REVIEW: Flight at USC is a Needed Addition to American History and Drama

"We are weightless and unbound by gravity ..."

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Flight, conceived and directed by Steve Pearson and written by Robyn Hunt, is not an easy play. To start with, it is an historical drama exploring a subject about which little history has been written. Its fictional characters, who lived lives split between the theatrical stage and the aviation hangar, are based loosely on actual female aviation pioneers whose lives were similarly fragmented. Add to this a deep thematic attachment to the work of Anton Chekov, and top it with a singular character whose place in time and space is hard to peg, and the result is nothing less than a study in complexity. But bear with the play’s construct, lean into its sometimes surprising interludes into dance and theatrics, stay with the play, and, ultimately, the viewer is delivered a simple and straightforward message, which is this: Though women are remembered too often for the performative work they do, (and there is a performative nature to far too much of the work of women), it is the unlauded milestones women have made—the ones accomplished when they were not being watched, critiqued, or directed—that have produced the greatest resonance, not just for the individual women themselves, but for humanity writ large.

A production of the University of SC Department of Theatre and Dance, Flight is making its second appearance in Columbia. First presented in 2009 by department professors Pearson and Hunt, Flight took wing on a national tour during which its script was tightened and refined by the playwright Hunt. It returns to Columbia this month with some of the original cast who also served as original researchers into the history and culture of women in aviation upon which the play is based.

The story of two French actress/aviators and a similarly ground-breaking woman documentarian, Flight takes the audience into an airline hangar in which the women appear to be constructing a plane in preparation for a trailblazing flight from Paris to Moscow. In fact, over the course of the play, the actors actually (re)assemble a ¾ scale replica of an early monoplane called the Bleriot XI, (previously hand-fashioned by Pearson). Always in motion, Madeleine, played by Gabriela Castillo, and Sophie, played by Kimberly Gaughan, create strong supporting roles for one another as their characters are juxtaposed in disposition and delivery, with Gaughan as intensely restrained—think tempered drama just below the surface of her character’s personality—as Castillo is light and optimistic. These women require no sympathy, despite the unaccommodating culture in which they work and live. They are empowered by their own dignity and dedication to their science. Gaughan and Castillo do their characters ample justice and should be proud of their work.

As the documentarian Alisse, playwright Hunt lends a diligent gentility to her character—so composed, so professional in the face of adversity—and her blending of the kind of maturity one can only admire with her easy manipulation of the stage, floating in and out of the machinations of filmmaking and the cultural machinations of womanhood are deliberate and nuanced.

Eric Bultman plays the part of the oft aloft Jean Luc, a prescient and somewhat ethereal combination of mystic and mechanic who seems to represent not only science but a more benevolent patriarchy than the one in which the women operate, offering a fluid form of interactive narration that has a grounding effect for the audience. Bultman is inordinately well-suited for the authoritative presence his character demands and, particularly in his tango with Hunt, which seems to so beautifully marry science to art, exhibits an easy command of the stage.

In the role of Gerard, a good-natured compatriot of the women from the theatre, Nicolas Stewart faces challenges in displaying a sense of comfort with his character’s physical form, lacking variability from the easy-going persona to which he so frequently returns. Still, there is much to look forward to in this young actor’s future.

The gradual materialization of an almost full-sized airplane on the stage aside, the rest of the set, also created by Pearson, is sparse but strong, exhibiting a captivating design element in its color and texture. Even more engaging is the costuming of the characters, designed by Lisa Martin-Stuart and Kristy Hall, which makes no apparent concessions to convenience or cost in the adherence to authenticity. It is satisfying to see period costuming so thoroughly implemented with no tell-tale signs of the 21st century sneaking out from around the edges.  A light and lovely score accompanies the play’s progress.

It is cliché to say that Flight reminds us of how far we have come yet how far we still need to go, but it must be said. These powerful characters leave us with the optimistic words that we, as women, are weightless and unbound by gravity. But until we transcend, or at a minimum reconfigure, the performance of womanhood as culture demands it, we may never fully get off the ground.

Flight is at the Center for Performance Experiment and runs through April 29th.

Cindi Boiter is the executive director of the Jasper Project and editor of Jasper Magazine.

New Trustus Playwrights' Festival Winning Play Premiering on the 14th

Clint Poston and EG Engle with photography by Rob Sprankle  

 

Trustus Theatre is bringing a world premiere to the Midlands as Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich’s Big City comes to the Thigpen Main Stage. This winner of the Trustus Playwrights’ Festival will have a limited run from August 14 - 22, 2015. Audiences can also meet winning NYC playwright Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich when she visits Columbia and attends opening weekend.

 

The Trustus Playwrights’ Festival is a national competition that is held annually. Last season over 500 submissions made their way to Trustus Literary Manager Sarah Hammond in NYC, and Artistic Director Dewey Scott-Wiley and Hammond chose Big City as the winning play. The show is receiving its first professional production on Trustus’ Thigpen Main Stage this summer under the direction of Scott-Wiley.

 

Big City is a modern tale about 21st Century relationships and communication, Big City introduces audiences to Jane and Joe. These friends have been living with each other for a while and are "just roommates," except for Friday nights and the occasional Sunday morning. Now he's drowning in urban angst and wants a deeper commitment  -- a baby! -- but Jane says no. Deep down, are they really in love? Or is it just the narrowing of options and fear of being alone that comes from being closer to 30 than 20. Anything can happen over a meal of Chinese takeout and muscle relaxants, especially when unexpected guests invade the small apartment they call home.

 

Big City playwright Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich is a NYC playwright. Her work has been produced/developed in NYC at Playwrights Horizons, Second Stage, Roundabout, Rattlestick, Women’s Project, EST, New Georges, AracaWorks, Urban Stages, and many others. “Life these days seems to move at a faster, scarier, and more absurd pace than it used to,” said Blumenthal-Ehrlich. “Wifi and cell phones mean our work follows us wherever we go. Twitter and Facebook bring a false sense of friendship and intimacy. Not to mention that the world is scarier since 9/11 and ISIS. The irony is that in an era of heightened fears and isolation, we need each other more than ever. This can make for some oddball and heartrending hookups. That’s the back story of Big City, a quirky high-stakes comedy about Jane and Joe, engaged in an escalating conflict over their life as not-so-platonic urban roommates.”

 

Big City boasts a cast entirely comprised of Trustus Ensemble Members. EG Engle plays Jane and Clint Poston plays Joe. Catherine Hunsinger and Jason Stokes play Sandy and Bill – two characters who enter in the second act and bring even more chaos to this apartment nestled in the Big Apple.

 

Trustus Theatre’s Big City opens on the Thigpen Main Stage on Friday, August 14th at 8:00pm and runs through August 22nd, 2015. Showtimes for Big City are 7:30pm on Thursdays, 8:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 3:00pm on Sundays. Tickets for musicals are $30.00 for adults, $28.00 for military and seniors, and $20.00 for students. Half-price Student Rush-Tickets are available 15 minutes prior to curtain. Patrons are encouraged to reserve early at www.trustus.org as the show has a limited run.

 

Trustus Theatre is located at 520 Lady Street, behind the Gervais St. Publix. Parking is available on Lady St. and on Pulaski St. The Main Stage entrance is located on the Publix side of the building.

 

For more information or reservations call the box office Tuesdays through Saturdays 1-6 pm at 803-254-9732. Visit www.trustus.org for all show information and season information.

 

Darling Dilettante—Discussing the Art of Fear By Haley Sprankle

dreamgirls2 “Do you ever get nervous up there?”

The age-old question for performers—the question of fear.

In just about every production I’ve been fortunate to be a part of, whether I’m the lead or the third white girl from the left, I’m asked this question by a person outside of the performance realm. They ensure me that they don’t understand how actors memorize each element of the show from lines to choreography to even just remembering to smile every now and then. I normally reply with “I used to when I first started, but now it just seems like second nature.”

Most recently, that question of fear prompted me to question myself and the things others around me do, though, and how we do them.

Every day, a banker goes to work. Every day a stay-at-home parent wakes up and takes care of their family. Every day a waiter or a writer or a bus driver or even the President of the United States gets up and fulfills their necessary requirements for the day. These could be things they’ve always done. These could be things they’ve just started doing. These could be things they love, or they could be things they don’t like.

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But they get up and they do them, and like most people feel about performing, I couldn’t even imagine doing these things.

With most things people do for the first time, there was probably an initial fear or nervousness.

What if they don’t like my work? What if I mess up? What if?

We can sit back and ask ourselves “What if?” all day long, but we will never know what WILL happen if we don’t try. Sometimes, it will be a little messy. Sometimes, it will be hard. Sometimes, you will do all right. Sometimes, you will do it all wrong.

One thing, however, is common among all these instances—you learn something new about yourself.

I recently came across a Japanese term: Wabi-Sabi. It translates to “A way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting, peacefully, the natural cycle of growth and decay.”

In every new or old thing you do, there are endless possibilities, but in the end, the best opportunity you have is to take each outcome and turn it into something beautiful.

So why let fear hold you back from trying something new?

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Last Friday, Dreamgirls opened at Trustus Theatre and will run through August 1st. The cast includes veterans to the stage and newcomers alike, all representing a long process of hard work, fun, and love that we have put into this show. For some of us, each night may just be another performance, but for others, one or more performances may be among the most nerve-wracking things they’ve ever done. At the end of each night, though, all we can do is do what we do best—put on a show. Things may not go exactly as planned, but that’s live theatre.

In live theatre, we support each other. In live theatre, we help each other. In live theatre, we build each other up.

In live theatre, we find the beauty within our fear and imperfections, and we turn it into art.

I won’t be afraid or nervous. I will be excited and proud.

Wabi-Sabi.

(Dreamgirls runs June 26-August 1. Go to trustus.org for tickets!)

Photos by Richard Kiraly

Eugene Strikes Back! "Broadway Bound" at Workshop Theatre Completes Acclaimed Neil Simon Trilogy

bwaybound "Being in love can be a real career killer.”

That's a classic quote from the beloved Eugene Morris Gerome, the protagonist of Broadway Bound, the final play in Neil Simon’s autobiographical trilogy, which opens this Friday, January 16 in The Market Space at 701 Whaley.   University of South Carolina professor David Britt, who directed both previous installments for Workshop Theatre, returns to finish out the series.

USC senior Ryan Stevens steps into the lead role to complete the Eugene trifecta.  “First and foremost, it’s a real honor to get to step in and be the culminating Eugene," says Stevens.  "Jared Kemmerling, who played him in Brighton Beach Memoirs, really created a very youthful, energetic portrait of Eugene as a kid.  Jay Fernandes, whom I’ve gotten the pleasure of working with personally, carried him through into young adulthood in Biloxi Blues.  They both, in their respective shows, had to show Eugene growing up and adapting to different things - to the Depression, to the War, etc.,” Stevens says.  "For me, in Broadway Bound, he’s older now - he’s starting his proper adult life. He’s got a chance here, a chance for efficacy. In the previous two plays, Eugene was really more observant, of family drama, of drama in his unit. With his career here, with the chance to become a writer, he’s getting an opportunity to actually do something for himself, for everyone to see.”

As a member of USC’s improv troupe Toast and a playwright himself, Stevens is no stranger to comedy and to the trials that a writer such as Eugene may face.

“I’m about his age, and as a senior here at USC, I’m about to be in a pretty similar career situation.  I know how he feels, absolutely!  When you’re writing, you want to believe what you’re writing in, and sometimes that carries over into a sort of syndrome where you just decide ‘This first draft? It’s flawless. Final draft. Done.’   Eugene’s brother, Stanley, in a lot of the scenes they share, is poking holes in the logic of what Eugene writes. Every critique he has is valid, but for Eugene, it’s infuriating!  Any writer, in having their work reviewed, has that feeling of ‘Dammit, I know the logic is weak and this joke didn’t land and there’s a huge plot hole there, but I’ll be DAMNED if someone who isn’t me is going to tell me!’ I like to think that I, as Ryan, have gotten better at taking critique, but Eugene still bristles a little when he has to do the dreaded thing that haunts all writers’ dreams: edit,” Stevens elaborates.

 

William Cavitt as Stanley and Ryan Stevens as Eugene

 

Alongside all these comedic moments there is still a serious story to be told.

