REVIEW: A Bright Room Called Day by Frank Thompson

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was

the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the

epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the

season  of  Light,  it  was  the  season  of  Darkness,  it  was  the 

spring  of  hope,  it  was  the  winter  of  despair,  we  had 

everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were

all  going  direct  to  Heaven,  we  were  all  going  direct  the 

other way—in short, the period was so far like the present

period…”

 

-Charles Dickens

“A Tale Of Two Cities”

 

   After seeing Trustus Theatre’s production of A Bright Room Called Day on opening night, I have made it a point to “talk up” the show as much as possible, but (with sincere regret) I have just now been able to write a review. With all due apologies and a promise not to make a habit of late-posting, I would like to now offer my thoughts on what may be the most riveting show I’ve seen at Trustus since August: Osage County, a couple of seasons ago. There are two remaining performances, Friday and Saturday, 2 and 3 February. In brief, you need to see one (or both) of them.

   While a completely different show in almost every way, A Bright Room Called Day does have a quite literal kinship with its predecessor. August: Osage County was the last show directed at Trustus by its beloved founder, the late Jim Thigpen, and his daughter, Erin Wilson, masterfully directs A Bright Room Called Day. This is the first of Wilson’s work I have seen, and it’s quite clear that both her professional training and the lessons she no doubt learned at the knee of her father have come together to create an insightful, skilled directorial eye and style all her own. Wilson’s attention to the small details of movement and human interaction in a confined space creates a pleasantly cozy feeling in the early scenes, which slowly morphs into a trapped, claustrophobic aura by the end of the performance. (Ironically, as fewer people occupy the room, it seems to grow smaller and more prisonlike.) 

   Pulitzer-winning playwright Tony Kushner wrote A Bright Room Called Day in the 1980s, outraged at then-President Reagan for his (Reagan’s) lack of any apparent concern over the AIDS crisis. (Indeed, Reagan is invoked in the modern-day side story that serves as a point of comment on the main story. More on that in a moment.)

 

   Though Reagan was the bete noir when the show was penned, Wilson has, without changing the script, clearly suggested that we examine the politics of 2018 and what’s going on all around us. The story, while interesting, is an oft-told one. A group of what might well have been called “undesirables” share good times together, only to be divided both philosophically and literally by the rise of The Third Reich. The scenes set in early 1932 could easily have been played in a contemporary 2016. Liberalism seems firmly established, there’s toasting and optimism (the show opens on a New Year’s Eve celebration), and the charmingly eccentric group of characters we meet are leading happy, bohemian lives and freely share their common views as well as their disagreements without rancor. There’s an opium-addicted film star, a devout Communist, a homosexual man-about-town, a one-eyed film-maker, and a seemingly meek actress of lesser fame, who owns the apartment and revels in their company.
 

   As the scenes and time progress, we sense a growing feeling of unease as Germany begins to undergo a multitude of bad decisions and changes for the worse. Through dialogue and a positively masterful use of projected titles, we follow the Nazi party’s initial defeats, its growing influence, and President von Hindenburg’s eventual hesitant appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor. From there begins the inevitable unraveling of the social fabric, both large-scale and among the small circle of leftists who inhabit the small apartment.

   Without beating the metaphor to death, or even mentioning his name, the “Trump as Hitler” theme rings loud and clear, speaking not only to the skills of the director and cast, but also to the timelessness of Kushner’s script. The 1930s scenes are intercut with a series of 1980s monologues by a young woman of high-school age (remember the side story?), who writes daily hate-mail letters to President Reagan, and offers a great deal of commentary that is just as applicable today as it was in the days of The Love Boat and the Commodore 64 computer.

   The second act brings to the forefront the horrors of Berlin in the early 1930s. The Reichstag fire, book-burnings, and the official opening of Dachau are mentioned, one of the characters suffers a beating, another essentially chooses to collaborate, still another flees for his safety, and Agnes, the owner of the flat, wonders aloud if she will ever leave.

   There are also other visitors to the apartment, none terribly welcome. A pair of friendly-but-don’t-push-us bureaucrats visit Agnes to “encourage” her to rethink her upcoming performance of a skit involving a “Red Baby”, complete with painted baby doll to emphasize the message. There can be tremendous intimidation in ersatz kindness and calm, and the actors in these roles convey just that.

   The story takes two turns toward surrealism in the characters of Die Alte (which, thank you Google, translates to “the old” or “the ancient”) and Gottfried Swetts, who just happens to be Satan. As the representatives of the otherworldly, each is clearly defined as unique in the reality of the main story. Die Alte is wraithlike, eerie, and seems to move freely about within the darkness. Swetts, by contrast, is dressed spiffily in an expensive-looking suit and topcoat. (A word to the wise: don’t pet the Devil’s dog.) At first the inclusion of these characters seemed out-of-place to me, but upon further reflection, what could be more appropriate than vaguely malevolent absurdity in a play about a historically significant collapse of reason and sanity?

