"Jack Frost" - Melissa Swick Ellington reviews the world premiere of the new show at Columbia Children's Theatre

jackfrost1 Columbia Children’s Theatre presents Jack Frost, a world premiere musical with book and lyrics by Crystal Aldamuy and music by Paul Lindley II, through Sunday, December 14. Here in Columbia, SC, we have plenty of reasons to be grateful for the presence of CCT in our community, such as high quality children’s theatre performed by professional actors, educational outreach programs, and theatre training and performance opportunities for youth. Yet another reason to cherish CCT emerges with the production of Jack Frost, which further establishes the theatre’s commitment to the development of new works. Past original productions have included adaptations of Puss and Boots, The Snow Queen, A Christmas Carol, and a number of commedia dell’arte shows. Any artist who has collaborated on the production of new work for the theatre can tell you that such endeavors require a special level of dedication, hard work, and ingenuity.  We are fortunate to have a children’s theatre in Columbia that persists in the development and presentation of new plays and musicals right here in our own community.  Audiences will be delighted by the enchanting and upbeat experience of Jack Frost.

Director Jerry Stevenson delivers an entertaining production of this clever new musical by Aldamuy and Lindley.  Creative characters, inventive humor, and enjoyable music delighted the audience at the matinee I attended with my husband and two young children. The story explores the family life of the title character, focusing on parent-child conflict over tradition and responsibilities. While Isis and Ike Frost expect their son Jack to become part of the family business, Jack would rather cause mischief and go on adventures than toil away producing individual snowflakes or painting leaves. The warm Kringle family poses a worthy counterpoint to the icy Frost folks. When Crystal, the Kringle daughter, switches places with Jack, both families have a lot to learn.

Composer/Music Director Paul Lindley II as Jack Frost, changing the colors of the autumn leaves

Not only have Aldamuy and Lindley created the material for their first original musical, they are also involved in this production. Aldamuy has devised crisp choreography for numbers such as “Reindeer Tango” as well as providing stage management expertise. As Jack Frost, Lindley captivates the audience with his agile antics and impressive singing voice, evident in “Jack’s Ballad” among other strong musical numbers. Julian Deleon provides a comforting paternal presence as Chris Kringle, thus achieving another successful foray on the CCT stage. Rachel Arling (Christine Kringle, and - full disclosure - a contributor to Jasper), Carol Beis (Isis Frost), and Charley Krawczyk (Ike Frost) energize their scenes with appealing performances, while Kaitlyn Fuller portrays Crystal with vivacity and charm. Anthony Harvey plays the dual roles of Old Man Winter and Elf; his impish Elf becomes the show’s comedic engine. My preschool son’s belly laughs testified to Harvey’s hilarious and skillful portrayal, not to mention the kid’s desire to imitate some of the Elf’s inventive shenanigans. (At certain performances, Toni V. Moore plays Isis Frost, Jerryanna Williams plays Crystal Kringle, and Lee O. Smith plays Chris Kringle.)

(L-R) Kaitlyn Fuller, Julian Deleon, Rachel Arling, Anthony

Costume design (Donna Harvey and Stevenson), scenic artistry (Jim Litzinger, Stevenson, D. Harvey and A. Harvey), and sound design (Lindley) maintain the high standards of artistic quality that distinguish CCT performances. Distinctive color palettes work effectively to differentiate the worlds of Frost and Kringle, especially through the superb costuming choices. Matt Wright (Sound Technician) and Brandi Smith (Light Board Operator) also provide valuable technical support.

It is a credit to the community’s enthusiasm for CCT that a brand new and unknown work can draw a packed house similar to audiences that attend more familiar plays. My first grade daughter is always eager to go whenever I suggest a trip to CCT. Show title, genre, characters?  No concerns of hers; she is just elated at the prospect of another show. You see, my daughter – like so many of us in Columbia – trusts that whatever production she sees at CCT, she will have a great experience. Thank goodness for the extraordinary talents at Columbia Children’s Theatre for their vision and artistry. We can’t wait to see what they dream up next.

~ Melissa Swick Ellington

 

The world premiere of Jack Frost continues through this Sunday, Dec. 14, with morning, matinee, and evening performances.  For ticket information, call (803) 691-4548 or visit http://www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com/jack-frost/.  And don't forget - there's also Late Night (i.e. 8 PM rather than 7 PM) Date Night for Mom and Dad on Friday, December 12, and when the kids are away, the actors will play!  The cast performs the same script, but loosen up and bring out double (and triple) entendres for a riotous evening of PG-13-ish fun.  This is an unpredictable evening of fun and surprises that is pretty much guaranteed to make you say, "I can't believe they got away with that in a Children's Theatre!" Recommended for ages 17 and up.  And while 8:00 may be late for Children's Theatre folk, it's still early enough (since the show only runs one hour) that you can head out into the night for more fun, in a great mood, after having laughed yourself silly!  For more info or tickets, visit http://www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com/event/late-night-jack-frost/

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"How I Became a Pirate" is a rollicking good time - Melissa Swick Ellington reviews the new show at Columbia Children's Theatre

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Get on board for a swashbuckling romp at Columbia Children’s Theatre! How I Became A Pirate is a rollicking good time for audiences of all ages. Director Jerry Stevenson and the exceptional cast and crew have created a delightful theatre experience with a crowd-pleasing band of pirates. Based on the book by Melinda Long and Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator David Shannon, this musical features book, music, and lyrics by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman. Kids will enjoy the action-packed plot, adults will snicker over clever wordplay, and everyone will leave the theatre grinning and snarling “Argh!” and “Ahoy, matey!”

