play Fuddy Meers, the edge was the outer limit of bizarre. Director Fred Blumenthal assembled a cast that was able to handle bizarre and transmit it to the audience.
The play centered on an attractive young woman who has a somewhat unusual disorder. Her memory of events is erased each time she sleeps. Every day is a new dawning of her life. Her husband has created a handbook of life describing everything, well almost everything, she needs to make her new persona fit her surroundings.
Workable arrangements on paper except for the fact that her husband is a reformed drug-head, her son a very active one. The ex-husband masquerades as her brother to abduct her.
Illogically, the route of the abduction takes her to her mother’s house. Her widowed mother has had a stroke, scrambling her speech patterns into a weird backward “stroke talk.” Add a double character to the mix. A huge ominous-looking man and his alter ego, a hand puppet, find their way into the potpourri of characters. This addition is followed by a police officer, who turns out to be an imposter and the lover of the ex-husband.
In spite of these machinations, the dialogue was clear and very clever. Each scene ended in a blackout and a bit of suspense for the audience. What would be the new location as the breeding ground for even more weirdness?
The characters were all wonderfully accomplished. Rachel Wilson was the tabula rasa. She was refreshingly cute as she relearned her life on a minute to minute basis. Her teacher, husband Richard, was given a sterling reading by Mark Reuter.
Young Nick Moberg was so convincing as the obnoxious drug-ridden teen that we have to wonder how he did his research. Versatile Mark Diffenderfer menaced the stage as the highly disturbed ex-husband. Playing a convincing role in a language not understandable, “stroke talk,” was the gift of Ellen Finch as the peripatetic mother.
Christopher Berry was bizarre and menacing. Linda Donald disguised her character as a normal policewoman until – yes, you’re right, she got weird too. Perhaps the most normal personality belonged to the hand puppet – but, let’s not go there.
I can tell you a secret! Why is the singing group Musica! so delightful to hear? I’ve figured it out.
Musica! is a collection of fine voices fraught with enthusiasm for singing. Bob Jones, the a multitalented director selects a wide variety of songs that go right into the hearts of the audience. The most revealing secret is that Bob has kept the size of Musica! at about 15 singers. When they perform, you hear each voice separately and together. It is a rare treat.
The recital was held in a magnificent venue, the home of Lois and Roger Sutherland. The pool garden proved to be a background matching the singing in beauty and grace.