Welcome to Asheville Performing Arts Reviews: Online and Ontarget

Thanks to our contributers and the readers of Mountain Xpress for voting APAR: Online and Ontarget 3rd best blog in WNC for 2006!

Please respond to reviews by clicking on "Comments" at the end of the review, and adding yours.

Contribute new reviews by emailing them to Bernhard Grier at berngrier @ gmail.com.

14 August 2009


Been getting a few inquiries as to whether APAR is still operational. Good question. Ever since the MX theatre blog went live, they seemed to take such the brunt of both reviews and comments that this blog seemed less useful. I got out of the habit of regular updates.
So... is anyone missing it? I'm happy to keep it going, and/or to work on restructuring it to be a better resource for everyone.
What do you, dear readers, want? Let's make it happen.

18 June 2009

Man of La Mancha

From the Citizen-Times

Check out ‘Man of La Mancha'
Flat Rock actors present classic with great zest

“Magnificent” is the word brought to mind by Flat Rock Playhouse's “Man of La Mancha,” the timeless story of the 17th- century “mad knight” who jousts with windmills and pursues the impossible dream.

A play within a play, “La Mancha” tells the story of Spanish tax collector Miguel de Cervantes, who with his assistant Sancho is thrown into prison to await the judgment of the Inquisition for daring to tax a monastery.

To escape harsh treatment from fellow prisoners, Cervantes seeks to amuse them by acting out a story he has written. It tells the tale of a delusional old man who proclaims himself Don Quixote, a knight-errant who seeks to right all wrongs.

David Lutken gives an unforgettable performance as Don Quixote, whose grandiose self-deception has no limits. Not only does he imagine himself a knight 300 years after the age of knights, but he declares the lowly harlot Aldonza to be instead the high-born lady Dulcinea, the epitome of innocence and grace.

Ariela Morgenstern is delightful as saucy wench Aldonza. She jeers at Don Quixote's doting attention to her as the fair Dulcinea but slowly begins to believe she can have a better life.

Patric John Morgan gives a touching performance as Sancho, who follows Don Quixote's madcap fantasies wherever they lead, proclaiming, “I really like him.” The delusion reaches manic proportions when Don Quixote declares the brass shaving basin carried by the barber (Scott Treadway) is really the “golden helmet of Mandrino.”

Of course, noble ambitions inevitably draw opposition. Don Quixote is obsessed with an archenemy he calls “the Enchanter,” but his greatest nemesis is scheming Dr. Carrasco (Damian Duke Domingue), who seeks to shatter his grand illusions with the searing truth of reality.

“Man of La Mancha” focuses on the age-old dichotomy between man's sometimes soaring aspirations (“The Impossible Dream”) and his much baser achievement, whether it is better to reach for the unattainable or settle for what is easy and obvious.

With book by Dale Wasserman, music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion, it tells of Don Quixote's quest in some of the best-loved music of the American theater. To deliver the full sound required for this production, Flat Rock has assembled the largest music contingent in the theater's history, including some outstanding Hendersonville High School band members.

Director Paige Posey and a strong cast of veteran Flat Rock actors and some talented newcomers deliver a show that is among the best in recent memory. If you plan to see only one show at the Rock this summer, make this the one.

Tim Reid reviews theater for Take5. Contact him at timreid4@charter.net.

Funny Girl

From the C-T

“Funny Girl,” opening the season at Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre, is a most representative, if formulaic, example of 20th century American musical theater. It's full of New York showbiz elements: show girls, show tunes, aspects of vaudeville, a bit of Yiddish, sequins, glamour, star power, impresarios, glitz and lots of dazzling dancing. And it was well chosen for launching a rousing, upbeat, attention-getting summer of theater in the venerable Owen Theatre on the Mars Hill College campus.

Liz Aiello may have been born for the role of Fanny Brice in this slice of pseudo-history from the early life of the famed mid-century comedienne and stage maven. Barbra Streisand is forever associated with both stage and film forms of this story, and with major tunes from the score by Jule Styne. Think “People, people who love people — are the luckiest people in the world...,” and “Don't Rain on my Parade.”

Aiello competes favorably with the Streisand versions of both hits, and interprets all the subtle inflections with panache.

