Catch Hamlet @ TCR Before It’s Gone!

Catch Hamlet @ TCR Before It’s Gone!

Hamlet. A story of family drama, murder, fighting lovers, brewing wars and ghosts–Hamlet is a Shakespeare that cannot be missed. And it is Theatre Cedar Rapid’s first Shakespeare production in 30 years, to boot! Two shows remain, Friday the 15th and Saturday the 16th. Catch it before it’s gone.

Many are likely familiar with Hamlet, have read the play in school, seen a public production, or know one of the modern-day film remakes. But every director who takes a look at Hamlet approaches it differently. Jason Alberty, director of the Hamlet production at Theatre Cedar Rapids chose to put on a show that is fast-paced. The plot is slimmed and cut to the point. The Fortinbras sub-plot, and the sections on wars and political dramas in other countries, are removed for a show that centers around our star Hamlet, his family, and his friends. These are the stories that will resonate with any audience, and the director was smart to focus the production in this way.

This directional focus plays up the true friendship between Hamlet and Horatio, and it shows a softer side of Hamlet toward Ophelia. It shows how he jokes and fights with his friend. It shows he really cares for people: Ophelia, his father, his mother.. but how deeply troubled he is by what’s happened before the show begun. This is an angle on Hamlet that I’ve always enjoyed–one thats focus is wrapped around this confused, fraught, emotional main character. It is a hard look into a very loyal young man who has just lost his father and is dealing with his mother. And Matthew James played a wonderful Hamlet.

Alberty’s directoral choices, focused the play smartly on the young characters of the production. Because he chose to focus on these relationships, it creates a play that will appeal to a modern-day viewing audience. Audiences of all generations and ages understand sibling bonds, best friends who don’t always agree, and dramatic teenage love sagas. And Hamlet has all of that in force.

In this way, Ophelia and Laertes got to have their fantastic brother-sister scene early on in the show (it’s moments like these that you always hope won’t get cut when someone is trying to put on a fast production of a lengthy play). And MC Cole who plays Ophelia is delightful and spunky when need be– only making Ophelia’s eventual heart-broken madness more stark and tragic when that time comes. The production and effects are well done in the whole show, but one of the most memorable moments in this performance is definitely the singing scene that belongs to Ophelia played by the terrifically casted Cole.

All in all, Hamlet is a classic story that needs no build-up, and the performances put on by the folks at TCR do not disappoint. It is entertaining, relevant and well-acted. See it before it’s gone!


“Get Your Clapper Boards Ready”

“Get Your Clapper Boards Ready”

Completely Hollywood Abridged at The Old Creamery Theatre.

Out in Middle Amana, Iowa there is a cool black-box theater that puts on hilarious shows like Completely Hollywood Abridged. The Old Creamery Theatre is a professional, not-for-profit theatre company founded in 1971.

Completely Hollywood Abridged comes from a group of writers who “reduce” and “abridge” long histories and literature. They’ve done Shakespeare and the Bible, and now they’ve abridged this history of Hollywood. With those three it’s the same dramas, different lines, no?

Anyway, even in its abridged format this play is still huge. It’s over two hours and the three actors pack in an impressive amount of words per minute. The actors have to talk fast and literally run around the stage throughout the whole show to get all 186 film references in. The actors and writing are both very funny, but the comedy is also really physical. The actors change in and out of crazy costumes and props time and time again. You can tell this play was really fun for them to do– and so funny– but kudos to the for working hard for it. I got exhausted just watching them!

Completely Hollywood Abridged plays up a lot of film elements that Hollywood buffs and casual movie fans alike will find funny and interesting. For example, the actors try to determine whether all films can be fit into a combination of common themes. They boil it down to: 1) Jesus Story 2) Boy Meets Girl 3) Coming of Age 4) Fish Out of Water, and anything else is just a combination of these. Just try to disagree with them. We had fun playing with this element even after we left the show.

The play is really fun, and viewers with any knowledge of film will enjoy it, but of course the more you catch the more fun you’ll have.  Completely Hollywood Abridged runs through April 17 on the Old Creamery’s Studio Stage, with shows on Thursdays and Sundays at 2:00 pm and on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm. The Studio Stage is located in Middle Amana at 3023 220th Trail. Sometimes it’s difficult to find cultural entertainment at 2:00 on Sunday afternoon entertainment, and Amana is just the perfect place to spend such a day. Visit the shops and restaurants, catch a show at Old Creamery, and by the time you’re out of Completely Hollywood Abridged, you still have time to tally up who caught the most movie references over a beer at Millstream Brewery.

Completely Hollywood Abridged stars Nate Curlott, Seth Hunter, and Sean McCall. Directed by Magdalene Spanuello, a Chicago-based director and choreographer.