   By now you have probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned any actors by name. That’s because director Wilson and her team have produced an almost-flawless piece of ensemble theatre by a cast of top-tier performers. There is no “standout” because this group contains no weak links. The roles are superbly cast, and the chemistry amongst them is clear. Therefore, I offer my congratulations and unfettered praise to Krista Forster, Jonathan Monk, Jennifer Hill, Becky Hunter, Alex Smith, Mary Miles, Frederic Powers, Elena Martinez-Vidal, Paul Kaufmann, and Avery Bateman. Each of you truly disappeared into your characters.

   Danny Harrington does a commendable job with the set, somehow making a pre-war German flat and a 1980s classroom cohesively exist on the same stage. In what may or may not have been a deliberate choice, one of the paintings on Agnes’ wall is partially obscured by what seems to indicate either fallen plaster or water damage. This image spoke strongly to me, and seemed an apt representation of how none of the characters, from the most innocent to the most evil, ever seemed to grasp the larger issues, or “see the whole picture” if you will.

   With one final apology for being so late in turning in my homework, I strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t yet seen A Bright Room Called Day to catch one of the two remaining performances. You’ll leave thinking.

Reviewer Frank Thompson

Reviewer Frank Thompson

Bakari Lebby Directs Jon Tuttle & Cindy Turner's SYZYGY Play, One Another

Bakari (Kari) Lebby - photo by Singing Fox Creatives

Bakari (Kari) Lebby - photo by Singing Fox Creatives

by Jenna Schiferl

 

In astronomy, syzygy is the alignment of three celestial objects.  The origins of the word date back to as early as Ancient Greece, where the word suzugos meant ‘yoked’ and ‘paired.’

 

As part of the upcoming total solar eclipse celebrations in Columbia, The Jasper Project is launching a three-part series featuring South Carolina’s top poets, playwrights, directors, and actors.  SYZYGY will kick off on Thursday, Aug. 17 with a poetry invitational and book release at the newly renovated Richland County Public Library Auditorium.  Later that day will begin the SYZYGY: THE PLAYS. Six local playwrights were asked to create a 10-minute piece with three actors or less.  The only other requirement was that each performance includes two and a half minutes of “darkness” to continue in the theme of the solar eclipse.  Finally, the project will conclude with SYZYGY: POSTMORTEM, a panel discussion and reflection led by playwright Jon Tuttle and Columbia Poet Laureate Ed Madden.  The discussion will delve into topics such as the processes of culture transitioning to art and its effectiveness.

 

University of South Carolina graduate Bakari Lebby will direct Jon Tuttle and Cindy Turner’s drama, One Another.

 

Jasper executive and editor-in-chief Cindi Boiter approached Lebby to direct the play, who was immediately on board.

 

According to Lebby, One Another is incredibly relevant to the current political climate.

 

One Another is about trust and privilege. I believe it is a very timely piece,” Lebby says.  “I'm excited for people to view this piece and contemplate its relevance to this country and them personally.”

 

Although the play is limited to 10 minutes, Lebby and his team are working to create a fully developed and cohesive storyline.

 

“We're working hard to flesh out a full true story,” Lebby says.

 

The three actors featured in the play are Akida Lebby, Jason Stokes, and Avery Bateman.  Lebby emphasized the impressive cast when asked why individuals should be interested in seeing the play.

 

“We have veteran Trustus Company members and my little brother, so I think it's worth seeing their artistic prowess,” he says.  “I'm very stoked and thankful for this opportunity, and I hope we keep pushing the boundaries of theatre, art, and the culture of Columbia.”

 

Ultimately, the night will be one with themes of alignment, synchronization, and of course – darkness.

 

SYZYGY: The Solar Eclipse Plays will be performed at 7 pm and 10 pm on Thursday, August 17th with a reception honoring the artists at 9 pm. Tickets are $10 and are available at https://www.tappsartscenter.com/

Playwright Jon Tuttle   

Playwright Jon Tuttle

 

Diving a little deeper … In the Red and Brown Water at Trustus Theatre: A Preview by Rosalind Graverson

red and brown  

When Columbia starts trusting the arts programs and supporting them more, the organizations can start taking more risks and exploring. Trustus Theatre has reached a point where they can start sharing unique theatre experiences with their audiences. That's exactly what their production of In the Red and Brown Water is.