The show calls for a large cast and the stage is often filled with near a score of able actors, all capably coached by show director and company artistic director Bill Gregg. No way to name and comment on all the stellar talent, but some standouts amongst the cast are male lead Christopher Lynn of Asheville, who plays Brice's love interest Nick Arnstein, Peter Tamm as comic foil Eddie Ryan (and the boy can dance), and Chris Caggiano as the Ziegfeld tenor, whose soaring high register is most impressive. Tony Medlin is a mean Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr.

Choreographer Heidi Kulas has coached the dozen dancers into an ensemble of note. Amy Thrift, Amber Watson, Mary Ellen Jones, Erin McFarland, Rachel Shipley and Brittany Hazeldine are among a bevy of beauties who kick and wiggle with the best of them. Of the guy dancers Mitchel Hillburn and Mackenzie Knapp are notable magnetic movers and shakers. Some of the dance moves are quite daring and well accomplished.

Leigh Margaret Manning must have had much fun pulling together the garb with which to clothe these more-than-a-score actors.

Hats and shoes, topcoats and bags are all evocative of the roaring '20s, and add much to the visual appeal of the show. Richard Seagle gives us a deep, three-tiered set. Owen Theatre is lacking enough lighting power to fully illuminate the side areas of the broad stage, but light designer Robert Berls does the best with what he has to work with. Nice shadow effects, but brighter spots would be a positive addition.

A spirited, unseen house band is led by Paul Schierhorn, with Virginia McKnight on piano, Ben Clymer on trombone and Tim Morgan playing a mean trumpet for the “Cornet Man” tune. Bruce Lang, James Mathis and Justin Maybry round out the backstage band.

Never before have those crystal chandeliers hanging above the audience in Owen Theatre looked more appropriate than when Nick Arnstein woos Fanny Brice in various upscale locales. Those sparkling fixtures once hung in the lobby of downtown Asheville's Battery Park Hotel. A touch of Ziegfeld, way off-Broadway.

Jim Cavener reviews theater for take5.

05 June 2009

Like Mother

This is from the C-T. It is a review of two shows, but there is already a posting for I Wrote This Play..., so there you are.

Theater review: NC Stage does two comedies in repertory
Original post.

Jim Cavener I take5 Correspondent • published June 5, 2009 12:15 am

N.C. Stage Company is trying something different with its current repertory production of the comedy “Like Mother” and “I Wrote this Play to Make You Love Me.” The company has long considered a repertory session, with two or more plays and some of the same cast in production at the same time. For the early summer, comedies seemed to be in order.

“Mother” and “Wrote” are written by women writers/actors known to NCSC's founders from their days of theater in New York City, and both of whom had come to Asheville in recent years to appear in the theater's productions.

The third play in this series, “A Beautiful View,” was also on the company's radar screen, and will join the season on June 17th.

Both current works are somewhat autobiographical and both are billed as comedies, although both have serious, meaningful overtones. “Wrote This Play” is deadly serious much of the time, and is for the most mature audiences. The material and language is rife with candid sexual situations — think “Sex and The City” with no holds barred. This is hard-core candor, tough-talking topics and graphic language.

These two vehicles have much in common: youngish women, writing from their experience in theater in Gotham, starring in their own work. In “Mother” the playwright, Shannon Polly, is the only actor on stage, although voice-overs by Willie Repoley are quite vivid, yet the father-figure they bring is heard, not seen. “Mother” is seen from the perspective of the daughter of the proverbial stage-mother-from-hell. It's intensified by her daughter's marriage, and the mother's being “mother-of-the-bride” — with all the rights and privileges appertaining thereto.

In “Wrote” Anne Thibault interprets Lysette, with local stage presence Hans Meyer playing the male figures, notably Lysette's brother Zach.

But the major work is done by the author. It is the life story of a young actress, as told from the perspective of the too oft passed-over Lysette getting the role of her dreams, that of Nora in Ibsen's “The Doll's House.” The central events of her life are all of loss rather than gain, as in being abandoned by a mother, the loss of a brother, the distance and decline of a father, and the frustration and futility of having lots of sex, but little intimacy or affection.

Polly, of “Mother,” is charming, delightful and appealing as herself and her mother. This is a ribald spoof of dominating moms, but with some tender and authentic moments of genuine emotion, which keeps the fun from being saccharine and syrupy.

Thibault's “Wrote” is much more serious, and there is much poignancy and pathos. Thibault's character study of Lysette is wise and deep beyond her years, the writing is painfully beautiful, and her performing is well done. Both writers know how to construct drama and write contemporary dialogue that rings true.

