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26 June 2008


Ivory, written by local playwright John Crutchfield and produced by Corpus Theatre Collective, recently debuted at the BeBe Theatre. In his director’s notes, Crutchfield states, “Though the characters are not based on real people, they are meant to seem realistic. In other words, it is important to believe that such people and situations could exist, and somewhere in some permutation they certainly do.” I believe Crutchfield achieves this goal in the creation of his characters, but I question the uniqueness of this goal. Isn’t virtually all realistic fiction intended to seem... realistic? That aside, there are a lot of very good things happening in this work, and a few things that didn’t quite hit for me.

Crutchfield has a tremendous ear and talent for crafting dialogue and giving life to three-dimensional characters. I also find that he can write extraordinary scenes, though I’m not sure the scenes are sewn together into a progression of events quite perfectly. I almost wanted this to be a television series rather than a play, as some occurrences felt a little rushed, and the passage of time wasn’t always terribly clear. I understand that this sort of thing can just be the nature of the beast of theatre in general; it wasn't really a staggering issue in this case, but it was something I noticed a few times. (One thing I did like very much about the pacing, though, was the seamless transition from scene to scene, as actors literally walk out of one scene immediately into the next with a brief lighting shift at most to indicate the new place and time.) The second act in particular was very short and felt truncated, and I desperately wanted to rework the structure of the last couple of scenes to give the ending the oomph I think it needed/wanted. I also didn’t quite get the feel for the high stakes that Crutchfield seems to be aiming for according to the Mountain Xpress article about the play by Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt (http://www.mountainx.com/ae/2008/060408the_high_cost_of_morality). I think the microcosm of graduate school maybe doesn’t have quite enough universality to translate to crises the general audience will be able to find as important as do the characters of this play. That could well be intentional in the effort to affect verisimilitude in the characters and their concerns, and on that level it does work.

The performances are excellent across the board. Vivian Smith stood out to me the most, in an exceptional, somewhat Bancroft-ian performance of the “predatory and unscrupulous” (to quote the aforementioned MX article) professor, Barbara. To this end, I started to have a little difficulty with some of the casting, not because of quality of acting, but purely because of appearance. The first small trouble I had was casting Jonathan Frappier as her protégé. Again, please don’t mistake me: I thought he, too, gave a great performance. However, with this sort of The Graduate dynamic present, it was a little odd for him to clearly be around the same age as her. I don’t mean to suggest that the same age difference as the film would be necessary here, but with lines such as, “I was just remembering how young you are,” (I am paraphrasing), the balance was thrown a little. The other strange casting, age-wise, was Anne-Marie Welty as nervous new grad student Ellen. The fact that she seemed a little too old in the role is, in large part, a testament to both Crutchfield’s writing and, perhaps ironically, her strong acting ability. Her character, to me, had a very clear voice based on her cadence of speech, emotional life, word choices, and general demeanor, and that voice hit me at around age 25. Of course anyone could be that nervous and insecure about school and somewhat awkward in relationships at any age, but then that to me becomes another issue that would need to be addressed as part of the story, and it seems to me more natural for her to be a little more freshly out of undergrad. To compound the (perceived) issue, there seemed to be a choice to dress her “younger” as well, as though the director (James Ostholthoff) perhaps agreed with a lot of what I’ve just said and cast against type anyway. Yet again, absolutely no complaints from me about the performances, and if I have to suspend my disbelief a hair to have this caliber of acting, I’ll take it.

--Jamie Shell

13 June 2008

Driving Miss Daisy

more from the C-T

"Driving Miss Daisy" a warm, sweet trip at North Carolina Stage Company

Tony Kiss • TKiss@CITIZEN-TIMES.com • published June 12, 2008 11:24 am

ASHEVILLE – “Driving Miss Daisy” is a tricky show to maneuver. Most everyone knows the 1989 Oscar-winning movie, with those memorable performances by Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman and Dan Aykroyd.

N.C. Stage Co. is closing its 2007-08 main stage season with the original theater masterpiece (which itself won a Pulitzer Prize). Because the show and movie performances are so familiar, any stage production really requires tremendous acting and directing to make its own mark.

But N.C. Stage delivers, with a touching, sweet, funny performance that connects on many levels.

Almost anyone with an aging relative can relate to this tale of feisty Daisy Worthan and her unusual, long friendship with faithful driver Hoke. Rounding out the trio is Daisy’s caring, concerned son, Boolie. The setting is Atlanta, from the late 1940s through the early 1970s.

Playwright Alfred Uhry crafted these multi-dimensional characters, and N.C. Stage director Angie Flynn-McIver brings them to life through a tremendous cast: Jane Bushway as Daisy, Paul Garrett as Hoke, and Joe Sturgeon as Boolie. All three evoke much humanity.

Bushway, well known for her many performances at Flat Rock Playhouse, shows major acting chops as Daisy, reluctant to give up an ounce of independence, but forced by the passing years to accept a driver. Bushway’s final scene is a tearjerker.

Garrett, making his N.C. Stage debut as Hoke, plays that role with true heart and skill. His best moment could be where he tells Daisy of a synagogue bombing – and his own long-ago tragedy.

Providing proper balance is Sturgeon, in the role of Daisy’s son, Boolie, nervous to rock the boat too much. It, too, is a nice bit of acting.

Uhry’s story conjures up an old, lost Atlanta, swept away by big-money development. It hits home in Asheville, where precious downtown landmarks are always endangered in the same manner.

Meet Me in St. Louis

From the C-T, another by Tim Reid

FLAT ROCK - Fans of the old-fashioned musical are in for a treat with Flat Rock Playhouse’s sentimental extravaganza “Meet Me in St. Louis.”

Lavish costumes, exquisite sets and a large cast recreate the excitement of a St. Louis family leading up to the 1904 World’s Fair. Based on the 1944 movie that starred Judy Garland, the stage version by Hugh Wheeler includes some of the best-loved songs of the American theater.

The story centers on the exuberant Smith family as they joyfully anticipate the St. Louis World’s Fair while the two oldest daughters are caught up in their own drama of finding a beau.

Rose Smith (Lesley Marie Collins) has been corresponding with wealthy suitor Warren Sheffield (Christopher Staskel) for months but is frustrated that he has not asked her to marry him.

Rose’s sister Esther (Kelly Rypkema) is in love with next-door neighbor John Truitt (Mike Frankey), but he doesn’t seem to know she’s alive.

When Warren writes that he will call Rose that evening, housekeeper Katie (Barbara Bradshaw) tries to move up the dinner hour so Rose can be ready for his call – and hopefully a proposal.

But their father Alonso (Brendan Powers) comes home stressed out from work and determined that nothing shall change their routine.

The Smith household seems to stay in a state of happy upheaval with the antics of younger daughters Tootie (Casey Walz) and Agnes (Heather L. Pynne) and their brother Lon (Teddy Eck) preparing to go to college.

The family is thrown into turmoil when Mr. Smith announces they will move to New York after Christmas. Mrs. Smith (Marcy McGuigan) tries to reassure the children, who hate leaving their happy life in St. Louis.

Ralph Redpath is delightful as Grandpa Prophater, who understands the hearts of his grandchildren and strives to soften life’s disappointments.

The play is worth seeing just to enjoy warm-hearted songs like “The Boy Next Door,” “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

Musicians Paul Babelay, Charles Holland and George Wilkins Jr. produce a big sound to recreate the excitement of this fabled era at the start of the 20th century.

Director Paige Posey and a talented cast sing and dance their way into your heart with this sentimental tribute to the innocence and wholesomeness of a bygone era – gone but thankfully not forgotten.

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