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Theatre

Emily Dowdell and Bobby Peterson star in ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ Photo by Tim Pappalardo

By Charles J. Morgan

Hold on to your wallets! The famous bank robbers Bonnie & Clyde are back and they are wreaking havoc at the Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale. The play follows the original plot, with the two of them featured as folk heroes on one level and as public evildoers on another. This twofold approach is what drives CM/PAC’s startling production of this folk opera based on the book by Ivan Menchell, featuring Don Black’s lyrics and Frank Wildhorn’s music.

Bonnie and Clyde do their murderous thieving throughout the southwest in the Depression-torn early thirties. They are characters who awaken in the concupiscible hearts of the non-criminal majority as two who have escaped the dust bowl, the breadlines and outright poverty by doing one thing: taking.

There is balance however. In three different segments, there is a revival meeting in which a fiery evangelical preacher, in maximum decibel, proclaims the Gospel. There is a very slight element of excess here, but what better way for the authors to show that Bonnie and Clyde are criminal outcasts. These revival scenes are among the best in the show. There is even an element of choreography in them.

Bonnie is seen as a celebrity wannabe who even writes poetry. It is doggerel. Yet even as they were on their murdering spree, making headlines, some local newspapers actually published it.

Clyde is a semi-literate, dirt-poor son of a share cropper who shirks all kinds of gainful employment in favor of “taking,” as does his sycophantic brother “Buck.”

Their criminal career was neatly depicted by the set. The indefatigable Patrick Grossman is the set designer and director. Wearing the former hat, he had a system of flats and slats that went from stage right to stage left and were used vertically, there being no need to do any shifting. A vignette of Bonnie and Clyde in bed, or in the act of robbing a bank, as well as the revival scenes would be seen as one or more of the slatted flats were opened and closed — most effective. He also devised a system of projecting flashing contemporary newspapers. Wearing the other hat, Grossman was confronted with the always pressing problem of interpretation and blocking. His talents in this field extend to excellence. He made them real, even down to a consistently applied southwestern accent.

The multi-talented Emily Dowdell played Bonnie Parker, coupling her powerful soprano with coyness, assertion, self-pity and an outcry for love admirably. Clyde Barrow was played by Bobby Peterson with a far-ranging tenor and believable toughness both in solo and duet.

Briggs Houston played the role of Marvin “Buck” Barrow, Clyde’s brother. His voice was a middle-register tenor. His somewhat lumbering attitude and his death scene were done to perfection. Shannon Cunningham was Blanche, Buck’s wife. She had great stage presence coupled with a caressable soprano. She suffused the loyal wife role with high morality for Buck. Her performance was impressively consistent.

Then there was Carl Tese as the revivalist preacher. Talk about power! He shook the rafters with the Decalogue, the Beatitudes and John 3 with the range of heavy artillery. ME Junge was Trish, a small part for the leading choreographer; but she is a trouper.

In the musical numbers, the preacher and “congregation” performed “God’s Arms Are Always Open” with, well, dynamism, and Bonnie and Clyde’s duet in “Dyin’ Ain’t So Bad” told it all.

Musical direction was handled, as usual, by Matthew W. Surico on piano and a solid pit band that featured Kevin Merkel on synthesizer, Christian Wern on bass, Michael Villarico on drums, Diana Fuller and Lauren Carroll on guitars, John Dumlao on violin and Eric Albinder and Andrew Lenahan on woodwinds. It was the pit band effect Surico always achieves that gave body to the whole show. Kudos to the entire cast for a job well done!

The CM Performing Arts Center, 931 Montauk Highway, Oakdale will present “Bonnie & Clyde” through Sept. 27. Tickets range from $20 to $29. For more information, call 631-218-2810 or visit www.cmpac.com.

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From left, Michael Bertolini, Mary Ellin Kurtz and Staci Rosenberg-Simons in a scene from ‘Arsenic & Old Lace.’ Photo by Samantha Cuomo

By Charles J. Morgan

When a theatrical company does a chestnut, it is because it has not only stood the test of time but has pleased audiences through the years. 

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts has trotted out one of those chestnuts, Joseph Kesselring’s “Arsenic and Old Lace,” that darkly humorous comedy about two charmingly wicked aging sisters who go about murdering lonely men by poisoning them with a glass of home-made elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine and “just a pinch” of cyanide as if they were dusting furniture in their antique home in Brooklyn, reminiscent of the old houses on Westminster, Rugby and Argyle roads in your scribe’s native Flatbush.

Mary Ellin Kurtz and Staci Rosenberg-Simons portray the malevolent Brewster sisters, Abby and Martha, respectively. Their overly sweet demeanor toward one another comes off perfectly; their Victorian good manners are the perfect cover for their evil deeds. Their innocence is not even feigned … it is sincere!

Then there is their brother, Teddy, a harmless lunatic who thinks he is President Theodore Roosevelt. Bobby Montaniz has this role and plays it to the hilt. With a bristling moustache and pince-nez glasses, he actually looked like TR. His “Charge!!!” up the stairs, bugle in hand, forces the sisters to explain, “The stairs? . . . San Juan Hill.” In his “signing clothes,” a cutaway frock coat and striped pants, he signs the “Treaty,” which is his own commitment papers to an insane asylum. His TR lines all have to do with real, historical TR incidents. Your scribe’s favorite was when he places his hand on the shoulder of the visiting preacher from the local church intoning “I’ve always enjoyed my talks with Cardinal Gibbons!” Montaniz was the comic foil of this show.

Steve Corbellini plays the sisters’ nephew, Mortimer. He is supreme as the one who discovers what the sisters have done. He is torn between simply turning them in to the police and his nepotic love for them. Corbellini has a remarkable stage presence and a comic ability that is first class.

Lauren Gobes has the role of Elaine, Mortimer’s fiancée. She is pretty, ingénue-like and possessed of impressive range … from beloved to spurned and back again.

On to the scene comes Mortimer’s brother Jonathan, handled expertly by Michael Newman . . . the “bad” Brewster. His voice is threatening and thunderous, and his reciting of his lines in a sort of monotone brings out a deep-seated evil. His shady confederate is Dr.  Einstein, the hard drinking, failed surgeon. Eugene Dailey has the role and interprets it masterfully. Rounding out the cast are Mark DeCaterina, Michael Bertolini, John Steele and Kevin Shaw, all of which do a fine job.

Now chestnuts need good sets, and Timothy Golebiewski as set designer ran a team of constructors including Brian Barteld, Clarke Serv and Russ Brown in mounting a massive, highly impressive interior complete with wainscoting, window seat and, especially noteworthy, a staircase with a double landing leading to “upstairs” rooms. The furniture looked like it had been bought during the presidency of Grover Cleveland.

On to this set steps director Jordan Hue who, confronted with this broad physical venue, had the job of interpreting and blocking the cast, carrying out the director’s job of making the characters as real as possible, and coupling that with the actors own talents and engendering a seamless performance. In this Hue succeeded eminently.

This is a chestnut pulled from the roast for the audience’s delectation. The SCPA has done its usual fine work on a production well worth seeing.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, will present the classic comedy “Arsenic & Old Lace” through Oct. 4. Tickets are $35 adults, $20 students. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.