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26 July 2008

Elvis and Other Men

As I’ve said before, because I am a working producer and actor in town, I have given up writing reviews of local shows. However, no one else is contributing very much just now, and I feel I would be remiss if I did not at least mention the superb work being done by Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance.

I saw “Elvis and Other Men” earlier this summer, and was once again delighted that one of the (thankfully) few $30 tickets in town was absolutely, completely worth it.

Just the opening image got me all giddy about live performance all over again. The stage was dimly lit, and completely bare, save a gentle, vibrant, deep red scrim behind the vast expanse of the DW. Then, a single male dancer –in leggings and not much more—walked across, in a straight line, from one side to the other. And then another followed. And more and more, at different speeds, each just moving from one side of the stage to the other, back and forth, but always exiting completely before turning around and changing speeds. They were not lit from the front, so it was just these very masculine profiles darting about, and it seem eventually like there must be dozens of them. I was reminded, actually, of watching birds. I have said before that I don’t know much about dance, and tend to look for a literal story where there none, at least not a literal or maybe chronological one, but I didn’t mind in the slightest not knowing what the “story: of these dancers was. Like birds, each had their own random individual beauty, and all together they were clearly part of something larger that was not a story so much as the experience of being alive and experiencing something of great natural beauty, that I was somehow a part of as well. Like if you really notice birds engaged in a simple task, say eating, you start to notice how, yeah sure, they are all the same sort of creature, but simultaneously they are also individual animals, and something about that duality and simplicity fascinates and inspires, and you could just sit there watching them for a surprisingly long time.

At any rate the entire, long first piece was amazing—even once all the lights were turned on.

There were several shorter pieces, also for men, mostly choreographed by Heather Malloy, which for me ranged from satisfyingly amusing to very cool, if not quite as perspective-changing as that first piece. I especially liked the solo piece for dancer and train.

The finale was another great Malloy dance featuring Holiday Childress and Ménage upon a hastily constructed platform up right, from which they switched on their electric guitars and played music by the Violent Femmes, while the dancers turned the DW into a giant club, stormed the stage, and danced the night away in a series of solo and group dances that effectively told multiple stories, established multiple distinct characters, and used a very traditional art form to tap into very modern struggles, triumphs, and rhythms. It’s hard to know if the performers of the audience were having a better time, and that is a great thing.

Staging an entire evening of all male ballet must surly have sounded like an unusual and possibly even absurd idea, but Terpsicorps pulled it off with that same sense of play, of wonder, of absolute joy that they bring to everything they do. It was hugely refreshing to experience as a human being, and as an artist. I don’t think I’ve been that excited to be a part of Asheville’s performing arts community since maybe NCSC’s “Chesapeake.”

Now that’s what I call a reason to go see theatre.

--Willie Repoley

Noises Off

Anothe C-T review

‘Noises Off’ funny stuff at Parkway Playhouse

Jim Cavener • take5 Correspondent • published July 25, 2008 12:15 am

BURNSVILLE – The field of farce is loaded with land mines, a dangerous one for any theater company. Yet with Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off,” Parkway Playhouse has a 2 3/4-hour, three-act hit on its hands. This midseason silliness is top-notch material, supported by able talent and directed to near-perfection.

Using the classic “play-within-a-play” context, “Noises Off” is exposure to an English troupe mounting a contrived bedroom or sex farce called “Nothing On.” All the requisite elements of farce are present in spades. There are naughty ladies in skimpy undergarments, randy men whose trousers are often down about their ankles and lots of slamming doors.

An awesome stage set is impressive even in the first act. Between acts this behemoth of backdrops is turned on a Lazy-Susan-like platform, so that in the second act of “Noises Off” the audience is backstage during a performance of “Nothing On.” Designers/builders of this masterpiece of stage structure are John David Stallings and Bruce Chuvala, assisted by William Ritter.

The Brit-speak is ever so well-done. Director Peter Carver is likely to be praised for the convincing speech, as well as the fully fascinating cast gleaned from old-timers at Parkway, with several new players.

Remember the play-within-a-play- everyone is an English actor playing a role in “Nothing On.”

Jennifer Short does the dumb-blonde “Brooke Ashton,” playing Vicki (on a secret mission), in the best of air-head Judy Holliday form. This is a stellar turn for a talented young woman. Her foil in this bit of whimsey is the suave and seductive Jordan Danz being “Gary Lejune” doing Roger Tramplemain. Danz’s charm radiates throughout the house.

