Friday, June 22, 2012

Theater Review: Harvey

The Humor Prompting Large Bursts of Laughter Seems as Invisible as the Rabbit
By Lauren Yarger
Picture this: You are introduced to a man who promptly introduces you to his best friend, Harvey. There isn't anyone there, but you seem to be the only one in the room who can't see the six-foot-tall white rabbit with whom he's conversing, so you don't say anything while trying to decide whether he's nuts or you are. Welcome to the world of Mary Chase's Pulitzer-Prize-winning play Harvey, getting a Broadway production by Roundabout Theatre Company. Welcome also to my world as I puzzled over why the audience was responding with riotous laughter to lines that inspired only an appreciative smile from me.

Don't get me wrong. The play is not bad. In fact, it has an old-fashioned, gentle humor (that Pulitzer came in 1945, one year after which the play is set with period costumes here by designer Jane Greenwood). This production boasts some big Q factor talent too: Jim Parsons of "Big Bang Theory" fame as the rabbit-seeing Elwood P. Dowd; Jessica Hecht (A View from the Bridge and numerous TV roles); Carol Kane ("The Princess Bride," TV's "Taxi"); Larry Bryggman ("As the World Turns"); Rich Sommer ("Mad Men"); and Charles Kimbrough ("Murphy Brown").

I honestly just couldn't figure out how simple lines like "Why he's as outdated as a cast-iron deer" or saying that a gift bouquet of flowers had just been picked outside had people rolling in the aisles. One man regularly slapped his knee and guffawed. Another laughed so hard he snorted. Not just once, but  often. I had maybe cracked a smile. I kept feeling like I had a sign on my back that said, "Laugh at her. We're playing a joke."

At any rate, the audience very much enjoyed this tale of kind, polite, trusting Elwood who is very lovable. He just has a small problem: an invisible rabbit friend, who supposedly isn't so small -- he's 6 feet three and a half inches tall, according to Elwood. Harvey accompanies Elwood everywhere. much to the embarrassment of his society-conscious sister, Veta Simmons (Hecht), her daughter, Myrtle Mae (Tracee Chimo) and society matron Ethel Chauvenet (Angela Payton). Veta decides it's time to commit Elwood and takes him to Chumley's Rest, a sanitarium run by William R. Chumley (Kimbrough) and his wife, Betty (Kane). David Rockwell's sets rotate to take us quickly from the beautifully panelled library at the Dowd mansion in Denver to the reception room at the sanitarium.

Because some of the message here is "who's really is crazy?" a misundserstanding convinces the doctor in charge, Lyman Sanderson (Morgan Spector), his nurse, Ruth Kelly (Hollyey Fain) and the orderly, Duane Wilson (Sommer) that Veta is the one who needs a room at the home. Omar Gaffney (Bryggman), the judge backing Elwood's commitment clears things up, but soon Elwood is spending time at his favorite bar tossing them back with new friend Chumley and suddenly Harvey might not be so invisible after all. A plot to inject Elwood with a drug that will "cure him" by letting him see the world and all its reality begs the question, "just what is normal?"

“In this world, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant," Elwood tells us. "Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.”

Food for thought, but not necessarily the trigger for a sustained burst of laughter, you know what I mean?

Parsons does a nice job presenting the affable character (though it is hard not to think about Jimmy Stewart, for whom the cadence of Elwood's lines seems almost tailor-written, and who is most associated with the role). Director Scott Ellis fails to provide cohesion for all the performances, however, and the result is that everyone seems to be doing his or her own thing. While Sommer conveys his character's frustration, for example, it seems to be in a vacuum without any bounce off the other actors. Hecht shouts most of her lines in an indiscernible accent (which the characters brother and daughter oddly don't share) and Kane's role is regrettably too small to show off her comedic talent.

Check out Harvey and see whether you can see the rabbit -- or what's so funny -- at Studio 54 (254 West 54th St., NYC) through Aug. 5. Tickets: 212-719-1300;

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
-- It is mentioned that the rabbit might be a pooka, a goblin or spirit of Irish folklore that takes the form of a large animal.