A distinguishing aspect between these two effective plays is that “Mother” incorporates six splendid songs that advance the plot, with Polly able to belt the Broadway ballad with the best of them. Although the songs are not well known, they borrow from show tune genres, and even incorporate a few bars of familiar theater tunes, to good effect.

“Wrote” has to get all its mileage simply from the power of words, and there is a lot to be gotten from this script.

Jim Cavener writes on theater for take5

I wrote this play to make you love me.

This is a post from the blog Art Seen Asheville(Art Seen Asheville: I wrote this play to make you love me.)

With a title like "I wrote this play to make you love me" how could you not go see this show which is currently running at NC Stage Company in downtown Asheville. I realized the other day that 95% of the plays I've really enjoyed or had the most interest in attending played at NC Stage Company. As far as seeing good theater in Asheville - this venue seems the most reliable.
Written by and starring Anne Thibault, IWTPTMYLM is a terrific piece of theater which literally made me laugh and cry. Thibault carries the play with her powerful presence and her timing between vignettes is dead on. Using minimal props and no scene changes, the strength of the piece lies in Thibault's uncompromising script about a struggling actress - Lysette - who is dealing with the emotional woes of her married boyfriend. Along the way, we learn about past love affairs, her emotionally torn childhood, and her Catholic upbringing via really hilarious conversations with her brother.
When I read on the website that "only adults will be admitted" of course I rolled my eyes a little. I was thinking, okay, what does "adult content" exactly refer to - how risque is this really gonna get? In retrospect I can see why you wouldn't want to bring your kids to see this but I think teenagers could appreciate most of the content - especially girls. I know I could have handled it as a teen (Just not while sitting next to my mother. OMFG.)
They say we laugh to keep from crying, and the humor of this play is born out of some intense life experiences. I'm still giggling over that scene where she's comparing the guys tongue to a minnow. I have to admit, I shed a tear (well, many tears) the second act and was holding them back in the first one.
While you're at it, check out the two other plays that are running at NC Stage this season. Bitch from Bitch and Animal was sitting next to me in the audience and she filled me in on the fact that she and Thibault will be performing in a piece together beginning June 17. Sounds like a intriguing combination to me.
www.ncstage.org for more information and schedule

03 June 2009


If anyone was doubting Rock Eblen's ability to effectively produce, direct, and act in a Broadway style musical using only local talent, they should have seen his latest effort at Diana Wortham Theatre May 14-17. A wise collaboration with The Asheville Arts Center put Eblen at the helm for this ambitious project despite the lean economy and stiff competition with other local theaters. On opening night audience members were practically jumping out of their seats when the cast came out for curtain call.

Last year, Eblen pulled off JC SUPERSTAR in the same venue, although one writer in this blog seemed bent on attacking him for taking on the role of Jesus. The guy likes to act and he's damn good at it...so what if he also produces and directs at the same time? A true artist doesn't heed people who say "You can't do that!" So if one chooses to be so bold, he better know theater, and he better know how to cast good local talent who will do it for no pay. This is community theater we're talking about...yet I overheard tourists in the audience who thought TOMMY was a professional production. That's how good it was.

Of course it wasn't flawless. There were some problems with body mics cutting out, and a few missed light cues. The band sound levels had to be adjusted, but once the musicians got rockin', every head, even the grey heads, started bobbin' to Pete Townshend's classic rock score. Chuck Taft is a gifted musical director, able to handle anything from The Who's wild stuff to Lerner and Loewe. The music was pretty much non-stop with small bits of dialogue to elucidate Tommy's journey. Excellent choreography came from Mary Katherine Smith, and Susan Sertain of The Costume Shoppe put together delightful period costumes ranging from the 40's to the 60's.

Another fascinating aspect of this production was the staging. Eblen had the actors zipping stylish sets in and out while scenes magically blended into each other. He designed two of the set pieces from scratch, one being a flashy pinball machine Tommy could actually ride on, and the other a giant yellow slanted "T" (toppled Tommy) which took on various disguises to become by turn a Union Jack court, a purple pulpit, and even a bright red gypsy chariot.

Talk about gypsys, Margaret Evans was belting like Tina when she took little Tommy and the audience for a ear-bending ride with the Acid Queen.