Simon is “very deft at handling all the clashing moods that happen inside this little house," Stevens explains. "David Britt has been great at reminding us that all of the humor comes from the same place as the drama, because it comes from us, the characters, the people and our relationships to one another. Neither humor nor drama really occur in a vacuum -- there has to be the human element to tether it, to make it feel real (and) relatable,”

While the story may be set in a decade different to our own, audiences today can still cherish the lessons learned through the eyes of a young writer similar to Stevens himself.

“Right now, these days, there’s all this talk about how this generation is the worst generation ever, that we’re lazy and entitled, and all this nonsense, which I really think is nonsense, because we didn’t do any of this! We didn’t create the world’s problems - the generation before us did, and we’re just the ones footing the bill. But by the same token, we’ll stand a much better chance of solving our problems and closing this hostile generation gap if we quit believing it ourselves. A lot of people my age have heard it so much that they’ve started believing it themselves,” Stevens says.  "Broadway Bound is very clear in the fact that the previous generation of adults is always just as backwards and screwed up as the current one. It was true in the 1940’s, it’s true today, and it’ll be true in the future. There are always generation gaps. Broadway Bound wants the younger generation to realize that their parents are fallible, yes, and fallible because they’re people too. The age range in the play is at the point where the youngest character is 23, and therefore, nobody is a child anymore. Everyone is sort of on an equal playing field. Which is how it should be, for young and old. There’s no talking down in this play, there’s no pretension or condescension to anyone. The kids and the parents are on the same plane. Does that level of emotional honesty have some blowback? Of course. But it’s still better than acting like the people of yesterday, today, and tomorrow are too divided to communicate.”

Broadway Bound's cast includes Samantha Elkins and Lou Warth Boeschen, returning from 2013's production of Brighton Beach Memoirs, again playing Eugene's mother Kate and her sister Blanche respectively.  William Cavitt,who appeared in Britt's 2014 production of Biloxi Blues in a different role, will portray older brother Stanley, while Chris Cook, last as seen as Lear opposite Cavitt's Edgar in this past fall's SC Shakespeare Company production of King Lear, plays father Jack. David Reed, who performed with Cook and Cavitt in the 2013 High Voltage production of Dracula, rounds out the cast as grandfather Ben. Reed in a way comes full circle with this performance, having played Jack in a 1990 incarnation of Broadway Bound at Town Theatre. The original Broadway production ran for over two years, and was nominated for four Tony Awards and four Drama Desk Awards, winning two of each, and was a 1987 Pulitzer finalist. The original cast included Jonathan Silverman, and Jason Alexander (who went on to star in The Single Guy and Seinfeld respectively) as Eugene and Stanley, with Linda Lavin (a Golden Globe winner for the long-running tv series Alice) as Kate.

Workshop Theatre's new production of Neil Simon's Broadway Bound will run January 16-25 at The Market Space at 701 Whaley. Tickets can be purchased through the Box Office at (803) 799-6551, or online at www.workshoptheatre.com .

~ Haley Sprankle

"Jack Frost" - Melissa Swick Ellington reviews the world premiere of the new show at Columbia Children's Theatre

jackfrost1 Columbia Children’s Theatre presents Jack Frost, a world premiere musical with book and lyrics by Crystal Aldamuy and music by Paul Lindley II, through Sunday, December 14. Here in Columbia, SC, we have plenty of reasons to be grateful for the presence of CCT in our community, such as high quality children’s theatre performed by professional actors, educational outreach programs, and theatre training and performance opportunities for youth. Yet another reason to cherish CCT emerges with the production of Jack Frost, which further establishes the theatre’s commitment to the development of new works. Past original productions have included adaptations of Puss and Boots, The Snow Queen, A Christmas Carol, and a number of commedia dell’arte shows. Any artist who has collaborated on the production of new work for the theatre can tell you that such endeavors require a special level of dedication, hard work, and ingenuity.  We are fortunate to have a children’s theatre in Columbia that persists in the development and presentation of new plays and musicals right here in our own community.  Audiences will be delighted by the enchanting and upbeat experience of Jack Frost.

Director Jerry Stevenson delivers an entertaining production of this clever new musical by Aldamuy and Lindley.  Creative characters, inventive humor, and enjoyable music delighted the audience at the matinee I attended with my husband and two young children. The story explores the family life of the title character, focusing on parent-child conflict over tradition and responsibilities. While Isis and Ike Frost expect their son Jack to become part of the family business, Jack would rather cause mischief and go on adventures than toil away producing individual snowflakes or painting leaves. The warm Kringle family poses a worthy counterpoint to the icy Frost folks. When Crystal, the Kringle daughter, switches places with Jack, both families have a lot to learn.

Composer/Music Director Paul Lindley II as Jack Frost, changing the colors of the autumn leaves

Not only have Aldamuy and Lindley created the material for their first original musical, they are also involved in this production. Aldamuy has devised crisp choreography for numbers such as “Reindeer Tango” as well as providing stage management expertise. As Jack Frost, Lindley captivates the audience with his agile antics and impressive singing voice, evident in “Jack’s Ballad” among other strong musical numbers. Julian Deleon provides a comforting paternal presence as Chris Kringle, thus achieving another successful foray on the CCT stage. Rachel Arling (Christine Kringle, and - full disclosure - a contributor to Jasper), Carol Beis (Isis Frost), and Charley Krawczyk (Ike Frost) energize their scenes with appealing performances, while Kaitlyn Fuller portrays Crystal with vivacity and charm. Anthony Harvey plays the dual roles of Old Man Winter and Elf; his impish Elf becomes the show’s comedic engine. My preschool son’s belly laughs testified to Harvey’s hilarious and skillful portrayal, not to mention the kid’s desire to imitate some of the Elf’s inventive shenanigans. (At certain performances, Toni V. Moore plays Isis Frost, Jerryanna Williams plays Crystal Kringle, and Lee O. Smith plays Chris Kringle.)

(L-R) Kaitlyn Fuller, Julian Deleon, Rachel Arling, Anthony

Costume design (Donna Harvey and Stevenson), scenic artistry (Jim Litzinger, Stevenson, D. Harvey and A. Harvey), and sound design (Lindley) maintain the high standards of artistic quality that distinguish CCT performances. Distinctive color palettes work effectively to differentiate the worlds of Frost and Kringle, especially through the superb costuming choices. Matt Wright (Sound Technician) and Brandi Smith (Light Board Operator) also provide valuable technical support.

It is a credit to the community’s enthusiasm for CCT that a brand new and unknown work can draw a packed house similar to audiences that attend more familiar plays. My first grade daughter is always eager to go whenever I suggest a trip to CCT. Show title, genre, characters?  No concerns of hers; she is just elated at the prospect of another show. You see, my daughter – like so many of us in Columbia – trusts that whatever production she sees at CCT, she will have a great experience. Thank goodness for the extraordinary talents at Columbia Children’s Theatre for their vision and artistry. We can’t wait to see what they dream up next.

~ Melissa Swick Ellington

 

The world premiere of Jack Frost continues through this Sunday, Dec. 14, with morning, matinee, and evening performances.  For ticket information, call (803) 691-4548 or visit http://www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com/jack-frost/.  And don't forget - there's also Late Night (i.e. 8 PM rather than 7 PM) Date Night for Mom and Dad on Friday, December 12, and when the kids are away, the actors will play!  The cast performs the same script, but loosen up and bring out double (and triple) entendres for a riotous evening of PG-13-ish fun.  This is an unpredictable evening of fun and surprises that is pretty much guaranteed to make you say, "I can't believe they got away with that in a Children's Theatre!" Recommended for ages 17 and up.  And while 8:00 may be late for Children's Theatre folk, it's still early enough (since the show only runs one hour) that you can head out into the night for more fun, in a great mood, after having laughed yourself silly!  For more info or tickets, visit http://www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com/event/late-night-jack-frost/

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Holiday Shows A-Plenty Across Midlands Stages

christmasbells2 There's no shortage of seasonal favorites to be found around town.  The winter holidays are all about tradition; as days grow shorter, darker, and colder, we're comforted by what is familiar.  Local theatres are no exception, offering revivals of yuletide favorites, as well as productions of classics from the screen and stage.  Here are just a few!

The Waltons was a huge hit on television, but in Earl Hamner's novels and on the big screen, they were the Spencers, and Hamner adapted his memories of growing up in rural Virginia into a stage play as well.  Narrated by Clay-Boy Spencer, The Homecoming recalls a pivotal Christmas, a missing father, and lean times during the Depression. Lexington's Village Square Theatre returns with this favorite from a few seasons ago for one weekend only, December 4-7. MonaLisa Botts directs; for information, call 803-359-1436, or visit http://www.villagesquaretheatre.com.

homecoming

Similar small town warmth and values, filtered through a quirkier Southern Gothic perspective, earned Pamela Parker a Pulitzer nomination for her play Second Samuel.  West Columbia's On Stage Productions is reviving their successful production from earlier this year.  The Jasper review of that production said "like Steel Magnolias, the local ladies gather to chat at the beauty parlor, while the men convene at 'Frisky’s Bait and Brew,' the kind of place where you can get a Nehi and a Moon Pie as easily as a cold beer or a shot of whiskey...(The play) can be enjoyed at face value as a variation on Mayberry or Vicky Lawrence’s Momma’s Family, or taken at a much deeper level."

SecondSamuel2014-HolidayShow_pages Most of director Robert Harrelson's cast return, including Debra Leopard, MJ Maurer, Courtney Long, Anne Merritt Snider, Courtney Long, Sam Edelson, and Antoine T. Marion.  Run dates are December 4-13; for information, call 407-319-2596, or visit http://www.onstagesc.com/.  There will also be a special staged reading of the sequel, A Very Second Samuel Christmas  on Saturday, December 6, with the playwright in attendance - your chance to give feedback on a new  work in progress!

Town Theatre is also bringing back a popular hit, the stage adaptation by David Ives and Paul Blake of Irving Berlin's White Christmas. Based on the 1954 film, this musical, nominated for multiple Tony and Drama Desk Awards, is directed and choreographed by Shannon Willis Scruggs, with musical direction by Sharon McElveen Altman.  Frank Thompson and Scott Vaughan play Army buddies who stage a show at a quaint Vermont inn, encountering show biz shenanigans and romantic entanglements with Abigail Ludwig and Celeste Mills along the way.   Joining them are Bill DeWitt, Kathy Hartzog, Parker Byun, Andy Nyland, and Bob Blencowe;  the show continues this week, closing with a matinee on Sunday, December 7, and you can find a review at Onstage Columbia.

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Two other special performances are also scheduled for holiday fun. First,  Jamie Carr Harrington directs  Disney’s Sleeping Beauty - Kids, the culmination of her Fall Youth Program.  This timeless classic will magic its way into your heart this holiday season. There will be music and dancing, as well as magic spells and evil curses.  Maleficent crashes little Aurora’s Christening party, and places a curse on the baby simply because she was not invited. A urora is whisked away to the woods where she lives for 16 years.  Once upon a dream she meets a handsome stranger, who ends up being the prince who will break the spell with true love’s kiss. Come see Town Theatre’s Youth Program bring a little magic now to the stage, with ayoung beauty who pricks her finger on a spindle and falls asleep due to a curse. There will be fun bumbling fairies, happy woodland creatures, and fantastical goons. (Gotta love fantastical goons! ~ ed.) The show runs Dec. 12-14, with multiple matinee and evening performances.
beauty

Also, Jasper Theatre Artist of the Year Finalist Frank Thompson directs A Christmas Carol Columbia - a new version of the Dickens novella, presented live on stage as a radio play, and written by James Kirk. (The author, not the captain.) This special performance will be presented just one, at 3 PM on Sunday, Dec. 21st.  For ticket information on all three productions, call 803-799-2510, or visit www.towntheatre.com.

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The St. Paul’s Players are presenting  The Fourth Wise Man, a musical adaptation of the short story “The Other Wise Man” by Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933), an author, educator, and clergyman who is credited with writing the lyrics for “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.”  The Fourth Wise Man is the story of Artaban, portrayed by Jim Jarvis.  Other cast members are John Arnold, Brenda Byrd, Olin Jenkins, Randy Nolff, Mark Wade, and Valerie Ward.  Artaban, one of the Magi who has studied the stars, endeavors to journey with Caspar, Melchoir, and Balthazar to pay tribute to the Christ Child. He carries three gifts, a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl; however, during his travels he faces tests and challenges. What happens when he finally has the chance to meet Jesus face-to-face?

