REVIEW: Company at Trustus Theatre by Jason Craig

Walter Graham plays Bobby in the Trustus Theatre production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company

Walter Graham plays Bobby in the Trustus Theatre production of Stephen Sondheim’s Company

Full Disclosure -- I happily went to see Trustus Theatre's production of Company last Thursday night (running through Oct. 26th).  If given the chance (and a sitter) I will always go and see a live theatre event – stories shared together in public continually make my life richer.  So, read on with the knowledge that this post is biased!  If you know Sondheim’s music, or know the performers, then you probably don’t need any more reason to spend a nice evening out at Trustus; however, if you are on the fence about how to spend your precious hours, then I hope I can shed light on some of the ways this production was worth my time.

 

Ear Candy 

First off, it’s Sondheim and for whatever reason, live Sondheim has become a rare treat.  Stephen Sondheim has a talent for honing into the heart of life’s dilemmas and cleverly bringing clarity to the nuances of those dilemmas.  The rich harmonies and catchy melodies are joyful, moving, enlightening and complex.   For these reasons, Sondheim can be a challenge for regional theatres. Bringing together 19 actor-singer-musicians without a Broadway-sized-budget is no easy feat, but the folks at Trustus Theatre put together a tight ensemble of talented performers.

 

Fun Fact: There is a nice cast recording from the 2007 Broadway revival that can be streamed free through Hoopla – Thanks Richland County Public Library!

 

Soul Food 

I appreciate the way Sondheim explores the tragic-comic nature of human experience.  At first glance, this dilemma appears to be embodied in Bobby (played by Walter Graham), who is turning 35 and at a crossroads of whether to pursue marriage or continue on with his seemingly content life as a New York City bachelor.  However, after watching the entire show, I found one song in particular nicely put the rest of the scenes and songs in perspective.  Toward the end of the first act, one of Bobby’s eligible bachelorettes, Marta (played by Hillary Scales-Lewis), beautifully sings what appears to be an ode to life in the City.  In Another Hundred People Sondheim describes life in a “city of strangers,” where it doesn’t matter whether a person is getting off the train or going to a party, they are always one person in a crowd of strangers – always crowded AND, always alone. 

 

Seen in this light, every relationship -- marriage or friendship offers another variation of New Yorkers trying to negotiate life’s decisions in the cauldron of these two fears – the fear of being over-crowded vs. the fear of being lonely.  Each scene, each relationship, and each song offers sometimes amusing and sometimes poignant glimpses into this cauldron. 

 

Side by Side…by Side 

It’s important to note that this show is structured in vignettes. In place of a major story arc with rising action, primary and secondary conflicts, etc., there are variations on a theme.  The main character is less of a protagonist and more of a cruise director and Graham does an excellent job, charismaticly and confidently guiding us through these variations. 

 

One of the unique qualities (and most fun for me personally) was that each marriage relationship was somehow made richer, more complete, when the best friend came to dinner.  The best friend in this case is Bobby, and so we see that not only do these couples appreciate the opportunity to show off the uniquely amusing way they’ve learned to negotiate their fears, they actually need Bobby.  It turns out that marriage is not necessarily a solution to loneliness and crowdedness – in fact, the act of marriage seems to make these fears more complicated, and the couples a bit crazy.  Bobby is not only a witness, he is also the glue that somehow makes the marriages work – one part confidante, one part therapist, one part distraction, one part mirror. Bobby’s presence in these many lives is both appreciated and necessary.

 

Sondheim celebrates this phenomenon in the number Side By Side By Side.  This number was fantastic to watch. Terrance Henderson choreographs this piece in a way that harkens back to blockbuster shows of the ‘30s and ‘40s – canes, imagined top hats, soft-shoe dance breaks.  It felt like a celebration of the “threesome” -- not the kinky kind, but the mutually appreciative kind where the idea of family starts to extend into deep, lasting friendships.  I loved getting to think back to all of the many couples I kept together as a single person in my twenties and early thirties, as well as the ways in which these couples welcomed me into their homes and their families.  And now, after having been married with children for 10 years, I love having the opportunity to appreciate the single friends that extend our family and keep us a little saner.

 

Fun Fact: The Broadway debut took place 4 days after the first Earth Day Celebration. 

 

The Better World We (can) Imagine 

The Show originally opened on Broadway almost 50 years ago and was based on one-act plays by George Furth.    Written about and for New York’s upper-middle-class, as Sondheim has noted, the problems are those of the very demographic most likely to attend a Broadway musical at the time.  This is art as a mirror to life, and that mirror reflected white, ivy-league educated, urban professionals.