Quick Hit Theater Review: As You Like It

Donna Lynne Champlin and Oliver Platt. Photo : Joan Marcus
As You Like It
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
The Public Theater's Shakespeare iin the Park

What is it all about?
When her Uncle, Duke Frederick (Andre Braugher) usurps his brother's throne, his niece, Rosalind (Lily Rabe), flees taking her cousin, his daughter, Celia (Rene Elise Goldsberry) and the court jester, Touchstone (Oliver Platt) with her to safety in the Forest of Arden. Orlando (David Furr) who previously fell in love with Rosalind, posts loves letters for her in the trees, but doesn't recognize her when he encounters her disguised as a man named Ganymede who attracts the love interest of a shepherdess, Phoebe (Susannah Flood) who herself has won the love of another shepherd, Silvius (Will Rogers). Hmmm. Sounds like a Shakespeare plot. Standing out from the ensemble also are Stephen Spinella as Jaques, an attendant of Rosalind's banished father; MacIntyre Dixon as a servant of Orlando and Andrew Hovelson as a clergyman, 

What are the highlights?
Any Shakespeare in the Park, celebrating its 50th year, is well worth it (tickets are free, after all). Wonderfully staged adaptations of the Bard (and other classics -- Into the Woods is this summer's second show beginning at the end of July). This one, famous for giving us the "all the world's a stage" lines, is particularly fun with a forest recreated (John Lee Beatty, design, with excellent lighting by Natasha Katz) against the already green backdrop of Central Park with terrific, twangy bluegrass music composed by Steve Martin and performed by a strolling quartet in period costume (designed by Jane Greewood). All of the performances are solid, with Rabe, Goldsberry and Spinella doing nice work, but really knocking performances out of the park, so to speak, are Furr and Platt.

What are the lowlights?
Not sure what the point of an 1840 southern setting, along with a western fort motif evoking "F Troop" does to enhance the story except maybe to provide a setting for Martin's tunes. Unbelievably long lines for the far-from-clean women's restroom. Public Fare, the little cafe at the Delacorte Theater, has cut back on the variety of delicious sandwiches that used to be offered. Now, there's just one turkey sandwich which unfortunately comes pre-made with a mayonnaise, and several versions of a hot dog, which you can purchase from park vendors any way. Other salads and snacks are available.

More information:
As You Like It, which began performances on June 5, officially opened, according to the Public, last night, and runs through June 30. Tickets to Shakespeare in the Park are free, distributed, two per person, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park the day of the show. The Public Theater also offers free tickets through a lottery at on the day of the show.

The Delacorte Theater in Central Park is accessible by entering at 81st Street and Central Park West or at 79th Street and Fifth Avenue.

Into the Woods, directed by Timothy Sheader with co-direction by Liam Steel, featuring Amy Adams (The Baker’s Wife),Jack Broderick (Narrator), Gideon Glick (Jack), Cooper Grodin (Rapunzel’s Prince), Ivan Hernandez (Cinderella’s Prince/Wolf),Tina Johnson (Granny), Josh Lamon (Steward), Jessie Mueller (Cinderella), Donna Murphy (The Witch), Laura Shoop (Cinderella’s Mother), and Tess Soltau (Rapunzel), begins previews on Monday, July 23 and continues through Aug. 25.

Christians might also like to know:
-- No notes. Enjoy, but note that younger kids might have a hard time sitting quietly through the two-hour-45-minute performance (one intermission).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Quick Hit Theater Review: Storefront Church

Storefront Church
Written and Directed By John Patrick Shanley
Atlantic Theater Company
What's it about?
Well, a little bit of a lot of things. Jessie Cortez (Tonya Pinkins) took a second mortgage on her home to finance the renovation of a storefront church downstairs. Pentecostal Pastor Chester Kimmich (Ron Cephas Jones) doesn't have much to show in the way of renovations, however, and has yet to hold a service. The bank moves to foreclose on the property and Jessie's husband, Ethan Glodklang (an engaging Bob Dishy) tries to get an extension from banker Reed Van Druyten (a riveting Zach Grenier) to no avail. Jessie reaches out to her friend's son, Bronx Borrough President Donaldo Calderon (Giancarlo Esposito), for help. He reluctantly agrees, then finds himself in the middle of a politically compromising position with Van Druyten's superior at the bank, Tom Raidenberg (Jamie Lynne Sullivan) and at conflict with his own thoughts about religion -- the son on of a preacher, he had walked away from it. Through a series of circumstances, all of the characters find themselves attending the inaugural service of The Divine Plan for Salvation Church.