The St. Paul’s Players' production of The Fourth Wise Man will be presented in the Good Shepherd Theatre at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, on the corner of Bull and Blanding Streets in downtown Columbia.  A dinner theatre performance will be held on Friday, December 5 at 6 p.m.  The cost is $10.00 per person, with advance reservations required. Call (803) 779-0030 to make reservations.  Two more performances will be held on Saturday, December 6 at 3 p.m. andat  7 p.m. There is no cost for the Saturday performances and no required reservations. For more information, contact John W. Henry, Producer, at 803-917-1002, or Paula Benson, Director, at 803-206-4965.
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Trustus Theatre found great success last year with Patrick Barlow's post-modern adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which remained faithful to the original Dickens material, while incorporating technical wizardry, live music enhanced with synthesizer effects, and sexy, steampunk-influenced costumes for the Ghosts.  You can read the Jasper review of that production here,  but there have been a few changes for this year's iteration, with Kendrick Marion joining Director Chad Henderson and last year's cast, including Catherine Hunsinger, Avery Bateman, Scott Herr,  and Stann Gwynn as Scrooge. The show runs through December 20 on the Thigpen Main Stage.

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Trustus also has a couple of special events scheduled this month. First,  late nights are back with The Ladies of Lady Street Late Night Cabaret, featuring the best in female impersonation. Join a highly entertaining quartet of both local and guest performers on Friday December 12th at 11:00pm.  The hour-long show features an entertaining mix of female impersonation, celebrity illusions, showgirl costumes, comedy, glamour and live singing. Vista Queen Emeritus Patti O’Furniture leads a cast that features Dorae Saunders (as seen on “America’s Got Talent” and former Miss US of A at Large),  the live singing talents of Denise Russell, and Veronica La Blank (Columbia’s Wild Card of Drag.) This is the second offering of a series of four shows during Trustus’ 30th season. The show takes place on the Thigpen Mainstage;    tickets are $20 each and can be purchased online at www.trustus.org or at the door.  Doors open at 10:45pm after the evening performance of A Christmas Carol. The show is at 11:00pm. The Trustus bar will open at 10:45pm and will remain open during the show. Or, make a night of it, and check out the Trustus production of A Christmas Carol that same night at 8pm. Tickets for that show are also available online.

Mark Rapp, appearing at Trustus Theatre

Then get ready for Jingle Bell Jazz, featuring the Mark Rapp Quartet and special guests on  December 17th.  Celebrated jazz trumpeter Mark Rapp and his quartet present a grooving, swinging, funky fun Christmas concert that will leave you toasty, warm and happy for the holidays. Rapp has prepared unique jazz arrangements of such Christmas classics as: Angels We Have Heard on High, Jolly Old St. Nicholas, O Come All Ye Faithful, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer to Wham!’s Last Christmas.Rapp has performed with such distinct artists from Branford Marsalis to Hootie and the Blowfish, released 5 diverse recordings, and is featured leading and playing the closing track of Disney’s "Everybody Wants to be a Cat" CD which also features such artists as Dave Brubeck and Esperanza Spalding. Mark is a featured artist in Mellen Press' "How Jazz Trumpeters Understand Their Music" among a prestigious list including Terence Blanchard, Lew Soloff, Freddie Hubbard, Tim Hagans, Dave Douglas and more. Mark has performed in jazz festivals around the world from the Fillmore Jazz Festival, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Newport Jazz Festival, WC Handy Festival, to Jazz Festivals in Switzerland, Croatia and Brazil.  The concert performance will begin at 9pm. Tickets are $20 and may be purchased from www.trustus.org.  For more information or reservations call the box office Tuesdays through Saturdays 1-6 pm at 803-254-9732 .

mistletoe Theatre Rowe is presenting  Murder Under the Mistletoe at both its Columbia and Lexington locations: Scheduled dates are:

Lexington: December 4-7, 11-14, 18-21

Columbia: December 6, 7, 11, 12, 18, 19, 21

For information, call 803-200-2012, or visit http://scdinnertheatre.com.

shakespeareskidz
Shakespeare's Kidz, the youth program of the South Carolina Shakespeare Company, presents MidWinter's Eve: A Shakespeare's Kidz Tale on December 11th, at 6:00 pm at the Richland Country Library - and it's free!  Written and directed by London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art graduate Katie Mixon, the show is a fun, family friendly, heart-warming inside look at Christmas in Elizabethan England. It's the night before Christmas, when William Shakespeare pops off for some holiday cheer with the wife for the evening. The Shakespeare brood is on their own! Young twins Judith and Hamnet dance, and duel with swords, while Susanna dreams of romance. Friends Emilia, Malvolio, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern join the party, with a search for the Yule Log, and visits from The Lord of Misrule!   Will the Shakespeare kids and their friends survive the night, or will chaos trump all?

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Featured in the cast of young performers are Elin Johnson, Joss Kim, Maize Cook, Walt Cook, Napoleon Rodriguez, Guillermo Rodriguez Oliveira, and Lindsay Knowlton.  The perforance is approximately 30 minutes;  you're encouraged to arrive at few minutes early to make your way downstairs and claim a good seat!  For more information, visit   http://www.shakespearesc.org/kidz.html.

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Columbia Children's Theatre presents Jack Frost, the world premiere of a new musical for children, with music by Paul Lindley II, and book and lyrics by Crystal Aldamuy. Run dates are December 5-14.

Something’s up with the weather.  The leaves are turning non-existent colors, unexpected snows are blanketing the orange groves and farmers are getting frost bite in the summer.  What is going on?  Is it global warming?  No, it’s Jack Frost being “creative” again. When Jack’s rebellion and yearning for self-expression start landing him in hot water, his parents The Snow Queen and The Frost King, decide that a little time spent with the industrious and practical Kringle family would teach the head-strong lad a lesson. So, in a move straight out of Trading Spaces, Jack and Crystal Kringle trade lives and suffice it to say cleaning up after reindeer is not exactly Jack’s cup of iced tea.  With a book and lyrics by Crystal-Alisa Aldamuy and music by Paul Gilbert Lindley II this wintry world premiere musical is just the thing to warm your heart!

Show Times:

~ August Krickel

"Our Town" at Longstreet Theatre - a review by Jillian Owens

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The University of South Carolina’s second production of the 2014-15 academic year isn’t the most adventurous of choices, but it is a popular one. Often-produced, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town (directed by Steven Pearson in USC's Longstreet Theatre) tells the simple story of a simple town full of simple people,  but also tackles themes as heavy as why no one seems to appreciate life while they’re living it, and the meaning of eternity.

One of the reasons this play is so -- in my opinion -- over-performed is that it’s easy to produce. The script dictates that no props or sets be used. The actors must instead mime all action. Ladders become the second floors of houses where characters exchange secrets, and there are a few tables and chairs. That’s it. No real budget is required. Another reason this play is often-produced is that it’s extremely popular. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1938, and its 1989 Broadway revival garnered a Tony and a Drama Desk Award for Best Revival.

 Matthew Cavender and Nicole Dietze - photo by Jason Ayer,

Our Town is divided into three acts: Daily Life, Love and Marriage, and Death and Dying.  The play opens in the tiny town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire in 1901. An equally omniscient and nostalgic Stage Manager (Carin Bendas) introduces us to several of the townsfolk and explains the town’s not-very-exciting history. We see the Gibbs and Webb families sending their children off to school. It’s all a bit tedious, and it’s meant to be. We meet the two teenagers, George Gibbs (Matthew Cavender) and Emily Webb (Nicole Dietze.) Much like the town of Grover’s Corners, there’s nothing really remarkable about either of them. We begin to see them fall in love. We see them marry. Nothing remarkable.

The third act poses an intriguing question: If you were dead and could go back to any day in your life, what would it be, and how would your perspective change? If youth is wasted on the young, is life wasted on the living? Do any of us really appreciate life while we’re in the moments that stack upon other moments until it’s all over? According to the Stage Manager, "No. Saints and poets maybe...they do some.”

photo by Jason Ayer

Most of it is frightfully simple and boring, as are most of our lives. And that’s kind of the point. If Our Town wasn’t written in this simplistic style and with so few things that actually happen, we wouldn’t be as able to empathize with the characters as we are. We can see ourselves in them...not in those exciting, electric moments that we wait for, but in the spaces in between when we’re cooking dinner, running errands, or just chatting with a friend. This is who we are.

This production of Our Town features a new crop of MFA students, as well as a few undergrads. Dietze and Cavender are naively pleasant enough as Emily and George. I enjoyed the easy and comfortable dynamic between Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs (Josh Jeffers and Candace Thomas), which was perhaps the most subtly touching and believable relationship in this production. The Stage Manager is usually cast as a male, but features a female actor, Carin Bendas, in this production. It’s a difficult role, as it isn’t really so much a character as it is a time-warping deliverer of exposition. Bendas comes off as off-puttingly smug at times, but still delivers some of the best lines of the show with empathy and compassion. All of the actors do an impressive job at miming props, and manage to deliver decent New Hampshire accents.

Carin Bendas - photo by JAsopn Ayer

I was impressed by how visually interesting the “not really a set” set was. Neda Spalajkovic adhered to Wilder’s desires as much as she could, while still giving the audience something interesting to look at that establishes location and time changes. And even if you don’t care very much for this sort of show, you’ll be impressed with how she has worked with lighting designer Ashley Pittman to create a visually stunning final tableau.

photo by Jason Ayer

The plot is slow. The language is plain. But then you get lines like this that jump out at you and stir something inside of you:

“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”

And this is why Our Town remains an American theatre classic.

~ Jillian Owens

Show times for Our Town are 8pm Wednesdays through Saturdays, with additional 3pm matinees on Sunday, November 16 and Saturday, November 22.  Tickets for the production are $12 for students, $16 for USC faculty/staff, military personnel and seniors 60+, and $18 for the general public.  Tickets can be purchased by calling 803-777-2551 or by visiting the Longstreet Theatre box office, which is open Monday-Friday, 12:30pm-5:30pm, beginning Friday, November 7.  Longstreet Theatre is located at 1300 Greene St.

A. R. Gurney's "The Dining Room" - Rachel Arling reviews the new Workshop Theatre production

10698504_722000094522659_2184738282356308280_n “The trouble is, we’ll never use this room. . . The last two houses we lived in, my wife used the dining room table to sort the laundry.”

So says a modern home buyer during the first scene of A. R. Gurney’s The Dining Room, a series of vignettes that take place in an upper-middle-class dining room throughout several time periods. As someone whose formal dining room has been converted into a home office, I can relate to the home buyer in the play. Dining rooms are practically obsolete these days, right? However, Gurney’s play reminds us that there was a time when they were the center of family life. The decline of the dining room coincides with the weakening dominance of the “WASPs of the Northeastern United States.” Gurney alternates between satirizing this “vanishing culture” and showing nostalgia for it. Ultimately, though, the play is less concerned with documenting a specific society, and more concerned with presenting universal snapshots of human life.

Workshop Theatre’s production, directed by Daniel Gainey, uses six actors to portray over fifty characters.  It is a true ensemble show, so all of the actors remain visible onstage the entire time. The minimalist set by Richard Király consists of a single wall covered with picture frames, which are left empty so that we can imagine decor suitable for each household and time period depicted in the play.  There are no props--nearly everything is mimed.  Six high-backed wooden dining room chairs are the only furniture pieces.   I expected a table; however, Gainey’s decision to leave the table to the imagination is smart because it allows for more flexibility with blocking, keeping the show visually interesting.

The versatile cast includes Hans Boeschen, George Dinsmore, Samantha Elkins, Ruth Glowacki, Emily Padgett, and Lee Williams. The actors wear unobtrusive black clothing, relying solely on physical and vocal characterization to differentiate their parts. The show’s only costume piece is an apron that signifies servant status (all of the women play maids at some point). Each actor plays a variety of ages, from stern grandparents to excitable young guests at a birthday party.  The actors are especially effective when they play children; during the birthday scene, they burst with giddy energy, but try hilariously hard to contain it so they can placate the adults and receive their cake. Other notable acting moments include Boeschen and Elkins’ utter certainty that their family’s future is at risk because of a single remark someone made at their country club, and Glowacki and Dinsmore’s strong chemistry that develops while their characters crawl around on the floor (don’t ask.)