Even if the demographic is limited, the issues or problems that arise are universal. Social acceptance and stigma associated with alcohol and food addiction, drug use, racial disparity, homophobia, and conspicuous consumption, are some of the topics that get touched in the midst of singing and dancing.

 

When directing shows written for another place and time, directors make choices about how and when to highlight or alter elements that keep the show fresh and timely – connecting the original themes to modern ears and eyes.  Sondheim, himself has worked with directors over the years to make some of these scenes timely, and most recently he worked to update the 2018 London revival that included a female protagonist as Bobbie, as well as a same sex couple about to embark on their own wedding day.  One can imagine how such changes might offer new insights into our modern lives.

 

Director Dewey Scott-Wiley chose to stick with an earlier variation of the script, and it is easy to see why she might make this choice.  Life in Columbia, South Carolina offers a unique mix of old and new sentiments and although same-sex marriages are openly celebrated in many circles, there is still a very real possibility that one could be confronted with direct or indirect homophobia.  This production gives us an opportunity to witness someone struggle with the fears of homophobia, and then find the courage to overcome those fears, speaking quietly, behind closed doors without the security that what is revealed will be accepted.  This is a well-performed scene and one that will likely spark interesting dialogue.

 

Another choice that seems worth noting is the choice to cast in a way where talent, not race or age, is the primary casting consideration.  When Sondheim references the audience of the 1970s, he might as well be referencing a structural racism embedded in the art form itself.  Many theatres are working to change these dynamics and it is fun to see how well it works to portray these 50-year-old, upper-middle-class stories with the kind of diversity this cast brings.  It is also fun to see how these choices might bring further insights or springboard conversations around other ways our community can work together to address structural inequality.

 

A final update, and one that works very well with the theme is the constant presence of cell phones in the lives of the characters.  If Marta’s ode to life in New York sets up a primary theme -- forever crowded and always alone – then the choice to highlight the central role that cell phones play in communication becomes an important way to see how these devices might help us deal with the loneliness and simultaneously make us feel more crowded.

 

Shout Outs

 This show is designed for a talented ensemble and it was a joy to see so many people working to generously support each other toward this end.   This is important to note because Sondheim did write some very catchy, well known songs – show stoppers – and it would be easy to focus too much on some of the individual talents that performed these numbers while ignoring the equally talented individuals who offered their voices in more supporting roles.

 

Thursday night’s crowd was particularly pleased and primed to enjoy those numbers originally performed by the late Elaine Stritch.  The character Joanne has attracted some big name musical stars over the years and Sheldon Paschal did a great job performing the The Little Things You Do Together and The Ladies Who Lunch. I didn’t know this latter song in advance, but there was a fairly good sized audience who did, and who seemed to treat it as a personal anthem. 

 

Another song that stands out for its surprising cleverness is Getting Married Today. Brittany Hammock, who portrays Amy, sang this lightning-paced song with clarity and precision while embodying the particular kind of craziness a person might feel on their wedding day.

 

Final Pitch

 There are many ways to enhance your experience seeing this show before it closes Oct. 26th, and here are a few recommendations.  Before the show, use Richland Library’s audio streaming services to stream the cast recording so that you can mouth along with the words.  If you are single, go on a date with your favorite couple; if you are coupled, bring your favorite single friend.   If you like to be a part of community dialogue, plan to see the show before attending an “On The Table” (Oct. 24th) event hosted by Central Carolina Community Foundation -- the discussions will only benefit from theatre-infused insights.  

 

 

Jason Craig

(he, him, his)

