REVIEW: Chocolate promises and shattered dreams as Arlekin Players turn over a bizarre ‘Stone’

It is a show unlike anything the Sleepless Critic has ever seen before.  Arlekin Players is currently celebrating their 10th anniversary season as they present Marius von Mayenburg’s avant-garde production, ‘The Stone‘ (remount in English) through Sunday, September 29 in Needham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.    Click here for an interview done last year with director Igor Golyak.

Directed by Igor Golyak, ‘The Stone’ explores the history of a German house before and beyond World War II and its various owners which includes a Jewish family and their ancestors.  Quite a few revelations and family secrets are revealed through traumas and triumphs inside this haunting structure.

Arlekin Plays 'The Stone' with Viktoriya Kovalenko, Rimma Gluzman and Olga Sokolova

Viktoriya Kovalenko, Rimma Gluzman and Olga Sokolova in Arlekin Players ‘The Stone’ Photo courtesy of Irina Danilova/Arlekin Players

The Arlekin Players stage is an overwhelming experience told in the theatre round without a bad seat.  With vintage lighting by Jeff Adelberg,  ‘The Stone’ features very few props and unconventionally arranged set pieces which includes a partially buried piano, a vintage chandelier, and a chair hanging upside down from the ceiling.  As characters emerge and exit almost supernaturally from the floor in head-to toe-white with black paint splotches staining their pants, it quickly became clear that this would not be an orthodox production.

Arlekin Players 'The Stone'

Photo courtesy of Irina Danilova/Arlekin Players

With wild white hair, a pair of navigators called the conductors, portrayed with bizarre humor by Jenya Brodskaia and Misha Tyutyunik, are seemingly mad scientists that conduct and calculate time travel.  They take the audience through the history of the house before and beyond World War II, one of the most tumultuous times in history.  The time travel is a raging, jarring experience with special effects that may have been effective the first couple of times, but starts to distract from the tale as the show moves along.

The characters march strangely and unnaturally, sometimes under a plastic umbrella, an urgent tale with segments between the characters so brief, it is difficult to develop an attachment to them.  The cast is stoic for the most part, especially from Mieze, portrayed with a guarded, calculating air by Rimma Gluzman.  When Viktoriya Kovalenko as idealistic Heidrun discovers a small box in the house that she believes was her father’s, portrayed with complexity by David Gamarnik as Wolfgang, the moment Heidrun has with her mother Witha, portrayed by Darya Denisova, provides a touching moment in the production.

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I’m sure there is an audience for experimental theatre and the actual tale is powerful, but too unconventional and at times confusing for my taste.  It chooses to be different and complex when the story can be told in a straightforward way.  It is still art and it’s unforgettable.

Arlekin Players presents ‘The Stone’ through Sunday, September 29 at  368 Hillside Ave in Needham, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here for more information on the Igor Golyak Acting Studio.

REVIEW: Nothing small about Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s riveting ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’

Advice can be taken with a grain of salt (or sugar in this case), or it can change your entire life.  Open a window into the increasingly complex life of a busy advice columnist in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s (MRT) ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame.  Based on the book by Cheryl Strayed, tactfully directed by Jen Wineman, and sponsored in part by WBUR, Merrimack Repertory Theatre continues ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Massachusetts through Sunday, October 6.

Click here for more information and tickets.  ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ has adult content.

Tiny Beautiful Things cast

Shravan Amin as Letter Writer #3, Caroling Strang as Letter Writer #2, Lori Prince as Sugar, and Nael Nacer as Letter Writer #1 Photo credit to Merrimack Repertory Theatre

It is no revelation that everyone has their problems.  How they are handled makes all the difference. Sugar, portrayed with equal parts compassion and candor by Lori Prince, proves to be an insightful listener as she offers advice to captivating questions from the humorous to the harrowing.  Every issue presented is from real life letters from literary website, The Rumpus’s Dear Sugar and the Dear Sugars podcast exists on WBUR.

