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24 October 2008


Review: ‘Doubt’ is a dynamite drama at N.C. Stage

Jim Cavener • TAKE 5 CORRESPONDENT • published October 24, 2008 12:15 am

As N.C. Stage Company has established a six-year record of producing high quality theater in a variety of genres, director Hans Meyer has a track record of locating intellectually stimulating and morally challenging scripts. Now he’s come up with John Patrick Shanley’s script of “Doubt — A Parable.”

Meyer has brought in four actors virtually unknown to Asheville audiences, though two of them have appeared at nearby Flat Rock Playhouse. That relatively unknown quality will not be for long. These are splendid talents and we’ll see more of them, we hope.

The setting of “Doubt” is a Roman Catholic parish in The Bronx, New York. The year is 1964, when many Roman parishes still had their own parochial schools. The small cast is make up of the parish priest, the nun who is principal of the school, another nun who teaches in the school and the mother of one of the students — who we never see, but nevertheless figures mightily in the story line.

Father Flynn is played by Brian Robinson, a Charlotte actor who gives us intensity and credibility, just as the script calls for. Charlotte actress Rebecca Koon gives us Sister Aloysius, the school principal. She is a cold and calculating number, one stern nun in the tradition of the wrist- slapping Mother Superiors of legend. Julia VanderVeen is Sister James, the younger and more flexible nun, in a touching performance. Mrs. Muller, mother of the controversial student, is portrayed by Brandie Moore. This is a masterpiece of interpretation.

The dramatic vehicle is the conflict between doubt and certainty. Not just in the spiritual realm, but in the nitty-gritty of daily life and struggles. There are sexual issues, alcohol issues, racial issues and spiritual issues, for starters. One line helps us focus on the drama: “Doubt can be a bond as powerful as certainty.”

And a drama it is. There are no simple solutions and we leave the theater asking many questions.

The dual set: the principal’s office and a parish courtyard, is richly textured as designed by Andrew Mannion. Director Meyer is credited with sound design, which probably covers the appropriately somber and ominous music used in transitions between scenes. There is no intermission, and the show runs barely 90 minutes. But, there is enough drama in that 90 minutes to register the evening as a memorable one.

“Doubt” is surely a philosophical exercise, as well as a psychological excursion into the mental bowels of highly-charged individuals. Listen for the parable in one of Father Flynn’s homilies. It’s a zinger and a clue to the meat of the story. Clear your mind before the curtain-speech. It’s gonna be a rocky ride across the NCSC stage.

11 October 2008

out there out here

I just wanted to drop a quick line here to say that once again, John Crutchfield has created or collaborated on something that reignites my passion for the creativity and wonder of live theatre. Don't be turned off by the description of the show as "performance art." See if for yourself. You might love it, you might hate it, but it is a rare opportunity to see something like this locally, and I recommend not passing it up.

Willie Repoley

10 October 2008

Floyd Collins

Theater review: HART's “Floyd Collins” is deep and dark

Jim Cavener • published October 9, 2008 1:15 pm

- Each October the highly-successful Haywood County theatrical troupe, Haywood Arts Regional Theatre, gives us something unusual. Sometimes it's daring in concept and content and it's almost always dark and brooding. It was never more so than in the current musical enterprise “Floyd Collins.”

“Floyd Collins” is based on a real-life event from the 1920s when a young Kentucky man was trapped in a deep, dark, damp cavern and the journalism of the day made a veritable circus of his plight. The discovery and commercialization of Mammoth Cave in central Kentucky inspired many an ambitious land owner to want to capitalize on the appeal of mysterious caverns. The county fair/carnival atmosphere of the region was only exacerbated by this media attraction. The production is as deep and dark as the cavern. Not a feel-good show, for sure,

Composer Adam Guettel, is the grandson of Richard Rodgers, one of the 20th century's most prolific and successful musical theater composers. But his current work much more resembles that of Stephen Sondheim than it does those famed Rodgers and Hammerstein melodies.

From the opening tones of the pit orchestra, ably conducted by Chuck Taft, it's clear this is not typical theater music.The musical ensemble has no brass or woodwinds. It's all strings, and percussion. It is a lovely experience to hear this capable ensemble melding period Kentucky folk music with modern theater sounds. The music is demanding and the vocal demands exceed that of the instrumentalists.

Fortunately, HART was able to cast several highly trained singers in key roles. The title role of Floyd is a challenge for any singer. Much of Floyd's best singing is done while he is trapped on his back, and actor Rod Leigh sings quite effectively with limited diaphragm control. He's a treasure, for sure. His brother, Homer, is done compellingly by Mark Jones, last seen as the Emcee in last October's quite dark version of the musical “Cabaret.”

Frances Davis and Adrienne Mollette deliver the female tunes with great effectiveness. While Rick Sibley, Preston Tinsley, Roger Williams, Joanthan Milner and Cord Scott don't have to tackle the most difficult melodies, they are credible actors, as are Ricky Sanford, Strother Stingley, Andrew Greene and Roger Magendie. It's not a huge cast but director Charles Mills found some significant talent for this show.

Much of the plot line is delivered as recitative, and often the words just don't make it past the pit. It is hard to capture all the libretto, which is a pity given the nature of a complex script. Yet, much of the emotion and meaning is transparent and not dependent on spoken word. Despite the dark theme, there are moments of occasional lightness to carry us beyond the depressing dialogue between tragedy and hope.

The operatic quality of the vocal work is impressive, and the more surprising being set in such a non-traditional locale. Central Kentucky, much of it underground, dark, deep and damp. A good pre-Halloween show is this one.


