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Theatre Review | Dreamtime

Reviewed Mar. 30, 2017 | Newcastle Herald | Dreamtime

AMERICAN playwright Maura Campbell looks in Dreamtime at the dreams people have about the life they’d like to have, and the realities they actually experience or impose on others. The play arose from events in 2001 in the region where she lived, when two teenage boys who were intent on migrating to what they saw as an adventurous Australia killed a husband and wife pair of middle-aged university professors who caught them robbing their home.
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Dark reality of dreaming

Reviewed Mar. 16, 2017 | Newcastle Herald | Dreamtime

WHEN Maitland actor and director Zac Smith read the American play Dreamtime he was surprised initially to see that it had mentions of truckers with kangaroo heads and other Australian references.
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New play takes intriguing, colorful journey

Reviewed Oct. 24, 2015 | Times Argus | Fantasia de Colores

Beebee and her mother, Gloria, are stuck at home facing their virtual imprisonment caring for the invalid father and husband, Daniel. But their imaginations aren’t imprisoned; anything but, particularly when inspired accidentally by ingesting hallucinogenic mushrooms.
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Clean house, dirty deeds

Reviewed Oct. 4, 2013 | Burlington Free Press | Cleaning Day

“Cleaning Day” by Maura Campbell is a subtle, sensitive and thoughtful play. “Don and Tom” by Stephen Goldberg is a brash, frightening and thoughtful play. That last common quality is enough to unite the two works in the current production by the Green Candle Theatre Company, which is staging both 45-minute one-act plays at the Off Center for the Dramatic Arts.
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It Takes Two to Tangle: Maura Campbell’s Flower Duet

Reviewed June 11, 2014 | The Tolucan Times | Flower Duet

Love is a many splendored thing — until along comes infidelity. Two couples, both on the course to divorce, collide after an affair. Leaving behind a world of alcoholism, sexual dysfunction, and bad parenting, the foursome must decide on what (and who) is most important to them. Can betrayal actually get lovers back on track? Maura Campbell answers this question by taking seemingly likable characters, twisting them into selfish, unbearable pawns, and pitting them against the game of love.
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WOW!

Reviewed June 21, 2014 | Stage Scene LA | Flower Duet

Marriage is “till death do us part”—except when it isn’t—or so Max and Stephanie and Sandy and Maddie discover in Maura Campbell’s provocative Flower Duet, now getting its West Coast Premiere at North Hollywood’s Road Theatre following a 2010 World Premiere in Burlington, Vermont.
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Review: 'Wild Geese' filled with strong performances

Reviewed Apr. 15, 2010 | Burlington Free Press | Wild Geese

By Brent Hallenbeck

In "Wild Geese" by Burlington playwright Maura Campbell, a hairdresser named Denise Lamberti, hurting from cancer and chemotherapy, rests in the healing arms of a masseuse named Jennifer. She says she likes the music Jennifer is piping through her shop, a new-agey instrumental sound Jennifer says is meant to evoke water or air.

"It's not very busy," Denise says. "It's not going anywhere."

The same could be said for Campbell's play, which is not only set in a hair salon that becomes a massage parlor that becomes a tattoo shop, it's being staged at a hair salon, Metro Hair in Burlington. "Wild Geese" is not a busy play -- the streamlined, 90-minute, one-act script quietly but intensely explores the lives of four women (and one lecherous man) who come and go through the shop. And while it's not accurate to say the play isn't going anywhere, "Wild Geese" does look at how life doesn't really go anywhere, even as change is all around. The women deal with transformations dramatic and small, yet the currents that hold them together remain after they have moved on and the next generation has moved in.

Denise (played by Rebecca Reil) is a single mother who runs a hair salon in a building owned by her sex-obsessed brother, Barry (Kevin Christopher). The quiet, calm world of Denise is suddenly super-charged by the intrusion of a former high-school classmate, Janice (Xana Wolf), who bursts into the shop on a whim and starts trying on wigs in what quickly becomes clear as an attempt by the breezy, fun-loving yet aimless Janice to seek a new identity.