Young Gabriel Gibson was perfect as the deaf, dumb, and blind kid who made many eyes moist that evening. Payton Turpin was major comic relief with his Uncle Ernie's Holiday Camp song on a giant tricycle. Newcomer Brad Pearsall was hot in black leather as he strutted and crooned the role of bully Cousin Kevin. Nicely polished duets came from Kelli Mullinix (Mrs.Walker) with Rod Leigh (Lover and The Hawker) and a new song added to the show by Townshend which she sang with Eblen as Captain Walker. The all important role of Narrator/Tommy was caked with charisma by Michael Wilson whose voice can melt your bones.

This was a terrific fundraiser for Eblen Charities and proves Bioflyer Productions is here to stay. So if you missed it, you missed it. But I dare you to find anybody WHO did see it WHO didn't love THE WHO'S TOMMY.

--Estella Banks

08 May 2009

A Body of Water

Theater review: "A Body of Water" is powerful production

Jim Cavener • published May 8, 2009 10:59 am

The term psychological drama has become a cliche, too often used. Yet, if any single phrase could describe the Immediate Theatre Project's latest show, “A Body of Water,” this might be it. This script by Lee Blessing is a doozey, and is a major mind-bender. But, that's just for starters.

With “Body of Water” we have his consummate conundrum, an enigma shrouded in a quandary. There is a chronological challenge here, but more. The major characters wake each morning with no certainty of who they are and what they have in common.

We have this undefined couple, a possible daughter, and an unseen alleged murder victim. But, could she' be simply an angry child taking it out on befuddled parents? Or not their child at all? Who's playing who for what?

The stark but dazzlingly dramatic stage is set with chic white-on-black contemporary furnishings loaned by Mobilia.

Lighting uses intensity almost as ambient visual punctuation. It's a captivating trick and one which enriches the whole. These technical theater elements are lumped together as “production design” and attributed to Immediate Theatre Project. Clearly, director and company co-founder Hans Meyer (along with other ITP principals Lauren Fortuna and Willie Repoley) are behind this brilliance.

The cast is small but stellar: company veteran and local diva Kay Galvin is the woman, Avis, who may have a husband, and may have a daughter. The man, Moss, who may be husband and/or father is given by long-time N.C. School of the Arts acting professor Marty Rader. These are mature and well-rendered roles, well carrying much weight.

Maybe the most curious of the three roles is the younger woman, not a victim of dementia or amnesia, but more scary. Katie Fuller is aptly cast as Wren or Robin, or some bird-name, and needs only to speak a tad more slowly and loudly to give us all the nuances of this critical role. Is she working on legal defense or is she a sadistic manipulator? Loving daughter or vicious con-artist?

A murder mystery with frank sexual discussions, a high-tension game of power and control, some charming comedic moments amongst the tension, and a psycho-drama of intense dimensions all combined in one two hour experience. Asheville does do theater well.

Jim Cavener writes on theater for the Citizen-Times.

05 May 2009

Enchanted April

Please click on the title above to link to the MX review. (Thanks, MX!)

26 April 2009


Maybe the MX is going to keep these reviews coming, Let's hope so.

Urinetown the Musical at Theatre UNCA
By John Crutchfield on 04/24/2009

I once cautioned a friend of mine who was coming to see me perform in a production of Twelfth Night some years ago at Appalachian State University, to keep in mind that for college theatre productions, the show’s educational value was at least as important as its aesthetic — and certainly its commercial — value. The main purpose of such productions is to provide an educational experience (however defined) for the students; and depending on the program, this is not necessarily the same thing as putting on the strongest show possible in artistic terms.

I assume this is one reason why high school and college theatre departments so often do Broadway musicals. Apart from the variety of specific skills required of the performers, such productions demand a massive coordinated effort among actors, musicians, dancers, set and costume designers, lighting and sound designers, stage hands, etc., to say nothing of the staff of directors. The musical, one might say, is another great symbol of American Democracy. But on second thought, so is The Pequod.

In any event, I have little doubt that the students involved in the current production at UNCA (and there are lots of them), are learning a tremendous amount from this experience. They obviously love doing the show, and through much of it, their enthusiasm is enough to carry the audience along.

The play, Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis’s scrappy hit, Urinetown, arose from the pungent July heat of the New York Fringe Festival in 1999 to become one of the most celebrated new musicals on Broadway in 2001. It ran continuously at the Henry Miller Theatre until June of 2004. Above all, critics praised it for its meta-theatrical wit (c.f. Officer Lockstock: “You’re too young to understand it right now, Little Sally, but nothing can kill a show like too much exposition”), and was seen to present a rather acerbic satire of American capitalism, populism, government bureaucracy and corporate greed.

