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Theater review: Lake Superior Theatre delivers a powerful ‘Fences’

Written By: Mark Nicklawske, For the News Tribune | Mar 28, 2018 


Troy Maxson was a larger-than-life former baseball star who wanted to break the Big League color barrier, but the timing wasn’t right. Instead, he settles for a family and becoming the first black garbage truck driver in Pittsburgh. While Maxon could hit a fastball better than raise two sons or stay faithful to his wife, he manages to instill pride, hope and hard work in the people who walk through his backyard gates.

Lake Superior Community Theatre staged August Wilson’s 1985 Pulitzer Prize winning drama “Fences” Tuesday at the Lincoln Park Middle School auditorium in Duluth. An opening night audience of about 150 people witnessed a powerful and moving performance from what could be the first all-black cast in city theater history.

Set in the mid-’50s, in the time between Jackie Robinson’s Dodgers debut and passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Troy and Rose Maxson have a house with a leaky roof, no television set and shirts drying on the clothesline. “I ain’t got a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of,” Troy says. But he has a loving wife, a decent job and enough money to grudgingly lend his older son $10.

As Troy becomes more frustrated with life, he clashes with his younger son over football dreams, drinks too much and starts seeing another woman. Troy claims to have fought off death and escape an evil father but can he hold it together to improve life for his family?

Director Paul Deaner uses a slow and steady hand to pace the production through the wonderful Wilson script. Each set piece earned warm applause and was introduced by period blues and jazz music. Lifehouse Youth Center program manager Gabriel Mayfield delivers a powerhouse performance as Troy. Mayfield is a towering man, a remarkable physical embodiment of Troy, but he also has the acting chops. He has a booming voice, a smooth dance move and at times punctuates the rhythmic dialog with a perfectly placed “huh.”

University of Minnesota Duluth theater student Kyliah Thompson plays Rose with world-weary grace. Hunched shoulders and measured step, Thompson looks tiny next to Mayfield but matches his stage strength. In the play’s most dramatic scene, Thompson stomps her foot as Rose confronts Troy over his selfishness and infidelity. “Why? Why?” she shouts. “You can’t wish us away.” Both Mayfield and Thompson use silence to answer the question.

Julian Williams and Matthew Thompson as Troy’s sons serve as foils to their father’s dreams. Thompson, as the broke musician, serves as a calming presence on stage while Williams turns in an intense performance, highlighted by a dramatic and physical, bat-swinging scene. City of Duluth human rights officer Carl Crawford plays Troy’s co-worker and former prison buddy. Crawford and Mayfield have an easy rapport as they swap jokes on a bench and drinks from a bottle. And Joe DuPree, as Troy’s disabled brother Gabriel, turns in a subtle but meaningful performance, literally shining in the play’s last scene.

Mark Nicklawske is a music and theater reviewer for the News Tribune

To the cast and crew of Fences,

Last night I had the great privilege to attend your production. I am profoundly grateful that I was there.

I know this play well, I have taught it many times, and I have seen other productions, but your production breathed more life into August Wilson's play than ANY I have ever seen. I felt the community that Wilson created with words breathing and laughing and crying before my eyes with such power! I still feel shaken and moved by the experience.

I am bursting with pride that this production is happening here, in our community. Thank you for being a part of this show, and for bringing it to us! What a gift for Duluth, and for Two Harbors, and for Silver Bay! I sincerely hope that you enjoy every second of the performances to come. This production is truly special.

Productions come, productions go, they open and close, theatre is ephemeral; it is a defining characteristic of the form. Most productions are enjoyable in one way or another, BUT every once in a while you see a play that just stops you cold, one that reminds you of just how life-changing art can be! Your production of Fences will stick to my soul over the years to come; it will continue to warm me, to challenge me, to inspire me. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude.


