REVIEW - Trustus's Silence! The Musical is a Hilarious Respite from a Weary World

“A little nonsense, now and then, is relished by the wisest men.”

-WillyWonka - Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

silence group.jpg

Members of the Silence! cast Sam McWhite, Mike Morales, Kayla Machado, Latrell Brennan, and Abigail McNeely

 When one thinks of The Silence Of The Lambs, words like “hilarious” and “side-splittingly funny” don’t generally come to mind. The classic film, starring Jodie Foster and Sir Anthony Hopkins, sent chills up the spines of movie-goers worldwide, but other than one or two cheeky asides from Hopkins, the movie was a straight-up crime drama/thriller without much comic relief. Such is definitely NOT the case with Trustus Theatre’s season-opener, Silence! The Musical, which serves up an affectionate but irreverent parody of the original.

The plot of the musical follows that of the film fairly closely, but takes advantage of every opportunity to play the situations and characters for laughs. Inside jokes abound, and sassy references to other pop culture staples can be found…if you know where to look. I am going to try and see the show again, as I was so busy laughing and scribbling down notes, I’m sure I missed a few things here and there. Director Jonathan Monk clearly had great fun in using his own celebrated sense of  humour to enhance an already outrageous comedy. Kudos  are also due to Monk for his superb casting, which made the show damn near perfect. (My only caveat is that the script is quite vulgar in spots, which I find delightful, but if sexual slang and twisted characters aren’t your thing, beware.)

As Clarice Starling, Kayla C. Machado is the only character to do a full-out imitation of her film counterpart. In her early-90s bobbed hairdo and makeup, she bears a striking resemblance to Jodie Foster, but the verisimilitude doesn’t stop there. Without ever breaking character, Machado delivers a brilliant rendition of Foster’s distinct dialect, complete with pronouncing her “s” sounds with “sh.” For example, she consistently refers to herself as “Agent Shtarling,” which simply got funnier as the show progressed. I will admit to having feared at first that the convention would get old, much like an SNL skit that runs several minutes too long, but I was wrong. To use another subversive pop culture example, it’s like a running gag on Family Guy that’s funny at first…then it starts to get old…but then it crosses over into hilarious, and you laugh until it’s over. Machado is, ironically, given the number of insinuations about Starling’s (and Foster’s) sexuality, the “straight man,” yet she gets some of the biggest laughs of the evening. One of her finest moments is when she gives a lengthy, incomprehensible, monologue about her detective work, only to be met with a response of “I have no clue what the fu*k you just said” from Robin Gottlieb (more on her in a minute,) and Machado manages to keep a perfectly straight face. (To her credit, Machado and a couple of the other actors did have one “Harvey Korman Experience,” when they all cracked up at some uproariously crude witticism. Rather than being a distraction, this was a positively golden moment when the actors simply couldn’t contain their hilarity, which strengthened the already-solid connection with the audience. Harvey would have been proud. ;-)

Machado and Morales with Robin Gottlieb

Machado and Morales with Robin Gottlieb

As Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Hunter Boyle is at the peak of his game. I attended the show with my friend, local actor Bill Arvay, who declared Boyle’s performance “the best thing I’ve ever seen him do.” While this may have been a bit hyperbolic, given Boyle’s rich resume of memorable characters, I understood the sentiment. Boyle’s Lecter isn’t quite as menacing as Hopkins’, which illustrates the understanding Boyle and Monk had of the character as he fits into this somewhat Bizzaro-World spoof. Boyle is less genius cannibal, and more smartass intellectual, and it works. One of the many tips of the hat to other theatrical works is his prison suit number, 24601. (Les Mis fans, admit it, you were mentally singing it once you noticed the number.) Boyle is still the “Hannibal The Cannibal” from the movie, but he deftly takes the lighter script to heart.  Straight lines are played for laughs, and Boyle had to hold for laughter for at least thirty seconds when Lecter corrected S(h)tarling on the famous “Fava beans and a nice Chianti” line.

Patrick Dodds, whose considerable talent seems to grow and develop with each role he undertakes, manages to create a frightening Buffalo Bill who still fits in with the MAD Magazine atmosphere of zaniness. While making the part  his own, Dodds winks at the character with a few straight-from-the-film bits. Fans of the movie will remember the odd tic of a laugh Buffalo Bill tries to suppress when asking Starling about a missing woman she is seeking. “Was she like, a big, fat, person?” isn’t a funny line per se, but when Dodds adds the brief snicker to his query, the result is a cascade of knowing laughter from the audience. While Dodds is younger and a bit more manic than his screen counterpart, he is a perfect fit (see what I did there?) for the demented lunatic of the stage adaptation.

Dressed in all black, with white floppy ears, the other five actors play “everyone else,” including a flock of lambs, establishing individual characters by adding a jacket, hat, or comparably simple garment. Costume Designer Amy Brower Lown succeeds in maintaining  a specific, cohesive, style without ever compromising the ersatz reality of the script. Lown’s concept is brilliantly supported by LaTrell Brennan, Robin Gottlieb, Abigail McNeely, Samuel McWhite, and Mike Morales, who transition seamlessly from character to character.

As Ardelia, Starling’s roommate and is-she-or-isn’t-she girlfriend, Brennan not only develops a three-dimensional character, but also displays great facility at  delivering a punchline, often remaining perfectly serious during her funniest moments. Gottlieb brings her customary stage presence and overall panache to playing a series of all-male characters. (Another inside joke is set up when Gottlieb appears as Starling’s deceased father, prompting Starling to plead “Papa, can you hear me?” with Yentyl–like wistfulness.) In an uncredited cameo as mental patient Miggs, Gottlieb hilariously re-creates the (in)famous moment when Miggs masturbates and flings the resulting *ahem* substance at Starling, substituting a can of Silly String at a decidedly seminal moment in the show.

Working double duty as Buffalo Bill’s victim, Catherine, and her US Senator mother, McNeely demonstrates an almost chameleon-like ability to morph into completely different appearances. I honestly didn’t realize the roles were done by the same person until well over halfway through.

McWhite’s primary alter-ego of Lecter’s keeper, Dr. Chilton, is less pathetic than the film Chilton, interpreted more as a fast-talking pickup artist than a socially awkward nerd. While we can easily imagine the movie incarnation moping in depression after failing to seduce Starling, McWhite’s Chilton has probably had more successes than failures with women, and displays a delightful “your loss, baby” attitude, likely moving on to his next potential lover.

Morales was the most difficult actor to track, as he, like McNeely, apparently has the ability to shape-shift. I suspect it was he who played the geeky entomologist who also fails to woo Starling with his offer of “cheeseburgers and the amusing house wine.” ( This line is pretty much a throwaway in the movie, but takes on great hilarity when placed in the world of Silence!) Morales also has a most amusing death scene as the ill-fated Officer Pembry. As with the rest of the show, what was frightening and/or grotesque on the silver screen becomes fodder for hilarity onstage.

Sam Hetler’s scenic design is both functional and visually intriguing, creating a unit set that serves as over a dozen locations. Hetler’s work is showing up with growing frequency on Columbia stages, and he never fails to deliver a professional-quality set with a few unexpected flairs. Marc Hurst’s lighting design reinforces Hetler’s fun-house set with dramatic changes in intensity and color, never letting the audience forget that this is a bizarre alternate reality. Particularly impressive were his use of lighting Buffalo Bill’s lair from beneath the playing surface (blending perfectly with Hetler’s dungeon-wall motif,) and a sudden full-stage switch to fuzzy black-and-green to simulate the view from a pair of night-vision goggles. Hurst also helps create locales with projected establishing texts such as “Baltimore Nuthouse” and “Mr. Belvedere, Ohio,” among others.

