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28 April 2008

Equus

One of life's unexpected delicacies is that you drive up into the hills of Waynesville to see a play, and sit down and listen to the chit-chat around you--everybody seems to know everybody-- and then the play begins, and within five minutes you realize it will be one of the most remarkable evenings you've ever experienced.

HART's production of Peter Schafer's Equus is memorable for a couple of things, and one is the thrift of the set, which might come out of some larger theater's safety pin account. Another thing is the superb direction, which is superb partially by virtue of being invisible. Everything is right, simply, and THAT seems to be the interpretation, rather than those interpretations which are sometimes grafted on or imposed. Yet another thing is the breath-taking virtuosity of acting. I have seen Equus three of four times, including productions in London and New York. Steven Lloyd is by far the best Dysart in my experience, subtle and believable and never once reaching for an unearned dramatic moment. The horses are sexy and wide-eyed, horse-like and god-like in one moment. As for Adam Kampouris' Allen Strang, I'm having a hard time finding the words to praise enough. "Perfect" comes to mind, but the currency of even that absolute word is debased a little by misuse. There was not a wrong gesture, not a line that was not loaded with new and larger meaning than one had suspected. The character wept; the actor didn't. I want to say it is the best performance by anyone of anything I have seen locally-- at least I'd put it on the same shelf as Charlie Flynn-McIver's Hamlet-- but I am not sure it is not among the best performances I have seen anywhere in a lifetime given over, to some degree, to watching theater. Jesus, is this kid good!.

The whole evening was, in the old sense, sublime. A play I thought I didn't like so much is suddenly once again vital and luminous in my mind, and I want to thank HART with all of mine--


Crow

25 April 2008

Bent

BETTERDAYS PRODUCTIONS Presentation of Martin Sherman’s “Bent” under the direction of Trevor Gouge was haunting, deeply moving and crisply directed with beautiful set graphics by Dan Pruitt. Bent is a tough play to mount for both the audience and the actors. The Be-Be theatre has neither wing space nor affective side space, but despite these handicaps Gouge used what he had to the fullest making disadvantages into advantages by cleverly staging this production to maximize and heighten the drama with a minimum of swift blackouts and stylized vignettes. Sherman’s “Bent” is not a play without flaws however. Set in Nazi Germany in the underground world of the gay culture. This lifestyle is sharply portrayed by Mr. Sherman, allowing the young men to be somewhat immune to the horror of the evil that is building around them letting them live in a world of alcohol, drugs, and sex in an almost “Cabaret” atmosphere, where the outside world rarely affects them, but it gradually begins to seep into the lives of the characters with sudden SS arrests, beatings, and murders. For the audience it is the realization that the Holocaust included not only the Jews, but Gypsies, Priests, the infirm, and homosexuals. It really is an Irony since many of Hitler’s closest associates were known homosexuals.

Bent originally had its debut on the West End in London, and later opened on Broadway with Richard Gere for a long run. The structure of the play is simple, the first half is devoted to the relationship of Max played by Adam Arthur, and his lover Rudy, played by Zack Rains, and takes place in Max’s apartment in Berlin following a heavy night of drinking. Max can’t seem to remember his behavior from the night before and is rudely reminded by a walk on by a very nude Wolf, played by Robbie Sherill on his way to the bathroom. This is followed by a heated argument between Max and Rudy, which is interrupted by the SS breaking down the door and murdering Wolf. Though they are threatened by the SS, they are left alone, but terrified to remain in the apartment and try to borrow enough money to escape into a neutral country. They first go too their employer Greta a female impersonator played by Michael Sheldon who is married with kids and denies being a homosexual, Greta runs a bar/cabaret and employs gay young as Bartenders and waiters. Greta gives the two money and a dire warning to try and get out of Germany. Then Max secretly meets his Uncle Freddie, played by Michael Pruitt, as an old homosexual, but still much in the closet, he begs Uncle Freddie to help him and Rudy escape from Germany, Freddie representing Max’s family, agrees to give him the money and forged documents but refuses to help Rudy in any way. Max takes the money and he and Rudy take refuge in shacks in the woods filled with other people trying to escape the SS. The camp is suddenly raided and Max and Rudy are arrested as homosexuals, Max denies he is a homosexual, but says he is a Jew, in order for him to prove it the SS force him to assist in beating Rudy to death.

