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.

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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.”

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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.