Praise for Sean Cawelti’s Puppets in the Pasadena Playhouse Production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ in Pasadena: Secrets of a radically reconceived Audrey II

“Strange.” “Weird.” “Exotic little beauty.” “Like something from another world.”

These are ways in which the plant of “Little Shop of Horrors” is initially described by its characters. They’re perplexed by its presence, its mysterious origins, its unidentifiable genus. But the botanical fascination is so enticing that it boosts the business of a skid row flower shop — and convinces its caretaker to commit a bit of murder in exchange for fame and fortune.

Countless stagings of the Howard Ashman-Alan Menken musical have remained visually devout to the sprout that debuted off-off-Broadway in 1982. Based on the 1960 Roger Corman cult classic and popularized by Frank Oz’s 1986 musical film, the Faustian fable has been mounted again and again with a green, podlike growth resembling a Venus flytrap and a bountiful head of lettuce.

The 1986 film starred Rick Moranis opposite a pod-like creature, often re-created onstage.
(Warner Bros. / Shutterstock)

“The classic look can be nostalgic but also predictable,” said Mike Donahue, who directed the Pasadena Playhouse production set to close Sunday. “All of the language that’s in the piece is about how the plant stands out, how it catches people’s eyes immediately when people are walking by. There’s gotta be something about it that, in this drab and depressed and bleak world, just pops.” Advertisement

The Playhouse questioned those optical expectations and answered with a radical redesign of the plant, Audrey II, nicknamed Twoey. Housed in a large tomato can, its flower is a fantastic fuchsia hue, the five appendage-like tendrils glistening and sparkling. When closed, a bud of polka dot petals resembles a head with lips. It opens into a lily with a playful yellow tongue. This Twoey is indeed a new sight for those onstage and in the audience, and now that the run is ending, her secrets are being revealed in new photos presented exclusively here.

“I wanted to make something that seems alien and extraterrestrial but also that gives an emotional reaction — you can’t help but smile,” said Sean Cawelti, who led the show’s puppet design, direction and choreography. “And when the plant opens its petals for the first time and reveals what’s inside, it’s not inherently scary but surprisingly whimsical and magical.”

Twoey (also known as Audrey II), the carnivorous plant in “Little Shop of Horrors.”
With a new look and strategic puppetry, Twoey comes off as friendly and adorable to Seymour and the audience.
(Courtesy of Pasadena Playhouse)

Fear is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind during the song “Grow for Me.” A first version of Twoey — which “faints” via remote control — is swiftly swapped for a rod puppet plant with hard-to-spot cables controlled by three puppeteers under a metal table.

Read the full review by Ashley Lee from the LA Times here.

Audrey Cefaly Featured on THE SUBTEXT Podcast

The Subtext is a podcast where playwrights talk to playwrights about the things usually left unsaid. In a conversation that dives into life’s muck, we learn what irks, agitates, motivates, inspires, and ultimately what makes writers tick.

This month on The Subtext, Brian speaks with Audrey Cefaly and Lisa Langford while attending the National New Play Network Showcase in December of 2018.

Audrey Cefaly.

Up first is Audrey Cefaly. Cefaly has developed plays with the National New Play Network, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Signature Theatre, Serenbe Playhouse, Aurora Theatre, Florida Rep, Theater Alliance, Quotidian Theatre Company, University of Alabama – Birmingham, and Contemporary American Theater Festival. She is published by Samuel French, Smith & Kraus, and Applause Books. She is a member of the 2019 Playwrights’ Arena cohort at Arena Stage and was recently named a Traveling Master by the Dramatists Guild Foundation. She is an outspoken proponent of silence in storytelling and has authored numerous articles on the topic of playwriting for HowlRound and Samuel French’s Breaking Character magazine.

Brian and Audrey talk about supporting the people around you when acceptance/rejection season arrives, and the importance of finding fellow travelers who support your work. Their conversation takes place only hours before the showcase of Audrey’s play Alabaster, and they discuss the stakes of the reading and what she hopes may come of it (listen to find out the aftermath of the reading).

Read the full article, and listen to the podcast here.

Jay-Z and Kanye set the tone in premiere of ‘Les Deux Noirs’ at Mosaic Theater

James J. Johnson, left, as Richard Wright, and Jeremy Hunter as James Baldwin in Psalmayene 24’s “Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of a Native Son,” at Mosaic Theater Company. (Stan Barouh)

The Richard Wright-James Baldwin showdown “Les Deux Noirs” briefly becomes “Les Quatre” in the frisky, flippant new show at Mosaic Theater. Wright takes on a Jay-Z persona and Baldwin is Kanye West as the Jay-Z/Kanye West song “Niggas in Paris” gets the music video treatment, complete with choreography and projections. No telling where playwright Psalmayene 24 might swerve after that irreverent, heady start to his 70-minute power play between mid-20th-century titans of black American culture.

