Jasper Magazine Welcomes New Theatre Editor - Frank Thompson

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The Jasper Project is delighted to announce the addition of Frank Thompson to the editorial staff of Jasper Magazine effective immediately. Frank will serve in the role of Theatre Editor. You can learn more about Frank below.

FRANK THOMPSON holds a BA from The University of Alabama, and a JD from Cumberland School of Law. Originally from Alabama, Frank's two great passions in life have always been writing and the theatre, and he is excited to embark on this new journey, combining the two.

Frank had an auspicious start to his writing career at age 8, with a story printed in an ARCHIE comic book, to the far loftier achievement of having his short story, 'Que, published in A SENSE OF THE MIDLANDS by Muddy Ford Press, Frank has never stopped scribbling down his thoughts and hoping someone will read them. Along the way, he has written several plays for children, produced by Tuscaloosa Children's Theatre, (more years ago than he cares to admit,) short essays and observations for his college newspaper, radio comedy and original sketches for Tuscaloosa's Z-102 and FOX96 radio stations, where he also worked as on-air talent, theatre reviews for the Birmingham theatre website, (ebhm.org), local spots for WBHM, (Birmingham's NPR affiliate), and is currently working on his first book, tentatively titled "A CANCER SPOUSE'S SURVIVAL GUIDE," chronicling his wife's successful battle with breast cancer, from a husband/caretaker's point of view.

In the Columbia blogosphere, Frank's writing can be found on "The Goodlife Blog" for Goodwill Industries "Broke In Columbia," and in JASPER.

Theatrically, Frank has performed professionally with THE LOST COLONY, Birmingham Childrens' Theatre, and was cast as General Glossop in the first non-Equity national tour of JEKYLL & HYDE, again, more years ago than he prefers to recall. Before moving to Columbia in 2010, Frank was active since childhood in the the Birmingham, AL, theatre community, serving seven years as Artistic Director for CenterStage, and three years in the same capacity with Theatre LJCC. As a performer, his favourite roles include Freddie in NOISES OFF, The Proprietor in ASSASSINS, Igor in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, Thurston Howell III in GILLIGAN"S ISLAND:THE MUSICAL, and Gomez Addams in THE ADDAMS FAMILY: THE MUSICAL.

Directorially, he is most proud of his work on THE KING AND I, and CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (Birmingham), and AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS, CHICAGO, Ho! Ho! Ho!, and PEOPLE ARE STRANGE, a cabaret which he produced and co-wrote (Columbia.)

Frank is proud to serve as Vice-President of Workshop Theatre's Board of Trustees, and has presented his one-week sketch comedy class, "Funny By Friday" at Trustus Theatre and Fine Arts Center of Kershaw County.

He is also a Certified Teaching Artist with South Carolina Arts Commission.

A Conversation with Heathcliff

Jasper noticed a new face on the performance art scene and thought we should remember our manners and give him a proper welcome and introduction. Here's a peek at a conversation we just had with this lovely older gentleman, Heathcliff.

jonathan Monk as Heathcliff.jpg

Hi Heathcliff! We understand that you’re having a show this weekend at Trustus Theatre and we thought you might want to introduce yourself to the Jasper readers. Would that be OK?

 

JASPER: Can you tell us how old you are, where you’re from, and how you ended up in Columbia, SC?

HEATHCLIFF: Absolutely. Now, Cindi, most of my pictures make me seem younger, but I am actually 78 years old and have the wig to prove it. I don’t want to give away the particulars of my birth as my show will elaborate on that topic via shadow puppetry. I try to explain everything with shadow puppetry if I can help it - you should see the first draft of my answers to these questions! As for how I ended up in Columbia, my accompanist Wanda has spoken of its smiling faces and beautiful places for quite some time. I had to come see what all the fuss is about!

 

JASPER:  What line of work are you in and what do you like most about it?

HEATHCLIFF:  I suppose it could be considered more of a square and less of a line, but I am in the storytelling and empathy business. I think we are all young at heart, and I love giving people permission to exist in a ridiculous world for a time. Right now more than ever, we need to be reminded of our unique capacity to enjoy each other’s company.

 

JASPER:  As a gentleman of advanced age you must have some great memories. Will you share a little something special with our readers?

HEATHCLIFF: Yes, there was this one time…(falls asleep)

 

JASPER:  You also must have met lots of famous people – do you know Diane Keaton perchance? What do you think about her?

HEATHCLIFF: Oh my goodness, yes. Diane is an old friend - we share a mutual love of clown paintings, and she is directly responsible for my leaving the business for a decade. I don’t hold it against her because she was trying to help - I will go into more direct detail in my show. Diane, if you’re reading this, no hard feelings.

 

JASPER:  Now, who is Wanda and why is she horning in on your show?

