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19 September 2008

The Best Man

From the C-T

Theater review: Cast your ballot for ACT’s ‘The Best Man’

ASHEVILLE — Political contests in America are not pitched battles between absolute good and evil but more nuanced struggles between somewhat flawed candidates who lie somewhere in between. That is the premise of Gore Vidal’s “The Best Man,” which, on the Asheville Community Theatre stage, seems as powerful and perceptive today as when it was written more than 40 years ago.

Jim Weyhenmeyer gives a delightfully convoluted performance as William Russell, an Adlai Stevenson-like character seeking the presidential nomination at the party convention in Philadelphia. Russell is an intellectual whose exemplary public service is belied by his private life — he chronically cheats on his long-suffering wife, Alice (Susan Fronsoe).

Russell’s hard-charging opponent Joseph Cantwell in contrast is ruthless as a politician but has a very close relationship with his opportunistic wife, Mabel (Lora Kole). Dan Clancy’s nitty-gritty portrayal of the Richard Nixon-like Cantwell conjures up every resentment of the “dirty politics” so prevalent in recent history.

The two politicians’ respective “handlers” Dick Jensen (Cory Boughton) and Don Blades (Zack Blew) urge their candidates to win at all costs. Injecting a delightful dose of humanity is former President Arthur Hockstader, whose endorsement of either man would carry critical weight as this contest goes down to the wire. Bob Baldridge gives a marvelous performance as the Harry Truman-like former president who measures a candidate on character and judgment more than rhetoric.

The candidates both have secrets – which would sink their campaigns. And each seems intent on stooping as low as needed in order to win, a cynical but perhaps telling commentary on today’s fractured body politic. Vidal’s resolution to this dilemma offers a little glimmer of hope that sometimes indeed the “best man” can emerge from such a sordid melee.

Director Jamie Nicholson and a strong cast have breathed life into an American classic that is still timely and still needed today.

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

Songs of Robert

From Nathan Adams' blog,
(link above also takes you there)

Corpus Theatre Collective presents "The Songs of Robert", as a part of North Carolina Stage Company's Catalyst Series. The "verse play with live music" was written by and stars John Crutchfield as a whole host of characters, including the vulnerable titular character.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself at this show, and not only that, I found it to be of an excellent quality. Unfortunately, the two do not always find each other in the same theatre. But in this (dare I make bold praise) modern American masterwork of a play, John Crutchfield deftly combines both entertainment and comedy, and deep insights and beautiful poetry.

Crutchfield lithely leaps from character to character with the grace and style of ballet dancer. That doesn't mean you don't see him work though. One of the things I noticed during the opening scene was how big his "basketballs" had to be to do this. One man, his work, alone on a stage, telling a room full of southern people that they look nice, for white people.

I really appreciated the ability to see Crutchfield work at his change of characters. To just watch him as he turned his back to the audience, and to see his body build the energy necessary to leap into the next character, was an example of why so many love theatre.

The structure of this one-act play is not what one might call conventional. We are given glimpses into the world of Robert, a senior in high school, mostly through monologues and "scenes" with other characters in his life, but also through Robert himself. These scenes provide some of the most touching moments in the play. The structure of the play actually reminds me of the landmark musical, "Company" (whose protagonist is also named, coincidentally, Robert). Like the musical, we are given glimpses into the lead character's life, all culminating in one final song.

And don't think that this is a mere vanity project by an actor who isn't really a writer. The script is beautiful, and I would love to someday have a copy in my library. Crutchfield states in his notes, "Until I find someone to do it for me, I'll be performing it myself." And while I hope he continues to do so, as to watch his perform it is a gold medal treat, I also hope that the piece continues to have a life beyond him, and I will be the first in line to buy it if it is published.

Fly, don't run down to the North Carolina Stage Company to see this show. Realize how lucky we are to have so many talented local writers producing work, and support it. This show only has three performances left, so get thee to a ticket website!



Yours gushing,
Nathan H. Adams

14 September 2008

Dr Faustus

From the C-T. I'm posting the two comments from the C-Twebsite, too, because they are interesting...

‘Dr. Faustus’ is stunning stuff from Montford Park Players

Jim Cavener • Take5 correspondent • published September 12, 2008 12:15 am

ASHEVILLE — Drawing near the close of its 36th and longest season of plays, now in the Hazel Robinson Amphitheatre behind the Montford Community Center, Montford Park Players is doing one of its occasional non-Shakespeare productions, “Doctor Faustus” by Christopher Marlowe.

It’s set in Wittenberg, Germany, and is the story of a worldly and successful scholar who sells his soul to the devil for 24 years of unlimited wealth and knowledge.

As is often the case with Elizabethan-era drama, the stilted but eloquent language creates obstacles for a full grasp of the significance of the story. Fortunately, the playbill includes a useful synopsis of scenes. It is wise to arrive early and spend some time sorting it out.

The term “cast of thousands” is overused, but in “Dr. Faustus,” there are more than half-a-hundred characters listed, and soldiers, tree demons, the Devil army, spirits and the seven deadly sins often arrive in multiples at a time. In addition, the delightful sins of sloth, lechery, pride and covetousness all are triply cast.

With so many players, it is impossible to mention most of the stellar roles. But in a very unusual bit of casting, the role of Mephistopheles is played by two quite differing local actors. One is the noted playwright, director and actor David Hopes. But on some nights, the role is portrayed by a 12-year-old girl, Amy Daugherty. Say what?

Saturday night of opening weekend Daugherty was Satan’s own agent, Mephistopheles, and the child is awesome. Hopes has some (actually very small) figuratively very large shoes to fill. A lucky viewer might see them both on successive nights. It is hard to imagine a more impressive performance than given by this sweet blond child in a white gown, ably holding forth in a role historically often cast with a tall, black-clothed man.

Faustus, himself is given by Warren Wilson College professor David Mycoff, while the Pope is Nathan Adams. Mike Vaniman is a good Emperor while Charles McKnight an impressive Wagner. The feisty Lucifer is interpreted by Nathaniel Deardoff, with Stephanie Hickling being the entire Chorus, a regular element in Elizabethan drama, part narrator, part troubadour.

Director Jason Williams has taken many risks with this production, but even the massive Cecil B. DeMille penultimate climax scene comes off with aplomb. Powerful metaphysical metaphors give this often playful romp both frivolity and sobriety. Good show.

12 September 2008

A Midnight's Summer Dream...

Those not quite getting the humor of the following review are invited to follow the link above

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

North Carolina Stage Company’s recent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a real head-scratcher. First of all, the curtain time of midnight was an extremely questionable choice. Also, not a single actor was off-book; in fact, they shamelessly carried their scripts on stage with them! Costumes ranged from poor to poorest, with little thought or continuity apparent either in aesthetic, time period, or general condition and cleanliness. The set was nothing short of appalling: arbitrarily placed music stands in the foreground, and actors awaiting their cues on beanbag chairs ON STAGE. I am all for minimalism, but this seemed much too far.

Even with lines in hand, actors still managed to flub words, lose their place, mispronounce text, and obliterate proper scansion. Were they drunk?? It was as though they’d had no rehearsal time at all! Casting choices were bizarre as well, the oddest perhaps being the diminutive Jamie Shell in a cross-gender role as Lysander, made no less strange by a moment wherein she must insult the same-height actress Charlotte Lawrence by calling her a “dwarf.” Direction seemed haphazard at best; in fact, it often appeared that people were making up blocking on the spot. Disorganization the likes of which I’ve never seen. An enormous departure from NC Stage’s general standards.

~Shamie Jell