You can’t say Psalmayene 24 is jumping on the hip-hop bandwagon of “Hamilton”; he’s been doing this for at least 20 years, since he performed his “The Hip-Hop Nightmares of Jujube Brown” at Arena Stage. The new drama’s full title is “Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of a Native Son,” and it’s based on a 1953 meeting in Paris between Wright and Baldwin. The beef was the upstart Baldwin’s critique of Wright’s 1940 novel, “Native Son,” a groundbreaking book that’s still troubling in its representation of Bigger Thomas’s violent reaction to an oppressive society.

The show is a fantasia that isn’t entirely sure of itself yet. Sexuality rears its head — Baldwin was gay, Wright married two white women — and in that complicated key, RJ Pavel and Musa Gurnis are terrific as the solicitous maitre d’ and waitress (both white) with creamy French accents and lusty eyes. The chats and the action never feel remote — lessons on the n-word, a great joke about reparations — even if the show is still seeking the thread that will pull it all tight.

Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of a Native Son, by Psalmayene 24. Directed by Raymond O. Caldwell. Set, Ethan Sinnott; lights, William K. D’Eugenio; costumes, Amy MacDonald; projections, Brandi Martin; sound, Nick Hernandez; choreography, Tiffany Quinn. About 70 minutes. Through April 27 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. $20-$65. 202-399-7993.

Read the full review by Nelson Pressley of the Washington Post here.

Playhouse in the Park review: ‘Last Wide Open,’ by Audrey Cefaly, is Hard to Describe but Easy to Experience

Lina (Kimberly Gilbert) and Roberto (Marcus Kyd) star in the Playhouse in the Park’s world premiere production of “The Last Wide Open,” written by Audrey Cefaly. The show runs in the Shelterhouse Theatre through March 10.
Lina (Kimberly Gilbert) and Roberto (Marcus Kyd) star in the Playhouse in the Park’s world premiere production of “The Last Wide Open,” written by Audrey Cefaly. The show runs in the Shelterhouse Theatre through March 10. (Photo11: Provided photo, Mikki Schaffner)?

There is something wonderfully effortless about “The Last Wide Open,” which had its world premiere at the Playhouse in the Park Thursday evening.

That’s not a very compelling description, I know. But it’s a compliment. You see, Audrey Cefaly’s play defies all those laws of time and logic that we grew up with. It’s a play that should, by all rights, be utterly confusing. And, I suppose, if you’re one of those people who insists on grasping every last shred of reason out of a script, it still can be.

But why would you go to the theater and battle the playwright? This is the person you’ve asked to take you on a journey. Give in. Trust your playwright. Give yourself a chance to be enriched by the ride. And what an enchanting ride Cefaly and her cast – and director Blake Robison – take us on.

It all takes place in a small Italian restaurant called Frankie’s. There are just two characters; Lina and Roberto. He’s an Italian immigrant, while she is someone always wanting something she doesn’t have. That has the makings of a story. But Cefaly isn’t content with that. She’s leading us into an adventure.

Lina (Kimberly Gilbert) and Roberto (Marcus Kyd) are seen in the Playhouse in the Park’s world premiere production of Audrey Cefaly’s “The Last Wide Open,” which runs through March 10 in the Shelterhouse Theatre.
Lina (Kimberly Gilbert) and Roberto (Marcus Kyd) are seen in the Playhouse in the Park’s world premiere production of Audrey Cefaly’s “The Last Wide Open,” which runs through March 10 in the Shelterhouse Theatre. (Photo11: Provided photo, Mikki Schaffner)

“The Last Wide Open,” you see, is more than a love story. It is three variations on the same story. All three take place on the same day in the same place. What does that mean, exactly? Well, in the first section of the play, Roberto has spent five years as a dishwasher at Frankie’s. In the second, he’s still the same man, but he is a teacher who is helping out at his uncle’s restaurant – Frankie’s. In the third, he is a bus boy who has only just arrived in America. We meet three different faces of Lina, too; as an impatient, directionless server, a nurse and finally, a part-time server who is a week away from being married.

Confused? Probably, because this sounds much more complicated on paper than when it is played out in front of us. Cefaly has created characters who are, in many ways, just like the rest of us. Sure, there are actorly demands. But Lina and Roberto are people coping with anxiety, longing, uncertainty and the greatest burden of all, trying to find meaning in the humdrum of everyday life.

