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Theater Notes: Two blockbusters so different from one another

By Staff | Jan 21, 2015

Here are two plays I urge you not to miss. They come from opposite ends of the theatrical continuum. The most touching, most poignant and most compelling is the brilliant production of “Agnes of God” now at that courageous Laboratory Theater of Florida.

They have mounted a brilliant production of “Agnes of God.” It had a long and deserved run on Broadway and then was made into a fine Academy Award nominated movie featuring Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft and Meg Tilley. Do you remember it?

Just don’t miss this powerful version we’ve been lucky enough to get here in Fort Myers. The audience gasped as each new piece of the gripping puzzle was dropped on us.

The plot: A newborn baby, with its umbilical chord around its neck, is found dead in a wastebasket in Sister Agnes’s room.

The cast was superb and met every challenge this fine play demanded. You’ll be dazzled by the gifted 18-year-old actress Jennifer Koch, who brought Sister Agnes to life before us, and sang her way into our hearts. In all humility, I think she is destined for greatness if she chooses the wild race to Broadway. I’d prefer it if she stays with us in southwest Florida. I can think of eight more plays I could enjoy her in, right here.

She was joined by the venerable Joann Haley, who so outstandingly anchored this play in her role as Mother Superior. Haley was as solid here as she was when she played Willy Loman’s wife, Linda, in this theater’s impressive “Death of Salesman.”

Lori Riti ably thickens the plot in her role as the court-appointed psychiatrist, trying to use her professional skills against the vast powers of the established church. The play crackles as the mystery takes us on to deeper and deeper layers in each character.

In my eyes, so much of the smash impact of “Agnes of God” must go to the direction by Annette Trossbach. Her magical control was as professional as it gets. Go see for yourself what a triumph she forged out of a memorable play. Get there soon as you can. It closes on Jan. 24. I put the boxoffice number here for all you serious theater-lovers. You will not be disappointed/(239) 218-0481.

Now, the second play is at The Florida Rep, and it was written by the famous and colorful stand-up comedian Lewis Black. I walked into The Arcade Theater and, as always, the set was outstanding. The production values at Florida Rep are like that. But I grew suspicious. There were three doors.

I am on record as hating “farces.” Three doors are the signature of a farce. But I am happy to report “One Slight Hitch” goes well beyond farce. It is strangely full of wisdom, tenderness, and sometimes political relevancy, while still being raunchy, absurd, and full of one-liners and an over excess of alcohol.

I don’t think it will ruin it for you to know that the one slight hitch of the title is what surprise thing happened on this very day the oldest daughter of the Coleman family, Courtney, is getting married. Rachel Moulten, in her debut at Florida Rep, is gorgeous and a perfectly cast choice. Her mother, Delia, played by the faithful Carrie Lund delivering one of her best portrayals ever, as she slowly gets more and more hysterically overwhelmed by all the details of this magical day going down the tubes. You get it, don’t you? You’ll get it more when Courtney’s ex-boyfriend shows up.

My hat’s off to Martin LaPlatney, who plays Dr. Colemen, the witty, sometimes wise, sometimes incompetent father of the bride. He is worried maybe more about what this wedding is going to cost than he is about relieving the hysteria of his wife. Giving her a valium and getting drunk are two of his ideas. He got the biggest applause during the standing ovation the cast earned. He is that good. I hope we see more of him in future plays.

You will love the other two sisters, Melanie, played by Georgia Mallory Guy, who shows up from her job as a nurse, in an unbelievably short, short, short-skirted nurse’s uniform, with hat. She is also a sex addict. Lots of laughs in that, of course. The younger sister, wearing headphones providing a lot of the music of the 1980s when the play takes place, is going to be the maid of honor, because she’s the only woman her bride-to-be sister knows who is a virgin. Lots of laughs in that, of course.

But it is the two guys who provide some of the serious content to the play. And why we need all three of the doors you find in every farce. Go see for yourself, and you’ll applaud loudly for Nate Washburn the ex-boyfriend, and Sid Solomon the groom to be. When the curtain came down on Act 1, people were all guessing what was going to happen next. I doubt if any of them predicted the ending. And certainly I won’t tell it to you. I didn’t guess it, so I can’t play holier than thou.

I send a solid round of applause to Chris Clavelli for his superb direction. Oh, there were so many places where this play could have taken cast members over the top to the ridiculous. Chris allowed them to be ridiculous, just never out of control. Congratulations, Chris. Keep up the superb work. Ray Recht did an excellent Broadway quality set, too.

Now you get to the boxoffice phone, because I predict another sellout. It plays only until Jan. 28. Call (239) 332-4665 or get on the web at floridarep.org.

Best of all, go see BOTH of these theater gems, as different as they are.