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The show’s most touching vignette occurs at the end of the first act. Padgett plays an elderly woman who struggles with dementia and cannot recognize her own family during Thanksgiving dinner. Padgett masterfully portrays the woman’s attempts to overcome her confusion and hold on to her train of thought. The woman’s most devoted son (played by Williams) tries every method he can possibly think of to help her remember, and his refusal to give up is heartbreakingly beautiful.

In a play with so many separate stories, some are bound to be more engaging than others. Most of my favorite scenes happened during the first act, so the second act seemed to pass more slowly for me. Luckily, if a particular scene fails to catch your interest, you can rest assured that a completely different scene will replace it soon enough. With a running time of about two hours (including intermission), the show is not too long.

My only real complaint about this production is the fact that the actors never exit the stage even when their characters temporarily leave the dining room. In such instances, the actors just walk upstage, turn around, and stand stiffly until it is time for them to re-enter the scene. This situation becomes awkward when the actors have “offstage” lines, which they deliver while remaining rigidly still and facing backward. I would have been less distracted if the actors in question had simply exited the stage for a short time. I think Gainey was perhaps overly committed to the concept of keeping all the actors visible the entire time. However, this scenario only occurs a couple of times throughout the play, so it’s not a big deal.

On the whole, Workshop’s production of The Dining Room is a success. Gainey makes an admirable directing debut, and he has selected a cast of actors who are game to try anything. Watching them play with the material is a treat.  The Dining Room runs through this Sunday, November  9, at The Market Space at 701 Whaley, with evening performances at 8 PM Friday, Saturday and Sunday, plus matinee performances at 3 PM on Saturday and Sunday.  Visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com/TheDiningRoom.html or call (803) 799-6551 for more information.

~ Rachel Arling

Director Daniel Gainey Dishes on Workshop Theatre's "The Dining Room," opening Thursday 11/6 at 701 Whaley - a preview by Haley Sprankle

10698504_722000094522659_2184738282356308280_n Chattering excitedly, the cast of The Dining Room at Workshop Theatre fills the room with energy as they await the start of rehearsal.

“Alright everyone, let’s get started.”

The cast immediately focuses, and Act I begins.

“And the dining room!  You can see how these rooms were designed to catch the morning light.”

The Dining Room is a play by A. R. Gurney which features 18 vignettes set in various dining rooms, and the problems each family may face in theirs.

In director Daniel Gainey’s upcoming production, there is a cast of six actors (Ruth Glowacki, Samantha Elkins, Emily Padgett, George Dinsmore, Hans Boeschen, and Lee Williams) who portray all the characters, young or old.

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"If I win the lottery, I'd form an acting troupe with this group and be a happy man. I look at them, and can't help but smile that six intelligent and talented people trust me enough to risk themselves and their craft for my vision.  It's humbling, and they are so brilliant," Gainey remarks.

Not only does having the cast play a multitude of characters of different ages showcase each actor’s versatility as a performer, but it also gives a sense of timelessness to the play; it shows that we all carry the issues we face throughout our lives.

"Nostalgia is a vicious plague or an effective sedative, depending on where you fall in history,” Gainey says. “Gurney is poking at a lot of nostalgic icons or scenarios, as if to make us diagnose ourselves. Are we holding on to our pasts because our futures are empty, or are we living in a past dream to avoid a current nightmare? What are we really missing, and is it worth the energy we spend to pass it to the next generation? Those questions are relevant everywhere and at all times, I think."

This generational difference plays a major part in the production. Each scene is set in a different time with people of differing ages trying desperately to understand each other.

“That’s your generation, Dad.”

“That’s every generation.”

“It’s not mine.”

“Every generation has to make an effort.”

Although new generations may bring change, people often still hold on to what they know, and hold on to the past.

"When you walk in a room, but forget why you went there - that pull, that path that leads you to that spot over and over again - like the pause in a seeming ridiculous, heavy handed run-on sentence - that feeling is what this show is all about,” Gainey says.

Gainey’s direction of the cast and minimalist use of props and costumes draws the audience in to what the story is really about: a sense of home.

The Dining Room connects, whether it is the room or the play. But I didn't want this to be a love letter to a room that is disappearing in many new home constructions,” Gainey says. “For me, it's the characters. I feel like I've known the people before--or even be related to them--and sometimes, I think I am these characters. When a play can do that, you have to dig into it."

The Dining Room runs at 701 Whaley’s Market Space from November 6-9. Thursday through Sunday performances are at 8 p.m. with additional matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. Go to workshop.palmettoticketing.com, or call (803) 799-6551 to reserve your tickets now.

~ Haley Sprankle

"The Other Place" at the Trustus Side Door Theatre - a review by Rachel Arling

otherplace1 The Trustus Side Door Theatre production of Sharr White’s The Other Place provides an intriguing  night of theatre that challenges its audience with questions about personal identity, the effects  of illness on relationships, and the conflict between memory and reality. The eighty-minute play  begins relatively straightforwardly as Juliana, a brilliant 52-year-old scientist, gives a presentation pitching a new drug to a group of doctors. Juliana’s lecture is practiced and polished, and she  radiates self-assuredness to an almost annoying degree. We have no reason not to take her at  her word. However, as this darkly humorous mystery play continues, it becomes clear that Juliana  might be a less reliable narrator than we first assumed.

Directed by Jim O’Connor, the show is well-suited to the intimate venue because the script gives  the audience a first-hand view into Juliana’s head. We experience events in the same fragmented  way that she does, so it’s appropriate that we are also right there with her physically in the small  space. The set is minimalistic, especially during the first half of the play, when the scenes switch  abruptly (sometimes mid-sentence) between various locations. The slightly more detailed set of  the play’s second half depicts “the other place:” the Cape Cod vacation home that has been in  Juliana’s family for generations. The set is supplemented with excellent use of projections that  serve as PowerPoint slides for Juliana’s presentation, and the projections also occasionally set  the turbulent mood with images of crashing waves. The costumes, designed by Jean Gonzalez  Lomasto, are simple but well-chosen (though I was sometimes distracted by the clomping sound  of the women’s high heels on the hollow wooden stage, but this is a minor complaint.)

Erica Tobolski in "The Other Place" - Photo by Richard Arthur Király

The cast is comprised of four capable actors whose chemistry together increases as the play goes on. As Juliana, Erica Tobolski must carry the show. She navigates the highs and lows  of the complex character with dexterity, understanding that Juliana uses her acerbic wit and  authoritative demeanor as coping mechanisms that help her to grasp at the vestiges of control  over her life. Like the character of Vivian in Margaret Edson’s Wit, Juliana often breaks the fourth  wall to share the details of her struggle with an illness that might be cancer. Tobolski successfully  establishes a close relationship with audience members as she enlists our help to try to make  sense of her “episodes.” I do wish that some of the transitions between the different scenes and  audience addresses were clearer; however, I recognize that the blurred transitions might be a  directorial choice intended to illustrate the muddled nature of Juliana’s experience.

Bryan Bender plays Ian, Juliana’s husband. (Or is he her “soon-to-be-ex?” This is one of the  mysteries the playwright wants us to contemplate.) Both physically and emotionally, Bender  provides a solid, patient, and grounded presence compared to Tobolski’s agitated restlessness;  their relationship dynamic reminds me of the couple from Next to Normal in more ways than one.  Bender and Tobolski do their best work together during the climactic flashback scene that takes  place at “the other place.”

(L-R) Bryan Bender, Erica Tobolski, Jennifer Moody Sanchez - Photo by Richard Arthur Király

G. Scott Wild and Jennifer Moody Sanchez play the other men and women in the show. Wild has  the play’s two smallest roles, but he brings them to life with his typical skillful energy. Sanchez  plays three different characters: Juliana’s doctor, Juliana’s distant adult daughter, and a stranger.  She makes distinctive choices for each one, but I liked her best as the stranger. The scene  between Juliana and the stranger is hilariously entertaining because of the ridiculous situation  and the way the two actors react to one another. More importantly, though, the scene provides a  touching example of an empathetic connection between two people who have never met before. The stranger shows kindness to Juliana even though it doesn’t come easily to her because she is  dealing with myriad issues of her own. The two women are united by their suffering in “the other  place,” and sometimes the formation of such a connection is enough to help both of them start  the healing process.

Erica Tobolski and Jennifer Moody Sanchez - Photos by Richard Arthur Király

This production of The Other Place, which runs through November 1, is worth seeing. Don’t  expect to sit back in your seat and relax, though; the show requires its audience to watch actively  and make judgments about what’s happening. But doesn’t all effective art do that?

~ Rachel Arling

The Other Place runs through Saturday, November 1st in The Richard and Debbie Cohn Trustus Side Door Theatre (although the closing Saturday night is currently sold out.) The doors and box office open thirty minutes prior to curtain, and all Trustus Side Door tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students.  Reservations can be made by calling the Trustus Box Office at (803) 254-9732, and tickets may be purchased online at www.trustus.org.  The Richard and Debbie Cohn Trustus Side Door Theatre is located at 520 Lady Street, behind the Gervais St. Publix. Parking is available on Lady Street and on Pulaski Street.  The Trustus Side Door Theatre entrance is through the glass doors on the Huger St. side of the building.

"King Lear" in Finlay Park - a review by Jillian Owens

The South Carolina Shakespeare Company opens their fall season with King Lear, one of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies. George Bernard Shaw once said "No man will ever write a better tragedy than Lear,”  and one can definitely see where he’s coming from. Madness, betrayal, suffering, war, and death are all over this play, and the body count is nothing short of impressive. kinglear

The elderly King Lear (Chris Cook) is ready for retirement. He plans to divide his kingdom among his  three daughters, Goneril (Raia Hirsch), Regan (Sara Blanks), and Cordelia (Katie Mixon.) But there’s  a catch: the largest quantity of land will go to the daughter who can prove she loves him most. Goneril  and Regan are perfectly happy to deliver speeches of loyalty and devotion that drip with aspartame. But  Cordelia remains stoic, saying she has nothing to compare her love to. Her frankness leads to her father  disowning her and splitting his lands between Regan and Goneril. The King of France, impressed with her honesty offers to marry her:

“Fairest Cordelia, that art most rich, being poor; most choice, forsaken;  and most lov'd, despis'd!  Thee and thy virtues here I seize upon. Be it lawful I take up what's cast  away.”

And they hop off to France.

Chris Cook as King Lear

Lear quickly learns how fickle filial loyalty can be. As soon as he relinquishes his power, he loses all  respect from both of his daughters. They chide him for being raucous, and force him to let the majority of  his entourage go. This shocking fall from power and dignity leads Lear to become more and more insane as the play progresses. The former King quickly learns that his only true friends are his now-disguised former pal Kent (Tracy Steele) whom he banished for defending Cordelia, and his Fool (played by Jeff Driggers.)

Intermingled in this main plot is further drama with a troublemaking illegitimate son by the name of  Edmund (Bobby Bloom) to the Earl of Gloucester (Richard Purday.) He tricks Gloucester - way too easily - into thinking his legitimate son Edgar (William Cavitt) plans to steal his estate.   Eyeballs are removed, women are seduced, and lots of folks die in some pretty creative ways.

Katie Mixon (center) as Cordelia - photo by Gerilyn Browning Kim

In this production of Lear, director Linda Khoury has assembled a large cast with varying skill levels and a  curious array of accents. Cook is a vulnerable and powerful Lear, and he captures his descent into madness with an intensity that evokes sympathy. Hirsh and Blanks are appropriately evil as Goneril  and Regan, and Mixon makes for a wonderful contrast as the honest and sincere Cordelia.  Edmund gets some of the best lines in the play, and Bloom delivers them with acerbic intensity:

“Wherefore should I stand in the plague of custom, and  permit the curiosity of nations to deprive me, for that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines lag of  a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?”

Driggers plays the Fool (see what I did there?) not so much as a clown, but as a terrified young man who grasps  the gravity of a dangerous situation from which he must save his friend. There’s an urgency about this Fool that is an unexpected take on the character. Cavitt delivers one of the most challenging and high-energy  performances in the play as the selfless, though hopelessly naive, Edgar.

