ONCEWRITTEN BY – Enda Walsh
MUSIC AND LYRICS – Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglova
GUY – Ian Ferguson
GIRL – Cora Grace Winstead
BILLY – Matthew Cook
DA – Willy Welch
EX-GIRLFRIEND – Katrina Kratzer
SVEC – Cory Kosel
ANDREJ – Russell McCook
REZA – Jo-Jo Steine
BARUSKA – Kelly Winstead Miyake
EAMON – Jake Nice
BANK MANAGER – Alex Branton
EMCEE – Scott A. Eckert
IVONKA – Dotty Rico
DIRECTED BY– Marianne Galloway
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR – Micah Lyles
MUSIC DIRECTOR – Scott A. Eckert
SCENIC DESIGN – Clare Floyd DeVries
COSTUME DESIGN – Korey Kent
LIGHTING DESIGN – Leann Burns
SOUND DESIGN – Tyler Payne
CHOREOGRAPHER – Danielle Georgiou, PhD.
DIALECT COACH – Krista Scott
STAGE MANAGER – Renee Dessommes
ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER – Lauren Volz
PRODUCTION ASSISTANT – Emily Ann Probus
SOUND ENGINEER – Mark Howard
Reviewed Performance: 9/16/2018
Reviewed by Travis McCallum, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
I was informed to arrive 30 minutes prior to the show for some pre-show shenanigans outside the theatre. In good faith I took the liberty to spectate and the theatre team delivered with a rag-tag bunch of musicians bumming for change. Change they donated towards North Texas Giving Day—albeit quite cheerfully.
I felt quite bad for the lone fiddler boy to the right, and abruptly joined the crowd issuing song requests to a guitarist and her sidekick with a sign that said, “1 Drop a $ -> 2 Tell me a Topic -> 3 Wait 2 Min To Think -> 4 Enjoy Your Song”.
Surprisingly, these outdoor musicians were not in the cast or the program. I can only surmise they were good Samaritans or local artists out to steal a quick buck (just kidding!)
Disclaimer: I’m slightly biased because I am Irish, so it felt like the play was speaking to my cultural heritage.
“Once” is a story about an Irishman who falls in love with a Czech woman after she helps him regain his love for music. He is broken and battered after his girlfriend leaves Dublin to live in New York. About to give up on life, Guy (Ian Ferguson) casts away his guitar and voice until Girl (Cora Grace Winstead) stops his self-depreciating defeat. Follow the journey of Guy’s recuperation to find himself and pursue the things that he holds most dear.
Before I jump into the specifics, I want to address the sheer technical aptitude of this play. To truly shine the talent must play the famous triple threat. And oh how they could sing, dance and act!
Galloway pushed the environment to be interactive, welcoming and inclusive. This theme echoes through all facets of the audience experience from the engaging nature of the actors, to the technical design of each of the technical artists. The entire process felt informal, as if at any moment an audience member might jump onto the floor and join in on the festivities and nary a beat would be lost.
Lights bounced between soft blues and purples for melancholy moods and transitioning to orange and white hues for upbeat sequences. The use of intensity on key speakers helped focus our attention on the important bits. What I loved most from Burns was her subtle fades in between the dialogue. She really understood the ambience aspect of the musicians in the background, and it lent to the director’s vision.
The set design was creative to say the least. The stage was an arena with the audience spread all around the actors. Depending on where you sit, you may not glimpse certain displays until the show unveils them with superb lighting.
I was most impressed with two aspects of DeVries design: First the painting craftsmanship. The cobbles on the floor alongside the sign postage of Hoovers and The Music Shop lent a clear distinction on the ‘where’ question a production seeks to address. Secondly, her use of spacing throughout the audience as a means of inclusion within the theatre. Notably is the bedroom scene and the ocean cliff scene which I’ll again applaud the blue landscape masterfully painted across the northern wall.
To complement the set are the props, a signature piece to the success of “Once.” The most immediate props are the array of musical instruments the actors shared on stage. So many in fact, I could not keep count of the diversity interchanging between hands. To name what I remember: Fiddle, violin, acoustic & electric guitars, drums, banjo, cello, piano and an accordion.
What I found very impressive about the instruments is how actors were multi-talented in playing multiple different ones throughout the show, often exchanging their tools. Worth giving a special compliment to Ex-Girlfriend (Katrina Kratzer) & Reza (Jo-Jo Steine) for their ferocious string-play on the fiddle and violins. Their body language went above and beyond the mere act of playing, into a trance-like dance that left the audience cheering for more.
Perhaps the aesthetic display is partially due to costume designer Korey Kent’s attention to modern day Irish & Czech attire.
