Other Reviews and Press ::
Amy Woodruff, Artist
from the New Orleans Times-Picayune (2008), the Saint Bernard Voice (2008), Where Y'at Magazine (2001) and the Lake Charles American Press (1995 & 1993)

Review: Stirring the Pot: Brewed is strange sisterhood friction -- from superstition to science fiction

By David Cuthbert, theatre critic, New Orleans Times-Picayune, 5 December 2008

In Brewed, six sinister sisters talk and talk and talk. What do they talk about? I don't know; they never say.

Their conversations, for the most part, are elliptical, veiled and mysterious. We do, however, learn that their names all end in "ette" and that like several people of our acquaintance, they tend a pot that must be eternally stirred.

Lisa Davis plays the baby-ish Babette, wheelchair-bound after self-mutilation, with an excruciatingly loud and cutting voice. Margeaux Fanning is Nanette, the prodigal sister, a NASCAR driver who sends money home, but rarely returns herself. Jennifer Waldron is Juliette, the hygienically challenged sister of diva-like proportions; Giselle Chatelain, the chatty, lively little sister Colette.

Amy Woodruff is the commanding, cursing Paulette, obsessed that the stirring stay constant, lest something terrible happen -- just what, no one is quite sure. Jenine Peirce cuts a sleek figure as Roxette, the lesbian sis stereotypically adept at fixing things.

Completing the cast is Roxette's lover, Lee, played with a bemused candor by Thelma Medina.

Lee slices through the murky malarkey with the simple question, "Are y'all witches or what?"

She also brings a bottle to liven things up.

Paulette tells her, "You won't like me when I'm drunk."

To which Lee replies, "I like everybody when they're drunk."

She's got a point with this group, which tends to move and speak like a convention of somnambulists, punctuated by tirades where they're screaming like banshees. On a couple of memorable occasions, all these weird women howl simultaneously, which is a bit overpowering since the audience is trapped in the small theater space at the back of the Voodoo Mystere Lounge.

It's a shame director Michael Martin couldn't pull Scott T. Barsotti's play together in time for Halloween, when audiences would have been more in tune with this mumbo-jumbo melodrama's enigmatic posturing and more tolerant of its dramatic longueurs.

The crazy quilt of actresses -- only two of whom resemble each other -- aren't remotely convincing as family, but several sustain the required mysterioso mood and others have good, amusing or irritating moments.

Woodruff brings the most commitment and intensity to her role of Paulette, the dominant sister, while scream-queen Davis defies you not to pay attention to "Babs," her petulant, hysterical harpy. Peirce is striking in the extreme as sexy Roxette, tinkering with her tool kit one moment and turning into a bionic scientist the next, as the supernatural gives way to meant-to-be absurd science fiction.

But the matter-of-fact Lee, played with puzzled curiosity by Medina, emerges as the most likable, if only because she poses questions that the audience would like answered.

"Why are y'all doing this in the first place?" she asks the pot-stirring sisters.

Alas, Lee is silenced in the second act.

One can't help but think that Barsotti's original one-act version of Brewed would have been preferable to this two-hour, two-act kooky, spooky saga. Some in the audience left at intermission, but most stuck with it because at some basic level it's intriguing.

originally published at: http://blog.nola.com/davidcuthbert/2008/12/stirring_the_pot_brewed_is_str.html

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Review: Uncle Vanya

By Christina Vella, theatre critic, Saint Bernard Voice, 18 July 2008

Considering the paucity of serious theater in New Orleans, it is a special pleasure to see a fledgling group, Four Humours, take on ambitious playwrights such as Anton Chekhov and Maxim Gorky (the next offering), and do a decent presentation to boot. The Backyard Ballroom at 3519 St. Claude Avenue is close to St. Bernard Parish. The Uncle Vanya staged there is more than rewarding.

Uncle Vanya is supposed to be a sort of comedy without punch lines; hardly anybody, least of all directors, gets the joke. In all of his four great plays, Chekhov satirizes Russia's impoverished aristocracy at the end of the 19th century, inept and inert in managing their declining estates, isolated in their slovenly villages, sometimes dreaming of the old ideals of service and progressivism, but too enervated by the tedium of their lives and their benighted surroundings to take any action stronger than complaint. These estate owners are the easy victims of anyone with a modicum of energy - nihilists, industrialists, city-building despoilers of the countryside, the rising bourgeoisie, and the determined, fierce revolutionaries who finally swept away their privileges and their illusions.