A captivating show from the start, ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ maintains its quick-witted pace as Sugar’s life unfolds while she offers advice according to her own life experiences.  Packing an emotional punch, Sugar jumps smoothly from topic to topic while handling issues from infidelity to abortion to suicide.  It is not without its uncomfortable and intense moments which widely contributes to this impressive play’s innate realism.

It is amazing the profound advice that occurs over laundry.  From an island kitchen to an outdoor barbecue, ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ features a layered, cheerful set by Tim Mackabee and Marie Yokoyama’s lighting provides a natural flow and warm atmosphere.  Combined with upbeat music between scenes, this production keeps the mood light despite some of its heavier, more thought-provoking content.

This tiny, stellar cast will reel you in and never let go, taking on a variety of roles with gusto and grace. Nael Nacer, Caroline Strang, and Shravan Amin all deliver mesmerizing, emotionally-charged moments.   The only identity that never changes is Sugar, portrayed with toughness and warmth by Lori Prince.  A woman who has a habit of accepting strange offers, Prince as Sugar is a discerning, yet mysterious soul.  Her gripping portrayal mixes lightheartedness, anguish, and humor into her raw, cynical, but nevertheless hopeful outlook at life.  Prince’s particular strength is her seamless ability to evoke a number of emotions in one line and her sound advice are words to live by.

MRT's 'Tiny Beautiful Things cast photo 2

From Left to Right on phones: Nael Nacer as Letter Writer #1, Caroline Strang as Letter Writer #2, Shravan Amin as Letter Writer #3 and Lori Prince on laptop Photo courtesy of Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Life is full of complicated dysfunction.  Let Sugar’s advice be yours.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ continues at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre at 50 East Merrimack Street in Lowell, Massachusetts through Sunday, October 6.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow MRT on Facebook for updates and more.

 

 

 

REVIEW: Soprano-actress Christina Pecce puts her own spin on a few famous faces in fabulous ‘Witches, Bitches, and Divas!’

In a white suit and glittering heels, soprano and actress Christina Pecce may have paid homage to Beyonce (her style reminiscent of Beyonce’s suit at the Superbowl 50 halftime show), but certainly stepped into quite a few famous shoes with ‘Witches, Bitches, and Divas,’ a one night only, one woman cabaret that took place at the American Repertory Theatre’s (A.R.T.) Oberon Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Sunday, September 8.  Click here for a closer look at ‘Witches, Bitches, and Divas!’ and here to see where Christina will perform next.

Don’t be deceived by the title.  No witches, bitches, or divas actually appear in the show unless you are referring to “every woman” Christina Pecce.  Her one woman show steps into all three categories to create a partly auto-biographical and comedic musical show covering the likes of Elphaba (Witch) from the Tony award-winning hit musical ‘Wicked,’ Miss Hannigan from the classic musical, ‘Annie‘ (Bitch, if left to interpretation), and diva Mariah Carey.  She also chooses zany selections about marriage and shows off her classically-trained vocal talents performing a soaring French opera and then a tonally-deaf singer with Flanders and Swann’s A Word to My Ear.  The bottom line is Christina Pecce can sing just about anything.

Witches Bitches and Divas Oberon Cambridge

The Oberon in Cambridge, Massachusetts Photo credit to Witches, Bitches and Divas

Accompanied by a trio of powerhouse musicians which included Music Director Steve Bass on piano, drummer George Darrah, and bassist Nick Francese, Christina brings humor and personal anecdotes while adding her own spin to various medleys.  She tackles subjects like nannies, drinking, and gravity and even sneaks in an amusing little drinking game too.

From Sondheim to Nat King Cole, Christina makes her time onstage an unpredictable, interactive treat as she occasionally wanders through the crowd, serenading a few audience members.  She also left a piece of her heart onstage in a stirring rendition of Sondheim’s ‘Being Alive.’  Pecce last appeared at the Oberon in February and from the glowing reception she received when she returned, it certainly will not be her last time.