Veteran area actor/director Jeff Messer is Phillip Brent, the owner of the country estate where all the lunacy is transpiring. One part slapstick, one part stuffy landed gentry, this is a juicy role, and Messer has it under control. His stately wife, Flavia, is being interpreted by “Belinda Blair,” really Kelly Leah Christianson who is regularly seen at ACT, SART and other regional theaters.

Andrew Gall, for five years at the helm of Parkway Playhouse, gets his chance on stage as Lloyd Dallas, the erstwhile director of this batty troupe of thespians.

Costuming by Asheville’s Deborah Austin is great fun: Note the double-breasted blazers, fancy frocks and dark gray dress shirts with gray neckties, for a veddy, veddy British sense of style.

Jim Cavener reviews theater for take5.

12 July 2008

I Hate Hamlet


Asheville Community Theatre serves up a lighthearted spoof of artistic temperament excesses in Paul Rudnick’s “I Hate Hamlet.”

Young television actor Andrew (Cody Magouirk) has just finished a hit series “L.A. Medical” and agrees to a dramatic change of pace — the title role in a Central Park production of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

In an ironic twist of fate, Andrew rents the Gothic-style apartment once occupied by John Barrymore, the legendary actor who also played Hamlet.

Andrew initially resists such antiquated quarters but is persuaded when his stage-struck girlfriend Deirdre (Anna Booraem) gushes on about its connection with the famed actor.

Leslie Clement Bonner is hilarious as real estate agent Felicia, who obviously doesn’t know anything about theater but shamelessly uses Barrymore as a marketing tool, even holding a séance to dredge up the dead actor’s ghost.

Felicia is more successful than she realizes as the long-deceased actor does appear, played delightfully by Waylon Wood, who artfully conveys Barrymore’s legendary self-indulgence with women and drink.

Andrew’s agent Lillian (RoseLynn Katz) urges him to do “Hamlet” to add to his stature as an actor, but cynical TV producer Gary (Jeff Corpening) tries to lure him away with a lucrative deal in California, dismissing Shakespeare as “algebra on stage.”

Andrew has just one problem in taking on what is for many the most hallowed role in theater — he hates “Hamlet” and is terrified at the prospect of failing in such a high-profile venture.

Andrew sorely needs the late great Barrymore’s reckless courage and talent, but in the end he must turn to himself to find out what kind of actor — and person — he really is.

Director Michael Lilly and a talented cast have taken a silly, one-dimensional story and nevertheless made it interesting. They are having a good time on stage, and it shows.

E-mail Reid at timreid4@charter.net.

11 July 2008

plays from the li'l nashville

‘plays from the li’l nashville’ shines

Jim Cavener

Local playwright Waylon Wood has a splendid script in his “plays from the li’l nashville,” now in performance by Run Amok Productions at N.C. Stage Company. It’s an incisive and well-crafted bit of writing, and the production excels in most every way.

This is not theater for wimps. But folks who want their theater challenging should see it.

But leave the children at home. And only very worldly grandmas will likely appreciate the earthy and often sexual nature in this trip to Florida’s underbelly.

Dope, drinking, drugs, debauchery and dirty-talk are the nature of the beast.

“plays from the li’l nashville” was written as a set of five short one-acts, all taking place in a backwoods roadhouse bar (the Li’l Nashville), patronized by the rural culture of far northwest Florida.

Playwright Wood later created a patchwork, full-length script by merging these various tales of pathos and poignancy to the tunes of Patsy Cline.

This is truly a motley crew, with a couple of singles and random clusters of pairs and threesomes from the local scene, all hooking up in strange configurations.

There’s lots of carnality, cussin’ and drinkin’ and searching for “good times.” Wood knows the language and the issues that permeate this culture. And a sad lot of circumstances they are.

Director Betsy Puckett creates an ensemble tribe of 13 able actors.

To name and describe all the colorful characters is impossible.

But there are stellar roles by Carla Pridgen, Zach Blew, Delina Hensley, Peter Brezny, Sarah Carpenter and David Ely. Anthony Abraira and Cory Boughton have lesser, but effective roles.

Scott Bunn has compiled a fine musical score of country classics, which belt from the jukebox in this honky-tonk setting.

Jim Cavener reviews theater for take5.

04 July 2008

Should criticism include an assessment of whether a piece of theatre is actually any good?

If you have a chance, please check out this pieces from our friends at the Guardian. It's pretty fascinating stuff, if one is interested in the role of a reviewer in a community.
I'll post the article by Andrew Haydon below, but follow the link above for the complete dialog.