Theater review: ‘Misery' hits the mark at ACT's 35below

Tony Kiss • TKiss@CITIZEN-TIMES.com • published October 9, 2008 1:15 pm

Many of Stephen King's amazing stories have just not translated well to the stage or screen. But “Misery” is an exception in a production on stage at Asheville Community Theatre's tiny 35below performance space, in the lower back level of the downtown playhouse.

The tale of a romance novelist, injured in an auto accident and stranded with an increasingly psychotic fan, is made even more intense by the small confines of 35below. First-rate acting and sharp direction by Susan Dillard make this a show worth seeing.

But speaking of seeing, the only flaw is the seating arrangement for “Misery.” When the house is full (as it was last Saturday night), it was very difficult to see the stage from the back rows. Some theater-goers were constantly craning their necks or moving around trying to watch. One person even jumped up from a seat to see the dramatic finish, which was otherwise blocked from view by folks up front. This could be fixed by putting some more elevation on those last two rows – or bringing a phone book or two to sit on. The layout also puts one scene in the rear of the room, completely out of view.

The movie version of “Misery,” starring James Caan and Kathy Bates, has made the “Misery” a classic. Weary romance novelist Paul (Jonathan Ray) is badly injured in a car crash in the frozen wilderness, and then saved (by fate) by a loving fan and former nurse Annie (Cary Nichols).

What first seems to be a miracle then turns to nightmare, as Annie becomes increasingly odd and obsessed with Paul, and his decision to end his “Misery” series of novels and try something new. The writer becomes trapped and hooked on pain pills, with no choice but to go along with Annie's freaky command.

Dillard gets some good chemistry going here between Ray and Nichols in their odd on-stage relationship. Ray first plays the character as laid-back, but the performance evolves as he realizes the situation. His pain is so intense, it seems very real. Nichols gives a powerhouse turn as Annie, a troubled soul turned into something much more dangerous. At some moments, it's easy to feel sorry for her, at other times, she's absolutely frightening.

Tuesdays with Morrie

Flat Rock's ‘Tuesdays with Morrie' a funny tearjerker

Tim Reid • Take 5 Correspondent • published October 3, 2008 12:15

Flat Rock Playhouse's “Tuesdays with Morrie” will make you laugh and cry through the last days of Morrie Schwartz, a beloved Brandeis University professor dying of ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease).

Based on the best-selling book by Detroit sports columnist Mitch Albom, “Tuesdays” chronicles Albom's once-a-week trips to Boston to visit his former teacher and mentor.

Michael Edwards is marvelous as Morrie, the teacher who struggles to impart his love of life while disease slowly but relentlessly takes it away. Bill Munoz gives a moving performance as Mitch, who is caught up with the cares of the world while Morrie teaches him the important things such as love and forgiveness.

Morrie keeps his wit and wisdom even as disease takes its inevitable toll. Edwards gives a magnificent performance depicting the deterioration of Morrie's body while his spirit only gets stronger. Mitch prattles on about his petty concerns of everyday life while Morrie hones in on what really matters.

Flat Rock audiences know well Edwards' comic genius through his many performances at Flat Rock, but many will be surprised at the depth and nuance he brings to the role of Morrie.Director Betsy Bisson, Edwards and Munoz deliver a show that Flat Rock audiences will be talking about for a long time.

03 October 2008

700 Stories of Love and One Really Big Reason to Quit

From the C-T, http://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=200881002083

Theater review: “700 Stories of Love” is moving experience

Jim Cavener • Take5 Correspondent • published October 3, 2008 12:15 am

Theater freaks don't go to downtown Asheville's funky little North Carolina Stage Company for mindless entertainment. Often, an audience has to work for its rewards. And the current Redundant Theatre Company Theatre production of “700 Stories of Love and One Really Big Reason to Quit” perfectly fits that genre.

This small troupe (essentially four core players and a small number of hangers-on) has a great track record of finding or creating material like you've not seen or heard before. “700 Stories” is home-grown, all the way. Each actor has written her/his own parts in each of these mini-skits or episodes. But, all are based on a common source, the website or Wikipedia postings on one Dr. Robert Sternberg and his “Triangle Theory of Love” – should you want to get a leg-up on these goings-on.

A word of warning: there is no fixed-seating for this show. The usual bank of chairs on risers are gone. There are a few folding chairs scattered about, but even they must be schlepped away as the audience migrates or is herded toward the ever moving action. Some mobility is necessary to accommodate the action, with only occasional, limited seating available..

The 700 stories are carefully tabulated on a large chalk board that serves as the backdrop. While there emerge some similarities in each of these short scenes, there are various permutations in the cast and its make-up. Some scenes are with two women lovers, some with two men and others are even with (yawn) a woman and a man, in a short lapse of conventionality for this unconventional company..

And, speaking of that cast, the stalwarts of the troupe, Rain Newcomb, Willie Repoley, Rebecca Morris and Todd Weakley are their usual competent selves, and Kirsten Daniel does well in a lesser role. But, the knock-out fling is flung by Graham Hackett, who gives us a spoken word piece that will be long remembered. It is masterful in both writing and delivery, in content.and in style. Show stopping....

Scintillating choreography by Heather Maloy of Terpsicorps, and puppets by Rick Spears are among the few attributions toward the technical aspects of this production. Jason Holland is named as doing sound and light control. Someone with very good timing manages to keep all the cues on target.

The program for the show is as unconventional as is the structure and execution. Expect no cast identification or bios, not even their names in print. Nor are the curtain calls and bows what you might expect, When the silly smoke alarm goes off the final time, and stage smoke envelopes the room, you are in for a trip – of some sort, to be disclosed by attendance at the show, only Enjoy.