American Repertory Theatre’s Oberon is an intimate and inviting night club without a bad seat in the house that welcomes a variety of shows throughout the year.  Located at 2 Arrow Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Oberon is American Repertory Theatre’s second stage for theatre and nightlife.  Click here for upcoming events at the Oberon, here to learn more about Christina Pecce, and here for more about the American Repertory Theatre.

 

 

 

REVIEW: With a double dose of vintage flair, Lyric Stage’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ will make audiences thirsty for more

This sad little flower shop on Skid Rowe holds a secret.

Tattered, lesser known movie posters such as ‘Mothra,’ ‘Planet of the Vampires,’ and ‘Attack of the Puppet People’ strewn fervently on brick, graffiti-covered walls provide is just a hint of the zany, B-movie glory that opens Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s 45th season with retro sci-fi musical comedy, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ continuing through Sunday, October 6 at Lyric Stage in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

From the inventive special effects to the fascinating, ‘blooming’ set,’ Lyric Stage makes two things abundantly clear:  Don’t feed the plants and everyone’s life should be narrated by a streetwise, Greek chorus.

‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ based on Jack Cullier’s 1932 story Green Thoughts, went on to become a cult classic, featuring actors such as Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, and John Candy stepping into its various film adaptations.  A remake is in the works as it marks its 60th anniversary in 2020.

It’s a seemingly simple tale about young love on Skid Rowe in a fledgling flower shop that houses a curious, unique breed of plant.  Some critics have compared it to the daring tone of the cult classic, ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ but ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ offers a more subtle brand of campy charm.

Lyric Stage's Little Shop of Horrors Trio

From L to R: Pier Lamia Porter as Chiffon, Carla Martinez as Ronnette, and Lovely Hoffman as Crystal Photo credit to Mark S. Howard/Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Janie E Howland’s vivid, transformative set is remarkable right down to its carefully timed shop bell.  Not only does it pay homage to vintage films of its time, but ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ is packed with 50s and 60s references such as ‘I Love Lucy,’ Howdy Doody, Donna Reed, and Betty Crocker.

Before going any further, let’s start with that Greek Chorus.  With few exceptions, the music, with lyrics by award-winning composer Alan Menken, have a catchy, rock n roll vibe including tunes that pay tribute to 60s girl groups.  From casual street garments to flashy glam, these three electrifying vocalists certainly know how to make an entrance.  Pier Lamia Porter as Chiffon, Lovely Hoffman as Crystal and Carla Martinez as Ronnette are a tough, humorous, and street-smart trio who unveil the real ins and outs of Skid Rowe through harmony, kicking it off with the catchy signature track, Little Shop of Horrors.

Lyric Stage Little Shop Remo Airaldi Dan Prior Katrina Z Pavao and Jeff Marcus

L to R: Remo Airaldi as Mr. Mushnik, Dan Prior as Seymour, Katrina Z Pavao as Audrey, and Jeff Marcus as a customer Photo credit to Mark S. Howard/Lyric Stage Company of Boston

The show has a gift for funny, ironic contrasts with a cast that has increasingly complicated motives.  Wearing black-rimmed glasses, a baseball cap, and fervently wiping his brow, Dan Prior gives real heart to Seymour, a sympathetic, yet conflicted botanist.  With an anxious demeanor and a light city accent, Prior emphasizes Seymour’s inherent, inescapable loneliness as he struggles to remain forthright and honest as the show progresses.  He shines in the darkly tender number Grow for Me and in his awkward adoration for trusting and frequently unlucky Audrey, portrayed wonderfully with plucky charm by Katrina Z Pavao.  In a particularly comical moment, Seymour hopes to take Audrey to “a fancy dinner at Howard Johnson’s.”

Pavao’s lovely soprano vocals carry a lullaby or a soulful belt with equal skill.  She shares her simple, 50s domestic dreams in a funny and tender rendition of Somewhere That’s Green and with Seymour in a powerful rendition of Suddenly Seymour.