Machado and Hunter Boyle

Machado and Hunter Boyle

Musical Director Randy Moore lives up to his customary professionalism, making piano, keyboard, and drums sound like a full orchestra. Bravo to Trustus and Moore for utilizing live musicians in a time when far too many theatres are opting for “canned” pre-recorded orchestration. The freshness and obvious communication among the four instrumentalists added another layer of connection to the show, as well as the audience.

Lest there be any doubt, I found Silence! To be a laugh-a-minute roller coaster ride of naughty satire, and left with my sides aching from constant guffawing.  It’s definitely for grown-ups, and never blinks or shies away from that fact, so be prepared. Never before have I seen a dancing vagina ballet, bubble-wrap bulletproof vests, the “Manamana” song used as a diversionary tactic, an imitation of Jodie Foster reciting “she sells seashells by the seashore,” or Hunter Boyle in a fabulous hat and caftan ensemble. (Okay, that last one was a lie.)

Silence! runs through 3 November, and tickets can be purchased online at Trustus.org, or by ringing the box office on (803) 254.9732. Word is spreading, and tickets are likely to be going fast, so reserve your seats soon for this delightfully macabre, oft-profane, “egregiously misrespectful” piece of  theatre that maintains Trustus’ commitment to professional and well-produced art.

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

Patrick Dodds as Buffalo Bill - all photos courtesy of Trustus Theatre

Patrick Dodds as Buffalo Bill - all photos courtesy of Trustus Theatre

REVIEW: USC's The Crucible by Frank Thompson

”If you choose to open the door, turn to page 83.

If you choose to go down the stairs, turn to page 61.

If you choose to go up the stairs, turn to page 40.”

 

   Those of us of the age of “that or thereabout” will certainly remember the captivating grade-school series of Choose Your Own Adventure books. For those who don’t, these gems were as close as possible to “print-interactive.” Instead of being read in linear fashion, they asked the reader to make a decision from two or three options, (following a starter page, in which a specific situation was established), and then gave directions to a page elsewhere in the book, based upon that decision.

   It likely isn’t often that a production of The Crucible evokes memories of childhood reading-list favorites, but the many layers and perspectives of director Robert Richmond’s production, currently running at USC’s Longstreet Theatre, kept bringing me back to the concept of choosing my own adventure. In brief, there’s a hell of a lot going on, a reasonable amount of character ambiguity, and a wonderful opportunity for the theatre-goer to take an active role in the processing and interpretation of the director’s and actors’ art. With this in mind, and with hopes that you’ll read all three, regardless of your choice, here are your three options:

. If you think The Crucible is an indictment of the corrosive potential of religious group-think, go to paragraph 1.

. If you think The Crucible is a statement on current events, go to paragraph 2.

. If you think The Crucible is a clear-eyed observation of humanity’s inherent nature, go to paragraph 3.


1. Written as Arthur Miller’s great middle finger to McCarthyism, The Crucible may have used religious mania as a metaphor for the “Red Scare”, but its themes and imagery are now practically literal, and unsettlingly close to the times we currently face. If 81% of Evangelicals support causes and individuals who undermine the bedrock of their self-proclaimed Christianity, a once-mainstream religion has lost its way through suspicion and hate. In his role as Reverend Hale, Kaleb Edward Edley does a commendable job representing the voice of religious tolerance and reason, only to be ignored by most as too dismissive of the influence of evil and the supernatural. While Judge Danforth (well-played by Richard Edward III), has the occasional moment of civility, and even (albeit ersatz) kindness, his, like those around him, is a cherry-picked religion, laser-focused on sin and punishment. The New Testament seems tangential, at best, in the reality inhabited by these characters, with grace and forgiveness mentioned infrequently, and usually wrapped within several layers of condemnation. One need only watch a few minutes of conservative religious television or read the philosophies of most mainstream Evangelical groups to see that a subculture of judgementalism and harsh theology comparable to that of the 1620s thrives in today’s interpretation of scripture. Though not every conservative religious congregation espouses hate, suspicion, and intolerance, that element is becoming more mainstream. (I won’t go off on a tangent, but will simply say that there are plenty of examples of “traditional” churches teaching hate from the pulpit, and they’re merely a YouTube search away.) The “witches” of Salem may now appear as the homeless, the poor, the LGBTQ community, or any other oppressed group under the thumb of archaic and backward religious beliefs. While we see several members of the community start out as decent, protective, neighbours, they soon descend to back-biting and accusations against one another, each claiming moral purity. As the play proceeds, especially in the second act, the social fabric of Salem dissolves as the audience watches, and a faux-Christian mob mentality takes over. Particularly effective in demonstrating this dissolution is Hunter Boyle, as Francis Nurse. When we first meet Nurse, he is a gruff, but reasonable man, the husband of Erica Tobolsky’s Rebecca Nurse, who may be the only woman in Salem who places the value of medicine and science over homespun theology. (Tobolsky, incidentally, does a masterful job of playing a woman literally centuries ahead of her time. Her commitment to the reality of the 1620s, while still presenting a modern face of religious tolerance, brings to mind a sort of John Pavlovitz-esque figure, railing against a growing communal intolerance, while attempting to actually follow the teachings of Christ. Kudos to Tobolsky for an exceptionally nuanced performance.) As the final scenes progress, we see Boyle devolve from a rustic-but-endearing rural husband to an anger-filled man determined to save his wife from what has become a theological kangaroo court. Far from just the Taliban and Westboro Baptist, similar examples of religious mob mentality and its destructive potential can be found throughout history, and Boyle’s angry-yet-resigned second act aura provides a chilling insight into what could, can, and has happened before. Eventually, through manipulation and a “creative” interpretation of Christianity, one is left with the idea that the extremists have managed to normalize a dystopian religion and culture.

2. It would be impossible to view the events of The Crucible without at least a perfunctory nod to the similarities between the political structure of Salem and that of 2018 America. An absolutist offshoot of Christianity has managed to gain control of the religion, Church and State are dangerously intertwined with each other, and women’s rights are under their greatest attack since the 1970s. An authoritarian regime of government has aligned itself with churchgoers of the darkest and most suspicious nature. Those of (or without) faith are shouted down, often with nonsensical rhetoric, and a vague militarization of faith has become vogue in conservative circles. In a simple, yet highly effective bit of outfitting, costumer Molly Morgan has dressed David Neil Edwards (who turns in a disturbingly accurate alt-right Ezekiel Cheever) in the quasi-military getup so favored by Tea Party types and Doomsday cult militia members. Most of all, the nature of truth and reality are constantly questioned, both by the script and the production. In a world in which “alternative facts” has become a household expression, one finds a particular apprehension at watching various women branded as witches and men as liars or scoundrels, when the truth (usually) is quite different. Reality as defined by those in power is not reality, be it in the 17th or 21st century. One may call dancing in the rain a Satanic ritual, but that doesn’t make it so, no matter how vehemently the authorities may insist.

