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


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  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.

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.

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


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.
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.


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 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  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

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?


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

jack frost

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

Five Points Forecast - Chili on Saturday!

chili14 The annual Chili Cook-Off in Five Points is invariably one of the year's most enjoyable events.  We know this must be true, since we read it online.  Actually, now that we think of it, we wrote that online, and recounted our adventures participating in the judging for last year's event. So we're absolutely stoked to be taking part again this year on this coming Saturday, November 8.

This is in fact the 28th Annual Chili Cook-Off, an event originally started by Group Therapy, and now coordinated by the Five Points Association.  Activities still take place in and around in and around the 2100 block of Greene Street in between Group and the Five Points Post Office, although following last year's successful expansion, the festival footprint this year will cover the 2100 and 2200 block of Greene Street, the 700 and 800 block of Pavillion (which is that cross street next to the park) a portion of Martin Luther King Park.  Meaning more elbow room for the chefs, more walking around room for patrons,  and less congestion closer to Harden Street.  There's an official entrance - although thankfully, you can still pretty much wander on in from any direction - on Pavillion, close to the intersection with Santee (which is basically behind Harper's, near the Bank of America.)  The bandstand now faces away from Harden and in towards the festival, in between Pour House (aka "where the old Frank's Hot Dogs used to be") and Grilled Teriyaki.

As always, the main attraction is the chili, as more than 50 teams compete with their best secret recipes, fixin's, and showmanship skills.  All proceeds from the event (including including sales from chili, beer and merchandise) will go to Camp Kemo. The festival will run from 12 PM  to 7 PM, and is free and open to the public.  A donation of a dollar or more to a particular team will get you a taste of their chili, and the idea is that you sample as many as you can, thereby helping raise more funds. New this year are change stations - like certain other establishments in town, you're encouraged to come with a pocketful of one dollar bills, but there will be two change stations if you need more, as well as ATM's (although the latter will only dispense $5 bills.)

Meanwhile, a panel of judges, many of whom have participated for multiple years (see the Jasper account linked above for details) will sample every single cotton-pickin' one of the chilis, with awards given for: Overall Best Chili, Best Vegetarian, Best Texas Chili, Best Non-Traditional, Overall Best Set-Up, Best Bar/Restaurant and Best Fundraising.

Joseph Lemmons is the designer of the logo pictured above, and he's not just a promoter, he's a competitor too, as leader of the Blazing Saddles Chili Company cooking team.  "We honestly just wanted to get together and cook chili and drink beers," he explains.  "This was an excuse to organize around that idea and raise some money for a bunch of great kids."  Lemmons shared the photos below from last year's event, and also described a little of his experiences, and all the preparation that goes into the competition.


"Our team is a young team — last year was our first year, but we jumped right into the fire, so-to-speak. We’re all friends and at one time or another have been work colleagues. We wanted to do so much our first year, had high hopes (because our chili is the best, of course), and a lot of support from team members and some awesome sponsors. From the start, I think our three chefs knew we wanted to be different, but not weird — so that meant a Texas-style hot and spicy chili. Bobby Redfern, Josh Laney, and myself worked through the recipe last summer and fall, subjecting co-workers and family to untold amounts of hot, spicy, beanless goodness. Once we nailed down the recipe and realized it had so much pricey meat in it, we had to find someone to help pay for it all — each of the 8 team members chipped in some cash and a few of us went out and found some sponsors (contributing cash, food supplies, cooking supplies and swag.) We were very fortunate to make a big splash our first year."


"Our chili was very hot and we had a pepper jelly sour cream topping to balance. And cheese because cheese. We felt like we were giving a good bang-for-your-buck-donation — a team member also made cayenne chocolate cookies that we sold and later gave away. That’s our general idea, to give more than just a cup of chili: something to top it with, something crunchy, a spicy sweet treat, a bunch of laughs. It’s all fun."


"To help separate our team, we came up with a tongue-in-cheek name that we could play on every year, thus Blazing Saddles Chili Company was born. We made custom printed shirts, aprons, a tent banner, tent signs and some social media noise. We were as much a Chili Company as we were actors in Blazing Saddles, but that didn’t stop people from thinking it unfair that we were a Chili Company competing in the Cook-Off. Made for a good laugh, honestly."


"For this year, we aren’t changing much. The response to our recipe was outstanding last year — we sold out of 10+ gallons in less than two hours (I believe we were the first to completely sell out)… so maybe we’ll make more this year. We’ve tweaked our recipe, but haven’t strayed from what made it successful. There will be toppings and sweets again. Ours will always be $1 donation per cup. We believe our recipe is unique and super tasty; the rest will be on the judges."

"  I believe we’re trying to wrap up something extra for the tent this week, so that may or may not make it — you’ll have to come and visit us to see. We’re returning all three chefs and all team members save for one, who is living in NYC now. And we’ll have some cool shirts again this year, thanks to the great guys at Image Ink (this is where I shout-out to Ben Walker.)"

"I believe we’re trying to wrap up something extra for the tent this week, so that may or may not make it — you’ll have to come and visit us to see. We’re returning all three chefs and all team members save for one, who is living in NYC now. And we’ll have some cool shirts again this year, thanks to the great guys at Image Ink  -this is where I shout-out to Ben Walker."
The Blazing Saddles team description gives you an idea of the fun-loving nature of both the event and the competitors:

"Excuse us while we whip this out. Our chili is hot, delicious and it’s our second year in the competition with our secret Dutch recipe. Each bite is full of meaty goodness, a little pulled pork, a little fresh smokey beef, a little heat and a little sweet. Get it while it lasts, because our chili is rapidly becoming a success in this town and a single cup will bring tears to your eyes, delight to your tastebuds and light fire to your loins.”


Beer is an important part of the event as well.  In addition to the usual suspects, featured in this year's Gourmet Beer Garden this year are five craft beers: Shocktop Pumpkin Wheat (if you like Shocktop, this isn't a bad taste combo/addition, and if you've never been wild about wheat beers, the mildly sweet pumpkin flavor balances out the overall taste, so  you may want to give it a try!), Lonerider's  Sweet Josie Brown Ale (from Raleigh, NC), Swamp Cabbage Porter (brewed right here in Columbia!), Palmetto Amber Ale (from Charleston) and Red Hare India Pale Ale (from Marietta, GA - if you're into hops, this Hare's for you!)

This is a family-friendly event, so the youngest of festival attendees will enjoy the Little Pepper’s Place area for kids, which will include a bounce house, 15 foot mega slide, the Ladder 9 fire truck, face painting, sidewalk chalk, bubbles and more.  Nearby retailers will join the fun with sales and specials throughout the day.  There are also plenty of opportunities for aspiring chefs to purchase food-related merchandise, as well as  ladies v-neck tees, men’s crew tees, long sleeve shirts, aprons and koozies.   And if - heaven forbid - you're not a particular fan of chili, the Pawley’s Front Porch food truck will be on hand throughout the day with burgers and other treats, as will King Arthur’s Flour, America’s oldest flour company, with an assortment of baked goods.  And of course, proceeds form all of this benefit  Camp Kemo as well.

There's no concurrent Blues Festival in the park this year, which means the opportunity for more live music, played from noon to 6:30 right in the midst of all the chili-centric activity. Bands performing include:

Noon – 12:45 pm – Kenny George Band

1:15 pm – 2:00 pm – Dave Britt

2:30 pm – 3:15 pm – Dr. Roundhouse

3:45 pm – 4:30 pm – Bossman

5:00 pm – 6:30 pm – Yo’ Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band

The Chili Cook-Off would not be possible without the generous support of businesses across the Midlands, including: Shock Top, Bi-Lo, Banfi Vinters, University Oaks, Garnet Riverwalk, SC Education Lottery, California Dreaming, McDaniel’s Automotive, Nicky’s Pizza, King Arthur Flour, Pawley’s Front Porch, Rosewood Market, Group Therapy, 92.1 The Palm,, 94.3 The Dude, and the City of Columbia.

About Camp Kemo:   A cherished program for young patients and their siblings since 1980, Camp Kemo is a weeklong summer camp for patients with cancer, ages 5-18, and their siblings. Staffed by Palmetto Health physicians, nurses and volunteers, Camp Kemo allows campers to swim, boat, hike and be kids. The fun times at Camp Kemo lay important groundwork for future treatment as participants learn to trust, respect and relate to one another. Camp Kemo is completely funded by community donations.

About The Five Points Association: The Five Points Association is a non-profit organization whose principle task is ensuring that Five Points stays an integral and important part of the city of Columbia. The association has accomplished and endured many major infrastructure, development and beautification projects over the years. The association hosts annual events that continue to grow with each year and entertain thousands of people within the city of Columbia, as well as the state of South Carolina. For more information or to register as a chef, please go to  Executive Director Amy Beth Franks can be reached at 803.446.8929 or

~ August Krickel


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Will Moreau

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

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

 ~ August Krickel










A sneak peek at the upcoming Midlands theatre season

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



Lexington Arts Association (at the Village Square Theatre)

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


Town Theatre

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


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

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


South Carolina Shakespeare Company

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


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

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


Columbia Children's Theatre  (upstairs in Richland Mall)

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


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

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


USC's Theatre South Carolina (main stage season)

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


USC's Lab Theatre (at 1400 Wheat Street)

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


USC's Center for Performance Experiment

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


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

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

Trustus Theatre - Thigpen Main Stage

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


Richard and Debbie Cohn Side Door Theatre at Trustus

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


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

~ August Krickel

Looking back on six years of reviews and 100+ shows

Six years and six weeks ago - i.e. in May of 2008 - I returned to the world of local theatre reviews.  I had written plenty in the early years of the Free Times (along with interviews, essays, previews of shows, plus reviews of movies, books, even museum exhibitions.)  James Harley was starting a website for independent reviews,, as The State was scaling back its arts coverage, and he realized quickly that one person can't see everything, and so a number of folks pitched in to help.  (Then Cindi Boiter started Jasper, and asked me to help, which led to even more reviews.)  Since then I have seen a whopping 108 shows(!)  This includes: - 31 of the last 38 shows at Workshop;  27 of the last 47 Main Stage shows at Trustus, 7 shows in the Trustus Side Door (plus a Late Night production, and a staged reading of a new play); 16 of the last 34 shows at Town; 8 of the last 19 shows at Columbia Children's Theatre (plus 2 YouTheatre productions, i.e. performed by children for children); 6 plays at USC, 2 at High Voltage, 2 at SC Shakespeare (including a one-act excerpt done at the Rosewood Arts Festival); one each at Theatre Rowe, On Stage Productions, and Stage 5; a semi-improv dinner theatre performance by the Capital City Killers, and a reading of a new play by the Chapin Theatre Company. That’s a LOT of theatre!

jasper_watches95 of those I reviewed.  The majority of the reviews were written for Onstage Columbia, 68 in fact, and 20 of those were picked up by the Free Times.  Two were online exclusives for the Free Times  - interestingly, both were world premieres of  High Voltage shows - 25 more were for this blog, i.e. What Jasper Said, and one of those was also rerun by the Free Times.  Somehow I managed to see 30 shows last year (including the 2 readings and the one-act) and 17 so far this year.  A conservative estimate is that there were 350 or more shows done locally in that period, i.e. close to 60 done each year, not even counting children's shows, recitals, drama ministries at churches, marionette shows, burlesque, circus and cabaret performances, etc.  So as above, no one can see everything, least of all me.  What follows then is some off-the-top-of-my-head reflections on what I have seen, and what I enjoyed.  (Disclaimer: the following is solely a personal opinion, and not representative of the views of this site, nor this publication, nor anyone involved with it, nor is it meant to represent anything definitive.  And this only refers to shows I did see, not those I didn't.  So if I missed your nephew or niece's appearance as the third daffodil from the left, I'm sure it was dazzling nevertheless. )

Some interesting stats: a dozen plays that I saw were new works, most written by local authors, including Chris Cook’s new adaptations of Dracula and Night of the Living Dead,  Columbia  Children’s Theatre’s original commedia productions of classics like Snow White, Cinderella and Rapunzel, and assorted winners of the Trustus Playwrights’ Festival.  More than half of the shows I saw in this period had roles for actors of color, and many of those shows in fact benefited from color-blind casting. And about time, I might add.



What did I like?  Well, believe it or not, I've seen very few if any bad shows. Columbia has evolved over the decades to where there are literally several hundred talented performers here in town, although some don't do shows that frequently anymore.  More often than not, I see actors' performances surpass mediocre or at best adequate material.   I think this stems from a combination of odd programming choices, dated shows that don't always stand the test of time, and the relative weakness of much of contemporary Broadway.   There have only been maybe 7 shows that I haven't enjoyed that much, and 3 were really old shows (an average of 50+ years old) that were showing their age, 2 were rarely-produced works that came out of regional theatre (i.e. never made it to Broadway, and in retrospect there may have been a reason) and 2 were original plays that might benefit from some re-writing (to my knowledge neither has ever been done since.)  But even those had their moments, primarily due to some great folks in their casts.  I'm not saying everything was a classic, or great literature - but seeing an age-appropriate cast do an energetic production of, say, Disney’s Camp Rock, or elementary-school age kids do an adorable 25-minute production of the Charlie Brown Easter Beagle show, can still be fun if you accept them for what they are.

Yet there were easily 20-30 more that I would feel no need to see again unless there was some particular performer I really wanted to see.  A lot of those weren't really plays - they were musical revues, even if they had dialogue and an ostensible plot.  These too can be enjoyable to listen to, since there are so many gifted singers around.  Still, often I'd be just as happy if they tossed the framing devices and just let the performers just do a cabaret show.

victoria3But seriously, what did I enjoy most?  Hands down, Victor/Victoria at Workshop in March of 2011.  Perfect casting, and lightning-fast timing and choreography made this a great experience for me.  Close behind that would be The Producers, also at Workshop, and Avenue Q and [title of show], both at Trustus. Interestingly, some combination of Kevin Bush, Laurel Posey, and Matthew DeGuire were in each of those productions.



Giulia Dalbec and Jason Stokes in "The Producers"

Then again, it's hardly surprising to anyone who knows me that my favorites were shows from Blake Edwards, Henry Mancini, and Mel Brooks, a show about muppets, and a show about making a show, since those would have been my favorites at age 10 or 15 too.   It's hard to escape one's own preferences.   Broad comedy, done rapid-fire, with lots of double entendre, has always appealed to me.  Case in point:  I admired the professional quality of shows like Next to Normal at Trustus (I feel sure that I saw a production exactly like I'd have seen in NYC) and Miss Saigon (I suspect Town's elaborate production would rival that of a touring company - maybe not the original one in the 80's, but certainly one that might play the Koger or Township now.)    But I didn't rush out to buy the script or the original cast album.  I appreciated the artistry  and professionalism, even though it may not have been my cup of tea.   And I don’t even consider myself that much of a musical lover – but sometimes the spectacle on stage and memorable songs that set your toes a-tappin’ make for a great experience.


