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17 November 2008

No Shame Theatre

When I first heard about No Shame Theatre at NC Stage, I was excited- 15 new plays that were rehearsed for just an hour, with only three rules (original works only, you can't break anything, and the lights will go out if you go over 5 minutes). But I've only come out for it a couple of times, because I have yet to see much that holds my attention, even for 5 minutes.
Of course you expect a mixed bag when folks have less than hour to rehearse play that itself may or may not be any good, but where I was expecting and hoping to find a forum for innovation --with a full range of bad plays and good plays, innovative and conventional plays, successful and failed attempts (all of which could be interesting)-- it seems to be pretty mediocre, smutty, and, frankly, boring across the board.
Not exclusively of course, but take this last week. It was ok. There were a few scattered kind-of-interesting pieces that I didn't really understand, but which at least seemed like a playwright working on something with actors and a director-- the first piece comes to mind (about McCain office staffers). There was a strange piece that sort of featured two typewriters (not sure it was successful, but at least it seemed like it was trying to do something). There was a monologue about taking over City Hall with monkeys, that seemed like it was building towards something, although it was too long, so we never saw the ending. There was a two-person political/poetical mumbo-jumbo piece that was of refreshingly different tone, even if it was fairly confusing. And there was... well, a lot of yelling "Vagina" and talking about sex after the prom, and sleeping with your sister, and eating babies. None of which was clever or sophisticated enough to qualify as satire or social commentary. I mean, "shock" only has "value" when used to break people out of their dreary, expected existence, right? I have no problem with smut, but when a potentially interesting and disturbing and conflicted piece about the secret urge to basically rape a friend is played for laughs because --guess what! there's a surprise ending "she's my sister!" ha ha ha!-- it just seems to me like wasting a thoughtful piece on a stupid punchline designed to undermine anything of real merit in the piece and appeal to the lowest common denominator. Were people laughing at this stuff? Yes. Did that make me want to come back? No. It made me wonder if maybe I needed to be drinking more.
I guess I'm disappointed that there is not more to it. Where is the theatricality? Where is the experimentation? I guess I'm tired of "No Shame" being so consistently interpreted to mean "No Taste." I thought it meant "dare to take risks, dare to fail." But guess what: if everybody's doing it, it's not a risk. In fact, it's not even "original."
Maybe I'm just a smart ass for suggesting that "original" should mean something other than "something you wrote yourself," and maybe I'm just not the target audience, but if No Shame ever actually becomes a forum for exploring new theatrical ideas, somebody let me know. I'd like to give it another try.


16 November 2008

Two Rooms

"Two Rooms" Review
from http://nathanhadams.blogspot.com/

I had the pleasure of experiencing the North Carolina Stage Company Catalyst Series production of Lee Blessing's "Two Rooms". If perchance a performance is starting soon and you are sitting down to read this review, let me save you some time, go see it.

I usually hate it when a production uses the word "timely". It usually denotes the dragging of politics, like a corpse, into the middle of the stage, for the actors and audience to trip over. This play is timely in the best way. The press release describes it as thus, "The play sheds light on the anguish of a man taken hostage in Beirut, and the emotional torture and helplessness of his wife, impatient for something to be done, and government officials who must be guided by logic rather than emotion." Obviously, the place and conflict are familiar, it is timely. This play succeeds in being timely because at the center is not why or why not we should do this or that, but the simple human pain that drives what we need to do. And it is the presence of human pain, today, tomorrow, and yesterday that makes this play beautiful. It is the type of pain, and the type of human frailties that bring it, that makes this play timely.

The play is indeed, an amazing piece of writing, but this was not what I left the theatre thinking. I left simply overwhelmed.

At first, I was skeptical about seeing a show on the first night. Asheville theatre does not usually accommodate for the type of rehearsal which provides for the best opening night. My fears were completely unfounded. This production is award worthy on opening night. Never before in my time of seeing shows have I ever wanted to leap out of my seat with emotion the way I did last night. I wanted to scream, just to make sure I still could. I wanted the hug the characters, just because they needed it. What was being depicted on stage was real. I overheard one woman tell the actor playing the hostage that she wanted to "hug him and show him sunlight", because he needed it. I was completely amazed at how much the actors were able to make us care for them.