Sustainable Midlands

Columbia Resilience

Raconteurs Storytelling Club

REVIEW: Village Theatre Pulls Off a Hilarious R-Rated Avenue Q by Frank Thompson

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Whether or not they’re serious about requiring the under-seventeen crowd to bring along a parent, Village Square Theatre is following the MPAA rating system, prominently displaying the “rated R” logo and information on print publicity for their production of Avenue Q, a spoof of Sesame Street, complete with humans interacting with moon-faced puppets. That’s probably a good idea, because this is definitely not a show for children or the easily offended. In his program notes, Director Jeff Sigley notes that as a fringe production (not a part of the regular season) Avenue Q steps outside Village Square’s usual commitment to family-friendly entertainment. While I respect the fact that squeaky-clean shows provide an opportunity to introduce young people to the theatre, (and can be quite enjoyable) it’s nice to see a local group going outside its established audience base/comfort zone and presenting something different.  F-bombs are dropped, there’s a song dedicated to the joys of internet porn, and such issues as racism, sexual identity, and poverty are savagely lampooned. There are more than a few “I can’t believe they went there” moments in the show, each more outrageous than the one before, which quickly establishes a sort of permission to laugh at sentiments that would otherwise be met with shock and disapproval. Much in the style of the late George Carlin, Avenue Q realizes that the best way not to offend anyone is to, well, offend everybody. Having seen the show before, I was curious as to how it would play in what is a traditionally conservative house. If the audience at Sunday’s matinee is any indication of the overall response, this show has people guffawing like hell, almost to the point of rolling in the aisles. There are no sacred cows in the script, yet the writing never descends to sophomoric vulgarity in hopes of getting a cheap laugh. Yes, it’s unabashedly naughty and inappropriate, but the script is smart, clever, and somehow manages to establish its small urban neighborhood as a bizarre but welcoming place.

It’s a typical day on Avenue Q, with the regulars and a couple of newcomers to the neighborhood all doing their best to navigate the world of disillusioned Gen-Xers facing more humble lifestyles than they expected. In his introductory song, Princeton, ( well-voiced and puppeteered by Brooks Torbett) a recent college graduate, wistfully sings “What Do You Do With A B.A. In English?” The answer is that you move to the ghetto of Avenue Q, get a cheap apartment, and ponder the grim realities of adult life disappointment through a poignant but relatably funny musical introspective. In getting to know his new neighbors, Princeton finds budding romance with Kate Monster, (winningly created by Julia Hudson) a sweet, somewhat naïve young woman, and strikes up a conversation with former child star, Gary Coleman.

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 As one of the few flesh-and-blood human residents of Avenue Q, Coleman has burned through his Diff’rent Strokes money, hit rock bottom, and is now working as a maintenance man. Ara-Viktoria McKinney-Goins (who also serves as the show’s Musical Director) brings a gently irreverent tone to Coleman, which, while saucy and tinged with gallows humour, is never demeaning or cruel with regards to the late Coleman’s legacy. Providing some of the funniest “I’m going straight to hell for laughing at this” moments is Melissa Hanna’s Christmas Eve, an Asian-American woman whose broad caricature is only slightly less inappropriate than Mickey Rooney’s infamous turn as Mr. Yunioshi in the 1960s film, Breakfast At Tiffany’s. However, there’s such a complete detachment from real-life sensitivities, it somehow seems acceptable to laugh. As with the rest of the oft-politically incorrect denizens of Avenue Q, there’s no malice behind or “laughing at” Christmas Eve’s broken English and double-entendres. She’s quirky and plays to the stereotype, but she is a fully accepted and beloved-if-cranky member of the community. This is a fairly difficult tightrope to walk, and Hanna succeeds.

In a few of the more outrageous moments, we encounter Tyler Elling and Resi Talbot as the “Bad Idea Bears,” a somewhat Family Guy-esque variation on the virtuous “Care Bears” toys  which promote good behaviour and healthy decision-making. In a side-splitting montage, these sweet-faced teddy bears and their puppetmasters convince Princeton and Kate Monster to get wildly drunk on a work night, in addition to other shenanigans, all sung in the style of a “be good, kids” cartoon. Meredith Olenick gets roof-raising laughter in her turn as “bad girl puppet” Lucy The Slut. Lucy lives up to her name, complete with Dolly Parton coif, one-night stands, and foam rubber-and-felt décolletage. Keep a sharp ear out, as her one-liners are fast and sometimes unexpected, and you won’t want to miss a single tarty wisecrack. Perhaps the most memorable character, though, is Trekkie Monster, an obviously *ahem* inspired-by-Cookie-Monster aficionado of online sex videos. William Arvay gives Trekkie a soul beneath his grumpy exterior, but never holds back on allowing Trekkie to be who he is. Arvay’s “The Internet Is For Porn” literally stopped the show, and this old pro played every scene to its fullest, without ever drawing attention away from the rest of the cast. Avenue Q is an ensemble piece, and that concept/energy is obviously embraced by the team. The rest of the cast consists of Beck Chandler, (Brian) Raymond Elling, (Nicky) and James Galluzzo (Rod/Singing Box). Each brings a professional, well-rehearsed, and wickedly rib-tickling performance to a uniformly solid production. Stage Manager Lindsay Brown does an excellent job of riding herd on her human and puppet actors, and keeps the show’s pace moving briskly and seamlessly, with set changes, sound cues, and transitions going smoothly and efficiently.