Ashlyn Combs as Jeremy Jacob

While digging in the sand, young Jeremy Jacob encounters a raucous bunch of friendly pirates. Audiences will savor lively lessons that range from talking like a pirate to burying treasure. In the most rewarding educational settings, learning is a reflexive process; in this story, Jeremy Jacob is both student and teacher, as he leads the pirates through a tutorial on “soccer by the rules.” The script and lyrics capitalize on word jokes that will tickle audiences both youthful (“poop deck”) and seasoned (rhyming “flamingo” with “Ringo”). How I Became A Pirate allows even the more cautious younger viewers to revel in risk-taking by establishing a base of reliable security. We realize early on that this is no ordinary beach (“yo ho ho and a bottle of sunblock”), yet children are reassured of the boy’s well-being (“We’ll get you home safe and sound”). While kids shriek in gleeful anticipation as pirates invade the audience, they also recognize the fictional nature of the scurvy band. At the performance I attended, one small girl announced, “He’s not a real pirate – he doesn’t even smell bad!”

L-R Julian Deleon, Lee O. Smith, Anthony Harvey, Ashlyn Combs, Brandi Smith, Paul Lindley II, Andy Nyland

Although CCT has staged How I Became A Pirate previously, this production has a new script and music. The sole remaining element from the previous show is actor Lee O. Smith in the role of Captain Braid Beard – and what a marvelous captain Smith becomes. He snarls, grimaces, cajoles, and surprises, leading the energetic ensemble through a polished, exuberant jaunt. Ashlyn Combs demonstrates an appealing singing voice and earnest sincerity in the role of the young boy Jeremy Jacob. Complete with eye patch, beard, plumed hats, and sketchy dental care, the memorable pirate crew features capable performers who take full advantage of the characters’ distinct personalities. Brandi Smith as Maxine reveals a glorious voice and comedic flair, Julian Deleon shines as the congenial Pierre, and Andy Nyland relishes the complexity of Sharktooth, who demonstrates that outward appearances can be misleading. As the playful Seymour, Anthony Harvey delivers a dynamic performance, punctuated by an impressive spiel of pirate lingo. Paul Lindley II as the inimitable Swill is downright hilarious. Is there any role this talented actor can’t play?  With my faithful theatre-going companion (my six-year-old daughter), I have admired Lindley’s remarkable performances in numerous roles at CCT and elsewhere.

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Stevenson stages the musical with skillful wit. Through physical comedy, the actors inhabit a convincing pirate world, as in Jeremy Jacob’s wild steering of the ship. Particular sequences to watch for include the adept “minivan” staging, a fluid soccer game, and a blustery storm at sea. Crystal Aldamuy (Stage Manager and Choreographer), David Quay (Light Board Operator), Matt Wright (Sound Technician), and scenic artists Anthony Harvey, Donna Harvey, Jim Litzinger and Toni Moore collaborate with Stevenson to deliver a top-notch production.

 

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Crisp choreography and excellent vocal quality contribute to the musical’s success. From the opening scene’s impressive sandcastle to the seamless transition into the closing moments, the set design works beautifully to suggest multiple locations and changing moods. Donna Harvey and Stevenson achieve splendid richness in the pirate costumes, melding a vivid color palette with lush textures. Sharktooth’s eye-catching tattoos deserve special mention, along with noteworthy “mop” choreography. As an enthusiastic fan of the original picture book’s illustrator David Shannon (No, David! and Duck on a Bike, anyone?), I wondered how the book’s strong visuals would be interpreted onstage. I was happily delighted with the design team’s unified aesthetic that is both fanciful and functional.

 

pirate2As Stevenson recognizes in the program notes, “Wouldn’t we all like to be swept away on the high seas where there are no jobs, no school, no rules and no bedtimes!” Although the story highlights the delicious prospect of endless amusements and boisterous shenanigans, the comforting allure of dependable family life also emerges. The ensemble finds a powerful balance between comic hijinks and poignant tenderness. Purposeful performances and clarity of direction enhance moments like a wistful ballad on the goodness of home. As my six-year-old explained, “My favorite part was when Jeremy Jacob sang about home because it made me feel happy to think about my home.” In the midst of upbeat humor and captivating storytelling, a shining vein of relatable honesty runs through a genuinely human experience.

While my daughter and I have become accustomed to looking forward to first-rate productions at CCT, this show feels especially terrific. Take it from me, matey: learning how to be a pirate is a fun-filled voyage in this high quality performance at the Columbia Children’s Theatre.

~ Melissa Swick Ellington

Show Times:   Friday, September 26: 8:00 p.m. – Late Night Date Night for adults Saturday, September 27: 10:30 a..m. , 2:00 p.m., and 7:00 p.m. (with tickets half-price for the 7 PM show!) Sunday, September 28: 3:00 p.m.

For ticket information, visit http://www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com/how-i-became-a-pirate/.

A Pirate's Life for ME!

