REVIEW: Jon Tuttle's Boy About Ten at Trustus Theatre

A talent for drama is not a talent for writing, but is an ability to articulate human relationships.” 

-Gore Vidal

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John Tuttle is, by any standard, a man with a talent for writing, but after seeing the world premiere of his play, Boy About Ten, I can affirm that he is also quite adept at articulating human relationships. Indeed, the oft-troubled intertwining of Boy About Ten’s dysfunctional, but (somewhat) connected nuclear family of four, drives the plot of Tuttle’s work, taking a well-written piece to the level of a performance bristling with all the sharp edges relationships can provide. This is not to suggest that the production currently running at Trustus is without laughter or light-hearted moments. It may be a tragicomedy, but Boy About Ten doesn’t hesitate to let the tragic cede the stage to the comedic in a legitimate, story-faithful way. In his program notes, Trustus Artistic Director, Chad Henderson, comments that “this play has undergone a more involved development process than our previous Playwrights Festival winners or commissions,” which no doubt contributed to the feeling of polish and streamlining found in the script. I managed to make notes on some of the truly standout lines, but by no means is my list comprehensive.

 

The play opens with D’Loris (Lonetta Thompson), a kindhearted but world-weary social worker, dealing with what is clearly a family in distress. She is trying to prepare Todd (Tommy Wiggins), the elder son, to go to his mothers’ house for a week. Todd is obviously troubled in multiple ways, but is largely nonverbal, using a set of oversized headphones to drown out the conflict which surrounds him, while hiding his face behind his chin-length bangs.  As usual, Thompson creates a fully-realized, textured character, who has flaws as well as sincerely caring nature. I never tire of seeing Thompson onstage, as she is always completely immersed in and committed to her character and the moment. It would have been the easy way out to depict D’Loris as either a hyper-idealistic Wonder Woman, or as a “honey, I’ve seen it all,” world-weary cynic, but Thompson chose to create someone in-between, and in the process, gave the audience a layered, complex, and realistic performance. Kudos also to Wiggins, a former Trustus Apprentice Company member, making his mainstage debut. Though Todd doesn’t speak much, especially in the early scenes, his body language, movement style, and a sort of self-embrace clearly establish him as a damaged human being, doing his best to avoid his psychic pain. When it is revealed that he is a self-cutter/burner, it is a bit of a shock, but totally believable for the character he has, by that point, made three-dimensional. I suspect we’ll be seeing much more of Wiggins on the Trustus stage in seasons to come, and I look forward to watching his development as an actor.

 

The arrival of Tammy (Jennifer Hill), lightens the mood by, ironically, introducing the least likeable of the five characters. Hill’s Tammy is brash, flashy, loud, and obnoxious, fancying herself far above the rest of the family. She dresses herself in designer clothing, while a couple of mentions are made of the kids’ clothes coming from Goodwill, and she personifies the cliche of the “helicopter parent,” dispensing screechy advice and criticism thinly veiled as “encouragement.” Hill’s comedic timing is absolutely spot-on, and she brought Friday night’s house down with such well-penned verbal spewings as “I was once a Sweet Potato Queen, now I’m a Cyclops!” (It seems that Tammy has a glass eye, which is broken, requiring her to wear an eye patch.) Clearly proud of her somewhat meager accomplishments, she touts having played Yum-Yum in a community college production of The Mikado, along with a few other small successes, in an attempt to impress D’Loris, who is eventually prompted to ask “what the hell is wrong with you people?” The moments of conflict between Tammy and D’Loris establish a curious dynamic. Tammy, in her own twisted, control-freak way, wants the best for her children, while D’Loris tries to help establish exactly that, which eludes the self-centered Tammy.

One gathers fairly quickly that Tammy is at her ex-husband’s house to swap out the younger son, Timmy, (Daniel Rabinovich), who is a straight-A, rule-abiding, do-gooder, complete with Webelos Scout uniform, and practically a stranger to Todd, and the two react somewhat cautiously to each other. (I may have missed an important line or mention of the situation, but it is clear that the brothers have not spent much time together.) Rabinovich demonstrates an actor’s sensitivities quite impressively, especially for a young actor. His character arc may well be the most dramatic in terms of growth and change, and he handles it like a true pro. As with Wiggins, this is a young man to watch.

Once all is settled, Timmy is left alone with his father, Terry. Played by Trustus mainstay, Paul Kaufmann, Terry is an affable, childlike n’ere-do-well, whose love for his sons manifests in an “at my house, there are no rules” dynamic. (When asked by Timmy if they can attend an Imax film or visit the Planetarium, Terry immediately scoffs at the thought of an educational outing, at least in the traditional sense.) Kaufmann, without ever breaking the established reality of the play, or mugging to the audience, brought to life an enchanting man-child, reminiscent of Tom Hanks in Big, with a dash of Bertie Wooster and Falstaff tossed in. To Timmy’s growing amusement, the two of them chug Cheerwine (no sodas allowed at Tammy’s house), fight ludicrous pretend war games against “Vagicilla, Dark Queen of the Nether Regions” (inspired, no doubt, by Tammy), and Timmy frequently receives his father’s military decorations, which may or may not be legit. It was at this point that I began to wonder about the show’s eponymous title. Was Timmy the Boy About Ten, or was his father? Had the parent/child dynamic between them already shifted before the action of the play began? Kaufmann, incidentally, scores one of the biggest laughs in the show while telling Timmy about his days in an ersatz KISS cover band. “You can always tell when chicks dig you. They chew their gum at you…like meat!”

 

A brief in-one scene gives us our sole glimpse of life at Tammy’s house, when the focus is, both literally and figuratively, on Todd, who is passively receiving an unwanted haircut from his mother. A special tip of the hat to Lighting Designer Laura Anthony, for transforming a simple floor lamp into a “where were you on the night of the robbery?” beacon. This is an occasion upon which the lighting truly made the scene for me. We, the audience, are semi-blinded by the intensity of the same light shining into Todd’s eyes, and subject to the same jabber from Tammy. Like a police officer in a bad, made-for-TV crime drama, she prattles on and on about how Todd should want to be “normal” and make friends “like all the other boys,” painting a Leave It To Beaver lifestyle, which will supposedly emerge with a haircut and a suit from Goodwill. Interrogation/indoctrination and “tough love” establish an uneasy coexistence at Tammy’s house, and the two children she raised reflect that. Timmy’s unblinking obedience earns him praise, so he obeys. Todd, whom I assumed to be somewhere on the autism spectrum, is unable to deal with what his senses perceive as blinding light and a barrage of impossible commands. Though short, this scene impacted me. I began to wonder through whose eyes we were seeing any given situation, and then viewing each scene from each character’s angle. Thank you, Jon Tuttle, for this (I’m guessing) three-page scene, which widened the lens through which I saw the rest of the play. Though she was the antagonist of the scene, it allowed a glimpse into Tammy’s desperate desire for a “normal, happy, family,” and humanized her for me.

 

I won’t go into too much detail about the second act, as it is, essentially, a minefield of spoilers, and much of what happens requires the elements of shock and surprise to work. While not without laughs, the second act takes a somewhat darker turn, with a grim family story, involving animal abuse, being revealed. (*While no violence is depicted onstage, a gruesome monologue could be mildly to moderately triggering for some.*) Terry childishly endangers his and Timmy’s lives at the end of act one, the aftermath of which, we see in act two. Todd returns, neatly trimmed and besuited, but still distant, albeit with the occasional smile of hope. Toward the end of the play, we discover that Terry suffered physical wounds far worse than Timmy’s while saving the boy from the dangerous results of his (Terry’s) recklessness. Romantic impossibilities are pondered and argued, D’Loris loses another crumb of her idealism, but hangs on to hope, Timmy takes his first step toward adult cynicism, Tammy reveals some game-changing information, and the family is left as we found them; bruised and battered, but oddly okay. The playwright leaves us with the idea that life will simply go on, and with the insanity and bizarre love in this family, who can even speculate on the eventual outcome?

 

Director Patrick Michael Kelly has taken an artfully written play, refined by much workshopping, and brought to the stage a world of slightly-heightened reality, never losing sight of the connecting themes of family and what it truly means to care for someone.

 

So, who is the Boy About Ten? I have my suspicions that each character, with the exception of D’Loris (who serves as the impartial observer and voice of reason) is that boy. Perhaps that answers my earlier question, and tips us off that the show is seen from D’Loris’ perspective.

Boy About Ten is an engaging, thought-provoking, and most enjoyable play, and a worthy addition to the Tuttle ouvre. Only four performances remain, so get your tickets now!

-- Frank Thompson

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Tickets can be purchased online at Trustus.org , or by calling the Trustus Theatre box office on 803.254.9732
 
Remaining performance dates are:
Wednesday, August 22 – 7:30pm
Thursday, August 23 – 7:30pm
Friday, August 24 – 8:00pm
Saturday, August 25 – 8:00pm
 
Frank Thompson is the theatre editor for Jasper Magazine - contact him at flt31230@yahoo.com
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JOIN THE JASPER GUILD TODAY AND SEE YOUR NAME IN THE NEXT ISSUE OF JASPER MAGAZINE

RELEASING FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 21 AT THE NEW STORMWATER STUDIOS

The Jasper Project is a non-profit all-volunteer organization that provides collaborative arts engineering for all disciplines of arts and artists in the South Carolina Midlands and throughout the state. Please help us continue to meet our mission of validating the cultural contributions of all artists and growing community within the arts by becoming a member of the Jasper Guild .  We'll print your name in the magazine, thank you on social media, and love you forever!

www.JasperProject.org

 

More New Art from Trustus - FEST 24

"We think it’s important for Trustus, a non-profit that is supported and funded by the community, to give back to the community."

- Chad Henderson

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Jasper loves art for art's sake and we love new art -- so you know we're going to be excited about what Trustus has cooked up for next weekend -- a FREE 24 hour theatre festival.

What a joy to see a non-profit arts organization that, like all of us, could really use a little more cash in their lives, say - hey - let's get a bunch of playwrights, directors, and actors together and throw a festival just for the hell of it and, just to spread the love around a bit more, let's open up the theatre and make it free to whoever can legally fit into the joint.