During a night of alcohol-fueled romance, Janice learns from Barry that Denise has cancer; she wears wigs after losing her hair to chemotherapy. "Hairdresser without hair -- it'll grow back," Denise later tells Janice, much in the same way a hairdresser would tell a customer "it'll grow back" after a bad haircut, even if everyone knows those words ring hollow.

Denise becomes too sick to run the shop, and Kevin rents the space to Jennifer (Atiya Harris), a massage therapist. Janice stops by and the two have a deep conversation about their respective situations that leads both to contemplate big changes in their lives. The next time Janice visits the shop it's a tattoo parlor run by Denise's daughter (also played by Reil). Now it's the pierced-and-tattooed Lamberti woman who's the wild one and Janice is the calm one; yet through their own personal migrations, much like the birds in the play's title, they've returned to the same old roost. Campbell's scripts are often interspersed with moments of psychological surrealism, but "Wild Geese" remains on a steady course that allows each character to develop naturally. Campbell also directs the play and draws solid performances out of two actresses with little stage experience.

Reil, known in the Burlington theater community for her work as a makeup designer, gives Denise a dignity that plays out most beautifully in those wordless moments when her physical suffering becomes uncomfortably real. Harris, a junior at Burlington High School, is the latest young acting discovery by Campbell, whose recent play "Dreamtime" was based on the Vermont teens who in 2001 killed two Dartmouth College professors. Harris conveys the relaxed, comforting vibe of a massage therapist, but also cheerily parries the too-strong advances of her landlord, Barry.

Christopher gives Barry the requisite doses of slime for such an unabashed womanizer, but also displays moments of caring, as when he brings his sick sister a stuffed Garfield for her belated birthday celebration. Wolf, like Christopher a veteran of past Campbell productions, brings humor and energy to "Wild Geese" and has the chance to show the greatest range, as Janice begins the play as a ditz favoring garish makeup and irresponsible sex before maturing into a woman whose confident personality has been steered mightily by the strong women whose shops she entered.

One of the big stars of "Wild Geese," of course, is Metro Hair, the salon where everything and nothing changes. The set-up in a working shop provides many opportunities to insert realism into an artificial setting, from the two older women who sit in the hairdressers' chairs before the play starts and chat about the mundane details of life to the door that leads out onto Pearl Street that actually serves as an entry onto the stage. Campbell and her actors use that potentially confining space well, giving "Wild Geese" a comfortable place to come home to.

Contact Brent Hallenbeck at 660-1844 or hallenbeck@burlingtonfreepress.com. To get Free Press headlines delivered free to your e-mail, sign up at www.burlingtonfreepress.com/newsletters.

 

Opera infuses romanticism in 'Flower Duet'

Reviewed September 9, 2010 | Burlington Free Press | Flower Duet

Music helps tell the story and, to an extent, is the story in Maura Campbell’s new play, “Flower Duet.”

The renowned operatic tune that gives the play its name is a recurring theme throughout the Burlington playwright’s latest work, and helps lend the power of opera to a script that often veers toward soap opera as it focuses on two couples (a pair of dueling duos) who find it hard to stay together when they’re together or stay apart when they’re apart.

Not only do operatic works by the likes of Delibes, Puccini, Bizet and Wagner help infuse the romantic tone of “Flower Duet,” the occasional moments of song by the cast and the frequent, beautiful piano lines by Michael Halloran show how music can reflect the drama of life and life can reflect the drama of music. Real life, “Flower Duet” shows, is not always as pleasant as the music the play highlights, but it does have the same ebbs and flows and moments of beauty and sadness.

