COHORT REPORT: The Villain’s Supper Club

KAPOW!  The last MRT production of the season is a smash!

The Villains’ Supper Club, directed by Sean Danielsexplodes with fast-moving humor on a dynamo set of light, sound, and illustrations designed by nationally recognized illustrators. Creative names and costumes BURST with color, attitude, and confidence that reflect the comic-book characters they portray.

We meet women of contrast – Galactic Girl, the last superhero on earth, returning to work to control the city from the dastardly villains (Fibian Frog, Lee Leopard, Damian Dart) and her demanding boss Ms. Calientewho has no patience with working moms. The Boss, a most dastardly enemy on pink roller skates, loves The Flame but does not want a baby – OR does she?

This is a premier production by playwright Lila Rose Kaplanan advocate for working moms based on her own experiences.  The artistic fight scenes are incredibly staged with creative sound and lights in dance motion by Fight Director, Angie Jepson.

The charactersmove in the smooth dance motion when engaging with each other or battling. During the fight scenes, a crew dressed in black wearing masks move across the stage in dance motion as part of the scene, almost without being seen.  With each slam, BAM! The lights and sound go with the motion. It is incredible reflective theatre.

There are many complex issues of profession and parity throughout the performance.

We see Galactic Girl in a phone booth, where a meek man once enhanced his super powers.  Is there a greater power than providing nourishment for a newborn while forced into seclusion to get it done! Galactic Girl is trying to be the “best new mom” all the while returning to work, with pumps hanging from her breasts and trying to reach her pediatrician at the same time, all while wearing her cape! Of course, that is the way it’s done for super, working moms!

As Galactic Girl accomplishes her working-hero, super-mom tasks, while taking out the villainswe meet the Villain-Dad (no identity spoiler) becoming aware of his paternity. Watch the Galactic GirlWoman changes. YIKES! Social and family dynamics of a newborn evolve!

–Gail Gauthier, Cohort

 

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The Villains’ Supper Club runs April 25 – May 20

www.mrt.org/villains

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Q&A: Lila Rose Kaplan (Playwright)

Playwright Lila Rose Kaplan answers questions about her new play The Villains’ Supper Club.

Tell us about when you first started to think about writing this play. What was the inspiration behind The Villains’ Supper Club?

I started imagining The Villains’ Supper Club during the first year of my daughter’s life. The first image I had for the play was Galactic Girl pumping in a phone booth while still wearing her cape. I wanted to write a comedy about what it’s like to keep a brand new little person alive on no sleep, while also going back to work. I had several productions back-to-back that first year, which meant I was pumping all the time, traveling across the country with a tiny infant, calling the pediatrician from numerous time zones, while also doing rewrites—and did I mention not sleeping? I learned very quickly that new moms are true superheroes. My plays shine light on the stories we don’t tell about women. New moms are crucial to our species’ survival and yet new moms are invisible until you are one. The Villains’ Supper Club is a comic love letter to all the new moms out there.

What special challenges does Galactic Girl have as new mom and an actual superhero?

Galactic Girl is the only superhero left in the world. Even before she had a baby, her plate was pretty full keeping everyone safe from the Villains. Now, as a new Mom, she is also breastfeeding, pumping, hungry all the time, tired all the time, finding childcare for when she’s working, and fending off unwanted child-rearing opinions from everyone she meets. She fights villains daily while finding time to pump, writes newspaper stories for her day job, and fields calls from her babysitter, aka her mother, who doesn’t approve of her working. That’s a typical day. 

What did you learn about and love about comic books–and how did you turn that on its head for this play?

I did a deep dive into comic books, graphic novels, and superhero movies as research for this play. We’re living in a distressing moment and superheroes are tremendously appealing right now. While immersing myself in superhero stories, I loved the big worlds, the mythology behind the characters, the fights between good and evil, and the tremendous heart. However,  I was pretty distressed by the way women are treated. Why is Lois Lane clumsy and a terrible speller? Why are female superheroes naked and fragile just when they need to be strong? Why are 99% of the heroes men?  The deeper I dug, the madder I got. Here was this vast new genre I wanted to love, but most representations of me were degrading or non-existent. Toni Morrison once said that she started writing because she didn’t see the books she wanted to read on the shelf. So, I took her advice and wrote a feminist superhero farce about a new mom. And I used my secret weapon, heartfelt comedy, to challenge the misogyny and sexualization of women in comics. I believe stories are powerful. So, I wrote a new one.