Lyric Stage 'Little Shop of Horrors' Dan Prior as Seymour and Remo Airaldi as Mr Mushnik

Dan Prior as Seymour and Remo Airaldi as Mr. Mushnik Photo credit to Mark S. Howard/Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Disheveled and desperate in an old cardigan, Remo Airaldi takes on the role of frustrated flower shop owner, Mr. Mushnik.  Having delivered a deliciously dark comedic turn as Ben in Lyric Stage’s ‘The Little Foxes,’ Airaldi once again delivers a dark and memorable performance.  He is especially clever with Dan Prior as Seymour for the manipulative and comical number, Mushnik and Son.

Lyric Stage's 'Little Shop of Horrors' Carla Martinez Pier Lamia Porter Lovely Hoffman and Jeff Marcus

From L to R: Carla Martinez as Ronnette, Pier Lamia Porter as Chiffon, Lovely Hoffman as Crystal, and Jeff Marcus as Orin Photo credit to Mark S. Howard/Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Jeff Marcus brings out his campy, satiric best in several roles including a no-holds-barred performance as Orin, a belligerent, narcissistic biker dentist punctuated with a howling, maniacal laugh.  Marcus and Prior are particularly fun to watch, playing well off each other in the number, Now (It’s Just the Gas). 

Lyric Stage's 'Little Shop of Horrors' Dan Prior as Seymour and Audrey II

Dan Prior as Seymour and Yewande Odetoyinbo as Audrey II Photo credit to Mark S. Howard/Lyric Stage Company of Boston

However, the real spectacle is  Audrey II, the sly, soulful plant that changes everything.  With versatile and grimly wise vocals by Yewande Odetoyinbo, inventively manipulated by Tim Hoover, and skillfully designed by Cameron McEachern, Audrey II is a comical, extraordinary specimen right down to her bright colors and shiny, dangling teeth.  Audrey II is handled in such an innovative, natural, and majestic way, the results are truly mesmerizing.

Directed and choreographed by Rachel Bertone, Lyric Stage’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ continues through October 6 at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here for what is coming up during Lyric Stage’s 45th season.

REVIEW: Immersive and insightful, Museum of Science’s ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth’ cleverly reveals the woman behind the monster

The beauty of mythology is how outlandish a tale can be while still conveying a powerful, contemporary message.  ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth‘ with ‘What Time is it, Mr. Fox?’ is an immersive, multimedia experience that weaves live music with a classic tale…and a twist.

For three Thursday nights during the summer with a final performance that took place on August 22, The Museum of Science in Boston’s Charles Hayden Planetarium presented a theatrical experience that conveyed messages of female empowerment, human nature’s capacity for cruelty and shallowness, and more through this classic mythological tale.  Click here for the full trailer.

It was part of an adult series (18+) which continues with ‘Subspace:  Redefining the Adult Experience’ throughout the fall.  This dynamic series includes Storytelling, Halloween Happening, the music of Stevie Nicks, a night with Isabella Rossellini, and much more.  The Museum of Science is located at 1 Science Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for the full schedule and ticket information.

Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth

Imagery of the legendary creature, Medusa Photo credit to ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth’

‘Man plans and God laughs’ takes on a whole new meaning when breathtakingly beautiful Medusa plans to become a priestess to Athena.  However, what she thought was her path became a sordid journey.  Told in flashback in Crete 1100 B.C., ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth’ offered humor, violence, and beauty weaved into an insightful, message-driven tale.

Packed with illustrations depicted more artistically than realistically by animators Ruth Lingford and Norah Solorzano, this panoramic experience combined with the Charles Hayden Planetarium’s supersonic sound creates a mesmerizing journey through the world of Ancient Greece.  Rich blue skies, the star-studded cosmos, and dark, raging oceans were just glimpses into this mesmerizing experience.

Medusa - mrfoxlineuplogo_orig

The band, ‘What Time is it, Mr. Fox?’ Photo credit to ‘What Time is it, Mr. Fox?’

