TRR photos by Jonathan Charles Fox

Gail Bennett exudes star power in the title role of “Kiss Me Kate,” now playing at the Forestburgh Playhouse.

Down the rabbit hole

Remember Alice in Wonderland and the white rabbit? I do, and recently I’ve been heard muttering “I’m late, I’m late… for a very important date!” all around town. Even as a kid, being prompt was important, mostly because members of my family were habitually late for Thanksgiving dinners, cello recitals, school plays and the like. Uncle Sid was the worst offender, and gramma was always “disappointed” with him for being tardy. His sister (my mother) would yell and stamp her foot over Sid’s inability to be on time, and it made an impression on “Little Johnny” who, to this day, makes a habit of arriving early. Until now.

Suddenly, I find myself running out the door, with one shoe on and the dog nipping at my heels as I race to and fro “like a headless chicken” as mother would say. I have no clue why I’ve been late of late, but I do know that I don’t care for it. Maybe it was last week’s heat wave that made me sluggish, but I found myself rushing to get to the Forestburgh Playhouse before the curtain rose on “Kiss Me Kate,” the Cole Porter musical based on a theatrical troupe performing William Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” Packed with hit songs like “Another Op’nin’, Another Show,” “Wunderbar,” “From This Moment On,” and the ever-so-timely “Too Darn Hot,” the production currently running at the theatre is lively, fun and (IMHO) quite well done. The leading players, Peter Gosik, Gail Bennett, Benjamin Sears and Julia Hemp, are all busy doing double duty, as their on-stage characters mirror their off-stage antics, all the while bursting into song at the drop of a hat, or in this case, a feathered cap. This production is a great showcase for the season’s resident company of young performers who, under the direction of Chaz Wolcott, sparkle on stage. Once again, Wolcott has managed to fill the intimate playhouse with big dance numbers that show off Ashleigh Poteat’s spot-on costuming choices as the story-within-a-story unfolds backstage. 

The show is long (two-and-a-half hours), but thankfully, Gail Bennett (as Kate) is almost always somewhere on Matthew Crane’s effective set, singing and acting her heart out. Bennett has impeccable comic timing, coupled with an incredible vocal range, and the result is pretty swell. She’s the real deal, her performance is flawless, and as a result, she raises the bar for Gosik, Hemp and Sears, all of whom have their moments in the spotlight… but for me, it was all about Kate. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Steve Luker and Matthew Curiano (as First and Second Man) who knock it out of the park with their show-stopping interpretation of Porter’s “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” Thankfully, I wasn’t so late as to miss the overture and the “Op’nin’” number, which featured Abeba Isaac (as Hattie), whose voice and stage presence shone just a little bit brighter than the rest of the chorus. I say it every season, and I’m often correct; mark my words: this young lady is going places. 

Still wilting from the heat, I threw myself in front of a fan and turned on the TV, oblivious of the fact that I was scheduled to pop in to a pop-up, in the form of the one-night-only “Creative Art and Design Show” in Monticello, featuring the work of Emily Bishop, Malik Bridges and Josh Deitchman, all of whom grew up in Sullivan County and are now scattered across the USA. Event coordinator Juliana Carmack brought all three together for the show, and it was Carmack’s mother Rachelle who alerted me to my tardiness. 

“Where are you?” the text read as my phone vibrated on the nightstand. “You’re late!” Cursing my tribute to Uncle Sid, I raced out the door, met up with the talented trio and made apologies all around while blaming the dog (sorry Dharma!) for my inability to arrive on time. The overall vibe was young and hip, and a large crowd of young art enthusiasts were in attendance, sipping on adult beverages, while listening to the smooth sounds of “RoseGold” playing in the background. Low Key clothing designer Austin Billig was also on “in da house” schmoozing with painter Deitchman, whose cool work adorns Billig’s denim jackets. 

“Who knew?” I asked Rachelle when taking my leave. “I did,” she said with a wink, “and now… so do you. Better late than never.”

 

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