It’s such fun to have a large cast of actors with such comic chops. How is it to see your characters come to life for the first time with this cast? 

It’s exhilarating. All the characters have leapt to life in the hands of these actors. Sean and I create epic comedies that are highly physical and deeply heartfelt. These actors are wonderfully game for all of it.

Who are your favorite superheroes and why are they?

My favorite two superheroes are Ms. Marvel and the new Spider Woman. Ms. Marvel, aka Kamala Khan, is a Pakistani-American teenager in New Jersey, who accidentally gets superpowers. She grapples with being different from her family, facing racism, falling in love, and saving the world on a daily basis. It’s heartfelt, funny and pretty poignant at times. 

The new Spider-Woman has a fabulous twist—Spider-Woman is pregnant in the first issue and has a newborn baby in the second issue. She grapples with how to be a superhero and new mom at the same time. I discovered this Spider-Woman after I started writing The Villains’ Supper Club and it was inspiring for me to see a world linked to the one I was imagining.

If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?

I have always wanted to fly. It would be handy to be able to stop time. But the best superpower of all would be give everyone empathy.

Why do you write for the stage?

I am in love with live theatre. It’s a gorgeous communal ritual of coming together to receive a story with other people. I believe laughing together is healing. I believe crying together is healing. I believe practicing empathy together is the only way to change the world.

Coffee or tea: Tea. Moroccan Mint.  

Favorite way to relax: I love reading. I love watching well-written TV. I love swimming. I love dancing. I love taking walks at the Arboretum.  

Favorite guilty pleasure food: Anything mint chocolate. 

Favorite activity with your kid: Dancing in the kitchen is pretty great. 

 

 

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The Villain’s Supper Club runs April 25 – May 20, 2018.

mrt.org/villains

COHORT REPORT: By the power of Celine Dion

It’s a testament to Dan Finnerty’s prodigious talent that when he sings “My Heart Will Go On” at the climax of his autobiographical musical Little Orphan Danny, he makes the most overplayed song of the past two decades feel fresh and triumphant. Celine Dion is a patron saint of sorts in this irreverent and touching story, serving as a catalyst for reuniting Finnerty and his birth mother thanks to a rather amazing coincidence. When he launches into her familiar, cheesy hit, he turns it into a moment of celebratory joy that made me want to cheer.

Finnerty has a way with cheese. The leader of The Dan Band, he’s best known for his covers of songs by female artists–memorably singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” at Will Ferell’s character’s wedding in the movie Old School.

In Little Orphan Danny, he narrates his coming of age struggles as a chubby, adopted kid with parents who don’t quite know what to make of him. His adopted mother Pat is there throughout his growing pains, always consulting her reference book What to Expect When You’re Expecting an Orphan for tips on how to handle incidents including the misguided murder mystery party he hosted for his classmates. Although Pat has a solution for everything Dan throws her way–she saved the party with ice cream–his eventual relationship with his birth mother Peg finally pushes this straightlaced Catholic lady to her breaking point. When she swears for the first time, its a wonderful moment of release.

Julie Foldesi plays both Pat and Peg, as well as Finnerty’s wife and several members of his birth parents’ families. Her character switches are signalled with quick costume changes such as the addition of a hair clip or glasses, and it works effortlessly. She is superb in her solo numbers, giving unique and equal voices to both mothers.

The play is another winner in what has proved to be a terrific season at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

–Amy Roeder, Cohort

 
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Little Orphan Danny runs March 21 – April 15

www.mrt.org/danny

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COHORT REPORT: Creative Musical Memoir

As an MRT Cohort, I enjoy meeting the actors when they arrive in the rehearsal hall and read the script together. For the Little Orphan Danny reading, it was not obvious to me how Dan Finnerty’s real life story, created with Sean Daniels, would become such an amazing play.

Little Orphan Danny takes us back to a time when family roles and responsibilities were defined by social mores and and religious tenants. A time when our behaviors did not always match what was expected. Dan Finnerty grew up as an adopted child filled with the usual wondering about his birth parents. As he goes from a ten year old boy to a man with his own child, we share early years of chubby boyhood pranks and needs in song and rap-like stories.

Dan is immensely talented in bringing us on the stage with him to share his autobiographical musical, a deeply irreverent take on the family we are given and the family we make. As Danny takes us on his journey to find his birth family we laugh, cry and reflect on our own families. Dan Finnerty is outrageous as he moves on, and off, the stage to tell us his story in words, song and rap-like story telling. He is filled with humor and quiet reverence about how to bring his past into his now, and when it happens he is obviously conflicted and confused.