…which leads me to what ultimately makes Avenue Q a success. This cast and crew obviously like each other, and have created that feeling an audience member can sense when a cast just “clicks.” The puppets and their handlers have spent a great deal of social time together, reinforcing these odd little relationships with which they’re tasked to bringing to life. A quick glance at Facebook shows multiple group karaoke outings, an evening on the town with the puppets in tow, and even some shots of Hudson and Kate Monster enjoying karaoke in the ship’s lounge on Hudson’s recent vacation cruise. Also worthy of note is the mid-rehearsal-period illness of director, Sigley. Having been hospitalized with pancreatitis for almost two weeks of the rehearsal period, he heaps tremendous praise on his cast and production team for following the oft-observed advice to “Keep Calm And Carry On.” McKinney-Goins made sure the cast perfected their vocals during their leader’s absence, and the group collectively did table work and tentative blocking, providing a semi-finished piece for Sigley to refine and complete upon his return. As one who extols the importance of teamwork and cast bonding when directing, I always appreciate seeing it having been emphasized in a show I’m reviewing.

Is Avenue Q flawless? No, but the good by far outweighs the bad. Dan Woodard’s set is just about perfect in design, but occasionally suffers from lighting issues which sometimes give the stage an overly bright, “full wash” texture, occasionally to the point of obscuring projected images on the upstage scrim. To their credit, Village Square usually features live musicians for musical theatre productions, but as a non-season show, Avenue Q relies on recorded music tracks. This is normally a somewhat significant disappointment to me, but in this oddball world of a children’s-show dystopia, it actually works. The music sounds like the incidental tunes we of a certain age recall from various PBS kids’ shows of the 70s and 80s, and in this specific case, that’s just what is needed. Although they were brief, I wish the show had not stopped for scene changes. The set is somewhat minimal,each vignette flows easily into the next, and spending 30 or so seconds in the dark did take me out of the moment a few times. Bringing the end of one scene or song downstage while the next one is being set upstage would have been perfectly true to the reality established by Avenue Q, and would have maintained a greater sense of continuity and uninterrupted flow.

While worthy of note, these few drawbacks do not significantly detract from the joyfully guilty pleasure that is Avenue Q. If double-entendres, single-entendres, occasionally raunchy humour, and broadly-drawn zany characters are your thing, you’ll enjoy Avenue Q. If you appreciate all of the above, wrapped in an overall message of acceptance along the lines of “don’t feel so bad, we’re all f**ked up in one way or another,” you will absolutely love it. Village Square is only a 20 minute drive from downtown, so make the trip out to Lexington this weekend and visit the fine folks and merry monsters of Avenue Q.

Avenue Q concludes its run this weekend, with performances at 7.30pm Friday and Saturday, and a 3pm matinee on Sunday. Tickets can be reserved at VillageSquare.com, or by ringing the Box Office on 803.359.1436.

Frank Thompson is proud to serve as Theatre Editor for JASPER.

Supper Table spotlight: Olga Yukhno and Carla Damron Honor Sarah Leverette

We’re featuring the artists from the Supper Table project throughout the summer. This is the 5th in our series on Supper Table Artists.

An overhead view of Olga Yukhno’s place-setting honoring Sarah Leverette

An overhead view of Olga Yukhno’s place-setting honoring Sarah Leverette

Originally from Russia, visual artist Olga Yukhno lives in Columbia, South Carolina, where she is the Gallery Director for the School of Visual Art and Design at the UofSC. After learning and creating in multiple art forms, Yukhno found a home in ceramic sculpting, where she feels that she has no limits.

With ceramics, Yukhno can create anything that she can imagine and even those which she can’t. No two of her completely handmade pieces are identical. Yukhno has used the limitless possibilities of her craft to create a place setting in honor of Sarah Leverette for the Supper Table.

Sarah Leverette was, and is, a powerful inspiration to women in and outside of South Carolina, having spent her life breaking glass ceilings wherever she went, from the Civil Air Patrol to the School of Law at USC.

Yukhno’s place-setting honors all the different aspects of Leverette’s remarkable life. The artist says she wanted to use her piece to “show the parts of her life that were the most significant and impressed her the most personally.” Having been impressed by Leverette’s quotations, she incorporated them all around the border of her place-setting, using small wing symbols with the logo of the Civil Air Patrol.  From there, each layer from bottom to top represents a different period of the subject’s life.