The second Act takes place in a concentration camp yard consisting of a huge pile of stones. There is also an electric fence preventing them from escaping. There job is too move the stones to one side of the yard then start all over and move them back to the other. Max wears a Star of David on his prison shirt, and he meets Horst played by Ryan Travers who wears a pink triangle, signifying he is a homosexual. They are forbidden to speak to each other during this back breaking ritual, bit are allowed a five minute break every hour, its during this break that Horst and Max build a relationship the leads to love and finally sacrifice. Horst gradually becomes ill from pneumonia and they both know if the guards find out they will kill Horst. Ultimately Horst collapses and guards come to kill him, but before they can he throws himself onto the electric fence. Max is ordered to throw is body in the ditch dug for the dead. Max does and returns to moving the rocks realizing the thing the made his life bearable was the love of Horst, he runs gets Horst’s jacket puts it on and runs to the fence taking his own life.

Bernie Hauserman

There are many wonderful performances in this production but there are four outstanding portrayals, Ryan Travers is brilliant as Horst, bringing a gaunt believability to the role that simply shines.
Michael Pruitt as the closeted but visually very active, Uncle Freddie has all the fussy, nervousness his character needs, Michael Sheldon, who plays the part of Greta, is wonderfully cold but sympathetic in a very unforgiving part, Adam Arthur, is excellent as Max, but could have gone further to look a little more un-kept and well fed in the prison yard scene. Kudu’s also to Zack Rains as Rudy, a wonderfully honest performance.

14 April 2008

Your Input Needed!

This post is not a review of a show (sorry), but a review of policy.
Professor Scott Walters wrote the following as part of a very compelling and considered comment to the review of "The Tempest Project" posted on APAR: "I question the ethics of anonymous reviews on this site, and I call for a change of policy."
While this isn't, perhaps, his primary concern in the review (all of which bears reading), Dr. Walters certainly has a point, and indeed the editors have struggled with the issue of anonymity from time to time. Since this is a public blog and a public resource, we would like to make this a public discussion.
What do you think? What are the advantages of allowing or encouraging or prohibiting anonymous postings? Where do we go from here? What will most benefit our theatrical community?
I suspect this may not be a "yes or no" kind of answer.
Thanks for your continuing input!
--Bernhard Grier

10 April 2008

The Tempest Project

The Tempest Project
Theater UNCA at the Diana Worthan Theater.


It is possible for a brilliant and insightful director to face off against a great play and a great playwright, and, by opposing, find fresh nuance and unsuspected relevance in old and familiar words. This is not what happens in Theater UNCA’s The Tempest Project. Directors Laura Facciponti and Pamella O’Connor have, instead, devised a sort of bizarro-Tempest which, aside from being bad on its own account, violates the play at just about every point, apparently wilfully, blithe in its disregard for scholarship, reading skills, and even correct pronunciation. It was as if these two women had looked the Bard in the eye, without knowing precisely who he was, and snarled “I’ll show you how it really should be done.”

Actually, for the first few minutes, I thought The Tempest Project was going to be wonderful. Katie Fuller’s costumes were brilliant, the set beautiful and almost functional, and the opening dance magical and evocative. Then the actors opened their mouths. Poking up under a big cloth like bubbling oatmeal, they chanted “What kind of play is this? What kind of play is this?” The question was not rhetorical. They had no idea.

The big cloth was part of the “Object Theater” concept, in which certain objects are used repeatedly to unify action and to provide visual novelty. The cloth was great to watch, sometimes Prospero’s robe and sometimes a ship at sea. But how this differs from the innovative utilization of materials at hand that is the mark of much good theater is difficult to see, how it warrants re-naming as a whole type of theater. In the UNCA production it was employed to camouflage the lack of directorial insight. “We don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout no Shakespeare, but we can make sensational balloon animals.”

The production is billed as theater for young people, but one hardly sees how that can be. Having cut Shakespeare’s masterpiece to an hour, the production still manages to be boring. And, if I were an eight year old I would find it frightening and confusing. No shred of context or motivation remains after the script butchery. Prospero is an insane magician whose main occupation is the idle torture of those around him. He’s an evil wizard out of a video game, and his sidekick Ariel is a mincing fop, the kind that would sneak up behind you on a desert island and stab you with a golden quill from its unaccountable head. The island is ruled by two perverts and invaded by a bunch of grievance-gnawing stuffed shirts; Miranda and Ferdinand are so bland and diffuse that one forgets they were ever on stage. The only character with whom one can have the slightest sympathy is Caliban, and that is because Cody Magourik, the actor who portrays him, has gone of campus and learned how to act, and manages to infuse stubborn insight around the edges of very bad direction.