HEATHCLIFF: I actually play the horn in the show! Wanda is the lovable green squeak toy with a smile in the picture. She is my accompanist and soul mate, and she can play any instrument in the world. She is shy so she normally pre-records everything for our shows. She also was rumored to have had a secret affair with Tom Jones in the 70s, but I’ll let her tell you about that.

 

JASPER:  On a scale of 1 – 17, with 1 being boring and 17 being whoopee, how naughty will your show be this weekend?

HEATHCLIFF: I leave the math to my team of accountants, but I will say that I believe humor is the best medicine. If you weaponize humor or constantly go for the low hanging fruit, it turns into something that can actually make you unhealthy. But since I’m old, I have to occasionally reach for the apple that’s in front of me. Now I’m hungry. The short answer is, there are no swear words or “blue humor” as we used to call it. I’d rate it PG: Probably Good.

 

JASPER:  I think we may have some mutual acquaintances. Have you ever heard of a fellow who goes by the name of Jonathan Monk and a lady named Krista Forster? What do you know about these folks?

HEATHCLIFF: Oh my goodness! Jonathan Monk is my manager, though we never seem to be in the same place at the same time. Krista Forster looks shockingly similar to my distant relative Sheila Murphy of Janitorial Services. These two, I’m told, have been working to devise a new comedic piece in town - I can’t wait to see it.

 

JASPER: Anything else you’d like to tell our readers about your upcoming show?

HEATHCLIFF/JONATHAN MONK: Hi Cindi, this is Jonathan Monk. Heathcliff had to make an emergency trip to Zesto’s. Regarding the show, I’d like to say this is a fantastic opportunity for me to continue to explore a character I created in 2003 during my time as a Musical Theatre major at Carnegie Mellon. While Heathcliff the character is known for his embellishments regarding the truth, I have been fortunate enough to perform as Heathcliff in Pittsburgh at The Andy Warhol Museum, in NYC at Emerging Artists Theatre, Don’t Tell Mama and 54 Below, and in Martha’s Vineyard at the Grange Hall Theatre. What’s exciting to me about this new show is this is the first time Heathcliff has incorporated other human characters. Wanda (his accompanist) is a puppet, so it’s refreshing to be able to discover and interact with other characters in Heathcliff’s world: a mix of Mister Rogers, Pee Wee’s Playhouse and Andy Kaufman, with a dash of Red Skelton. I am thankful and excited to be able to premiere a new Heathcliff show here in my hometown!

 

Shows are this Friday at 11:15pm, Saturday at 3pm, and Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are $10 / each and will be sold at the door.
http://trustus.org/event/healthcliff/

 

Cindi Boiter is the executive director of the Jasper Project and a big fan of new performing arts. Reach her at Cindi@JasperColumbia.com

PREVIEW: Together We Are Making a Poem in Honor of Life - Opening at Piccolo Spoleto Tonight

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Columbia natives Dean Poynor and Monica Wyche are returning to South Carolina this month, bringing a new play to 2018 Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, with their theatre collective, The Salvage Company.

 

Poynor and Wyche met years ago while both were company members at Trustus Theatre, where they performed together in BUG, THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, and WONDER OF THE WORLD, as well as with the We’re Not Your Mother’s Players improv comedy group.  Since then, Poynor has become an award-winning playwright with his plays produced in New York, Nashville, Minneapolis, and more. Wyche has worked steadily in film and TV, landing roles on shows including Law and Order:SVU, Blindspot, The Defenders, The Looming Tower, and a recurring role as ‘Rita Laslen’ on Hulu’s The Path.

 

The Salvage Company has performed in Australia, Key West, New York, and now returns to the Piccolo Spoleto Festival for the second time with Poynor’s staggering play, TOGETHER WE ARE MAKING A POEM IN HONOR OF LIFE.  The play follows a mother and father as they navigate a series of support group meetings after losing their child in a school shooting. Told in a fragmented storytelling style, this play follows them – both individually and together – as they struggle to remember what they’ve lost. But as they come closer to comprehending the tragic event that took their child, they find it more and more difficult to connect with each other. This intimate two-person drama explores what it means to be a parent in the face of unimaginable loss.

 

This play is Poynor’s personal response to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and other acts of violence against children. Poynor says, “As a father, I am affected by these events in unexpected ways. I am especially interested in the idea of potential, and the grammatical construction ‘would have been.’  I recognize the hope and hopelessness buried in these words, and I believe the stories we tell become vital touchstones in answering the question of ‘How do we keep on going?’”

