Wednesday, April 8, 2009

What the Critics Had to Say about Valhalla

Audiences will be in heaven at 'Valhalla'

"Valhalla" is an enormous undertaking of a play for any theater anywhere.

The technical aspects, lighting and sets, wigs and costumes, the quick changes of character and costumes are but a few of the demands. The six-character play, in which four of the actors play multiple roles, requires a strong and remarkably adroit cast.

Marigny Theatre's production is up to the play's challenges.

"Valhalla" actually tells parallel stories that at times conjoin. One part takes us to Bavaria where Mad King Ludwig II indulges his love of Wagnerian operas. A second section is wound around the fictitious untamed Texas teenager of the 1940s, James Avery, and his undomesticated search for his version of a real life, in and outside of Texas.

Each story shifts, relocates, changes and progresses as the central male characters -- Ludwig, James and James' buddy, Henry Lee Stafford -- grow up from the 10-year-old boys they are when we first encounter them.

We meet James and Henry Lee again as servicemen on their way to Europe during World War II. They, and King Ludwig, continue their quests for self-realization and enlightenment as their fictitious friendship comes to life in Bavaria.

King Ludwig and James share passionate natures, a love of beauty and a desire for exploring sensuality. They both believe, "What's wrong with wanting everything?"

The king was able to indulge his pursuit of "everything," building a theater at Bayreuth, with perfect acoustics, where the works of his idol Richard Wagner still are being performed, and, ultimately, Valhalla. In Norse mythology, Valhalla was the great hall of immortality in which the souls of warriors slain heroically were received by Odin and enshrined. Ludwig built Valhalla as the perfect setting for Wagner's opera, "Lohengrin," the fantasy character with whom he identified.

Director Glenn Meche and costume designer Donald James do a superlative job in realizing playwright Paul Rudnick's funny, complicated tale, guiding an ensemble of actors through this minefield of a play with few mishaps.

James' costumes are a model of visual and artistic mockery. Each moves the play forward while also embracing the demands of actors playing multiple characters.

Ludwig is finely portrayed by Shannon Williams as subtly mad right from the beginning, yet vulnerable to beauty and to love. James Avery, played by Keith Launey, is seduction itself and an equal to Ludwig in his love of beauty.

Cammie West played four, or was it 400, well-delineated characters. Her Queen, her Princess and her Tour Guide Natalie, and others were memorable, full of energy and aplomb. Liz Mills was keenly right and achingly funny and/or moving as every character she portrayed.

It's easy to see why Chris Weaver's Henry Lee Stafford is attractive to both sexes. He is that appealing and that good an actor. Carlos Gonzalez, playing five different roles, showed the work of an inventive and solid actor.

Wagner's exquisite music is heard throughout the performance. Informed by Rudnick's mature, gay sensibility and celebrated humor, "Valhalla" will make you laugh, think, cry and maybe wonder why, or think - why not!

- Lyla Hay Owen, Times-Picayune, 11/09/2007

Minus any hesitation I want to say that director Glenn Meche’s amazing production of Paul Rudnick’s “epic comedy” Valhalla is the best play I’ve ever seen at the humble Theatre Marigny.

The theatre just had a mega hit, as far as box office was concerned, with NAKED BOYS SINGING. Although a smooth production it is not a show I’d wish to see again. Because of Paul Rudnick’s masterful structure of VALHALLA, I could (and I want to) see VALHALLA again. It is unlike any current comedy - a comedy which also touches you. Because Rudnick has much to say about love and life he has two separate tales progressing simultaneously. Often the modern characters interact with the historic personnel in a unique style keeping the play bouncing along. It really is a masterful job. Rudnick’s dialogue is fast and constantly funny filled with bon mots worth repeating. I was very impressed by this off-Broadway semi-hit, which actually deserves a much better reputation.

Director Glenn Meche has guided it all with remarkable fluidity now assuring himself as my favorite director in town - stiff competition. He has cast 6 super-talented actors portraying 25 different characters changing their theatrical attitudes and costumes in rapid speed. As mad king Ludwig, Shannon Williams continues to impress, Keith Launey is the boy from Texas in love with Chris Weaver, who weds the prettiest girl in town. Later the romantic trio produce a baby. Cammie West is the Queen Mother bent on her nutty son becoming king, while Carlos Gonzalez is her major domo handling the maddening Ludwig with curiosity. Pretty Liz Mills is a standout (among so many standouts) as the Texas beauty and the hump back beauty to the King. This is the best acting ensemble in the city right now.