What are the highlights?
Interesting diverse characters, each with emotional baggage that prove in the end that they all have more in common than they would have imagined. Dishy is a hoot delivering numerous "Jewish" jokes and Grenier gives a gripping performance of a man coping with physical and emotion scars. Shanley (Doubt) explores contemporary issues like the mortgage crisis along side ancient questions about faith. the Atlantic Theater's newly renovated space is in a former church, so  this productions feels right at home, especially when the cast sings a nice hymn.
What are the lowlights?
The script is rough and isn't always clear in direction. Male-heavy perspective. Having the characters attend the service is contrived. Pinkins is not convincing as the older Hispanic woman. It's a production that makes a good argument against writers directing their own work.

More information:
Storefront Church runs through July 1 at the Atlantic's Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th St., NYC. Tickets: 212-279-4200;
Christians might also like to know:
-- Lord's name taken in vain

Quick Hit Theater Review: Rapture, Blister, Burn

Rapture, Blister, Burn
By Gina Gionfriddo
Directed by Peter DuBois
Playwrights Horizons

What is it about?
Catherine (Amy Brenneman) returns to take a job secured for her by old college flame Don (Lee Tergesen), now married to her former roomate, Gwen (Kellie Overbey), who stole Don while Catherine went abroad. The marriage isn't blissful, however. Gwen is trying to stay off the bottle while coping with a husband who needs constant encouragement to further his career. Catherine's success as an academic writing and speaking about women's rights is threatening to Gwen, who gave up her ambitions to stay at home and raise a family. She enrolls in Catherine's women's studies class, along with her babysitter, Avery (Virginia Kull). Also popping in is Catherine's mother, Alice (Beth Dixin), with some cocktails and advice for her daughter. What she suggests to her daughter is surprising -- that what Catherine really wants is a home and family with Don. Can the two women find happiness by swopping lives?

What are the highlights?
Strong performances across the board from the women. Gionfriddo (Becky Shaw) writes an intelligent script with humorous dialogue offering an insightful examination of women's choices, the women's movement (or lack thereof)  and generational perceptions of what women want with a few plot twists to keep things interesting.

Alexander Dodge's nifty, quick-change set.

What are the lowlights?
Tergesen's less steady performance gets lost in the crowd.

More information:
Rapture, Blister, Burn plays through June 24 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., NYC.
Performances: Tuesdays at 7 pm, Wednesdays through Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 pm; Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 pm.

Tickets: $70 or 212- 279-4200 (noon to 8 pm daily)

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
-- Sexual dialogue
-- God's name taken in vain

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Godspell Will Close on Broadway June 24

Broadway's first-ever revival of the legendary rock musical Godspell will play its final performance at the Circle in the Square Theatre, 1633 Broadway at 50th Street, Sunday, June 24.
Godspell began its Broadway run on Oct. 13, 2011 and officially opened on Nov. 7, 2011 after a prior production had failed to raise enough funds to open on Broadway. This production opened investment to theater lovers and "regular" folks with contributions as small as $1,000. At the time of its closing, the  productions, directed by Daniel Goldstein, with out-of-the-box choreography by Christopher Gattelli, will have played 30 preview performances and 264 regular performances.
Godspell will launch its first national tour in the 2013-2014 theater season.

If you already saw this revival, or if you were thinking you might want to see it, catch Corbin Bleu as Jesus if you can before the show closes. I recently revisited Godspell when he took over the role following the departure of Hunter Parrish and was impressed with his interpretation of Jesus as a caring, teacher of authority. You can read my original review of the show by clicking here.

