A Stellar Goose!

ROCK N’ROLL MOTHER GOOSE“Rock n’ Roll Mother Goose” – Friday, 7-31-15, MITF 16
Writer: Judi Lewis Ockler
Costumes: Alisha Engle
Contributing Director/Props: David Engel
Technical Director/Props: Chris Ockler
Starring: Judi Lewis Ockler, various audience members
Davenport Theatre, Black Box, 354 W. 45th Street (between 8th & 9th Avenues)
16th Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival
Running Time: 45 minutes
Review by Ramona Pula

Judi Lewis Ockler, as Mother Goose, entered from stage right. Wearing a black pointy hat and green cape, she walked slowly while hunched over, leaning on a quad cane in one hand and holding a huge storybook in the other. “Are you there, children? You out there?” she asked as she peered into the audience of adults, which made us laugh.
Describing to us her love of stories that take her to a different time and place, I thought to myself about this Mother Goose “She’s delightful! She deserves an audience FULL of children.”
At that moment, latecomers including 5 children came in! Mother Goose adlibbed a joke about it along the lines of, “oh thank goodness” which made us laugh again.
Taking her reversible cape and black pointy hat off to reveal what I can only describe as a cool-ass costume (Heelys retractable roller skate sneakers, black & white striped tights, whimsical A-line skirt, print apron, blue blouse with white frills, and a rhinestone-studded collar) and a punk rock old lady hair-do, Ms. Ockler became suddenly physical, as the music of an old timey rock and roll original song by Brad Rymer “Rock n’ Roll Mother Goose” played.

Once she started rocking, Mother Goose stayed on a roll for the rest of the show. I especially loved when she occasionally zipped around the stage on her Heelys.
This show is interactive, and Ms. Ockler improvises funny bits with audience members, adults and children alike. At one point after they’d done a bit together, she got a dad who’d been onstage to slap her five and responded as if he’d tapped her in the butt – subtly and comically, of course.
Then she rocked out some air guitar with ‘80s metal licks!

Mother Goose called on the audience to use their imagination as we got closer to choosing a tale from the big storybook. At this point, kids started calling out spontaneously, wanting a story to start – there were few children, however they were excited and rowdy, which was perfect for this show.
After getting the audience to send our collective mojo to the stage, Mother Goose opened the magical storybook, and we found out that day’s story would be based on Jane Yolen’s “Ballad of the Pirate Queens”. She asked for volunteers from the audience to help her. There was one girl in particular at house left who raised her hand right away, however Ms. Ockler kept scanning past her. It got to the point where several adults next to the girl were pointing at her, including John Chatterton, the founder and artistic director of MITF.

Ms. Ockler chose a different girl from house right to play pirate queen Anne Bonney. She asked for another volunteer to play pirate queen Mary Reade. More adults started pointing at the girl who first raised her hand, which was now down. Ms. Ockler chose her sister instead. The sister was too shy to go onstage, so then she picked the child who first shot her hand up, much to everyone’s relief. We were all quite invested at that point.

With her two young pirate queens at her side, Mother Goose then lead us all on a storytelling adventure, excellently executed.

“Rock n’ Roll Mother Goose” is stellar in every way. Costumes by Alisha Engle are stupendous. Props by David Engle and Chris Ockler are fabulous, as are contributing direction and technical direction, respectively.

Judi Lewis Ockler is a consummate performer, possessing professional skill in acting, clowning, fight direction and stunt performing. Her background as a mother and a teacher also make her wonderful with children.

That said, she might want to consider tweaking a few things. First, after curtain Ms. Ockler came out as herself to plug the next two MITF performances of her show, which took place that same weekend. I personally am all for this sort of thing in general, since I understand how important publicity is, and this show deserves to be seen. However, I wish she’d stayed in character as Mother Goose. She’d woven such a convincing spell for the children that it was almost violent when she broke that. It dissipated the magic of pretend for them. Or at least it did for me. Yes, I’m a big kid.

Also, once the shy girl in the audience at house left saw how much fun her sister had had onstage as Mary Reade, she then wanted a turn onstage, however, there was no chance of that. She wept her little heart out. I know Ms. Ockler can’t possibly have every child onstage who might wish to be, especially when she has an audience full of them. She might want to prepare herself for such instances, however, and be willing to take a few minutes after a show to kneel in front of a crying child (or group of children, as the case may be), and give them a little pep talk. As a teacher and a mother, I’m sure she has experience doing this.

You see, the crying child had not just fallen in love with books in general, which is a stated goal of “Rock n’ Roll Mother Goose” – she had also fallen in love with Theatre. Assuring her that she has a lifetime ahead to explore that newfound love would be a wonderful addition to a great gift already bestowed.

ALICE is Wonderful

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Review by Ramona Pula

“Here Comes Alice!” – Opening Night, Monday 7-27-15, MITF 16
Writer: Mike Schofield
Director: Chelsea Thaler
Stage Manager/Board Operator: Xena Petkanas

Starring: Elaine Lo, John Whitney, Shannon Mac Ardhail,
Jack Corcoran, Joseph Anthony, Erika Grob, Chris Longfellow

Davenport Theatre, Main Stage, 354 W. 45th Street (between 8th & 9th Avenues) 16th Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival
Running Time: 45 minutes

“Here Comes Alice!” explores one man’s obsession with his lost love, Alice, (played by a charismatic Elaine Lo). Alice comes to Ted (John Whitney) again and again in his ruminations and dreams. She accuses him of being a liar and of cheating on her – you know, the usual romantic laments. What makes this exploration of love gone bad different is that it’s really Ted trying to figure out what went wrong and why he can’t love, which leads to the play having a delightful absurdist structure where anything goes.
The entire cast in this production is excellent. Shannon Mac Ardhail is a standout as Cop, as is Jack Corcoran as Judge. Alice files a complaint with Cop against Ted, which eventually leads to his trial presided over by Judge, who has some of the funniest lines in the play.

The costumes are entertaining. The lighting design is terrific, and Xena Petkanas executes the cues flawlessly.
Chelsea Thaler has done a fantastic job as director. I love the way the actors use the Davenport Main Stage space, for example when Alice watches Ted’s trial from the front row of the audience. The cast is obviously enjoying themselves and the ensemble is tight.

The play explores illusion versus reality in love, as when Cop says, “Ted, you’re in love with a woman who doesn’t exist.” Projecting our wishes and hopes onto someone is a common self-deception in affairs of the heart.

Ted concludes, “Obsession isn’t love. I have to remove her like a tattoo or a tumor.” His fixation on Alice is simultaneously his crime and punishment.

Many questions are asked, and we don’t always have the answer. Ted asks Cop, who is momentarily acting as his shrink, “What’s the proper way to love someone?” Alice asks Ted, “What kind of girl sleeps with a guy who lives with a girl? What does that say about me?” And God (Chris Longfellow) asks “How come no one plays jazz anymore?”

Rounding out the talented cast are Joseph Anthony as Attorney, and Erika Grob as Willie, Judge’s stenographer.
Playwright Mike Schofield’s dark sense of humor will keep me looking forward to seeing more of his work produced in the future.