Plus–teachers beware-- one would learn very little of Shakespeare. The first quarter of the play has no Shakespeare at all, but rather excerpts from Auden’s “The Sea and the Mirror.” Why? I have no idea. My guess it was something that popped into one of the directors’ heads, and, once there, seemed as sacred as every other misstep and misinterpretation. Then Ms Facciponti and Ms O’Connor commit the cardinal sin of Shakespeare production. They change the words. And not for any good purpose. Their changes do not simplify or clarify; they are merely ignorant and wilful. For “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded by a sleep” we get, “We are the fabric dreams are made of, and our life ends with a dream far away.” When Miranda says her iconic line, “O brave new world that has such men in it,” she is meant to be answered by Prospero’s’ earth-shattering “‘Tis new to thee.” When she utters it on this stage, there is silence. Children can handle complication. Children know when you are lying to them, when you are patronizing them, when you are “serving their needs” without any more understanding of their needs than, say, of Shakespeare.

The Tempest Project is billed as “experimental.” I suppose it might be if it were 1970.

This was a production marked by arrogance, disrespect, and incompetence, and all those qualities must be laid directly at the door of the directors. Ms Facciponti [should]... learn how to ...understand a play, before she “experiments” with even so much as the intermission munchies[.]

--Crow
[The editor apologizes for, but stands behind, slight content deletions. --BG]

09 April 2008

Underneath the Lintel

From the C-T,
BG--

by Jim Cavener, take5 correspondent

ASHEVILLE – The title is odd enough. But it’s all explained in “Under the Lintel: The Mystery of the Abandoned Trousers,” centered around a long-missing library book, and now playing at N.C. Stage Company.

Written by Glen Berger, it was very well received by the audience at Wednesday night’s opening. It’s not just the compelling script, but a true tour-de-force performance by one actor, Terry Weber, who teaches theater at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. The rapidity, the intensity and the integrity of the role are riveting.

The concept and writing are exemplary. Teasing and tricky, the context is a one-night show in a shabby rented theater in the Netherlands, wherein a lonely local library clerk presents to a measly audience the results of his obsessive/compulsive global journey to find out who had returned to “his” library a book, 113 years overdue. It’s no big thing, except for the fussy, prissy clerk who turns it into a memorable ideological odyssey and extraordinary spiritual journey.

Themes that are broached are free will vs. Hobson’s choice, the true plight of human existence, meaning and meaninglessness, myth, legend and the existence of a deity. The technique has been likened to “The DaVinci Code,” while Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes are not far afield.

The whole show is essentially an import from the theater program of University of Tennessee, with which N.C. Stage Company has long had a relationship. Weber and director Casey Sams are from UT, as are other members of the crew.

There are in-the-script projections and audio recordings, a sparsely decorated set with five large objects across the back of the stage, plus three pods of other random furnishings, each accented by books.

Images from London, China, the U.S. and Australia with references to “Les Miserables” (in three languages!), the Book of Job, Wales and Kilroy enrich the mix and are further ‘lovely evidences’ in this enigma hiding in a conundrum.

Cavener writes on theater for the Citizen-Times. E-mail JimCavener@aya.Yale.edu.

Kimberly Akimbo

From wnctheatre, http://wnctheatre.livejournal.com/
BG--

Kimberly Akimbo, written by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by Jason Williams, is currently running at ACT’s 35 Below. The script is a bit like a MadTV sketch run amok, with a little Lifetime Original Movie thrown in for good measure, but the production manages to elevate it at least to entertaining, if not to some of the emotional depth perhaps the playwright hoped for.

Briefly, Kimberly is a 16-year-old girl with a rare condition where she ages four times faster than normal. Add some dysfunctional parents, her ex-con vagrant aunt, and her Dungeon Master anagram-loving uberdork of a potential boyfriend, and you have Kimberly Akimbo. Joyce Wood convincingly plays the title character, aptly embodying the physical and emotional life of a teenage girl without falling into a lot of easy clich├ęs one might expect from an older person trying to behave as an adolescent. The rest of the cast is equally adept at handling and often making better their material, with a particularly stand-out funny first scene from Rebecca Morris as the aforementioned aunt.

Direction from Jason Williams is sharp and attentive, and music choices throughout the play are spot-on. The set is simple and charming, suited perfectly to the space, and is about what I’d expect to see if, say, Napoleon Dynamite were adapted into a stage show. The only small production element that I think could have been a little better was Kimberly’s wardrobe; they got close, but I think a little more time could have been spent observing outside of Hot Topic to get the look just right, which I feel is important given the unusual nature of the character.

I don’t know that this is a must-see, but I’m glad I gave it a chance.