As Yukhno says, the book represents her contribution to the library system of South Carolina, to which she dedicated 15 years of her life. Despite her contributions, school officials at USC would not make her faculty because she was a woman. The next tier of Yukhno’s place setting contains multiple nails, which represent the obstacles Leverette faced to become a full professor.

The very top culminates in a bowl showing a fist having just broken through a glass ceiling. As Yukhno says, “Leverette’s whole life was dedicated to fighting for women’s and civil rights, and the element of this broken glass is repeated throughout the piece to show the relevance of this pursuit throughout her lifetime.”

Finally, the goblet was created with multiple hands supporting it, to “show that in everything she did, she always built other people up.” Leverette was a mentor to many well-known lawyers who themselves brought about significant changes and continued the fight for people’s rights.

 

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Carla Damron is a professional writer (The Stone Necklace, USC Press, 2016) who uses her experience as a social worker throughout her work, as witnessed in her novels Keeping Silent and Spider Blue. Damron has spent over 20 years focusing on her work in mental health, where she connects this to her novels in hopes to fight stigmas surrounding the topic of mental illness. Her very own clients have been her best teachers.

Damron used her background to tackle the task of writing a creative non-fiction essay about the life of Sarah Leverette, a task she was more than ready to tackle and conquer. As Damron says, “[Leverette’s] words, and her spirit, live and breathe in our state’s constitution, its code of laws, and in all the people she touched.”

The following is an excerpt from Damron’s essay on Leverette:

Sarah always wanted to emulate her heroes Lindbergh and Earhart. And now, as a member of the Civil Air Patrol, she was about to take her first flight.

She climbed a ladder to the biplane wing, grabbed hold of the edge of the cockpit, and hauled herself into the copilot’s seat. She grasped the seatbelt and clicked it into place. Snug goggles covered her eyes. Behind her, the pilot started the plane, which gave a little shimmy as it roared to life. Breath entered her lungs in short gasps. She was nervous. Excited. Ready. 

They moved. The plane bumped and rattled up the runway, getting louder and louder as the pilot lifted the throttle. Sarah held to her seat and swayed with the movement. 

Faster. She couldn’t see the speedometer but knew they were approaching eighty-five, full throttle, as the nose of the plane tilted up. As they lifted off, all smoothed.  

She looked above, the sky a vast blue bowl with a few feathers of white. She looked down: Trees became green pencil pricks. A wide, turbulent river was just one of many of Earth’s many arteries. Everything was different here. How wide the world is, she realized, when you are away from the clutter of land.

To read more of Damron’s essay and to see more of Yukhno’s place setting, be sure to reserve your copy of Setting the Supper Table at the $50 sponsorship level or above on the Supper Table’s Kickstarter campaign page at the link below, and join us this September as we unveil the Supper Table for the first time.

Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thejasperproject/the-supper-table.

 

Fall Lines Volume VI Announces Winners - Kimberly Driggers and Derek Berry!

Jasper is delighted to announce the winners in this year’s competitive Fall Lines categories.

Congratulations to Kimberly Driggers whose poem, IMAGINE THE SOUND OF WAVES, is the winner of the Saluda River Prize for Poetry and to Derek Berry whose prose piece, SASQUATCH, is the winner of the Broad River Prize for Prose.

Both literary artists will be published in Fall Lines - a literary convergence, Volume VI which launches on Sunday, August 18th from 2 - 3:30 with a reading and awards ceremony at Richland Library. The event if free and open to the public.

Fall Lines is sponsored by the Jasper Project in partnership with Richland Library and One Columbia for Arts and Culture. The two winning authors will each receive a check for $250 sponsored by the Richland Library Friends & Foundation.