Laurel Posey, Giulia Marie Dalbec, and Matthew DeGuire in "VIctor/Victoria"

Actually, what I normally enjoy most is quirky, character-centric shows with something to say (which would  be an apt description of [title of show] too), and the very best of those that I have seen in years and years was The Shape of Things, directed by Bakari Lebby - at age 22!! - in two separate and equally excellent productions, first at USC and then at Workshop with a different cast.  Close behind would be the NiA Company’s production of Fat Pig, and A Behanding in Spokane, both done in the Trustus Side Door space, and the Trustus Main Stage production of The Little Dog Laughed.  All  were done on a virtually bare stage with a cast of four actors, which is all you need as long as you have good people.  While I'm at it, I do want to mention the very magical and moving production of Caroline, or Change, at Workshop, quite inspirational in its own way. Honorable mention goes to Dracula at High Voltage and Second Samuel at On Stage Productions for doing an incredible job with very limited resources (i.e. sets, space, and budget.)




Robin Gottlieb, Kevin Bush, Matthew DeGuire, and Laurel Posey in [title of show] - photo by Richard Arthur Kiraly PhotographyHere's another interesting stat:  I have seen Vicky Saye Henderson and Frank Thompson more than any other performer locally in that period:  12 times each (although that's just a fraction of the shows each has done - remarkable, since all of Frank's that I saw were in a period of only three and a half years, as were all but two of Vicky’s.) Charlie Goodrich is close behind with 11, Will Moreau with 10, Bobby Bloom and Giulia Marie Dalbec with 9, followed by Kyle Collins, Elisabeth Baker, Chad Forrister, George Dinsmore, Patrick Dodds, Elizabeth Stepp and Hunter Bolton, all tied at 8. But again, I stress that these were just the ones that I saw them in.


the cast of "The Producers

USC's Theatre South Carolina  and the SC Shakespeare Company  both have missions to produce the great works of the stage and thank goodness, because apart from shows there, I have seen only a couple of genuine classics, i.e. things that are taught in English classes. More and more local theatres have to be conscious of box office, which isn't always a good thing, especially if a show chosen for its potential to sell tickets doesn't live up to financial expectations.   So the alternative is to do name-brand shows, straight from NYC, and while I've enjoyed the chance to see these, I just wonder how many will hold up over the next few decades? Romeo and Juliet, for example, is going strong after 400 years, and recent productions of works by Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee still worked just fine. But to me something like Miss Saigon now seems less ground-breaking and more of a traditional doomed love story.    We've unquestionably seen top-notch local productions of some of the biggest-name and biggest-reputation shows from the last few decades,  including lots of big award-winners.  But I keep finding myself writing variations on "well that was fun, but how on earth did it win so many awards?"  And I think back to Pulitzer winners of yore, like Of Thee I Sing, Men in White, Beyond the Horizon, Fiorello, and Seascape.  Wait, what are those shows?  Exactly.

As above, a lot of productions contended with their age, with varying levels of success.  If you've never seen it, it's new to you, as NBC used to remind us during rerun season, and if a theatre knows their audience will support a show that some might think has been done to death, there's no shame in bringing it back, as long as it's done well.   But I have to stress - there were a LOT of fairly recent and disposable pop hits like High School Musical, Drowsy Chaperone, and Shrek which were nevertheless quite entertaining, and which gave plenty of good people good roles in which to shine.

Most promising trend I've seen over the last six years:  talented child and teen performers maturing into adult leading roles.  Also performers migrating from theatre to theatre; everyone benefits when the best actors land the roles they are best suited for.  It's very gratifying to see people from one cast attending a performance of a show at a nearby theatre on their only night off in order to support their friends.  Another terrific trend:  actors normally seen in lead roles being willing to  appear in ensembles; again, everyone benefits, and as anyone who's done live theatre knows, it's not the size of the role... it's how fun your castmates are over 6-8-10 weeks of rehearsals, performances and cast parties.

Most disturbing trend I've seen:  audiences over-inflating their experience.  I've occasionally been accused of "liking everything," but read what I write more closely - I usually say that something is good if that's what you're looking for.    And explain who might enjoy a particular show - fans of country music, fans of slapstick, senior citizens, families with children under age 7, drunk people.   What I see far too often, however, is audience members saying that every show they see is ground-breaking, trend-setting, transcendent, transformative or life-changing.  More likely, the best show you've ever seen in Columbia is about as good as a hundred other good shows that have been done here over the years.  You may just need to get out more, see more live theatre, and read more plays.  I think we also may tend to confuse hitting a high note in a solo with something unique, when hundreds and hundreds of singers in church choirs do it every Sunday morning.

So there are some thoughts after the most recent six years of reviews.  Have I learned anything?  Yes.  A) there are a ton of talented people in the Midlands, and B)  there are thousands of potential audience members who will come see the right show if they are in the mood for it, and will come back for more if it lives up to their expectations.    Yet how much influence does a critic's review have on box office?  Or is the critic's role to interpret and help find meaning in a particular work?  Does one even need a critic's review, and does some random writer's opinion even matter?    All valid questions.... all of which will have to be addressed in some future blog post.  In the meantime, those were some of the shows I enjoyed - what about you?  What did you like?  The comments section below awaits your input!

~ August Krickel






"The House of Blue Leaves" at Trustus Theatre - a review by August Krickel

blueleaves2 There's a speech at the beginning of the second act of The House of Blue Leaves, the new show at Trustus Theatre, delivered by Philip Alexander as the son in the story's central family. Speaking directly to the audience, he details a missed opportunity for stardom; as a child, he had the chance to be cast as Huck Finn in a Hollywood film, and so naturally he tried to impress the director by dancing, singing, and cavorting about with a child's typical joyous lack of inhibition. The director assumes he must have some emotional or developmental challenge, and the boy's ambitions, along with his ego, are crushed.

(L-R) Scott Herr, Monica Wyche - Photo by Richard Arthur Király - Photography

That's a fair representation of the themes addressed in the show. Ordinary people aspire to greater things, sometimes with great self-deception, while struggling with the emotional burdens they carry. Rarely do things work out as planned, although sometimes fate seems to give them a break - but only if they are paying attention. Scott Herr takes the lead role of Artie, a mild-mannered New York zoo employee who composes and performs songs, partly as a hobby (which he thinks is his passion) and partly to distract him from his home life. His wife, whom he called "Bananas," suffers from some form of mental illness, which is only getting worse. As Bananas, Monica Wyche drifts in and out of incoherence, sometimes passively crumpling into a ball, sometimes delivering rambling monologues that are occasionally quite poetic, and sometimes giving us glimpses of the well-adjusted wife and mother she must have once been.

(L-R) Kayla CAhill, Sumner Bender - Photo by Richard Arthur Király - Photography

The third principal character is Artie's new mistress Bunny, as loud and brassy a New Yorker as her name implies. Sumner Bender, normally a willowy, chic and sophisticated young actress, somehow manages to play a significantly older and frumpier character through mannerisms and line delivery alone, although costume design by Dianne Wilkins helps. Resembling a younger version of a Far Side lady, Bender dominates the stage whenever she appears, engaging in non-stop chatter. She's annoying, yet ultimately she grows on you, sort of like Snookie. Part of that appeal derives from her (seemingly) genuine desire to help Artie move on to a better place in his life. Unfortunately that involves placing Bananas in an institution, which Artie describes as surrounded by trees full of lovely bluebirds, creating the illusion of the title's blue leaves. All three performers employ every trick in the actor's handbook to create nuanced characters, and their accents, especially those of Bender and Alexander, are just perfect (if a little grating to the Southern ear.)

Sumner Bender and Scott Herr - photo by Jonathan Sharpe

With that inter-personal backdrop, the play begins in 1965 as the Pope is visiting New York. Most of the characters are Irish Catholic, and see this as a potentially life-changing event. Artie's connection is vastly more important, as he not only hopes that he will somehow be blessed/forgiven/vindicated as he prepares to leave his wife, but also that the Pope will somehow convince the country to end the Viet Nam War, in which his recently-drafted son will otherwise soon be involved.  The story I have just described seems quite realistic, but there is a pervasive tone of the Absurd (with a capital A, signifying the dramatic form) as events that technically could happen transpire, but become progressively surreal. Among the visitors to Artie's home in the second act are three nuns (Becky Hunter, Rachel Kuhnle, and Erin Huiett) Artie's childhood friend Billy, now a Hollywood bigshot (Bernie Lee), Billy's girlfriend (Kayla Cahill), and a couple of authority figures (Robert Michalski and Clark Wallace.) Everyone is perfectly cast, and Lee especially looks the part, with simple things like a turtleneck and facial hair instantly defining his character.  Cahill in particular has some incredible moments where she's not saying a word, but her silence and pained expression speak volumes.

"Then, a lot of wild comedy breaks out."  (L-R) Erin Huiett, Robert Michalski, wild comedy - Photo by Richard Arthur Király - Photography

Then a lot of wild comedy breaks out, and there are some good laugh lines, as well as a lot of eloquent ones. Especially poignant is Herr's realization that "I'm too old to be a young talent." If at any time we lose track of a particular character's purpose or motivation, playwright John Guare incorporates a number of revealing and sometimes soul-baring monologues, spoken directly by the characters to the audience. Director Robin Gottlieb is a master of timing, and she has her actors working every possible detail of their roles, making unlikeable characters accessible to the audience.  All of this is significantly enhanced by Heather Hawfield's wide, expansive set design. It's just a realistic interior of a shabby apartment in a big city, but she somehow manages to open the stage up, as if she's taking a dollhouse and unfolding it, allowing us to see every corner. I can think of a half dozen shows or more at Trustus that would have benefited from this type of staging.

Kayla Cahill - photo by Richard Arthur Király Photography

As I have said previously, actors hate it when you review the material, not the performance. After all, they can't rewrite the script. So let me be clear: there is not a single flaw in acting or staging - everything is done quite proficiently and professionally, and I think everyone involved can be proud of their work on this show. That said... gentle reader, I just didn't get it. The play is a famous work from an important author; its original production won both the Obie and the Drama Critics' Circle Awards for Best Play, and subsequent revivals have garnered multiple Tony nominations and wins. Lots of famous people have appeared in versions of this show over the years. It's usually described as a comedy, or a dark comedy. There were certainly funny moments, and funny lines, but to me this was a serious drama that involved some witty characters and some surreal moments where you had to laugh. I'm told the audiences the night before and the afternoon after I saw the show were boisterous and laughing throughout the performance, whereas it was a much quieter house the night I attended.  This may well be. And given the fame and reputation of both the work and its author, I'm inclined to think I just somehow missed something.

(L-R) Clark Wallace, Sumner Bender -  photo by Richard Arthur Király Photography

There is certainly a broader theme of hope vs. reality, and the perils of life's curveballs. At some level I'm sure Artie represents humanity, with Bunny as the voice that tells us "you can do it," even if we can't. Bananas is probably the hurt child within us, the never seen Pope is surely symbolic of the redeeming panacea we all wish for, while the naughty nuns can probably be seen as representations of the random chaos surrounding and affecting us all. But again, let me be clear - while there are some Absurdist moments, this is by and large a straightforward, realistic play with a linear plot.  Possibly my tastes are changing as I get older, because parts of this play reminded me of Pinter's The Caretaker, Fugard's A Lesson from Aloes, even Beckett's Waiting for Godot, all difficult and challenging works which I enjoyed and admired as a young man. But for whatever reason, and no matter how well the cast delivered the author's well-chosen words, it never all came together for me in a way that I could understand, or benefit from some message or realization.  So that probably means it's just me. There are only seven shows remaining, and I encourage anyone who wants to be challenged by thought-provoking drama to go see the show right away.  I want to hear that you loved the comedy and were touched by the pathos, and I want you to tell me what I missed.  And I want you to tell me if the ending is literal or metaphorical. Seriously - we have a "comments" section below that is almost never used. So have at it, and tell me how I completely missed the boat on this one. And either way, enjoy some great actors while sipping on a tasty adult beverage in a cool, intimate performance venue.  The House of Blue Leaves runs through Saturday, May 24; call the box office at 803-254-9732 or visit for ticket information.

~ August Krickel

Crystal Gleim talks with Jasper about "Psycho Beach Party" at Stage 5


Jasper:  Psycho Beach Party represents your debut as director locally, correct?  What's your background?

Crystal Gleim: I have been involved with theater off and on since I was 8 years-old. I’ve acted, staged managed, lighting/sound, and directed. This will be the 12th play I have directed in my life. I am originally from Pennsylvania and got involved with the theater scene here in Columbia when working with Shamrock Shapeshifter Productions on the two runs of Plan 9 From Outer Space. I got involved with Stage 5 Theatre last year when I starred as Golde in Bark! The Musical. From there I assistant directed, staged managed and appeared in Macbeth as First Witch, First Murderer and English Doctor. I then went on to stage manage and play Judge Walker in ‘8’, played Rosencrantz in Hamlet 93, played my favorite role of the year, Marie Lombardi, in Lombardi, and I just finished playing LaVonda in Sordid Lives. I am currently the Assistant Artistic Director and Executive Stage Manager at Stage 5 Theater, and the Managing Producer of Sideshow Productions.

Jasper: You also perform with the Art Bar Players; how did that come about?

Gleim:  I was introduced to the Art Bar Players through some friends and eventually became a regular audience member. It wasn’t until some close friends became players that I was invited to a rehearsal, and the gang has been stuck with me ever since. Improv comedy is something I highly enjoy doing. It’s free therapy for me.

Jasper: What are some challenges you have faced as director?

Gleim: Being a director is never an easy task; however I have to say that it’s been pretty easy going so far (says the lady going into tech week on Easter Sunday.) I couldn’t have asked for a better cast and crew. I specifically hand-picked people that I know I can work with and I knew would be able to help convey the material the way I see it. If I would have to pick a challenge to share, it would be probably handing over stage managing reins to someone else. It’s just in my nature to stage manage, However, I have brought on Trinessa Dubas as my stage manager, and she has been great. She has handled the ever-wanting –to-do-everything-herself me very well!

Jasper:   Psycho Beach Party has a long history as a cult hit off-Broadway, and was previously done at Trustus some 24 years ago. While it could probably be marketed simply with the description "From the author who gave us Vampire Lesbians of Sodom..."  nevertheless, how would you describe the show?

Crystal Gleim, director of "Psycho Beach Party" - photo by Brock Henderson

Gleim:  It’s funny you ask that, because I have recently had to explain Psycho Beach Party to several people who have been interested in the work I have been doing. The most recent description I gave went a little something like this:  “Psycho Beach Party is a quirky parody of the beach movies of the 1960s. The lead character is a young girl with multiple personality disorder and she doesn’t even know that she has it. Hilarity ensues has her personalities all come to life”.

