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30 November 2007

Flat Rock's Tuna

from the C-T again...

by Tim Reid, take 5 correspondent
published November 30, 2007 12:15 am

FLAT ROCK — The Christmas Phantom threatens to ruin “A Tuna Christmas” in the hilarious sequel to “A Greater Tuna” by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard.

Veteran Flat Rock comic actors Scott Treadway and Michael Edwards play all 22 characters as Texas’ “third-smallest” town prepares its annual Christmas decorating contest.

Vera Carp has won the contest 14 years in a row but faces strong competition from upstarts like Tasty-Crème waitresses Inita Goodwin and Helen Bedd. And no one is safe from the mysterious phantom, who wrecks somebody’s yard decorations each year.

Radio station personalities Thurston Wheelis and Arles Struvie provide a running dialogue on Tuna’s Christmas preparations, interspersed with commercials by Didi Snavely, owner of Didi’s Used Weapons.

A touching drama plays out as Bertha Bumiller struggles to have a traditional Christmas with her family. This is complicated by the fact that her trucker husband is absent as usual, her son Stanley is almost certain to go back to jail, and her daughter Charlene has a crush on gay theater director Joe Bob Lipsey.

Treadway and Edwards are awesome as they deftly switch characters, keeping up the frantic pace that gives the play its punch. The humor is wild, the satire on small-town life is revealing, and the laughs are nonstop.

It has been three years since Flat Rock last presented “A Greater Tuna.” Judging from the spontaneous standing ovation given Treadway and Edwards for this go-around, which is directed by Betsy Bisson, Texas’ third-smallest town has lost none of its appeal.

Tim Reid reviews theater for the Citizen-Times. Contact him at timreid4@charter.net.


C-T, of course...

Theater review: Enjoy some down-home ‘Southern Hospitality’
by Tim Reid, take 5 Correspondent
published November 23, 2007 12:15 am

ASHEVILLE — The Futrelle sisters swing into action to save their beloved Fayro, Texas, in “Southern Hospitality,” the third installment of the popular story by Asheville comedy writers Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten.

This time Fayro is suffering an economic decline with the loss of businesses and jobs. Even Geneva Musgrave (Thelma Cousins), owner of the Bookoo Bouquet florist shop, complains there hasn’t been “a good funeral” in months. Folks are going to have to leave their beloved town if a major new employer isn’t found soon. The Futrelle sisters aren’t about to let that happen.

Honey Raye (Joan Atwood) concocts a scheme to put on a giant “Fayro Days” festival to impress the president of a hot sauce factory who is considering moving his plant to Fayro.

Her sister Frankie (Kay Crews St. Clair) is pressed into hosting the visitor in her home, which they pretend is a bed and breakfast.

Meanwhile, just about everyone in town tries to make the hastily concocted “Fayro Days” a big success to impress the hot sauce king.

Frankie’s husband Dub (Roger Magendie) helps coordinate a Civil War battle re-enactment — never mind the fact there was no battle within hundreds of miles of Fayro.

Their daughter, Gina Jo (Julia Cunningham), puts on a petting zoo despite the fact that all she can muster are a dog, a cat and a stuffed emu. Her preacher husband, Justin (Cory Boughton), meanwhile gambles away their car at a nearby casino.

Twink Futrelle (Kerry Shannon) is determined to make her longtime boyfriend, John Curtis Butner (Steve Wilde), marry her as the highlight of Fayro Days.

Shirley Cohen nearly steals the show as Dub’s irascible Aunt Iney, who spits and fumes vitriol at Dub and Frankie’s every attempt to win her favor — and her sizable estate.

Frank Salvo does a wonderful job as Reynard Chisum, a simple but sweet town character who keeps gushing how great Fayro is while residents make absolute fools of themselves.

Jessie Jones directs this hilarious tale in which all the characters are over the top but somehow reminiscent of real people with all their faults and foibles.