Judges for this year’s contests included Judy Goldman (prose) and DeLana Dameron.

~~~

Additional authors whose work will appear in the 2019 volume of Fall Lines include:

Teresa Haskew

Ellen Malphrus

Loli Molena Munoz

Libby Bernardin

Len Lawson

Susan Craig

Lawrence Rhu

Worthy Evans

Curtis Derrick

Terri McCord

Al Black

Ruth Nicholson

Heather Dearmon

Randy Spencer

Tim Conroy

Suzanne Kamata

Frances Pearce

Bo Petersen

Jon Tuttle

Kathleen Warthen

Kristine Hartvigsen

Gil Allen

Andrew Clark

Kevin Oliver

Yvette Murray

Ed Madden

Ray McManus

Nathalie Anderson

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REVIEW: Trustus Theatre's The Great Gatsby Like No Other by William Arvay

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“As of January first, it’s the twenties again!” declared Chad Henderson as he introduced Trustus’ latest production, “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s roaring twenties novel, adapted for the stage in 2006 by Simon Levy.

Almost a century after it was written, “Gatsby” deals with America’s continuing modern struggles with wealth and class, war and our treatment of veterans, marital infidelity, white supremacy, business ethics, transparency and the eternally insoluble question of whether money can buy happiness, or, as The Beatles parsed it, can it buy love?

The Great Gatsby is considered by many to be a contender for the title of The Great American Novel, and it has been transformed into several memorable, lavish films over the ensuing decades, most recently by director Baz Luhrmann in 2013 starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and by Francis Ford Coppola in 1974, with Robert Redford in the title role.

To rise to the challenge of the greatness of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby” director Henderson began with the only stage adaptation authorized and granted exclusive rights by the Fitzgerald Estate.

But then he immediately upped the ante by enlisting the talents of trumpeter and composer Mark Rapp as musical director (for a non-musical!) who brought original jazz music with the 5 piece on-stage combo ColaJazz. Henderson also brought aboard a crew of dancers from Columbia City Ballet, choreographed by Stephanie Wilkins, to portray the frenzied flappers at Gatsby’s legendary decadent parties.

Working with technical director Richard Kiraly, Henderson designed a simplified high-tech set of large projection screens to portray orgiastic jazz age parties, great halls filled with marble statuary, the streets of 1920s New York, a hydroplane rocketing over the ocean waves, Gatsby’s swimming pool, and of course the iconic eyes-and-eyeglasses sign advertising the wares of an oculist, standing in for the eyes of a judgmental God. The scenery can change with breathtaking speed and realism. Sound effects blend seamlessly with the constantly shifting locales and even special effects. Costumed members of the ensemble add or subtract furniture pieces in character as the finishing touches to each scene.

Both sides of the stage are framed by open quadrangles lined in incandescent bulbs, suggesting both a theatre marquee and the open covers of a book, out of which the story leaps.

The show starts with a stunning and unexpected spotlight vocal solo by one of the cast members singing a modern hit ballad that has been interpolated into the script. During the course of the show, other cast members step up to the ColaJazz microphone to sing musical commentary upon the drama unfolding on stage. This reviewer will leave no further spoilers as to the singers’ identities or the choice of songs, so as to maximize the surprising spontaneity for the audience.

In every rendition of “Gatsby” my favorite character winds up being Fitzgerald’s narrator, Nick Carraway, and he is ably brought to life by Jared-Rogers Martin. Fitzgerald’s prose flows clearly and gently from his voice, and he brings the wide-eyed earnestness of a young man from Minnesota to the mansions of the corrupt, lustful, and fabulously wealthy Long Island elites.

Jason Stokes brings broad-shouldered good looks and a resonant baritone voice to the title role, and is at once confident and forlorn. His tender infatuation for Daisy Fay Buchanan, played by Katie Leitner with a spoiled sensuality and tortured despair, drives all events in this drama. Richard Edward III is Daisy’s abusive, adulterous lout of a husband, Tom Buchanan, who also abuses his mistress Myrtle Wilson, played expertly and with earthy emotion by Raia Jane Hirsch. Brandon Chinn gives us Myrtle’s cuckolded garage mechanic husband, George Wilson, with a homespun pathos that masks his deeper moral code. The plum role of professional golfer Jordan Baker, Daisy’s long-time sardonic girlfriend, who later becomes Nick’s tempting girlfriend is played with layered subtlety and empowered command by Brittany Hammock. She is Fitzgerald’s acknowledgement of the evolving role of women in the 20th century. Elizabeth Houck, LaTrell Brennan, Josh Kern and Frank Thompson complete the acting ensemble with memorable performances in multiple roles, particularly Thompson’s shadowy criminal version of Meyer Wolfsheim, Kern’s flawless butler, Houck’s gossipy socialite and Brennan’s crystal clear exposition.