Jasper:  How did you arrive at producing this particular show?

Gleim:  The idea to do Psycho Beach Party came about during a Facebook conversation between myself, Brock Henderson, and the late Michael Bailey in regards to shows we would like to produce. Brock suggested Psycho Beach Party, and it just took off from there. Eventually we needed someone to direct it, and Michael had been trying really hard to get me interested in directing something, anything.  So, I stepped up and said I would like to direct the play. Having my comedy background, I thought it would be a fun play to tackle. This production has become a big deal for me.  I sought out performers, crew, and musicians that I really thought would work well together.

Jasper: Tell us about your cast,  and where we might have seen them previously.

Gleim:  Rachel Lewis stars as Chicklet;  some may recall her from Stage 5’s production of Macbeth as the Second Witch, and she has also worked at other theaters locally.  William Boland is the Great Kanaka, and he  has done theater at Workshop and USC as well as several productions at Stage 5 (including directing Hamlet.) Ember Love plays Marvel Ann, and is a local model and talent who was just in Sordid Lives.  Catherine Christian (Mrs. Forrest) is a local actress who has worked with Stage 5 and Village Square.  Marques Moore (Provoloney)  has acted in Pride and Prejudice and Much Ado About Nothing with the South Carolina Shakespeare Company and Night of the Living Dead with High Voltage Theatre, and in Us Grown Men recently at Stage 5.  Erin K. Crenshaw from Irmo High School plays Berdine.  Rachel James Kosbar, who plays Bettina Barnes, is making her return to the stage after a several-year hiatus.   Ellery Jordan Waggoner (Star Cat) is a Chapin High School actor, and Brock Henderson (YoYo) is a company member /actor of Stage 5.

Jasper:  What can audiences look forward to?

Gleim:  I asked my friends Thomas and Ross to create some beach-themed music for the play, and what came about was a great collaboration of three musicians who created original music specifically for this play.   So, cast and audiences will be able to enjoy their very own beach band on stage.  Audiences can expect a wonderfully talented cast, great music, and great laughs.

~ August Krickel
Psycho Beach Party opens this Friday, April 25 at Stage 5 Theatre, 947 S. Stadium Road,  in Stadium Park, and runs for 6 performances only through Sunday, May 4th.  The Facebook "event" page is here. For more information, visit or call the box office at 803.834.1775.


Choreographer Christy Shealy Mills talks about "Hello Dolly," opening in Blythewood April 2nd


Columbia is undeniably a theatre town, and it's no longer limited to the downtown area.  Every few years, theatre enthusiasts in the Midlands see a need and an opportunity, and another group is born. Lexington, Chapin, West Columbia and Forest Acres are all home to thriving performance groups, and now Blythewood joins the mix.  Choreographer Christy Shealy Mills took a moment to talk with Jasper about the upcoming production of Hello Dolly, the debut presentation of the Blythewood Community Theatre.

Jasper:  How did this group get its start?

Choreographer Christy Shealy Mills

Mills:  The folks in Blythewood have wanted to get their own theatre group going for years, and finally found someone willing to take a stab at directing, Rachel Tefft.   Out of the forty something cast members, about 1/3 of them have taken part in previous Midlands area productions. The rest are all newcomers. This new local theatre group will draw in people who might not otherwise get involved in such offerings.

Jasper:  You're actually commuting to choreograph this show, right?  How did you become involved?

Mills:  I live in Prosperity in the corner of Saluda County and have three dance studios, in  Lexington, Batesburg, and the one in my backyard, as well as satellite classes at Town Theatre in Columbia.  I am not sure how I became involved with Blythewood, other than the director , Rachel Tefft , whom I had never met, called me back in November and asked me , and said I was highly recommended.  I don't know where that came from, but the flattery worked.  She wasn't even sure which of three shows they were going to do, but I knew something about Hello, Dolly and was familiar with most of the music, and hoped it would be this one. I didn't know at the time just how much choreography that would be - it's a good thing I like challenges.

Jasper:  Have you always been a dancer and teacher?

Mills:   I have been dancing since I started classes at the age of three. My first ever performance,  I did the entire routine with my back to the audience. I don't remember ever NOT wanting to do this as a career. As a matter of fact, I do remember as a high school freshman taking a career aptitude test, and complaining to my parents at dinner that night that there was no career choice of dance instructor mentioned. My dad, looking quite horrified, said "a DANCE TEACHER? Why would you want to be a dance teacher? Dance teachers are kind of...tacky."  That cemented my career choice, and I have been trying to live up to that opinion ever since.

Jasper:  Which groups have you been involved with locally?

Mills:  I first become involved in community theatre with George Boozer's fabulous Lexington Arts Association revues starting about 1972 or '73.  That was REALLY community theatre. This Blythewood group  reminds me of those fun productions - all these rookies not having a clue what they are getting into, and just how much that theatre bug is biting them with each and every passing day. It was the same way in Lexington. Those huge musical revues caused me to make friends and memories that will last a lifetime.  Plus, I learned about theatre, and increased my dance, music and even history knowledge. Once I had the first of my four children, I stopped doing theatre until 2010, when I was blessed to be a part of Town Theatre's Annie.

Jessie Ellwein and Samantha Livoti rehearse "Hello, Dolly"

I did choreograph some full length musicals for Lexington High School during the baby years, and have done lots of pageant choreography. And, of course, I have been teaching dance since I was 14.  I choreographed Gilligan's Island - the Musical and portions of Nunsense Jamboree for On Stage Productions, but the first full length show I choreographed was Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Town Theatre. It was quite an undertaking, but Scott Blanks was such fun to work with - a creative genius. Now that I think about, all the the directors I have worked with have that genius touch. I guess that is why they are directors, huh?

Jasper:   Hello Dolly certainly has a rich history, based on Thornton Wilder's hit comedy The Matchmaker, based in turn on an older Austrian work, based on an older English story, but this is the most famous version, and the one with all the familiar songs.  Why this particular musical?

Nicholas Sargent (Cornelius) and Sara Bailey ( Mrs. Malloy) come through the polka dancers, in a rehearsal for "Hello, Dolly"

Mills:    The reason this was the choice (of the three possible shows  that were being considered) was the casting - after the great turn-out at auditions, Rachel could see that she had the right leads for Hello, Dolly, so that did it. It is huge undertaking.  I was a little worried, because there is no canned music, so working with live musicians introduces a whole new element to the works. I love live music, and it never ceases to amaze me how musicians who have never played together before can come in a week before the show opens and make it happen.  We have been sort of feeling our way as we go with this first show.

William Ellis,  Dan Reyes and Nicholas Sargent rehearse "Hello, Dolly"

Jasper:  Hello, Dolly was a huge success when it first debuted, winning a record-setting 10 Tony Awards (including best musical, best score and best book) and running for over 28oo performances, another record at the time; its movie version won three three of the seven Oscars for which it was nominated.   There have been a number of successful revivals on Broadway since then - why do you think the play still resonates with contemporary audiences?

Mills:   It's just a fun, colorful, lively trip into yesteryear - a delight for the ears and eyes.  The music its timeless.  “It Only Takes a Moment" - a song about love at first sight - is lovely and rings true no matter the era. The tunes will have the audience tapping their toes and humming on the way home. I know these songs have been in my head for months.

Jasper:  Tell us about your cast, and where we might have seen them before.

Ermengard (Zanna Mills) is consoled by Ambrose (Taylor Diveley)


Mills:  Kathy Seppamaki-Milliron (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Town Theatre, Legally Blonde at Workshop) plays Dolly Levi.   Emily Clelland (Chicago at the  Kershaw Fine Arts Center) and Zanna Mills (Shere Khan in The Jungle Book at Town Theatre)  alternate as Ermengard.  Rachel Arling (Annie at Town Theatre) plays Minnie Fay. William Ellis (Albert in Bye Bye Birdie at Westwood High) plays Barnaby. Annie Laurie Sutton-Rumfelt (Annie  and Joseph... at Town Theatre) plays the most spirited Ernestina there could possibly be.  Taylor Diveley plays Ambrose and has appeared in several Columbia Children's Theatre shows.   Dan Reyes (Horace Vandergelder), Sara Bailey (Mrs. Malloy), Nicholas Sargent (Cornelius) and Eric Bothur (Rudolf) are all newcomers.

Jasper:  What are some challenges you have faced as choreographer?

Mills:   I had never actually seen Hello, Dolly, so when people kept referring to the "waiter's dance," I thought they were talking about the big "Hello, Dolly" song.  I am a one-day-at-a-time kind of person, and was just working on the routines when the director told me to.   So when I finally noticed in the score the music for “Waiter's Gallop" - the one with no lyrics - I thought that was just an interlude piece for the band.  I can't quite remember how I came to realize that it was actually an eight minute dance routine for only the waiters!  I probably went into shock and have blocked that moment from my memory. But my spirited twelve dancing waiters have been motivational for me. In hindsight, I should have started that routine first instead of last, but it has come together and hopefully will entertain the audience. I don't want to give away all our secrets, but let's just say there's tap dancing , baton twirling, juggling, some upside down antics, perhaps some unicycling ( still trying to get the unicycle functional) and some hoochie-coo.  I thought the other challenge would be getting the entire cast to waltz, but they are such troupers, it was a piece of cake. All fun stuff, and I am going to miss this group come April 6 (the last performance.)

Hello Dolly pr photo


Blythewood Community Theatre's production of Hello, Dolly runs Wed. April 2 through Sunday April 6 at Westwood  High School.  Tickets can be purchased online at or at the door.

~ August Krickel



In Jasper Vol. 3, No. 4: Curtain Call: Workshop's Leading Ladies Look Back

"'All we are trying to do is to present good theatre.' So said unnamed 'leaders' of Workshop Theatre, in a 1968 newspaper article which assessed their first season and promoted the second. It's almost impossible to imagine that the group often referred to the upstart or breakaway theatre, founded by rebels or young Turks, is nearing the half-century mark, and harder still to imagine that soon the curtain will fall on their familiar location at Bull and Gervais Streets. Still, audiences know that a second act always follows that curtain, and that a theatre is far more than a building, however beloved that building may be. In keeping with this issue's theme of women artists, we thought it only appropriate to consider all that Workshop has meant to so many people over the years, and to tell its story through the eyes, ears, and memories of some - only a handful out of dozens, hundreds even - of its most distinguished leading ladies. ..." - August Krickel For the full story and photos, check out page 30 of the magazine below:

"Who Killed the Boss?" returns to Theatre Rowe in Richland Mall

d84d77727dd9310f1f28f928fc81eb7aIn preparation for the feature on Theatre Rowe Productions (aka Columbia Dinner Theatre, and the Southeastern Theatrical Arts Bandits, or S.T.A.B.) found on pg. 8 of the current print edition of Jasper, I attended a performance of James Daab's Who Killed the Boss? back in January. As detailed in the article, a fair number of this relatively new group's performances are a combination of dinner theatre and participatory murder mysteries, although other productions have included classics like Of Mice and Men, the upcoming Sunshine Class Social Committee (not a mystery, but still a dinner theatre performance, opening March 28th) and Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks (neither a mystery nor a dinner show, opening May 16th.) After a run of a few weekends, the mysteries then become part of the group's repertoire, and will periodically return, either at the home base in Richland Mall, or at any number of locations on the road (see for dates and hosting venues.) This weekend, Who Killed the Boss? returns with a vengeance, as befits any tale of tongue-in-cheek murder and mystery.  These shows are produced and presented for fun, since the dinner, the experience of an evening out with family or friends, and the interaction with the cast is as much or more of the end goal than anything else, so it's hard to do a traditional theatre review. Here then is more of an account of what you can expect. Arriving at the performance space upstairs at Richland Mall, I naturally wonder, as anyone 563538_4318149108081_811650345_nwho grew up in Forest Acres often does, not only who killed the boss, but who killed the mall?  Thankfully Theatre Rowe, their nearby neighbor Columbia Children's Theatre, and of course the movie theatres on the roof are ensuring that there is plenty of liveliness in the space where many of us once haunted Miri's Records, the Happy Bookseller, the Colonial store, the Liggett's drugstore, Woolworth's, and of course the air-conditioned, rocking-chair theatre.  Founder/owner/principal director (and frequent actor in performances) Philip Rowe greets me at a reception desk just inside, and this is where any details on reservations, tickets, etc. are worked out.  Usually, however, this has been already done over the phone, after you have made your reservations either online or by phone, since the mechanics of ensuring the right number of dishes for the right number of people make advance planning a necessity.  My choices this evening were simple - lasagna, or veggie lasagna, along with salad, rolls, and dessert.  There is usually a veggie choice, and since the menu changes nightly, you may want to make sure what the featured entree is, in case you have some special dietary need. Beer and wine are extra, and can be ordered from your server at your table.

A lovely young lady shows me to my seat, and introduces herself as Amanda, the intern. Sweet, I think - the theatre has gotten big enough to have interns!  A quick check of my program, however, reveals that there are three actors credited as "Amanda."  Lesson One: everyone is already in character when you arrive, and most often your server is also one of the cast.  Lesson Two:  most roles are double and triple-cast, meaning that depending on the dynamics of who is playing opposite whom, you may see a very different show than what someone else saw the night before.  The play begins, and as I'm told is common with this sub-genre of entertainment, especially in works by Daab, a scenario is quickly established to explain the dinner/audience scenario.  Here, we are all employees of National United Technology Services, and the setting is the annual office party. Previous/future titles include like Marriage Can Be Murder (similarly set at a wedding reception) and Murdered by the Mob (set in a speakeasy), so there's always some excuse for food and drink to be consumed. In keeping with the office setting, the characters - who will soon be our suspects - engage in a team-building exercise, which involves... you guessed it: serving dinner to a large group of people.

who killed the boss theatre rowe 12-M

Amanda the intern, played by Aleesa Johnson the night I attended, is sweet, young, naive, and hot. The role would normally be played by a blonde bombshell, a la Loni Anderson in WKRP, perhaps a tall, leggy super-model type, and/or a bubblehead, whereas Johnson is petite, tan, and perky. Which allows her to play with the character's lines, which are written broadly and almost generically, so that a wide variety of performers can do the role. Her cluelessness derives not from being dumb, but from being innocent: she marvels at how nice everyone is, like the IT guy who comes by her desk every day to spend time working on her computer, and the boss who promotes employee wellness by giving her shoulder runs daily. Bill the IT guy (Jesse B. Thompson in this performance) is of course a computer geek, which one would imagine as either an older guy, a la Les Nessman from WKRP (there are a lot of similarities to that classic comedy here) or perhaps Leonard from The Big Bang Theory. Thompson, though, is likewise a good-looking young 20-something, so he too plays with his characterization, using thick glasses, conservative dress, and a shy manner to portray a different kind of geek. Rowe himself plays Rob the sales guy, another WKRP type, whose cocksure manner is grudgingly tolerated due to his generation of the majority of the company's revenue. Rowe gets the lion's share of the laughs as a sort of smarmy, macho, annoying tool, and I'd love to see him play some gangster in Murdered by the Mob, or in The Altos, a Sopranos spoof produced last fall, and sure to return at some point.