Uncle Vanya explores Chekhov's old theme: the conflict between a despoiler and his victims, with the playwright gently mocking both sides as the story unfolds. Vanya and his niece Sonya manage their estate inherited from Sonya's mother, that is, Vanya's dead sister. They are removed from any sort of social life, surrounded by peasant workers and house servants and visited only once a month by the region's doctor, Astrov, a dispirited wretch as lonely and starved as they for some kind of stimulation.

Into this static existence comes Sonya's father, Serebryakov, on a visit to the estate with his beautiful second wife, Elena. Serebryakov is a professor of literature, thoroughly pretentious and spoiled, who has enjoyed a pampered life of supposed study and plagiaristic writing largely because Vanya and Sonya have supported him with regular stipends squeezed out of the estate to which he has no legal right. Serebryakov and Elena descend on them like royalty, demanding all sorts of attention, upsetting their routines, and finally disillusioning Vanya who all along has believed that the professor's work deserved the sacrifices he and Sonya made to abet it.

Worse, both Vanya and Dr. Astrov fall madly in love with Elena. They are easy marks for her beauty and elegance, since they hardly ever see a woman of their class. Sonya, however, is passionately in love with Astrov; she, too, is easy prey for the only eligible man for miles around. Elena thus steals Sonya's secret love, while Serebryakov tries to steal Sonya's inheritance and succeeds in dispossessing Vanya of the illusions that gave his vapid life some meaning.

None of the characters dreams of trying to change a situation that is hateful to all of them. It never occurs to Sonya to cut off her father's stipend and use the money to live in a city where she might find a suitable husband. Vanya, for all that he denounces the professor and histrionically fires a gun at him, does not in the end cut off his funds. Elena, given the opportunity to abandon her miserable marriage, nevertheless won't hear of going off with either Astrov or Vanya.

It is significant that besides his infatuation with Elena, Astrov's only interest is in forest preservation, a losing cause in Russia's late push for urbanization. The forest, like its defenders, is "a picture of gradual and unmistakable degeneration," falling into ruin because of inertia. Astrov, like all the characters, is trying to preserve the status quo, trying to maintain a life that yields him little benefit, rather than striking out for a new life or adapting himself to changed circumstances. He stands for his class and their languid mentality of undirected complaint and nostalgia for the past.

Despite their irresponsibility regarding their own predicaments, we sympathize with all the characters, and that is what gives the play its charm. Chekhov carefully balances his characters' helplessness against a sense that their fate is irresistible and natural, not melodramatic. How does he take us out of our position as judges and put us into the drama, among the characters, where we can feel for them and with them? By wrapping all the dramatic events in layers of commonplace detail. By creating a naturalistic atmosphere that is both simple and complex - like life itself.

Chekhov evokes his mundane ambiance through techniques that are unobtrusive, and director Kathryn Talbot is careful to keep them in the production: trivial conversation, rhythmic sounds, such as pens scratching on paper, soft guitar music, coughs, etc. Chekhov gives a great many stage directions in his scripts, indicating even where he wants the actors to pause in their speech. Talbot follows the directions, to her credit. Chekhov wrote an early version of the play and rewrote it to distill the action and dialogue and refine the characters. Nothing in Uncle Vanya is haphazard, and the play therefore requires very thoughtful directing. The Four Humours production is thoughtful and gratifying, even if Director Talbot does not elicit all the ironic comedy of the work. No one in the cast is inadequate in giving Chekhov's impossible speeches, and several actors are impeccable. Michael Martin makes Vanya a haggard, kindly, eccentric, outrageous, romantic. The quirky characterization, which he manages to hold throughout the long play, works wonderfully. Martin is Vanya for every moment he is on stage, and it is impossible not to attend to his every erratic movement. His clear voice is effective, always swelling with grievance and frustration. He throws himself around in a manner just short of slapstick, so that we feel sad for him, but we don’t take him quite seriously: this is as Chekhov intended it. Great performance!