It’s the satiric element, manifested in the play as irony, that is most interesting, since in its structure (the so-called “non-happy-ending” notwithstanding) the play is entirely conventional. Performing it thus presents certain challenges that go beyond those usually associated with musicals. The performers must not only sing, dance and (yes) act; they must also — and this is absolutely essential — refrain from playing the irony. Unfortunately, self-restraint is not something one expects many college actors (or actors at all, for that matter) to be good at without strong directing. The director has to help the actors see that the plot and dialogue are already doing the work of the satire. Their job, as performers, is to commit to their characters’ intentions in the scene, and play it straight.

This sounds simple enough in theory, but in practice is incredibly difficult — especially in an age (and age-group) where irony is, as it were, the default setting. Director Rob Bowen and his colleagues deserve praise for challenging their students to meet the demands of such a sophisticated play. And the result is, perhaps not surprisingly, mixed.

The play is set in a dystopian world where, in an effort to conserve water, private toilets have been banned, along with public urination, while a single mega-corporation (“Urine Good Company”) owns all public bathrooms—for the use of which a fee is charged. (According to legend, the conceit has its origins in writer Kotis’ experience traveling “on a budget” in France.) As a dramatic premise, this sounds serviceable enough. But Urinetown, despite its title, is in fact a rather antiseptic play. Its self-conscious meta-theatricality is turned up so high that all authentic emotion boils away in an instant. Hence the question of the relative “happiness” of the ending never really arises — or rather, it arises only because one of the characters raises it. Moreover, very little of the actual plot is not directly or indirectly derived (and always with a wink and a nudge) from other well-known musicals: West Side Story comes to mind, as do Les Miserables and several of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s better-known works. Even Brecht’s Threepenny Opera contributes a character or two, and Kurt Weill’s score is audible, if somewhat garbled, in Hollmann’s. One has the impression that the play consists almost entirely of quotations from other musicals; and indeed, the show’s creators make little effort to conceal these larcenies. On the contrary, they assume we recognize them, and this is what gives the play that postmodern je ne sais quoi.

In other words, the play seeks to create — and appeal to (or, to put it bluntly, exploit) — a kind of “insider”-community consciousness among people who know and love the Broadway Musical, with all its conventions, its hackneyed melodrama and endlessly re-animated tropes. Without this meta-theatrical consciousness, the play is as devoid of charm as it is of content. It’s just not that interesting to watch people pretending to have to pee really badly.

Luckily, most of the audience at UNCA’s Belk Theatre seemed to “get” it, and in fact, the night I saw the show, they forgave the under-rehearsed dance numbers, the capricious lighting and the mishandled entrances and exits, and gave the cast a standing ovation. Nevertheless, I couldn’t shake the impression that some of the actors were scarcely aware that they were performing in front of an audience at all. (I noticed several of them slouching in their tableaux, literally resting on their haunches, and one or two even mouthing speeches or songs that belonged to someone else.) For some others, their awareness of the audience seemed so palpable, and the desire to please so desperate, that they were hard to watch.

But then there is Cody Magouirk. A senior theatre major who appeared memorably as “Caliban” in last year’s The Tempest Project, this young man almost succeeds in making it all okay. It would be easy to enumerate his many strengths as a performer — his physical precision and expressiveness would certainly be at the top of such a list –– but I’d like to focus on one quality I find rare indeed in young actors: the guy knows how to stay in the scene. In this, he is not alone in the cast, but he’s by far the most consistent. When Magouirk is on stage, though his performance as “Bobby Strong” (the romantic lead) is far from flawless, we know we’re in good hands: the energy picks up, the scene starts to move, the other actors come alive, things happen, we can hear what’s being said and sung. By the same token, no sooner has he made his exit than the tension starts to sag again. The latter half of Act II suffers in this respect, and it passes that suffering on.

Magouirk’s performance is funny, too, precisely because he refrains from the mugging that wreaks havoc on most of the other performances. He knows, perhaps intuitively, what most of the other performers apparently do not: that even in the hyper-stylized and artificial world of the Broadway Musical, someone trying to be funny is less amusing than someone trying to be serious and failing. Magouirk embodies his absurd, one-dimensional character with complete conviction. He plays it straight, as the play requires, and he responds with a lively spontaneity to what the other actors give him. I also liked Carly Crawford as “Little Sally” (How does such a loud voice come from such a small person?), and Skyler Goff as “Caldwell B. Cladwell” and Bridget Paterson as “Hope Cladwell” both have strong scenes. No one is seriously miscast. The costumes are well-conceived and executed, and on the whole, the singing in the show is quite impressive. The band (under Musical Director Ruth Seiber Johnson), manages admirably, despite the predictable and cliché-riddled score. I found at least something to admire in almost every scene.