Jesse B. Thompson as Bill the IT guy

Helen the office manager would normally be a controlling queen bee, in the vein of Joan from Mad Men, but Lisa Buchanan portrays her as more of a mother hen. Which is a great set-up for some of the comedy, when the ostensibly matronly figure unexpectedly lets down her hair to proposition another character. (Although I still recall Buchanan lasciviously writhing before me in another audience-interaction show years ago, when she played a particularly depraved Transylvanian party-goer in the original Rocky Horror at Trustus.) William Antley and Marcy Francis play the boss and his wife. Given the title of the show, it's no secret that the boss will be murdered, and Antley will return later as a different character to help the audience solve the murder.

The plot exposition is very much like any episode of Murder, She Wrote, with personalities and motives developed over the course of the first two scenes, just done with lots of comedy.  Actors roam around the space, sometimes sitting down in a spare chair at your table. It's more than theatre-in-the-round - it's like 3-D, total-immersion-theatre. In the particular piece, I'm told later that there isn't nearly as much interaction with the audience, but in some cases, actors will engage you in conversation, asking you about possible clues, or giving you the chance to interrogate them. The show begins at 7 PM (although the house - and therefore the bar - opens around 6:15.) Salad comes out after the first scene, followed by the main course at 7:40 just when the murder happens. A long intermission allows for leisurely consumption of dinner, followed by the investigation, a break for desert, your chance to try to solve the mystery, and your check (if you had drinks or anything extra) arrives by 8:30 or so, followed by the big reveal of the killer, and you're done by perhaps 8:45.   Lesson Three: if you turn in some silly wisecrack along with your guess as to the murderer's identity, like, oh, let's just hypothetically say something like "because I want to see her in handcuffs," your reasoning is likely to be read aloud to the audience. But that's encouraged.  Anyone who correctly ID's the killer wins a prize, often a discounted ticket to another show.  The food was good, and the overall experience was fun. Clearly both the cast and the audience were having a good time. Obviously, you don't go to a murder mystery looking for Shakespeare (although I still think Who's Killing the Capulets? would make for a great concept) but you won't be disappointed if you simply want a nice family evening out, with dinner and a show.

Philip Rowe, as Rob the sales guy

The night I attended in January had a smaller audience, as it was towards the end of the production's initial run.  It was a nice mix of all ages: a couple celebrating a birthday, a young husband and wife and their in-laws, a larger group enjoying couples' night out, some folks on dates, and a few individual attendees just there for fun. Other performances sell out quickly, meaning a hundred or more people in attendance, many often part of group reservations. Meals are provided by A&J Catering, a side project of the chef at the Clarion Townhouse, meaning that there is no on-site kitchen - the meals are delivered, making those reservations in advance crucial. Who Killed the Boss?  returns for two performances only this Friday, March 21, and Saturday, March 22.  Entree choices include chicken marsala and sautéed tilapia with chardonnay sauce, along with rice pilaf, and sautéed squash and zucchini. Mmmmmmm.  Tickets are going fast, so call 803-200-2012, or visit for information.

~ August Krickel

"Biloxi Blues" at Workshop Theatre - a review by August Krickel

biloxi1 Last spring, Workshop Theatre audiences were introduced to the young Eugene Jerome, a horny, wisecracking, young teenager with a sensitive, intellectual side in Brighton Beach Memoirs. The alter-ego for playwright Neil Simon in his acclaimed and semi-autobiographical "Eugene trilogy" (also referred to as the "BB trilogy"), Eugene has now matured. Into a horny, wisecracking older teenager with a sensitive intellectual side. It's 1943, and he's in boot camp in Mississippi, experiencing Biloxi Blues. Director David Britt returns with a strong and age-appropriate young cast to track this next step of Eugene's journey. The tone is intentionally uneven, alternating between classic sketch comedy, sweet romance, and intense, character-driven drama, and the language and themes are at times as R-rated as you'd expect from the setting, but it's an amazingly honest memoir from Simon.

As Eugene, Jason Fernandes strikes the perfect tone as a young man in the process of finding himself. He still has an incredible gift for wordplay and funny observations about life, which, as in the earlier play, he often delivers to the audience directly, narrating the play's action which stops long enough for him to break the fourth wall. Yet Eugene now knows he wants to be writer; he's read all the great authors whom he hopes to emulate, and in his journal, his observations on life and human nature are fairly deep and insightful. Matthew Broderick played the role on Broadway to great acclaim just before filming Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Eugene is a wittier (if less mischievous) Ferris, if Ferris were a Jewish New Yorker. (In one of those "Awwww" moments, Broderick evidently brought cast mate Alan Ruck, who played Pvt. Carney on Broadway, along to Hollywood, where Ruck played Ferris's best friend Cameron.) Fernandes's bio indicates he is from Long Island and a freshman in college, so he already has the accent and age down pat.  Resembling a young Adam Sandler, he successfully navigates the tricky jumps in tone from wisdom to naiveté to working the crowd like a Borscht Belt comedian.

biloxi3Another standout in the cast is William Cavitt as Wykowski, ostensibly the gung-ho bully in Eugene's platoon. Unrecognizable from the dapper British gentleman he played in High Voltage's Dracula last fall, Cavitt also excels at revealing the humanity in what could have easily been a stereotypical stock character. Stephen Canada also has some good moments as sad sack Carney, and like Cavitt, does a great job with capturing the Northern accent. Canada and Fernandes have a surprisingly touching scene which shows how clearly, yet simultaneously subtly, Eugene is growing up.  Seemingly insulting Carney as untrustworthy due to his constant vacillation, Eugene explains that they are both about to be in combat situations where decisiveness can save their lives, which is a very mature observation for a kid just a few weeks into basic training.

As local hooker Rowena, Jennifer Moody Sanchez is appropriately sexy and vampy, biloxi2showing trace elements of compassion as she realizes that she will be Eugene's first. (As above, part of the honest nature of this play is that we find ourselves rooting for an innocent kid to lose his virginity to a hooker.) Her Southern accent drips with magnolia blossom honey, much like Park Overall's film portrayal, and almost seems too extreme, but we've all known ladies from that era who drawl with great pride, plus this is a memory play, and that's surely how all Southern accents sounded to both Simon and Eugene.

biloxi6Winsome Haley Sprankle shines as Daisy, the adorable sort of red-headed Catholic school girl that we'd all go fight Hitler for in a heartbeat. Her scenes with Eugene are a great example of Simon's excellence with dialogue:  Eugene, as the surrogate for the playwright, has the advantage of a middle-aged Tony-winner from the 1980's writing his snappy lines, while Daisy speaks like the heroine of a 1940's war movie.  The way they flirt at a USO dance by bonding over literature is just incredibly well-written, and well-acted by these young performers: he is familiar with Fitzgerald's Daisy Buchanan and Henry James's Daisy Miller, she counters that she also likes Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and O'Neill's Anna Christie, and of course he points out that he likes writers named Eugene. That's the basis for true love right there, or what passes for it when millions of young men were shipping off to war, with no guarantee of return. Fernandes, Cavitt, Canada, Sanchez and Sprankle are also uniformly strong with projection.

A pivotal subplot involves misfit Pvt. Epstein (Colby Gambrell) and the harsh discipline biloxi5of Drill Sgt. Toomey (Lee Williams.) Eugene acknowledges Epstein's criticism that he is too much of an observer, recording his life experiences with a writer's skill, but rarely taking the lead. Both characters suffer from the anti-Semitism of the era, but Eugene finds a way to blend in via his wit and social skills, which is a recurring theme, and source of guilt, for many Jewish authors. Eugene rarely jokes in his diary entries, and writes that he admires Epstein, but suspects that he is a homosexual, which bothers him - and it bothers him that it bothers him. Which is about as eloquent and honest a line as I can imagine.

Toomey goes through the expected tyrannical procedures familiar to us from a hundred movies, and from the war stories of our fathers and grandfathers, but again, Simon shows his dramatic gift via tiny nuances of characterization: no matter how harsh Toomey is on his men, the one time he will come to someone's defense is if anyone within the unit is anything but supportive of his fellow soldiers. And sure enough, halfway through the play, no one is complaining about the physical rigors of boot camp any more, and the aggressive barracks-room banter has acquired a sort of rough camaraderie and acceptance. Epstein is often called the central character of the piece, but Gambrell rushes a lot of his lines, and more often cedes focus to Fernandes. Williams likewise has got the right anger and aggression for Toomey, but I never quite accepted him as a tough non-com, although he'd make a terrific rigid captain or major. That said, he is quite convincing in an unexpectedly tender moment when the platoon loses one of their own, calling the youth "son" as only a leader can.   Williams has had a baptism by fire in his first two years of local theatre, tackling challenging roles in works by Henley and Albee, and I look forward to more from him in the future. I also suspect that a few run-throughs with a live audience by the time you read this will have given Gambrell the opportunity to even out a little of his delivery.

biloxi4As above, several scenes are Simon's chance to lend his considerable comedic talent to vintage skits about fresh recruits bantering with their drill sergeant, and GI's with a weekend pass at a whorehouse. Other scenes, however, are genuinely moving drama, with Simon demonstrating that his career could have gone in the direction of his idols like Fitzgerald, had comic genius not been his meal ticket to fame. Simon is of course famous for his comedies, but we need to remember that he has more Tony and Oscar nominations than any other writer in the world. He has won the Pulitzer, and four Tony awards, including one for this very play, which beat out  Tracers, As Is, and new works from August Wilson and David Rabe, for best play in 1985.  The juxtaposition of jokes and raw emotion may be a little unsettling for those looking for The Odd Couple, as will the language and frank sexuality, but the pay-off is worth it.

A couple of random notes: I commend the male cast for fully committing to their roles - all sport military buzz-cuts, significantly helping the show's authenticity, and all manage to do some intense push-ups on stage while not dropping a single line.  Also, full disclosure, I may not be entirely impartial here, because a lifetime ago I played Eugene's older brother in the third play in this trilogy, and when Eugene declares that there must be at least 52 sexual positions, since he once saw a pack of dirty playing cards, I instantly thought "Well, his brother had to have given him those!"

Biloxi Blues runs through Sat. March 29th at Workshop Theatre; call the box office at (803) 799-6551, or visit for ticket information.

~ August Krickel



A heart-warming tour of "Second Samuel" - a review of the new show at On Stage Productions

There may be snow and ice across most of the southeast, but there is warmth to spare in the little town of Second Samuel, GA (so named after the Yankees burned the first town down) where colorful Southern eccentricity blends with a timely message of tolerance and acceptance. Pamela Parker's Second Samuel has been produced at dozens of theatres, from Wetumpka, AL, to Perth, Australia, and off-Broadway by this production's director, Robert Harrelson. Harrelson, the founder of On Stage Productions in West Columbia, has a nice little under-the-radar hit on his hands, and it only runs through this Sunday at the On Stage Performance Center, at 680 Cherokee Rd. samuel3

Our narrator and tour guide is B-Flat (Sam Edelson), an appealing, innocent young man (or older teen) given his ironic nickname by piano teacher Miss Gertrude for his lack of musical ability. (His actual surname is "Flatt," first initial "B.") B-Flat is just a little slow, or what they used to call "simple" in the play's 1949 setting. Think Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies, or Eb from Green Acres, just more loveable. As played by Edelson, one imagines that B-Flat is probably just awkward and perhaps dyslexic, with minimal education. His description of his hometown's quirks is fairly eloquent and insightful, in the manner of Big River's Huck (another under-educated outcast thought to be simple), and one local accurately observes that the boy may have more sense than anyone else. Plus his big heart makes up for any intellectual shortcomings. 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. Every character would be at home in Mayberry, Hooterville, or Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County. I mention these iconic rural settings from fiction not to imply that author Parker is necessarily influenced by them, but rather to note that she is working in an easily recognizable tradition, with all the stock character types - archetypes even - that we expect. What she does with them, however, is quite creative, and caught me completely by surprise.

the cast of Pamela Parker's "Second Samuel," down at Frisky's Bait and Brew.

1949 was the summer that the beloved Miss Gertrude died, and the play's action commences with preparations for her funeral, as everyone recalls how she touched so many lives in some way. Assorted plot twists transpire, taking the broad, southern-fried comedy of the first act into slightly more serious and meaningful territory in the second. Hilarious characters still are funny, but they face decisions that will define just who they are, both as individuals and as a community. A good parallel might be socially conscious sitcoms from the 70's like All in the Family, or warm family-themed shows from the 80's (e.g. Family Ties or The Golden Girls) where outrageous characters engage in outlandish antics, but there's still an "Awwwww" moment at the end.

A friend noted that everyone seemed perfect for his or her role. A few of the cast are clearly newer to acting, while some have been shining in lead roles for decades, especially at community theatres in Lexington and Chapin, but everyone plays a specific type convincingly. Parker's dialogue flows very naturally, and all the cast has to do is go where the words take them. Debra Leopard and MJ Maurer are especially convincing as histrionic ladies with big hair, while Courtney Long as pretty young Ruby has fewer lines, but is always enaged in the action on stage. As Leopard and Maurer squabble with the town troublemaker (Anne Snider) Long is giggling silently at every word, indicating how seriously the audience should take them. David Reed as the local funeral director has some inspired comic moments. Full disclosure: he and I did a show together 20+ years ago, and so I am familiar with his real voice and mannerisms. Here he affects the soft, high voice of a prim Southern gentleman, and creates a very believable character. Some of the show's biggest laughs come from physical comedy where Reed is drinking, while the beauty parlor ladies are screaming: everyone's pace and pitch is perfect, while Brandon Moore's split-second timing on light cues makes everything flow at a lively pace. Also deserving of praise is the sincerity that A.T. Marion brings to the pivotal role of "U.S." In rural 1949 Georgia, the challenges faced by U.S. as a person of color are obvious, and Parker never sugar-coats the historical context. U.S. wisely explains to B-Flat that each of them is different, but then, who isn't in some way? The charm of the town, and the play, is the way in which the town's residents ultimately look out for their friends. (They even pretend to believe the man who swears he was kidnapped by Nazis from a U-boat off Myrtle Beach , when everyone knows this was a story concocted to explain a week-long bender.)


The space at On Stage, a former retail shop that probably specialized in country-western attire, is limited, and director Harrelson does an excellent job of blocking, given the close quarters. More importantly, he has cast the right types to bring out the depth and nuances of the work, which 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.

On Stage Productions is now in its fourth season (see the current print issue of Jasper - vol. 3 no. 3 - for some details on its origin) and is a wonderful little gem that's not nearly as out of the way as you might think. From downtown Columbia, you simply cross the Blossom St. bridge and head out Charleston Highway, veering on to Airport Blvd. Cherokee Lane is the right just before I-26, which it parallels, and you're there in not much more than 5 minutes. When my friend Melissa saw and reviewed their last production, her young daughter told her "This looks like a fun place to do a show," and I heartily agree.