In other words, let's do what we love because we love it and that's it. No applications, no guidelines, no submission fees, no goddamned bureaucracy allowed. 

Thirty-five artists writing, directing, and performing because they just can't help themselves.

Here's what Trustus artistic director Chad Henderson had to say when we questioned him about the festival.

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Jasper: How did you choose the participating playwrights and directors?

Henderson: As we approached revisiting this fun event, we knew we wanted to engage playwrights from the community. Each of these writers is constantly writing and creating narratives. Folks in Columbia may know them in different ways, but it will be a great chance to introduce some new voices in local playwriting as well let folks learn something new about local theatre artists who are usually participating in the theatre in other ways.

For example, Paul Kaufmann is known around town as a wonderful actor, but he’s also a creative writer. Robbie Robertson is known for screenplays and commercials, but he’s also penned local comedies and wrote the book for a musical that’s been workshopped in NYC. Tangie Beaty is a prolific Columbia playwright who produces her work with her popular company – WOW productions. Trinessa Dubas is a passionate theatre artist who recently self-produced her script “The T—y Diaries.” Charlie Finesilver is constantly writing and in the past few years he’s been getting his work produced at Manhattan Repertory Theatre in NYC.

As for directors, we wanted a mix of directors who work at Trustus and who work elsewhere in the community. Our directors this year are Jonathan Monk (who will be directing our season opener, SILENCE!), Martha Kelly (who will be directing MOTHERHOOD OUT LOUD in the spring at Trustus), Robin Gottlieb (who’s directing a revival of 5 LESBIANS EATING A QUICHE this spring), Jocelyn Sanders (who’s directed a lot of work at Trustus and who’s been directing great productions at Workshop Theatre), and Ginny Ives (who’s studied under Dewey Scott-Wiley and is making her Trustus debut – she’s also currently in Memphis).

 

Jasper: Who are some of the actors we can look forward to seeing?

Henderson: We’ve got a great group of actors who are convening for FEST 24. They’re familiar faces from the Trustus Company as well as some folks who have been seen on other stages in Columbia. Among them are some of your favorites like Jennifer Hill, Krista Forster, Freddie Powers, Samuel Hetler, Amy Brower Lown, Christine Hellman, Jared Rogers-Martin, Mahogany Collins, Jon Whit McClinton, Mary Miles, Brittany Hammock, Russel Sanders, Trell Brennan, Kevin Bush, and the multi-talented Chris Cockrell.

 

Jasper: How does this project benefit the theatre community and theatre patrons?

Henderson: Creating theatre is a process that usually takes place over 2-3 months in markets our size. Production teams meticulously make creative decisions that are intended to tell the story with the utmost clarity. Actors have weeks to create their performances and find connections. And playwrights…? Well playwrights can often take as long as they want to get their story on paper.

So, with a 24-hour theatre project like this, the entire theatre-making process is crammed into 24 glorious hours of intense goal-setting. What’s great about events like these is that it is a moment of elevated trust and collaboration. Artists are often working with new co-collaborators, and it’s a rush to the finish line without having months to develop creative relationships.

Patrons who attend festivals like this are often sitting on pins and needles, just like the artists involved. They know that everything is completely new, under rehearsed, and that anything can happen during the performance. Everyone is gathered under the theatre’s roof for something new. If you ask me, the feeling is really special. 

 

Jasper: Why did you decide to make this a free event? 

Henderson: The major reason we wanted to make this a free event is because everyone who’s working on it is volunteering. This event is focused on community and creativity, so we didn’t want there to be a barrier to keep the community from experiencing it. We think it’s important for Trustus, a Non-profit that is supported and funded by the community, to give back to the community. While seating is limited, 45 people will have the chance to experience Fest 24. We suggest getting to the Side Door Theatre early. First come, first served.

We hope that we’ll have a packed theatre, and incentive to do the event annually.

 

Jasper: Will the bar be open?

Henderson: We will indeed have the Side Door bar selling beer, wine, and our regular concessions during the event!

 

Paul Kaufmann

Paul Kaufmann

Chris Cockrell

Chris Cockrell

Robbie Robertson

Robbie Robertson

Latrell Brennan

Latrell Brennan

Robin Gottlieb

Robin Gottlieb

Jasper Magazine Release Party Featuring THE Exclusive Preview Of The Restoration's Constance - The Musical

Exclusive Preview. Pre-Show Concert. Gallery Opening. Supper. Silent Auction of Stuff You Love. Intimate Talk-Back with the Director and Composer. ANND the New Jasper Magazine?

Yes, Please!

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In a celebration of the release of the 34th issue of Jasper Magazine, The Jasper Project presents an exclusive preview of the Restoration’s Constance – The Musical on Thursday, May 3rd, 2018 at Trustus Theatre. The party includes the opportunity to be among the first in Columbia to see and hear the long-awaited original production of Chad Henderson’s Constance, based on the album Constance by Daniel Machado, Adam Corbett, and The Restoration, in its entirety.

But in keeping with The Jasper Project’s mission of bringing multidisciplinary artists together we will also feature an intimate pre-show concert by Daniel Machado and Adam Corbett; the opening visual arts exhibition of Jasper cover artist Ansley Adams in the Trustus gallery; a post-show interview with former roommates playwright Chad Henderson and Constance creator Daniel Machado; a silent auction featuring signed books, dinners, bar tabs, and art generously donated by supporters of Jasper Magazine; a potluck picnic dinner that you don’t have to cook for; door prizes, and more.

Tickets are $20 – a savings over regularly priced tickets via The Jasper Project (you’re welcome!) at Brown Paper Tickets – https://constance.bpt.me

 

 

 

REVIEW: Longing and Losing in Trustus's Fun Home by Alexis Stratton

 

 

There must be some other chances /

There’s a moment I’m forgetting /

Where you tell me you see me

                        --Alison, “Telephone Wire,” Fun Home

 

It can seem a little screwball at first—this Pennsylvania family with a perfect house and a demanding father, kids running around to clean up crayons and polish the silver, and a song-and-dance number performed by three kids on (and in and under) a casket. In fact, within the first few scenes of Trustus Theatre’s production of Fun Home, I wasn’t quite sure what kind of story I was stepping into.

Yet, as the production progressed, it became clear that these seemingly lighthearted and sometimes darkly humorous moments were just the first steps down a complex, moving narrative of memory, loss, and coming of age.

Based on Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, the Tony-award-winning musical of the same name was adapted and brought to the stage in collaboration with Bechdel in 2009 by Lisa Kron, who wrote the book and lyrics, and Jeanine Tesori, who composed the music. It opened on Broadway in 2015 and was hailed for being the first Broadway musical to feature a lesbian protagonist.

Having read Bechdel’s Fun Home (as well as her popular comic series Dykes to Watch Out For and her second graphic memoir Are You My Mother?), I was aware of both the story of Fun Home as well as the politics surrounding it in South Carolina. In 2014, the South Carolina legislature cut funding for the College of Charleston when the university assigned Fun Home as part of its first-year reading project. The controversy resulted in months of protests, ongoing budget cuts, and rising fears regarding academic freedom among university programs and departments. (The university only had funding restored with the promise to use the money to teach the Constitution and other founding documents.)

Yet, while the controversy surrounding the memoir Fun Home grew out of its a portrayal of a young lesbian coming of age in the 1970s and 80s, at the heart of the story of both the book and the musical is Alison’s struggle to understand her father, Bruce, a controlling, emotionally abusive, closeted man who died suddenly when Alison was 19 (as we learn during the first few minutes of the production).

Directed by Chad Henderson, Trustus’s production of Fun Home brings us on a nonlinear journey through memory with adult Alison, played with a masterful mix of humor, pensiveness, and compassion by Robin Gottlieb. Accompanied by the skillful performances of an on-stage band (directed by Randy Moore) and with her narrative tied together by beautifully choreographed transitions, Gottlieb’s Alison invites us into the intimate spaces of her past where we meet her family, her first lesbian love interest, and, most notably, Alison’s younger selves, including the college-aged Medium Alison and the elementary-school-aged Small Alison.

In Trustus’s production, the most delightful moments of the story come through the performances of Small Alison and Medium Alison. As Small Alison, Clare Kerwin brims with a budding sense of self in songs like “Ring of Keys,” which details Alison’s initial recognition of an “old-school butch” in a small-town diner (“It's probably conceited to say / But I think we're alike in a certain way … / Do you feel my heart saying ‘hi’?”). And in practically every scene she appears in, Cassidy Spencer portrays Medium Alison with a comedic and endearing awkwardness, abounding with the nerves and excitement that come with coming of age—and coming out. (Most notable is Spencer’s performance of the song “Changing My Major,” in which she opines about her newfound love Joan, played with gentle confidence by LaTrell Brennan).

Yet, these lighthearted moments only serve to underscore the losses that adult Alison faces, as they are contrasted with escalating conflicts between the mercurial Bruce (deftly portrayed by Paul Kaufmann) and his wife Helen (whose strength and fragility are impressively captured by Marybeth Gorman), as well as his three kids (Clare Kerwin along with Christopher Hionis and Henry Melkomian, who play Small Alison’s brothers). Indeed, the most poignant moment of the musical emerges from this: While adult Alison acts as a sort of narrator of her own experiences throughout the production, she finally enters into one memory that leads to a heartbreaking duet (“Telephone Wire”) between Gottlieb and Kaufmann—and perhaps the most powerful performance of the whole production.

There is a sense of loss that pervades the musical—of a father’s image, of a family’s relationships. In the end, we sit with Alison in her joy and her grief, and we long with her, too—just one more moment, just one more—

It’s in that tension between memory and reality, adulthood and youth, longing and losing, that the impact of Fun Home is truly felt.

 

Alexis Stratton is a writer, editor, and film maker from Columbia, SC whose work has been published in a range of publications; they love bowties, social justice, and good art, and they think heaven must be a kind of library.