 

 

Rockin' the Beehive - a review of "Beehive the 60's Musical" at Workshop Theatre by Melissa Swick Ellington

There are plenty of good reasons why Beehive - the 60's Musical has been brought back to the Workshop Theatre stage after a successful run fifteen years ago, and eight of them light up the performance with stunning vocals and infectious energy. Jocelyn Sanders and Daniel Gainey provide expert direction that shapes a fluid journey through 1960’s music, as the eight performers celebrate female singers and songwriters. While the first act presents a vivacious stroll through girl groups of the early sixties, the second half of the show really rocks the house with the rough, raw sounds of Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, and Janis Joplin. Medleys combine excerpts of familiar favorites through fictional characters, as in the extended party sequence that features “It’s My Party,” “I’m Sorry,” “You Don’t Own Me,” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” among others. beehive2

The Beehive ladies excel at inviting the audience into their world, as the performers handle the audience participation segments with friendly enthusiasm. Valdina Hall, a consummate musical theatre performer and a cast member in the first Beehive production at Workshop, launches the show with confidence. Her warmth and magnetism permeate the occasions when she addresses the audience directly, one of the show’s many strengths. (I enjoyed the good fortune of attending Beehive as the middle member of three generations of girls who love to sing. My mother observed, “When Valdina is on stage, you just feel like everything is going to be all right.”) Jordan Harper’s exquisite yearning and soaring vocals illuminate “Where the Boys Are” and “To Sir With Love,” while Tameshia Magwood thrills with her stirring rendition of “Proud Mary.” Devin Anderson is a true powerhouse who fires up the stage in “One Fine Day,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “Respect.” The rest of the cast (Rayana Briggs, Roxanne Livingston, Brandi Smith, and Safiya Whitehead) brings versatile talent to a slew of musical numbers; the directors deserve commendation for insightful pairings of singers with songs.

The design team makes cohesive choices that support the production with efficiency and purpose. Randy Strange’s scenic design features dynamic visuals and useful levels, while Barry Sparks provides masterful lighting design. The placement of the excellent band onstage proves valuable, as the music (directed by Roland Haynes, Jr.) is front and center throughout the performance. The band’s presence also enables energizing interaction with the performers. Singers and musicians benefit from Baxter Engle’s effective sound design. Choreography by Barbara Howse-Diemer evokes the girl groups of the sixties, evolving through different movement styles as the decade progresses. Costume designer Alexis Doktor provides visual evidence of the decade’s social changes as the performers replace pastel florals with psychedelic miniskirts.  Expectation of impressive wigs and hairstyles comes with the territory in a show called Beehive, and this production does not disappoint. Bobby Craft’s expertise as stage manager keeps the energetic show running smoothly. Design elements work very well together; the lighting and choreography establish a definite shift in tone with “The Beat Goes On.” A few issues with clarity of spoken dialogue over band accompaniment early in the show and a couple of awkward transitions are minor quibbles in light of Beehive’s audience-pleasing power. My young daughter proclaimed upon leaving the theatre, “That was a great show!”

Beehive at Workshop Theatre delivers an entertaining showcase of 1960’s music through the considerable talents of eight versatile and hard-working performers. Beehive earned great buzz from responsive audiences on opening weekend and deserves to pack the house with sixties music lovers through the remaining performances. Be assured that this production is not a series of imitations of the original singers. These Beehive performers make unique contributions to create something that is at once both nostalgic and new.

Beehive the 60's Musical  continues at Workshop Theatre through Saturday, September 28, with curtain at 8 PM, except for a 3:00 PM Sunday matinee on September 22. Contact the Workshop Theatre Box Office at 803-799-4876 for ticket information, or visit www.workshoptheatre.com.

~ Melissa Swick Ellington

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Jasper   welcomes a new critic to our theatre team.  Melissa Swick Ellington earned a Ph.D. in Educational Theatre from New York University. She has directed or performed in numerous productions in professional, community, and educational theatres in New York and South Carolina. She taught theatre in K-12 and university settings for over a dozen years.

"Knuffle Bunny - A Cautionary Musical" - Alex Smith reviews the new play at Columbia Children's Theatre

Mo Willems is something of a rock star if you’re a kid between the ages of 4 and 11 (or even if you’re just the parent of a kid that age.)  His career in children’s entertainment began illustriously on Sesame Street, where as an animator and writer he won six Emmy awards between 1993 and 2002.  During that time he also created two animated television series, The Off-Beats and Sheep In The Big City.  Since 2003, he has been a wildly successful author of children’s books, introducing the world to such immortal characters as Cat the CatPiggie and Elephant, Edwina, The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct, Leonardo The Terrible Monster, Naked Mole Rat and Big Frog.   His lovely illustrations and easy storytelling simultaneously create tales whose worlds are complex and self-contained, yet are wrought in such a simple way that the lessons they teach are so subtle that you don’t feel like you’re being beaten over the head with them.   Above all his writing and his drawings are VERY funny, making them a joy for both children and adults. All of the same qualities which make Willems’ books so appealing are on full display in the Columbia Children’s Theatre’s musical staging of Knuffle Bunny, subtitled A Cautionary Musical.  With book and lyrics by Willems and music by Michael Silversher, this adaptation of the Caldecott Medal-winning adventures of the beloved stuffed animal of the title, Trixie (the toddler who loves the bunny), and Trixie’s Mom and Dad, is staged as confidently as ever by director Chad Henderson, whose genre-defying talent as a theatrical director shines in this family-friendly production.   Henderson, as usual, has brought together a cast and crew whose talent coalesces to create a brisk, wonderfully entertaining evening in the theatre for children and their grown-ups alike.