By time Wagner’s themes from TANNHAUSER were heard you could have picked me up with a shovel. Naturally the opening nighters gave this stunning production a solid standing ovation with shouts of BRAVO BRAVO filling the comfortable Marigny Theatre. VALHALLA is an adult, thinking-man’s play one you must pay attention to, with some male nudity. Paul Rudnick’s witty dialogue and Producer Donald James’ glamorous costumes are enough to excite you.

If you enjoy fast, funny, hilarious live stage plays with a masterful director and six superb actors - don’t miss VALHALLA now at The Marigny Theatre on St. Claude one block from Elysian Fields. BRAVO! BRAVO! Top Rating - 4

- Al Shea, Steppin' Out, WYES-TV 12, 11/19/2007

Swan Song

How does one wrap one's mind around Valhalla? Not the mythological Hall of the Slain, where Norse warriors went to their eternal reward. I am referring to Valhalla the comedy by Paul Rudnick that recently received a scintillating production at the Marigny Theater.

In fact, Norse mythology is one of the few things this scattershot drama doesn't touch on. Valhalla is not about a single situation. It's a postmodern centrifugal divertimento that seems to want to spin its various plots off into space, but it is as amusing as it is confusing. The moment-by-moment enjoyment is not dampened by a lingering exasperation about how the contrasted narratives interconnect. ...

Under Glenn Meche's direction, a remarkable cast moved easily through the zigzags of the story " from poignant moment to total, surreal nonsense. If the cast had been less inspired, this epic comedy could have become a tedious conundrum. But as it was, Valhalla delights even when one gets lost.

- Dalt Wonk, Gambit Weekly, 11/27/2007

A Miracle on Marigny Street

No one knows where, when, or why it happens and it rarely does happen, but IT happened recently at the Marigny Theatre on Marigny Street. IT happened when Paul Rudnick’s play, Valhalla, in a recent premiere production of Donald James’ To Do Production Company was staged at this little regional theater magically directed by Glenn Meche. I think it helped put another bright spotlight on this fledgling company.

On a small stage with no real set and only actors in bright costumes, this dark comedy which explores man’s often unattainable quest for beauty-from Bavaria’s gay Mad King Ludwig to a young dreamer in Texas growing up before WWII - and the ultimately tragic cost of their blind ambitions became the ineffable vehicle for one of those IT theatrical experiences. One critic I know wept. Another came to almost every performance. This Valhalla caused the audience to become so swept up in the moment that there was profound silence at the end, then explosive applause.

This show was an example of the power and influence that can happen when either through luck or insightful selection, the actors chosen play their parts on stage with such red hot perfection that the whole play becomes a mystical journey into that unforgettable something which the great critic Walter Kerr called “theatrical incandescence” - when IT happens, people leave the theater so moved, so burned by the fire of fine art, that they will bear the seared scar forever. And that’s what makes for great theater. And that’s what those of us lucky enough to witness this production discovered. A burning beauty in the words and ideas of the playwright and the “pretend with perfection” skills and phosphorescent chemistry of just the right actors at the right moments, at least one of which had never been on stage before.

And who were the actors who left such a splendid shining theatrical memory of their work in our hearts and minds? Cammie West-Patterson as Margaret Avery/Queen Marie/Princess Enid/ and Natalie Kippelbaum; Carlos Gonzales as Pfeiffer/Otto/Footman/Princess Ursula the Unusual/ Rev. Howesberry and Sergeant; the beautiful 18 years old Chris Weaver in his debut on stage as Henry Lee Stafford/ Helmut/Opera Singer; Keith Launey as James Avery; Liz Mills as Sally Mortimer/Princess Patricia/Princess Sophie/Marie Antoinette/Annie Avery and Shannon Williams as Mad King Ludwig.

Glenn Meche directed with all the gods at his side. Kevin Champagne did choreography, Timm Holt lighting, and Donald James, assisted by Regina Adams did the beautiful costumes.

It is this kind of ineffable theatrical experience which defines the worth and the necessity of live theater. It is a magical production in every sense of theater artistry such as this one that brings the true glory and necessity of the arts and the catharsis of theater into the realms of the spiritual. And that what the IT is all about. To Do Productions and the cast and tech crew of this show really did let IT all hang out with emotionally pyrotechnical repercussions. Your show was a little miracle on Marigny Street.

– Patrick Shannon, Ambush Magazine, 01/02/2008

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