 

What: Fun Home

Where: Trustus Theatre, 520 Lady St. (www.trustus.org)

When: Thurs.-Sun. through April 14

Cost: $30 Thursdays and Sundays; $35 Fridays and Saturdays; $25 students (group discounts available)

Contact: 803-254-9732

Trustus Theatre to Open Tony Award Winning Musical - FUN HOME - featuring Robin Gottlieb

“What would happen if we spoke the truth?” 
- Alison Bechdel

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Trustus Theatre continues its dedication to bringing important theatre to Columbia with their production of Fun Home, an acclaimed and award-winning Broadway musical to their Thigpen Main Stage this spring. The musical is a masterful expansion of Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of the same name about being able to live in your truth, whatever it may be. 

When her father dies unexpectedly, graphic novelist Alison dives deep into her past to tell the story of the volatile, brilliant, one-of-a-kind man whose temperament and secrets defined her family and her life. Moving between past and present, Alison relives her unique childhood playing at the family’s Bechdel Funeral Home, her growing understanding of her own sexual orientation, and the looming, unanswerable questions about her father’s hidden secrets. Fun Home is a refreshingly honest, wholly original musical about seeing your parents through grown-up eyes.

Fun Home’s book and lyrics were written by Lisa Kron with music by Jeanine Tesori. Based on Bechdel's graphic memoir (2006), Fun Home was the winner of several awards at the 2015 Tony Awards including Best Music, Best Score (Jeanine Tesori & Lisa Kron), and Best Book of a Musical (Lisa Kron). Fun Home also won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, Obie Award, Lucille Lortel Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, and the Off-Broadway Alliance Award for Best Musical.

Trustus Theatre Artistic Director Chad Henderson is excited to help bring this musical to life on Trustus Theatre’s stage as the play's director.  “I directed the production at Pure Theatre in Charleston, SC earlier this year. It sold out and is coming back to Pure for Piccolo Spoleto. So right on the heels of directing that production, I’m returning to my home theatre and working with a great team of Columbia actors and designers. I can already tell that this will be a very different production because all of the artists involved in the project are bringing their own unique reactions to the piece to the table.

“At the heart of Fun Home is a story in which we can all see ourselves," Henderson says. "Examining the truth of our past, looking past the myths we create about our parents when we’re younger, dealing with the societal challenges of being our most authentic selves—these are themes that many of us can relate to. These ideas are explored through the eyes of a lesbian cartoonist who, 20 years after her father’s suicide, is finally ready to look deeper into her relationship with her family and dissect the things she never understood. On the surface, Fun Home could seem like a tragic evening in the theatre. However, the beauty of this piece is that it’s incredibly uplifting and provides us with a feeling of hope by the end.”

Paul Kaufmann, of Season 33’s A Bright Room Called Day, will be playing the role of Bruce Bechdel, Alison’s father. “Playing Bruce is a great challenge,” says Kaufmann. “He’s a character who’s put himself in such a scary and difficult position, and his actions cause great upheaval in his family. Despite that, he somehow has to try and justify his actions to himself. He is deeply in denial about the costs of creating those justifications. He’s trapped himself and ultimately is not successful in finding ‘a way through’ as he sings in one lyric," Kaufmann says. 

"Fun Home is such a ‘Trustus show’—with a small cast and a thoughtful, deep, and beautiful play that cries out for sensitivity and compassion—it’s an honor to perform it. My fellow cast mates, several of whom I’ve had the pleasure to work with for years, are phenomenal actors and singers. Our young cast mates are top notch—they’re really dedicated and are doing an amazing job. Randy Moore is teaching us the complicated but beautifully layered score and Chad is guiding us through this intricate piece with a strong vision. The process of putting it together so far has been truly rewarding.”

Paul Kaufmann

Paul Kaufmann

Cassidy Spencer is bringing the role of one of the three Alisons, Medium Alison, to life. “I think my favorite part about playing Medium Alison is how clumsy and awkward this character is in an endearing way that we can all relate to,” says Spencer. “She often seems to unabashedly say things that many of us think or otherwise, she illustrates feelings that we’ve all experienced, like powerful crushes on our peers or intense nerves. This character is so honest and so charming, and I’m thrilled to bring her to the stage. ...this show is vastly beautiful—not only in its music and story—but in its characters, its message, and its subject area. It drew immense attention when it came to Broadway and I think it’s fantastic that Trustus is bringing the musical to Columbia.”

 

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Stay after the shows on Friday, March 30 and on Friday, April 6 to enjoy an improv comedy show from the very same group that brought you the holiday comedy A Christmas Miracle at the Richland Fashion Mall: The Mothers. Tickets for the comedy show will be sold at the door for $10 ($5 for students) and are all general admission.

REVIEW: Rock of Ages at Trustus Theatre

Rock of Ages is a musical devoted to the idea of Rock Music as a distinctive character, or caricature, in the popular imagination. And while the actual story of rock ‘n’ roll may be a complicated, complex, and contradictory one, our idea of it is not—it’s sleazy, loud, showy, and, above all, gloriously debauched. It’s about Sunset Strip sleaze, leather-clad excesses, and arena rock choruses that thud through your head no matter how much beer, booze, or other substances threaten to overwhelm. It might occasionally be dumb, but it’s often with a knowing wink and rarely without a double dose of fun.

That, in a nutshell, is what the musical, which was a massive success during its lengthy run on Broadway, and the particular version of it that Trustus is offering, is all about. Artistic director Chad Henderson, who also plays the grizzled club owner Dennis Dupree, points this out explicitly in his program notes, that the troupe’s primary endeavor here is to offer “Nothing but a Good Time,” and they are hell-bent on delivering. How much they succeed though depends, to a certain extent, on how much you are willing to revel in the poppy glam metal songs that are the bulk of this jukebox-style musical. The narrative is more than a bit thin, to the point where the comedic meta-narrative commentary is the only thing that can save it, and it never rises above a sort of rote sense of genre. But that’s not the point—it’s the nostalgic power of these songs, their sound, and their mythos, all of which is difficult to deny.

Luckily, the usually capable casts of Trustus have always boasted standout singers (and crack stage bands), and Rock of Ages is no exception. Songs like “Don’t Stop Believin,’” “Here I Go Again,” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” prove they were almost built to double as great musical numbers, and when the full cast launches into one of these familiar choruses it’s hard not to feel like things are right with the world. Individual performers may shine or falter at certain moments, but Trustus company standouts like Katie Lietner as the female lead Sherrie or Michael Hazin as the bar manager/ostentatious narrator, make it abundantly clear why they are familiar sights on the Thigpen stage.

But while Leitner is great in her role and the kind of powerhouse singer the part needs, she and the male protagonist Drew (played by Rory Gilbert) end up a little sidelined despite being ostensible leads. The weakness of their romantic plot line—she arriving in L.A. to be an actress but ending up as a stripper, he as an inspiring rock star-turned-fledgling boy band hopeful—makes them a little less memorable compared to the purely humor-driven B and C plots. It’s in those where the real chemistry and spark of the show happens. Henderson and Hazin obviously have some stage chemistry and comedy chops in their bromance friendship and constant fourth-wall-breaking commentary that the fact that they are trying to save Dennis’ rock club almost gets lost in the mix. Similarly, Kayla Cahill’s performance as the protest-leading Regina and Cody Lovell’s German businessman-turned-candy-purveyor sparkle in their own budding romance and brief stage time. Too, Jason Stokes’ turn as the spoiled rock star gone to seed, Stacee, is also quite winning.

But again, focusing on individual performances is a bit of misdirection here, for any lengthy attention to the plot detracts from the blown-own spectacle of the music itself. Director Dewey Scott-Wiley wisely puts the band in serious costumes and places them prominently right up front on stage, so even when not performing the need to keep the music central was apparent. Music Director Chris Cockrell brings plenty of the necessary glam and pizazz to fit the part, and his crew cranks through these tunes with glee. The scenic design itself was also quite clever, utilizing some scaffolding, and a few stairs, doors, and curtains to conjure up a number of different settings in a blink of an eye. So while not strictly necessary, the production notes here rang gracefully.

In the end, though, this is about as critic-proof a play as you can get, with the pure, unfettered (guilty?) pleasure of the songs themselves in the driver’s seat. Henderson notes that there are some parallels to a seedy rock club being challenged by a more bland business takeover has some interesting parallels to the history of Trustus in the now-sleek Vista neighborhood, and it’s tough not to draw some connections between our current growth-hungry (although also arts-supporting) mayor and the one in the play, but leading you down that road won’t be particularly fruitful. Spray that hair up, throw some glitter in the air and, uh, “come on feel the noise?” – Kyle Petersen

Disclaimer: Chad Henderson is married to the reviewer’s sister-in-law. This made his depiction of Dennis no more nor less ridiculous, although it’s not clear whether the same can be said of his ultimate fate.

Rock of Ages runs through July 1—for times and ticket information head to trustus.org.

 

REVIEW: Anatomy of a Hug at Trustus Theatre

96782e2e6608539536c186e458b4b0f1 By Jon Tuttle

You know how this will end.  You know when you meet her that Amelia, a thirty-something emotional shut-in, will journey from estrangement to engagement.   And still, in the closing moments of Anatomy of a Hug, when all of the obvious signs have directed you to that inevitable conclusion, you are thrilled.   Kat Ramsburg’s original script is the most engaging Trustus Playwrights’ Festival winner in recent memory and makes for a powerful evening of theatre.

The play ends, as it must, of course it must, with an embrace. But not the one you think, and not the one on the playbill, where Dewey Scott-Wiley, as Sonia, a dying ex-con, hugs daughter Amelia, played by Rebecca Herring. The play begins as these two are reunited through a Compassionate Release program, owing to the former’s late-stage ovarian cancer. Sonia functions through the rest of the play as an hourglass: we sense, as her condition diminishes, the denouement quickly approaching.

And so there is an urgency to the action: the play, you feel, must hurry up to solve the riddle of Amelia.  But it doesn’t. Instead, Ramsburg exploits that urgency by patiently and methodically assembling her characters, and Herring quite marvelously inhabits a young woman suffering from technology-induced autism. Her mother having spent twenty-six years in prison for killing her father, Amelia has been shunted from one foster home to another. Along the way, she has counted on television to provide her with a social circle and a recognizable (or at least predictable) plotline. Her extensive DVD collection is full of friends she can “check in with” and who are “always there when you need them.” In a particular touching revelation, we learn that it was TV’s Roseann who told her about menstruation and that Sex and The City’s Aidan was her first boyfriend.