This "cautionary tale" is straightforward enough: Dad, in an attempt to give Mom some time to herself, decides to take their daughter Trixie to the laundromat a few blocks from their home in the big city.  Trixie drags along her favorite stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny. In the process of laundering the family’s clothes, Knuffle Bunny is accidentally put in the washing machine, and not until they return home between cycles does Dad realize what Trixie (who hasn’t learned to speak yet) has been trying to tell him throughout their journey home: Knuffle Bunny has been left behind. Mom, Dad and Trixie all rush back to the laundromat, where Dad embarks on a hero’s journey to recover Trixie’s missing doll. To say that hilarity ensues would cheat all of the above described action of how wildly entertaining and very funny it is.

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Mom and Dad are expertly played by Kathy Sykes and Paul Lindley II, respectively. They are portraying archetypes, which can easily be overplayed and stereotypical in lesser hands, but as Mom, Ms. Sykes conveys all the frustration, patience, nurturing and love which mothers exercise with their children (and, often, with the fathers of their children) in such a sincere and earthy way that we laugh at and with her because of the familiarity her portrayal evokes. Lindley as Dad is all bluster and bravado which mask his genuine sensitivity and insecurities about his ability as a parent and a spouse; in other words, he is every dad.  Lindley, in addition to serving as the show's musical director, is a comic actor of immense talent (he was side-splitting as "Snail" in CCT's recent staging of Frog and Toad), and in his hands Dad is the perfect over-serious, overwrought and over-compensating foil to Ms. Sykes’ “straight-man” mom. Their performances, individually and as that archetypal institution of “mom and dad,” are worth the price of admission alone.

And then there’s Trixie. Having an adult play a child onstage is another dangerous proposition: the temptation to over- or under-play the impossibly endless and variant characterizations which make up the earliest eras of childhood make the task a difficult one for any actor...or, as one of the show's songs explains, "Trixie Is Tricky".  Hats off, then, to Sara Jackson, who embodies the pre-verbal toddler Trixie with all of the requisite foibles of a child that age without ever falling into the easy traps of being too cutesy or commenting on them.  The strength of Ms. Jackson's performance lies in the fact that despite the fact that, for instance, the role calls upon her to do something as outlandish as speak for 95% of the play in incomprehensible toddler-speak, she takes Trixie as seriously as an actor would take any adult role. This not only makes her character completely clear and interesting, it allows her to nearly bring down the house with laughter when she delivers, with straight-faced sincerity, a ballad about her troubles whose lyrics consist of no recognizable human language. It is a high point of the show.

There are so many other elements which make Knuffle Bunny such an excellent show: the hard work of a fine ensemble of actor/puppeteers (Julian Deleon, Anthony Harvey, Brandi Smith and Christina Whitehouse-Suggs) who play multiple roles and are particularly wonderful in a scene where Dad does battle with some troublesome clothes in an attempt to find Knuffle Bunny; Donna Harvey's costume and puppet design which ably bring those troublesome clothes, Knuffle Bunny, and all the other characters, animate or not, to colorful life; Baxter Engle's superb projections, which build upon Willems' own layout in the Knuffle Bunny books, creating a living backdrop out of actual photographs of New York city and otherwise broadening the staging possibilities in the Children's Theatre's modest space (this may be the first production in Columbia to stage a musical number inside a washing machine); and, of course, a cameo appearance by Willems' other Caldecott Honoree, the troublesome Pigeon - in the form of an excellent marionette, designed and built by Lyon Hill - who in the play's final moments literally "steals the show," and opens up the welcome possibility that this may not be the end of Knuffle Bunny's stage adventures...

The Columbia Children's Theatre's top-notch production of Knuffle Bunny is so well-crafted and performed, that it makes the prospect of further musical journeys with Mom, Dad, Trixie and Knuffle Bunny a tantalizing prospect indeed. It is the best kind of family entertainment around, and it should not be missed.

~ Alex Smith

Knuffle Bunny - A Cautionary Musical runs Friday, April 19th at 7:00 PM, Saturday, April 20th at 10:30 AM, 2:00 PM, and 7:00 PM, and a final matinee Sunday, April 21st, at 3:00 PM.  For ticket in formation, visit their website, or call (803) 691-4548.

An interview with Chad Henderson on The Motherf**ker with the Hat

 

Jasper had the chance to sit down with Chad Henderson, director of the next play on the Trustus Main Stage, The Motherfucker with a Hat. We had a few questions for Chad and -- turns out he had a few answers that we're happy to share with you now.

 

1. So who wears what hats in the production of the play MFWAH?

 

Well, I’m happily wearing the directing hat for this project. I’ve got a great cast too! I’m excited that we’ve got some new talents making their Trustus debut with this production. Alexis Casanovas, who got his MFA in Acting from Rutgers, is playing our protagonist Jackie. Playing his girlfriend Veronica is Raia Jane Hirsch, who studied theatre at TISCH in NYC. Shane Silman, who many know from his recent work on his adaptation of “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, is playing Jackie’s AA sponsor Raplh D. We’ve also got two Trustus Company members in the show: Michelle Jacobs playing Victoria (Ralph’s wife) and Joe Morales playing Julio (Jackie’s Cousin).