Julie Foldesi shares the stage playing many roles in telling Danny’s story. She brings amazing character being his adopted and birth mothers, then his wife by merely changing a bit of her style. She is also a very talented performer with Dan and alone on the stage. There is an amazing combo of musicians on the stage providing sounds and original music that enhance the performances.

There are many people who work on a play that you never see, but their talent and creativity are essential. Along with the MRT staff, there is a very talented design team making music, lights and sound to brighten up a very creative set.

I have seen Dan Finnerty, the playwright, and Sean Daniels, the director bring this play from the script to the stage. I assure you this is an amazingly creative personal production done with humor, brought to life by a group of very talented artists.

–Gail Gauthier, Cohort

 

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Little Orphan Danny runs March 21 – April 15

www.mrt.org/danny

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Audience Review: Simply brilliant theatre

Little Orphan Danny is simply brilliant theatre. I went to opening night where the show was as fresh as indeed it is: first performance of an extraordinary play born of a confrontation of the truth of one’s life and directed with painful insight by Sean Daniels.

This is a musical and the music is wonderful but sometimes disturbing when it remains upbeat and happy when the lyrics have darkness: both music and words came from the hand of Dan Finnerty writing about his own experience growing up as an orphan, so he must know firsthand of the subtle tragicomic interplay of darkness and light he represents in a very human way. Perhaps the music is a sort of therapy to transcend the pain in many of the words.

Julie Foldesi is astonishing taking on all the female roles, and especially at combining the adoptive and birth mothers and being the girlfriend as well – Freud could have written a book about this! Of course, all three are in fact the same person: a loving caring person demanding that virtue triumph over tragedy and struck with trauma at doing what is right. The birth mother knew she had to give up her baby and suffered until the day or reunion. The adoptive mother, with no biological children of her own, is struck with the fear of losing a son that has become a part of her purely through the exercise of her love. The girlfriend knows she somehow must have a liberating force and reunite Dan with his birth mother without asking him – because were she to ask him, he might say no. Foldesi switches effortly from one character to the other. Sometimes the pain is too great when she does so: but so too is the joy at the ability of this show to reveal all that is best in humanity.

Dan Finnerty is not only author and protagonist but also the subject of the musical. Very brave of him to write this autobiography. And wholly successful in presenting theatre that conveys truth from beginning to end. Is he acting or being himself? Whichever may be the case, he reveals not only the normal difficulties of adolescence but the difficulties of asking who he is as an orphan and to whom his loyalties lie. He held the attention of the audience every second: there was a power to his performance than underlined how lucky we are to have such great live theatre here in Lowell, and in this case the real live presence of an actor revealing his inner soul simply cannot be replicated on other media.

Sean Daniels brought out the humor together with the tragedy with a production that focuses sharply on the principal characters and brings them together with great intimacy but never forgetting the humorous element: for one senses that one of the things that has enabled Dan Finnerty to get through a complex life is an ability to laugh.

I loved the clever projections on a screen above the action. The set was simple but evocative. The music was played with great aplomb led by music director and orchestrator Dan Lipton. And we all emerged from this great, fabulous, rarely striking as well as complex piece of theatre knowing more about ourselves and promising that its lesson can help us all make a better world.

GO SEE IT!
–Jonathan Richmond, audience member

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Little Orphan Danny runs March 21 – April 15

www.mrt.org/danny

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Q&A: Dan Finnerty (Co-Creator & Performer)

Co-Creator and Performer Dan Finnerty (Frontman of The Dan Band) answers questions about his new play Little Orphan Danny.

How did you approach telling not only your story but also both of your mothers’ sides of the story?

This was all a mistake.  I’d been invited by New York Stage and Film to try and develop a  new show based on my comedy band, The Dan Band. I met Sean Daniels and invited him to go with me and we sat in a room for five hours and I told him every funny story I have.  I briefly mentioned I was adopted and found my birthmother and then went on to my next funny story and he was like “Wait … go back to the adopted part.”  So here we are.  It’s been a long process of me figuring out how to tell this story from my point of view and then making sure my mom and birthmother were also cool with it being told.  I hope I remembered to ask them.

You’re the lead singer in a band where you make all the decisions. What’s it like working with a director for a musical show?