As a Save The Children-style telemarketer, Amelia is quite adept at constructing compelling narratives that convince strangers to “adopt” children in Burundi for only $35 a month. She is so earnest and knows so little of real emotional intimacy that she can, without the slightest sense of irony, peddle children half-a-world away.   It’s only when a co-worker, Ben, begins courting her that we see how lost she is. Her problem is not that she has walls; she has nothing to build them with.  She simply doesn’t know how to be. As she tells Ben, “I don’t have any other stories” than the ones she lives through on TV.

Ben is played here by Patrick Michael Kelly in an affecting return to Trustus’ stage after several years in New York, and in Ben’s trajectory we sense the underpinnings of the production itself. In the early going, he bumbles onstage like The Honeymooners’ Ed Norton. He is, well, cartoonish—or as Amelia calls him, “like someone in a sitcom—there’s something not quite real about you.”  And that’s because there’s nothing quite real about the staging.

Director Chad Henderson, along with some inventive scene, sound, and lighting design by Baxter Engle and Marc Hurst, plays Brecht for us. The backdrop is a test-pattern, the lights are exposed, and we assume the role of a studio audience even to the extent that we are instructed (by electronic light boards) when to applaud and laugh. At first, that conceit doesn’t work.  It pushes us—Brecht would say alienates us—out of the play itself. We are asked to laugh at lines that aren’t that funny, to applaud beats that don’t deserve it. We are placed, that is, in an emotionally-manufactured setting where we simply don’t know if our responses are appropriate.

Just like Amelia.

Along the way, though, the production changes just as Ben does. Kelly plays Ben as two people: an irritating, schmaltzy showman protecting someone much more wounded and sincere.  About the time we discover ourselves warming up to him, we notice also that our responses aren’t being coached anymore: all the studio trappings have fallen away, and we have been allowed into the world of the play.

Sure there are problems, there must always be problems. Some may find the television studio elements too intrusive. While Brecht insisted that we must always be shown that we are being shown something, his best plays often ignored that advice. As Sonia, the catalyst for Amelia’s ultimate emotional re-integration, Scott-Wiley’s not given much to do except break the damned TV and die (which she does quite movingly. The woman sitting next to me was downright weepy.) And the story she tells about the murder charge that landed her a life-sentence doesn’t quite add up; it sounds more like vehicular manslaughter, the sort of thing you could plea-bargain out of, particularly if you have a daughter who needs you.

And there are times when Ramsburg forgets the thing she does best: knowing what to leave out. She is very good at minimizing exposition and keeping us Here In This Moment, but through the latter third of the play—as Amelia finds her voice—I felt I was once again being coached on how to feel and respond.   Still, the writing here is very assured, and Ramsburg’s play is a threnody for those like Amelia crippled by a culture that artificializes family and belonging and what Arthur Miller called the congealments of warmth.

If the opening night standing ovation is any indication, Trustus’ production has done it considerable justice. Herring’s Amelia is someone we know better than she knows herself, and that’s some trick.  As a woman destroyed by disease and hallucinating on painkillers and flashbacks, Sonia is lucky to have Scott-Wiley. Kelly’s Ben shows us a broken man trying hard to be someone more charming and charismatic than he really is.  And Iris—well, Iris is difficult in that she is a primarily just a functionary, equal parts social worker, DOC case manager, and hospice nurse.  But Annette Grevious ably humanizes her and establishes a presence that quilts these torn pieces together.

At bottom, Anatomy of a Hug is a boy meets/gets/loses/gets girl story.  Like many modern plays, this play gives us two quirky lovers fighting through the obstacles within and without and arriving at last in each other’s arms. And yet it feels new. It allows us to identify with that part of our psyche that is permanently awkward or stunted or doesn’t know what to do with its hands, and, in the end, it grants us compassionate release.

Jon Tuttle is Professor of English at Francis Marion University and former Literary Manager at Trustus Theatre, which has produced five of his plays.  

THEATRE REVIEW: Trustus Theatre production of Green Day's American Idiot, by Kyle Petersen

TrustusAmericanIdiot (1) I was 17 years old when Green Day released American Idiot, their politically-tinged punk rock opera that at the time felt like the most lively and visceral protest music response to the Bush years and the Iraq War. So I was basically who the record was about, with all the buddings of political awareness tied up elegantly with suburban disaffection and adolescent angst. The surge of three chord rock songs and overwrought punk snarl mimicked the adrenaline coursing through my veins, and its rock opera ambition made the music seem as grandiose and important as my emotions felt.

While the album was well-received at the time as a sharp, of-the-moment critique of its time, something which felt mostly absent from the younger generation of artists, looking back on the album now, particularly in its guise as a Broadway musical, which debuted in 2010 and now serves as the finale to Trustus Theatre’s 2015-2016 season, lessens some of that temporality.

In his program notes, director Chad Henderson notes how thrilling it is to “work with this cast and production team to tell this story that, at times, feels like it’s been taken from our collective diaries” while also comparing to the 1967 counterculture musical Hair. That strikes me as particularly apt--as much as Billie Joe Armstrong might have been responding to his frustrations over new millenia Republican nonsense, he’s really working through some very archetypal coming of age themes that have been a part of American culture since the invention of the teenager in the post-World War II era: rebellion, shiftlessness, love, loss, and resignation. And it’s the timelessness of those themes, and how readily and ably Armstrong invokes them in his songs, that really give the album-turned-musical legs.

The Green Day frontman collaborated with director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, Hedwig & the Angry Itch) on the book that sketched out just a bit more narrative from the original album, adding minimal lines of dialogue and additional songs to make the three main characters--Johnny (Garrett Bright), Tunny (Patrick Dodds), and Will (Cody Lovell)--more distinct, but other than that it’s the staging and performances themselves that are the real draw here. Utilizing a large cast and an industrial-punk set (designed by Baxter Engle) marked by television screens flickering through images of war, news, politics, and pop culture (both from the 9/11 era and our current Kardashian/Trump moment), this is a jukebox musical at its best. The technical achievement here, given the number of mobile microphones, screens, staging levels, and musicians required, is stunning, borrowing elements from both a live concert and a music video as the show dictates, something absolutely necessary given the relative thinness of the plot.  

Bright owns his aspiring rock star-turned-junkie leading role, conveying just the right notes of youthful earnestness and foolhardy brashness that Green Day celebrates. As one of the central deliverers of Armstrong’s signature vocals, he also distinguishes himself by shifting from the rough adenoidal bray the frontman sometimes uses to a sweeter, more melancholy style that better fits the narrative, particularly on a couple of the crucial acoustic numbers. Both Dodds and Lovell also acquit themselves nicely, turning in great performances as the punk-goes-military recruit dude and (too)-early blue collar father archetype, respectively, as does Michael Hazin as St. Jimmy, Johnny’s devilish alter-ego. The presence of St. Jimmy as a character and Hazin as a performer also provides a necessary counterweight of rock star swagger to the waves of emo-ness that the play at some points almost drowns in. And while the women characters are mostly relegated to the backseat of this boy-centric story, Katie Leitner as Heather gets some quality time in the spotlight as Tunny’s pregnant girlfriend and hits some quality high notes to give the show some diva pizazz, while Devin Anderson plays Whatshername with a magnetic power that absolutely rescues the part from its tertiary role. Avery Bateman also sparkles in limited use as the Extraordinary Girl.

For all the great individual performances, though, this show hits its high points when the large cast is all out on stage together reveling in these songs. The two big medleys from the album, “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Homecoming,” shine particularly bright, as the large house band rockets through them with glee from their perch above the stage (led by music director Chris Cockrell) and the young chorus gets to holler the closest things to anthems produced in their own teenage years. “Nobody likes you/ everyone left you/they’re all out without you having fun” they sing with earnest abandon. We’re coming home again, indeed.

In those moments, I was often surprised by how well most of the songs translated so deftly to the stage, even for folks who aren’t necessarily fans of the band and familiar with the album, thanks to how electrifying it is to see them brought to life. In fact, I would say the more familiar numbers, like the opening "American Idiot," might have suffered a bit more than the theatrical album cuts which already has quite a bit of dramatic flare even before adaptation.

As for those that are or were fans of the album, like much of the cast obviously is, there’s a level of catharsis to living through them that can’t be denied. Seeing them all come out in a long line at the end of the night to take their bow, smiling as much in their eyes as their faces, in all of their rock ‘n’ roll sweat and glory, is to witness something a bit more than just another musical. They’ve really celebrated the power of music as rebellion, as salve, and as salvation, itself. And that's really something.

Green Day's American Idiot runs through July 30th. For ticket information go to trustus.org 

Trustus Theatre Announces New Executive Director - Leila Ibrahim, Welcome to Columbia! A Jasper Exclusive --

Leila Ibrahim - Executive Director, Trustus Theatre The new face you see at Trustus Theatre may seem young and enthusiastic, and Leila Ibrahim is both those things and more, but most of all she’s completely confident that she is taking over the job she has always been meant to have—executive director of a ground-breaking regional theatre that is on the verge of making itself known to the greater world of theatre in the southeast and beyond.

Born and raised in Georgia, Ibrahim cut her theatrical teeth working backstage before moving to box office work and then on to theatre administration. After earning an undergraduate degree in business she moved to Philadelphia where she continued to work behind-the-scenes in theatre while earning her master’s degree in Arts Administration. “I went to Philadelphia for the job and the education but I always knew I wanted to come back to the South,” she explains.

Ibrahim took the job of executive director of Florence Little Theatre in February 2015, full of plans and ambitions for what she calls the “robust community theatre” she adored. But when the job came open at Trustus Theatre, she found herself in a conundrum. “I had always heard about Trustus Theatre and what a great reputation they have,” she says. “My plan had been to be at Florence Little Theatre for a while longer and accomplish more. But sometimes when a certain job becomes available you just have to take it. I’m excited to be working with such a progressive repertoire and a board of directors who want to grow this amazing theatre.”