Amy Woodruff is a splendid Sonya, though almost too pretty for a "plain" girl. Her expressive face reflects everything going on around her, without ever over-doing it. She handles the final, maudlin monologue as well as anyone can. No one could ask for a more earnest and winning portrayal.

As Dr. Astrov, Frederick Mead uses his body well to express the character's appropriate fatigue. He needs a little more theatrical experience to deliver Chekhov's lines as if they were not lines, or perhaps he will become more natural in the role as the performances continue. He surely succeeded in looking like an empty soul dying of ennui.

Jennifer Growden, Elena, is imposing and beautiful, convincing as the sort of queen two men would fall for. Her diction is excellent. Only her physical acting needs a little adjusting. Her gestures are too stagy and fluttery exactly when they are most necessary to convey Elena's reactions to uninvited advances. She should be edgy but tempted, rejecting but hardly alarmed, as a woman who is used to men’s attentions and enjoys them. Most of all she needs to tone down her actress hands.

Ron Growden as her husband the professor reverses the problem. He looks and moves like an indulged creature who has spent his life between bed and a desk. But his talk must offer either more variety or the opposite, a great deal more pedantic cadence, to give an interesting characterization. The pedantry could be communicated by pauses and an attitude of irritating thoroughness - but it wouldn't be an easy characterization to master.

Mary Pauley as the nurse Marina is just about perfect: subtle, slow, tired, and kind. She has an important role and fulfils it well.

The costumes are appropriate to the characters and add a great deal to the show.

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Wings of Desire: portrait of an underground producer

By mikko, theatre correspondent, Where Y'at Magazine, October 2001

"There isn't anything I don't do."

Sounds like my kind of woman. But Amy Woodruff isn't speaking of personal turpitude; she's the producer of Theatre Louisiane. Among her many duties are "publicity, fund-raising, hiring, and a bunch of business shit." Of course, those are the non-glorious elements that are essential to any ongoing artistic endeavor. "Even sweeping."

"Theatre is always what I wanted to do for a living," she confides from her sofa, which threatens to swallow her diminutive form. However, she speaks from big thoughts, steadily and seriously. The joy of creation in Woodruff's world is fraught with obstacles that must be meticulously overcome.

"I'm a real control freak," she says, pulling out parti-colored watercolors. The drawings are costume plots for her upcoming production, Aristophanes' Birds. The characters are carnival-looking avians that provide the commentary in the satirical Greek work. Then she pulls out a Theatre Louisiane Personnel Handbook (?). It appears to be around twenty pages long. "Everything looks corporate, but it's not."

Theatre Louisiane has been a growing blip on the grassroots New Orleans theatre radar for two years. Their output has typically been small productions of great works in a splatter map of locations. Ridiculous Damsels, an obscure Moliere piece, was slated to run in Coliseum Square, but ended up in the now-defunct Dream Palace. A grander production of Christopher Durang's Laughing Wild fell apart, but the shards became a night of Harold Pinter Sketches in the unlikely venue Mystic Pizza (sic).

At the time, the Times-Picayune did a piece on alternative theatre and though it quoted someone speaking about shows at the Mystic, Woodruff wasn't interviewed. "I don’t know what that was all about," she quips, without a trace of rancor. After Sketches, TL mounted the free-form N2O which she admits "wasn't that good, but it was amazing that it went up in two weeks. It drew the best of any of our shows." Was it because of its nitrous name? "I don't know. I never think about the material in terms of its draw. I pick stuff that's exhilarating for me."

The original attempt at Laughing Wild served as a catalyst for the explosion of TL productions. "When the first Laughing Wild fell apart, it was strange because usually at the end of a hard rehearsal process there's a show -- we put it in the paper and everything. So [the other shows] became a kind of damage control."

Getting good notices can be tough for alternative theatres, especially in the light of the Sacred Theatre Success Choice: set your piece locally, playing to the audiences' love for New Orleans navel-gazing, or get a guy to dress like a girl. If you have both, you'll get packed houses. But in The Music of Erich Zann, which featured neither tenet of The Choice, Woodruff finally combined the arduous elements of production into a show that may have been her best work. Running at The Pickery, both audiences and press lauded the eerie piece based on a gothic H.P. Lovecraft story.