I realize of course that I’m holding these students — and their teachers — to what is really a rather high professional standard. Perhaps that’s unfair. After all, a standing ovation has got to mean something, a testimony to the audience having been entertained. Shouldn’t that be enough? Besides, who’s the outsider here? I have no detailed knowledge of the specific training these students are getting, and hence can only speculate as to the pedagogical intentions behind this production. But I do know that this program has been an important part of the theatre community here in Asheville for many years now, as well as the incubator of many of our currently active theatre artists — professional and amateur alike. I would like to imagine that, were I an ambitious theatre student there, the perspective of someone outside my immediate school environment would be salutary, if for no other reason than this: after graduation, there’ll be nothing more between me and the audience but my hard-won skills and self-discipline, my intelligence and the depth of my commitment to the art of theatre. If I haven’t built up the courage necessary to stay in the scene with friends, how will I find it with people I don’t know, and in front of strangers?

Urinetown, The Musical, playing at UNCA’s Belk Theatre, through Sunday, April 26, evenings at 8 p.m., matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets: $10/$12/$15. Music: Mark Hollmann. Lyrics: Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis. Book: Greg Kotis. Director: Rob Bowen. Musical Director: Ruth Seiber Johnson. Choreography: Cherie Holmes.


A review from blueridgenow.com, http://www.blueridgenow.com/article/20090423/NEWS/904239958/1151?Title=-Art-is-a-play-you-ll-ponder-on-the-way-home

'Art' is a play you'll ponder on the way home
By Bill Moss
Times-News Staff Writer

A fun exercise among old friends, having seen Art, the new play at Flat Rock Playhouse, would be to uncork a favorite bottle of wine and ask:

1. Who was right? Was Serge right to follow his heart and spontaneously shell out for a painting the amount most people would spend on a house? Was best friend Marc right to be upset about this? How could Yvan, the natural diplomat who has no opinions of his own, have moderated the war better?

2. Who do you know that’s like Yvan? How about Serge? How about Marc? (Marc, definitely.)

3. Is Art more suitable for 20-somethings, 30-somethings, 40-somethings or beyond?

In other words, Art is the sort of play that we think about on the way home, and the next day.

An internationally acclaimed comedy originally in French, Art is tightly crafted and expertly acted by three Playhouse veterans — Scott Treadway (Serge), Bill Munoz (Marc) and Damian Duke Domingue (Yvan).

Longtime friends in real life, the three portray friends whose relationship is capsized by Serge’s purchase of a modern painting, the value of which only he can see.

The casting is perfect.

Serge, a dermatologist and art aficionado, starts the ruckus by buying the white-on-white painting, with faintly discernible lines signifying ... well, something, at least to him. Treadway is Treadway, rock-solid and reliably comic, marvelously quizzical in his reaction to both of his friends. As always, he is as good reacting to what’s around him as speaking.

Munoz turns in a strong performance of quiet rage, then not so quiet rage at the disintegration of the underpinning of his relationship with Serge, at least in his way of thinking.

As Yvan, Domingue delivers a hilarious story of the most mixed-up pre-wedding crisis you’ve ever heard, made even funnier by the thunderstruck reaction of his two friends.

The conflict starts at the very top, with Serge’s art purchase and Marc’s visceral negative reaction to it. The disagreement unearths an underlying hostility between the two, like pollution bubbling up from leaky barrels.

Marc cannot understand how his friend could “lose every ounce of discernment, for sheer snobbery.” Serge can’t stand Marc’s aggressive refusal to be “modern,” to “live in his time.”

Yvan finds himself in the middle, hapless and helpless. He’s got problems enough dealing with his fiancee, stepmother, mother and other wedding landmines, yet is pulled violently to and fro by Serge and Marc. It’s not enough that they’ve turned on each other; they turn on him, too.

He’s an ineffective umpire, stampeded and obliterated by a bench-clearing brawl of two. Serge and Marc in turn are catty, bull-headed and snarling as they intensify the battle.