Ibrahim is also excited about working with an artistic director, having worked primarily with a board of directors at Florence Little Theatre who selected the production season themselves. “I have tremendous respect for [artistic director] Chad Henderson,” she says. “Chad and I have strengths in different areas and I think we’re going to work together very well. I’m really good at the business of art, but I’m not an artist myself, like Chad is. I still love being part of it.”

Henderson responds equally enthusiastically. “"I'm looking forward to working with Leila. She comes to Trustus with experience in the areas that, when coupled with the artistic elements, will serve the theatre's goals for the future. I expect we'll have a wonderfully productive relationship as the leaders of this organization. This is truly the start of a new era at Trustus, and there are great opportunities ahead."


 

The Nitty-Gritty on Ibrahim:

She's 31 years old, the same age as Trustus and almost the same age as Henderson  --    "We match!" She says

Her favorite playwright is Tennessee Williams -- "I love the classics!"

"But first and foremost I'm a musical theatre person."   --   Her favorite musicals are Rent, Wicked, and American Idiot (on the Trustus schedule for Summer 2016)

The first play she ever saw -- Of Mice and Men.

"With any kind of performance I want to be fully entertained, made to think deeply, inspired, and pushed."

"New art is imperative for a theatre's health. Look at how opera suffered because it went without significant development for so long. We can't let that happen to theatre and we want let it happen at Trustus."

◊  ◊  ◊

REVIEW: The Brothers Size at Trustus Theatre – by Jennifer Hill

brotherssizewebFinal There’s something beautiful happening over in the Trustus Side Door Theater right now, and I’m afraid you’re going to miss it. Director Chad Henderson skillfully brings us The Brothers Size, part two in the Brother/Sister plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Part One, In The Red and Brown Water, was performed on the mainstage at Trustus last season and also directed by Henderson. Each play in the trilogy is linked, but can also easily stand on its own. This particular production is a gem, the kind of show that leaves you feeling like you’re a little bit better off for having seen it; your eyes now wider and your heart a little more open. It’s theater at its best and it’s happening in your city.

From the moment I walked into the intimate Side Door Theater, I felt like I was transported to the Louisiana Bayou. The sound of cicadas fill the air, and butterflies in illuminated jars (tap on one and you’ll get a surprise) rest on simple but effective stage pieces designed by Kimi Maeda (a JAY visual artist nominee for 2015). The lighting design by Chet Longley and the sound design by Baxter Engle effectively complete the scene.

The seating is in the round and in this case that means you are part of the stage. There is something magical about being so close to the performers. The energy exchange between the actors and the audience takes things to another level, especially with actors as talented as these. The characters in the play are named after and based off of deities in the Yoruba religion, which originated primarily in southwestern Nigeria. Ogun Size (Jabar K. Hankins) is a hardworking mechanic who shows tough love to his troubled younger brother Oshooi Size (Christopher “Leven” Jackson) who has recently been released from prison.  Oshooi’s friend and ex-cellmate Elegba (Bakari Lebby) is the unknown quantity that sets the play in motion. All three actors are skilled, passionate, and do excellent work here. The raw emotion in Hankins' eyes broke my heart in such a beautiful way, another benefit of being in such an intimate space. The actors tell a highly relevant story to our contemporary moment, examining confinement, freedom, loss of innocence and family.  As I stood to leave I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Henderson has created a very physical, very alive piece of work. He has a unique perspective and a talent for creating moments where music and movement come together harmoniously. He and his cast create a story rich in rhythm and beauty.

I urge you to go see this show, not only because it is good but because if we support it then we can have more things like it. And I, for one, want more things like it. Get your tickets now; the show runs through October 31st.

Five Questions for Chad Henderson - Director of The Brothers Size Opening Friday Night at Trustus

 brothers size

From "The Brothers Size"

The Brother/Sister Plays

OSHOOSI SIZE:

            I know I am still on probation!

            I know Og.

            Damn!

            I know I was once in prison.

            I am out and I am on probation.

            Damnit man.

            I ain’t trying to drive to Fort Knox?

            I ain’t about to scale the capital…

            I want a ride.

            I want to drive out to the bayou…

            Maybe take a lady down there…

            And relax

There's a new play opening at Trustus Theatre on Friday that caught Jasper's attention for a handful of reasons. We know that it's part of the Brother/Sister trilogy written by Tarell Alvin McCraney and set in the Louisiana Bayou  exploring Yoruba mythology -- an African belief system, which some claim to be the oldest practiced religion. We saw In the Red and Brown Water last year and were pretty much overwhelmed by this playwright's ability to merge the worlds of the oldest of old Africa, probably what eventually became Nigeria, with something like a new world Louisiana. McCraney's career has been blowing up over the past 7 or 8 years and he is set to be one of the top playwrights around given that he's only 35 years old and everything he touches seems to turn to gold. We'd heard that The Brothers Size was another example of this phenomenon.

We also learned that this unique and promising play is being presented in Trustus Theatre's intimate Side Door Theatre, one of our favorite places to enjoy live theatre in the state. There is an intimacy that comes from being one member of a small audience in a relatively small theatre space with actors who are at full throttle sharing their art, whether the art is theatre, music, dance, whatever. Audiences always (hopefully) become another player in a live performance as they feed back and respond to the energy being offered on stage. (This is why people old and young continue to go to Phish concerts, I finally understand. Yes, there are drugs and herbal pleasures, but the energy itself acts as a drug, as well.) And being in such close communion with both the actors and the other audience members can be a rush and sometimes even a cathartic experience. To say the energy is palpable when you're locked (not really) in the room with a few dozen friends and three intense actors, as you will be in The Brothers Size, is an understatement. Opportunities like this are precious and yet another example of the quiet and unassuming way in which Columbia is an arts nerve center.

Finally, were also were excited to see what new magic Trustus Artistic Director and interim Managing Director Chad Henderson had up his sleeve. We really like Henderson for obvious reasons. (Full disclosure: Henderson is the son-in-law of this writer.) But long before the first flirtation, Henderson, as an artist, had the eye and growing respect of this writer, the Jasper Magazine staff, and pretty much anyone with a discerning eye in the area. In the past few years he has brought us such stellar theatre opportunities as Spring Awakening, Assassins, Next to Normal, Ragtime, and other shows of the kind of quality that make your Columbia, SC ticket price and not having to leave town a bargain. Henderson studied under Robert Richmond at USC, another Columbia treasure. (Richmond spent fourteen years as the Associate Artistic Director of the Aquila Theatre Company in New York and during his tenure there he directed over 50 productions that toured across the US, Off Broadway and Europe.) Richmond's influence on Henderon can be seen in a number of ways, but probably no greater way than in Henderson's confidence in his own ability to take his productions in innovative directions. Henderson looks only for exceptional scripts to which he knows he can add his own signature touches and, in doing so, improve upon an already excellent play. Given that, like McCraney, Henderson is also young, it's safe to say we haven't seen the best of him yet.

That's why we wanted to pin Henderson down on a few questions we had about this extraordinary theatre experience opening on Friday night at Trustus and running through Thursday, October 29th. Here's what we got.

Jasper:  This play is a little different from other performances at Trustus in that it is part of a series, right? Can you tell us how The Brothers Size fits in as the second in a three part series of plays?

Henderson:  The Brothers Size is the second part of a trilogy called The Brother/Sister Plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney. Trustus produced the first part (In the Red and Brown Water) last season, and because it was such a wonderful success we knew we wanted to commit to the whole trilogy. These shows introduce the audience to a pantheon of characters derived from the Orishas of the Yoruban cosmology that are living in the “distant present” and the fictional projects of San Pere, Louisana. The plays are a brilliant mix of poetry, prose, music and movement that explore the universal truths of modern life filtered through a very specific world that the playwright has gifted to the audience and artists who tell his stories. Truly, Mr. McCraney is a voice all his own in modern theatre – and that’s what Trustus is constantly celebrating: the new powerful voices of American Theatre. These scripts are singular due to Mr. McCraney’s writing style that has won many awards over the years. These plays are here and now. Columbia deserves to have this type of fresh and modern theatre at its doorstep, and Trustus is happy to oblige.

The Brothers Size examines the power of family, the fight for survival, the consequence of circumstance, the contradiction of incarceration and freedom, and the deep roots of brotherhood. This production explores human truths through an imaginative production that will leave audiences spellbound – perfect theatrical fare for the Fall.

There are a host of elements that make this production a continuation of this trilogy. The language play is still very present because of Mr. McCraney's style of writing with these plays. The playwright also continues to celebrate the ritual of theatre with his ceremonial proceedings that give The Brother/Sister Plays so much vigor.We get to tune back in with Ogun Size and Elegba, who were characters in the last production. We're introduced to Ogun's brother Oshoosi. Scenic designer Kimi Maeda is bringing the set of the last production into the intimate Trustus Side Door Theatre - audiences will feel like they're exploring the last set they saw as they sit among the houses of San Pere in this production.

But don't worry - if you didn't see In the Red and Brown Water, you can still enjoy The Brothers Size - the story stands on its own legs just fine.

Jasper:  You also have a smaller cast than typical and you’re performing in the smaller Side Door Theatre. It sounds like a very intimate experience. Is it, and how so?

Henderson:  While the scale of the show is much smaller than the last play, I actually feel like this production feels like a bigger show than the Side Door than our patrons are used to. We're utilizing more sound and lighting equipment than we ever have in the Side Door. There's a broader use of the space with plenty of exciting motion.We're also performing this show in the round. This is nothing new as far as theatre conventions go, but in this circle we're able to become part of the community of San Pere. Much like the traditions of West African dance and drum circles, this circle is a safe place for experience and exploration.

Jasper:  Tell us what special gifts or talents each of the three gentlemen in the play bring to this project.

Henderson:  Jabar Hankins is undeniably genuine - relatable. Bakari Lebby will charm the pants off of folks even though his character is full of mischief. Chris Jackson is effortless in his struggle. Together, they are a powerhouse ensemble that courageously battle each other every night to gain unity.