Next to Normal @ TCR

Next to Normal @ TCR

By: Curtis Stochl & Emily Weber

First let us begin by saying that we attended this show on Friday night, the day that House of Cards premiered on Netflix, so you know it had to be good to get us out of the house.

Attending a show at TCR is a delight and there are so many places nearby the theater you can eat and have a drink before or after the show. We visited both White Star Ale House for a drink before the show, and Need Pizza after the show (for a #RestaurantWeekSpecial– clam & artichoke heart pizza!). Curtis also wants to emphasize that he always feels like he can go to a show at TCR in jeans and not feel out of place, which is a huge win for men who like the arts but don’t like to get fancy. Here’s to Cedar Rapids for making a Friday night at the theater feel just right.

So, Next to Normal.

The musical is an ensemble cast of six characters: mother, father, daughter, son, daughter’s boyfriend & therapist, who are all struggling with the mother’s mental health fight in different ways. As Diane, the mother, battles a 16-year-long struggle with manic depression, every member of the family feels as though they are holding the family unit together through their own efforts,  just trying to “get it right.” The father by aiming to keep everyone cheerful, the daughter (Natalie) by working hard, boyfriend (Henry) by helping Natalie not fall apart, the various therapists and doctors by always coming up with another cure. A main focal point of the show is Natalie, the 16-year-old hard-working daughter who believes she can study,  practice piano, and overachieve her way out of the tough life she’s been thrust into. Nikki Stewart who played Natalie did a fantastic job. It was Natalie’s moments with Diane that really carry the emotional through-line of the show.

You may not guess it from the subject matter, but Next to Normal is a rock musical with lots of energy and loudness. This is an area where Curtis and I disagree about the show, not that this arena is within TCR’s control. Curtis feels the show would have been stronger as a straight drama, rather than a musical (this is almost always his belief, though, with musical theater). I disagree, I don’t feel the audience could handle the heightened emotions of the shows’ themes without the relief of the punchy, energetic music. It’s a tough show as it is. Many sniffles coming from the audience during this one.

Let’s talk about the technical qualities of the show. This was an area where TCR’s production really shined. We’ve actually seen this show once before, performed in a larger city, and we thought TCR’s production was much better.The set is simple but beautiful: a suburban house with three vertical levels cut open in the front so the viewer can see straight inside. You can see the family exposed inside at all angles. Color and light were also done really well. The set and props are gray or white, except certain items (pills, memory box, spotlights on certain characters) that are highlighted in bright, vibrant colors. Dramas like this that can focus on the story and have a simple production (without being a big to-do) are a real strength of theaters the size of TCR. All the focus is put on the story and the emotion of the characters. It was very well done.

We highly recommend seeing this show before it’s gone. Tickets are still available for Saturday & Sunday 5th-6th, as well as next weekend, Friday-Saturday the 11th-12th. Buy your tickets online and use the special code given by TCR so part of the proceeds will benefit a local human service organization. It’s great to see TCR support the community in this way. Kudos for being a community partner.

I can’t lie about the fact that this story left me, as an audience member, feeling a little helpless. If you’re living in Iowa at the moment, you’re probably hearing about the mental health and disability service funding that the state is lacking. Maybe you’re wondering what you can do to make a difference. I would bet, when you see this show you’ll want to do something to help. Consider reaching out to some of the community partners TCR is working with and see what you can do. Nothing is too small to make an impact: Tanager PlaceNational Alliance on Mental IllnessAbbe Center for Community Mental Health, and Foundation2.

This show may not be a feel-good, but it will make you feel like you should try to do some good.


Some recommendations from Curtis on films that people who enjoy this show might be interested in:


Inside Out. Next to Normal is sort of a grown-up Inside Out.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next (which is referenced in the show)

and any Darren Aronofsky film.

It’s tough watching people fight their way out of a hole, only to fall back in. But it’s a story that’s real and relevant.




Stop back for a review of Next to Normal, now playing at Theater Cedar Rapids on Friday.


Photo from: TCR


An unflinching look at a suburban family struggling with the effects of mental illness.


  • Tickets purchased for the Saturday, February 27, 2016 performance using code “fouroaks” will benefit Four Oaks.
  • Tickets purchased for the Saturday, March 5, 2016 performance using code “tanager” will benefit Tanager Place.
  • Tickets purchased for the Sunday, March 6, 2016 performance using code “supportnami” will support the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
  • Tickets purchased for the Friday, March 11, 2016 performance with code “abbe” will benefit the Abbe Center for Community Mental Health.
  • Tickets purchased for the Saturday, March 12, 2016 performance using code “foundation2” will benefit Foundation 2.
For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit TCR’s website.

Media sponsors Z102.9 and ImOn Communications. Part of the CRST Broadway Series.