Second Samuel runs through Sunday, Feb. 16th - visit for ticket information.

~ August Krickel

Jasper talks with Aquila Theatre Artistic Director Desiree Sanchez about Fahrenheit 451, coming to the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College, February 7th

aquila1 Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College will host a stage adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Fahrenheit 451, presented by by New York City’s Aquila Theatre Company on Feb. 7, 2014 at 7:30 PM.

Desiree Sanche, Aquila's Artistic Director and the director of this play, filled Jasper in on the company and this production.

Jasper:   Tell us about the roots of Aquila.  Why is touring an integral part of that mission?

Desiree Sanchez:  Aquila Theatre was founded in London in 1991 by Peter Meineck while he was a student at University College London. The company at that time was called The London Small Theater Company and was primarily focused on Greek plays. Meineck formed the company with intention of bringing the greatest classical works to the greatest number and making Greek Drama both relevant and moving to its audience. Touring was a major component to this mission as it brings the work to a much wider audience.

Jasper: "Aquila" is Latin for "eagle" - why that choice for a title?

Sanchez:   We wanted a name that we couldn’t outgrow. It needed to be a name that was informed by the work and not the other way around. The eagle represents strength, leadership and beauty. Its Latin representation is both beautiful in its expression and classical in its origin. In Roman times, each legion had a designated legionary whose job was to carry an emblem of the aquila through battle. This eagle was a symbol of honor to the Romans, and it was the duty of the head legionary to assure that the aquila was never captured. We at Aquila Theatre see ourselves as artistic leaders who are committed to maintaining a high artistic standard, and never forgetting our mission not only to spread classical drama, but to continue to push the canon of what is a classic. We not only perform Greek and Shakespeare plays, but also Heller and Bradbury. I think people now associate Aquila with artistic excellence.

Jasper:   As you say, Aquila has presented classics from classical antiquity (The Iliad, Oedipus, The Birds, etc.) and from Shakespeare as well as adaptations of modern classics (Jekyll and Hyde, 6 Characters In Search of An Author, and now Fahrenheit 451.) What makes something a "classic," and why are these works so important for modern audiences?

Sanchez:    We like to think of a classic as piece of work that has had a lasting impact on the psyche of our culture. Each of these works you mention, which we have performed, has its own unique way of expressing fundamental questions of who we are and how we got to be this way. Classics often have allowing often suppressed questions of society and ourselves to the surface. For whatever reason we are compelled to watch others play these questions out.

Jasper:   This adaptation is by Bradbury himself, correct?  

Sanchez:  Bradbury did write this adaptation in 1979. It has not been produced very often. Though I did not see it, there was a production in the city in 2006, which was well received. Beyond the occasional amateur production, it has not been produced often.

Jasper:   How challenging is taking a show on the road, nationally?  I gather this show is being alternated with Twelfth Night, with both done in some cities, and it's a cast of only seven actors.

Sanchez:    That is correct. We have a cast of 7, and they all play multiple roles in both shows. This means that our actors have to be very versatile, disciplined and hardy.  The road is not for the faint of heart. There is a lot of time on the road, and the length of the tour is six months with a month off in December. This is a big country, and a lot can go wrong getting from point A to B, or in our case California to NY, Florida to Canada. For all its difficulty, our actors seem to get a lot from the tour. They definitely form close friendships with each other, and get to see some incredible parts of the country. They also can really hone their acting skills. It’s rare for an actor to have the opportunity to perform in rep for that stretch of time anymore. They always come back with amazing stories and it tends to be a tour they never forget. I always take it as a good sign when we get people who want to keep coming back.


Jasper:  We assume that the set has to be fairly minimal, and obviously easy to put up and take down and pack into the truck.  What are the mechanics?  How do you travel from venue to venue, and what sort of tech support do you have?

Sanchez:  We travel in a large but comfortable passenger van with a small trailer attached to the back. We try and keep our set creatively compact. Design is key. We have a Technical Director, Stage Manager and two assistants to the technical director. Our crew is highly skilled. Each venue is different. The local crews range from union to non-union to even student crews on occasion. This means our crew has to be able to deliver the same show with the standards no matter what the level of experience the local crew has. Our TD is very good at knowing how to adjust our equipment needs in each venue to get a top-notch Aquila show delivered on time.

Jasper: Aquila has a special relationship with Columbia and USC; how did that come about?

Sanchez:   Yes, Peter Meineck was an assistant professor of Classics at USC in 1998. He brought Aquila to South Carolina when it became a joint US/UK Equity company. The actors came from London and New York and stayed in Columbia during the summer and opened their shows at the Koger Center. Aquila worked with the school’s Masters program in design and had an internship program with the MFA acting program. Two actors from USC joined the company and Nate Teraccio, a USC undergraduate in the Honors College and one of Peter’s students also joined the company as a technician and rose through the ranks eventually becoming the company manager. Nate now works as the production manager for Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City, Thorne Compton, who was chair of the Theatre and Speech department and Peter Sederberg, Dean of the SC Honors College at that time, were instrumental in hosting Aquila at USC. After two years at USC Peter was offered a professorship ay NYU and Aquila was offered a company in residence position there. Three or four Aquila shows that went on to tour internationally and play long runs in New York were created at the Koger Center.

Jasper:  Burning and banning books comes and goes in America, and seems to have died down in the last few years.  Nevertheless, censorship is a HUGE issue for this country, as is intellectual freedom.  Why will this play/novel and its themes resonate with modern audiences, especially younger theatre-goers who may not be familiar with the work, and may not remember the Red Scare and the McCarthy era?

Sanchez:   I think resonates with our current society as it not only focuses on book burning but the over saturation of media, technology, reality TV and the lack of interest in anything that cannot be captured in a single headline. One of Bradbury’s characters in the play, Faber, has a great quote about the ban on books: “Remember the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord.” This play is probably too close to home for many of us. In our present society, I don’t think its censorship or intellectual freedom that’s the problem, but rather the general lack of interest in knowledge and history. There is definitely an inertia that is present in our culture, which allows for censorship and intolerance to thrive. Real education purely for the sake knowledge is not valued in our culture. We learn to perform for standardized tests, universities are pressured to cut their humanities classes so that they can make way for more “useful” subjects. History lessons are practically extinct in the elementary schools.  It is no wonder we rank 26th in the world. No new curriculum will ever be able to change this unless it can change the way we think as a society.


From press material:

Fahrenheit’s protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman whose job is to hunt down and burn outlawed books, as well as the houses that contain them. He goes about this occupation undeterred until he considers his enforcer role in the oppressive, dystopian society.   Through Montag, Bradbury questions the impact of information technology on literature and society. The ubiquity of cell phones, laptops and tablets makes Bradbury's work more relevant today.

Katie Fox, Director of Theatre Operations at Harbison Theatre, said “While we may not debate censorship as heavily as we have in the past, the effect of technology on our lifestyle and relationships has never been more prevalent.  When I learned that Aquila Theatre Company, one of the best touring theaters in the country, was producing the stage version by Ray Bradbury, I knew it was perfect for our college and community.”

Published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 is an early Cold War-era novel written against the backdrop of McCarthyism and the threat of a communist impression on America known as the Red Scare. During the McCarthy era, thousands of Americans were accused of being communists and communist sympathizers and were subjected to invasive investigations. Bradbury was concerned about censorship — and the threat of book burnings.

Harbison Theatre’s 2013-2014 Signature Season features eleven shows; view the entire season here: Fahrenheit 451 is presented on Feb. 7, 2014 at 7:30 PM. Tickets are $22 and can be purchased at Buyers may also order tickets via phone at 803-407-5011, or in person at the Harbison Theatre Box Office, Monday through Friday, 9 -4. The box office also will open two hours prior to each show during the season.

~ August Krickel

"Clybourne Park" at Trustus Theatre - a review by August Krickel

Photo by Richard Arthur Király Photography Bruce Norris's Clybourne Park, currently running on the Thigpen Main Stage at Trustus Theatre, is by definition an important play; any winner of a Tony Award, an Olivier Award (England's Tony) and the Pulitzer Prize for Best Play, automatically commands and deserves attention. The show is also an unofficial (but direct) sequel to Lorraine Hansberry's groundbreaking A Raisin in the Sun, one of the earliest dramas to realistically address issues facing modern African-American families.  Raisin was nominated for multiple Tonys too, won the NY Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play in 1959, and ran for several years, appealing to both black and white audiences; its plot centered around a black family's plans to buy a house in a white Chicago neighborhood.

Clybourne Park's first act depicts the conflict that was meanwhile taking place in the sellers' living room, and its second act fast forwards to 2009, where the same actors play different characters engaged in similar wranglings over real estate that are really all about race and class. Well-written, well-crafted, and thought-provoking, Norris's script is also funny, disturbing, upsetting, provocative, and frustrating. Top-notch acting and direction ensure that the author's themes and issues are presented with clarity and eloquence, but the ultimate message may be that we have not progressed nearly as much as a society as we like to think.

In 1959, Bryan Bender, Lucas Bender, and  Erica Tobolski portray a wholesome middle-class family who could be Ward and June Cleaver's neighbors. Their banal and affected chatter hides a family tragedy, which makes them eager to sell their home to the first bidder. Neighbors (G. Scott Wild and Rachel Kuhnle) and the local minister (Bobby Bloom) break the news that the buyers are a "colored" family, and drag the housekeeper and her husband (Ericka Wright and Wela Mbusi) into an increasingly volatile argument over integration. 50 years later, the neighborhood is considered traditionally African-American, and at risk of losing much of its cultural heritage to gentrification. Wild and Kuhnle now play high-strung yuppies who imagine  themselves to be liberal and progressive, while Wright and Mbusi, representing the neighborhood association, are a seemingly pleasant, reasonable couple who discover how easily their buttons can be pushed when it comes to race. Norris seems to be saying that while these characters (and by implication, Americans) can co-exist peacefully in certain circumstances, at the same time there's much left unsaid, rather than ever honestly dealt with or resolved.

Norris's script makes good use of contemporary vernacular and modern speech patterns where people talk over one another and cut each other off mid-sentence.  Director Jim O'Connor keeps action and dialogue flowing at light speed, and his cast excels in making every word seem natural. Several actors adopt believable Northern accents, although to my ear some sounded more reminiscent of Minnesota, a la the film Fargo, than the Chicago natives I've known, but there are references to the characters' German and Scandinavian roots, and the effect works either way. Tobolski's suburban Suzie Homemaker in the first act, clad in a lovely dress and a frilly apron, is almost a comic stereotype, but there's a legitimate reason for her demeanor. Bryan Bender is a master of Midwestern reserve in the first act, then switches to broad comedy in the second act as a whimsical and quirky workman.  Kuhnle gets some of the sharpest barbs and meatiest character mannerisms to play with, while Wild's performance is the most believable and nuanced. His character is the only one in the second act to make some effort to address the real issues at hand, although he botches this attempt terribly. Still, his hapless frustration is likely to strike a familiar chord with many in the audience, as his attempts at political correctness reveal biases he never realized.  Christian Thee's set design of a typical 1950's living room seems simple, indeed minimalistic, yet its inventiveness becomes apparent in the second act. Panels and units within the set are quickly replaced during intermission to seamlessly depict a half century of urban decay. Also of note is Baxter Engle's sound design: assorted cell phones, radio broadcasts, and unseen construction equipment sound exactly as they should.

Photo by Richard Arthur Király Photography

While the script has many genuinely funny moments, it's ultimately a dark and wicked satire of society's attitudes and misconceptions about race, and a number of uncomfortable questions are raised, explored, yet never answered. Forcing an audience to think about, and sometimes laugh at, important topics that are more easily ignored is sufficient reason to admire and embrace Clybourne Park as a work of literature and social commentary. O'Connor and his cast add a necessary and welcome human touch, bringing difficult characters to believable life.

Clybourne Park runs on the Thigpen Main Stage at Trustus Theatre through Saturday, Feb. 8; contact the box office at 803-254-9732 for ticket information, or visit

~ August Krickel

(This review also ran this week online at the Free Times.)

"Crimes of the Heart" - a review of the new show at Workshop Theatre

(L-R) Katie Mixon, Allison Allgood, Erin Huiett Tennessee Williams meets Steel Magnolias meets Charmed. That's how Crimes of the Heart might be pitched for a tv miniseries, as the power of three sisters reunited by family crisis enables them to navigate the murky swamp waters of Southern Gothic dysfunction. Beth Henley's dark comedy (or witty drama, depending on your perception) was all the rage in the early '80's, winning both the Pulitzer and the Critics' Circle Award for best play, receiving multiple nominations for Tony awards and Oscars (for its screen incarnation) and running for 535 performances on Broadway.  In ensuing years it has become a staple of regional and community theatre, due to its small cast, simple set, and easily-accessible-themes of love, loss, conflict and reconciliation among family members. These themes, being universal, have been addressed in other works before and since, and as a result, much of the material seems awfully familiar, but director Jocelyn Sanders has chosen a talented cast for her revival currently running at Workshop Theatre, and they ensure a spirited and lively evening of fun on stage.

The Magrath sisters can't get a break.  Their mother notoriously committed suicide when they were children, after their father abandoned them; the grandfather who raised them now clings to life in a hospital. Eldest sister Lenny (Allison Allgood) faces becoming a spinster as she turns 30 in small-town Mississippi in 1974, while free-spirited, scandalous middle sister Meg (Katie Mixon) is recovering from a failed show business career and a stay in a psychiatric hospital. Meg's return coincides with the arrest of youngest sister Babe (Erin Huiett) for the attempted murder of her abusive husband. As the play opens, we learn that even a beloved family horse was struck by lightning.  This all sounds pretty grim, yet most of the show plays like a situation comedy, as if Tennessee Williams had penned a terribly wicked episode of Designing Women. Lenny is a more functional version of The Glass Menagerie's Laura or Summer and Smoke's Alma, with Meg and Babe high-strung variations on Blanche Dubois.  (If in parallel time streams Blanche had either set out for California, or married a rich lawyer, only to give in to her penchant for young boytoys.)  Mixon portrays Meg fairly seriously, allowing the laughs to come naturally with the lines, while Allgood goes for a more comic interpretation, while nevertheless revealing assorted wounds and vulnerabilities.  Huiett faces the biggest challenge. In the notes I took during the performance, I see that at three different times I wrote "This is a woman on the edge."  Huiett employs an array of vocal mannerisms and affectations to convey a person repressing deep emotions, and some work better than others.  There's a detached, upwards lilt to much of her delivery, yet to me, it's indicative of her very tenuous grasp on stability.  Babe chooses each word very carefully, fearful that she may reveal too much about the shooting and what led up to it, and more fearful that recalling certain events may send her off the deep end.  It takes getting used to, but there is great power in her performance, especially in a riveting monologue midway through the show.  Huiett admirably sustains tremendous highs and lows over the course of more than two and a half hours. (There is only one intermission, in between Acts 2 and 3, so be forewarned.)