Richard Purday and Chris Cook - photo by Rob Sprankle

A few members of the ensemble couldn’t quite pick an accent - which was distracting - but as I said  before, this is a large cast and every actor’s performance can’t always be golden. At the preview performance I attended, there was a moment of nudity that I’m not altogether sure was simply a wardrobe  malfunction. I can’t imagine bringing small children to something as heavy as a Shakespearean  tragedy, however, so this might not be an issue for you. The key players do interesting work, and the SC  Shakespeare Company takes a straightforward interpretation of King Lear to a few surprisingly creative  places.

~ Jillian Owens

King Lear runs Wednesday, October 22 through Saturday, October 25 in the Amphitheatre in Finlay Park. Curtain is at 7:30 PM, and the Wednesday performance is free!  For more information, visit http://www.shakespearesc.org/ .

 

"Ajax in Iraq" at USC's Longstreet Theatre - a review by Kyle Petersen

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All Photos by Jason Ayer Aiax-1.jpg Shown: Jamie Boller as A.J. Ajax-2.jpg Shown: Jasmine James as Athena Ajax-3.jpg Shown:  Jamie Boller (left) as A.J. and Jasmine James as Athena Ajax-4.jpg Shown:  Jamie Boller (left) as A.J. and Jasmine James as Athena

It’s hard not to applaud Theatre South Carolina for picking Ajax in Iraq to open its 2014-2015 season. Playwright Ellen McLaughlin forges a conceptually complex narrative that intertwines Sophocles’ original Greek tragedy, a play often used as a discussion tool for military veterans and civilians both to explore the deleterious effects of wartime on an individual’s psyche, with the modern-day tale of a female soldier in Iraq who, after demonstrating a heroism similar to that of the storied tragedian’s protagonist, is raped by a superior officer and suffers from PTSD.   In the process, McLaughlin takes on the politics of our invasion and occupation of Iraq, the geopolitics of the region, the philosophical and psychological issues at the heart of all war, America’s treatment of its combat veterans, and the problem of sexual abuse in the military — all extraordinarily relevant issues for a generation of college students who have essentially spent their entire lives with our nation at war. That’s a lot of meat for this almost exclusively undergraduate cast to bite off.

All Photos by Jason Ayer Aiax-1.jpg Shown: Jamie Boller as A.J. Ajax-2.jpg Shown: Jasmine James as Athena Ajax-3.jpg Shown:  Jamie Boller (left) as A.J. and Jasmine James as Athena Ajax-4.jpg Shown:  Jamie Boller (left) as A.J. and Jasmine James as Athena

Fortunately, this talented group were game for a challenge. Both Jamie Boller as AJ, the female protagonist, and Jasmine James as the goddess Athena, who narrates both storylines, shows poise and depth in their performances, with the former giving a nuanced treatment of the dramatic emotional swells her role was tasked with, and the latter providing a dynamic treatment to the lengthy monologues that are often weighed down with the heavy expositional load that the character carries. Reginald Leroy Kelly, Jr. was also a standout, with an impressive physical presence that brought Ajax’s bloodthirsty hysteria to life. The undergraduate ensemble cast as a whole dove into the play with verve, and captured the unsettling but time-honored truth that all wars are fought by children.

 

 

It’s also worth noting that the scenic design by Andy Mills was quite astute, with a gorgeously craggy set of stones with the fractured geography of Iraq outlined in chalk, and a small covered pit lowered in the center that provided an important literal and symbolic space for Ajax’s descent into madness. Director Peter Duffy’s blocking and Terrance Henderson’s choreography also made expert use of the theater-in-the-round framework, and the entire production team brought an impressive level of thought and poise to the table.

ajax-poster-200pxHowever, the play itself often felt too limited by its wide grasp. The vast majority of the story was told, rather than shown, to the audience, both by Athena as narrator and the Greek chorus of American soldiers. While on a microlevel McLaughlin’s words had power, the net effect felt too much like a rambling, lengthy, unfocused sermon. Relatively little time was actually spent on the most emotionally and thematically fraught element of the play, the details of AJ’s psychological trauma. Instead, lengthy digressions were taken to incorporate a Victorian spin on the history of the Middle East in the 20th century and what amounted to a PSA about homeless vets. And, while the Ajax story obviously recognizes the long history of soldiers psychologically traumatized by war, I feel as if McLaughlin did a disservice to AJ’s story by pairing it so unproblematically with the Greek tragedy. After all, being raped by a superior officer is categorically and qualitatively different than failing to be properly recognized for one’s efforts, and apart from actually staging the rape, the play had relatively little to say on the subject, a pity given the enormity of the problem - women who served in the war were more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than die in combat.

 Jasmine James as Athena - photo by JAson Ayer

That said, the play is littered with powerful moments, among them the deft explication of how soldiers mostly end up fighting for love of one another more than any national, ideological, or moral reason, and a powerfully staged rape scene that placed the actors across the stage from one another and captured a cold, alienating sense of aloneness surrounding that act of violence that’s difficult to connote with a literal depiction. (The play also wisely closed on the lit images of soldier’s graves with the actors taking discrete bows from the edges—a sobering way to keep the focus on the issues rather than the theatrics of the performance.)

There’s no doubt that the subject matter and staging of such traumatic stories are worthwhile, and many will likely leave these performances with a heightened sense of our nation’s collective failure to grapple with the immense psychological damage our decade at arms has caused a generation of American soldiers. But I also can’t help but see the play as a bit too heavy-handed in its polemics and remiss in its elision of the extraordinary gender inequities in today’s military. These detractions limit the ability of the play to contribute to an important, underserved conversation around these issues. Despite McLaughlin’s considerable gifts, Ajax in Iraq will always feel like a bit of a failure because of that alone.

~ Kyle Petersen

Show times for Ajax in Iraq are 8pm Wednesdays through Saturdays, with additional 3pm matinees on Sunday, October 5 and Saturday, October 11.  Tickets for the production are $12 for students, $16 for USC faculty/staff, military personnel and seniors 60+, and $18 for the general public.  Tickets can be purchased by calling 803-777-2551 or by visiting the Longstreet Theatre box office, which is open Monday-Friday, 12:30pm-5:30pm, beginning Friday, September 26th.  Longstreet Theatre is located at 1300 Greene St.

The Rumors About Bloomers: Sirena Dib Talks About Playing Ado Annie in "Oklahoma!" at Town Theatre

As a fan of period pieces and costume history, I naturally jump at the chance to play roles in shows that require historically inspired costumes. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! is no exception.  Set in Oklahoma territory in 1906, it has given me the chance to break out the turn-of-the-century Americana wear, and experience “how the west was worn.”

(L-R) Sirena Dib, Rob Sprankle, Parker Byun; photo by Matthew Mills

 

I was fortunate enough to have been cast as the comic role of Ado Annie, an iconic role I can now check off my bucket list. For those of you not familiar with the show, Ado Annie is a carefree girl who is especially friendly with the men in the territory. The once flat and scrawny girl has “rounded up,” and her newfound assets have gained her more than a bit of attention from the boys, attention she does not seem to mind one bit. Her marquee song, “Cain’t Say No,” really illustrates the love triangle her dalliances created, and how she struggles with choosing just one suitor. It is a struggle she unabashedly perpetuates when she admits how she prefers whichever one she is with at the moment.

Haley Sprankle as LAurey, Sirena Dib as Ado Annie;  photo by Matthew Mills

 

Getting back to the costumes, I was presented with some physical challenges specifically related to period costume and the, how shall we put it, assets needed to embody the character. The first challenge was relaying the character’s promiscuity when the traditional clothes of the time were anything but. Credit goes to the costume designer, Lori Stepp, for finding a dress that takes the style of the period while appropriately representing Ado’s character. Our first costume fitting was especially interesting, as her modifications to a modest country dress did not leave quite enough to the imagination, even for Ado’s liberal qualities.

Rob Sprankle as Ali Hakim, in a clinch with Sirena Dib as Ado Annie; photo by Matthew Mills

 

Once the costume was ready, it was time to apply the finishing touches to complete the portrayal. Now do not get me wrong, I am happy with my figure, but it was important to REALLY emphasize prominent features to drive the point of Ado’s attractiveness home. I first learned a few cleavage-centric theatrical makeup techniques from former castmate Travis Roof, when playing another well-known coquette in Town Theatre’s Grease.  For Oklahoma!, I had the help of my fellow cast members, Katie Faris Loeper and David Johnson, to help use these bosom- boosting effects again in order to make sure the harsh stage lights did not prohibit the girls from reaching the heavens from the audience’s perspective.

Rob Spranle and Sirena Dib perform at the Rosewood Arts Festival; photo by Frank Thompson

 

The historical undergarments have created both challenges and fun for all the girls backstage. A big challenge has been staying cool under the stage lights when wearing layers upon layers of clothing. I feel like I can only begin to fathom what it must have been like in Oklahoma in 1906 when society actually REQUIRED women to wear layers of underwear and corsets, all while raising families and working on the farm. Second challenge: smelly cast mates? On the other hand, some of our undergarment mishaps and funny stories inspired us to create what we call an, “Undercover Wall” where female members of the cast post inside jokes, quotes, or stories onto post it notes on the wall for all to read. The wall has become a unique cast bonding activity that makes backstage a special place for the cast of the show.

 

Haley Sprankle as Laurey, Sirena Dib as Ado Annie; photo by Frank Thompson

My love-affair with attire aside, what I enjoy most about playing Ado Annie is that she is a character who is ahead of her time. She is honest to herself and open about her enjoyment in the company of others, especially of the intimate sort. She does not feel the need to hide who she really is to those in her community, and does not apologize for being herself even though others may judge her. I like to think of her as a rebel, who helps pave the way for other women. In a world where courtship was about impressing the father and playing by the strict rules of society, whether you like it or not, Ado Annie decides to take a flirtatiously modern approach. She makes no excuses and has no regrets, and woe to the men in her life who try to keep her from flaunting her bloomers to anyone who has a mind to look.

~ Sirena Dib

Town Theatre’s production of Oklahoma! will be running this weekend, Thursday October 2 through Sunday October 5, and again the following week, Thursday October 9 through Saturday October 11.  Curtain is at 8 PM (except for a 3 PM matinee on Sunday the 5th.)   Call 803-799-2510 for tickets, or visit www.towntheatre.com for more info.

Oklahoma

 

"Grease" Is The Word at the Village Square Theatre - a review by Melissa Swick Ellington

grease4 Poodle skirts, saddle shoes, leather jackets, rock’n’roll, and teenage love: surefire signs of the musical Grease that are lighting up the stage over at the Village Square Theatre in Lexington.

Written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, Grease was first performed as a stage musical in the early 1970's and was followed by the well-known 1978 film version. Set in the late 1950s, Grease chronicles social tensions of high school and love lives of teenagers. Thinking their summer passion is a thing of the past, Sandy and Danny are surprised to encounter each other at high school, where he is part of the tough, cool crowd while she is seen as a prissy goody-two-shoes. The tug-of-war between peer pressure and forbidden romance leads to memorable scenarios, including an eye-opening slumber party and an exciting dance contest. Although the musical is often seen as a nostalgic journey through a simpler time, there is actually some harsh material in the show, as characters grapple with teenage pregnancy, violence, and rebellion. Within the toe-tapping upbeat musical numbers, glimpses of gritty reality peek through. While a feminist reading of the material can provoke criticism that Sandy compromises her true identity in order to fit in with the crowd, a whole lot of nifty singing and dancing holds the show together, and that’s plenty good enough for most folks.

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I have a long, fond history with the musical Grease, launched by preteen viewings of the film version on VHS. Although I participated in just about every high school play available to me, Grease didn’t make it into the lineup those four years, though I wager there may still be a “Miss Lynch” portrayal somewhere in my future. I made it through second semester calculus my freshman year in college by playing the musical’s score over and over during panicky study sessions. (In fact, when I took the final exam, I found myself mentally singing certain Grease songs in order to solve specific kinds of calculus problems!) I finally had the opportunity to get involved in a real live stage production of Grease when I directed the show as a high school teacher. It was a special time in my personal life, too, as my then-boyfriend/now-husband helped out backstage, inspiring our soon-to-be-maid-of-honor playwright friend to dedicate a one-act play to us, aptly titled “Hopelessly Devoted.” All that personal rigmarole is offered here to build context: this reviewer was primed and ready for Grease.