3. In its most basic and fundamental structure, The Crucible is about hypocrisy, humankind’s fallibility, self-importance, and the dehumanizing capacities of fear and mistrust. It speaks loudly and with a pointed, accusing finger at fanaticism, selfishness, negative joinerism, and a corrupt clergy-cum-government. In telling his story, playwright Arthur Miller also displays examples of the best and worst of humankind. I was particularly impressed with the emotional and psychological development of the main love triangle. As John Proctor, Darrell Johnston establishes a decent, if flawed, man who has transgressed against his marriage vows with  Abigail Williams (Kimberly Braun), and lives under the eyes of his suspicious wife, Elizabeth Proctor (Libby Hawkins.) Johnston gives perhaps the most powerful performance in a show full of them, especially in his final courtroom meltdown. Having been figuratively tortured by his guilt, and literally worked over by the authorities, he delivers a passionate, enraged, terrified, and yet completely logical argument for his refusal to sign a confession that would make him free, choosing the gallows over sullying his name. Braun matches him step-for-step with a quiet pathos, feeling guilt and rejection simultaneously. As the wronged wife, Hawkins shows an admirable restraint in avoiding shrewishness or even very much of a scolding tone with her husband. She is wounded, but quietly and calmly wounded. Each of these performers work beautifully in tandem, without a single moment of wasted time or movement. We see, through the evening, a cameo or several by each of the Seven Deadly sins; lust, greed, envy, sloth, anger, gluttony, and pride. One character or another displays at least two or three of each, or faces consequences for having so done. Human nature is, apparently, timeless as well as universal.

   I could go on and on about dozens of other possible interpretations of this production, but it would be a monumental task that could easily fill a book. In summation, I will say that director Robert Richmond displays his signature attention to small details and stunning visuals to bring freshness and originality to this oft-told tale. This production of The Crucible is successful in many ways, most of all in its “newness.” The audience member truly believes that these people are experiencing these events for the very first time, which, in the reality of the script, of course they are. A frequent criticism of mine when reviewing classic/older works is that they’re so well-known, the actors seem to more or less acknowledge that the audience knows the story, and turn in good, but stale performances. Such is not at all the case here. Filled with talented students, as well as a few members of the cream of the local theatre community (Jennifer Moody Sanchez, Katrina Blanding, Terrance Henderson, and the aforementioned Boyle), this cast is 100% committed to verisimilitude and consistency in character.

   Full disclosure: I am not a huge fan of Arthur Miller’s work, but I was absolutely mesmerized by this production. From the opening notes of Tituba (Katrina Blanding)’s haunting chant just after curtain, to the shouts of “so-and-so was seen with the devil” in one of the more dramatic moments of the show, to the chills-up-the-spine final moment, the production held my attention, and motivated me to re-read the script sometime soon. Take it from me, even if Arthur Miller isn’t your cuppa, USC’s The Crucible will keep you glued to the story.

SYZYGY Director Paul Kaufmann Writes About Directing Terry Roueche's TWEETERS for The Jasper Project

Paul Kaufmann directs TWEETERS by Terry Roueche for SYZYGY: The Plays Thursday, August 17th at 7 and 10 PM   

Paul Kaufmann directs TWEETERS by Terry Roueche for SYZYGY: The Plays Thursday, August 17th at 7 and 10 PM

 

I got involved in Syzygy because Patrick Kelly emailed to ask me.  I immediately jumped on board.  I think the production of new plays is vital to making a more complete theater scene in Columbia.  Trustus's Playwrights Festival, which has been happening now for many years, has paved the way.  I have always believed that event should be expanded to include readings and stagings of other new works.   

 

Tweeters is, at least in part, about looking for something, someone, anyone to follow.  It's a short, funny take on the seriously disturbing use of social media by our country's leader. [Playwright] Terry Roueche has hidden some real commentary in what seems, on the surface, to be a short farce.  So I'd say it's a satire.

 

I have three extraordinary actors in my show.  Hunter Boyle plays Murdock, Eric Bultman is Fisher, and Tristan Pack plays Jones. This cast of three boast two actors who have earned MFA degrees (Boyle and Bultman). Pack is an excellent young actor who grew up performing in Sumter and who has done several plays in Columbia and at USC.  He's also a contractor to my company and has worked as an actor for me in Montana and elsewhere. Their chemistry as a trio is exciting.

 

We've had such a fun time exploring the levels and depths of this short piece. The brevity of the play has allowed us to run it more times than usual in each rehearsal, which really helps develop rhythm, comedy, and pace. I'm very happy with the work the actors have put into it.  We still have a few more rehearsals scheduled before Thursday.

 

I'm most eager to see how these actors will respond to having an audience and to see the audience's reaction to this Absurdist comedy. This type of play really speaks to the difficulty of finding the appropriate way to react to the political and social craziness of these times -- what other real choice to we have except to acknowledge the breakdown of dialogue, the lack of clear and controlled communication and the fear that permeates our current culture?  Yes, all that in ten minutes!

 

I want people to come so they can see local teams of theater people creating new work.  In and of itself, that's reason enough to attend The Syzygy Plays.  And no matter what one's taste in entertainment may be, I think these ten minute plays are a great way to see and sample work by dedicated artists.  I've not seen or read any of the other pieces, but I'm sure it will be an evening of varied and stimulating shows.

 

 

Paul Kaufmann is a Columbia-based stage and film actor, writer, voiceover artist, acting coach, visual artist and director. Directing credits include The Magical Medical Radio Hour, which he also wrote, funded in part by the Duke Endowment and Ho for the Holidays (also written by Kaufmann), The Testament of Mary and Season’s Greetings for Trustus Theatre. Most recently, he appeared in Trustus Theatre’s production of Hand to God as Pastor Greg.  In November/December 2016, he played The Actor in FUSIONS by Nic Ularu at LaMaMa Experimental Theater Club in New York, his fourth role there after The Cherry Orchard Sequel (NY Times Critics’ Pick), The System and Hieronymus (title role), all for Mr. Ularu’s UniArt Productions. Internationally, he’s performed in Wales and Romania with UniArt, in Australia with The Salvage Company and in Sicily with Florida State University. Recent Trustus credits include dialect coaching Grey Gardens and acting in Peter and the Starcatcher (Black Stache), Marie Antoinette (Revolutionary) and The Restoration’s Constance (Reverend Harper.) Other favorite shows there include: Assassins, Next to Normal, Dirty Blonde, I Am My Own Wife, August: Osage County, Side Man, Spinning Into Butter, Touch, Gross Indecency, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, Santaland Diaries, When Pigs Fly and The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. Theatre South Carolina: King Lear, The Real Thing, The Illusion and The Country Wife. Pacific Performance Project/East: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mizu No Eki. Co-founder of HIT SEND Studio Theater with Marybeth Gorman. A founding company member of SC Shakespeare Company, he’s proud to have played Iago opposite his late best friend Greg Leevy’s Othello among other roles. He’s proud to have provided voiceovers for several productions at Columbia Marionette Theatre, including Snow White and The Wizard of Oz, in which he plays Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and the Flying Monkeys.  He also does voiceover work for radio stations across the US. Film/television/web series: Preacher Feature, The Girl from Carolina, Season 2: God Bless New Dixie, Third Reel, Junk Palace and Campfire Tales. Paul is founder of a company that contracts actors utilized in scenario-based training for the FBI and other federal and state agencies across the country. He is a proud former student of Jim Thigpen, his life-changing high school theater teacher.

Tickets are available at Tapp's Arts Center   https://www.tappsartscenter.com/event/syzygy-the-solar-eclipse-plays/

Tickets are available at Tapp's Arts Center

https://www.tappsartscenter.com/event/syzygy-the-solar-eclipse-plays/

It's JAY Season - Vote Now! VOTE HERE!

2016-jays A really good year.

Every artist has one now and again. A period of time when the universe smiles upon you, life just seems to click, and you have the energy to get done all the jobs you need to do.