 

We’ve also got Preach Jacobs compiling the score for this show from his music catalogue and Kimi Maeda has designed an unbelievable set. She’s designed a set comprised of three rotating periactoi (three-sided revolves) which allow us to create a lot of movement with the set and get the story moving at a great pace.

 

 

 

2. What about this play made you want to direct it?

 

Initially, the language was what keyed me into this show – by that I mean the actual words on the page…not the naughty words (of which there are plenty – wink). I’ve been a fan of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ work for a few years now. I’ve seen his scripts produced by NiA, Trustus, and Theatre South Carolina – and every time I’m impressed with how musical the language and word choices can be. He writes in a way that reflects actual conversation. Not to mention, his characters are often quirky and dangerous. Motherf**ker certainly exhibits these qualities, and many critics felt that this show was a prime example of his use of language and his creation of realistic characters that live on the edge – whether they intend to or not.

 

Ultimately, I like plays that explore human relationships. This script explores many points-of-view concerning love, lust, loyalty, and betrayal. Without talking too much about my personal history, I responded to a sense of dark familiarity with the relationships being explored in the story. Some of the things being said, I’ve said. Some of the situations the characters find themselves in are ones I’ve been in before. This show is about a lot of the things we can’t talk about in polite company. We have to wait until we’re around our closest friends – where the truth will sometimes surface (but not always). And that’s really what the show is about: friendships. I think they’re confusing at times – don’t you?

 

 

 

3. What have been your greatest challenges and how have you met them?

 

I anticipated a lot of challenges with this show because the language is so specific, and I also wanted to ask for a lot of bravery from the actors. However, that all seemed to fall into place very early on in the process.

 

So in all reality, the greatest challenge I had with this show was learning to trust myself in a new way. It’s been over a year since I’ve worked on a non-musical – which I had wanted to do for quite some time. While the approaches to directing a musical and a non-musical have similarities, they do diverge from each other at many points. I knew that this show had a title that would be singular in Columbia. Therefore – I wanted the production to be singular as well.

 

I’m the type who’s always thinking about “what’s next?”, “what do people want?”, “what’s exciting right here and right now?” So, with a mind running on various cylinders at one time I kept feeling like I couldn’t wrap my head around what the final product would be like for The Motherf**ker With the Hat. There was light at the end of the tunnel however because I was able to work with scenic designer Kimi Maeda and score composer Preach Jacobs.  Now we’ve got a hip-hop score that’s definitive to the Trustus production, as well as a scenic concept that I haven’t seen explored in other productions throughout the country.

 

 

 

4. The play has a "bad word" in it -- a lot of playwrights would have substituted another word to avoid controversy, this one did not. Why do you think that is?

 

In an interview about the show Stephen Adly Guirgis said that he titled the show “The Motherfucker With the Hat” so it would serve as a disclaimer. In other words, you know what you’re getting into. It’s not family friendly – and that’s because it’s about adult life….or “real” life. It can be expected from the title that we’re going to be examining some of the more difficult human experiences.

 

I don’t want to be misleading though…this show does have a lot of comedy in it. Guirgis is a brilliant writer, and I think those who are unfamiliar with him will have a great time experiencing a script by one our more prominent playwrights of the last decade.

 

5. Can you talk a little about the set design?

 

The scenic design by Kimi Maeda is just as “in transit” as the main character, Jackie. From the moment of the inciting incident of this show, we follow Jackie through a series of circumstances and choices that make him careen forward through his already difficult life. He’s in and out of apartments continuously and Kimi’s set allows us to go there with ease. Three rotating periactoi (three-sided revolves) cover the stage, allowing the audience and the characters to move through space and time in an engaging way. In my opinion, plays should often equate to a theatrical EVENT; turning a show into an experience that the actors and the audiences can travel through together. In other words, once the curtain speech has ended I like to make people feel like the safety bar comes down on a rollercoaster and you’re not admitted off the ride until it’s over. Kimi’s set is one of the more effective sets I’ve worked with in allowing the show to take on this “rollercoaster” quality. And boy, with these characters IT IS a rollercoaster.

 

Kimi and I had a lot of conversations about the role the imagination plays in moments of infidelity. Jealousy can begin to take control and has the potential to make someone view their life through a more aggrandized point of view. Hypothetically, if I were to find out from someone else that my wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, or whatever had slept with someone else…I might start to let my jealousy and imagination take over. I might imagine them having wild passionate sex, I might imagine them laughing at me behind my back, I may also imagine KILLING THE MOTHERFUCKAH THAT TOUCHED…see what happens? Haha, the darker side of creation can just take off in moments like that.

 

What Kimi did to respond to that idea was to lace Lichtenstein inspired elements into the set. Making the whole show take on that paneled “comic” style look. Both Lighting Designer Danny Harrington and Costume Designer Brandi Smith have made bold choices to marry the other visual elements into this unique pop-art inspired world.

 

 

6. Of the actors in MFWAH, who, or whose role, do you think the audience will be talking about after the play is over?

 

I think audiences are really going to enjoy watching this cast work together. They couldn’t be a more diverse group with varying ranges in experience, style, approach, and education. However they ALL bring these characters to life beautifully, and more importantly AS AN ENSEMBLE!

 

Trustus audiences will be seeing Alexis Casanovas and Raia Jane Hirsch on the Main Stage for the first time, and I think they’re going to be viewed as very welcome additions to the Trustus family. Alexis brings a lot of swagger and heart to the character of Jackie, and Raia exhibits absolute uninhibited work as Jackie’s fiery girlfriend Veronica.