Happily, the current production of Grease at Village Square Theatre in Lexington does not disappoint. Even ardent fans will be satisfied with the performances of a talented cast and marvelous musicians. Standout actors include Maddie Hammond as Sandy Dumbrowski and Tyler Inabinette as Danny Zuko, who capture the exquisite yearning of teenage romance. As Sandy, Hammond has enough verve in the goody-goody phase that she can make a convincing transformation to the closing scene’s knockout. Inabinette makes an appealing Danny, wavering between his tough guy persona and sensitive side. Ashley Manley nails the complexity of Betty Rizzo’s iconic bad girl with (maybe) a heart of gold. In the role of Kenickie, Stephen Fisher personifies a convincing greaser, constantly tangled in a web of hormonal excitement with Manley’s Rizzo or obsessed with his beloved car, “Greased Lightnin’.” Manley’s “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” is touching and formidable, showcasing the powerhouse voice glimpsed earlier in “Look at Me I’m Sandra Dee.” The leads’ considerable vocal talents are well suited to their particular singing roles, and both couples have great chemistry onstage.

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The other Pink Ladies (Lydia Kemmerlin, Lydia Carter, and Miranda Campagna) and Burger Palace Boys (Zach Lambert, Chance Morgan, and Harrison Carter) contribute enjoyable performances. As Patty Simcox and Eugene Florzack, Riley Goldstein and Marshall Mishoe fulfill the overachiever and nerd stereotypes while also discovering very real teenagers within their roles. The cast members do a great job of evoking goofy immaturity that coexists with earnest attempts at worldliness and sophistication, a classic dichotomy in teenage life. Debra Leopard plays a delightful Miss Lynch, while Jeff Sigley hits the right notes as the sleazy radio personality Vince Fontaine. Melissa Hanna as Cha Cha Degregorio infuses the dance scene with infectious energy and impressive skill. In the role of Teen Angel, Joshua Wright conveys clever comic timing and mellifluous crooning essential for “Beauty School Dropout.” Hannah Presor makes an adorable cameo appearance as a dancing box of popcorn. Additional cast members include John Carter, Bailey Gray, Connor Gray, Jessie Miller, Martha Smith Miller, Kara Rabon, Elizabeth Rawson, Katarina Shafer, Griffin Todd, and Sydney Torbett.

Noteworthy musical numbers include the lovely “It’s Raining on Prom Night,” Kemmerlin’s soulful “Freddy My Love,” the enthusiastic “Summer Nights,” a slickly synchronized “We Go Together,” and Inabinette’s heartfelt “Sandy.” Grease just isn’t Grease without an awesome “Greased Lightnin’” – both the song and the car – and at Village Square, Fisher, his buddies, and top-notch choreographer Hanna pull off a crowd-pleasing number, supported by the spiffy work of “master car technician” Matt Marks.

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Director Becky Croft achieves a unified vision with a complex production. In a show where the songs are so familiar and vital, strong musicianship is essential. Musical director Stephanie Nelson leads an excellent onstage band, energized by Mike Nelson as Johnny Casino. Creative and crisp choreography by Hanna provides a great strength for Village Square Theatre. The show’s capable support team includes Tonya Hammond (Producer), Jamie Presor (Stage Manager), Daniel Woodard (Technical Director), Nancy Huffines and Heidi Willard (Costumes), Debra Leopard (Lighting Design), and Brian Rabon (Sound).

Varying levels of theatrical experience and stage presence exist, as the cast covers a spectrum from first-time actors through performance veterans. A quality that makes community theatre so valuable is how artistry and education can co-exist. Grease is a very effective vehicle for entertaining audiences while also developing young performers.

Potential viewers should realize that this show has a bit of an “edge,” with some mild language and raunchy content, so families with young children will want to make informed decisions.

Grease will spark happy memories for long time fans of both the stage musical and the film. The production will surely create new devotees in first time audience members. Drive your own “Greased Lightnin’” right on over to the Village Square Theatre and “doowop da doobee doo” your heart out at this swell show.

~ Melissa Swick Ellington

For more information on tickets, visit http://www.villagesquaretheatre.com/.  Show dates and times are:

Friday, October 3- 7:30 pm Saturday, October 4- 7:30 pm Sunday, October 5- 3:00 pm Friday, October 10- 7:30 pm Saturday, October 11- 7:30 pm Sunday, October 12- 3:00 pm

"How I Became a Pirate" is a rollicking good time - Melissa Swick Ellington reviews the new show at Columbia Children's Theatre

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Get on board for a swashbuckling romp at Columbia Children’s Theatre! How I Became A Pirate is a rollicking good time for audiences of all ages. Director Jerry Stevenson and the exceptional cast and crew have created a delightful theatre experience with a crowd-pleasing band of pirates. Based on the book by Melinda Long and Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator David Shannon, this musical features book, music, and lyrics by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman. Kids will enjoy the action-packed plot, adults will snicker over clever wordplay, and everyone will leave the theatre grinning and snarling “Argh!” and “Ahoy, matey!”

Ashlyn Combs as Jeremy Jacob

While digging in the sand, young Jeremy Jacob encounters a raucous bunch of friendly pirates. Audiences will savor lively lessons that range from talking like a pirate to burying treasure. In the most rewarding educational settings, learning is a reflexive process; in this story, Jeremy Jacob is both student and teacher, as he leads the pirates through a tutorial on “soccer by the rules.” The script and lyrics capitalize on word jokes that will tickle audiences both youthful (“poop deck”) and seasoned (rhyming “flamingo” with “Ringo”). How I Became A Pirate allows even the more cautious younger viewers to revel in risk-taking by establishing a base of reliable security. We realize early on that this is no ordinary beach (“yo ho ho and a bottle of sunblock”), yet children are reassured of the boy’s well-being (“We’ll get you home safe and sound”). While kids shriek in gleeful anticipation as pirates invade the audience, they also recognize the fictional nature of the scurvy band. At the performance I attended, one small girl announced, “He’s not a real pirate – he doesn’t even smell bad!”

L-R Julian Deleon, Lee O. Smith, Anthony Harvey, Ashlyn Combs, Brandi Smith, Paul Lindley II, Andy Nyland

Although CCT has staged How I Became A Pirate previously, this production has a new script and music. The sole remaining element from the previous show is actor Lee O. Smith in the role of Captain Braid Beard – and what a marvelous captain Smith becomes. He snarls, grimaces, cajoles, and surprises, leading the energetic ensemble through a polished, exuberant jaunt. Ashlyn Combs demonstrates an appealing singing voice and earnest sincerity in the role of the young boy Jeremy Jacob. Complete with eye patch, beard, plumed hats, and sketchy dental care, the memorable pirate crew features capable performers who take full advantage of the characters’ distinct personalities. Brandi Smith as Maxine reveals a glorious voice and comedic flair, Julian Deleon shines as the congenial Pierre, and Andy Nyland relishes the complexity of Sharktooth, who demonstrates that outward appearances can be misleading. As the playful Seymour, Anthony Harvey delivers a dynamic performance, punctuated by an impressive spiel of pirate lingo. Paul Lindley II as the inimitable Swill is downright hilarious. Is there any role this talented actor can’t play?  With my faithful theatre-going companion (my six-year-old daughter), I have admired Lindley’s remarkable performances in numerous roles at CCT and elsewhere.

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Stevenson stages the musical with skillful wit. Through physical comedy, the actors inhabit a convincing pirate world, as in Jeremy Jacob’s wild steering of the ship. Particular sequences to watch for include the adept “minivan” staging, a fluid soccer game, and a blustery storm at sea. Crystal Aldamuy (Stage Manager and Choreographer), David Quay (Light Board Operator), Matt Wright (Sound Technician), and scenic artists Anthony Harvey, Donna Harvey, Jim Litzinger and Toni Moore collaborate with Stevenson to deliver a top-notch production.

 

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Crisp choreography and excellent vocal quality contribute to the musical’s success. From the opening scene’s impressive sandcastle to the seamless transition into the closing moments, the set design works beautifully to suggest multiple locations and changing moods. Donna Harvey and Stevenson achieve splendid richness in the pirate costumes, melding a vivid color palette with lush textures. Sharktooth’s eye-catching tattoos deserve special mention, along with noteworthy “mop” choreography. As an enthusiastic fan of the original picture book’s illustrator David Shannon (No, David! and Duck on a Bike, anyone?), I wondered how the book’s strong visuals would be interpreted onstage. I was happily delighted with the design team’s unified aesthetic that is both fanciful and functional.

 

pirate2As Stevenson recognizes in the program notes, “Wouldn’t we all like to be swept away on the high seas where there are no jobs, no school, no rules and no bedtimes!” Although the story highlights the delicious prospect of endless amusements and boisterous shenanigans, the comforting allure of dependable family life also emerges. The ensemble finds a powerful balance between comic hijinks and poignant tenderness. Purposeful performances and clarity of direction enhance moments like a wistful ballad on the goodness of home. As my six-year-old explained, “My favorite part was when Jeremy Jacob sang about home because it made me feel happy to think about my home.” In the midst of upbeat humor and captivating storytelling, a shining vein of relatable honesty runs through a genuinely human experience.

While my daughter and I have become accustomed to looking forward to first-rate productions at CCT, this show feels especially terrific. Take it from me, matey: learning how to be a pirate is a fun-filled voyage in this high quality performance at the Columbia Children’s Theatre.

~ Melissa Swick Ellington

Show Times:   Friday, September 26: 8:00 p.m. – Late Night Date Night for adults Saturday, September 27: 10:30 a..m. , 2:00 p.m., and 7:00 p.m. (with tickets half-price for the 7 PM show!) Sunday, September 28: 3:00 p.m.

For ticket information, visit http://www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com/how-i-became-a-pirate/.

A Pirate's Life for ME!

 

 

"Notes From an Awkward Ingénue" - Haley Sprankle on playing the lead in "Oklahoma!" at Town Theatre

Blocking rehearsals. All actors experience these, otherwise there would be no structure to the movement and physicality of the production. “… And then you kiss, kiss, kiss.”

But not every actor experiences what it’s like to be the ingénue.

After my whopping 18 years of life, I am stepping out of my comfort zone and becoming Miss Laurey Williams in Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at Town Theatre.

Theatre has encompassed almost every aspect of my life since I can remember. As a young girl, I sat in on my dad’s rehearsals for 1776 at Workshop Theatre and dreamed of one day playing Abigail Adams. I grew up idolizing people like Kristin Abbott (now Kristin Giant), Giulia Dalbec, Linda Posey (now Linda Collins), and Laurel Posey in each new production they were in whether they were in the ensemble or leading the show. At the age of five, I finally stepped on stage with the cast of Workshop Theatre’s Gypsy as the Balloon Girl.

Now, 13 years later, here I am.

Going into auditions for this show, I tried to keep an open mind with little expectations. I went in thinking that, with my past roles and experiences, Ado Annie would be the best fit for me if I were to be cast in a named role. She’s cute, has the one-liners, and has a certain quirky charm that fits my awkward personality.

Haley Sprankle (center, in green) as Laurey in "Oklahoma!"

In past musicals, I’ve played more comedic characters like Dainty June (Gypsy), a teenaged girl whose mother dresses her up as a child to perform, or Frenchie (Grease), a beauty school dropout. Those characters came naturally to me because they were such caricatures of a person with just some little moments of reality.

It was not until recently that I dabbled in the world of playing the “love interest.”  In Disney's The Little Mermaid, at Village Square Theatre in Lexington, I got a glimpse of what that was like as Ariel, but being surrounded by kids and by a very cartoon-like environment, it felt surreal. I then stepped into the role of Daisy Buchanan in Biloxi Blues at Workshop Theatre this past year. Although she was a genuine character, she was still a young school girl, experiencing puppy love for the first time.

After all that, I would have never thought that I would get to experience what it was like to play the romantic lead.

In an audition or callback setting, I try to stay true to myself and let the characterization come organically, but having little romantic experience, I figured that Laurey was out of the question. I went up on stage, sang and read from the script and score, and went home not expecting much but with a small spark of hope.