The Green Candle Theatre Company production that opened Tuesday at FlynnSpace is built around two couples — Max and Stephanie (played by Andrew Butterfield and Natalie Miller), whose alternately loving and bickering ways seem fueled by an open marriage sabotaged by its own unspoken rules; and Maddie and Sandy (Mia Ad ams and Jordan Gullikson), whose already strained marriage is made more dif ficult by a young daughter with whom they have trouble connecting. The two couples interact in ways that suggest one part “Peyton Place” and one part “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” as they encounter one stumbling block — alcoholism, depression, drugs, infidelity — after an other.

“Flower Duet,” which Campbell directs, sometimes suffers by overreaching for emotion, as the melodrama of the soap opera makes its presence all too clear. The brilliance of the play, however, lies in its construction. Campbell wrote “Flower Duet” with out punctuation, leaving it up to her talented cast to build the pacing, the conversational stops and starts, in a natural, free-flowing fashion. The arguments un fold as they should, with real power and real anger and real moments of awk ward humor. Chatter some times happens off-stage, or on stage in a secondary role, giving “Flower Duet” rich, nuanced layering like a good composition or a good conversation.

 

Raw drama tackles marriage

Reviewed September 9, 2010 | Times Argus | Flower Duet

Maura Campbell’s new drama, “Flower Duet,” which opened in a compelling Green Candle Theatre production Tuesday at the Flynn Center’s FlynnSpace, explores two contemporary marriages in a no-holds-barred manner. It’s an authentically tough and gritty story, well told, that ends with more than a glimmer of hope.
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Vermont teen actors deliver in nightmarish 'Dreamtime'

Reviewed April 5, 2009 | Burlington Free Press | Dreamtime

By Brent Hallenbeck

The most memorable line in the new Maura Campbell play "Dreamtime," which opened Thursday at Waterfront Theatre, might be the words uttered early by Joerg Adler, one of the two characters who will be brutally murdered by play's end:

"Perhaps we're still dreaming."

Much of the play unfolds like a dream, sometimes like a surreal dream that can only happen in the mind and other times like a nightmare that startles you awake because it's so vividly real. Campbell's thought-provoking play, based on the 2001 murders of two Dartmouth College professors by a pair of boys from Chelsea, addresses that horrific topic not with a ripped-from-the-headlines urgency but through a non-linear, pensive yet still tense exploration of the mind of one of the killers.

That killer is Noah (played by Adam Langdon), who's under the spell of the more self-assured Willy (Joey Behlendorf, Langdon's fellow Essex High School student). They hatch an ill-defined scheme to rob a wealthy home (and possibly kill its occupants) to fund a trip to live a carefree, independent life in Australia -- as Willy says, like cowboys without the cows.

"Dreamtime" bounces from scene to scene and time frame to time frame, from a warm homemaking scene with Joerg and Greta Adler (Clarke Jordan and Mary Scripps) to Noah's off-stage mother yelling at him, then on to another scene with two doctors (Jordan Gullikson and Monica Callan, who adroitly handle multiple roles) analyzing the brain waves of the killers. Scenes even take place adjacent to each other, with Greta Adler and her husband's killer, Willy, at one point sitting at the same table as their separate story lines unfold.

Sometimes, Campbell's script is a little too smart, and its occasional obliqueness detracts from the impact it could make. The Burlington playwright does build in rich layers that echo throughout the play, from the paper Greta is grading and thinks is plagiarized -- it's about the novel "Crime and Punishment" -- to the knives the Adlers use to cut vegetables in their kitchen before they are stabbed to death in an especially harsh and dramatic scene.

When her script works best, the odd juxtapositions of time and space show how all of the characters lives are intertwined. The early signs that Noah's mind is unstable grow stronger as the play develops, and while it creates a sense of disorientation, the increasingly dream-like tone of the play's conclusion provides visceral entry into Noah's muddled thoughts. The teens, the Adlers and the audience all walk into the cloudy manifestation of the boys' unrealistic dreams. That's not an easy path for any actor to maneuver, especially two relatively inexperienced actors such as Langdon and Behlendorf, but both teens deliver powerfully effective performances. Behlendorf is especially chilling as Willy, demonstrating an uncanny ability for menace while delivering lines dripping with well-timed sarcasm.