 

I think audiences are going to be talking a lot about these characters that they’re playing. We pull for both of them, and this show takes them on a journey where their strength is constantly challenged. Jackie is a recovering addict and Veronica is a current addict – so their dynamics are always running on two different cylinders. I tell ya – I know a few couples like that.

 

 

7. What's this I hear about a "hat night" and whose brilliant idea was this anyway?

 

HAT NIGHT?! You mean one of the coolest opening night events this season at Trustus?

 

Yes, we had someone post on the Trustus facebook page that they hoped there’d be a “hat night” for the show. I believe it might have been the editor of Jasper magazine (insert winky emoticon here). So, myself and Larry Hembree thought we could turn it into a fun contest online.

 

So here’s how it works: audiences come on opening night, and they wear a hat. My awesome marketing interns Rachel and Victoria will be going around and taking pictures of those wishing to compete for a Trustus Flex Pass. On Saturday the 9th, we’ll upload a photo album on facebook and tag the shots. Whoever’s photo has the most “likes” by midnight on Saturday the 16th will win a Trustus Flex Pass (8 tickets to Main Stage shows). 2nd place wins 4 tickets, and 3rd place wins 2 tickets. So – there’s more than one chance to win some tickets to Trustus shows! Plus…it’s fun to wear a hat and have everyone call you a “motherf**ker” all night.

MATURE AUDIENCE ONLY: language, sexual content, nudity, violence -

BIO Chad Henderson* (Director) is the current 2012 Jasper Magazine Artist of the Year in Theatre. This year will mark a full decade in Columbia for Chad, four of them at the University of South Carolina and six of them as a Company member here at Trustus. Past Trustus Directing Credits include: Next To Normal, Avenue Q (Winner “Best Local Production”), Passing Strange (Runner-up “Best Local Production”), Spring Awakening, Assassins, The Last 5 Years, reasons to be pretty, Swing ’39 (World premiere), The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Southern Baptist Sissies, Hedwig and The Angry Inch, and Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead (Winner “Best Local Production). Chad has been in residency twice at The Studios of Key West, and has also directed at The Columbia Children’s Theatre, Workshop Theatre of South Carolina, Theatre South Carolina, Spartanburg Next Stage, and The Spartanburg Youth Theatre.

"Next Fall" at Trustus Theatre

Geoffrey NaufftsNext Fall, now running at Trustus Theatre, was Tony-nominated for Best Play, and won the Outer Critics Award.  As detailed in press material, "this contemporary play explores relationships, faith, family, and the very current topic of same-sex rights in hospitals. The show chronicles the five-year relationship between Luke and Adam. With Luke being devoutly religious and Adam being an atheist – their love and their principles are often tested. However, when an accident changes everything, Adam is forced to examine what it means to 'believe' and what it will cost if he doesn’t." Visiting Director Sharon Graci previously directed the show at Charleston’s PURE Theatre.  Trustus Artistic Director Dewey Scott-Wiley notes that “Next Fall asks a lot of important questions about love, family, religion, and civil rights, and how the questions get answered within the context of a same-sex relationship. What is most wonderful about Next Fall, however, is that many of the questions are left for the audience to answer.  There is nothing predictable or didactic about the show."

That said, every audience member brings a different perspective to any show. Jasper Literary Editor Ed Madden, Theatre Editor August Krickel, and guest critic Stephen Kish all had drastically differing takes on the production. One felt the show delivered an important message, one was looking for much more of a message, and one felt the message was less important than the love story. All enjoyed the performances by G. Scott Wild, Jason Stokes, and Kim Harne, and all to some extent felt the supporting cast were under-used, especially in the first act.  One liked the use of miming in place of props but didn't think it was always accomplished that well by the cast, while another admired the actors' mastery of the technique, but didn't like its use to begin with. Two weren't wild about the creative scene changes, while one loved them.  So go figure.  Jasper encourages and indeed embraces diversity of opinion, and urges everyone to go see the show, and decide for yourself.

Ed Madden's take on the show - with some editorial thoughts on the larger societal context of some of the issues raised, can be found here. August Krickel's review can be found  here and  here. And guest blogger Stephen Kish's review is below:

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A familiar feeling crept over me while sitting in the audience of Geoffrey Nauffts's Next Fall - I’ve seen this before.  A simple setup starts us off.  Friends and family gather after Luke (Jason Stokes) is critically injured in a car accident.  We have every type of stock character: the chatty, overbearing mother (Kim Harne), the female co-worker (Brandi Smith) who loves hanging out with gay men, the father (Stanford Gardner) who can't accept the truth about his son, and Adam (G. Scott Wild), the cynical, religion-hating lover of comatose Luke.  There is hope, briefly, that this may all play out like a Flannery O'Connor story, wherein characters from different backgrounds clash over fundamental ideals, ultimately leading to some great epiphany - but that would be reaching to hope for such greatness.  Sadly, Next Fall, plays out like a Lifetime Movie, but without any of the fun.