A strong cast and an irresistible story line make this a sure crowd-pleaser.

Tim Reid reviews theater for the Citizen-Times. He can be contacted at timreid4@charter.net.

20 November 2007

Harm for the Holidays at NCSC

I’ve reliably missed Tom Chalmers perform David Sedaris’ “The Santaland Diaries” every year so far, and will miss it again this year. So I made a special effort to see his autobiographical one-man show “Harm for the Holidays,” running as part of the Catalyst Series at NCSC.

I don’t think this is the funniest work ever I’ve seen from Chalmers, but the evening’s mix of personal stories is a good one, and the tone is set as something less than a “laff riot” from the very beginning. Which is not to say it is not funny — it is. But many of the biggest laughs come packaged in groans of discomfort that such horrible things could happen to poor Tom, and some of the most effective material is a gently comic slant on these otherwise horrible situations, most of which involve uncomfortable family situations, and all of which are undercut by the slightly melancholy sense of relying on comedy to survive tragedy.

The play starts with the Christmas Eve death of a beloved grandfather, and this sweet but somber beginning firmly establishes the layout of the evening. It is surprisingly funny, but it is tinged through with a hint of sadness that grounds the show in a nicely real way. As an added bonus, this allows the moments where Chalmers seemingly riffs off script to be true asides that break the mood and inject the purest, least compromised laughs of the evening.

I don’t want to say too much about the material, and risk giving away any surprises. I’ll just end with this: if you are only interested in seeing “Tom Chalmers: Funnyman,” you may be slightly under-whelmed. But if you are looking for a very sweet, very heartfelt, and, yes, very funny performance that makes you appreciate both the flaws and wonders of your own family, consider coming “Harm for the Holidays.”

And now I turn the joke writing back to Mr. Tom Chalmers, ladies and gentlemen, who’s actually good at it.