Jasper:  Do you have a favorite scene or line that we can look for?

Henderson:  I'm particularly fond of the 4th scene of Act II where the phrase "You f**ked up!" Is yelled repeatedly. However, each scene is well sculpted by our playwright -Tarell Alvin McCraney. There are surprises around every corner.

Jasper:  Without giving anything away, tell us what you think will be the most surprising aspect of The Brothers Size for the audience.

Henderson:  I expect the experience of seeing a show in the round in the Side Door will be surprising. This show also gives you plenty of opportunities to engage your imagination. We hope that audiences get a chance to play and use their own creativity as they discover the story of Oshoosi and Ogun. Its truly a rich theatrical experience, and audiences get to live inside of it.

Preview -- Marie Antoinette at Trustus Theatre by Jessica Blahut

marie Marie Antoinette, a Trustus Theater production, premiers this Friday at 8 p.m.  Though based in history, this modern adaption of the life the last Queen of France promises to be anything but antiquated.

The play takes place during Marie Antoinette’s reign as revolution threatens the monarchy.  As the severity of her circumstances set in, Marie struggles against the lack of leadership from her husband and the end of the lavish, extravagant lifestyle she has come to revel in.

In the title role, Jennifer Moody Sanchez sees the show as being "hip, sexy, and tragic" says the most challenging aspect of preparing for the role has been "charting the emotional, physical, and mental decay of someone that falls from riches to rags. To fall from such a great height is extremely taxing on an actor." The lead in such recent hits as Venus in Fur,  Sanchez believes audiences will be most surprised by "the humanity of a queen, mother and a wife that history only remembers as a celebrity. She was a very giving person. I didn't realize how much she loved children."

Of course we know not to expect a happy ending. “We all know how it ends for her as she walks up to the guillotine, we all know the ending of the show, but the excitement is getting through it,” says Chad Henderson, Artistic Director at Trustus.

Director Robert Richmond, who has earned acclaim for his work at Folger Theater, the Aquila Theater Company, and other productions across the United States and Europe, manages to make history fresh, sexy, and sassy.  Audiences watch a revolution all to the sound track of modern, French hip-hop.

“It’s something really fresh for Columbia, some people think theater is supposed to be straight laced … but not Trustus and not this show in particular.  It’s fabulous, colorful, sexy,” says Henderson

Audiences are encouraged to buy tickets early, as they tend to sell out.  The production will run for three weeks, from Friday, September 18th at 8 p.m. – Saturday, October 3rd at 8 p.m. at Trustus Theater on 520 Lady St. in Columbia.

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

red and brown  

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Avery Bateman - photo by Jonathan Sharpe

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

 

Kendrick Marion, photo by Rob Sprankle

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

 

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

 

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

Trustus Reprises A Christmas Carol

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Trustus Theatre's 30th Anniversary Talk Back Schedule

Trustus 30  

  

Jasper loves back-talk -- and talk back sessions, as well, and Trustus Theatre is kicking off its thirtieth anniversary season with Christopher Durang’s hilarious “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” winner of the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play, with an intriguing talk back session scheduled the second weekend of the performance. The show runs through September 27th, with the first audience talk-back of the season following the matinee on September 21st with guest respondent Jemme Stewart who will be discussing the mental health of the stage family, and helping us explore their family dynamics.

Not THAT Jimmy Stewart --

 

Jemme Stewart

Co-founder of Upstream: A Center for Mindfulness Practice and Holistic Mental Health, Jemme has been contributing to the field of mental health for over 40 years. She obtained her Masters of Nursing Science In Psychiatric Nursing from the University of South Carolina and after ten years of working in a local psychiatrist office, she founded Carolina Psychotherapy  Center in 1981.  Jemme, along with co-founder Dr. Hilda White, sees the creation of Upstream as the perfect opportunity to bring a very positive and research-based skill set to a wide range of people in South Carolina. Jemme’s interest in founding Upstream with Dr. White was influenced by her growing awareness that MBSR skills are powerful practices to use as an adjunct to those in therapy, as well as all persons interested in stress management.

Adam Corbett, Daniel Machado, and Chad Henderson at a talk-back for Constance, part of Premieres presented by Trustus Theatre and Jasper

 

The seven-show Mainstage season will also include the return of last season’s sell-out family friendly show, “A Christmas Carol” and two musicals: an update of the hit 70s’ musical “Godspell,” and the award-winning “Dreamgirls.” The Mainstage will also feature two dramas: the first part of a three-part trilogy, “In the Red and Brown Water,” by the young Tarell Alvin McCraney; and “Other Desert Cities,” by Jon Robin Baitz. The season will conclude with the 2014 Trustus New Play winner, “BigCity.”

For each production, one performance will feature a post-show talk-backs with experts in subjects related to the productions, giving audience members the chance to discuss their reactions to each show and ask questions about its content. 

 

There's more ...

In addition, Trustus will present four plays at its Richard and Debbie Cohn Side Door Theatre, the annual Vista Queen Pageant and Henderson Bros. Burlesque, and several special events.

 

MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR THE FOLLOWING DATES:

 

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” through Sept. 27, 2014. By Christopher Durang, directed by Jim O’Connor, with talk-back September 21st. Winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, 2013 Drama Desk Award for Best Play and 2013 Outer Critic’s Award for Best New Broadway Play.

 

“A Christmas Carol,” Nov. 21–Dec. 20, 2014. Based on the novel by Charles Dickens, A new adaptation by Patrick Barlow, directed by Chad Henderson, with talk-back December 14th.

 

“In the Red and Brown Water,” Jan. 23–Feb. 7, 2015. By Tarell Alvin McCraney and directed by Chad Henderson, with talk-back February 1st.

 

“Godspell,”  March 27–Apr. 11, 2015. Based on the gospel according to St. Matthew with music and lyrics by Stephen Sachwartz and book by John-Michael Tebelak, directed by Dewey Scott Wiley, with talk-back March 29th. Nominated for the 1971 Tony Award for Best Original Score, 1971 Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Composer and 1971 Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Lyricist.

 

“Other Desert Cities,” May 8–23, 2015. By Jon Robin Baitz, directed by Jim Thigpen, with talk-back May 10th. Nominated for the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play and  2012 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Drama.

 

“Dreamgirls,” June 26–Aug. 1, 2015. Book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Krieger, directed by Terrance Henderson, with talk-back July 26th. Winner of the 1982 Drama Desk Award for Best Book, 1982 Tony Award for Best Book and 1983 Grammy Award for Best Cast Show Album.

 

“Big City,” Aug 14 –22, 2015. By Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich, winner of the 2014 Trustus New Play Festival. Talk-back TBA

 

The Richard and Debbie Cohn Side Door Theatre season includes:

 

”The Other Place,” Oct 17–Nov 1, 2014. By Sharr White, directed by Jim O’Connor with talk-back October 19th.

 

“Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays,” January 3–17, 2015. A collection of plays by Mo Gaffney, Jordan Harrison, Moisés Kaufman, Neil LaBute, Wendy MacLeod, José Rivera, Paul Rudnick, and Doug Wright and conceived by Brian Shnipper, directed  by Elena Martínez-Vidal with talk-back January 11th.

 

”You Better Sit Down: Tales from My Parents’ Divorce,” Feb. 27 – Mar. 14, 2015. By Anne Kauffman, Matthew Maher, Caitlin Miller, Jennifer R. Morris, Janice Paran, and Robbie Collier Sublett, directed by Scott Herr with talk-back February 22nd.

 

“Bill W. and Dr. Bob,” May 29–June 13, 2015. By Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey, directed by Dewey Scott Wiley with talk-back May 31. Winner of the 2010 Regional British Columbia Drama Festival for Best Play.

 

 

 

For Trustus ticket prices and reservations as well as information on other happenings, please see trustus.org or call the box office at (803) 254-973.

 

5 Playwrights - 5 Directors - 5 Casts of 4 Actors -- 1 Night Only with FEST 24!

fest 24

FEST 24: 5 playwrights, 5 directors, and 20 actors create and perform 5 new 10-minute plays in 24 hours. Always entertaining, always a whirlwind - and not to be missed! You'll truly have a unique experience at this one-night only performance!

This is how it works --

  • 7 pm - Saturday evening (August 23rd):  5 directors show up at Trustus Theatre and pick (from a hat, we can only assume) one of 5 playwrights and 5 casts of 4 actors. A matter of minutes later, the playwrights (not all currently in SC, but all with ties to SC) each receive an email with instructions that they have until 7 am Sunday morning to create an original, 10 minute play that includes 1 specific prop and 1 specific line of dialogue, (which will be announced to the public just before 8 pm on Saturday evening.)

 

  • Night falls, playwrights write, actors and directors sleep - restlessly.

 

  • 7:30 am Sunday morning (August 24th): directors and casts show up once again and meet with artistic/criminal mastermind Chad Henderson who delivers unto them brand new, never performed plays, fresh from the printer and the exhausted imaginations of the now sleeping playwrights.

 

  • 8 am until 7:59 pm Sunday -- directors and casts rehearse tirelessly

 

  • 8 pm Sunday -- YOU show up to Trustus theatre (there are a few seats left, but not many) as the 5 brand new world premiere plays are performed to witness the kind of innovative, cutting edge theatre arts Columbia can now get accustomed to.

BOOM!