There’s either a lot going on here, or not much, depending on your perspective. It’s "Seinfeld" if George, Kramer and Jerry had more money and better educations. And like a Seinfeld episode, it’s hard to see how the conflict can resolve at all, much less amicably.
* * *

This is all funnier than it sounds. It’s often hilarious. These three actors would excel at most anything the Playhouse could stage; the booster rocket of Art is the script, with its fast-paced repartee and truly funny lines. They don’t have to rescue weak material, as with a Norm Foster “comedy.”

Marc has become so unraveled over the art purchase that he takes to swallowing tranquilizers.

“What are you eating?” Serge asks.

“Ignatia,” Marc says.

“You believe in homeopathy now?”

“I don’t believe in anything.”

It’s a funny line but filled with meaning, too. Marc does believe strongly in friendship, and he feels that has been undercut. Eventually, we learn why he thinks Serge’s decision to spend $200,000 on a white-on-white canvas is such an affront.

Dennis Maulden’s set is spare; a script this strong does not require embellishment. Michael Mauren’s lighting is just right, not overbearing.
* * *

Art has gotten publicity for its use of the F word. Those loaded for a big scandal I think will be disappointed.

For the historical record, the word was uttered on the Flat Rock Playhouse stage for the first time at 8:49 p.m. Wednesday, April 22, 2009 AD.

“Yvan manages to be late for everything,” Serge says. “Where in the f--- is he?”

It’s uttered several more times, including a machine-gun repetition among all three characters arguing over who “f---ed up” the evening.

If you don’t want to hear the word, don’t go. It’s not hidden.

But it’s not a major star of the script by any means. Instead of an F-bomb, it’s a series of F-spitballs. It will be jarring to delicate ears, uttered from this well-loved stage, but hardly more offensive than the sex-saturated cheating housewife dramas and double entendre-laced sitcoms that ooze through our TV sets.

Art is much more entertaining than the small-screen stuff, and less offensive than a lot of movies on the big screen.

Volumes have been devoted to the meaning of art and the meaning of friendship. Art, the play, combines that exploration in a most enjoyable and provocative way.


A rare review from the MX

Eve-olution at Asheville Commmunity Theatre
By Jamie Shell on 04/16/2009

Look beyond the abominable title. ACT’s 35Below is currently presenting the North Carolina premiere of Hilary Illick and Jennifer Krier’s Eve-Olution. But the writing is better than one might think.

Eve-olution is the story of two working mothers, Alison (Susan Stanley) and Liza (Wendi Loomis). The women tell their stories of balancing career, relationship, and child-rearing via alternating monologues on separate halves of the stage, centered around their respective beds. A lot of the action happens to take place in the bedroom (not like that – okay, sometimes like that). The minimal set (designed by Jillian Summers) works well to facilitate both a basic visual for the backdrop of their vignettes, and a hiding place for the various props that enhance their speaking.

The script is, perhaps, a little chick flick-y, but I appreciated its candor, humor and vulnerability. The writing touches the difficulties of career women starting families, within the frame of Alison’s and Liza’s perceptions of their own mothers, and the influences of their mothers on their own child-rearing. (This latter point resonated with me, despite my lack of children ... well, other than the 75 teenagers whose minds I attempt to mold during the week.)

The arc of the play takes a little while to firmly differentiate between the struggles of the two characters. At first they are both just noticing that their careers and relationships are suffering—it felt a little niche and a little unnecessary to have two separate characters with the same problem. The characters do develop more distinctly, as Alison copes with the idea of abandoning her job altogether, and with the envy of her model-parent-type friends. Liza learns to juggle four small children and a laptop. Liza, with one notable exception, tends to have more cute and funny problems, while Alison’s obstacles move a bit more towards pathos, though in a real rather than melodramatic way.

Both actors deliver strong, convincing performances. Loomis lends the appropriate comic, exuberant, and, at times harried air to make Liza a very likeable though flawed persona. Stanley is exceptional, particularly in bringing out the deep insecurity and sensuality of her character. Direction by Anne Slatton is virtually invisible, in the way good direction should be. The one questionable choice—which may have been scriptural in nature—was bringing the two women together at center stage at the beginning and end of the play. Their characters aren’t written to be friends, and the lines in these scenes are still, essentially, monologues, yet they interact with each other as though they are acquainted. The effect is rather stilted and odd.

Eve-olution is a by turns honest, painful, charming and humorous take on modern motherhood. I expect mothers will particularly relate and enjoy, but offspring are not a prerequisite to being entertained by this play.