Even as she has gone through the process of getting a show on its feet several times, Woodruff still feels "I'm finding my way through directing. I come at directing from being an actor and a producer -- since they don't gel, and neither has anything to do with directing -- that's probably a problem." The insulation most directors enjoy isn't there when one is trying to keep a show together administratively. "I should be an asshole, but I'm not. As a waitress I was one, and I didn't get many tips! But when I do something I really want to do, I get more sensitive." She laughs at her own paradox, and speaks like a true producer. "I wish I didn't have to be a director, but I couldn't bear it if I weren't."

After collecting hundreds of tuna fish cans for its hilarious breakdown scene, TL finally got its shot at Laughing Wild at The Pickery. The production, however, blossomed during last March's post Mardi Gras theatre madness when, at a conservative count, there were at last fifteen productions going on in town. Anyone running shows then (read: me) felt the economic sting of too much supply -- houses were weak.

Woodruff came out of McNeese State with a degree in theatre and specifically came to New Orleans to start a theatre company. "I want to go against the public mentality, show them there's another truth," she explains. The reason she finds herself in so many venues stems from the paucity of spaces in town. So few seem ready for production. "For the money it takes to outfit a non-theatre space, I could just as well rent," she says, echoing the sentiments of local producers since Jenny Lind came to town.

And she's found a new passion. "Last winter, I taught myself to sew in a week and fell in love with it." Though sewing seems a small bit of accomplishment, it smooths another rocky part of the road to a successful production. "Now I costume all my shows." Naturally, this plays into her control-freak racket as well.

This month, however, Woodruff's business acumen has paid off. She's procured a grant from the Jazz & Heritage Festival (sic) for The Birds which, among other virtues, makes the admission free. Interestingly, TL will set the piece in the Atchafalaya and there are cross-dressing scenes, so she's hit both ends of The Choice. Perhaps this unlikely 2,000 year old comedy may be the breakthrough show for Theatre Louisiane.

"Aristophanes is spoofing everything -- nothing is safe in this play. And I love the visual composition -- festive fruity birds prancing around the stage." Exactly what Blake Buchert -- Woodruff's husband and operative from ineffable universes -- will do is not clear, but he always ends up notoriously supportive of TL projects. The show runs October 4th through the 20th, and as mentioned -- it's free.

"The important thing is to get people involved," Woodruff says, now surrounded by artistic and ministerial pieces of Theatre Louisiane on her burnished couch. "I have no patience with people telling me that doing our shows is 'a favor to me.' You're here because you want to be here. If they are part of a thing they help to create, then I don’t have to ask them to do the little things. They just pick up the broom and sweep."

(Note: Theatre Louisiane's production of Birds was cancelled shortly after this article due to irreparable artistic differences amongst the cast.
Because the project was supported by a grant, Woodruff quickly reorganized it into the superior parallel work Liquid Land.)

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McNeese's Faustus is a Hell of a Show

By Ed Alderman, theatre critic, Lake Charles American Press, 04 October 1995

Some plays are a breath of fresh air; the really interesting ones are more like a gasp. Put Faustus, the breath-taking rock musical now onstage at McNeese Theatre, in the latter category. This furious feast for the senses was created by Austin musician Kirk Smith, who set 17 short rock songs to Christopher Marlowe's 16th-century morality fable, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus.

But credit much of the sound and excitement to MSU guest director Bonnie Cullum, who has taken a young cast and crew and whipped up one hell of a production. Faustus aspires to shock, and manages to do so at several points. When it does, it's usually not due to the story's new veneer, but because playwrights minced fewer words four centuries ago. Marlowe's doomed protagonist is on a highway to hell. That road is not paved with good intentions, or littered with sins of omission, but willingly chosen.

Because Faustus' grand intellect cannot grasp a heaven greater than this earth, he "makes a god of his own appetites" and signs a deal with the devil. In return for his soul, he is granted magical powers and the services of Mephistopheles, Lucifer's right-hand devil. Marlowe's blasphemies -- talk of killing priests and human sacrifices -- are more unsettling than Smith's updates with familiar "new" evils like drug addiction. But it all works together, and against Faustus, who in the end cannot even appeal to God for help. Cullum's multi-media staging works well in the stripped-down Ralph Squires Hall. Wildly-costumed devils dance and cavort on a three-story scaffolding in a sort of lost-Soul Train.