 

First in The Brother/Sister Plays trilogy, written by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the series blends Yoruba mythology with a modern day story set in the Louisiana projects. The trilogy is described as a choreopoem, combining poetry, movement, music, and song. The language throughout the show is beautifully lyrical, but it's not what you expect to hear from the average citizen of Louisiana.  Along with the poetry, the actors are also called to say their stage directions, reminiscent of Shakespeare's asides.

 

The cast features some familiar faces: Avery Bateman, Kendrick Marion, Katrina Blanding, Kevin Bush, Annette Dees Grevious, and Jabar Hankins; and some new ones as well: Bakari Lebby, LaTrell Brennan, Felicia Meyers, and Leroy Kelly.

 

Not only does the audience get to experience something new, but the production team and cast do as well. We asked Avery Bateman to share some of her experiences getting to know her character, Oya, and Kendrick Marion to explain some of the differences in the rehearsal process between this production and a more typical play or musical.

 

Avery Bateman - photo by Jonathan Sharpe

Avery: “Oya is a completely different character in comparison to the others I've portrayed throughout the years. She delves deep into a part of my spirit that I have not returned to in a while. She is both regal and vulnerable. Her regal persona is that of her Orisha/Goddess name. "Oya" known as "The Mother of Nine" is the orisha or storms, wind, change, magic, death and the cemetery, and the guardian between worlds. She is the bringer of death and new life (hope). Oya's orisha persona has every right to stand high and tall with pride. However, her vulnerable persona, her humane side is a type of soul that is complex and broken. Oya's broken spirit gives her a complexity that I as an actress must sit and think about every now and then so that I give her the correct amount of balance when on stage. I must say that I am extremely blessed to not have experienced all that "Oya the human" has experienced in my youth. Everything that she loves deeply is taken from her against her will. I've not had the privilege of portraying a person of this definition in all my years of theatre. I've only ever portrayed the comic-relief character or the misunderstood villian or the obliviously happy sunshine. All of them had great dimension but none of them reached into my chest and broke my heart as much as Oya. I love this character; she has helped me understand love and life in a way I don't think I would have ever understood fully if not for this show.”

 

Kendrick Marion, photo by Rob Sprankle

Kendrick: “This production differs from your normal straight play because there are so many other elements and textures involved with this piece. The text itself reads like poetry, and McCraney challenges the actors to portray it as such, while still making it feel natural and conversational. Both the music (most of which we arranged) and the stylized movement help to tell the story in an almost ethereal way. This has been an incredibly challenging piece, but an amazing experience, and I cannot wait for Columbia to take the journey to San Pere, Louisiana with us!”

 

Also, in the gallery at Trustus, Ernest Lee , The Chicken Man, will have his art showing and for sale. Wednesday, February 4th at 7:30, he will have a meet and greet and give a talk, "The Life and Art of Ernest Lee, The 'Chicken Man.'"

 

Be sure to get your tickets for In The Red and Brown Water, opening Friday, January 23rd and running through February 7th.

Trustus Reprises A Christmas Carol

Stann Gywnn and Catherine Hunsinger Trustus Theatre is reviving its hit production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on the Thigpen Main Stage this November. This recent adaptation by Patrick Barlow, the Tony-award winning playwright of The 39 Steps, is a whirlwind telling of the classic holiday story where five actors take on all of the roles. Scrooge and all of his ghostly counterparts will return to the Thigpen Main Stage as A Christmas Carol opens Friday November 21st at 8:00pm. The show will run through December 20th, 2014. Tickets may be purchased at www.trustus.org.

 

Last season’s production of Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of the Dickens classic was met with raves from sold-out audiences and critics, so Trustus decided to revive the production in their 30th season. While A Christmas Carol is a family-friendly production, what makes this version a Trustus show is that the script challenges five gifted actors to embody all of the characters while creating a live musical score on stage. The product is an unforgettable evening where a classic story is told in an unexpected way.

 

For the uninitiated, A Christmas Carol introduces audiences to Ebenezer Scrooge - a wealthy miser who has neither love for humankind nor any holiday cheer. His clerk Bob Cratchit works in a cold corner of the office just to make ends meet for his family, especially his ailing son Tiny Tim. When Scrooge is visited by his deceased business partner Jacob Marley, a night of haunts begins as spirits take Scrooge to the past, present, and future in an attempt to show him the good in humanity and the benefits of charity.

 

Trustus Co-Artistic Director Chad Henderson is back in the director’s chair for this revival. “A Christmas Carol is my favorite holiday story and tradition,” said Henderson. “Scrooge’s journey of redemption has always been appealing to me. This story is a classic because it’s one-of-a-kind – a Christmas ghost story. I’m looking forward to revisiting this production and creating some new moments that will surprise the audience.”