Is there sadness? Definitely. And apprehension and anger, too. And love? We hope there will be, because by the time we’re a few minutes into the play, we really like these characters. A lot. Kimberly Gilbert (Lina) is a bundle of . . . well, I was going to say “nerves.” That’s true. But there is so much more. Not only does she feel immobilized by the pressures of life, but she is also in a constant dither. Her greatest pride, it seems, is in the precision with which she mops the restaurant floor. And as Roberto, Marcus Kyd seems unflappable, no matter how muddled and chaotic the situation around him. Perhaps he has learned that, as a man with only a rough understanding of English, the safest way to proceed is to smile a lot. And nod occasionally. And be charming. 

Lina (Kimberly Gilbert, L) is seen here Debra Hildebrand, the properties running crew chief of the Playhouse in the Park’s Shelterhouse Theatre. Gilbert is one of the two actors in the world premiere production of Audrey Cefaly’s “The Last Wide Open.” While Hildebrand isn’t formally a cast member, she repeatedly steps in and out of the action of the play, which runs through March 10.
Lina (Kimberly Gilbert, L) is seen here Debra Hildebrand, the properties running crew chief of the Playhouse in the Park’s Shelterhouse Theatre. Gilbert is one of the two actors in the world premiere production of Audrey Cefaly’s “The Last Wide Open.” While Hildebrand isn’t formally a cast member, she repeatedly steps in and out of the action of the play, which runs through March 10. (Photo11: Provided photo, Mikki Schaffner.)

Oh – there is one more person on the stage, as well. Debra Hildebrand is the chief of the theater’s properties running crew. She’s the one in charge of making sure all that “stuff” on the stage is in the right place at the right time. Usually, the role would have her hidden backstage. But Cefaly wants everyone to be a part of the mix. So Hildebrand wanders in and out at significant moments, moving errant forks or handing the actors musical instruments – just being there when she’s needed. And she has a lovely presence, like a favorite aunt wafting in and out of the room.

There are a handful of songs, too. Written by Matthew M. Nielson, they’re not big musical numbers. They’re more like musical ruminations, except that they’re funnier and more clever than that description makes them sound. 

“The Last Wide Open” is much harder to describe than it is to experience. Remember, it’s “effortless,” even in its unusual dramatic format. Should it be three separate plays? Played by separate actors? Who knows? That’s up to Cefaly. And the world she chooses to wrap us all up in is one that manages to be mystical and real. And charming. As I mentioned earlier, trust her. And trust her writing. And while you’re at it, trust her characters, too, no matter where they take us.

Read the full review from the here.

Emma Stanton Announced as a Premiere Stages at Kean University 2018 Finalist

(UNION, NJ) — Premiere Stages, the professional theatre company in residence at Kean University, has selected its four finalists for the 2018 Premiere Play Festival and will increase its cash awards for honored playwrights by one-third, the theatre announced. Premiere Stages received a record 572 submissions for the festival, an annual competition for unproduced scripts that offers developmental opportunities to playwrights with strong affiliations to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.  The 572 submissions marked a 43% jump from 2017, and represented playwrights of all backgrounds and ages. For the first time in the festival’s 14-year history, three of the four finalist scripts selected were requested from synopses submitted by playwrights.

“We are very excited to be developing an eclectic and topical mix of plays as part of the 2018 Play Festival,” stated John J. Wooten, producing artistic director of Premiere Stages. “Interest from playwrights and audiences in the Festival has grown substantially in the past few seasons and we are pleased to feature some impressive writers whose dramatic voices are just starting to emerge.”

No Candy by Emma Stanton, a former recipient of the Princess Grace Playwriting Fellowship and resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists.  Sunday, March 18 at 3:00pm – No Candy by Emma Stanton – A multi-generational community of Bosnian Muslim women copes, both privately and publicly, with the trauma they experienced during the war. Set in a gift shop near the Srebrenica massacre memorial, the play follows how each woman seeks redemption: one dreams of Julie Andrews, one sings grunge music at karaoke bars, one dresses drag in her father’s clothes. No Candy provides a thought-provoking exploration of the persistence of humor, art, and absurdity in an unimaginable time.

All finalists will receive professional readings as part of Premiere’s 14th annual Spring Reading Series (March 15-18), directed by Mr. Wooten and Jessi D. Hill, Literary Team Chair for Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, and will be considered for expanded development in Premiere’s mainstage season. One of the four plays will be selected for an Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) 29-Hour Reading in June, and the most promising play will be awarded a full AEA production as part of Premiere’s 2018 season. All finalists receive cash awards ranging from $750 to $2,500.

Read more about the nominations here.