What sets this performance apart from others you might see on the local stage is the addition of music and dance to the production. While not a musical, per se, Britanny Hammock and Katie Leitner’s bonus vocal numbers accompanied by Rapp and band are exquisite, haunting audience members into the night. And Stephanie Wilkins’ choreography, set specifically on City Ballet principal dancers Bonnie Boiter-Jolley and Claire Rapp, along with Jordan Hawkins, Marian Morgan, and Katherine Brady, is a step above in terms of the professionalism typically brought to a local stage. Wilkins researched the dance styles of the period and incorporated elements of everything from the Foxtrot to the Black Bottom to the Lindy Hop in her choreography. The dancers blended well with the actors and created a large but well-managed multi-talented ensemble of performers.

(Full disclosure - Boiter-Jolley and Henderson are the daughter and son-in-law of Jasper editor Cindi Boiter.)

This is a “Gatsby” unlike any other you will see anywhere else, and it is here for only a brief time, ending April 27. The Sunday matinee audience honored the performance with a standing ovation. Waste no time reserving your tickets at www.trustus.org or call the box office at (803) 254-9732.

Trustus Theatre is located in Columbia’s Congaree Vista at 520 Lady Street.

 

 

And the Winners Are ...

Life beats down and crushes the soul

and art reminds you that you have one.” Stella Adler

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The Jasper Project, guests, and guests of honor celebrated an intimate evening of art and joy last night at Columbia’s historic Seibels House and Garden during the Jasper Artist of the Year Salon Celebration. With presentations of poetry and song, and even a rousing group sing-along led by theatre artist Darion McCloud, attendees were able to mingle, chat about processes, projects and possibilities for collaboration, and enjoy food from Chef Joe Turkaly and a bar provided by Muddy Ford Press. All our attending JAY finalists shared their work with those in attendance. Art called some of our finalists away, (we missed you Tim, Michael and Christine). but it was a beautiful night.

Congratulations, once again, to all our finalists:

Music - Marina AlexandrA~ Marcum Core ~ Zach Seibert

Theater - Michael Hazin ~ Christine Hellman ~ Darion McCloud

Visual Arts - Trahern Cook ~ Flavia Lovatelli ~ Andy White

Literary Arts - Libby Bernadine ~ Tim Conroy ~ Monifa Lemons

And the winners are …

Jasper Artist of the Year 2018 in Music - Marcum Core

Jasper Artist of the Year 2018 in Music - Marcum Core

Jasper Artist of the Year 2018 in Theatre - Darion McCloud

Jasper Artist of the Year 2018 in Theatre - Darion McCloud

Jasper Artist of the Year 2018 in Visual Arts - Trahern Cook

Jasper Artist of the Year 2018 in Visual Arts - Trahern Cook

Jasper Artist of the Year 2018 in Literary Arts - Monifa Lemons

Jasper Artist of the Year 2018 in Literary Arts - Monifa Lemons

Many thanks go out to folks and organizations who made the evening a success ~

Historic Columbia, Michael Krajewski, Bohumila Augustinova, Barry Wheeler, Ashley Hayes, Easter Antiques at Red Lion Antique Mall, Muddy Ford Press, 2nd Act Film Festival, Ed Madden, Trahern Cook, Joe Turkaly, Bob Jolley, Annie Boiter-Jolley, Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, the editorial staff of Jasper Magazine, the board of directors of the Jasper Project, Kristine Hartvigsen & all who chose to spend their evening with us.

Keith Tolen Opens Jasper's First Tiny Gallery Series this First Thursday at Tapp's

Artist Keith Tolen - photo by Michael Dantzler

Artist Keith Tolen - photo by Michael Dantzler

The Jasper Project is bringing a brand new project to light during First Thursday this month: The Tiny Gallery Series.

 

Jasper’s goal with this project is twofold – to support artists in our community and to encourage budding art collectors to start their collections. During upcoming First Thursdays, Jasper will be teaming up with local artists to display their work for sale at affordable prices in their studio at Tapp’s Art Center.

 

Kicking off the first series is local artist and South Carolina native, Keith Tolen. “I’m honored that I’m kicking this off; it’s hard to believe,” Tolen said with a chuckle as we chatted over coffee, “But I’m nervous too. I want to do this event justice.”

 

Tolen has been studying and working on his craft for decades now. An art education major in college, he worked in both retail and real estate before landing the job as an art teacher at Camden Middle School – a job he cared for and worked at for 30 years.

 

Beyond teaching, Tolen has been creating art since a young boy. He and his brothers used to draw together, and Tolen’s first love was film and photography. When he focused on painting in college, he became heavily influenced by the abstract expressionist styles of the 1970s, the art style that still influences him today. In his recent years, Tolen has tried to challenge himself by taking classes in different art styles, such as still life. All of these influences come together for his Tiny Gallery Series where there is one thing in particular to expect: eggs.

Keith Tolen egg.jpg

Tolen said that the form of the egg is key for painting. It is between shapes, not circle or oval, pointed at the top, and plays with light and shadow in simple yet complex ways. He is using eggs in these paintings as a “balance of the simplicity of the egg and the chaos of abstract expressionism.”  

 