 

The Trustus production boasts the acclaimed cast from last year's production. Local favorite Stann Gwynn (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Doubt) will be portraying the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge. Trustus Company members Catherine Hunsinger (Constance), Avery Bateman (Ragtime, Ain't Misbehavin'), Scott Herr (The House of Blue Leaves, The Velvet Weapon), and new cast member Kendrick Marion (Ain't Misbehavin', The Black Man...Complex) join forces to bring the other characters of Dickens' story to life on stage.

 

While this adaptation calls for four actors to play numerous roles throughout the performance, it also asks them to create a live score throughout the show. Carols, sound effects and underscoring will be created and performed live on stage by the players. The music will be an unexpected mix of keyboards, cello, beatboxing, a Line6 delay modulator, a VocalistLive, violin, guitar, and of course the combined voices of the performers. “The live music is a unique combination of sounds,” said Director Chad Henderson. “It’s derived from the traditions of Reggie Watts, Danny Elfman, Justin Timberlake, and Panic! At The Disco.” While audiences may hear non-traditional takes on the carols in the show, they can be assured that the classic Dickens tale remains intact.

 

Trustus Theatre’s A Christmas Carol opens on the Trustus Main Stage on Friday, November 21st at 8:00pm and runs through December 20th, 2014. Thigpen Main Stage shows start at 8:00pm Thursdays through Saturdays, and Sunday matinees are at 3:00pm. Tickets are $22.00 for adults, $20.00 for military and seniors, and $15.00 for students. Half-price Student Rush-Tickets are available 15 minutes prior to curtain.

 

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

 

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

 

REVIEW: SC Phil's Beloved Broadway by Rosalind Graverson

SC Philarmonic with (l-to-r) Elisabeth Smith Baker, Avery Bateman, and Catherine Hunsinger I love any excuse to get dressed up, so going to the South Carolina Philharmonic's Beloved Broadway concert sounded like the perfect way to spend my Saturday night.

This was the first of three concerts that the Philharmonic will be doing out at Harbison Theatre this season. This is a wonderful venue with intimate stadium seating, so no matter where your seat is, you still have a perfect view of every inch of the stage.

They opened with a medley of popular songs from Gypsy, The Fantisticks, and Funny Girl and proceeded to play selections from some of the most iconic shows from Broadway. I expected to be impressed just by the quality of the performance, but when they began to play "Show Me" from My Fair Lady, I knew we were in for a fun time. The arrangements suddenly had more character and personality than I remembered.  I grew up listening to this music, and hearing it played by a 45 piece orchestra brought back so many memories.

Every song that they played, I could hear the words in my head, and I'm sure more than a few people in the audience wanted to burst into song. The conductor, Morihiko Nakahara, introduced the Sound of Music section by saying something to the effect of "I'd never say this at the Koger Center, but feel free to sing along." Thank goodness the whole audience did not take him up on that because then we would've missed some of the quieter moments of the show. The cello section took the lead on "Edelweiss" and it was perfection. I just wanted to close my eyes and wrap up in a blanket by the fire and listen to them play that soothing melody all night.

Nakahara introduced the other sections and did mention that two of the composers' work  they would be playing are EGOT (Emmy, Golden Globe, Oscar, and Tony) and Pulitzer winners. Marvin Hamlisch and Richard Rodgers are the only two people to have one all five awards. "It's like winning 5 gold medals" Nakahara said.

Throughout the night we heard selections from West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, A Chorus Line, and the previously mentioned My Fair Lady and Sound of Music. I feel like you can't mention Broadway and not have something from The Phantom of the Opera, and they did not disappoint. I was suddenly on the edge of my seat listening so intently to every note. I would love to see this group do a full production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber classic along with some of our talented theatre and opera performers.

Towards the end of the night, Nakahara introduced the singers for the last portion of the concert. Avery Bateman performed "Don't Cry For Me Argentina" from Evita. The audience was blown away by her elegance and timbre. It was the perfect choice for the first song that we heard the lyrics to. Catherine Hunsinger sang "I Dreamed A Dream" from Les Miserables. She performed the part of the ingénue, Eponine, in the Town Theatre production last season, so it was nice to hear her perform a song she hasn't done before. I'm used to hearing Catherine sing soprano, which she does beautifully, but the low parts of this number were so mature and she blew me away.

At the closing number Nakahara, again invited everyone to join in and dance in the aisles, which was fitting for the Mamma Mia ballad, or as he said "Abba's greatest hits." Avery and Catherine were joined by Elisabeth Smith Baker and brought the evening home with 5 or 6 of the most popular Abba songs. All of these women are well known in the theatre community as Trustus company members and always provide professional performances; tonight was no exception.