Gwen McLendon is strong as Faustus, easily handling driving rock songs like "Zero to Zero" and the drug paean, "Cut Cold Fresh." (A nice staging twist has Faustus' "evil" and "good" selves arguing as video personalities.) Rebecca Bryant is a knockout as Mephistopheles, bringing a variety of shadings both to her character and Smith's music. Amy Woodruff also stands out as Wagner, the servant who plays observer to Faustus' downfall.

But the whole cast is strong: Matthew R. DeBerard as Lucifer; Shane Breaux as a cackling Beelzebub; Jennifer Buras as the Poet; Amy E. Crawford as a virtuous Old Man, and Rachelle Brister, Carol McLendon, JohnT Powell, Jelly Reynolds and Amanda Leigh Beza.

The excellent sound design by Sergio R. Samayoa and the set and lighting by John Abegglen lend real strength to the production. The red-and-black tattered costumes of Gina Nixon work well for the most part, as does her startling death-mask makeup designs. But the technical coup is scored by local artist Nowell Daste, whose beautiful mask creations for the seven deadly sins are alone worth the price of admission.

Faustus is an exciting, challenging evening of theatre unlike anything we've seen locally in some time. As MSU's entry in the American College Theatre Festival, it will have the advantages of innovation, interpretation and excellent execution.

Faustus has shows at 7:30 pm today through Friday, October 4-6; at 11 pm Saturday, October 7, and 2 pm Sunday, October 8 in Ralph Squires Hall.

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MSU Has Star Turn in Conduct of Life

By Ed Alderman, theatre critic, Lake Charles American Press, 03 December 1993

The powers that be at McNeese Theatre reserve one slot each season for a "social conscience" play, one that deals with a contemporary issue. The result can be a sweeping anti-war sentiment like Trojan Women; or intimate comments on gender roles like The Secret Life of Albert Nobbs. But rarely has Ralph Squires Recital Hall seen a message as direct, powerful and unsettling as what The Conduct of Life has to say about sex, violence and the role of power in both.

The play, by Cuban-born author Maria Irene Fornes, is superbly directed by guest-artist-in-residence Bonnie Cullum. The material and production conspire to hammer home the facets of domestic violence -- so relentlessly so that the tender viewer must be cautioned. But warnings about "adult" material do not here refer to gutter language or nudity. Both are absent in this play, and would anyway be overshadowed by the larger, more obscene images.

Fornes sets her story in a nameless Latin American country. Though written in English, the characters speak in the short rhythms and disjointed poetry of a translation. The play begins with Orlando, a military officer, exercising his body and will through calisthenics as he broods on power and his frustration. The domestic scene that follows establishes his loveless marriage to the hyper-sensitive and neglected Leticia. A comical housekeeper, Olimpia, completes the household. She detests both her employers, and wields her command of the kitchen as a weapon to subjugate her mistress. The only visitor to the home is Alejo, a fellow officer that seems somehow apart from all he sees. But this unhappy equilibrium is shattered when Orlando kidnaps Nena, a young street girl, and imprisons her as his sexual object.

As the plot builds to a shattering climax, Fornes drops repeated cues that everyone involved is a victim of larger forces. Even the repulsively violent Orlando is somehow a slave to his emotions. What emerges is a parable of the abuse process, a paring down of the complexities involved. Yet Fornes, through her words, and Cullum, with stage techniques like the silhouettes which frame every scene, somehow keep the characters more archetype than stereotype.

Equal credit must go to a McNeese cast unflinching in its professionalism: Nye Cooper as the driven, complex Orlando; Judi Guzzy, whose Leticia is like a tangle of raw nerves; Travis Williams as the self-denied Alejo; Joetta Foshee in a brilliant turn as the twisted Olimpia; and Amy Woodruff, whose brave and honest Nena will be talked about for years to come.

The set and lighting design is perhaps Dennis Christilles best yet in Lake Charles -- a web of plastic sheeting that dazzles, exposes and conceals by turns. The guitar score, composed by Austin's Sergio R. Samayoa just for this production, is an amazing mixture that shouldn't work but which does -- superbly.

The Conduct of Life is not for everyone, but is a must for the theater lover with expanded horizons. The show continues at 7:30 pm today and at 2 pm and 7:30 pm Saturday in Ralph Squires Recital Hall.

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