It’s a brilliant feeling. And we like spreading that brilliance around. That’s why we asked our readers to nominate the artists in their lives who have had one of those really good years. Then, our panel of experts took a look at the list of nominees and winnowed it down to the top three artists in each discipline who seemed to have the very best years of all.

Below, you’ll read about these 12* artists and have the opportunity to register your vote for which artist in each field should be named 2016 Jasper Artist of the Year.

Winners will be announced at the 2016 Jasper Artist of the Year Gala & Columbia Christmas Carol Lip Sync Championship on December  2nd.

~~~

VOTE HERE!

~~~

Literary Arts

Carla Damron

Carla Damron’s most important work for the year was the publication of her literary novel, The Stone Necklace, by Story River Books, a division of USC Press. The Stone Necklace was also chosen as the One Book, One Community selection for February 2016 which led to multiple events and appearances, which gave Damron the opportunity to explore the intersection of art and social awareness with hundreds of people (including a presentation at the SC National Alliance for Mental Illness conference). Damron has completed approximately 30 book club presentations thus far, with more scheduled. Damron’s other works include a submission to the Jasper Project’s Marked By Water collection, monthly blogs on the Writerswhokill website, a quarterly column in the SC Social Workers newsletter, and the completion of her fifth novel, which is now in her agent’s hands.

Len Lawson

Len Lawson’s many poetry publications this year have included the following: “Briefcase of Little Tortures,” in Up the Staircase Quarterly, “Down South,” in Charleston Currents; “I Write My Body Eclectic” in [PANK] Magazine; “Feel the Vibration: Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch, A Retrospective” in Yellow Chair Review; “Church Fan,” “Niger (Or the Country Missing a Letter,” and “When a White Man in Camden Tells You to Act Like  You Got Some Sense,” in Drunk in a Midnight Choir;  “Google Search for Black Lives Matter” in Winter Tangerine Review; “ The Black Life Anthem: Unarmed Black People Killed by Police or Dying in Police Custody Since 2012*” in Free Times; “For the Dead Whose Caskets Flowed Out of Graves After the South Carolina Flood,” “12 Year Old Inside Me Seeks a Father Figure,” “Uneasy Dreams of a Presidential Hopeful,” and “The Body is a Cave” in Connotation Press; “  George Zimmerman as Jack in Titanic Painting Trayvon Martin as Rose” and “Krack” in Public Pool; and, “The Invitation” in Get Free Books.

Ray McManus

This year, along with R. Mac Jones, Ray McManus co-edited the anthology Found Anew: Writers Responding to Photographic Histories which was published by USC Press and nominated for the Lillian Smith Book Award. He published the following poems: “Caveman Survey,” “How Boys are Measured,” and “Manspread,” in The Good Men Project; “For the Hardest to Reach Places” in Prairie Schooner; “Dog Box,” “Disturbing Remains,” and “Staying in the Truck” in Hard Lines: Rough South Poetry from USC Press; “When a Dog Comes Back Rabid,” “We Were All Dead Once,” and “Natural Selection,” in Red Truck; “Ask Your Doctor,” “Origin of Species,” “In the Absence of Protection,” and “The Descent of Man” in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature; and, “Ruts” in The State of the Heart Volume II, from USC Press. McManus participated in community projects that included the Tri-District Arts Consortium, The Carolina Master Scholars program, Serious Young Women Writers Workshop, Poetry Out Loud Region II Competition, High School and Middle School ABC Site Training, Word Fest Charlotte, and the Center for Oral Narrative and gave readings at Festival for the Book in Nashville; Pat Conroy Lit Fest in Beaufort: LILA Author Event in Charleston; Book Tavern in Augusta GA; Deckle Edge Literary Festival as well as Mind Gravy in Columbia; the Upcountry Lit Fest; Two Writers Walk into a Bar in Durham NC; and, the Scuppernong Book Store, Greensboro NC.

~~~

VOTE HERE!

~~~

Visual Arts

Kendal Jason

Kendall Jason's work this year has included quite a few multidisciplinary performance art pieces including the following at The 701 CCA South Carolina Biennial 2015 comprised of Speak to Me: "I've been mad for fucking years, absolutely years, been over the edge for yonks, been working me buns off for bands..." as well as, "I've always been mad, I know I've been mad, like the most of us...very hard to explain why you're mad, even if you're not mad" and Far away across the field, The tolling of the iron bell, Calls the faithful to their knees. To hear the softly spoken magic spells, both with reconstituted performance costumes; Lunatic on the Grass and

Breathe, a single channel video. Jason also created the "Goin Down the Road Feelin Bad" performance at Tapp’s Arts Center In conjunction with Michaela Pilar Brown, and The Transitioner Episode 1- "Who Do You Love"- 3 night performance at 701 CCA. For the Da Da Desque Exhibition 701 CCA, he created The Bags (50lbs Zombie Drawings), The Uniform (Custom Uniform for Work and Play), Episode I, Who Do You Love (Live video), and Ol' Man. He performed at Artista Vista as The Transitioner Episode 2, producing Corn hole Bags (50lbs Zombie Drawings), Extra Large Corn hole boards (Fear Vs. Fan Zombie Cheerleader drawings), and Zombie Drawings.

Michaela Pilar Brown

Among the programs that have occupied Michaela Pilar Brown’s time of late are Summer Arts Residencies in both Sedona Arts Center in Sedona, Arizona as well as one in Kunstlerwerkgemeinschaft Kaiserslautern, Germany. She also served as a visiting artist at Claflin University, Central Piedmont Community College, and at Tapp’s Arts Center, here in Columbia. She was featured in a film by Roni Nicole Henderson as well as one by Wade Sellers, and her work, Speak No’, 2011 was acquired by the Columbia Museum of Art. Her exhibitions included 15-Jahre-Künstlerwerkgemeinschaft volksbank Kaiserslautern; Artfields in Lake City; a solo exhibition and site specific performance, I’m a boss my house, at If Art Gallery; a two-woman show and site specific installation and performance called Making Time Marking Forever at Carrack Contemporary Art in Durham, NC; The Mother Wound site specific performance at Spelman College in Atlanta; Remix – Themes and Variations in African American Art at the Columbia Museum of Art; Wet Hot Southern Summer Group Exhibition at The Southern Gallery in Charleston; Where They Cut Her I Bleed – Site Specific Installation/ Solo Exhibition and Performance at Tapp’s Arts Center; The Space Between – Solo Exhibition and Performance at McMaster Gallery, University of South Carolina; Ruptured Silence Multimedia Performance and Collaboration with Wideman Davis Dance and Darion McCloud at Drayton Hall, University of South Carolina; Liquor and Watermelon Will Kill You – Solo Exhibition at Rebecca Randall Bryan Art Gallery in Conway; and Red Dirt and Doilies – Solo Exhibition at Sumter County Gallery of Art in Sumter.

Lauren Chapman

Among Lauren Chapman’s accomplishments this year was winning second place in the 61st Annual USC Student Art exhibition for the painting Still, and her painting The Flood was featured at the ArtFields Festival 2016 in Lake City as well as being published in the 2016 ArtFields catalog. In May, Chapman had a joint exhibition at Tapp’s Art Center and in August she showcased 25 oil paintings in her first solo exhibition and artist talk, titled Repetitions at the Pearson Lakes Art Center in Okoboji, IA. Chapman was awarded the Yaghjian Studio arts scholarship at USC and received a fully funded art residency at the international center for the arts in Monte Castello, Italy which she attended in June. Finally, Chapman’s oil painting the white rabbit was selected for the "Figure Out" Planned Parenthood exhibition in August.

~~~

VOTE HERE!