In Britain, we all know that a theatre review will tell you if something is worth seeing. There will usually be a star rating - marks out of five for at-a-glance dismissal or praise. In mainland Europe, however, the situation can be very different. Last week, I attended a series of seminars on criticism in Helsinki alongside the Baltic Circle festival. In our group there quickly emerged a real schism between critics who felt that an actual judgment of a play's success or failure was not the aim of theatre criticism, and those - including myself - who couldn't quite sign up for such a radical departure.

It seemed perverse to me for a critic to have an opinion on whether something was good or not and to withhold that information. Furthermore, I couldn't quite see what could replace such information. Then I had one of those moments where you suddenly completely understand the other side's point of view. The seminar group was discussing a piece we had seen at the festival with which none of us had been especially impressed. Once we had moved past registering our myriad grumbles, we started discussing what it might have meant.

Our tutor, the Slovenian critic, editor and all-round great guy Rok Vevar launched into a startlingly intelligent, eloquent explanation of the piece, interpreting the meanings of various movements and sequences, deftly invoking Lacan and Zizek, the history of dance notation, and ideas of the self-narrating subject whose present and future are defined by their past. In short, Rok made the piece fascinating. Even though he hadn't liked it at all, he offered an analysis of the piece that was far more interesting than watching it had been.

This raised a question: if we had read Rok's analysis before we had watched the piece, would we have enjoyed it more? I would still argue not. Certainly there would have been more to think about, but Rok hadn't particularly liked the piece as he watched it either. My concern remained that if one simply presents a beautiful interpretation of the piece without any mention of the fact that it isn't much fun to watch, one isn't doing one's readership any favours.

At the same time I was aware that perhaps British criticism had been way too co-opted into the PR industry. Have British theatre critics, along with pretty much every other branch of journalism, been tricked into moving away from serious analysis into giving things the thumbs up (where possible) in order to sell tickets? As far as theatre PRs go, aren't the occasional raft of poor reviews worth taking on the chin so that the raves can be harnessed? While some shows might take a pasting, there are plenty of others that can be bolstered by quotations plastered over every available bit of space in front of house. This would be harder if the reviews in question were lengthy interpretations invoking Zizek and Lacan.

Similarly, when compared with a rigorous, extensive and articulate interpretation of a play, the way that some British critics simply shut down and refuse to engage with writing or direction starts to look like the height of ignorance; they don't understand, moreover they don't care that they don't understand - parading their ignorance as if it were a gold standard in taste and judgment.

On the other hand, this interpretative school of criticism can fall prey to finding meaning where there is none - dignifying work of little or no intellectual merit with critiques so intelligent and eloquent that the work seems praised when it would benefit more from someone pointing out that it wasn't any good.

I am interested to see if there is a synthesis possible. Is it possible to involve more intelligent, creative interpretation in reviews while at the same time still letting readers know whether the damn thing is actually worth seeing or not?


Nice that the C-T was able to review three shows all opening at once (this one's from Tony Kiss). May this trend continue.
But where have all of our "citizen reviewers" gone...?

MARS HILL — The Sanders family of Siler City is back for more good old gospel music in the warm musical comedy “Smoke on the Mountain Homecoming,” now playing at Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre at Owen Theatre.

This third chapter in the Sanders series closely follows the path of the first two shows. The clan heads to the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church to perform, but of course, things don’t go exactly right. Still, there’s plenty of good singing, some heart-touching moments and lots of laughs. It’s a perfect fit for historic Owen Theatre, once a church itself.

This production, directed by Paul Schierhorn, benefits greatly from the strong musical contributions of Brad Curtioff, and local music legends Bucky Hanks and Bruce Lang (who also portrays ne’er-do-well brother Stanley Sanders). Give them major props for making this homecoming a joyous occasion.

It’s just after World War II, and the Sanderses are reunited in Mountain Pleasant to bid farewell to bubbly Rev. Oglethorpe (Bradshaw Call). The pastor has married June Sanders (Katie Keiley), who is now expecting, and they’re all headed to a new ministry in Texas.

The play’s premise is that each member of the Sanders clan “witnesses” their love of the Lord, often with daffy but heartfelt results.

Company veteran Tony Medlin settles nicely into the role of daddy Burl, with Mandy Sayles as his Bible verse-spouting wife, Vera. Ashley Manning is daughter Denise (forever trying to settle down her unseen youngsters outside the church) and Daniel Hensley as her brother Dennis, just back from the war, and ready to take over the Mount Pleasant church. June stands to the side, “signing” each song with crazy movements. Halfway through, there’s a crisis, but things always work out with the Sanders family.