To be fair, it isn't the fault of the actors or even the director; the material never rises to the occasion, and never is the feeling of grief or loss truly seen or felt by anyone. There are, nevertheless, very good parts within this production.  Kim Harne as Luke's very Southern, very chatty mother is altogether fun in her performance.  The rest of the cast didn't fare as well.  Jason Stokes as Luke is likeable and charming, as is G. Scott Wild as Adam.  They do not, however, possess any chemistry as lovers.  This presents a large problem during the staging of the play, as their relationship is the main drama.  The remainder of the cast was under-utilized, and didn't make much of a lasting impression.

The direction, by Sharon Graci, presents problems early on due to some strange choreography choices that alert the audience to scene changes.  There was a moment when the cast is moving chairs, an enjoyable pop song is playing, and I truly thought they were going to burst out into a full-on musical number, but of course they were just setting up the next scene.  Things like this jar the audience out of the experience, and take away much of the dramatic tension.

With this feeling of familiarity persistent throughout the performance, I wasn't sure how to feel. In many ways, this is just another story of a closeted gay man who can't face his fundamentalist father; there was nothing new explored, just more of the same.  There could have been so much more that could have been said here, but the script happily meanders the entire time, never becoming edgy, or delivering anything more than a heavy-handed message.  I wanted more from this play, but sadly didn't get it. Then again, not everything has to be life-changing or challenging.

~ Stephen Kish

 

Next Fall runs through Saturday, November  10th, on the Thigpen Main Stage at Trustus.  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 if seating is available.

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.

Next Fall, This Fall: A Timely Play Opens at Trustus

“How do you make that call?”  That’s the question asked at beginning of the second act of Next Fall, the new play opening at Trustus this weekend.  And it’s really the question that drives the play.  Everyone is on cellphones in the play.  There are missed connections, unreturned calls, emergency contacts—and the inevitable chain of calls that happens when something awful happens to someone you know.

How do you make that call?

In the play, which was written Geoffrey Nauffts and staged on Broadway in 2010, Luke, a closeted gay man, lies in a coma in a New York hospital after an automobile accident.  Hospital policy limits access to “family only.”  In the hospital are two close friends and Luke’s parents, who have just arrived from Florida and who don’t know that Luke is gay, nor that he has lived with another man for 4 years.  The arrival of Luke’s partner at the hospital sets into motion the complicated (and sometimes infuriating) interactions of these 6 characters as Luke’s situation goes from bad to worse.  Life support, organ donation, access to your loved ones at a time of illness or catastrophe—all of these issues raise the question, “How do you make that call?”  And, perhaps, more importantly, who gets to make it.

It’s a deeply moving play, all the more so, I think, because it’s a message play about issues that matter, in some way, to everyone.  We’ve all faced, or will eventually face, these questions.  But I think they’re particularly fraught for gay people, and that’s where the real drama—and heartbreak—of the play lies.

* * *

Hospital visitation is an issue that has haunted the gay community for decades.  Under the law, for years, a family who had cut you off might have more claim over your health care than the partner you had chosen.  I remember, when I was younger, hearing about the Sharon Kowalski case.  Like Luke, Kowalski had been with her partner about 4 years, though unlike Luke and Adam, she and her partner Karen Thompson had had a commitment ceremony and had named one another as insurance beneficiaries.  Also like Luke, she ended up in a hospital after an automobile accident.  A drunk driver hit her in 1983, and she suffered severe brain injuries, with permanent physical and mental disabilities.  Kowalski’s anti-gay family and her lover repeatedly went to court over her guardianship.  One court after another disagreed.  Thompson eventually won, and the raised awareness in the lesbian and gay community about durable power of attorney forms for couples.

Of course, those legal forms don’t carry much weight if the state you live in doesn’t recognize your relationship—as Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond discovered when Pond collapsed on a family cruise in Florida with her partner and their two adopted children.  Even though Langbehn had the proper legal document, that durable health care power of attorney, the Florida hospital refused to recognize it.  As the Lambda Legal website puts it, “The hospital also informed her that she was in an antigay city and state and that she could expect to receive no information or acknowledgment as family.”  For almost eight hours, neither Langbehn nor their children were allowed to see Pond.  She died in the hospital.  To add not merely insult but cruelty to injury, the state of Florida and the Dade County Medical Examiner refused to give Langbehn a death certificate when she requested one to get life insurance and Social Security benefits for their children.

Clearly, even if you had the right piece of paper, this fundamental human right to take care of the ones you love was subject to a patchwork of hospital practice, state policy, and homophobia.  Clearly, too, despite the Full Faith and Credit clause, states could not only deny recognition of couples and families recognized elsewhere, but they could also do so, as the medical examiner’s actions suggest, in particularly cruel and inhumane ways.

I can’t help but wonder if the playwright had this case in mind, when he made Luke’s parents Floridians.

* * *

Like much of the play’s publicity, the play’s flashback scenes, within which the relationship of Adam and Luke is developed, focus on their fundamental religious differences.  Adam is an atheist or agnostic, while Luke is a devout believer of a particular sort—not only a Christian but one who believes in the Rapture (a nonmainstream theology made popular by TV evangelists and the Left Behind franchise) and one who hasn’t reconciled his sexuality with his faith.  He still thinks his homosexuality is wrong—so much so that he prays after sex, even though he’s been with Adam for years.

Understandably, that’s unsettling to Adam.  But it makes sense to Luke’s best friend Brandon, who has sex with black men but doesn’t believe in the “lifestyle.”  As he explains to Adam, “When you two were just hooking up, it was one thing, but when it turned into something, well, more . . . Look, I understand the need to act on the urges, believe me, but to choose the lifestyle? To live like it was . . . right, I guess?”  Brandon draws the line there.