If you haven't seen the South Carolina Philharmonic perform, please go to one of the many events happening this year, throughout the midlands. It'd be a shame not to witness this quality of musicianship while it's right at our fingertips. You don't have to go to Carnegie Hall to hear the classics; just go to the Koger Center or Harbison Theatre.

"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.

ccc

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 www.trustus.org.

~ August Krickel

A New Era Exploding at Trustus - a review of Ragtime (the Musical) by Jillian Owens

It was the music of something beginning. An era exploding.

A century spinning.

In riches and rags,

And in rhythm and rhyme.

The people called it Ragtime.

(L-R) Avery Bateman, Terrance Henderson, Marybeth Gorman, Luke Melnyk, G. Scott Wild

 

Ragtime (the Musical) - based on the E.L. Doctorow novel of the same name - is a story of hope and disillusionment in the face of the American Dream.  This dream is interpreted in many different ways by the many characters in the show, which opened at Trustus Theatre this past weekend.  Ragtime opens during the “Progressive Era” in 1904.  Industry is booming, and excitement is in the air.  This air is filled with the strange, new, simple, and syncopated music of Ragtime.  The music (by Stephen Flaherty) is catchy and tender, simple yet deep, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by Terrence McNally.

Mother and Father have a kind, though sterile marriage.  When Father, played by G. Scott Wild, heads off to explore the North Pole with Admiral Peary, Mother - played by Marybeth Gorman - is left to tend to their son, large house, and business affairs.  When she digs up something very unusual in her garden, a chain of events are pushed into movement that will change the lives of her small family, as well as the communities around her.

ragtime2

Ragtime shines thanks to one of the most talented casts it could have possibly pulled together, consisting of many Columbia theatre veterans, as well as a few talented new faces.  There are no weak links in this production.  Terrance Henderson pulls double duty as the charismatic ragtime musician Coalhouse Walker and the show’s choreographer.  Vicky Saye Henderson plays the radical anarchist, Emma Goldman, with gusto, Younger Brother - played by Kevin Bush - is passionate about finding something to be passionate about, and Scott Vaughan’s appearances as Houdini, though short, are very charming.  Chip Stubbs delivers a beautiful standout performance as Tateh, with a voice that conveys all the determination, elation, and heartache of a poor immigrant father struggling to reconcile his dream of America with the reality of his new world.  Stories are intertwined and alliances are made and broken.  With so many characters and stories, you’re bound to find at least a few you can identify with.

(L-R) Terrnce Henderson, G. Scott Wild, Luke Melnyk, Marybeth Gorman, Avery Bateman; photo by Jonathan Sharpe

If you call the Trustus Box Office hotline, a friendly recording will inform you that this show has over thirty actors in the cast – the most they’ve had onstage at one time.  Upon hearing this, I must admit I was a little worried.  When Trustus tries to put on a large-scale show, it usually ends up being a mixed bag.  Their small stage can only hold so much spectacle, scenery, and cast members before things start to get cramped.

Fortunately, for director Chad Henderson, this particular big show doesn’t require a massive set or much spectacle beyond the talent of its actors.  That’s not to say the set is unimpressive.  Brandon McIver’s construction of his giant Statue of Liberty was well-documented on the Trustus Facebook page in the weeks before the opening.  This, along with fragments of early 1900’s Americana, are evocative of the period and theme.  The orchestra is small but skilled.  The costumes are period-accurate and lovely.

Between Henderson’s (Chad) stage direction and Henderson’s (Terrance) choreography, the actors don’t seem confined or cramped at all.  I would advise you to try to get a seat closer to the back as sight lines are a slight issue.  I can’t help but wonder…Is the success of Ragtime just the beginning of a new era of larger-scale productions for Trustus?  Are we ready for this “new music”?

~ Jillian Owens

 

 

A Whole Lot of Misbehavin’ Goin’ On! - Stephen Ingle reviews the new show at Trustus Theatre

  Having never been to a musical at Trustus Theatre before, I went in with an open mind, and my suspension of disbelief was as high as the sky. Upon discovering that Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a musical revue, my expectations lowered a bit. In fact, when I first walked in and saw that the band was the focal point at center stage, and that the set design was predominantly muted by a grey wash, I thought that perhaps this might not be quite the show for me. I mean, who wants the band or orchestra to be the focal point? However, from the first musical number, I could tell I was in for a very entertaining evening.