To describe the whole ensemble apparel, they strike me as a contemporary lot with hand-me-down, fashionable clothing of the time and place. Most of the characters are laden with jackets and cashmere sweaters to sell the illusion that its cold up in Ireland. The men wear pants while the women wear skirts and dresses.
Clothing for each individual reflected their personality. The most prominent of costumes is AndreJs (Russell McCook). His bright fast food uniform stuck out like a sore thumb and the audience could immediately relate with the struggles and joys ordering and working in the service industry.
Of closer observation, Billy (Matthew Cook) carried a tattoo from the Tolkien universe—which we know drew considerable influence from Celtic history (Irish, Scottish & Welsh.)
Speaking of Billy, did he not have a mic on his person. Perhaps his voice was so boisterous the mere projection of his roaring energy would have blown up the entire sound system. Indeed, everyone else bore clip on microphones tied to hidden speakers around the audience. Sound was never an issue and I could hear clearly.
For most productions, there is usually a prerecorded soundtrack, especially during scene transitions. But “Once” is not like most productions. Music Director Scott A. Eckert trained the cast to create a truly riveting experience. They played in character on the stage, and off the stage. In the audience, and above us too.
“Once” is quick to inject us with a memorable track of “The North Strand.”
The best part of the music is how seamless it ties in with the progression of the story. The actors are not selling us show business but are uncovering the journey of the plot as if they are discovering it for the first time.
Guy opens the floor with an emotional guitar solo of “Leave”, setting his sensitive and passionate side to come—that of the romantic lover. He is joined by Girl in their signature duet “Falling Slowly”, the rekindling of a broken star and its rise back into the sky.
I am completely blown away at Girl’s stubborn commitment to help Guy through 5 mere days, which to him feels like an eternity. Her true Czech nature to always remain serious when those around her are cracking jokes is impressive. But it’s more than merely being a Czech. As the story unfolds, learning about her complicated situation with her current husband making her unhappy, it really moves my heart. She is divided between her obligation to the pact of marriage, but also her true feelings to the new man she loves.
Billy serves as a good indicator how stalwart Girl is to other men’s advances. In contrast he points out to Ferguson that she’s never opened up to any man like she has to him.
Girl is so into Guy she’s even willing to go up into his bedroom and invite him to her home. The cool part of this love affair is watching how anxious he is to love, and how cautious she is to love. Balance in all things, right?
When Girl brings Guy to her home, we meet a rather colorful cast of characters. Reza, Svec (Corey Kosel), AndreJ ( Russell McCook), are her flat mates. Baruska (Kelly Winstead Miyake) and Ivonka (Dotty Rico) is Girl’s mother and daughter respectively.
In this scene we get our first major dance scene under the musical number “Ej Pada Pada Rosicka.” Mighty applause to child actor Ivonka for being so agile on her feet. She danced the floor like a perfect ballerina, leveraging AndreJ as a partner.
The dance number also introduced the energetic nature of song as culture-fluid. I think Billy said it first… he’s half Irish and half Spanish. When I think about the music and dance throughout the show, I admire how cultures crossover to make an incredible art form.
Before I jump too far ahead in the plot, I do want to talk about Hoover’s Vacuums where Da (Willy Welch) is speaking with Girl while her vacuum gets fixed. This is an awkward scene, as we have all experienced when meeting our SO’s parents. But the irony is that she doesn’t even know she’s in love with Guy until towards the end of the show.
It’s funny how so many unconscious things happen because of an invisible chemistry existing between certain people in our lives.
Da is wonderful at playing the perfect father. He’s kind, receptive and reserved. He is unfazed by his wife’s death just a little while ago, moving on quickly to live his life. Da’s posture was so fitting for an old man with belly sticking out, back arched and head leaned back like a swan. It didn’t hurt that he had a couple of gray hairs!
I was very disappointed to see backstage actors shuffle to and fro inside bell’s public house. This was a huge distraction because they were directly in my sightlines of the actors speaking on stage, and the lights captured their shadows. Considering there was a door, I would have just closed it and been done with the whole distraction.
What I did like about non-speaking actors was the pantomime of acting on-stage but out of the limelight. A perfect example is while Ferguson is singing with beautiful orange and white hues, off down in the music shop Girl and Billy are arguing about something or another. The best part about that pantomime is the scene transition. We go directly into the music shop next and discover what they were arguing about in the first place.
Normally I err on the side of caution when having multiple actions on stage at one time. But when executed properly, it enhances the production. In this case, the song into the scene made for an excellent transition!
Let’s return to the flat mates because each deserves a moment of praise.
First, there is the Reza (Jo Jo Steine) within the cast. Besides being a phenomenal violinist, Reza has the voice of a goddess. Her Ooos and Awws serenaded the audience with the mystique nature of true folklore. Out of all the singers, she reached the highest notes, which are really high!