I’ve actually really enjoyed it.  After so many years of cranking out ideas for my band, I like having someone else be in charge. Sean has been great about letting me still at least think I have the final word.  But I think that comes with the territory when it’s a show you’re writing about your life and your people.  And he’s been very patient as I struggle daily with wanting to be involved in every little aspect of the production.  Even now I want to ask you what font this will be displayed in.

You’re known for hilarious impro-visational moments on stage and in film. Will there be improv in Little Orphan Danny?

I love improv and always try and sneak it into any project I’m working on. Probably because I never want to learn my lines.  I’d hoped to continue my long tradition of planning nothing and just jumping into the crowd to see what happens for this show, but luckily for you, Sean is a professional and made me write actual lines to memorize.  But I’m told the director usually takes off after opening night, so it’ll be a free-for-all once he’s outta here.

The music and lyrics in this show are incredibly moving. How did it all come together with your musical collaborators?

Thanks.  As a guy who is mainly known for singing comedy covers, that makes me like you.  Once we’d locked into which stories I was going to tell, I would go off and write lyrics and melodies for the songs and then come and sing them to Dan Lipton.  He’d arrange them into something that would sound better than just me singing and playing a pair of spoons.  He also composed a lot of the great incidental music that happens throughout the show.

Some audiences will know you from your film and television roles, along with The Dan Band. What’s it like being on a theatre stage and telling such a personal story?

I actually did a show in this very theater back when I was at Emerson College in Boston.  It was a summer show called Lowell: An American Patchwork.  I played an Irishman who worked on the Pawtucket Canal and was in love with a Mill Worker named …Millie.   So it’s crazy to be back on the same stage, all these years later.  As far as telling such a personal story, it’s pretty intense. I’m not really a “share your feelings” kind of guy, so this is all new to me.  And I care a lot about honoring these people I’m talking about in the show.  It’s tricky when they’re real people in your life and actually might be sitting in the audience at some point.  I still can’t even believe I’m doing it. I still know my lines from the Lowell show if it’s not too late to do that one instead?

The show is relevant for every mom and child, but it’s especially relevant for adopted kids and their parents. What do you want them to take away from this show?

I guess just the understanding that most adopted kids have a basic human desire to find out the answer to the secret they’ve been told exists about them, but it’s completely separate from how they feel about their parents who raised them.

Coffee order: I quit coffee after a 10-year Frappuccino addiction that caused a 10lb face-fat addition.

Dog or cat: Dogs forever.  Cats are losers.

Favorite guilty pleasure song: “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”

Favorite way to relieve stress: Cats.

Dinner with one person, dead or alive: Charo

For more Dan Finnerty hilarity, check out The Dan Band on
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @TheDanBand.

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Little Orphan Danny runs March 21 – April 15, 2018.

mrt.org/danny

COHORT REPORT: Peeling back the mask

“We like to remember people who go first,” as a character says in the Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s new production “Lost Laughs,” a show about comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. He was the first movie actor to rise to stardom, but he’s remembered now, if at all, for the part he played in a young actress named Virginia Rappe’s tragic death.

The play tells the story of Fatty’s rise and fall, moving adeptly between broad, vaudevillian comedy and heartbreaking moments of tragedy. The tropes of silent film are given a nod throughout, to great effect. Particularly striking is the story of Fatty’s first marriage, which is told in a silent routine involving a clothes line.

Much of the action takes place on what looks like a raw film set before the props and backdrops are added. It is eventually pulled back to show first the red curtain of a stage and ultimately, the hotel room where Virginia spent her last night. Once the disheveled room is revealed, it seems to stalk Fatty like a character in its own right, looming behind his attempts to clear his name and move on with his life.
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Kristen Mengelkoch in LOST LAUGHS… Photo by Meghan Moore.
Aaron Muñoz plays Fatty with considerable charm and his lone costar Kristen Mengelkoch is a whirlwind, effortlessly switching between an array of minor characters from Buster Keaton to a fan on the street.

Throughout the play, characters reference the artifice that defines Fatty’s life. The public loves him and gives him the validation he never received as a child–but they don’t love Roscoe. One of the play’s most devastating moments comes when Roscoe is literally stripped, and must stand before us to be judged, without his jovial alter ego to keep him safe.

Mengelkoch gets her own turn to break our hearts in a monologue as Virginia Rappe. And both come together for an ending that is as quiet and beautiful as the opening scene is frantic and funny. I left feeling truly moved by the experience.

–Amy Roeder, Cohort

 

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Lost Laughs… runs February 14 – March 11

www.mrt.org/lostlaughs

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