“I hope these eggs take on a personality and travel from canvas to canvas, taking on the identity of its surroundings while still maintaining its own integrity,” Tolen says, “I love color, and the challenge with these paintings was to have backgrounds rich with color but for the eggs to be the draw, to be very neutral.”

 

This will be the third time Tolen has shown his egg paintings this year, the first two times both to a positive critical reception. When asked about past accolades in his career, however, Tolen told a powerful story about a young girl in his first 6th grade class who took her passion for origami and taught an entire class of 50 students her art, holding their attention on a Friday far after the bell had rang.

 

“I could sell a painting for a million dollars,” Tolen said, “But it wouldn’t compare to the moment that girl stood in front of her peers and captivated them with her art.”

 

From this comes the importance of an event like the Tiny Gallery Series. Like what that girl did for her class, “Art inspires us; it educates us.” Tolen said.

 

When asked about his goal for his paintings in particular Tolen said, “There’s two things I want people to say. Either ‘I can do that’ or ‘I appreciate that.’ I want people to see my paintings and be inspired to go use their creativity and make something of their own, and if not to at least look at them and know they mean something special.”

Tiny Gallery Series Graphic 2 JPG.jpg

This event is, again, not just a chance to see art from local artists but to help the community of Columbia start their own art collections. “It’s important to have art in the home beyond just for exposure,” Tolen says, “Having original art on your walls builds bonds, connections, and it demystifies the idea that only certain people can experience art. Art is for everyone.”

Future artists participating in the Tiny Gallery Series include Olga Yukhno, Bonnie Goldberg, Dave Robbins, and more.

To see Tolen’s work, stop by Tapp’s Art Center in Studio #7 starting at 6:00 p.m. this Thursday, October 4th, and be sure take a piece of his passion home for yourself.

—Christina Xan

 

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Meet New Jasper Intern Hallie Hayes and Read her First Review of Foxing's New Album, Nearer My God

Hi! I'm Hallie Hayes, a new editorial intern for The Jasper Project. I am a Junior at The University of South Carolina majoring in Multimedia Journalism, where I hope to start a career in an entertainment editorial position post-graduation. Coming from the small town of Pamplico, South Carolina, I am proud to have found my way to the talented city of Columbia where local art is appreciated. My first true love is poetry, but my passion lies in the music, arts, and entertainment industries. You will be hearing a lot from me along these lines of subjects. I look forward to exploring the talent found in this city with The Jasper Project and sharing that with you!

Hallie Hayes

Hallie Hayes

       

For those who have followed the band Foxing through their first two albums, the wait for the third record has been long and highly anticipated. The indie-rock band from St. Louis, Missouri has a fan base that has hung onto their moody melodies, in-your-thoughts lyrics and most importantly, their experimental bravery. As the third album has released, there is one thing that is known for certain: experiment they did.

 

Nearer My God was released on August 10, 2018, and it is a far fetch from the bands prior records, The Albatross and Dealer. Foxing’s prior two records gave fans the self-proclaimed emo hits that the band would become known for. The unique rasp of lead singer Conor Murphy’s voice mixed with soft indie rock tones delivered track after track. The band keeps the moody undertones that fans love, mixing in their own versions of R&B and electro-rock, giving the album a unique twist. Unafraid to mix two genres into one track, in songs like “Heartbeat,” the band begins with a classic instrumental style and transitions into an electro-rock ballad.

 

While Foxing’s first two albums gave us first tracks that are slowed down; almost acoustic, listeners receive a much different take with this album. Nearer My God gives us a first track, “Grand Paradise,” that unexpectedly jumps right into the newly experimental electro-rock instrumental style. It is a bit of an initial shock, but that’s fine. It shows the diversity of the band and their attempt to open new sounds for their fans, while keeping old habits.

 

With their second track, “Slapstick,” the band gives us a sound that combines upbeat electro instrumental music with a low indie-rock tones. They continue to transition their songs in this manner throughout the album. Moving from upbeat, to ballads, to a mixture of R&B with a touch of post-rock. At the same time, however, fans are still given the moody, intimate lyrics that were first brought by the band in tracks such as “Trapped in Dillard’s,” “Nearer My God” and “Crown Candy.”

 

The one consistency throughout the album is that everything is different. The ability to experiment with multiple different resonances is what makes this album a masterpiece. It is like nothing that has been heard from the indie-rock band.

 

Foxing took chances with this album, and it was a chance that truly worked for them and their sound. This is an album for those seeking something new, different, and truly innovative.