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.

26 August 2008


CT (again), of course. Click on the title above for an unprecedented opportunity to compare the styles of two CT reporters reviewing (arguably) the same play.

At first glance it would appear that "Chesapeake," is a one-man show featuring North Carolina company co-founder and artistic director Charlie Flynn-McIver in the demanding role of Kerr, the only character seen on stage.

But, a second thought reveals that this riveting production — in its third incarnation by NCSC — is a collaborative effort by more than half-dozen competent theater professionals.

The term “ensemble” usually refers to a group of actors. In the case of "Chesapeake," the term applies to the technical staff. Company co-founder and producing director Angie Flynn-McIver has assembled an ensemble of technical theater artists who are truly up to the challenge. And a challenge it is.

Charlie McIver is awesome in a complex and multi-layered role, an intense exploration of the life of a Southern, bisexual performance artist who starts this telling of his journey with a trip to a major art gallery with his distant father. And from there it is all up hill.

With the help of NCSC's team of theater technicians, we get a trip that is memorable and rewarding, with no small amount of effort demanded from the attentive audience.

The stage is a stark, uncluttered, basic black performing area adorned only with two large, light-colored blocks that accentuate the starkness and blackness of the story. On the back wall hangs a massive, gilt-framed expanse that later provides stunning projected visuals provided by the skilled technology of Craig Hobbs, a local video artist who was trained by the Disney-founded California Institute of the Arts.

These intermittent and provocative projections enhance the storyline and embellish a strange journey through art and politics and the improbable importance of a dog — a large, black Chesapeake Bay Lab called both Lucky and Rats. The dazzling images would, alone, be impressive, but combined with the sound design and original bass compositions of Mike Ponder, the technical feats equal that of the lone actor on stage.

Not only are the sounds impressive, but the cues for both sound and visuals are impeccable. Barbara Taggart is credited with the soundboard operation. Casey Morris cues the visuals, and both deserve kudos for their technical timing and virtuosity. Lighting by Leigh Spencer Brown is less noticeable, but hardly insignificant. Only Kerr/McIver's ratty rags were no-brainer decisions by Shelley Porter, whose chores as costumer were hardly demanding.

The play is a romp through the woods and into Chesapeake Bay, with senatorial elements of Strom Thurman and Jesse Helms mixed in. It's a portrait of a disturbed and unstable performance artist who does a stunning second-act reincarnation.

by Jim Cavener

And Then There Were None

From BlueRidgeNow.com (the Hendersonville Times-News)


Agatha Christie mystery at Flat Rock Playhouse is a workout for the mind

By Kitty Turner
Special to the Times-News

Eight guests arrive at a lonely house on an island off the coast of Devon, England, only to be told that their host and hostess will not arrive until the following day.

The butler and housekeeper show the disparate group to their rooms and before dinner they gather for drinks in the lounge. Just as everyone is beginning to relax, a voice rings out and Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Was None” is off and running.

The Flat Rock Playhouse production features Damian Duke Domingue and Neela Munoz as the butler and housekeeper, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers. Lisa K. Bryant as the mysterious Mrs. Owen’s secretary Vera Claythorne, Willie V.R. Repoley as Philip Lombard, Ben Hope as Anthony Marston, Brian Robinson as William Blore, Stewart Gregory as General MacKenzie, Paige Posey as Emily Brent, Ralph Redpath as Sir Lawrence Wargrove and Peter Thomasson as Dr. Armstrong.

Christie, one of the most prolific mystery writers of the 20th century, wrote 66 detective stories in 56 years. Well known for her Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple detectives, she also wrote a number of books that didn’t feature one of her signature sleuths. “And Then There Were None,” also known as “10 Little Indians,” was one of the public’s favorites. It was reworked as a play and as a film, being produced at least three different times.

The set for the Flat Rock production is beautiful, like a room borrowed from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Head-high paneled walls line two sides of the room, while stained glass windows and doors make up the back wall. Stenciled at ceiling height are nursery rhymes, while in pride of place over the fireplace mantel is the poem “10 Little Indians:”

Ten little Indian boys went out to dine;
One choked himself and his little self and then there were nine.

Nine little Indian boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.

Eight little Indian boys traveling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.

Seven little Indian boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.

Six little Indian boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.

Five little Indian boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.

Four little Indian boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.

Three little Indian boys walking in the Zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.

Two little Indian boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.

One little Indian boy left all alone;
He went and hanged himself and then there were none.

Back to that voice that suddenly was heard. It makes certain accusations against all those present, including the butler and housekeeper, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers. The participants discover that the voice is on a record that Rogers was instructed to play by the absent Mr. Owen.

Sir Lawrence Wargrave calls for calm and asks each person how they know their hosts. As the mystery deepens each character is exposed and explored, with the acting becoming more intense. All the actors did an outstanding job, but the slow disintegration of Thomasson’s Dr. Armstrong, and Redpath’s dominance as Judge Wargrave were outstanding.

Audiences should pay particular attention to all the clues, since during intermission a vote will be taken on who-dun-it and a winner drawn from the correct answer for two tickets to “Dear Santa,” the playhouse’s holiday show.

“And Then There Were None” is an enjoyable evening of theater and a workout for the mind.