It seems that in every production of “Smoke on the Mountain” or its sequels, one member of the ensemble breaks out to shine, and in this cast, it’s Hensley as the forever-smiling Dennis. He’s got a fine singing voice, some sharp acting skills, and with other members of this crew, makes this an entertaining evening.

Sound of Music

C-T again..

BURNSVILLE — While not among the greatest shows of American musical theater, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” ranks among the most popular, and Parkway Playhouse’s current mounting of this workhorse will please the aficionados of the venerable property. And they are many.

OK, “The Sound of Music” is hokey, saccharine, cloying and based on a whitewashed, self-aggrandizing rewriting of history by a stepmother of seven children of a widowed Austrian sea captain. Guilty as charged. But, its adaptation to the stage by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, with all the wonderful, if formulaic, music/lyrics by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, makes for terrific theater.

Those who’ve known Parkway Playhouse for many of its 62 seasons will rejoice at the comfort of updated theater seating, effective air conditioning and more adequate technical equipment, none of which compromises the charm of the old barn with bead-board walls and rustic demeanor. Further, the quality of theater performance has vastly improved over earlier years, as well.

Producing artistic director Andrew Gall has tightened up the company, raised the standards of both show selection and production quality, while building a loyal audience core that supports the new-and-improved components of one of the oldest theater companies in North Carolina.

“The Sound of Music” is a large show, with somewhat more than 30 roles in the cast. Coordinating that many actors, with most of the children double-cast, is a daunting task, alone. The show’s director, Christopher Dwyer, has melded this crowd into a cohesive whole, with minimal opening night faux pas.

There was one “costume malfunction,” a missing mirror in a valise, and a hard-to-tame Act II overture, which reminded the opening night audience that theater is hard work, and the perfection of edited work is hard to achieve in live theater. It’s nothing a few more performances won’t cure.

The cast is competent, with several fine voices.

The role of the renegade postulant in a religious order, Maria Rainer, is appealingly played by Lindsay Day Henry, with a strong, sweet voice and winsome charm. Her romantic lead, Herr Captain Georg von Trapp is strongly played by Rob Storrs. Her competition for his hand is Elsa Shrader, interpreted by Jennifer Short.

A dozen talented children take the roles of the seven motherless kids, and the young telegraph delivery boy, who is smitten by the eldest von Trapp daughter. There are too many names to list.

Nine nuns range from compassionate and human to rigid and authoritarian. Jordan Danz gives us the comic foil of Franz the butler. Austrian aristocracy, nasty Nazis and charming children fill the stage, and the cute, competent kids carry a lot of the load. A seven-person pit orchestra conducted by musical director Michael Kiedrowski is spunky. The use of a tuba gives much of the music an oom-pah feel that is highly appropriate to the locale of the story.

The versatile set-design of mottled granite serves to host scenes in the abbey, the von Trapp living room and garden, a mountain top and a concert hall in Salzburg. It was designed by Christopher Dwyer and Bruce Chuvala. Deborah Austin’s costumes are effectively evocative and atmospheric.

Jim Cavener reviews theater for take5. E-mail him at JimCavener@aya.Yale.edu.

Alone Together Again

Courtesy the Avle C-T, of course...

FLAT ROCK — Flat Rock Playhouse’s “Alone Together Again” features several of the theater’s most popular older actors in a sweet story that has the ring of truth.

The comedy starts off almost like a Viagra commercial with Helena (Kate Konigisor) and her husband, George (Stewart Gregory), relishing their newfound status as “empty nesters.” The couple’s grown sons have finally left home, so Helena and George are intent on enjoying their time together free from constant attention to child rearing.

This burgeoning midlife bliss is punctured suddenly by the unexpected arrival of Helena’s curmudgeonly father, “Pop” (Ralph Redpath), who announces he is taking a “trial separation” from his wife of more than 50 years. Then comes Helena’s mother, Ruth (Barbara Bradshaw), with a big bag of his medications and instructions on how to administer them.

Finally, George’s mother, Grace (Jane Bushway), announces she’s going to stay a few days while her house is being fumigated.

George and Helena suddenly feel they are indeed the “sandwich generation” squeezed between the needs of their children and their parents.

Lawrence Roman’s script starts off slowly, but the second half resolves everything in a way that is quite satisfying and strikes a chord with almost anyone who has dealt with family responsibilities.

Any production that has veteran actors like Redpath, Bradshaw and Bushway is bound to be a crowd-pleaser, and Konigisor and Gregory are charming as the middle-age couple wanting to cut loose and enjoy life at last.

“Alone Together” is a change of pace from the big musicals that preceded and follow it at Flat Rock, but this little gem is worth a look.

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