(L-R) Katie Mixon, Erin Huiett, Allison Allgood

Denise Pearman, George Dinsmore and Hans Boeschen (alternating in his role with Lee Williams) do good work as supporting characters; all function as plot devices to provide exposition, and to give one or more sisters a challenge or obstacle to overcome, yet each performer has some good bits. Dinsmore, as Meg's ex-boyfriend, becomes frustrated as he falls into familiar patterns of behavior; the actor flails his hand with unspoken emotion and powerlessness, giving a visual echo to the thoughts we know are within.  Pearman is the sisters' nosy neighbor/catty cousin, and perfectly captures the parochialism of a small-town "Ladies' League" member. (Interestingly, her hair is far more beautiful than her nature. Bless her heart.) Boeschen is growing as an actor, and is convincing as a rookie lawyer determined to save Babe from jail, while trying to resist his attraction to her. Although as Huiett observed in a tv interview promoting the show, good luck with that.

Director Jocelyn Sanders has successfully helmed a number of big-cast, big-budget musicals in recent years, but is back in her comfort zone of character-centric drama, with plenty of opportunity to focus on characterization, line readings and mannerisms.  At times the sisters, each histrionic and often hysterical, talk at once in rapid fire, but then Sanders will allow for a long and uncomfortable period of silence, to accentuate a particular emotion or realization. The entire cast does well with body language. Characters find themselves alone on stage, sometimes pacing frantically, or engaging in frenzied stage business, alternating with quiet and meaningful moments of reflection. The action takes place in the kitchen of the Magrath family home, with a finite number of places to locate the actors (a table, some chairs, the counter, a cot placed by a stairwell) yet Sanders keeps her cast moving rapidly yet naturally. She also creates some interesting stage pictures, as when Lenny, ostensibly the eldest and most grounded, rests her head in the lap of her younger - and ostensibly more troubled - sister, looking for comfort and reassurance.

Randy Strange's set is up to his usual level of excellence. A glimpse of a tree outside the kitchen window is well-lit by Barry Sparks's lighting design, which incorporates subtle shades of violet and blue to remind us of the time of day during different scenes. Baxter Engle's sound design incorporates a very believable ring for a busy kitchen telephone that thankfully sounds exactly as if it's ringing (instead of a sound effect coming from a speaker somewhere else.) I might add that on opening night the rings were timed perfectly, since nothing ruins a mood on stage like a phone still ringing after the actor has answered it.  Costumes by Alexis Doktor are.... well, I can't say attractive, so let's just say they are quite authentic for the 1974 setting, and are exactly what these characters would think are attractive.

Literary aficionados will surely catch hints and traces of everyone from Faulkner to Eudora Welty and Carson McCullers, while theatre buffs will spot themes addressed in the plays above. Younger audience members will have seen similar plotlines in a dozen or more made-for-cable movies. Still Henley is working in a tradition, and her work, and in particular this work, has influenced a generation of successors and imitators.  Were this the miniseries I imagined above, there would also be preceding scenes focusing on the Magraths' childhood years, and a conclusion where we learn if Babe prevails in court, if Lenny finds a "fella," and if Meg can ever pull it together. Instead, the play ends in media res, with the assurance that the reunited family unit will somehow find the strength to prevail.  Which is almost disappointing, but I thought about the implications over the weekend, and realized the bigger message. As each parental figure leaves, the Magraths' lives slowly unravel, and each sister grabs at some possible escape. Had they stayed together, Babe might never have ended in a bad marriage, or at least might have found the strength to leave it sooner. Lenny seems quite confident and happy when her sisters are around.  Even Meg, who provides most of the liveliness that keeps the family unit going, might make fewer bad choices if she were secure in the knowledge that her (remaining) family loves her.  Indeed, the implication is that the power of three together is more than the sum of its parts. When the sisters laugh and giggle and gossip together, their problems seem smaller somehow, and easy to overcome.  None of that would succeed, however, without the talent of cast and director working in concert to bring out the nuances and themes within the text.

Whether by design or fortunate coincidence, Workshop is revisiting some of the more important plays of the last few decades this season, each representing a particular genre.  Last summer's Doctor Dolittle was a classic tale for small children, while Beehive was a musical revue featuring girl groups from the 60's. Sleuth was a male-centric, sophisticated comic thriller, and here Crimes of the Heart represents female-centric theatre that addresses....well.... affairs of the heart. Up next is a vintage but decidedly male-centric Neil Simon coming-of-age comedy, Biloxi Blues, and the season concludes with a wacky and broadly comic new musical straight from Broadway, Young Frankenstein. That's a nice and representative tour through the repertoire of modern theatre, and exactly what one expects from Workshop.

Crimes of the Heart runs through Sat. Jan. 25th, with a 3 PM matinee on Sunday the 19th.  Call the box office at 803-799-6551 for more information, or visit .


~ August Krickel

One of 2013's best events - Jasper went to the 27th Annual Chili Cook-Off in Five Points

As 2013 draws to a close, we recall the many fun times, the huge number of cultural events, and all the seasonal festivals that we enjoyed in the Midlands this past year.  For my money, one of the very best was the 27th Annual Chili Cook-Off in Five Points last month. So before all the fireworks and champagne tomorrow, join me as I reflect on the day that Jasper went and ate some chili!

5ptCCO13_flyersPhotojournalist and Jasper staffer Thomas Hammond has braved the dangers of Lebanon and Syria in the middle of that region's worst conflict in years.  (You can see photos and excerpts from his account in a recent Free Times cover story, as well as here and here.) My only question was:  could he face down the fiery heat of a habanero pepper?

To that end, Thomas and I ventured into the heart of Five Points, to take part in and to document the judging of the chili as part of the 27th Annual Chili Cook-Off.  Founded as a festive fundraiser by the original owner of Group Therapy and situated in the early years in that popular bar's parking lot, the Chili Cook-Off has grown to be an annual event of the Five Points Association, stretching across several blocks along Greene and Pavillion Streets, and raising thousand of dollars for Camp Kemo and the Hope Center.  Scott "Hollywood" Fleming, the current owner of Group, serves as the Festival Chair, while his wife Christina Fleming coordinates the judges.

Arriving at noon, I took a stroll around the newly expanded festival area. The event now encompasses not  just the small block between Group and the Post Office, but also two blocks of Pavillion Street, which runs perpendicular to Greene, along side the park, where the annual Blues Festival was conveniently running simultaneously. It made for much more elbow room, and an easier flow of foot traffic, especially for the youngest and the oldest of attendees. Live bands, plenty of beer, and lot of college students notwithstanding, the Chili Cook-Off is unquestionably a family-friendly event, and there were plenty of grandparents with their grandchildren, and not just at the "Little Peppers" children's play area. Indeed, baby bjorns and buggies were everywhere, and in particular it was a pleasure to see new mom Lindsey Burns, a Group Therapy bartender/manager, out with her newborn baby daughter Augusta.  OK, OK, daughter Annelee Charlotte ... although I still think Augusta would be an awesome name.

There's a prize for "best set-up," i.e. how a contestant's booth/tent is arranged and decorated, and so some teams go all out.  One group was called "Breaking Wind," and wore  haz-mat suits; someone told me they had some type of blue rock candy on hand too, in a nod to the AMC series Breaking Bad.  Another team's members were dressed in Ninja attire, and were working on a "Sweet Ninja" vegetarian chili. A number of teams also had creative names; one of my favorites was a group of co-workers from Providence Hospital, whose chili was called "Holy Ghost Pepper." One of the guys joked that that they hadn't gotten permission from the sisters, but figured that if necessary, they could get forgiveness later. Budweiser had set up a gigantic, two-story mobile bar, the sort of contraption that looked like a Decepticon just waiting to transform into its true nature.

Thomas had not arrived just yet, so I checked out the VIP area, i.e. the front bar of the nearby Pour House.  Or in Columbia-speak, "where the old Frank's Hot Dogs used to be." I'm significantly less than a very important person, but the designation applied to judges and event sponsors, and Five Points Association Director Amy Beth Franks had graciously hooked us up with access-granting wristbands and event T-shirts, so I wandered in.  A friendly volunteer named Gloria welcomed all who passed in with a festive red pepper necklace and a hug. Gloria and I discussed other events where she has volunteered, often through COR, the Columbia Opportunity Resource, including the Crawfish Festival, the World Beer Festival, and St. Patty's Day in Five Points.  Inside, believe it or not, was more food, most donated by local businesses like Jimmy John's, Insomnia Cookies, Chick-Fil-A, Village Idiot,  Zorba's, and many others.  Budweiser had some Shocktop Pumpkin Wheat Beer available, and naturally I had to sample a pint.  It wasn't half bad, even though I'm normally not impressed by Shocktop, and really have to be in the right mood for a wheat beer.  Unless it's roasted dark into a dunkel weiss, a wheat beer often has an odd tang that people usually try to cut with something fruity,  either in the beer, or by way of a lemon or orange slice floating in it. In actuality, something bland works much better, like watermelon (in Skull Coast's wheat beer) peaches (in R. J. Rocker's "Son of a Peach") and now pumpkin. There wasn't any extra nutmeg or cinnamon or coriander like so many of the seasonal pumpkin microbrews, just a vague sweet richness, which along with the amber color was reminiscent of a Yuengling, even though that's a lager and this was an ale.

It was time to meet up with Thomas. The first band, The Other Brothers, were playing a languid acoustic arrangement of the classic Drivin' 'N' Cryin' song "Straight to Hell"  on a stage with its back to Harden St. and the Five Points Fountain. The weather was just as cooperative as one could wish for in mid-November, a balmy Indian Summer afternoon.  People were already sampling plenty of chili, donating a dollar or more for each cup, and the water bottle table, staffed by Kathryn Daughtry and her friend Felicia, was doing brisk business. (Kathryn is not only a popular and proficient Group Therapy bartender, but also Jasper's downstairs neighbor in the Arcade, where she works at the Over the Top Boutique. Also raking in the dollar bills was Emmy, the jello shot girl inside Group, where we headed for the judging.

Emmy, with jello shots, on Group Therapy's back patio

Christina Fleming  and Gretchen Lambert met us at Group's back bar, where the judging took place.  This is the L-shaped annex off the pool room area, where you can still meet someone "under the moose."  Starting around 1:15, cooks bought in samples of their chilis in uniform styrofoam cups, appearing to contain 16 oz. each. Christina and Gretchen then assigned each a number, and noted if there was anything special, i.e. if it was a vegetarian or extra-hot chili.  A few cooks had extra containers, with garnishes like sour cream or shredded cheese, so that those could be sprinkled on if desired.  I was fascinated by how incredibly organized the process was - after a number of years of experience, Christina has perfected this down to a science.  Tasting was blind - all the judges knew was a number, and if the chili was (intended to be) regular, extra-hot, or veggie.  Therefore, afterwards, when people said "Hey, which did you enjoy?" all I could say was "Umm... number 17, the one that seemed to have some curry in there."

Gretchen Lambert (L) and Christina Fleming prepare the samples of chili to be tasted - Copyright 2013 Thomas Hammond Photography

Since the judges were primarily volunteers from the community, event, and supporters of the bar, the Five Points Association, or all of the above - but not professional chili connoisseurs - all we did was give a score, from zero to five, to each chili in turn.  A judge or two in past years has griped that they were given no guidelines to follow, but honestly, chaos would have ensued if we had taken time to follow some official definition or set of parameters for  48 different chilis.  Instead, we simply graded them based solely on personal taste and preferences, and scores were added up at the end. Therefore, if someone was a hard-core traditionalist and felt that chili should contain only meat with no beans, or only beef with no other meat, they could judge and grade accordingly, but everyone followed their own agenda.  Which, realistically, seems to me the best and fairest way to do it.

You read that correctly, however.  48 different chilis!  There were some 12 or possibly 14 judges. 10 were listed in the festival brochure, but that didn't include me or Thomas, and at least one more didn't get his bio back to them in time.  Ten places were set up around the bar, with scoring sheets, but eventually there were four judges at a nearby booth... but I think two people switched from the bar to the booth.  So let's say 12.  Thomas wanted to stay mobile so that he could take advantage of good photo opportunities as they happened, so he stood next to me, but sampled everything as well, while I actually wrote down my/our score on the tally sheet.  I say "our" since we agreed on just about every chili. Although I think he might have been a little more generous than I - I gave mainly twos and threes, very few fours, and not a single five. But no zeros or ones either.

Copyright 2013 Thomas Hammond Photography

I've been around many photographers over the years, including being photographed by Thomas, but I never really paid attention to how they do it.  Thomas fascinated me - he'd be chatting casually about something, and then suddenly like a puma he’d pounce on specific photo opportunities, sometimes moving quickly and leaning in, shooting 3 or 4 pics in quick succession.    Christina and Gretchen provided an endless supply of plastic spoons.  The rules were simple:  one spoonful of each chili, no double-dipping, mark down your score, and pass the container to the next judge. You discarded your spoon, took another one, and repeated the process.  This made for a completely germ-free experience. (And just to be clear - Scott and Christina are among Five Points' greenest, most environmentally-friendly business owners, so I'm sure those spoons were appropriately destined for recycling.)

(L-R) Judges Katie Atkinson, Will Green, Jason Broome, and William Corbett. Copyright 2013 Thomas Hammond Photography

Among the judges were Katie Atkinson, Jason Broome, Will Green from The Whig, and my friends William Corbett (a Budweiser employee but long time Group regular) and Moffatt Bradford (who competed in the very first Chili Cook-Off in 1986.)  I wasn't there in 1986, as I was still living in Georgia before moving back to Columbia just a few months later, and I'm pretty sure I missed the next few years due to rehearsals.  I know for a fact I was at the 1995 installment, as I have photos, in which I was wearing the same denim jacket I realized I was now wearing 18 years later.

It was a really fast pace.    Those little plastic teaspoons were generally overflowing, so perhaps they were really closer to a tablespoonful.   By that reckoning, with 48 chilis to try, each of us ate anywhere from one (48 teaspoons) to three (48 tablespoons) 16-oz. cups of chili over the course of perhaps 45 minutes. A number of people later in thee day asked if I had heartburn or a stomach ache, as if I were one of those competitive Coney Island hot dog-eaters, but really it wasn't that much chili to consume, and within a few hours I was in fact noshing on some of those subs and sweets in the VIP area.  Thomas was on my left, and the cups of chili to sample started with him, then passed to me, and so on to each judge's right, then around to the back table.  In other words, were there any question about how hot something might be, Thomas was my go-to for "Hey Mikey" moments.  Moffatt arrived last, and so brought up the rear.  Although as you will see below, even those labeled hottest of the hot were really relatively innocuous.   Most 16 ounce cups were still 1/3 to 1/2 full after being sampled by everyone. Christina and Gretchen made sure everyone had a beer or two to help cleanse our palates, courtesy of Group, and I enjoyed a nice cold Yuengling Bock. Bock is defined variously as "a dark, malty, lightly hopped beer," "a strong lager of German origin, " and "a very strong lager traditionally brewed in the fall and aged through the winter for consumption in the spring."  It's one of my favorites, and if you like regular Yuengling, this is similar, just moreso.  More rich dark malt taste, but also more hops.