Langdon, as Noah, is the more innocent of the two and expertly handles some of the play's dark comic lines ("My mother would kill me if I became a Nazi," he tells Willy). His character also has to wade through anger, hurt and confusion, and because of that Langdon excels in what is by far the play's most difficult role. Director Todd Ristau, who runs a graduate playwriting program at Hollins University in Virginia that Campbell entered, deserves praise for guiding the two young actors confidently through a potential minefield of words and ideas.

Jordan and Scripps are endearing as the Adlers, and Campbell is clearly and rightly trying to make the victims into more than just two names in a story of murder. Their sweet and buoyant scenes, however, make them two-dimensional representations of goodness.

Willy's character to a similar extent is a caricature of evil. Those are generally not positive qualities for characters in a play, but the extremes of good and evil do have the effect of making the play's central character, Noah, the one who stands on the broad, complicated middle ground, much more thoroughly developed. He gives the audience the only true representation of good and evil, in one troubled, turbulent young man.

Contact Brent Hallenbeck at 660- 1844 or bhallenb@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com. To get Free Press headlines delivered free to your e-mail, sign up at www.burlington freepress.com/newsletters.

 

Year in review: Top plays for 2009 in Burlington

Reviewed December 31, 2009 | Burlington Free Press | Dreamtime

By Brent Hallenbeck

This was going to be a top-five-plays-in-Burlington list, but it was too strong a year to keep it that low. So here's a list of a half-dozen productions that left theater-goers duly impressed, listed in chronological order by the month each play opened:

• January — It was one of the first plays presented in Burlington in 2009 and arguably the best: The Vermont Stage production at FlynnSpace of the tongue-tyingly-titled "I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady From Rwanda" rode on the powerful performances of Larry Gleason as a down-on-his-luck British writer and the terrific Afton C. Williamson as a refugee from the Rwandan genocide whose unlikely connection with the Brit revealed so much about character and culture.

• March — The revived Green Candle Theatre Company is producing thoughtful, in-your-face plays in the intimate confines of the Outer Space Cafe. Its production of Goddard College alumnus David Mamet's "American Buffalo" was a thing of harsh beauty, from the language that was both lilting and licentious to the memorable performances by John D. Alexander, Aaron Masi and Dennis McSorley as a trio of bumbling big-city schemers.

• April — Martin McDonagh is one of the few playwrights around (Mamet being another) who finds room to speak with depth while maintaining a caustic, populist streak. Champlain Theatre staged McDonagh's stark Irish play "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" at FlynnSpace, telling an alternately funny and shocking tale through a fantastic cast including Kelly Thomas, John D. Alexander (there he is again) and the excellent Ruth Wallman as a mother whose cranky disposition sets the derailing train of events in motion.

• April — Burlington's Maura Campbell might be Vermont's most fearless playwright. She opened an old wound — the 2001 killings of two Dartmouth College professors by a pair of teens from Chelsea — with imaginative class. Her production of "Dreamtime" at Waterfront Theatre showcased Joey Behlendorf as the charismatic instigator of the crime, while fellow Essex High School student Adam Langdon captured the naivete and fright of a boy who only realized what he had gotten into when it was too late.

• October — Vermont Stage had one of its strongest years in recent memory, proving it doesn't take a big-name play to make a big impact. The FlynnSpace-based company followed "... Rwanda" with the similarly obscure (and similarly highly-charged) "Opus," which used biting comedy and white-hot drama to expose the unraveling of a renowned string quartet. The five actors — Ethan T. Bowen, Wayne Tetrick, Craig Maravich, Jack Bradt and Taryn Noelle —created perhaps the best ensemble in Burlington this year.