This is how we do it now.

~~~

Introducing the actors:

fest 24

and the directors:

Heather Lee

 

Elena Martinez-Vidal

 

Robert Richmond

 

Dewey Scott-Wiley

 

Larry Hembree

 

And the playwrights:

Sarah Hammond

A resident playwright at New Dramatists since 2007, Sarah's plays are Green Girl, The Extinction of Felix Garden, Circus Tracks, Kudzu, and House on Stilts. Honors include the Lippmann Family “New Frontier” Award, Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Heideman Award, commissions from South Coast Repertory and Broadway Across America, and a residency at The Royal National Theatre in London. String, her musical with Adam Gwon, won the Frederick Loewe Award at New Dramatists, a NAMT residency grant, the Weston Playhouse New Musicals Award, and was chosen for the Eugene O'Neill National Music Theatre Conference. Her plays have been produced at the Summer Play Festival at The Public, Trustus Theatre, Hangar Lab, City Theatre Summer Shorts, Live Girls! Theater, Collaboraction, Tulsa New Works for Women, and several universities. Her short plays are published in Ten-Minute Plays for 2 Actors: The Best of 2004 (Smith and Kraus) and Great Short Plays: Volume 6 (Playscripts, Inc.).

Randall David Cook

 

A New York-based playwright who originally hails from South Carolina. In recent years he's had two plays premiere Off-Broadway: in 2007, Fate's Imagination opened at the Players Theatre (Entertaining...Tasty plot twists and some very funny lines, The New York Times), and in 2006 Sake with the Haiku Geisha opened at the Perry Street Theatre (Witty, Observant, The New York Times) and was chosen as one of Backstage magazine's Picks of the Week. His one-act play Sushi and Scones was broadcast by the BBC, and his two screenplays (Quintet and Revelation) were both finalists for the Sundance Filmmakers Lab. He is the Resident Playwright of Gotham Stage Company, the writer of the annual Fred and Adele Astaire Awards (for best of dance on Broadway and in film) and an active member of the Dramatists Guild.

Robbie Robertson

 

A playwright, screenwriter and a graduate of the University of South Carolina and UCLA’s professional screenwriting program. Robbie’s first play, Mina Tonight!, was published by Samuel French Inc. and has been produced in regional theatres across the nation. He is also the writer/director of the musical theatrical production, The Twitty Triplets, which has been produced at Trustus and other local venues over the last two decades years (and set to return in 2015). Robbie’s screenplays have placed in several national contests, and his latest, Sweet Child of Mine, was named one of the top 12 comedy scripts in the Austin Film Festival’s Screenwriting Competition. Last year in NYC, Robertson staged a sold out run of his staged adaptation of the film Satan in High Heels, a work that received its first staged reading at Trustus. In 2013, he was awarded the SC Arts Commission Fellowship in Screenwriting. Robbie thanks Larry Hembree and Chad Henderson for their sincere interest and courage in mounting new works.

Dean Poyner

An emerging playwright, Dean was selected as a Kennedy Center / ACTF Core Member Apprentice at the Playwrights’ Center (Minneapolis, MN) for the 2010 / 2011 season. His plays include: THE MORE BEYOND (developed with Playwrights' Center, Kennedy Center, The Puzzle Festival NYC, The Flea, Semi-Finalist for the 2011 Princess Grace Award), BELLHAMMER, a modern allegory set in the world of Christian Professional Wrestling (developed at Carnegie Mellon University, Semi-Finalist for the O'Neill Theatre Conference), the full-length drama PARADISE KEY (Winner of the 2010 Trustus Theatre Playwrights' Festival, produced at Arena Players Repertory Theatre in NY, Trustus Theatre, Hyde Park Theatre), the Zombie-thriller H apocalyptus (produced by The Salvage Company at the Cairns Festival, Queensland Australia, and at Piccolo Spoleto Festival, developed at The Garage Theatre in San Francisco, and in residency at The Studios of Key West), the full-length drama, LOSING SLEEP (Winner of the 2008 Helford Prize in Drama, and produced Off-Off Broadway at the American Theatre of Actors), and the full-length, two-person comedy, COMPANY TIME (developed under luxurious circumstances at the Players Theatre, NYC.)Dean's screenplay SALK, the true story of the discovery of the vaccine against Polio, won the 2009 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation student screenplay award. Dean graduated from WheatonCollege, Wheaton, IL, with degrees in Philosophy and Communications, and received his MFA in Dramatic Writing at CarnegieMellonUniversity where he was a two-time recipient of the Shubert Foundation Fellowship. He is a Principle Artist with The Salvage Company (NYC), and a proud member the Playwrights’ Center and the Dramatists Guild of America.

Michael Thomas Downey

 

Downey has written plays before and he hopes the knowledge of that makes you feel like the two hundred bucks you're shelling out for a celebrity impersonator to join you at the "legitimate theater" tonight isn't going to waste. The important thing to remember is that Mike is getting out there and is no longer aware of his grotesque limitations. Mr. Downey (Janet if you're nasty) likes huffing gin, shouting at cars, and collecting wall hangings that have printings of that footprint dealie about Jesus. He's six foot one inch tall and would love to talk about the 1984 film "2010: The Year We Make Contact" with you over tea and Bavarian sage rugelach. His wife and children tolerate his frequent Finish Jenkka dancing…barely.

 

 

 

 

Horror, Camp, Comedy, and Splatter Come Together in Trustus Theatre’s Gloriously Gory "Evil Dead: The Musical" - a review by Jillian Owens

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What could possibly go wrong? Ash (played by Michael Hazin) is just an average S-Mart employee who wants to spend a relaxing spring break at a creepy abandoned cabin in the woods. Joining him on this vacation are his sweetheart, Linda (played by Elisabeth Baker), his jerk of a friend, Scotty (played by Patrick Dodds), his jerk of a friend’s recent hookup, Shelly (played by Abigail Ludwig), and his socially-awkward buzzkill of a little sister, Cheryl (played by Jodie Cain Smith.) When a mysterious trap door in the floor flies open, the fellas decide to investigate.

(L-R) Jodie Cain Smith, Elisabeth Baker, Michael Hazin, Patrick Dodds, Abigail Ludwig - rehearsal by  Richard Arthur Király - Photography

Michael Hazin and Patrick Dodds - - rehearsal by  Richard Arthur Király - Photography

Unless you’re -- as Scotty would say (and says repeatedly) -- “a stupid bitch,” you’ve probably figured out that this is the standard set-up for countless horror movies, and that there is no possible way for this to end well for our young friends. The group discovers a tape recorder and a very strange book, written in Latin. The bizarrely helpful voice on the tape (contributed by Scott Blanks) reveals that they hold the Necronomicon, a book of the dead bound in human flesh and written in human blood that has the power to unleash an army of some pretty catty Candarian demons upon the world. They, of course, play the transcription of the cursed words and release these aforementioned demons. And what do you do when being attacked by demons? You sing a song (“You stupid bitch!”)

Michael Hazin and Elisabeth Baker - rehearsal by Richard Arthur Király - Photography

Even the most pedestrian lovers of campy horror films can guess that this musical is based on the three films of the Evil Dead franchise: Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead 2 (1987), and Army of Darkness (1992.) The musical version, (created by George Reinblatt, Christopher Bond, Frank Cipolla, and Melissa Morris) was originally produced in 2003 in Toronto, Ontario where its success lead it to Off Broadway in 2006. The musical version combines the plots of the first two films, and contains several Army of Darkness references as well.

Jodie Cain Smith

The songs in the show are silly and fun, and reminiscent of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Song titles include, "All the Men in My Life Keep Getting Killed by Candarian Demons," “Bit-Part Demon","Do the Necronomicon", and –my personal favorite- “"What the F*ck Was That?" The music isn’t particularly challenging, and it certainly isn’t brilliant, but it’s also not trying to be. The simple score allowed director Chad Henderson to assemble a cast of very funny actors, some of whom are also very strong singers.

(L-R) Amy Brower and Michael Hazin -

Michael Hazin pulls off the role of Ash with a terrific Bruce Campbell (star of the film series) swagger and a commanding voice, and Elisabeth Baker was an obvious choice for the role of Linda, his sweet love interest. She’s also no stranger to musical theatre, and it shows. Matthew DeGuire seems an unlikely Jake (a rugged and sort of sketchy Mountain Man) which makes his role all the funnier and he nails every note. The rest of the cast’s strength lies primarily in their comedic abilities...and that’s okay. Jodie Cain Smith’s Cheryl is hilarious, both pre- and post- Deadite (the term for bodies possessed by Candarian demons), even if some of her numbers pushed her out of her comfortable vocal range. Amy Brower is the most melodramatic archaeologist you’ll ever meet, with some serious wardrobe malfunctions that lead to much laughter, and Patrick Dodds is a complete and utter jerkoff as Scotty, which in this case is a compliment.

Ash vs. the Deadites - "Come and get some!"- rehearsal photo  by Richard Arthur Király - Photography

Evil Dead: the Musical is the definitely the first musical I’ve ever been to that featured a “Splatter Zone.” That’s right - this stage adaptation maintains the high levels of campy gore established in the films, and if you’re feeling particularly fearless, you can choose to be covered in fake blood as the body count rises. You’ll also get to see a beheaded corpse with a grudge, a feisty dismembered hand, and a really unpleasant evil moose. Scenic Designers Brandon McIver and Baxter Engle and Prop Designer Jillian Peltzman have made this production a 4-D experience.

Evil Dead: The Musical is a must-see for horror fans, fans of all things funny, and fans of really strange musical adaptations. Go ahead...heed the calling of the Deadites...Join Us...at Trustus Theatre.

~ Jillian Owens

Evil Dead: The Musical runs through Saturday, July 26; call 803- 254-9732 or visit www.trustus.org for ticket information.  Also, be sure to check out the artwork of Sean McGuinness, aka That Godzilla Guy, the featured artist in the Gallery at Trustus for the run of the production.

 

Transylvania Mania at Workshop Theatre - a review of "Young Frankenstein" by Jillian Owens

youngfrank1 It seems appropriate that the last show ever to be performed by Workshop Theatre at their Gervais and Bull Street location would be Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein. Emotions surrounding their move to 701 Whaley run high among the Columbia theatre community. Only something silly and fun will do for this occasion. Adapted from the 1974 film of the same name, Young Frankenstein tells the story of Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (pronounced “Fron-ken-steen”!), grandson to that other Frankenstein who terrorized the townsfolk of Transylvania with his monsters for decades.

Kyle Collins as Dr. Frankenstein - photo by Rob Sprankle

Frederick is summoned to Transylvania to claim his inheritance when his Grandfather dies. At first, he has no intention of “joining the family business” of creating monsters, but then he meets Igor (played by Frank Thompson), a masterless hunchbacked stooge who pronounces his name “Eye-gor,” and who softens his resolve in the song "Together Again (for the First Time."  A visit from the ghost of his dead grandfather (played by Hunter Boyle), and the temptation of taking on a sultry local by the name of Inga (played by Courtney Selwyn) as his lab assistant remove it altogether. With the assistance of Igor, Inga, and his horse-scaring housekeeper Frau Blucher (played by Elena Martinez-Vidal, he builds a monster that-- you guessed it--ends up terrorizing the village.