the cast of Ain't Misbehavin' -  Photo Credit: Richard Kiraly

With a cast of only five members and non-stop musical numbers, one might not expect for there to be much character development, or relationships between the characters. In this case one would be wrong. Director Terrence Henderson took what could have been an otherwise repetitive evening of Thomas “Fats” Waller songs and dynamically wove a very fun and diverse tapestry of quirky characters, relationships, and amazing singing. This show is more than simply an homage to Fats Waller. Typically, I would choose the standout performances to highlight in my review. However, all of the performances were equal in effectiveness. Devin Anderson has once again shown audiences that she has both the vocal and acting chops to fill any stage. Last seen in The Color Purple at Workshop Theatre, Anderson has revealed to audiences that she is much more than a one-note dramatic actress. Her various characterizations and songs will make you laugh and feel as you may never have before. In my opinion, Avery Bateman is the stage equivalent to the Sun, and can blindingly brighten any theatre. Much like Anderson, I last saw Katrina Blanding in The Color Purple in a very dramatic performance. Like Anderson, Katrina created a wonderful, multi-layered character that I couldn’t take my eyes off of, even during another performer’s songs. Rounding out the cast are Kendrick Marion and Samuel McWhite, the latter of whom I also saw in The Color Purple. These two gentlemen, while providing the perfect foils for the strong female characters, each had his own particular flavor. Marion played more of the fun, charming, energetic, and nice guy while McWhite boasted as more of the player going through the female characters smoothly and confidently. They were the perfect bookends in the library of Waller tunes.

L-R: Avery BAteman, Katrina Blanding, Devin Anderson, Samuel McWhite, Kendrick Marion -  Photo Credit: Richard Kiraly

Much like other musical revues, and shows like Cats, Ain’t Misbehavin’ easily could have provided an evening of entertaining songs without any other substance. Henderson thankfully did not accept this as his vision of the production. Although the set was a bit bland, which I venture to guess could have been on purpose so the colorful characters and their costumes could be illuminated, it was divided into its own little worlds inside this Cotton Club. The bar seemed to have been a nice little rest area for the entertainers to have a drink, and a place for Blanding’s character to go fume about the attention Bateman’s character was getting from the men. The sitting area on stage left provided a place where the audience could be let in to the dynamic of relationships between the company members. Finally, the upstairs dressing room allowed us to peek behind the curtain and see how the “performers” took breaks.

L-R: Avery Bateman, Devin Anderson, Katrina Blanding -  Photo Credit: Richard Kiraly

All in all this revue proved to provide more than just songs from a time gone by. In fact, early in the first act there was a nice reminder of this time with a video projection onstage of Fats Waller and the era in which he lived. The music, under the direction of Walter Graham, was both playful and effective, and the members seemed to be having as much fun as the cast.  Additionally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that not only did Terrance Henderson direct, but also choreographed. The dancing was as fun, energetic, and seemingly natural as the acting and singing performances. As with the rest of the performances, the dancing resonated as more spontaneous and impromptu than choreographed.  Ain't Misbehavin' runs through Sat. July 20th at Trustus Theatre; contact the box office at 803-254-9732 for more information, or visit www.trustus.org.

~ Stephen Ingle

 

Jasper 005 -- Join us in the Garden!

There's nothing like the feeling of proofing a magazine, pronouncing it true, and then saying goodbye to it for a week or so as it goes to the printer, knowing the next time you see your progeny it will have been cloned into thousands of identical magazines, nestled in boxes, and waiting to be distributed to the most important people in the process -- the readers. This is what Jasper design editor Heyward Sims and I did today. I learned a long time ago not to cut corners on time. Give the printer more time than they need to put your magazine together -- there's nothing like the stomach churning angst of just barely getting your magazine to the printer on time -- or getting it there late -- and worrying whether it'll be ready when you promised it would be. I'm proud to say that, since our crew started Jasper almost a year ago (we're working on our 6th book now), we have never had to sweat the release of an issue. We don't work that way.

So, we're happy to announce that our newest issue will be coming your way on May 15th. We're celebrating the release, as we do all our releases, with a few hundred of our closest friends -- that means you guys, if you'll be so kind as to join us, at Hay Hill Garden Market.. Hay Hill is located on Bluff Road about a mile past the stadium and on the right, as you're going out of town. We're especially excited that music for the evening will be provided by our friends Buck Stanley and the Can't Kids.  Avery Bateman, who you may remember from Passing Strange at Trustus Theatre, will be stopping by to share a couple of tunes. And Kendal Turner and her gang of seriously talented spoken word poets may be so kind as to share a few words with us if we're lucky.

The Jasper EconoBar will be on hand with wine, and in the interest of sustainability, we'll be offering special edition Jasper cups for sale -- Buy a cup and fill it up with all the beer you please throughout the evening.

And hey, we're having our first ever book signing, too.

So please join us on the 15th -- it's a Tuesday night and the weather should be lovely -- stroll around the garden, visit with your friends, listen to some fine local music -- and check out Jasper #005. We worked hard on it and, hey, we'll admit it, we fell a little in love with it in the process. We hope you'll feel the same.

Book signing at 6 -- music at 7 -- big fun all night long.