~~~

Music Arts

Mark Rapp

If there’s a linchpin of Columbia’s jazz scene, it’s probably trumpet (and didgeridoo) player Mark Rapp. In addition to balancing a steady stream of gigs around the city with his constant national and international travel, Rapp has kept busy orchestrating a steady stream of recordings, including a long overdue set from jazz patriarch Skipp Pearson and two efforts under his The Song Project Series with guitarist Derek Bronston. And, as part of the Harbison Theatre Performance Incubator Series, Rapp teamed up with professional choreographer Stephanie Wilkins to create Woven, a unique collaboration that combines jazz and contemporary dance that stands as one of the most innovative original performance pieces created in Columbia in recent years.

Dylan Dickerson

Although he’s one of the most affable and easygoing artists in town, when Dylan Dickerson steps on stage with his band Dear Blanca and starts playing music that person seems to slip away. With his post-punk-meets-Hendrix approach to playing guitar and an unadorned bawl of a voice, Dickerson stands clearly out among his peers. His lyrics, pondering and painstaking, feel like anthems for twentysomethings who want to make it plain that their disaffection and distress should never be mistaken for apathy.

Dear Blanca started out slowly but over the past year seems poised to make the next step, releasing two EPs--one produced by Triangle veteran Scott Solter (Mountain Goats, St. Vincent, Spoon), the other by Charleston’s producer-of-the-moment Ryan “Wolfgang” Zimmerman of Brave Baby--that hold to Dickerson’s idiosyncratic vision of folkie Townes Van Zandt drinking at a bar with D. Boon of the Minuteman while proving that Dear Blanca is a band capable of making music every bit as captivating as their heroes.

Justin Daniels

As much as Columbia has begun to champion its hip-hop veterans like FatRat da Czar and Preach Jacobs, there’s no denying that much of the energy of the genre still lies with a powerful younger generation that is still forging its own identity. Of the newer crop of emcees in the Capital City, Justin Daniels, who raps under the moniker H3RO, is one of the best. His December release Between the Panels, despite its DIY sensibility, plays like a masterclass in how to embrace youthful swagger with a keen sense of history. His comic book motifs and love of pure bars harkens back to Wu Tang Clan; the joyful soul samples and backpack rap self-consciousness to Lauryn Hill and early-period Kanye West; and his charismatic exuberance not unlike current rapper-of-the-moment Chance the Rapper. Daniels is still hustling, but his past year suggests the sky is the limit.

~~~

VOTE HERE!

~~~

Theatre Arts

Baxter Engle

A perennial behind-the-scenes magic maker, Baxter Engle has served over the past year in the following productions: Marie Antoinette (Sound Design); Blithe Spirit (Scenic Design); Peter and the Star Catcher (Scenic and Props Design); American Idiot (Scenic and Video Design); and, Anatomy of a Hug (Scenic and Video Design.) In addition to handling the creative aspects of design, Engle is hands-on throughout the productions from conception to the birth of the show.

Robert Harrelson

The consummate theatre man, Robert Harrelson is the executive director and owner of his own company, and all the hard work and minutiae that implies, with On Stage Productions, a non-profit theatre company in West Columbia. This year, Harrelson directed Little Shop of Horrors, Twisted Carol, Miracle in Memphis, Crimes of the Heart, and Oz: Dorothy’s Return, which he also wrote. He also teaches ongoing acting classes.

Hunter Boyle

In January 2016 Hunter Boyle performed in a staged reading of Composure, a screenplay by Jason Stokes at Trustus’ Side Door Theatre, playing “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman and several other characters. Next, he performed at Trustus Theatre, where he is a Company member, in Peter and the Star Catcher, playing the roles of Mrs. Bumbrake and the mermaid called Teacher. Following that, Boyle performed with the South Carolina Shakespeare Company, where he is also a company member, playing Sir John Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Boyle taught several Master Classes in Musical Theatre (how to tell a story through song) and Acting (how to develop/train your voice effectively for stage work) for the Trustus’ Apprentice Company, as well as a total of five classes (three classes in the fall and two classes in the spring) of Introduction to the Theatre at USC Aiken. Boyle is currently a member in good standing of the Actor’s Equity Association-the union of professional actors in the US, as well as the Screen Actor’s Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in the US. As of the nomination cut-off date, Boyle is currently rehearsing the role of Dr. Scott in The Rocky Horror Picture Show at Trustus Theatre, being directed by Scott Blanks.

~~~

VOTE HERE!

~~~

(*The 2016 JAY in Dance will not be awarded this year.)

PREVIEW: Finlay Park welcomes back SCSC with The Merry Wives of Windsor - By Alivia Seely  

Libby Campbell-Turner and Becky Hunter with Hunter Boyle - photo by Rob Sprankle  

“Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.”

 

The words of William Shakespeare are not always as clear in their meanings as audience members would like them to be. Yet, that does not stop the talented individuals from The South Carolina Shakespeare Company from taking that difficult language from folio, to the stage.

 

Sharing the beautiful, historic language with audiences across Columbia, the SC Shakespeare Company will be gracing the Finlay Park stage for a two weekend production of The Merry Wives of Windsor.

 

The Merry Wives of Windsor is a story that chronicles the life of Sir John Falstaff, played by Hunter Boyle. Falstaff is an outrageous man. He is a retired bacchanal with vulgar wit and multiple schemes of seduction, as he plans to dazzle the hearts of Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, played by Libby Campbell-Turner and Becky Hunter. Yet, it does not take long before the two ladies and Ford’s husband Master Ford, to figure out why Falstaff is set on reeking havoc in Windsor.

“He is a very suspicious and jealous husband. I think that he is someone that always thinks that someone is up to something. So when all of this stuff with Falstaff starts happening, my character Master Ford very easily and rapidly buys the fact that his wife is cheating. He then sets out to discover if that is true,” says Scott Blanks, managing director for the South Carolina Shakespeare Company, and will be playing the role of Master Ford.

 

This production is directed by Linda Khoury, artistic director and co-founder of the company. Other notable characters are: Robert Shallow, played by Chris Cook, Dr. Caius, played by Tracy Steele, Master Page, played by Jason Sprankle, Mistress Quickly, played by Sara Blanks, Anne Page, played by Katie Mixon and Parson Evens, played by David Reed.

“It is captivating, energetic, and is a humorous take on marriage, miscommunication, and forgiveness. The wild and bawdy characters along with the fast-moving story full of mischief and trickery will keep the audience riveted,” says Khoury.

 

The outdoor performance environment is no stranger to these company members. Finlay Park has been home to numerous SCSC performances in the past. The only thing that will be keeping them out of the park is inclement weather.

“I really enjoy the outdoor environment. I think audiences enjoy the outdoor environment. I can tell your first hand it is a really great experience for an audience member; however, it is really rather difficult for actors and actresses,” says Blanks.

 

Although there are moments of scandal and humorous revenge, Khoury encourages the entire family to come out and enjoy the show.

 

The South Carolina Shakespeare Company is one of the most popular professional theatre companies and producers of classical theatre in South Carolina. Since its founding in 1992, the company has sought to bring language, art, and history to the community in order to foster the arts culture.

 

The show opens Saturday April 23 at 8:00 p.m. in Finlay Park, and will run again April 27-30 at 8:00 p.m. For more information about the show visit www.shakespeareSC.org.