--Willie Repoley

19 November 2007

The Pleasure Principle

Ok, I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for the drama department at Hendersonville High School. I can always count on their fall play to be one of the most exciting, surprising, and genuinely theatrical shows of the season, and this year’s offering is no exception.
This unexpected phenomenon started a few years back, when HHS produced Edward Gorey’s bizarre collection of random sentences passed off as a play called “Helpless Doorknobs”. Only Heather Malloy’s recent “The Many Deaths of Edward Gorey” has threatened to overtake that production as the most wonderfully inventive re-imaging of the spirit of Mr Gorey ever seen. I loved it.
I loved even more 2005’s ingenious re-thinking of an antiquated French play, “La Dispute,” a sort of allegory about two couples in a years-long pseudo-scientific experiment to study love and fidelity, as well as the nobles who commissioned and are watching the experiment. It was delightful and enchanting and earnest and moving, and I still hold it up with NCSC’s “The Syringa Tree” as one of the very the best shows of the season.
I regret to say that I had to miss last year’s reportedly post-noir Nancy Drew-meets-the-Hardy Boys concoction.
This year, I caught the possibly ill-conceived revival of a play they competed with earlier this season, an original piece called “The Pleasure Principle”. For the record, I only say “ill-conceived” because the performance had a slight air of a play who’s life had peaked during it’s first run, and this was a sort of post-show performance that couldn’t quite muster the oomph of the original run, especially not with a largely listless and rather small audience, comprised mostly, it seemed, of people who had probably already seen the show, and were now, a bit like the actors, returning dutifully, but not wholly enthusiastically.
But be that as it may. The show itself was beautiful and flawed and engaging and bizarre, and great, even on a slightly off night. Described as a “surrealistic fantasy,” it was based partially on the writing of Sophocles (Oedipus Rex), the theories of Sigmund Freud (especially the Oedipal Complex), and the political activism of the Zapatistas. The mix is odd, and does not always make literal or immediate sense, but they don’t call it surrealism for nothing.
Our hero, Edmund, played by Turner Rouse with his reliable mix of sincerity and wonder, is a 16 or 17 year-old student whose parents are going through a divorce, and whose sister Tista (Arie Romstadt, a convincingly child-like narrator, without being cloying) talks in the third person and sometimes shares his visions of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, played with a thuggishly Johnny Depp scowl and giant blue sombrero and black moustache by Katie Bailey. He also sees visions of Sigmund Freud and of is led of course to the inescapable destiny of killing his father and marrying his mother (who happens to share wardrobe choices and names with his girlfriend.)
The overarching theme of Destiny (and the idea that if one is destined to do something, it ceases to matter if it has already happened, or will happen at some point in the future) ties the disparate ideas together visually as well as thematically; the very cool set consists of a few key furniture pieces, all askew on the stage and painted white, with bits of the face of a black clock showing up on each piece. Behind the action are two painted flats, also blanked white, and if the two pieces were ever put together, a single giant clock with sharply black Roman numerals would be formed.
Like the other HHS shows I have seen, one of the highlights of the play is a bold visual beauty. The design elements were meticulously thought out and executed, both by the designers and builders and by the cast’s interactions with them. I loved that the brother/sister pair had an artfully correlated blue/red color scheme, for example. Possibly the most striking image was the use of a giant red flag, first as a long banner proclaiming some absurdist version of a universal/revolutionary truth, and then as an impromptu full-body wrap—part swaddling cloth, part shroud—for Edmund, who of course, also joins his sister in some sort of optical degradation, as prophets and other seekers of the truth must do (just ask Sophocles or Tony Kushner, or even Shakespeare).
Perhaps most importantly, throughout all the absurdist double talk, the visions of ballet dancing revolutionaries, a marriage that is also a divorce, death that is also life, blindness that is also clarity, and other potentially confusing contradictions, the cast maintains an essential sense of ensemble, with each member not just pulling his or her weight, but actively pushing the play forward with bold, sweeping leaps of imagination and trust in each other. It is truly inspiring to see young people so dedicate themselves to making the play a powerfully actor-driven event, one that finds beauty in the everyday, in the extraordinary, and of course in the absurd.
This is complex, confusing, and engaging story telling, presented by a fearless cast. If every high school in the country had a drama program as creative and daring as the one under Todd Weakley’s care at Hendersonville High School, the state of the American Theatre would be in spectacularly exciting hands.
--Willie Repoley

12 November 2007

History is About to Crack Wide Open (Millennium Approaches)

North Carolina Stage Company has launched a new series for the 2007-2008 season. Four plays have been selected to be read on stage. The first offering is Angles In America: Millennium Approaches by Tony Kushner, directed by Angie Flynn-McIver. This is part one of a two-part play.

I have seen the full production of Angles In America twice and have found it to be powerful and moving. Entering the theater, I wondered if a reading could capture my attention for the almost three hour long drama. Can a group of actors sitting around on stage, reading from a book be that compelling? Can they do justice to the script?

It didn’t take long to find out. The eight people assembled for this reading, some local and some out of towners, turned out to be actors, not readers. Without the usual trappings of costumes, lighting, lines to remember, and all the technical issues with a full production, they were able to focus on the script. Their acting ability cut to the heart of the play in a powerful and dramatic way, giving us Kushner’s words, thoughts, and emotions in a lively and compelling performance.

The actors did not just speak their lines. That would have been boring. Sitting in those chairs, they acted their lines. They made us laugh and cry. They made us glad to be alive and afraid that we were. They challenged old thought patterns; not by saying “you must agree with everything in this reading,” but by offering us an opportunity to pay attention to who we were.

Was this play really three hours long? Time flew by as the performers expertly drew us into the play. It seemed all to soon when the stage manager said “End of Part One.” For a long moment we were all stunned into silence, audience and actors alike. Together we were thinking, “Is it really over? I’m not ready to end it. Look at what happened here!” Now I am wondering if some day there will be an Angles In America, Part Two..

Robert Arthur