Elena Martinez as Frau Blucher ("Nee-e-e-e-igh!") - photo by Rob Sprankle

This is one of the best put-together casts I’ve seen. Kyle Collins is a delightfully neurotic Dr. Frankenstein, and Thompson is a brilliantly hilarious Igor. Vicky Saye Henderson delivers a standout performance as the Doctor’s madcap socialite fiancée, Elizabeth Benning, who is more than a bit frigid with the good doctor in the song "Please Don't Touch Me." Selwyn is an exciting and relatively new talent, having only one other production under her belt (the recent Ragtime at Trustus.) With impressive vocal chops and other…ahem…assets, she is perfectly cast as Inga, and I look forward to seeing her talent grow in future productions. Martinez-Vidal earned the most laughter as Frau Blucher, sometimes without havingto say a thing.  Jason Kinsey is perfectly cast as The Monster, and his “Puttin’ on the Ritz” number does not disappoint.

Courtney Selwyn as Inga - photo by Rob Sprankle

This is one of those rare Columbia productions that has somehow managed to capture the best of our local talent, and has showcased it fantastically well. Even the ensemble is comprised of actors and actresses whom I’m accustomed to seeing in lead roles. And I’ve never seen a show where the cast is so clearly having such a ridiculous amount of fun.

Frank Thompson as Igor - photo by Rob Sprankle

That’s what this show is. Pure fun. Well, not all that pure. There are plenty of bawdy jokes, songs (such as the song, “Deep Love,” which is referring to exactly what you think it’s referring to) , and silly sight gags. But this is nothing that would surprise anyone who’s ever seen a Mel Brooks film.

Young Frankenstein is a big show, both in cast size, and technically speaking. Randy Strange has done a phenomenal job with the challenging set requirements, most impressively in Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. This is a bittersweet compliment, as this is to be Strange’s last show in his decades-long career-- but what a way to go out. What couldn’t possibly be built on such a small stage is created through the clever use of projections by Baxter Engle, also credited as Sound Designer for this show.

Director Chad Henderson, Choreographer Mandy Applegate, and Music Director Tom Beard have created a production that is truly a triple threat. Great direction, great choreography, and great musical talent have come together to make the last show on this stage something truly special.  Young Frankenstein runs though Saturday, May 24;  contact the box office at 803-799-6551, or visit www.workshoptheatre.com for ticket information.

workshop

OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO -- A look at the technical theatre of See Rock City & Other Destinations - A guest blog by Chad Henderson

see rock city See Rock City & Other Destinations opens on the Thigpen Main Stage this Friday at Trustus Theatre. This uplifting musical charts the journeys of various characters as they become risk-takers in order to find connection and answers to life’s questions through visits to various American tourist locales. This award-winning script takes audiences to Rock City Gardens, The Alamo, Roswell, Niagara Falls, Glacier Bay, and Coney Island all in the course of two hours. One might question how these tourist sites could manifest in a theatrical setting before the audience’s eyes, but the bold visions of director Dewey Scott-Wiley and designer Baxter Engle proposed the answer: projection mapping.

 

Projection mapping is a projection technology used to turn facades into display surfaces for video projection. Often times the surfaces used are unexpected such as a building or a room that is painted uniformly to accept projections.  By using specialized software, a two or three dimensional object is spatially “mapped” on a virtual program which mimics the real environment it is to be projected on. The software can communicate with a projector to fit desired images onto the surface of that object. This technique is often used by artists, advertisers, and promoters alike who can add extra dimensions, optical illusions, and notions of movement onto static objects. See Rock City & Other Destinations will mark the inaugural use of this type of technological design on this scale for the 29 year old theatre company that is constantly striving to bring current productions to Columbia.

 

Director Dewey Scott-Wiley assembled a talented cast for this moving production, but she knew that the technical theatre aspects of the show would have to match the thrilling performances of the actors. Many theatres have the privilege of fly systems and off-stage storage space for large scene changes – but Trustus simply doesn’t have those abilities. So the question remained: “How do we transport across America in a time efficient and visually appealing way?”

 

Baxter Engle, a Trustus Company member since 2007, suggested the first-time use of projection mapping on the Main Stage to take audiences on this journey. Engle has designed many creative projection designs for various productions in Columbia including Town Theatre’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Trustus’ Assassins, A Christmas Carol, and Henderson Bros. Burlesque. He also had the opportunity to design large-scale projections for internationally known designer Nic Ularu when he worked on Ularu’s original production Fusions, which premiered at the World Stage Design conference in Cardiff, Wales last summer. Naturally director Dewey Scott-Wiley, who is in her second year as artistic director at Trustus, jumped at the chance to bring something innovative to the Thigpen Main Stage.

 

Through the use of two projectors, a program called QLab (not usually associated with projection mapping), and various surfaces created for projections in the scenic design (designed by this humble blogger) – Engle is able to transition from Rock City Gardens, a journey down the highway, Glacier Bay, and Coney Island all with the click of the spacebar on the computer that’s running the program.

 

Modern theatre is certainly trending towards the use of projection technology in productions. It is cost efficient because it keeps scenic material costs low and allows for less backstage crew work in scene changes. In many cases it can add a mood or image into an audience’s experience that would be expensive or impossible to create live on stage. Some productions are even using holograms for scenic elements or characters in modern productions. See Rock City & Other Destinations will mark a technological advancement for the Trustus, but the goal is creating the sense of travel that the script asks for.

 

Audiences craving “new” can be rest-assured that See Rock City & Other Destinations will deliver. The show may not come with popular name recognition, but Trustus’ production comes with a talented cast, the music and book delivers in a big way, and the spirit of the production is steeped in innovation. This show is about risk-taking and the creative team of this production is striving for just that.

 

“You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You'll Go!

 

SEE ROCK CITY & OTHER DESTINATIONS  runs at Trustus Theatre March 14 – April 5, 2014. Tickets may be purchased online at www.trustus.org or by calling the box office at (803) 254-9732.

Henderson Bros. Are At It Again

Terrance Henderson of the Henderson Bros. -- photo by James Quantz Henderson Bros. Burlesque returns to the Capital City this February for another round of teases, bawdiness, and skin. Last year’s premiere performance saw over 600 patrons at the one-night-only event, and co-creators Chad and Terrance Henderson have crafted another night of naughty fun with new acts, dances, and teases. Henderson Bros. Burlesque will run February 13th through the 15th, with show times at 8:00pm every night. There will be a special late night performance at 10:00pm on February 14th. Reserved seating may be purchased online at www.trustus.org, and standing room tickets may be purchased by calling the Trustus Box Office only: (803) 254-9732. Seated tickets are $30, and standing tickets are $20.

 History of Henderson Bros. Burlesque

 Last year over 600 patrons attended the one-night-only performance of Henderson Bros. Burlesque at 2013’s What’s Love at 701 Whaley. With the success of the first show, Trustus decided to bring the show to the Thigpen Main Stage this February. Since Trustus offers less seating than 701, the show will be performed over the course of three nights – but seating will still be limited.

Henderson Bros. Burlesque co-creators Chad and Terrance Henderson are not actual relatives, but they certainly see a union in their creative approaches to entertainment. The two have collaborated on many shows at Trustus Theatre since 2009, and they’ve been brainstorming a burlesque show for the past two years. “Doing a burlesque show was one of those ideas that come up over a couple of drinks,” said co-creator and director Chad Henderson. “I had been reading a lot about the history of burlesque, and felt like Columbia was way overdue for a big theatrical burlesque show. I went to Terrance because I knew I wanted his choreography involved in the show, and he said he’d been wanting to produce a Burly-Q show as well. We kept brainstorming and sharing ideas because we were planning on producing it ourselves.”

The end result was a rocking evening that had patrons dancing in the aisles and begging for more.

 

 What’s The Show Like?

 Henderson Bros. Burlesque is one part burlesque teases, one part dance show, and one part rock concert. It’s a variety show that’s a professionally thrown party.

Henderson Bros. Burlesque, boasts over 20 performers. Chad Henderson, the 2012 Jasper Magazine Artist of the Year in Theatre, will be directing the production. Co-creator Terrance Henderson the 2013 Jasper Magazine Artist of the Year in Dance will be singing his heart out as the Emcee Nauti Boogie, as well as choreographing the ensemble pieces in the show. He’ll be backed vocally by Kendrick Marion and Katrina Blanding.

Music Director Jeremy Polley (Alter Ego) will be directing a 7-piece band featuring guitar, drums, bass, piano, trumpet, trombone, and saxophone. The music in the show, hand-picked by the Hendersons, ranges from jazz standards, funk, hip-hop, club music, and rock. Songs from Beyonce, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Christina Aquilera, and more will be reverberating through the Main Stage. Patrons can count on needing their dancing shoes.

Local actor Hunter Boyle will be returning as Vaudeville clown Bumbleclap McGee, the resident funny-man of the Henderson Bros. Burlesque. Bumbleclap will be bringing back jokes from the days of Vaudeville, with a lot of wit, winks, and nudges. Rumor is that he’ll be bringing a live version of “What Does the Fox Say?” to the performance this year.

The burlesque performers in the show range in age, sex, race, build, and character – providing a little something for everyone who attends. Performer Sugar St. Germaine will be teasing with a fan dance, Burgundy Brown will be driving the crowd crazy with her beaded New Orleans inspired act, and Latte Love will be drive the audience wild with her trademark dressing screen act. Other performers will be performing ensemble Crazy-Horse inspired group teases – including a male dancer feature where the only thing they’ll be wearing by the end is a wash cloth. We suggest patrons bring handkerchiefs to wipe the sweat from their brow.