 

 

REVIEW: Trustus Theatre's Peter and the Starcatcher

Paul Kaufmann Trustus Theater’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher, by Rick Elice, based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, is a fantastic voyage through the imagination and it’s absolutely not to be missed.  After a hugely successful run on and off Broadway, the adult prequel to Peter Pan is skillfully brought to the Trustus stage by director Robert Richmond. In the age of sequels, prequels, and reboots, Peter and the Starcatcher truly adds to the ethos of Peter Pan, painting a portrait of a boy that longs for a home, a family, and a chance to enjoy a childhood.

"Johnathon Monk gives us a tender and melancholy orphan in the boy that will become Peter Pan."

The cast of pirates, lost boys, savages, and mermaids is made up of favorite local veteran actors as well as newcomers. Johnathon Monk gives us a tender and melancholy orphan in the boy who will become Peter Pan. Despite being a grown man, Monk is able to convincingly convey a childlike look of innocence and wonder, especially via his evocative eyes. This is a very physical show and whether he is pantomiming running through a jungle or doing the back stroke in the sea, Monk is a delight to watch. Grace Ann Roberts is wonderful as Molly, a plucky 13 year old over-achiever that craves adventure. Roberts gave a very natural and poised performance; I look forward to seeing her onstage again. Hunter Boyle hilariously plays Molly’s nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake. Kevin Bush plays Bumbrake’s love interest, a salty seaman named Alf. Boyle and Bush are both very funny, especially in their scenes together. The standout performance of the night is given by Paul Kaufmann as Black Stache the Pirate. The role seems written for the veteran Columbia actor. Kaufmann’s impeccable comedic timing, voice range, and general joie de vivre are all able to fully shine here. He creates a villain you can’t help but love. The ensemble as a whole is strong and does a great job of creating the world they inhabit.

 

"Grace Ann Roberts is wonderful as Molly, a plucky 13 year old over-achiever that craves adventure."

 

"Hunter Boyle hilariously plays Molly’s nanny, Mrs. Bumbrake. Kevin Bush plays Bumbrake’s love interest, a salty seaman named Alf. Boyle and Bush are both very funny, especially in their scenes together. "

 

"The standout performance of the night is given by Paul Kaufmann as Black Stache the Pirate. "

Much like children at play, the actors create extraordinary places and things with ordinary everyday objects. A rope forms a doorway, a plastic glove becomes a bird. A little imagination goes a very long way here. Richmond proves you don’t need pricey special effects or elaborate costumes to leave your audience dazzled. Though not a musical, we are treated to a few very entertaining numbers under the musical direction of Caroline Weidner. She and Greg Apple provide live accompaniment throughout. The set, designed by Baxter Engle and constructed by Brandon Mclver, opens up the Trustus stage like I’ve never seen before, transforming the space into a massive ship, along with ropes and pulleys that are used to great effect throughout the show. The back wall of the stage looks directly into the dressing room, which I was afraid might be distracting, but wasn’t in the least. In fact it was a nice touch that added to the idea that this show has nothing to hide, that we’re all on this journey together. I enjoyed Matt "Ezra" Pound’s sound design, particularly before the show started where creaking ship and sea noises set the mood nicely. Jean Lomasto’s costumes are reminiscent of children playing dress-up, inventive and interesting to look at.

This is a charming tale, appropriate for children and grownups alike. It tells us an entertaining story of how Neverland became a magical island and why Peter Pan never wants to grow up. It’s sometimes hard to trust people with beloved characters from our childhood for fear we might be let down. I urge you to trust Richmond and his cast, to take their outstretched hand, leave your grownup problems behind you, and go on an adventure. You won’t regret it.

- Jennifer Hill

Photos by Richard Kiraly

Civil Blood Makes Civil Hands Unclean: Jason Stokes Premiers Original Historical Screenplay, Composure - by Haley Sprankle

composure  

Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Columbia where we lay our scene...

 

The year is 1903. The Tillman family, headed by the Lieutenant Governor for the State of South Carolina, and the Gonzales family, headed by the founder of The State newspaper, are in a known feud. This ancient grudge (that began in the 1880s) broke to new mutiny as Lieutenant Governor James H. Tillman murders NG Gonzales.

 

That’s where local actor, filmmaker, and screenwriter Jason Stokes’ story begins.

 

“I first heard about this story at my ‘real’ work (Media Director for the South Carolina Bar) in 2000 during a presentation on the subject by Donnie Myers. I was fascinated by the story in part because of the sensational nature of the crime, but the more I began to research the story I realized that there was much more to it than just a murder and a murder trial,” Stokes explains.  “The Tillmans and The Gonzaleses were two powerful families in the city of Columbia who did not like each other for various reasons. This feud began in the late 1880’s and continued even after the events of January 15, 1903. During that time one side wielded power and opinion in the public press while the other side railed against the Gonzaleses and The State newspaper with every stump speech.”

 

This Saturday, Stokes presents an original screenplay titled Composure based on this rich piece of Columbia’s history. His cast includes such luminary local talent such as Paul Kaufmann, Eric Bultman, Stann Gwynn, Terrance Henderson, Hunter Boyle, Clint Poston, Katie Leitner, Stan Gardner, G. Scott Wild, Libby Campbell, Kevin Bush, Jonathan Jackson, Nate Herring, and Kendrick Marion.

 

“I’ve been very fortunate not only to have these talented actors lend their craft to this project but they are also valued friends and colleagues. I promise to anyone in attendance, if the story doesn’t impress you the talent certainly will,” Stokes says.

 

While Stokes is certainly no stranger to the Columbia arts community, having been seen in productions ranging from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to Rent, not many know that he is a writer.

 

“I began writing just after my father passed away in 1989. My mother gave me a notebook to write down memories of my father when I had them but, being an adolescent, as I started writing down a memory or story it would veer away from facts to whatever fiction my mind was dreaming up at the time. So I’ve been writing for the last 27 years (to varying degrees of success),” Stokes said.

 

After writing about 30 screenplays, some of which have television spec scripts pitched to shows such as The West Wing and Castle, Stokes has developed his own style and writing process.

 

“Each screenplay is different, but they all seem to start before I really know where they are going. For example, I’ll write a scene that I either have no idea what it’s trying to say in a grand scheme, or I don’t know where it belongs in the story I’m thinking about,” Stokes delineates. “Composure was no different. The surface story was there but to make it interesting and make it build to something that makes people think was the challenge. This being a historical piece I just kept doing more and more research to see if I could find anything new to add to the layers, which took time. I worked off-and-on on the screenplay for about three years, and it wasn’t until I decided to begin with the murder and then bounce back and forth in time during the trial, to add the ‘why’ of the murder, that made it really exciting for me to want to write it.”

 

Being an actor himself adds a particularly interesting dynamic to Stokes’ work and process, as well.

 

“As an actor, it’s always a blessing to work on a well written piece of work, Tennessee Williams, Terrance McNally, Jonathan Larson, you want to chew on it as long as you can because really good, juicy dialogue and lyrics don’t come around all the time. So when I write I like to think of the story and dialogue in the vein; Would this be something I would want to sink my teeth into as an actor and rejoice in the fact that I GET to say these lines and tell this story?” Stokes adds.

 

Don’t miss the two hours’ traffic of the Trustus Side Door Theatre this Saturday, January 16 for free! Doors and bar open at 6:30 with the performance beginning at 7:30.