But how was the chili, you ask?  Nothing was bad although Moffatt grumbled, only half-jokingly,  that all were bad.  What he meant was that none were remarkably tasty, and none were particularly hot or spicy.  A few had some interesting seasoning, but often were undercooked, or were not technically chili at all.  About halfway through the process, several of the judges began to joke that certain entries were really just spaghetti sauce, or stew, but not chili.  Jason observed that so many chefs essentially "forgot what the hell salt is!"  i.e. all they needed was a little more seasoning to enhance decent selections of meat, chili peppers, and beans.  I suspect one could have improved almost every entry with a pinch to a dash of salt, pepper, chili powder and/or curry powder, cumin, garlic, and a dash of the hot sauce of your choice.

Presentation helped - the addition of cheese and sour cream certainly helped a few.  Feta cheese crumbled on top of one entry looked ridiculous but was an interesting taste - I'd love to be able to savor that dish more some day.  A number were either burned, or the chefs may have poured in way too much Liquid Smoke, or as one judge observed, possibly they burned the chili, then poured in Liquid Smoke to disguise it.  Some included interesting veggies beyond the customary peppers, beans and onions.  One featured bacon, although it wasn't crispy crumbled bacon but rather a strip or two floating in with everything else, and therefore it seemed a little  undercooked, and you could see grease floating to the top.  Another clearly incorporated sausage.  A few boasted venison which you couldn't necessarily distinguish, if for example the venison had been ground up along with the beef.

Several inventively used pulled pork, which is perfect for slow cooking with added spices, and soaks up hot sauce perfectly...but by definition, it's long and stringy and hard to eat with a spoon out of a small cup.  One chili improbably sported marshmallows on top, which added nothing taste-wise, and led to more than a few derisive comments.  One (almost certainly Joe Turkaly's chili, because I tried some at his booth later) featured brisket, which was tasty but, like many of the entries we sampled, could have been cooked longer. (A number of folks noted however that Joe got a late start.) That would be one lesson and recommendation I would pass along to all future contestants:  get started just as early as you can, so as to allow for the heat of the peppers and seasonings to be absorbed into the meat, and for the diverse flavors to meld together better.  One memorable chili towards the end, which turned out to be the Festival's overall winner, Chef Gary Uwanawich's Sizzle, included pulled pork, and was topped with a  bacon-wrapped poblano chili.

At some point during the judging, long-time friend and supporter of Jasper Rob Sprankle showed up. Rob, an accomplished local actor as well as photographer, was looking for a way to get access to the roof. While we suspect that more than a few Group patrons have tried to do that over the years, Rob's interest was legit, as he was taking photos for Camp Kemo, one of the beneficiaries of festival proceeds.


Rob's friend and high school classmate Dan Lowe is a frequent competitor and often wins the People's Choice award, i.e. the most money raised; his wife Fauni is a nurse manager at Children's Hospital, and according to Rob they are "very cool people and really care about the cause. They are such incredible unsung heroes in this community."  In fact, a number of Palmetto Richland staff comprised the cooking team.  Rob has graciously allowed us to use some of his photos here.  Later in the day I ran into his daughter Haley, and I took great delight in introducing her around as "quite possibly Columbia's most gifted teenage babe actress, singer and dancer."  Which is true, but more importantly mortified her, which was the goal.


Once judging was done, Kristina and Gretchen tallied the results, and our judging duties were complete. Thomas took off to document the spirit of the event via more visuals. (Thomas's photos can be seen at the Jasper Facebook Page.) Jason, Moffatt and I chatted with musician/actor/bartender Stanford Gardner inside the VIP area for a while, after which Moffatt and I took a stroll through the festival.  Local brewers Conquest Brewing had a tent, and I enjoyed a nice, rich, coffee-tasting Medusa Stout.  Other bands played, including Bossman, Atlas Road Crew, and Calvin and Friends. When word came down as to the winners, we congratulated Joe Turkaly, and were happy to meet his mother, who who introduced us to Slivovitz, a Croatian schnapps flavored with plum and juniper. The one question we forgot to ask her was if she had ever met Frank Zappa in the 1970's, which could explain much.  Joe has been competing in the Chili Cook-Off (and often winning) since the early 1990's.

This was the official roster of winners (the numbers refer to booth number) :

• Best Overall Set-Up:  Sweet Ninja Chili (#29)

• Best Vegetarian:  Team #45 (Jake’s on Devine)

• Best Bar/Restaurant Chili:   Riunite and Chili Rocks (#48)

• Best Edible Hot:  Nuclear Meltdown (#23)

• Most Money Raised (“The Silver Spoon Award” Winners) : Porky’s Revenge Pulled Pork Chili from Lowecountry Cookin’ (#37)

• Overall 3rd Place:  Texas Heat Carolina Sweet (#43)

• Overall 2nd Place: Killah’s Redemption (#7)

• Overall 1st Place:  Chef Gary’s Sizzle (#46)

The sun was starting to set as the official festivities slowly wound down around 6 PM. Many attendees took the occasion to head over to the adjacent Blues Festival, where    later slide guitar legend Sonny Landreth performed, followed by an all-star tribute to Frank Smoak.  It had been a delightful afternoon.

Why was this one of the most enjoyable events I attended all year? Simple. It was well-planned, and well-attended. Thousands of people were on hand, but there was never a sense of claustrophobia, and you could always move around freely.  There was plenty of food, not just chili; there were plenty of beverages for every taste. Everything went to a good cause. People of all ages and colors (and colors of hair, including assorted shades of Day-Glo) were in attendance.  Same-sex couples milled about holding hands, as did those of opposite genders.  There were plenty of silver-haired grandparents, but many were wearing denim jackets, and enjoyed a beer or two along with their chili. There were plenty of college students, but they enjoyed the vintage roots, rock, funk, and blues music that was being performed.  There were plenty of little children with parents and older siblings, and this was like another State Fair for them.  As far as I could tell, there was not a single "incident" anywhere, and indeed the whole experience was as safe as a school Maypole dance.  The entire day was simultaneously wholesome, and yet still a fun, throwdown party with beer and chili and rock-and-roll.  And that's about as good as it can get.

~ August Krickel


"A Christmas Carol" for the post-modern, steampunk generation - August Krickel reviews the new show at Trustus

ChristmasCarol2 When the pretty young lady, clad in Victorian-era garb but sporting short, natural hair, leans into the microphone and begins beatboxing, you know this isn't your father's Christmas Carol. It's still Charles Dickens's timeless story, however, but with plenty of reinvention from playwright Patrick Barlow, director/scenic designer Chad Henderson, and costumer Amy Lown.   Purists may raise an eyebrow or two at this post-modern take on a holiday classic, while purists of a different sort may wonder why Trustus Theatre is producing a family-friendly, feel-good version of a century-and-a-half-old novella, but there's no question that talent both on stage and behind the scenes ensures enjoyable seasonal entertainment with some decidedly non-traditional story-telling twists.

We're all familiar with Scrooge, but let's focus on Barlow for a moment.  He's best known for a stage adaptation of The 39 Steps, in which three actors played dozens of characters from the Hitchcock film, interacting with a rugged hero whose tongue was firmly planted in cheek; their quick changes of costume, wig, accent and gender, miming or improvising most sets and props while navigating the melodramatic plot and dialogue made for broad slapstick comedy.  Here Barlow uses the same technique, but retains respect for the original flowery prose.


Stann Gwynn, almost unrecognizable under heavy character make-up, plays Scrooge throughout.  The bulbous nose, ravaged face and bushy eyebrows (designed by Robin Gottlieb) are reminiscent of some of the dwarves from the recent screen version of The Hobbit - exaggerated but still believable - but more importantly, they seem to free Gwynn as an actor. He's played older before, he's done accents before, and he's played grandiloquent characters before, but I've never seen those all at once, with such sustained intensity over more than two hours. Avery Bateman, Catherine Hunsinger, Wela Mbusi, and Scott Herr portray everyone else, although the quick changes and jumps from one persona to the next occur fairly naturally.  Actors playing multiple roles is commonplace now on stage, and Barlow only occasionally uses that convention for comedy. Even the use of marionettes to depict young Scrooge and Tiny Tim prompts an initial surge of laughter from the audience, but then plays out in a fairly straightforward manner.  Indeed, I found myself wishing that there were a lot more comedy, even if improvised by the capable cast, especially in the first act. When Hunsinger appears as a sort of sexy, steampunk Spice Girl-turned-nanny in the second act as the Ghost of Christmas Present, the pace picks up, and Barlow occasionally veers away from the original Dickens text to insert jokes here and there, including a hilarious conclusion to Scrooge's dream that breaks the fourth wall unexpectedly.

Catherine Hunsinger - photo by Richard Arthur Király

All four of the mini-ensemble also double (triple?) as singers and musicians, providing mood music in the background via various instruments, and sometimes breaking out into traditional Christmas songs.  Both Hunsinger and Bateman, last seen together in Henderson's production of Spring Awakening two years ago, get to show off their lovely voices, but they actually are even more impressive in their mastery of multiple characters and authentic accents.  Dialect coach Marybeth Gorman (surely helped by Mbusi, a native of the U.K. who has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company) has ensured a lively mix of credible twangs and lilts that are mainly Cockney, "proper" British, and Irish, but I swear I heard hints of Manchester, rural Yorkshire, and Wales here and there, which was quite refreshing.

Stann Gwynn; photo by :Richard Arthur Király

A little more on the music:  sometimes, Henderson incorporates modern songs, from artists like Justin Timberlake and Panic! At The Disco. At other moments, the actors perform moody instrumental tunes, developed by cast and director before rehearsals began. Particularly effective are Hunsinger on cello at moments of poignancy and sorrow, and Herr on keyboards, creating menacing chords sung to by Bateman, as Mbusi appears as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  Henderson uses a Line 6 Delay Modulator to create a number of beatbox and hip hop effects, as well as a Vocalist Live harmony effects processor. The tech gadgetry is certainly interesting; I'm not sure how much it actually adds to the performance, but it certainly livens up the proceedings. What is especially memorable is the production design, which incorporates a painted facade of a London street scene, plus expertly detailed projected images (snow falling, the hustle and bustle of city streets, a clock's face moving forward in time, the logo of Scrooge's business, a time vortex a la Doctor Who) courtesy of Baxter Engle.  Those projections are seen on a large round screen of sorts over stage left, and enhance the setting so much that I'd be happy to see similar effects in future productions. Amy Lown's excellent costumes include elegant Victorian attire, saucy steampunk-chic couture, and an ominous, tattered Christmas Yet to Come that could have been designed by Terry Gilliam.

Avery Bateman as the Ghost of Christmas Past

Not everything works. The audio technology sometimes gets very loud, which is intended as a sort of in-your-face wake-up call to an audience that might get bored by the familiar material, but might be a little intimidating to the youngest or oldest attendees. (The show is completely G-rated, but its intensity, from the apparitions for example, might make this best for, say, age 10 and older.)  Sometimes the music and sound effects clash with the dialogue, and/or make it sound distorted.  The first act drags at times, and could use a lot more of the comedy found the second. A re-imagined Marley, his chains now controlled by the other three actors as if to signify his torment in the afterlife, seems awkward and unwieldy rather than scary.  Christmas Yet to Come is scary, but a Darth Vader-like heavy breathing effect got laughs where there needed to be chills.

This production is a new one, however, simultaneously opening here, off-Broadway, and at other regional theatres around the country, and new works are often revised. What impressed me about Barlow's adaptation is his incorporation of huge amounts of the original language from Dickens, made easily relatable by proficient performers, and his tweaking of its theme to resonate even more with contemporary audiences. Scrooge is no longer simply a cranky old man who had a sad childhood and bad experiences at Christmas; Barlow's Scrooge is now much more of a predatory lender, who seems to take delight in seeing the poverty of his fellow citizens, and gloats over his riches like Alberich and the Rhine gold.  Several of the supporting characters emphasize with great eloquence the "It takes a village" mentality, making it clear that charity and compassion are necessary far beyond the Christmas season.  It's no secret to local theatre-goers that director Henderson likes to liven up material that needs it with inventive staging.  I'd love to see him take this overall production theme - music, costumes, set design - and apply it to some classic of the stage like Shakespeare or Aristophanes.

At this point, one is likely to do one of two things. Either you will say "Wow - a Dickens classic with a twist, actors playing live music, Avery Bateman beatboxing, Catherine Hunsinger playing the cello and dressed as a steampunk babe - I've got to make reservations now!!"  Or all of that that may sound utterly ridiculous.  I must say that I had no real interest in seeing the story of Scrooge yet again, but I enjoyed this production; however, I generally enjoy these performers, and the way Henderson often toys with narrative technique for maximum dramatic effect.  Box office for this show will likely determine whether Trustus experiments more in this direction, or less.  But as I often find myself saying with local productions, either way, the people involved do a great job.

A Christmas Carol runs through Saturday, December 21st; contact the Trustus box office at 803-2254-9732 for more information, or visit

~ August Krickel

Brian Childers plays Danny Kaye this weekend at Workshop Theatre, and talks about his roots in local theatre

image This weekend, award-wining professional stage performer Brian Childers brings his critically-acclaimed one-man performance as Danny Kaye to the stage of Workshop Theatre for two shows only.    An Evening with Danny Kaye is co-sponsored by The Katie and Irwin Kahn Jewish Community Center as a fund raiser for the theatre. Show dates and times are: Sat. December 7 at 8 pm, and Sun. December 8 at 3 pm.

Childers, a Columbia native and veteran performer on local stages, took time recently to talk with Jasper about his career and this special production.

Jasper:  Tell us a little about your background, and how you became involved in theatre locally.

Childers:    I was born in Columbia, SC, and graduated from Irmo High School.  My first "role" was in a production at our school assembly. I played the Narrator, and my mother says there was no stopping me. I was singing from the time I was able, and sang in church and school all the time. I did my first children's theatre rroduction with (Bette Herring's) Upstage Children's Theatre in Columbia many years ago, but I really cut my teeth on working with such theatres as Workshop Theatre, Town Theatre and the Lexington Arts Association.

Jasper: What were some especially memorable shows at Workshop, and some people you really enjoyed working with?

