Amish Acres

Amish Acres® Historic Farm and Heritage Resort is Listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is America's most complete Amish heritage experience featuring historic interpretation, culinary and performing arts, lodging, and shopping.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Kristen Brintnall IS Elle Woods in Legally Blonde

And she persisted….

Elle Woods failed to win the hand of the man she adored. She failed to measure up the standards of Harvard Law School. She failed to make a good impression the first day of classes. She failed to do the smart thing to insure future success as a lawyer. She believed she failed herself.

Still, she persisted!

“Legally Blonde,” playing at the Round Barn Theatre at Amish Acres in Nappanee, subtly suggests there are no “safe” prejudices, no populations you can get away with turning them into caricatures. Every individual ought to be judged not by the color of their skin -- or hair -- but by the quality of their character.

Kristen Brintnall navigates a tricky course through Elle’s own self-imposed preconceptions of what is important or even possible in life. Brintnall’s Elle may at first seem shallow but over the course of the show she draws out a character with far more depth that Elle gives herself credit for.

Ryan Schisler has a daunting task in this show as Warner Huntington III but he’s up to it. As the villain of the piece he avoids the easy path of caricature by embracing future career goals that preclude Elle. Schisler’s portrait is by turns likeable but never lovable.

It is an axiom of acting that you should never share the stage with animals, but Oxford, who plays the role of Bruiser, is charming and a team player. As to whether Oxford is a diva off-stage who can say? He is not alone, however, with regards to canine casting.

I like the look of this show, including Ashley Alverth’s costume design, and the clever way the Richard Pletcher’s set pieces act as transformers, becoming by turn a dorm room, a court room, and a beauty parlor. Most impressive is the brisk pace set by director Mike Fielder. This show never lags. It moves briskly from scene to scene and song to song, without losing sense. The efficient scene changes also contribute to the effect. That’s important, because this is a fun show.

It’s also a large cast production, which fills the Round Barn stage with cleverly choreographed numbers.

Character transformation is key to good theater. Vivenne Kensington believably grows the character of Lauren Morgan, the “serious” alternative for Warner’s upward climb, into a more self-aware proponent for Elle. Ian Connor’s driven Emmett Forrest, who has known want, is able to unlock his will to succeed to include the possibility of personal fulfillment and love.

I hadn’t heard this musical before I attended the Round Barn production, but I enjoyed the music and never felt puzzled about what each song was trying to accomplish as sometimes happens in a first viewing. Kudos to the cast for making each song from beginning to end come alive. My favorite numbers, I must admit, were “Ireland” and its reprise, wonderfully sung by Katherine Barnes in the marvelous pull-up-your-big-girl-panties role of Paulette Buonufonte.

Special shout out to Martin Flowers who plays God’s Gift To Women twice, portraying both sides of the coin as Dewey and Kyle, to great comic effect.

 “Legally Blonde” is a You Go Girl musical that demonstrates that life ought to be a meritocracy. You’ll cheer for Kirsten Brintnall as Elle Woods because despite her travails, she persists.

And she prevails.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

“Plain and Fancy” enters its fourth decade

Local folks in Elkhart County quickly realize that children permeate every aspect of Amish society. It is taken for granted that Amish children, whether at home on the farm, in the family business, or on trips to the market or other errands, are carrying their share of the work load not because anyone’s forcing them to, but because it’s natural for everyone in the family, from the oldest to the youngest, to play an active part.

Of course Amish children also play; but then, so do their elders. And we see that element of work, play, and belonging in this year’s thirty-first edition of “Plain and Fancy.” This flagship production at the National Home of “Plain and Fancy” includes the talents of Amelia Lowry, who plays the role of the child Sarah Miller.

Lowry has become something of a regular at the Round Barn Theatre in recent months. In “Plain and Fancy” we see her playing, working in the kitchen, helping with the chores, as well as mischievously watching everything to do with the star-crossed lovers Katie and Peter. She’s the one, even when Peter is shunned, who is willing to hug him, and who rejoices when he is restored.

Director Amber Burgess artfully weaves together the parallel worlds of Amish men and women. The two circles intersect at their society’s predetermined places, but the Amish men and women also have their own separate communities.

Although Amish society seems strictly patriarchal, Kristin Brintall’s incarnation of Katie Yoder is not afraid to make it clear that there will be a conversation between her and her father. Rather than being simply acted upon, this Katie Yoder directs the action is subtle and occasionally not-so-subtle ways. And thanks to her strong voice cutting through “Plain We Live,” we recognize that Katie Yoder has religious as well as personal integrity.

I appreciated David Goins successful portrayal of Papa Yoder. We not only see this patriarch firmly uphold the faith, Goins also makes it clear that Yoder loves his daughter, and all the people of his family and community. There is joy here as well as a stiff backbone. 

The relationship between the brothers Peter (Martin Flowers) and Ezra (Ian Conner) Reber is always a difficult one to portray. It verges on Cain and Abel and it is only with difficulty that it veers closer to the eventual reconciliation between Jacob and Esau. I like Conner’s take on the brother who usurps his brother’s place at the altar, at least temporarily. Although he gets what he wants in the first act -- the farm, the girl, and his brother banished, there is clear regret on his face during the barn raising.
Flowers has crafted a character who is flawed, but earnest, and certainly loving, a brother who in the end desires more to save Amish honor that let his brother become a prodigal.

Don Hart returns as Isaac Miller, who serves as something of a Greek Chorus to the action. Hart’s wry yet practical outlook is a bedrock of his characterization. This, along with Katherine Barnes’ version of his spouse Emma Miller provides the rock that acts as conscience and anchor for the embattled Yoder family. There’s also their comedic and deft advocacy for the Amish lifestyle in their song, “City Mouse, Country Mouse.” 

At one point it was author Joseph Stern’s intention to center the musical around the character of Hilda Miller. Through Laura Morgan we see Hilda escape from her parents suffocating expectations as well as her illusions about “English” life, returning with integrity and a little more dignity than earlier productions.

My favorite directorial choice was the decision to have the New Yorker Dan King snap a photograph of Hilda (on a wonderfully genuine antique camera) rather than kiss her on the forehead. Indeed, Ryan Schisler’s King may be a little dense, or perhaps unperceptive, when it comes to Hilda and Ruth Winters’ attraction for him, but we see King genuinely regretting the way his attempts to make things better backfire. He and Mikaela Brielle, who plays Ruth Winters, also from New York, have a strong chemistry between them. Thanks to Brielle, Winters projects sensuality and a gently frustrated sexuality which allows her, like Katie, to assertively take control of things when it is time.

The set changes look smooth and well-practiced. Costumes, lighting, and other technical aspects of the show seem natural. Get out to enjoy “Plain and Fancy” this year as it enters its fourth decade, because even if you’ve seen it before, you’ll see it in a whole new light in 2017.