 

Jasper Welcomes Forrest Clonts as New Photography Editor

At Jasper, we pride ourselves on bringing you not only the best coverage of the best artists in the local arts scene, but bringing it to you via the best local writers and photographers. We're humbled by and proud of the writers and photographers who share their substantial talent and energy on this mission. And we're delighted to tell you about a new member of the Jasper family.

 Welcome Forrest Clonts, Jasper Photography Editor!

 

Forrest Clonts -- Photography Editor, Jasper Magazine

 

Forrest Clonts is a Columbia based photographer who focuses on people, the work they create, and the events they celebrate. He received a BA in Media Arts from The University of South Carolina in 2007 and then set forth on an odyssey of careers --  including marketing, construction, and knife sharpening.-- until settling back into photography.  Forrest also currently manages the All Local Farmer's Market as well as running business management for Caw Caw Creek Pastured Pork. Besides having two or three too many jobs, Forrest is also in a never ending search for the perfect macaron and barbecue, but not necessarily in that order.

 

Forrest is cutting his magazine editing teeth on Jasper #5 which will release on May 15th with a big party at Hay Hill Garden Market. We'll have music by Buck Stanley, The Can't Kids, and a special performance by Avery Bateman. There will be a book signing, spoken word poetry and, in lieu of the EconoBar, we'll introduce our Buy-a-Cup & Fill-it-Up project (aka a never-ending fountain of beer).

We can't wait to show you what Forrest and the rest of us have been working on, so mark your calendars please and come out to help us welcome Forrest Clonts into the fold.

 

 

 

 

Memorable Theatre Moments from 2011 by August Krickel

Theatre for me is sometimes not about the final product, but rather individual moments that move me, make me smile, or stay with me long after the show is done.  While I didn't see every show in the Midlands this past year by a long shot (and sadly didn't see a single one at Chapin or USC) I can say that I saw the majority of the new, regular-season shows at the three main local theatres (i.e. I missed most of the summer shows, holiday shows, children's shows, and revivals/holdovers from the previous year) plus two shows at Columbia Children's Theatre and another in the Trustus Black Box.

Here then were the best, funniest, and most memorable theatre moments for me from 2011:

- Rob Sprankle's mastery of broad physical comedy, as the vision-challenged Smudge in Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings at Town Theatre.  Drifting aimlessly without his glasses, Sprankle first took a daring plunge off the stage and onto the floor, and that stage has got to be 4-5 feet off the ground at least.  Sure it was choreographed, and a big mattress was stashed there in advance, but still a bold move. Hilarity ensued as he later wandered off stage and out into the parking lot, then knocked on an outside door until an audience member let him back in.

- Chris Riddle's deadpan barbs as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Columbia Children's Theatre's production of The Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood.  When asked by the evil Prince what punishment Robin deserves, Riddle anachronistically replied, "I say we should whip him.  Whip him good."

- the send-ups and spoofs of conventions of musical theatre in The Drowsy Chaperone at Town Theatre.  As Larry Hembree paused or replayed favorite moments from an original cast recording of the titular musical, we saw the performers actually freeze in place, often precariously, or repeat their lines or lyrics from seconds earlier.  None took it better than Chad Forrester, a stoic butler on the receiving end of the classic "spit-take," replayed nearly a dozen times. Other highlights included Kathy Hartzog's entrance while reclining on a descending Murphy bed, martini firmly in hand, the cast's reaction when Hembree realizes he has been playing (and they have been performing)a number from the wrong show entirely, and a ridiculous, extravagant  production number accurately described as part Busby Berkeley, part Jane Goodall.

- the dancing skill, glamour, and va-va-va-voomish poses of Maria Culbertson, Grace

Fanning, Katie Foshee and Addie Taylor as the Angels in Workshop Theatre's Anything Goes.  While all quite young, their chic style and professional performances livened up what could have been some middling musical numbers in an 80+ year-old musical.

- the sassy and quotable one-liners from women of a certain age in The Dixie Swim Club at Workshop. Some of the best came from Barbara Lowrance, like how she gave her ex "the thinnest years of my life," or "Just because I'm vain and frivolous doesn't mean I'm shallow." Drucilla Brookshire got her fair share too, such as "I never knew true happiness until I got married, and then it was too late,” and "I traded in my treadmill for stretch pants and a deep fat fryer!"

- Elizabeth Stepp's moonstruck portrayal of Paul, a little boy with a crush on one Lizzie Patofski, of whom he just can't get enough-ski, in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day at Columbia Children's Theatre. Was Paul from Queens?  Brooklyn?  Down the shore? Who knows, but the accent was adorable.