Thank you,

Sam Shanks

March 28, 2018

Review: “Fiddler” feels big city

Written By: LaReesa Sandretsky | Duluth News Tribune | Apr 11, 2014 

Community theater gets a bad rap. The moniker brings to mind mediocre actors, ramshackle sets and costumes pilfered from the racks of the local Goodwill. The people in the audience only show up because their cousin plays Villager 1 or their little sister is working the lights.

If these are your expectations walking into Two Harbors High School for a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof,” prepare to be proven wrong.

The Lake Superior Community Theater production has had its challenges, of course. The actors, musicians and crew are volunteers and director Paul Deaner said it was nearly impossible to get all 70 participants in one room at the same time during rehearsals.

As a result, there are imperfections. But the local talent, the rich scenery and the surprisingly “big” feel of the production easily overshadow the occasional shortcomings.

The musical, set in 1905 Russia, details the changing circumstances of a Jewish community. The main character, Teyve, must deal with familial drama in the form of increasingly independent daughters while at the same time, the Tsar is applying external pressure and anti-Semitism is growing throughout his homeland.

Parallels to current-day politics aside (does a controversial Russian leader and unrest in the former Soviet Union sound familiar?), the musical connects with its audience through recognizable archetypes. Young people threaten the established way of doing things, a minority population is forced from its home, but unconditional love keeps a family together – all familiar story lines.

The success of “Fiddler” lies in its humor and earnestness in sharing those themes. How else could a 50-year-old musical, set over a century ago, still keep smartphone-addicted audiences entertained for three hours?

The performance at THHS keeps spectators’ attention with a well-done show infused with some jaw-dropping moments.

One such moment occurs in a scene directly following the solemn Sabbath prayer. Teyve has agreed to marry off his oldest daughter to a rich, aging butcher and the whole male population of their small village is celebrating in the local inn, dancing and consuming copious amounts of bottled beverages. One dancer then breaks away from the group and performs an Olympics-worthy gymnastics routine, back-flipping, somersaulting and leaping across the stage.

At the end of the scene on Saturday, the director, seated in the middle of the audience, sprang from his seat, issued a deafening whoop and punched his fist in the air in recognition of Phillip Hommes’ flawless, invigorating performance. Deaner expressed perfectly what the rest of the audience seemed to be feeling.

Two scenes later, Teyve (played by George Starkovich) is describing a fabricated dream involving a small army of ghosts to his wife,

Golde ( Diane Dinndorf Friebe.) The main lights dim and red hues flood the stage as a dozen sheet-clad actors float toward the pair. The real shock comes when the deceased wife of the butcher shows up, flanked by grim reapers. Played by Lauren Burton, the ghost towers over the rest of the cast, illuminated by a yellow spotlight. How she rose the 10 feet remains a mystery, but the effect was mesmerizing.

Starkovich and Alex Galle-From were the standout cast members. Seasoned Silver Bay actor Starkovich never disappoints, and this role fits him like a glove. The highlight of his performance was during the “If I Were a Rich Man” scene - his dance moves rivaled those of Gwen Stefani, who pilfered the song for her 2004 hit “Rich Girl.”

Galle-From, a Berklee College of Music-trained viola player, embodies The Fiddler perfectly as part of the set and more than a character. His high level of skill is complemented by his seeming nonchalance. He brought much to his performance and much to the production

Throughout the performance there were occasional sharp notes from the orchestra, moments when the actors’ timing flagged or a soloist just couldn’t find the right note, but the enormous effort poured into this production by a group of small-town theater enthusiasts is evident.

Lake Superior Community Theater’s “Fiddler on the Roof” is bigger and more impressive than expected, and the audience demonstrated its appreciation and delight with a standing ovation on Saturday evening.

And it wasn’t one of those “we’re- Minnesota-nice-so-we’re-obligated-to do-this” standing ovations, either – it was a genuine foot-stomping, wolf-whistling, clap-until-your-hands-hurt ovation. Deaner and company deserved nothing less.

Go see it

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