Secondly, there is the macho Svec (Cory Kosel), whom I’ve coined the pop culture junkie of the cast. When he said he used to play a lot of death metal in his days, I totally got the reference why he acted so over-the-top. Dressed in his light-grey shirt and sweatpants, he was definitely the most casual of the bunch. Let’s not forget when he decided to take off his pants! When the first band rehearsal for Guy’s new album started, Svec jammed out so hard on the drums his stick flew out into the audience. It never returned… but instead was replaced with percussion paintbrushes!
Thirdly, there is AndreJ (Russell (McCook), who I’ve dubbed the hopeful buffoon. He strikes me as the comedic relief of the whole show. The man is so excited to get a promotion as regional/area manager in his fast food company, we aren’t sure if we should celebrate or laugh at him.
The setup is nice because it creates a high level of anticipation. But AndreJ takes all his energy he used pre-promotion and shovels it in an entirely different direction post-promotion. Will he get the job? You will have to see for yourself. Overall, I can’t decide who the more drama-king is between AndreJ and Svec… they are both so amazing!
Fourthly, there is Baruska (Kelly Winstead Miyake), whom I’ve named the insightful mother. Her introduction to the show was quite surprising. But her early actions also indicate the immense importance she places on family and togetherness. Girl points out that her mother is vital to her happiness and Baruska shows how powerful a mother’s love can be. Like Da is to Guy, Baruska is quick to support Girl in her personal affairs. But she is also willing to intervene and prod her in the right direction. One of my favorite parts of Baruska’s character was her story where she talks about a little man who lived in a little house in a little city and he had a little job in a little office - and nothing ever happened to this little man.
Throughout this story, and many others in the production, the stage floor would fill with the letters of what I surmise a Czech language. The actors would speak in English, but you can follow the subtitles on the floor if you understood. Even though I could not read the words, I did understand the punctuation and it was always cool to see an exclamation mark because I knew the actors were about to get excited about something!
Actually, one of the most powerful uses of the word projection on the floor is when Girl confesses her love to Guy. She tells him in her mother tongue, but he does not understand it. We see “I love you”, but when he asks what she said, she tells him it means “it looks like rain.”
The Two other minor characters are Eamon (Jake Nice) and the Bank Manager (Alex Branton). Eamon was the recording studio owner if I recall. Of all the characters, he seemed the most normal and sane of the bunch. What little stage time he had, I like how he handled the craziness of the band. It was nice to see how tasteful he was in good and bad music. Overall, a good character to move the plot forward and keep people on track.
The Banker Manager on the other side…
This guy is a hoot. When people think banker they imagine cold, heartless machines. Once Girl warms The Bank Manager up to his Irish heritage, the man becomes a woodpecker devil. Put a guitar in his hand and strap his mouth with 3 layers of duct tape and you’ve got a superstar. The Bank Manager is just the right amount of annoying and funny to make you roll out of your chair laughing involuntarily. Just watch as he tries to touch his nose with his tongue. To add fire to fire, the dynamic between The Bank Manager and Billy is tense. The two are both my personal MVPs of the production, appealing to their cultural roots. Billy I could dote on forever. But to highlight key character choices let’s talk about his size. He’s easily the biggest actor on stage, and also the most Irish of the bunch with his hefty red beard. And dare I say, a fat-man.
When Billy takes to Spanish dancing, he pushes himself too far stretching a muscle here and there. One telling scene in his dance number with Reza, a tango to the finish. His awesome karate moves wow the audience and put Ferguson on edge. The physical toughness of the man is hard-defining indeed. But under the rough exterior is a dainty dandelion as we see in his interaction with Girl. The man is like a puddle in her hands, adhering to her every command.
Out of all the actors, I was most impressed with Billy and Girl’s accent. The two really impressed me with their consistency and depth. Shoutout to Krista Scott for helping everyone define their character voice.
Last but not least, the Ex-Girlfriend gets a brief cameo at the end of the show on the phone with Ferguson. Her short scene is a nice piece of vulnerability that leaves the audience wondering if the two might get back together.
As an ensemble member the Ex-Girlfriend (Katrina Kratzer) was lively and energetic. She is a huge asset to the team and I couldn’t see the production without her.
“Once” at Theatre 3 is an outstanding show full of lively cheer and memorable characters. You will be sure to laugh and cry in mirthful joy. Join Galloway’s talented cast and crew in a night of music in genres like country, folklore, latin and classic. And discover “Those that live in fear, die miserably in their grave.”
September 13 through October 7, 2018
Norma Young Arena Stage
2800 Routh Street, #168
Dallas, TX 75201
For more information and tickets call (214) 871-3300 or go to