As the tale unfolded, the haunting and emotive sounds of acoustic neo-soul group, ‘What Time is it, Mr. Fox’ performed original songs that emphasized the madness, grief, tyranny, and danger within this tale.  With vivid lyrics such as, “We can do a lot more with this kind of rage,” “Trying to breathe while learning to drown,” and “You’re going to wind up dead if the devil gets in,” this dynamic group’s jazz-infused interludes between scenes not only enhanced what the characters were thinking, but the journey itself.  Front and center and bathed in blue light, a few of the most beautiful orchestrations included On Fire, Learning to Drown, The Witness, and Into the Black.

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The men were depicted as arrogant and narcissistic and the conversations between the gods had their moments of humor, chemistry, gossip, and power talks.  However, what made the tale so intriguing was it offered a more rounded, sympathetic view of the legendary Medusa while sharing various interpretations of her through statues and illustrations.  ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth’ means to shatter those preconceived notions of this mythological, snake-haired creature and bring her to a place of mercy and anguish, powerful but yielding, and facing issues that were not so different than they are today.  She was a myth, a monster, but still a woman.

Though this show has completed its run, ‘Medusa: Reclaiming the Myth’ may still have a future beyond its time at the Museum of Science.  Click here to learn more about ‘Medusa Reclaiming the Myth’ and here for more on the band, ‘What Time is It, Mr. Fox.’  The Museum of Science offers programs throughout the year and continues ‘Subspace Redefining the Adult Experience‘ through the fall.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s ‘The Annulment’ makes parting sweet sorrow

First comes love.  Then comes marriage.   This new musical takes a look at what may come next.

Playwright Sheila Kelleher,  Music Director John Ferguson, and choreographer Cat Umano collaborated for a two day workshop of a world premiere musical destined to be submitted to a future New York festival.  Hingham Civic Music Theatre presented ‘The Annulment’ on Friday, August 23 and Saturday, August 24 at Hingham Town Hall in Hingham, Massachusetts.  This show contains some adult humor.  Click here for more information and more about Hingham Civic Music Theatre’s future productions.

With music accompaniment consisting of Music Director and pianist John Ferguson and percussionist John Duff, the inviting set was well suited for this production as the show travels to different eras and timeframes.

‘The Annulment’ may have been about three different couples and what happens after they said, ‘I do,’ but what truly gives this show more emotional weight are the larger questions it pursues.  What does it take for long-lasting happiness?  What stirs the soul?  What constitutes an annulment and when is it just legal jargon on a piece of paper?  Celia, portrayed with quick-witted cynicism and wistfulness by Carole Shannon, just wants some answers.

Hingham Civic Music Theatre The Annulment Celia and Nadine

Carole Shannon as Celia and Stephanie Blood as Nadine Photo courtesy of Hingham Civic Music Theatre

‘The Annulment’ could very well have developed into a drawn out court battle, but it instead explores the nature of relationships, love, loss, and everything in between.  The cast has a very natural chemistry and it is not difficult to imagine this group being longtime friends.  The show is also not without its share of wild and sometimes cynical humor.  James Swindler channeled a Vince Vaughn vibe as Dave, a playful, party-loving guy who has an uninhibited passion for his equally wild wife Nadine, a lively and comical performance by Stephanie Blood. Their uninhibited and flirtatious antics are among the most amusing parts in the production and they both clearly look like they are enjoying themselves.

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Carole Shannon shows a pensive, vulnerable side as Celia, her smooth vibrato poignant during the numbers, When I Used to Sing and What We Missed.  Charlie McKitrick impressively portrays Tony, a critical man who constantly worries more about outward appearances than anything else.  ‘The Annulment’ is skilled at building tension and there is no lack between these two.  Offering a sympathetic, non-judgmental ear is Deanna Lohnes as Celia’s supportive friend Sabrina.  ‘The Annulment’ is a funny, relatable musical comedy with heart when life doesn’t quite deliver a happily ever after.