01 August 2008

On the Verge & Below the Belt

from the C-T...

immediate theatre project shines twice

by Tony Kiss

On a pretty summer day, a passionate baseball fan might exclaim “Let’s play two!” Asheville’s immediate theatre project is now doing just that, performing a pair of shows, one after another, at the cozy N.C. Stage Company space downtown.

And these aren’t quick, connected one-acts. “On the Verge or the Geography of Yearning” and “Below the Belt” are not linked in any particular way, except sharing the same director (Hans Meyer) and some offstage crew. The cast, playwrights and stories are different. Audiences can watch one, or both, or come to see the plays on different nights.

It’s a lot of work for this little acting company, which has established itself as one of the city’s best. And it’s a lot of theater to absorb in one evening (or matinee, as the case may be). On opening night, “Verge” began at 7:30 p.m. and “Belt” ended around 12:30 a.m., which included intermissions in both programs, and a break between the two.

But again, it’s not necessary to catch them both in one sitting, though it makes for an interesting and entertaining experience.

“Verge” centers on three women explorers in the late 19th century, making a bizarre jungle journey. “Belt” follows three guys toiling in a prisonlike manufacturing plant, two of them constantly snapping at the third.

‘On the Verge’

“On the Verge or The Geography of Yearning” by Eric Overmyer has three Victorian-era women in some thick jungle to explore a land they call Terra Ingognita. Fanny (Katie Langwell) is the conservative housewife, Mary (Vivian Smith) the no-nonsense traveler who usually goes solo, and Alexandra (Trinity Smith) the youngest and the dreamer in this bunch.

Quickly, it’s obvious they’ve slipped into a time warp, and the further they go, the more they travel to the future, and the stranger the tale becomes. Erik Moellering plays a handful of supporting male characters. By the year 1955, they have come so far from their own time that some personal decisions need to be made.

‘Below the Belt’

“Below the Belt” is plenty quirky as well. In an industrial plant, eager new arrival Dobbitt (Chris Allison) finds himself in workplace hell, toiling alongside the fidgety, hair-triggered Hanrahan (Darren Marshall in the strongest performance in either show) and their nasty boss, Merkin (Strother Stingley). While Dobbitt only wants to please, the others torment and turn against him at every turn. Here, too, a choice must be made, with Merkin pulling Dobbitt into a plot that’s totally against his nature.

This one is a bit like The Three Stooges meet “Seinfeld” – and it’s a howler that leaves you buzzing at the end. With the shows running through Aug. 17, make a point to catch this engaging “experiment in theater.”


from the C-T

Review: SART’s ‘Ruthie’ is rewarding theater

Jim Cavener • take5 Correspondent

A biblical tale gets a Western North Carolina twist in “Ruthie,” a world premiere production at Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre in Mars Hill.

Written by David Anthony Wright, now managing director of the Paramount Theater in Burlington, “Ruthie,” is a worthy effort and a rewarding theater experience.

It takes place in the Asheville area, just after World War II. Local residents and those familiar with the region are going to find the show most appealing. But, anyone seeing this well-crafted work will enjoy a feel-good evening with moments of high drama. Mostly, this is a warm and fuzzy story with a crew of well-written, classic Southern characters.

Ruthie McInnes (Ashley Manning) and her mother-in-law, Naomi (Kay Galvin), return from Charleston to Naomi’s modest home in the mountains of WNC after the wartime death of Ruthie’s young husband (and Naomi’s son), Martin. They are welcomed by a range of regional denizens from Naomi’s past, all new and unfamiliar to Ruthie, who comes from a more urbane and sophisticated past. The plays on Baptist vs. Episcopal and Presbyterian values and practices afford a knowing and entertaining portrayal.

Among the classic characters entwined in Ruthie’s saga are two town matrons who open the show with a farcelike display of rapid entrances and exits through the six doors on the set, designed by Richard Seagle. These two, Thelma Whitesell (Dianne Chapman) and Alma Clayton (Elaine Blanton), provide ongoing comic foil and are well worth the trip. They keep the guffaws authentic and frequent.

Julius Kingsford (Michael Mattison) runs the town’s dry cleaners and laundry with his sleazy son, Junior (Anthony Giordano), with help from the wholesome boy-next-door, Beau Stroud (Bradshaw Call). Julius hires Ruthie, who is the object of attraction of both Junior and Beau. Therein lies the romantic, as well as dramatic, story line. Tony Medlin as Coot Cameron provides further light moments with a twist of Jubilation T. Cornpone. Robert McDaniel offers two lesser roles.

There are a few rough edges in this new script. The last scene needs to be more clearly identified as occurring a considerable time later. A lot has happened since the previous scene, and the audience is left guessing. Yet, the easy, linear story line lets us enjoy this unfolding tale of virtue winning out and everyone getting where they need to be with a totally sweet denouement. “Ruthie” is to theater what comfort food is to dinner. A nice time is virtually guaranteed.

Director John Moon gives us additional post-WWII touches in musical themes and period references, as well as the right balance between frenzied flourishes of comedy and subdued interpretations. Galvin, Mattison, Chapman, Blanton and Manning all shine. Giordano’s evil and Call’s virtue are both well wrought. Medlin is a hoot.