- the feather boa-clad Jocelyn Brannon, channeling performers like Eartha Kitt as a vamp, a camp and a bit of a scamp, telling off a would-be Don Juan in Smokey Joe's Cafe at Trustus. Her sultry delivery was enjoyable enough, but one appreciated it all the more when comparing it to her harsh, tragic portrayal of the long-suffering title character in Caroline, or Change just a few years back.

- individual moments that transcended the material in Spring Awakening, still running at Trustus Theatre through January 21st. Some of my favorites included:

  • the vocal strength of the female cast in the opening "Mama Who Bore Me" number. Whoever was hitting those high notes, they sent chills down my spine when I saw a preview at Tapp's Art Center during November's First Thursday event, and again when the show opened a month later.
  • Patrick Dodds breaking your heart as a boy losing it step by step, moving from comic relief to tragic victim in little more than an hour on stage.
  • the energy of the male cast in The Bitch of Living, managing to depict repressed vitality and sexuality while constricted by the mores of their society. Their explosive, foot-stomping choreography was a sight to see.
  • Avery Bateman and Adrienne Lee, adding a subtle and empowering touch that one could easily overlook. Each character sings about unspoken abuse from her past. Each is essentially revealing this secret to the audience, not to each other or any other character.  When Bateman moves over to Lee's side as they sing, it's the actresses, not the characters (who are miles apart, referring to events years apart.)  There's plenty happening onstage, but I realized that very subtly, the actresses were holding hands, as if to allow the characters to give each other strength and support that they never actually find within the story. I cannot fully express what a touching and moving moment this is.

- an extended seduction stretched out over two separate scenes in Third Finger, Left Hand at the Trustus Black Box, and featuring Kristin Wood Cobb and  Ellen Rodillo-Fowler. At first you're not sure which girl might be gay, and which might be hitting on the other...then it reverses, and then switches back again, literally climaxing in a nod to "Paradise By The Dashboard Light," by way of the "I'll have what she's having" scene from When Harry Met Sally.

- alternating vignettes of dark drama and dysfunctional comedy, brought to life by a dream cast, in August: Osage County at Trustus:

  • Ellen Rodillo-Fowler, brassy and aggressive (and at one point wearing about a quarter inch of black lace and some stiletto-heel boots) just a few weeks earlier in the show above, here playing soft and demure and stoic.  Add that to her histrionics as the drama teacher in High School Musical a few summers ago, and her carefree and saucy chorus courtesans in recent musicals like Evita and Best Little Whorehouse, and you just want to shout "Somebody give this lady a lead role NOW!"
  • Stann Gwynn's yuppie slime character, perving on a 14-year-old girl, with the excuse: "She told me she was 15!"
  • Dewey Scott-Wiley staging a family dinner table coup, overthrowing her mother's reign in an electric Act 2 curtain-closer.  As well as her third act attempts, in vain, to make her mother (Libby Campbell) have something to eat, culminating in a shrieked "EAT THE FISH, BITCH!"
  • Gerald Floyd slyly sneaking in the best lines in the show, as when he deflates Elena Martinez-Vidal's rant on how she would never take him back if he left her, repeatedly shutting her down with "But I'm not going anywhere." Or when he simultaneously teases/mocks a vegan, and tries to diffuse a tense confrontation by faking illness, then revealing that he simply bit into a big piece of "fear." Or his surprising assertion to his wife that she must show some iota of compassion to their son.

- the perfect timing of frenetic slapstick and chaotic physical comedy in Workshop's Victor/Victoria, including:

  • a big madcap brawl involving 20+ cast members that concluded the first act
  • a necessary "reveal" towards the end where four separate groups of performers are each doing something funny, punctuated by Matthew DeGuire's appearance at a window, back-lit as if by a lightning bolt, looking for all the world like Wile E. Coyote about to take a long fall.
  • Giulia Dalbec as the quintessential blonde bimbo, doing things with her legs I had never thought possible. When she sang how she tried Toronto, but departed molto pronto, then saw Geneva, but it was hardly jungle "feva," you know you're in for a double entendre rhyming tour of the world.

This was for me overall the most entertaining show I saw this past year, indeed in several years, and makes me wish that Henry Mancini and Blake Edwards, so successful in films for decades, had tried Broadway earlier in their careers.

So those were for me the most memorable moments that I saw on Columbia stages in 2011.  What were yours?

In addition to writing for Jasper Magazine - The Word on Columbia Arts, August Krickel is a native Columbian and theatre buff who has performed at Town, Workshop and Chapin Community Theatres, directed at Act One, and narrated the touring Road to Victory shows. He has done everything from fundraising and PR for universities and non-profits to teaching Latin, but probably enjoys acting and writing best. His reviews, articles and interviews have appeared in Briefs Magazine, Free Times, and at OnstageColumbia.com.