 

TOGETHER WE ARE MAKING A POEM IN HONOR OF LIFE is an immersive (but not interactive) theatrical experience, with the audience actually joining the actors in the circle of support group chairs. Because of this intimate staging, seating is limited to fifty people per performance.  Already, the Charleston City Paper has named the show one of the top three theatre performances to see at the festival. (https://m.charlestoncitypaper.com/CultureShock/archives/2018/05/01/piccolo-tickets-on-sale-now-heres-what-you-should-see)

 

A special invited preview for members of the Charleston chapter of Moms Demand Action will take place on Friday, May 25th, with a talkback after the show. Public performances will take place Saturday, May 26th at 2:00 and 7:00, Sunday, May 27th at 4:00, and Monday, May 28th at 7:00. Tickets are $21, and are available at www.piccolospoleto.com or at www.thesalvagecompany.com.

 

 

Review: Workshop Theatre's String of Pearls

Frank Thompson is a frequent theatre critic for JASPER, who is reviewing for his "home theatre.” Mr. Thompson wishes to freely disclose that he is employed as Box Office Manager for Workshop, is a frequent director with the company, and serves as Vice-President of the Board of Trustees. He has put on his blinders for what he thinks is a fair and unbiased review, and will do his best to deliver.

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STRING OF PEARLS

 Presented by Workshop Theatre at Columbia College’s Cottingham Theatre, runs this Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets can be purchased by calling (803) 799.6551

 

****

 

   A “McGuffin” is a term used mostly in film, to describe a single object or event around which a story revolves. The titular jewels in Workshop Theatre’s String Of Pearls serve just such a purpose, as a bevy of female characters find their disparate lives impacted by the temporary stewardship of a string of perfect pearls. Through the passing of several decades, we see the pearls elicit joy, sorrow, confusion, and hope, along with a multitude of different emotions and reactions from twenty-seven women, played by an ensemble of six actresses. Ellen Rodillo-Fowler, Cathy Carter Scott, Christine Hellman, Krista Forster, Sandra Suzette Hamlin-Rivers, and Alyssa Velazquez, each at the top of her game, manage to create believable, three-dimensional characters, some of whom we get to know quite well, and others we glimpse for only a moment or two. Each, however, helps to move along the plot, and there is scarcely a wasted word in the script, which makes for a streamlined, well-paced production.

  Director Zsuzsa Manna has obviously put a great deal of thought and research into bringing each character, no matter how minor, into her overall vision. Watching the chameleon-like changes each actress made physically, vocally, and stylistically, truly created the illusion of a much larger cast. (Having known, and/or worked with most of the cast, even I had to occasionally squint and ask myself “now which one is that?”) Special commendation to Costume Designer Alexis Docktor, who created multiple eras and class levels, each of which were appealing and period-appropriate. Helping her create the magic is Wig Designer, Christine Hellman, whose skills clearly are not limited to performing. At one point, Velasquez, a natural brunette, sported thick, flowing, blonde locks that could have easily passed for a 1970s’ Farrah Fawcett hairdo, and Rodillo-Fowler’s scruffy pink punk ‘do is a true work of retro art.

   The set is simple, but effective. Two small platforms, a handful of moderately-sized props, and two elegant sheer curtains provide the representation for dozens of locales. Minimalism works well with this script, allowing the acting to shine as the central focus. Scenic and Sound Designers, Zsuzsa Manna and Dean McCaughan, respectively), have taken a subtle and most effective approach, with minor changes of lighting and/or the tiny ding of a single bell completely transforming the scene.

   Lest I seem completely biased, I will say that String Of Pearls is not flawless. At Sunday’s matinee, a line or two got dropped, but quickly corrected, and the occasional entrance seemed a bit late, most likely due to costume change issues, which tend to smooth out by any show’s second weekend.

   A word to parents, the extremely conservative, and the easily-offended. String Of Pearls contains a fair amount of grown-up dialogue, some of it extremely straightforward, and several adult situations. And yes, the pun you’re probably chuckling about right now is, indeed, mentioned in detail. (You may want to leave the pre-teens at home for this one, and let them enjoy Workshop’s June production of Shrek, Jr. )

   Columbia College’s Cottingham Theatre is a comfortable, easily-located facility (just GPS 1301 Columbia College Drive, and you’ll be able to drive straight to the door), and the acoustics are top-notch. Even stage whispers could be easily heard. The sight lines are clear, and the seats a bit small, but comfy. That said, it’s an older building without all the fancy bells and whistles that have now become industry standard, and has a slightly-frayed-at-the-edges feel, though I personally find that to be a charming asset to any theatre.

   String Of Pearls is a perfect show for those seeking an intelligent, funny, grown-up look at life. It made me think of the internet meme with words for familiar, but difficult-to-describe, feelings, specifically sonder, which is "the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own." Originally from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, sonder has now entered the vernacular, and it was sonder that I felt while watching the show. One object, twenty-seven complex individuals, and one hilarious, poignant, thought-provoking trip through a cornucopia of human experiences.

-FLT3

21 May, 2018

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.

dreamgirls

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?

dreamgirls3

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.

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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.
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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.

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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.