Childers:  Growing up in Columbia, I always wanted to be in a show at Workshop Theatre, and I got the privilege to be in several shows there.  I did And the World Goes Round, a play called Scotland Road, Scrooge, the Stingiest Man in Town, and one of my all time favorite theatrical experiences was playing John Adams in 1776 at Workshop. I worked with such directors as David Swicegood, Cindy Flack, and Clarence Felder. I loved every set I have ever seen built by Randy Strange. I really love the staff and crew at Workshop.

Jasper: At what point did you make the transition into acting professionally?

Childers:    I finished college, and came back home for a year and a half, not sure what was the next step to take. I actually did a full season and a half of back-to-back shows at Town Theatre and Workshop Theatre. Those were some of the best times that I can remember. After that season I decided it was time to head up north and try my wings in show business.  I decided not to move directly to New York. I had many friends who had up and gone to the Big Apple and had not worked since!  Instead, I decided to move to Washington D.C.    There was, and is, a thriving theatre scene there. I thought that if I couldn't get cast in Washington, I certainly was not going to get cast in New York. I was incredibly lucky in Washington:  I worked constantly for the next 5 years.  (After) my first audition, I landed the role of Emory in Boys in the Band at my first professional theatre company, The American Century Theatre. It was this theatre that brought about the life changing role of Danny Kaye.

Jasper:  You first played Kaye in Danny and Sylvia; how did you initially get cast?

Childers:  I was in a production of Hollywood Pinafore with The American Century Theater.  I was playing the role of Raif Rackstraw. When Jack Marshall (the show's director and the artistic director of the theatre) and I discussed what to do with this character, unbeknownst to us at the time, we really shaped him as a Danny Kaye-type without meaning to. There was one scene in particular that Jack saw me play and apparently the lightbulb went on.  Jack had had the script on his desk of Danny and Sylvia, but was convinced he needed someone who really could be Danny. So when Jack saw the scene in the show he ran back to me at intermission and said, “You are going to play Danny Kaye, and I have a script on my desk.”  I immediately said "Oh, I love Danny Kaye", but the truth was I knew very little if nothing about him. I went home that night and googled Danny Kaye... and then I thought "WHAT HAVE I GOT MYSELF INTO??"   Once we started rehearsals with Jack Marshall, I knew all was going to be fine. He directed me and taught me how to play Danny Kaye.  And that was the start of this incredibly long wonderful journey. I have been playing Danny Kaye on and off for over 13 years.

Brian Childers as Danny Kaye

Jasper:  Kaye was a huge star at one point, but perhaps not as well known now to modern audiences, apart from his iconic role in White Christmas. What do you think about him as a performer, and then as a character to play?

Childers:  Danny was really a genius. He could sing, dance, act, clown, and hold an audience in the palm of his hand. He was a true entertainer. That word isn’t used much these days. You have a singer, or a dancer, or even a triple threat, but Danny was much more than all those things. At one point he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood.  Danny conducted symphony orchestras, was a professional Chinese chef, a pilot and was fascinated by surgery of any kind. Versatile was definitely a way to describe Danny.

Playing Danny as a character has been one of the greatest challenges and most fulfilling things I have ever done as an actor and performer. Danny was complicated offstage and yet was so wonderful with an audience onstage. It's a dream for any actor to dive into a role like that.

Jasper:    What are some particularly enjoyable roles and shows that you have done?

Childers:  Of course playing Danny Kaye Off-Broadway for three years was pretty spectacular. Danny still remains my favorite role. When I first arrived in DC, I landed the part of Emory in Boys in the Band. Perhaps because it was my first real professional experience,or just the great character that it is, I loved that role. I was fortunate to be cast in a brand new musical called 90 North at the Kennedy Center, which made me a member of Actor's Equity, the theatrical union. I played Tom Sawyer on the National Tour of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and loved the cast and the role.  And starring in a national tour was a very big learning experience.   I actually loved playing John Adams at Workshop Theatre in 1776. When I got the call that I was cast, I was floored.  I told the director I was entirely too young, and I was performing with some terrific actors in the theatre scene there at the time. He told me trust him, and it would be fine. I did, and I loved the role and the cast of that show.

Jasper:  What can audiences expect from this performance in Columbia?

Childers:  An Evening with Danny Kaye is just as it sounds. I have been in several different book musicals of his life, (including) Danny and Sylvia and another very successful show I did called The Kid from Brooklyn. Both covered his life story. This show is not that.  Danny used to perform one-man concerts all over the world. Many people over the years came up to me and said "Why don't you do a show that was like the concerts he used to do?" So I put together this show. The idea is that the audience is coming to see Danny in his one-man concert.  There is nothing but music and stories. I perform some of his greatest material, from  "Tchaikovsky", "Minnie the Moocher" to  "Hans Christian Andersen" and of course "White Christmas". The show is filled with great music and laughter - a fun and exciting evening at the theatre. My hope is that it will bring nostalgia to some and for others (introduce) this great performer to a new generation.

Brian Childers

Jasper:  Finally, why do you feel organizations like Workshop Theatre are important to a city like Columbia?

Childers:  I believe that theatres such as Workshop play a vital role in both the community and in the cultivation of young talent. Community theatre enriches the lives of those who take an active part in it, as well as those in the community who benefit from live theatre productions. On either side of the footlights, those involved represent a diversity of age, culture, life experience, and a strong appreciation of the importance of the arts. Places like Workshop Theatre are essential and must be preserved and nurtured. I know that I would not be where I am without actively taking a part in Workshop Theatre. It is a privilege to be able to return and perform at Workshop Theatre.


Brian Childers won the Helen Hayes Award for Best Actor in a Musical for  Danny and Sylvia: A Musical Love Story, as well as the Mary Goldwater Award for his portrayal. The  New York Times wrote that this was "an outstanding performance by Brian Childers as Kaye," while Talkin’ Broadway said: "Childers makes you feel as if you are watching the real Danny Kaye. Every gesture is perfect and he has mastered the mimicry and dialects that were such a great part of Kaye's performances."  In 2014, Childers will play the title role in The Jazz Singer Off-Broadway.  You can also learn more about his career at

Details on this special performance can be found at the Facebook event page  and at the Workshop Theatre site.  Tickets are available online,  or call the Workshop box office at 803-799-6551.

~ August Krickel


"Venus in Fur" - a review of the new show at Trustus Theatre by August Krickel

Jennifer Moody Sanchez and Bobby Bloom in "Venus in Fur," running through  Sat. Nov. 16 on the Trustus Mainstage - Photo by Richard Arthur Király  Thomas is a serious author, determined to bring an influential work of Victorian eroticism to life on stage. Vanda is a brassy, uncultured actress. who assumes she's auditioning for glorified "S&M porn." Which she's totally down for.  His pencil-thin mustache, chiseled jawline, and rich baritone delivery channel his 19th-century protagonist, as he reads lines from classical poetry and his own play with passion and conviction. She shows up wearing lingerie and heels under a raincoat, although she assures him that "usually I'm really demure and sh!t."  He's Errol Flynn by way of Don Draper, dismissing her with a suave "if you will;" she’s Miley Cyrus, rendering his expression into the more modern "Whatever."

In Hollywood, this mismatched couple, played by Bobby Bloom and Jennifer Moody Sanchez, would be destined to fall in love. Off-Broadway, where David Ives's Venus in Fur premiered before a seven-month, critically-acclaimed run on Broadway, she's destined to tie him up and make him beg for more.  The new production at Trustus Theatre (which only runs through this weekend) is many things simultaneously:

- a seemingly straightforward, 2-person character study of actress and first-time director who begin  to take on the personas of their fictive counterparts as they run lines from his play.

- a recreation of the infamous 1870 novella, by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, whose surname gave us the term "masochism," and who attempted to explain dominance and submission (from a man's perspective, anyway) in terms of reverence for an all-powerful, goddess-like image of female perfection.

- a contemporary examination of gender roles, and how women are portrayed and perceived in art, and in life.

- a murky journey through primal, mythological themes of mother goddesses and retribution.

- a covertly wicked satire of the audition/rehearsal process, where a director's routine instructions to a performer (e.g. "Stand there. No, more to your left. Now do the scene again. Again.  Stronger this time!") become a metaphor for S&M, and vice-versa.

- a fast-paced comedy, at times, with plenty of laughter and wit.

- a thriller in which both leads may have hidden agendas: how does Vanda know so much about Thomas's new play, and about his life? How is she able to give such a sophisticated reading, when Thomas feels she fails to understand even the basics of the character?  And is Thomas simply an up-and-coming playwright with vision, or does he have way too much attachment and connection to the themes explored in his work?  There's thunder, and lightning, and the way she loves him is frightening.

Jennifer Moody Sanchez and Bobby Bloom in "Venus in Fur," running through  Sat. Nov. 16 on the Trustus Mainstage - Photo by Richard Arthur Király

Bloom and Sanchez are alone on stage for nearly two hours, with no intermission (so be sure to visit the bar, and/or the facilities, just before curtain.) The play is a showcase for two talented performers, and they never disappoint. Both excel not only in embodying their primary characters but also in switching to their roles in the play-within-the play, whose own natures evolve as the show progresses.  As Vanda, Sanchez is all awkward arms and legs; as Wanda, the role she reads for, those limbs become elegant, willowy, and graceful.  She gets the majority of the laugh lines, while Blooms gets most of the play's eloquent ones, as when he describes how "two people meet, and ignite each other." Both are to be commended for bravery on stage, with Sanchez spending half the show in lingerie (although no more revealing than a typical swimsuit at the beach) and Bloom forced into moments of extreme emotional vulnerability.

Jennifer Moody Sanchez  in "Venus in Fur," running through  Sat. Nov. 16 on the Trustus Mainstage - Photo by Richard Arthur Király

The show is quite talky, esoteric, and abstract, with references to Tristan and Isolde, Paris and Anchises, Dionysus and the Bacchae.  Clues and red herrings, are dropped throughout as to what really may be going on, but when Thomas and Vanda reach an impasse, where he decides she is wrong for the role, and she implies that she never wanted it, something compels both to finish the scene, as if their fictive counterparts' lives are more important than their own.

A surprise ending may leave some feeling empowered from an uplifting and important, if shocking, message; others may feel cheated or short-changed. Scholars of theatre, history, and literature will appreciate a return to the form's most archetypal roots,  while a few  may simply echo the sorority girl from the viral video, saying "Wait.... what?"  I wonder if Ives began with a stage version of the original novella, then realized that it needed post-modern commentary and analysis via the framing device of the audition, and finally realized that he had painted himself into a narrative corner, with no way for a believable denouement. Or perhaps the final five minutes are the only logical way for this piece to play out, exactly as Ives intended.  However, as I expressed to the cast - this isn't hard when there are only two - screw the ending if you don't like it, because for me the play was all about the journey, not the destination.  It's a great chance to see two gifted young performers, capably directed by Jim O'Connor,  in the roles of a lifetime, and you will definitely be talking about the issues and themes addressed on your way home.

Because of the production’s limited run, there will be two performances on the evening of Friday, Nov. 15, at 7:30 and 10 PM. For more information or reservations, call the box office at 803-254-9732, or visit

~  August Krickel

27th Annual Chili Cook-Off in Five Points Sizzles This Saturday, Nov. 9th!


There's an art to creating the perfect batch of chili.  Jasper, being the Word on Columbia Arts, after all, naturally has an interest, not just in the chili itself, but also in the music featured at the 27th Annual Chili Cook-Off in Five Points, and of course in Camp Kemo and The Hope Center, which benefit from the day's proceeds.

You read that correctly - this really is the 27th annual event, which was started by Group Therapy, and continues in and around that block of Greene Street near the Five Points Post Office, just one block over from Columbia's 19th Annual Blues Festival which takes place the same day. (Meaning that as a child of the new millenium, you can indeed have it all.)   This year the Five Points Association promises all sorts of upgrades to make the day all the more enjoyable, including more music, an expanded event area, additional food and beverage options, and more attractions for families (including those little festival attendees.)

First, there's a new entrance, at the intersection of Santee and Pavillion - that's just the Calling All Chefsback side (closer to the park and the post office) so as not to cause traffic jams on Harden Street. As you enter, you can grab a program, which includes a festival map, the entertainment line-up, details on the chefs, and some sidewalk sale info.  And indeed, there is decidedly more room to move around in this year, as the "festival footprint" will cover the 2100 and 2200 blocks of Greene Street, AND the 700 and 800 blocks of Pavillion Avenue!  Which sounds good to us - Jasper loves togetherness and all, but a little elbow room is nice too.

The event goes from 11 AM to 6 PM, and is of course free, and open to the public. Live music starts around 11:30 or so, with four, count 'em four bands playing throughout the day.  Here's the roster:

11:30 am - 12:30 pm - The Other Brothers

1:00 pm - 2:00 pm - Bossman

2:30 pm - 3:30 pm - Atlas Road Crew

4:00 pm - 6:00 pm - Calvin and Friends

Meanwhile, the focal point of the day is of course the chili competition - and sampling all that the competitors have to offer. Beginning at 1 PM, in exchange for a donation, attendees can taste and enjoy chili from an estimated 50 or more competing teams.   All proceeds from the event will go to Camp Kemo and The Hope Center, including sales from chili, beer and merchandise.  All entries will be samples by a panel of judges, with awards going for:  Overall Best Chili, Best Vegetarian, Best Edible Hot, Overall Best Set-Up, Best Bar/Restaurant and Best Fundraising.


New this year will be more choices for beer - - in a Gourmet Beer Garden, and even some non-chili food items, courtesy of the Pawley’s Front Porch Food Truck. Other highlights of the festival include the Little Peppers' Place in the 800 block of Pavillion Street, a children's area, free and open to all ages, featuring a bounce house, a 15-foot mega slide, the Ladder 9 fire truck, face painting, sidewalk chalk, bubbles and more.   In conjunction with the Chili Cook-Off, a number of Five Points shops and retailers will be offering sales and specials all day long during the Annual Fall Sidewalk Sale.   Also look for the official “Merch” tent for brand new 2013 Chili Cook-Off men's and ladies tees, aprons and koozies.  All proceeds from the sale of merchandise also go to Camp Kemo and The Hope Center.

Camp Kemo is a weeklong summer camp for patients with cancer, ages 5-18, and their siblings.  Staffed by Palmetto Health physicians, nurses and volunteers, Camp Kemo allows campers to swim, boat, hike and be kids.  The fun times at Camp Kemo lay important groundwork for future treatment as participants learn to trust, respect and relate to one another.  Camp Kemo is completely funded by community donations.  The Hope Center assists people with disabilities in meeting their needs, pursuing their dreams and achieving their goals; their goal is also to minimize the occurrence and reduce severity of disabilities through prevention.  The event is presented by the Five Points Association, a non-profit organization whose principle task is ensuring that Five Points stays an integral and important part of the city of Columbia. For more information on the vent, visit or the event page on Facebook.

~ August Krickel