 

“Opinion reporting is nothing new, as evident by this story, but with the advent of technology and polarizing news outlets only compounding the divisive nature and climate I think we find ourselves in today, this is a true story that still has relevance and meaning,” Stokes says. “No one story, one person, one political ideology can be measured strictly in absolutes. If the audience can be entertained and enlightened in some way through the events of these gentlemen, then maybe the cast and I will have offered a different perspective in which to view our own world.”

Trustus Playwright's Festival Welcomes Play by Deborah Brevoort of The Women of Lockerbie Fame

Deborah Brevoort

Internationally produced playwright Deborah Brevoort premieres her new farce The Velvet Weapon at Trustus Theatre in The Vista. This script is the winner of the Trustus Playwrights’ Festival, an annual competition that gives a full production to a new original work. This world premiere production of Brevoort’s The Velvet Weapon will run from Friday August 8th at 8:00pm through August 16th, 2014. Tickets may be purchased at www.trustus.org.

 

Trustus Theatre prides itself on its mission to produce and nurture new American scripts and playwrights with the Trustus Playwrights’ Festival. The festival has produced the work of many playwrights who went on to enjoy further success, including Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. This festival allows Trustus to become a voice in the national theatre scene by fully producing new works by American playwrights, while also bringing provocative and original stories to Columbia audiences.

 

This year’s winning script The Velvet Weapon is an intelligent, raucous, and political farce by internationally produced playwright Deborah Brevoort. The script takes audiences to the National Theatre of an unnamed country in an unnamed city where a matinee audience rises up in protest over what is being performed on stage and demands something new. They begin a performance of their own of “The Velvet Weapon,” a play by an unproduced playwright of questionable talent. Inspired by the Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovakia, The Velvet Weapon is a humorous exploration of populist democracy told through a battle between high-brow and low-brow art.

 

Deborah Brevoort is a playwright and librettist from Alaska who now lives in the New York City area. She is best known for her play The Women of Lockerbie which won the Kennedy Center’s Fund for New American Plays Award and the silver medal in the Onassis International Playwriting Competition.  It was produced in London at the Orange Tree, off-Broadway at the New Group and Women’s Project, and in Los Angeles at the Actors Gang and Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum. It has been produced all over the US and internationally in Scotland, Japan, Greece, Spain, Poland, Belarus, Australia, and has been translated into seven languages.

 

Brevoort’s The Velvet Weapon is a metaphorical examination of The Velvet Revolution, a non-violent transition of power in what was Czechoslovakia in 1989. The period of upheaval and transition lasted just over ten days.  Students, older dissidents, and artists demonstrated against the one-party government of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. The final result was the end of forty one years of Communist rule and the subsequent conversion to a parliamentary republic. Brevoort was inspired by events involving Vaclav Havel, revolutionary leader and artist who had been censored and imprisoned by the regime. “Havel, a playwright, orchestrated the revolution with a group of theatre artists and rock musicians from the green room of the Magic Lantern theatre in Prague,” said Brevoort. “With over a million people shouting ‘Havel to the Castle!’ in Wenceslas Square, Havel donned a suit from the theatre’s costume shop, went to the castle and was sworn in as President by voice vote from the polis. He and his fellow theatre artists took over the government in what was one of the most pure democratic events in human history.”

 

Brevoort has been working on The Velvet Weapon for years preceding the script winning The Trustus Playwrights’ Festival.  “One of my dear friends Pavel Dobrusky, defected from Czechoslovakia in the early 1980s while the country was still being run by the Soviet regime,” said Brevoort. “Although Pavel remained in the USA after the Velvet Revolution, he was able to go back to Prague every year after the country became democratic. About fifteen years after the Revolution, Pavel and I decided to apply for a grant from CEC ArtsLink to travel to Prague to interview the ringleaders of the revolution, many of whom were his old theatre friends.  Our goal was to make a theatre piece about the revolution that I would write and he would direct.” The show was intended to be produced at a Czech theatre.

 

What followed was years of grant-funded travel for Brevoort and Dobrusky where they gathered interviews and learned first-hand about the people and ideas that made the Velvet Revolution happen. However, as time passed leadership changed at the Czech theatre that intended to produce the script and the play found itself without a producing agent. Brevoort had seen the Trustus Playwrights’ Festival cited in many trade “opportunities” lists, so she submitted her new farce to the festival and it won. “Pavel passed away last year,” said Brevoort. “I am sad that he will not be able to complete The Velvet Weapon project with me, but I am glad and very grateful that the project will continue and that it will begin its life on the stage at Trustus Theatre.”

 

(L- R) Scott Herr, G. Scott Wild, Katrina Blanding, Hunter Boyle

Artistic Director Dewey Scott-Wiley directs this world premiere production of The Velvet Weapon, with a talented comedic cast featuring the talents of Trustus Company members G. Scott Wild (Clybourne Park) and Katrina Blanding (Ain’t Misbehavin’, Ragtime). Actors Hunter Boyle (Young Frankenstein, Ragtime), Scott Herr (The House of Blue Leaves, A Christmas Carol), Raia Jane Hirsch (The Motherf**ker With The Hat), John Edward Ford, Libby Campbell (August: Osage County), and broadcast personality Taylor Kearns round out the cast bringing this show to life for the first time.

 

Trustus Theatre’s The Velvet Weapon opens on the Trustus Main Stage on Friday, August 8th at 8:00pm and runs through August 16th, 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.

 

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

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.

 

"Sleuth" at Workshop Theatre - a review by Jillian Owens

 

sleuth2

Would you like to play a game?

No no no! This isn’t the latest installment of a poorly-written body horror series. This is Sleuth, a mystery/thriller by Anthony Shaffer. The title made me think this play was  probably a just silly British farce of some sort. I hadn’t seen it, or either of its film versions (both starring Michael Caine.) Upon entering the theatre, I was warned that  “There will be at least one, and possibly more gunshots in this show.” by at least three  ushers.

"Spoilers,” I thought.

The show opens in the lavish country home of Andrew Wyke (played by Hunter Boyle), a successful writer of many mystery novels and a man obsessed with games.  He’s clever, and he knows it.  Games of strategy and wit are what he lives for.  Shaffer once said he based parts of this character on his friend, Stephen Sondheim, who also  shared a love of games.

Unfortunately, his wealth and intelligence aren’t enough to captivate his much younger  wife. She has left him for the handsome young Milo Tindle (played by the also  handsome Jason Stokes). Wyke invites Tindle to his home to presumably discuss the  details of his pending divorce from his wife.

(L-R) Hunter Boyle and Jason Stokes match wits in "Sleuth"

Sleuth surprised me in many ways. As I said, I didn’t expect this play to be much more than a witty farce. But it is much smarter than that. What begins as a situation comedy, with plenty of funny wit-matching and clever dialogue, becomes something far darker  and complex as the action unfolds. Wyke and Tindle aren’t the only ones playing  games here. This script was written to toy with the audience and their expectations as  well. Just when we’re comfortable and think we understand what this show is about,  Sleuth takes another turn - carefully placing its next piece.

Boyle and Stokes are well-cast in their roles as the jilted-but-proud novelist and the  young-but-not-so-dumb lover. It’s a tricky thing to go from quick banter to far scarier  places at the drop of a hat, but they do this fairly well. Their British accents aren’t bad, although a bit of Southern crept in every now and again. There were opportunities  where they could really brought out the more sinister moments of this play with even  more intensity, but I only saw this show on its opening night. With seasoned actors  such as these, I expect even more commanding performances as the show  progresses.