Or as Adam throws it back at him, “You draw your line at love?”

Part of the power of this play for me actually lies in the representation of Luke and Brandon—perhaps uncommon figures in contemporary gay theatre but both very real kinds of gay men, not just closeted or self-loathing (those are familiar), but unable to reconcile their sexuality and their faith, and, like Brandon, so deeply conflicted that they give themselves permission to have sex (those pesky "urges") but not permission to love.  That Luke prays after sex is just one of many coping strategies for the cognitive dissonance he and Brandon feel, trapped between two incompatible worldviews.

I am not a theatre critic, but I have to say that G. Scott Wild was excellent—compelling and human in the role of Adam.  His first few scenes felt stagey (though that was perhaps more the script than his acting), but as he got into the character—and through the entire second act—I found his character heartbreakingly believable.  Also, Kim Harne as Arlene, Adam’s mother, was a believable gem of an unstoppably chatty Southern woman, though as with Adam, the play gives her much greater depth as a character in the second act.

Part of the problem with the play, in fact, is the way the first act has to establish character and worldview in broad strokes, but the second act fills in with depth and empathy characters who seemed almost cliché in the first.  For example, Stan Gardner as Butch, Adam’s father, is an asshole and a fundamentalist Christian who doesn’t believe in evolution, uses the n-word, and makes clear what he thinks of faggots.  It’s a hard role to pull off without being a cliché, but Stan pulls it off surprisingly well, especially in the second act as his world falls apart.  Brandi Smith as Holly (the self-described fag hag and Luke’s boss) and Bobby Bloom as Brandon are also quite good—Brandi's timing spot on, and Bloom’s doe-eyed face a canvas of masked self-torture and conflicted allegiances.  Pretty and self-assured, Jason Stokes as Luke was an enigma of a character for me, though Stokes registers the confidence of convinced Christians that can so often come across as self-righteous smugness.

I also have to say I love the way the director (Sharon Graci, Artistic Director of Pure Theatre) moves us between scenes, using musical breaks for characters to move around the simple chairs and table that create a hospital chapel, a New York loft, or a coffee shop.  Or the use of umbrellas to open each act (simple and stunning).  These were beautifully and carefully choreographed moments of music and movement.

I also liked the minimal staging, though at times the lack of props and the (sometimes not-so-well) mimed acting of drinking, opening doors, and packing a suitcase became distracting.  Perhaps it’s appropriate, though, given the play’s theme, that other than the hospital waiting room furniture, the only real props were a Bible, a bottle of pills, and a cellphone.

* * *

I love those moments in theatre when I lose my sense of being in an audience and I get lost in the story.  Those moments, in this play, when emotion overwhelmed the characters—and overwhelmed me.  Despite my problems with the first act, overall I thought the play powerful and important.  And by the end, simultaneously crushing and hopeful.

Luckily, thanks to President Barak Obama, the rules have changed about hospital visitation.  Moved, in part, by Langbehn’s horror story of anti-gay Florida and others like hers, the president signed an executive order in 2010 mandating that any hospital receiving government funding (including Medicare and Medicaid) recognize the relationships of gays and lesbians and their children.

Luckily, too, South Carolina passed a law in 2008 (in the wake of the amendment’s broad denial of rights to lesbian and gay couples), allowing one to designate hospital contacts and visitation rights.  (Gay activists kept a distance from these deliberations, for fear the knowledge that this law would allow recognition of lesbian and gay couples would derail it in the generally homophobic South Carolina legislature.)

Of course, such policies wouldn’t help someone like Luke in the play, unconscious and unable to make such designations, and too closeted (and perhaps too soon in the relationship) to have sought ratification of the relationship in a legal document.  When the surgeon stipulates “family only,” Adam protests, “I am family.”  That relationship, however, is not recognized by law or hospital policy, and with a faggot-hating, Bible-toting, creationist father in the waiting room, it’s not likely to be recognized by those who have the power to make the call either.

If Mitt Romney is elected, sadly, this play may have even more resonance.  Within the past week, Romney has announced that being able to visit your dying spouse or parent in the hospital is a privilege, not a right, and should be left to states to decide.  (See here and here.)  As others have noted, this implies that Romney would reverse Obama’s 2010 federal order requiring hospitals to recognize visitation rights of gay couples and their children.

On behalf of Romney, his spokesperson clarified:  “Governor Romney supports a federal marriage amendment to the Constitution that defines marriage as an institution between a man and a woman. Governor Romney also believes, consistent with the 10th Amendment, that it should be left to states to decide whether to grant same-sex couples certain benefits, such as hospital visitation rights and the ability to adopt children.”

Theory and practice, I guess.  Banning gay marriage is a federal issue, but it’s up to the states to put cruelty into practice.

Next fall, Next Fall might feel all too possible, given the vicissitudes of elections and the determination of the Right to turn back progress.  I hope, instead, that next fall (or maybe the one after that or the one after that...), as powerful and moving at this play is, it will seem a dated message play, that Next Fall will join Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart as a play about a time when institutionalized denigration of gay people and the denial of their relationships was a tacit norm.

"How do you make that call?"  And who gets to make it?

Go see the play.  Make sure your gay and lesbian friends have a durable power of attorney.  And vote.