Shout out to producer Ken Davenport who does his best to keep God on the stage in New York (another of his shows was the popular Off-Broadway Altar Boyz). What can we be praying about for you next, Ken?

The regular weekly performance schedule is as follows:
Tuesdays at 8; Wenesdays at 2:30pm; Thursday and Friday evenings at 8; Saturdays at 2:30 and  8 pm; Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 pm. Tickets are $79.50 - $135 and are available by calling 212-239-6200 or by visiting the box office or  Group sales: 1-855-329-2932.

--Lauren Yarger

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Quick Hit Theater Review: Potted Potter

Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience
A Parody by Dan Clarkson and Jefferson Turner

What is it?
A parody retelling of the seven books in the Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling. Dan and Jeff play all of the main characters, get a little help from audience members and put on an audience-interactive game of Quidditch in a brisk 70-minute, intermissionless performance (that really ran about 85 minutes the day I saw it).

What are the highlights?
It is a lot of fun, even if you haven't ever read any of the books or seen any of the movies (like me -- well, I saw the first movie, but that is as far as my Hogwarts training goes). The technique is to "read" through the books, so everything is explained -- at least well enough to follow. A friend who attended with me, who has enjoyed the Potter series, said there is a lot of funny stuff in there for the more knowledgeable too. She laughed a lot at a bit involving a snake. The day I attended, a particularly hyper child was selected to come up on stage and added quite a bit to the audience's laughter. Some little kids seated near me thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

What are the lowlights?
A rather lengthy introduction bit cobs up the works and isn't necessary.  Once Jeff and Dan get into the actual parody, the fun begins. Interestingly, the ending is a bit of a let down. Fine tuning on both ends will make this a sharper presentation.

What else do I need to know?
This show has played to sold-out houses in Toronto, London, Edinburgh, Australia and New Zealand, and plays at the Little Shubert Theatre, 422 West 42nd St., between 9th and 10th avenues, NYC through Aug. 12.
For tickets, call 212-239-6200.
Christian might also like to know:
-- If you are OK with Harry Potter, you and your kids of all ages should enjoy this.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Musical Journey That's ... Amazing

The cast of Amazing Grace. Photo: Diane Sobolewski
Epic Tale of Slavery and Grace Eyes the Great White Way
By Lauren Yarger
It's a love story weaved between the threads of slavery, forgiveness and faith and though everyone is familiar with the hymn that grew out of it, no one has tried to put the epic tale on the stage before. Until now.

Amazing Grace is getting a run at Goodspeed Musicals' developmental Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, CT with an eye toward hitting Broadway. This might seem like a lofty goal given the large scale of  the production in a struggling economy that has producers holding on tightly to their investment dollars  (even smaller musicals can cost tens of millions of dollars to produce in New York). And the material is religious to boot (religious-themed shows have a hard time getting favorable reviews on the Great White Way.) Given the nothing-short-of-miraculous journey of the musical, so far, however, all things may be possible.

The musical is the creative baby of Christopher Smith, a soft-spoken Warwick, PA resident who as a teen had taught himself to play the guitar by watching video tapes. Music provided an escape from a difficult home: his parents divorced and his mother struggled with depression. He wrote a lot of folk music and listened to a lot of music videos. He found that music started to "build pictures" in his head and that he could "feel" how the music should sound.
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Christopher Smith.
He attended Catholic schools, but "didn't believe in much of anything" until he was 17 when he met up with a youth director who invited him to join the group at his church.

"I was a nerdy kid who didn't get along with anyone, but these people loved me even when I was a dork."

The experience led him to start attending their Presbyterian church and a personal faith in God. In 1996, helping with a youth activity for the church, he picked up a children's book about John Newton, the writer of the Amazing Grace hymn, and his passions of music and faith fused.

Some research revealed that no one before had focused a stage musical on Newton, the 18th-century slave trader who came to faith, became a clergyman and strongly supported the abolitionist movement in England. He would do it, he decided, despite the facts that he never had written anything for the theater and doesn't actually read music.
 "Daybreak," one of the songs included in Amazing Grace, actually is the third song he ever composed.