• November — Lyric Theatre is known for its broad, appealing family fare but often shines brightest when it tackles something a little more mature. That was certainly the case at the Flynn Center this fall when the community-theater company staged "The Full Monty," which had a smidgen of current-events heft thanks to its commentary on the ways hard economic times try men's souls, but mostly accomplished what Lyric does best by providing a rollicking, carefree night of escapism.

Contact Brent Hallenbeck at 660-1844 or bhallenb@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com. To get Free Press headlines delivered free to your e-mail, sign up at www.burlingtonfreepress.com/newsletters.

 

'Self Evidence' strong, thought-provoking

Reviewed February 10, 2007 | Burlington Free Press | Self Evidence

Maura Campbell has said her new play, "Self Evidence," is an exploration of the powerlessness of women in the 19th century. It certainly is that, as the two lead women in the play -- one tragically dead and one struggling with her life -- are left fluttering at the whims of legal systems and marital systems that dictate their fates.

"Self Evidence" is also about mental illness, and society's attitude toward it. In the case of the late Rebecca Peake, the Vermont court system barely acknowledged her fragile mental state at the time she allegedly poisoned her stepson in Randolph, then sentenced her to die for her crime. In the case of Fiona Pember, inhabiting Peake's house a generation later, her newlywed husband thinks he's doing his wife a favor by protecting her from her family's troubled past, but he's only making her troubles worse.

That lack of understanding -- maybe it's a lack of trying to understand -- the state of mind of the two women is at the heart of "Self Evidence." How can women cry out for help in a world where no one's listening?

The Burlington playwright's latest effort is a strong, thought-provoking and complex work. At nearly three hours, it's also too long and suffers from a lot of nothing going on, from characters endlessly entering and exiting doors to extended between-scene musical interludes that sound nice but upset the flow of the play. Those hitches, though, don't scuttle a play that's both an intellectual success and a compelling night of drama.

"Self Evidence," which opened Thursday at the Waterfront Theatre, cleverly links the real-life Rebecca Peake, whose story was documented in a sensational 1832 trial in Chelsea, and the fictional Fiona Pember, who serves to fill in the blanks of the untold pieces of Peake's life.

Like Rebecca, Fiona (played by Xana Wolf) has moved from Massachusetts to Vermont; she's the new wife of a country doctor, William Pember (Kevin Christopher). She struggles to fit in, quietly suffering her husband's domineering mother (Phyllis Powell) and her own suffocating bouts of depression following the recent death of her father years after the supposed death of her mother.

William's charming but irresponsible brother, Clayton (G. Richard Ames), and the couple's young Irish maid, Helen (Molly Bombard) bring moments of cheer to Fiona's life, but the household is darkened by Helen's threatening brother-in-law, Tom (Jeff Tolbert). Rebecca (Mary Scripps) haunts the play -- figuratively as the Pembers tell ghost stories about her, and literally as she appears in the flesh (out of the sight of the other characters) to explain her side of her story.

Scripps is powerful as Rebecca, giving her an edgy heaviness that provides more substance than can be expected from a disembodied spirit. The Rebecca Peake that was rushed to judgment in 1832 finally has a voice, and delivers it loud and clear.

Ames gives a delightful performance as Clayton the amiable cad, deftly delivering a surprising amount of levity for such a seriously toned play. Bombard conveys great energy as the fast-talking, fast-thinking Irish immigrant who gives Fiona much of her badly needed strength. Christopher taps into the right amount of nervous bewilderment as he's caught between a difficult mother and a new wife he fails to understand. Wolf, who excelled in Campbell's 2005 play "Tying Up Sandima," highlights the brightness in Fiona's soul even as she tries to fight her way out of the darkness.

The similarities between Fiona and Rebecca develop slowly, but they do develop, creating suspense as Fiona's life drifts dangerously close to the edge Rebecca fell over. The ending, long in coming, is not entirely happy, but it is a dramatically satisfying one that might leave you thinking that Rebecca has finally found the justice in death that she never found in life.

Contact Brent Hallenbeck at 660-1844 or bhallenb@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com