The play is carried by four amazing actors of the Asheville stage. Erik Moellering touches our hearts as the hostage husband, brilliantly pulling off monologues full of the ideas of a man who has nothing to do but think. Kelley Hinman excellently pulls off the pent up frustration of a reporter who wants to do SOMETHING, anything to help through his tool of the media. Lucia Del Vecchio portrays an agent of the State Department assigned to the case. Ms. Del Vecchio deftly handles the passionless speech of the government, adding in just enough humanity to serve the double purpose of making both the character and her unique choices at the end real. Last, but certainly not least, is Vivian Smith. Her character of Lainie practically carries the entire play on her back. If we do not believe her sorrow, her inability to cope, or rage, the play would fall apart. Ms. Smith beautifully pulls off this character, proving an excellent foil for injustices of the world, her largest scene partner.

Another word must be said for the director and producer, Callan White. In addition to applauding her hutzpah to produce such a play, or any play for that matter, we must applaud her work as a director. She is invisible as the show progresses, always the mark of a good director. It feels as if these characters just stormed on stage and told us their story with out ever knowing we were there. And thank god. That's the way it should be. But we know Ms. White has been there, by the sheer brilliance of the overall production. A show this good could not have come together without a brilliant director presiding over brilliant actors in a beautiful collaboration.

I know I'm using a lot of awfully big adjectives, but this production warrants it. It is a beautiful emotional experience. It is a real experience. You will be making a huge mistake if you don't go to NC Stage and see this show. See it, live it, and then go out and do something about it.

(In the interests of full disclosure, it should be stated that the reviewer is going to be a student under Ms. White in the coming semester.)

Nathan H. Adams

05 November 2008

Triple Play

Two hours in a folding chair is a challenge for these old bones. I'm happy to report that, with the help of a well-placed intermission, ClapAtUs Productions' /Triple Play/ was engaging enough that the spartan seating never really bothered me. In fact I went away charmed by the little proscenium space at the Asheville Arts Center on Merrimon Avenue. But the real charming was done by the actors, each of whom took on roles in at least two of the three plays presented, and by the playwrights.

The show begins with Rob Taylor's shortie "Honeymoon," a funny trifle about a man who wakes up the morning after his bachelor party with an unexpected party leftover -- a woman he doesn't remember meeting. Darren Marshall aptly renders the bachelor's confusion and dismay. Sonia D'Andrea's sexily cheeky Ella is perfect, and when DiAnna Ritola arrives -- that's right, she's the fiancee -- she heats things right on up, and the clever playwriting does not disappoint.

The meat of the evening is David Hopes' longer piece, /The Beautiful Johanna, /a drama set in a war-ravaged city in Ireland. Marshall, as the painter Reiner, Ritola, in the title role as Reiner's model and sometimes lover, and D'Andrea as a war orphan hiding out with friends in fear of the strife in the streets, have a chance to display their very considerable acting skills. Chris Brunton, as a street savvy survivor named Terence, very competently rounds out the cast along with playwright Nathan H. Adams who takes the role of Terence's rather hysterical lover.

Adams' short presentational piece, "The Fall of Four Men," is a contemplation on death and greatness. It gives four of the ensemble the chance to act in the presentational style, and I was glad to hear Darren Marshall give his full, booming voice some rein. I was reminded of how important the voice is to the actor, and Marshall is gifted with a good one.

I have already begun to forget that these plays were performed on-book. The plays were well rehearsed and smartly directed as staged readings. There was not too much blocking, not too little; all the production values were just about right. I'll remember seeing the plays, not readings thereof. The price of admission is a pittance. If you can catch the final performance (Sunday afternoon) and you are interested in Asheville's treasure of real live local theatre, this one will satisfy.
-- Jerry Stubblefield