“How would you like to be our Laurey?”

When I woke up to those words, I felt like I was still dreaming.

Once cast, I felt so humbled and honored to portray such an iconic character in musical theatre at such a young age. With names like Shirley Jones to be associated with, approaching this role was no easy feat. I had to overcome my own fear of vulnerability and simply let the character happen.

I’ve been fortunate to have a wonderful team of people to work with, who constantly support me, and offer helpful tips and advice, while also allowing me to explore this world and character on my own. Working with people like Sirena Dib (Ado Annie) and Kathy Hartzog (Aunt Eller) - both of whom have such great talent, and more experience playing leads than I - has allowed me to rise to the occasion and learn through their actions.

“Am I making you feel awkward?”

Playing such a serious, picturesque character is something that is way out of my comfort zone. I’ll admit that after growing up in the theatre, I’ve developed somewhat of an eccentric personality. Although I am very serious about my performance and the process of it, my silliness offstage often translates to awkwardness. Normally, I utilize that awkward eclectic energy, and put it into my characterization when I’m in the ensemble or playing a more unconventional character.

Laurey Williams, however, is anything but awkward. She is confident, witty, and sure of herself. Laurey Williams knows how to make a man fall in love with her without even trying.  Laurey Williams is nowhere near Haley Sprankle.

Somehow, throughout the process, I had to learn how to let go of the idiosyncratic nature of Haley Sprankle, and embrace the confidence and grace of Miss Laurey Williams.

As another newcomer to the world of playing a romantic lead, Bryan Meyers has been so wonderful throughout the process. We’ve been able to learn with each other how to portray romance on stage believably. Despite my all of my awkward tendencies and quirky behavior, he’s really been able to hone in on the charm and romance that surrounds his character.

Kathy Hartzog, Haley Sprankle, and Bryan performing a scene from "Oklahoma!" at the Rosewood Arts Festival

Now, after about six weeks of rehearsal, opening weekend has finally come. Although I never would have imagined having this opportunity, I am so grateful and proud of how far not only I have come, but the cast as a whole has come.

“Places! Places, everyone!”

On opening night, the curtain rose, and I took my place on stage.

It all seems like a blur now, but what I can tell you is after that final bow, I couldn’t have been happier.

When I’m onstage, I’m no longer Haley Sprankle.

I am Laurey Williams.

Oklahoma

Oklahoma! runs through Sat. Oct. 11 at Town Theatre; visit www.towntheatre.com for ticket information.

You Better Shape Up! Maddie Hammond talks about playing Sandy in "Grease," opening this Friday, Sept. 26, at the Village Square Theatre

grease4 Grease at Village Square Theatre is going to be  like no other show that you have ever seen before. Get ready to take a trip back to the 1950’s and see all the characters you love…Danny, Sandy, the Pink Ladies, the T-Birds, and even Eugene.  It all begins September 26thand will run through October 12th!

Maddie Hammond

My hope is that it will just as awesome to see the show, as it is to be in it. For me, having the opportunity to play the role of Sandy is the most incredible experience in my 11 years of theatre.  It has been such a blast working with the amazingly talented cast and crew that put their whole hearts into every single rehearsal.  I am beyond thankful for this opportunity to portray Sandy, and I hope to make my directors very proud of the masterpiece that they are creating.    I started as “Little Indian Girl #2” in Annie Get Your Gun at Village Square Theatre eleven years ago, and I was bitten by the theatre bug immediately. I was playing soccer at the time when I did my first show, and I soon realized that I had a decision to make. Would I stick with the sport I had been playing for years with the girls I had been friends with for years?   Or would I risk it all, and pursue theatre wholeheartedly?  The decision was easy.   Theatre had stolen my heart, and my theatre career began.   Over the course of 11 years, I have somehow managed to be in 28 productions at Village Square Theatre, Town Theatre, and Workshop Theatre combined.   I am greatly humbled when I look back and think of all the memories I have made, all the people I have met, and all the knowledge I have acquired regarding theatre and life in general.  Theatre has helped me achieve self-discipline, flexibility, confidence, and an all around positive outlook on life that has helped me tremendously over the years.

 

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Not only have I had the great privilege of performing on the Village Square Theatre stage, but Ms. Debra Leopard has so graciously allowed me to be an assistant teacher with the fall and spring acting classes as well as the summer workshop located at the theatre.

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All of these wonderful experiences have lead to the auditions for Grease, and what an exciting time that was and still is! With every great show there are challenges, but with the intelligent direction of our director Becky Croft, and our insanely talented musical director Stephanie Nelson, we are able to perfect these iconic scenes. All thanks goes to them for bringing this amazing show to life through our characters and outstanding music. I look so forward to the curtain opening on September 26th.

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At the start of this new season, patrons will have the opportunity to see that Village Square Theatre has undergone some renovations that have given the theatre a whole new look and feel. We have just recently gotten brand new seats in the theatre, new carpet, paint, and bathroom and dressing room upgrades.  Also, this season will be Mrs. Barbara Bise’s 30th season at Village Square Theatre, and what a blessing she is to all of us. We treasure her deeply and are very grateful for everything that she has done for us over the time she has spent at VST. We have a lot to celebrate, and be thankful for, this year at VST, and I am so thrilled to be a part of it.

~ Maddie Hammond

For more information on tickets, visit http://www.villagesquaretheatre.com/.  Show dates and times are:

Friday, September 26- 7:30 pm Saturday, September 27- 7:30 pm Sunday, September 28- 3:00 pm Friday, October 3- 7:30 pm Saturday, October 4- 7:30 pm Sunday, October 5- 3:00 pm Friday, October 10- 7:30 pm Saturday, October 11- 7:30 pm Sunday, October 12- 3:00 pm

"Oklahoma!" opens this weekend at Town Theatre - a preview by August Krickel

Oklahoma

Oklahoma!  - yes, the exclamation point is part of the title - is one of those those shows that everyone knows by heart - or do they?  It's part of our shared cultural heritage, and most of us can probably sing the first line or two of the title song, since it actually begins with the title.  You know, "O-o-o-o-o...klahoma, where the... something something goes something something..." and that's where our memories start to cloud.  It's actually now  the official state song of Oklahoma. A few of us may also connect the familiar song "Oh What a Beautiful Morning," to the musical, and might even know the next line "oh what a beautiful day," and the basic tune. We may even have heard or used the expression about the corn being "as high as an elephant's eye," whether or not we knew its source. Having been a mainstay of high school and community theatre repertoires for decades, Oklahoma! is something we all know backwards and forwards.
Or is it?  I fell into that trap too, realizing only recently that I have never seen the show live, and to my knowledge have only seen the famous film version once, when I was in 5th grade or so.  And in those days I was much more interested in spotting the mom from The Partridge Family  (i.e. Shirley Jones) in the lead, playing opposite the real-life father of one of the girls from Petticoat Junction (i.e. Gordon MacRae, father of Meredith), with Mr. Douglas from Green Acres (Eddie Albert) providing comic relief.  Then I realized that for years, I've been mistakenly thinking one of the big hits from the show, "People Will Say We're in Love," was from South Pacific!  That's not too bad a lapse, though, since the same composers, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, wrote both.  Along with Sound of Music, The King and I, and the tv Cinderella. Wait, the same guys wrote all of those?  Exactly.  Meaning that Oklahoma! may be worth a little more attention than we might naturally be inclined to give something that we think is so familiar already.  Especially since it's opening at Town Theatre in just a few days, featuring some of Columbia's top talent.

(L-R) Zanna Mills, Parker Byun, Sirena Dib, Haley Sprankle, Bryan , Kristy O'Keefe

Would you believe Hugh Jackman - yes, The Wolverine - starred as the lead, heroic Curly the cowboy,  in a London revival in 1998?  Yep, he was doing big musicals long before the film of Les Miserables. When that version transferred to Broadway in 2002, Curly was played by Patrick Wilson.  Yes, the second Nite Owl in Watchmen!  That revival was nominated for many Tony Awards; the Tonys didn't exist yet when the musical first came out in 1943, but it's a frequent nominee and winner whenever it's revived. Harry Groener was even nominated for a Tony as Will (the juvenile love interest in a subplot)  in a 1979 revival, and yes, that's the guy who later played the evil Mayor of Sunnydale on Buffy (well golly!)  so there's that.

Curly sings of the glories of O-K-L...well, you know. — with Joey Florez, Therese Talbot, Helen Hood Porth, Zanna Mills and Bryan R Meyers at Town Theatre

So why is Oklahoma! such a big deal?  The music of Rodgers and Hammerstein is certainly a large part.  This was their first collaboration together, after many hits with other writing partners. How it came into being is fascinating though. The story was originally a non-musical play from 1930 called Green Grow the Lilacs, that wasn't a big hit, even though it was about settlers in Indian Territory only a few decades removed from when that was actually happening, and even though there was serious star power in the cast:  future film star Franchot Tone as Curly,  future country music star Tex Ritter (yes, father of John!) as a cowpoke, and Lee Strasberg (yes, the Method acting teacher, and Hyman Roth in Godfather II !) as a comic peddler.   Producers saw a summer stock production of Lilacs, years later, that incorporated authentic square dancing and folk music from the period/locale, and thought this might make a better musical than straight play.And boy did it.   It ran for more than five years, a  record for Broadway in those days, unbroken for twelve years, and was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize. And this was right in the middle of World War II, when there were plenty of other things on the public's mind, and not a lot of disposable income for entertainment.  The two biggest components that both critics and audiences raved about then, as now, were the way in which the songs and dances became an integral part of the story-telling process - previously musicals often just stopped the action long enough for the leads to break into song, as a chorus entered to back them up - and an unheard-of extended ballet sequence (it's part of a dream that plays out live on stage) choreographed by Agnes DeMille, one of the titans of the dance world in those days.

 People Will Say We're In Love... — with Haley Allison Sprankle and Bryan R Meyers at Town Theatre

So that's the show.  What's special about this production?  I'd say the people - lots of good folks that Jasper loves are in this one.   Frank Thompson directs - he's better known as a prolific comic actor, appearing as everyone from Captain Hook in Peter Pan to Igor in Young Frankenstein,  but he has directed shows like Chicago and A Christmas Story at the Kershaw Fine Arts Center,  Ho Ho Ho at Columbia Children's Theatre, and 9 to 5Stand By Your Man, and South Pacific at Town Theatre.  Plus he brought his Chicago cast to perform at the first even Jasper ever held at the Arcade, back in early 2012.   I had just recently met him, after reviewing him in Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings, and making some wisecrack about how ironic hipsters from the Whig would douse themselves in lighter fluid and look for lighters rather than sit through that show's wholesome Christmas music... and he still thought he got a good review!  Well, he did, after a fashion.  Christy Shealy Mills choreographs, and we interviewed her last spring for this blog; you can still read all about her here. Daniel Gainey is music director, and he's done outstanding work as both actor (in In the Next Room at Trustus and Legally Blonde at Workshop) and as music director for shows like Songs for a New World and Camp Rock the Musical at Workshop. Lori Stepp is costumer,  Danny Harrington is scenic designer, and we profiled  him in the July 2012 issue of Jasper - there's an expanded version of that story here.

(L-R) Sirena Dib, Kathy Hartzog, Haley Sprankle, Rob Sprankle

Then there's the cast. Heroine Laurey is played by Haley Sprankle.  Yep, one of Jasper's new interns, whose work has already appeared on this blog twice in the past week.  The first time I ever saw her on stage was in the ensemble Dirty Rotten Scoundrels; as the curtain opened, she and several other dancers were frozen in place, and her extension went up to Mars.  A few months later I wrote of her in Grease:   "She has one of the stronger voices in the cast (you can always tell where she is in group numbers) and is one of the better dancers as well. Add comic timing to that, and Sprankle is a remarkable triple threat."    Two years after that I wrote this about her performance in Biloxi Blues:  "Winsome Haley Sprankle shines as Daisy, the adorable sort of red-headed Catholic school girl that we’d all go fight Hitler for in a heartbeat."  In other words, I was a fan long before she came aboard the Jasper team.  Bryan Meyers, who was in the cast of Les Miserables (winner of the Free Times Best of Columbia award for best production) plays Curly opposite her.  Will Parker, the second lead, is played by Parker Byun, who's done good work in plenty of shows recently, including playing the lead in Tarzan the Musical last year.