"I wrote from the heart years ago," then years later, his wife suggested that the tune would be  perfect for Amazing Grace.
He continued working on the musical off and on for about 10 years, knowing that it had "all the stuff of good drama."

"It has a a personal story of redemption about a man who has made mistakes and comes through tumultuous circumstances," he said, drawing comparisons to Les Mis.

Finally, in 2006, he mentioned the work to a musician friend in Bucks County, PA who was excited by the project and encouraged Smith to show it to others. Smith borrowed some music composing  software from his brother and created an overture (you can listen to it here, along with other selections form the score). He went to offices and homes to tell the story, sing songs and drum up interest in the project.

"The first half million dollars came from right inside Buck's County," he said.
Smith set up a reading at a Baptist church which could seat 600 people and had to find room for 1,200 who showed up. A second reading was set up for New York in the Empire State Building. Attending was Carolyn Rossi Copeland, founder of the former Lamb's Theater in Times Square, and producer of successful shows like Smoke on the Mountain, Gifts of the Magi, Johnny Pye, Roads to Home and Freud's Last Session, about an imaginary meeting between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, which currently is enjoying a long Off-Broadway run. 

"I went begrudgingly at first," said the producer who says she gets pitched anything with a religious connection because of her time with the Lambs, which was affiliated with the Nazarene Church. Once she heard the music, she was glad she went.
The story, however, needed development, she thought. Smith had stuck close to historic facts and focused on the love story between Newton and his childhood sweetheart Mary Catlett (Smith drew upon his own relationship with his wife, Alana, who was his own high school sweetheart, to create a strong character for Mary, about whom not much is known).

Copeland felt that this story was as much the slaves’ as it was Newton's. She suggested bringing in Arthur Giron as a mentor. He eventually came on as co-writer of the book They added slaves as prominent characters and tell part of the tale from their point of view.  The rewrites have continued through the developmental run at Goodspeed where producer Michael P. Price's input and perspective have been invaluable, Smith said. Audience feedback following some performances is helpful too.

Gabriel Barre directs. The creative team includes choreographer Benoit-Swan Pouffer, Music Director Jodie Moore, Set Designer Beowulf Boritt and Costume Designer Toni-Leslie James.
"There are parts of Amazing Grace that are hard for me to watch," Smith said referring to the depiction of slavery, but he felt strongly about not "Disneyfying" that aspect of the story. "More than 27 million are in bondage today."

So is Broadway ready for an epic musical Goodspeed advertises as "Storms. Slavery. Romance. Redemption?"

Copeland and Smith think so, perhaps following a national tour.

Smith, who defines his own faith as broadminded and not defined by extremism, says the message in the musical is not religious, or preachy, but one which can appeal to everyone.

"It is written into our DNA that we want to be loved in spite of our failures," he said. Amazing Grace is about that (the beautiful tune "Nothing There to Love" puts this sentiment into a soul-touching ballad) and the fact that suffering matters, that people can go beyond perceived limits.

"We're trying to give the audience something so basic to the human heart that everyone will get it."

Apparently they are. The Box Office has done strong business and Copeland reported that the opening-night crowd lept to their feet at the final curtain with people talking about how moving they had found the show.
Amazing Grace runs at the Norma Terris, 33 North Main Street, Chester, CT, through June 10. For tickets and performance schedule: 860-873-8668;

Chris Peluso (Mamma Mia!, Lestat, and Assassins) stars as Newton with Whitney Bashor as Mary. Principal cast members are Mike Evarsite (Thomas/Keita); Harriet D. Foy (The Princess); Chris Hoch (Major Gray); Laiona Michelle (Nanna/Ayotunde); Dennis Parlato (Captain Newton).
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Whitney Bashor (Mary Catlett). Photo: Diane Sobolewski
 her supportive and beautiful family.

Gracewell Prodiuctions

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run. She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She wrote reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2022 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women or people of a certain race are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide, or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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