Hingham Civic Music Theatre has been entertaining audiences for over 70 years.  This fall, ‘The Dr. Seuss Experience’ exhibit will be heading to Boston and Hingham Civic Music Theatre is also presenting ‘Seussical The Musical‘ in October.  Click here for all the details and their recently announced 2020 season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Little Theatre of Stoughton’s ‘Anything Goes’ a zany musical comedy on the high seas

The Little Theatre of Stoughton showed off its sea legs with Cole Porter’s musical comedy classic, ‘Anything Goes’ that ran one weekend and concluded on Sunday, August 18 at Stetson Hall in Randolph, Massachusetts.  Directed and choreographed by Christina Maggio with music direction by Jesse Alling, this Tony Award-winning musical boasted a number of legendary composer Cole Porter’s hit songs while revealing a high seas tale of mistaken identity, lurking gangsters, and complicated romance.  Click here for more on the Little Theatre of Stoughton and check back for their upcoming events.

It was a lively, cheering crowd that greeted the cast in the final performance of this show, offering a short applause as each main character first took the stage.  Having never seen a production of ‘Anything Goes’ before, it was surprising to see just how many Cole Porter classics came from this 1934 musical.  You’re the Top, Let’s Misbehave, I Get a Kick Out of You, De-lovely, and the title track are just a few of the American Standards that have been covered by contemporary music artists and live on today.

Little Theatre of Stoughton Anything Goes aboard the ship

Nate Haywood as Billy Crocker (bottom center) and cast Photo courtesy of the Little Theatre of Stoughton

‘Anything Goes’ could very well have also inspired the 1977 television show, The Love Boat because comedy and complex romance runs amok on the SS American where Nate Haywood as Billy Crocker will do virtually anything for a laugh.  Earnest, charming, and complex, Haywood was well-fitted for the role as a man of many faces who wore many hats.

The show has its share of silly moments and Haywood’s scenes with Will Candler as boisterous and demanding Mr. Whitney prompted more than a few laughs.   Haywood’a agile vocals struck a few beautiful harmonies with romantic, optimistic, and forthright Hope, portrayed by Sarah Palmer, a lovely high soprano.

Little Theatre of Stoughton Anything Goes Hope, Billy, and Angels

Sarah Palmer as Hope Harcourt and Nate Haywood as Billy Crocker Photo courtesy of Mikayla Williams Photography/Little Theatre of Stoughton

Haywood’s vocals  were also a great match for Stephanie Wallace’s charismatic and clever nightclub singer Reno during the sweet and playful number, You’re the Top.   Wallace was exemplary as Reno, whether solo or accompanied by her elegant Angels, portrayed by Abigail Merchant, Caroline Tobin, Isabelle O’Connor, and Kelli Neville who were all dressed in bold, vintage gowns. Wallace’s smooth and soulful vocals soared through a spirited I Get a Kick out of You and a cheeky version of Let’s Misbehave accompanied by Matt Maggio’s seemingly stuffy, proper, and amusing Sir Evelyn Oakley.  Both Maggio and Wallace have wonderful comic timing and playful chemistry.

Little Theatre of Stoughton Anything Goes Hope, Billy and the cast

Sarah Palmer as Hope Harcourt, Nate Haywood as Billy Crocker, and the Reno’s Angels Photo courtesy of Little Theatre of Stoughton

With a squeaky high voice and party-loving ways, Whitney Lloyd as Bonnie and Kevin Fortin as smarmy, cool headed Moonface make a great, albeit a bit clichéd pair.

With captivating choreography by Christina Maggio, this bustling musical certainly showed off its sea legs for a few showstopping dance numbers including a dazzling, adrenaline-soaked tap routine during the title track, Anything Goes.  From there, the choreography certainly hit next level status with the spinning and lively number Blow Gabriel Blow and lighthearted Heaven Hop.

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The Little Theatre of Stoughton will soon announce its 62nd season.  Click here for more on the Little Theatre of Stoughton and get their latest updates on Facebook.