 A yip-eye-oh-eee-aaay... — with Kristy O'Keefe, Bryan R Meyers, Haley Allison Sprankle, Parker Byun, Sirena Dib and Zanna Mills at Town Theatre.

 

 

Will Moreau

But wait, there's more!  Haley's father Rob Sprankle, who joins Jasper as a staff photographer in the issue that comes out in about 48 hours, plays the peddler Ali Hakim.  He's had roles ranging from the King in The King and I  to Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Opposite him (in a triangle with the Will character) as Ado Annie  is Sirena Dib, seen as Fiona in Shrek the Musical this past spring, as the lead in Cinderella at Workshop, and as Martie in Grease when Haley Sprankle was playing Frenchy, and Frank Thompson was Vince Fontaine.   She too will be joining the Jasper staff, plus we featured her in the centerfold of the November 2012 Jasper,  along with some other talented young performers.  That same issue also profiled Will Moreau, who plays Annie's father. Other principal roles include Kathy Hartzog as Aunt Eller,  Kevin Loeper as Jud Fry, and Kristy O’Keefe dancing the ballet role of Dream Laurey.

And that, parders, is why I think Oklahoma! is worth checking out. Good people, good material, and the chance to see it done live.   Oklahoma! opens this Friday, September 19 and runs through October 11;  Thursdays through Saturdays are at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.  Tickets are $15-25 and may be purchased by calling the box office at 799- 2510. For more information, visit www.towntheatre.com.

 ~ August Krickel

 

 

 

 

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Five Guys Named Moe: Workshop Theatre Opens New Season at 701 Whaley - by Haley Sprankle

New beginnings spark for Workshop Theatre as they open their 2014-2015 season with the  jukebox musical Five Guys Named Moe.   The biggest change the company is facing is their new  performance location in The Market Space at 701 Whaley Street. guysnamedmoe3

"Five Guys Named Moe is the first production in this new space," says the show's director, Lou Boeschen.  "No precedents have been set indicating how we should transform this completely empty space into an intimate theatre. This  can be both good and bad. You are open to think outside the box and set the stage any way you  like, but you don't have the experiences of a prior production to show what works or doesn't  work in the space.”

This new space opens up vast opportunities for inventive, fresh new staging opportunities, which add a new level of artistry that audiences may not have seen at Workshop before. Each director is able  to completely create his or her desired environment, allowing a lot of liberties with blocking and  staging.

“When I first started to visualize Five Guys Named Moe, it was difficult not to see it in the  familiar setting of Craft Auditorium at the corner of Bull and Gervais Streets," said Boeschen.  "After meeting with  set designer, Lee Shepherd, I was able to quickly adjust my thinking. I came to Lee with several  ideas about how I wanted the stage area to be arranged with different levels and a dedicated  place for the band. He took those ideas and, using his expertise for building a set off-site and  moving it into a performance space, came up with a fantastic design.”

The front porch at the Market Space at 701 Whaley

Not only will the new space be created to fit the musical and the vision that Boeschen has, but it also  must accommodate a live band, which is not always the case with every theatre.   “There will be a live band led by our musical director, Roland Haynes, Jr. He's assembled a quintet of  talented musicians, a few of whom he plays jazz gigs with regularly," explained Boeschen. "The music is the core of this  piece, a character in a sense. It is important to me that the band be a part of the action on stage.  From their bandstand on the right side of the stage area, the cast members are able to interact  with Roland and the other musicians.”

The cast has been rehearsing in the Workshop Theatre rehearsal space on Elmwood Avenue, and will be able to  move into the theatre just a short four days before they open.

fiveguys2

“Throughout the rehearsal process, I referred to the ground plan design often when explaining  blocking and spacing to the cast," Boeschen recalls.  "The cast is using some of the smaller set pieces already in the  rehearsal space, which is not much smaller than the area that will be set as a stage at 701  Whaley.  Joy Alexander, the choreographer, has worked hard to create perfect choreography for  this style of show, but she has also kept it very flexible. The first night on the set, Sunday, will  be used for blocking and adjusting choreography spacing. I am anticipating needing to  make a few adjustments, but nothing major,” said Boeschen.

Along with all the adjustments and accommodations that the theatre faces as they debut in their  new performance space, Boeschen will also debut as a director.

fiveguys1“I felt it was time to get my feet wet and direct a show. I didn't want to tackle a huge musical  production my first time at the helm, however, so a small revue-style show seemed like a good  starting point. I submitted my interest to direct and was chosen by the play selection committee  at Workshop to direct Five Guys Named Moe. I love Louis Jordan's music, and the story written  by Clarke Peters that connects the songs is genuine,” said Boeschen.

fiveguys3Although Workshop has produced Five Guys Named Moe before, this new cast brings a fresh  take on the musical.  “There are a couple of names and faces in the cast that audiences will recognize from previous  productions at Workshop, Town Theatre, Trustus and even Opera USC, but we have some  newcomers as well. The guys all have rich musical backgrounds, which is a blessing for a show  like Five Guys Named Moe. I've enjoyed working with both the seasoned performers and the  first-timers, as they each bring a distinct energy and eagerness to the process,” Boeschen said.

Five Guys Named Moe runs September 18-21 in The Market Space at 701 Whaley. Regular priced adult tickets are $22, senior and active military tickets are $20, student tickets are $16,  and children (12 & under) are $12.  Come out for a new experience at a new location with an old friend, Workshop  Theatre.

~ Haley Sprankle, Jasper intern

From press material:

The Story: His woman left him, he’s broke, and it’s almost five o’clock in the mornin’. But don’t be worryin’ ’bout our hero, Nomax. Out of Nomax’s ’30s-style radio pop Five Guys Named Moe. They cajole, wheedle, comfort and jazz him with the whimsical hit songs of Louis Jordan, one of the most beloved songwriting talents of the twentieth century. With more than fifty top ten singles on the rhythm and blues charts, this great composer and saxophonist brought a popular new slant to jazz that paved the way for the rock-and-roll of the 1950’s.

Five Guys Named Moe show dates and times: Thursday, September 18 @ 8 pm Friday, September 19 @ 8 pm Saturday, September 20 @ 3 pm and 8 pm Sunday, September 21 @ 3 pm and 8 pm

Go to workshoptheatre.com to purchase tickets online or call the Box Office at 803-799-6551 between noon and 5:30 pm. Workshop Theatre’s Box Office is located at 635 Elmwood Ave., Columbia, SC, 29201. Box Office hours are from noon to 5:30 pm. Reservations can be made online 24 hours a day through the website.

 

A sneak peek at the upcoming Midlands theatre season

School has started, football season has started, annual festivals (SC Pride, Rosewood Arts, Greek Festival) are only weeks away, which can only mean one thing:  Midlands theatres are about to kick off their new seasons as well! That's right - while you were lounging at the lake or the beach, or visiting Disney World or jasper_watchesyour great-aunt Sophie, several hundred local singers, dancers, actors, musicians, and behind-the-scenes artists and technicians were in rehearsals at the numerous professional and community theatres that fill Columbia, just so that you will have plenty of opportunities for live entertainment this fall.  Here's a very quick, incomplete, and imperfect roster of some of the shows coming up.  (Disclaimer: these are simply some of the local theatre groups that have announced seasons, but this is not meant to represent anything definitive. )

 

 

Lexington Arts Association (at the Village Square Theatre)

  • Grease - September 26 - October 12
  • Cheaper by the Dozen - November 7 - November 16
  • Christmas in Lexington (non-season, holiday-themed revue) - December 5 - December 14
  • Disney's Peter Pan, Jr. - January 30 - February 15
  • Neil Simon's The Odd Couple (female version) - March 20 - March 29
  • Annie Get Your Gun - May 1 - May 17

 

Town Theatre

  • Oklahoma! - Sept. 19 - 11 Oct. 11
  • White Christmas - November 14 – December 7
  • Always...Patsy Cline (non-season show) -  January 8 – 18
  • Driving Miss Daisy - January 30 – February 14
  • Sugar (the musical version of the film Some Like It Hot) - March 6 – 21
  • Spamalot - May 8 – 30

 

Workshop Theatre  (now performing at the 701 Whaley Market Place, i.e. the one-story structure adjacent to the main event hall, facing Whaley Street)

  • Five Guys Named Moe - September 18-21
  • The Dining Room - November 6-9
  • Neil Simon's Broadway Bound (3rd in the trilogy that has included Biloxi Blues and Brighton Beach Memoirs) - January 15-18
  • Stick Fly - March 12-15
  • Lend Me a Tenor - May 7-10

 

South Carolina Shakespeare Company

  •  King Lear - October 1 -11 at Finlay Park
  • The Taming of the Shrew - May (dates tba)

Hamlet

On Stage Productions (located at 680 Cherokee Lane in West Columbia)

  • Legends Country Music Show (a country music revue  from Broadway to the Grand Ole Opry)  - September 19- 28
  • A Very Second Samuel Christmas - December 12 -20
  • Twelfth Night (yes, the Shakespearean comedy!) - February 13-22
  • The Secret Garden - April 17-26

 

Columbia Children's Theatre  (upstairs in Richland Mall)

  • How I Became a Pirate - September 19-28
  • Jack Frost - December 5-14
  • Bunnicula - Feb. 20 - Mar. 1
  • Skippyjon Jones in Cirque de Olé - April 10-19
  •  Brer Rabbit - June 12-21

man-115394_640

Chapin Theatre Company   (performing at the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College)

  • Last Stop Chapin - Sept. 5 - 20 
  • 'Tis the Season - October 31 - November 9 (non-season show, performed at the Firehouse Theatre at the American Legion Post - 102 Lexington Avenue in Chapin)
  • Suite Surrender - February 2015
  • Into the Woods - June 2015
  • Noises Off - Sept 2015

 

USC's Theatre South Carolina (main stage season)

  • Ajax in Iraq - October 3-11 - Longstreet Theatre
  • Thornton Wilder's Our Town - November 14-22 - Longstreet Theatre
  • Brian Friel's Translations - February 20-28 - Longstreet Theatre
  • The Three Musketeers (by Alexandre Dumas; adapted by Ken Ludwig) - April 17-25 - Drayton Hall Theatre

 

USC's Lab Theatre (at 1400 Wheat Street)

  •  Good Boys and True -  October 9-12
  • The Women of Lockerbie - November 20-23
  • The Trojan Women (by Euripides) - February 26 – March 1
  • Player King (original play, written and directed by student Ryan Stevens) - April 23-26

 

USC's Center for Performance Experiment

  • Balance (original play by Robyn Hunt, conceived/directed by Steven Pearson, both faculty members) - February 23 - 28
  • Macbeth - April 27 & 29

 

Theatre Rowe's Southeastern Theatrical Arts Bandits (S.T.A.B.)  (not a traditional season, and presenting shows in alternating venues)

  • Going Once, Going Twice...Murder!  - August 22 -  October 3
  • Haunting at the Old Mill - October 10 - November 1
  • John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men - November 8 - 23lights

Trustus Theatre - Thigpen Main Stage

  •  Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike - Sept. 12 - 27
  • A Christmas Carol - Nov. 21  – Dec. 20
  • In the Red and Brown Water - Jan. 23  – Feb. 7
  • Godspell - Mar. 27– Apr. 11
  • Other Desert Cities - May 8- 23
  • Dreamgirls - Jun. 26  – Aug. 1
  • Big City (Playwrights' Festival winner) - Aug. 15-22

 

Richard and Debbie Cohn Side Door Theatre at Trustus

  • The Other Place -  Oct. 17 -  Nov. 1
  • Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays -  Jan. 3 - 17
  • You Better Sit Down: Tales from My Parents’ Divorce - Feb. 27 – Mar. 14
  • Bill W. and Dr. Bob -  May 29 – June 13

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Additionally, there are a number of performing groups that do one or more shows a year, including High Voltage Theatre,  the NiA Company, Blythewood Community TheatreWOW (Walking on Water Productions), La Tropa, and New Life Productions - click on the links to their sites for details on upcoming productions. WOW, in fact, has an event this coming weekend, Fri. Sept. 5 - Sun. Sept. 7, with scenes from past and future productions; details are here.

~ August Krickel