Randy Strange’s country manor set is impressive, with all the trappings of wealth  presented in a style you’d expect of Wyke. Alexis Doktor’s costumes are nicely done as well, although they seemed to lean towards the 1970 publication date of this play, rather  than the contemporary setting that is indicated by the use of a few modern bits of  technology throughout the show. There were a couple of technical glitches in the  performance I caught, but seeing Hunter Boyle play them off made me forgive thesesmall flukes.

I hope others aren’t put off like I almost was by what kind of play they assume Sleuth may be, because you really don’t know. Trust me. I would love to share more...but I’m afraid  that would just ruin the game.  The play runs through Sat. 11/23; call the box office for ticket information at 803-799-6551, or visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com.

~ Jillian Owens

 

 

Be the first to see "The Velvet Weapon" (winner of the 2013 Trustus Playwrights' Festival) on Sat. Aug.10 at 2 PM!

velvetweapon

Love live theatre, but stymied by steep ticket prices?  Trustus has got you covered.

Love live theatre, but have commitments like jobs and children that keep you from going out at night?  Trustus has got you covered.

Love live theatre, but wish there were some way to see new shows other than traveling to New York?  Ever wish there were some way for new works of theatre to get a shot at an audience without having to worry about either being a Broadway blockbuster?  Trustus has got you covered.

Ever wish you could give feedback directly to a playwright, before the play ever even opens?  Trustus has got you covered.

Are you so tired of the famously hot August heat - punctuated by the monsoon-like August thunderstorms - that you wish you could just sit down in the dark somewhere with a cold beer or refreshing glass of wine, and watch some live theatre you've never seen before? Trustus has got you covered.

Tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 PM - that's Saturday, August 10th - The Velvet Weapon, winner of the 2013 Trustus Playwrights' Festival, will have a one-time-only staged reading at Trustus Theatre, open and free to the public.  The Trustus bar will also be open (although not free.)  There are only some 135 seats, however, so make sure one of them is yours.

The playwright, Deborah Brevoort, was kind enough to talk with Jasper about her new work, and you can read that exclusive interview here.  The cast for this reading includes:  Paul Kaufmann (last fall's Next to Normal and  I Am My Own Wife, both at Trustus), Trey Hobbs (Albany in USC's recent King Lear, Greg in reasons to be pretty at Trustus in 2010), Mandy Applegate (The Last Five Years and Plan 9 from Outer Space, both at  Trustus, and The Producers at Workshop) Hunter Boyle (Peron in Evita at Trustus, Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Workshop) Chelsea Nicole Crook, Eric Bultman, Cindy Durrett (numerous incarnations of Nunsense at Act One Theatre), Josiah Laubenstein (Edgar in King Lear, and Mike in Pine, the previous year's Festival winner  currently running at Trustus), Raia Jane Hirsch (The Motherf*@%er With the Hat at Trustus, Pride and Prejudice with SC Shakespeare Co.), and Kayla Cahill (The Shape of Things at  Workshop.)

Press material describes The Velvet Weapon as "a hilariously smart backstage farce that will leave you laughing while also engaging you long after you've left the theatre.  At the National Theatre of an unnamed country, in an unnamed city, a matinee audience rises up in protest over what is being performed on stage, and demands something new. They begin a performance of their own of The Velvet Weapon, a play by an unproduced playwright of questionable talent. Inspired by the Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovakia, The Velvet Weapon is a humorous exploration of populist democracy told through a battle between high-brow and low-brow art."

Director Chad Henderson shared a few thoughts with Jasper:

Jasper:   What has your involvement been in previous years with the Playwrights' Festival?

Henderson:  I directed Swing ’39 in 2011. I also acted in Copy Man under the direction of Jim Thigpen years ago.

Jasper:  Why is it important for an author to get feedback via a reading?

Henderson:  Probably the same reason I invite colleagues to come watch rehearsals of a show I’m directing before we open – its good to know what’s working and what’s not. In this particular case, Brevoort has written a farce – so pace and delivery is the name of the game it seems. The language on the page is the direct key to engaging an audience, so

Jasper:  How did you go about casting Velvet Weapon?

Henderson:  I was looking for people who are quick, humorous, and who have good timing.

Jasper:  For audience members who have never attended a reading before, what can they expect?

Henderson:  The actors (and it’s a great cast) will be reading without staging. Therefore, they will be acting while reading – but not walking around the stage. We would have loved to have staged this reading, however with farces there’s so much action that simplistic blocking would get in the way of the words being said. And since this is a celebration of a new work – we’re keeping it simple. But the script is certainly funny enough and endearing enough to entertain on a Saturday afternoon.

Jasper:  What sort of themes are addressed in this play?

Henderson:  “What is art?” is a question that strings through the narrative. Should art entertain? Should art explore the human condition? If it doesn’t explore the human condition – is it still art?

Be the first to see The Velvet Weapon, which will get a full production in the summer of 2014.  Curtain is at 2 PM tomorrow (Sat. Aug. 10) at Trustus Theatre, at 520 Lady Street in the heart of the Congaree Vista.  The Facebook "event" page for the reading is here.

~ August Krickel

 

Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs" at Workshop Theatre - a review

Eugene Jerome is a dreamer, spinning baseball playoff fantasies in which he is both star and announcer. These dreams alternate with visions of being a writer, wishesthat his family might occasionally cut him some slack, and most importantly, wishes of seeing a girl naked.  Any girl, even if it's his nubile cousin Nora, staying with the Jeromes along with her mother and little sister after her father's death. In other words, Eugene is a 15-year-old boy, and the alter-ego for author Neil Simon, whose acclaimed Brighton Beach Memoirs is very loosely based on his own life.

In Workshop Theatre’s new production of this classic, both Jared Kemmerling, as Eugene, and Connor Odom, as older brother Stanley, are playing about two years above their own age, but capture the essences of their characters perfectly. As narrator, Kemmerling addresses the audience directly, setting up assorted family issues that take place over a week in September of 1937, as seen from the highly subjective point of view of a bright but smart-aleck teenager, who just happens to have the most successful comedy writer of the 20th century providing his dialogue.  These interactions play out, with Eugene often adding a running commentary along the way via asides to the audience. The role of Eugene made a star of Matthew Broderick on Broadway and earned him a Tony, and Broderick has to some extent been playing the same impish wisecracker who talks to the audience ever since.  Kemmerling really has good timing and stage presence, especially for such a young actor, and Odom's age actually works, giving him the impression of being a baby-faced young adult, which explains some of his struggles to make decisions and be taken seriously as a man, not a boy.

I must confess that it's hard for me to be completely impartial here since I know these folks so well.  No, not the actors, although I've met a few of the older cast members in passing a few times, but rather the characters, as some 22 years ago I played older brother Stanley in a local production of Simon's sequel to this play.  For me the most moving moments here were the natural interaction between the two brothers, and Stanley's frank discussions with his father about what it means to be an adult, but take that with a grain of salt.

The beauty of this show (and what brought it so much acclaim in the 80's) was that it marked a change in tone for Simon, who had already been mining his own life experiences for material for years. (If you ever want to see two brothers, one naive and one worldly, as swinging bachelors in New York, check out Simon's very first play, Come Blow Your Horn; if you're curious about how one copes after divorce, see The Odd Couple, or for how the other copes after the death of a spouse, see Chapter Two.) Here Simon takes his ear for dialogue and ability to portray the range of ordinary human emotions, and allows them to flow naturally for entire

scenes, without significant punch lines, until Eugene pops in at the end to sum everything up from the viewpoint of both the sarcastic kid, and the mature writer's memory.  Upstairs, the brothers engage in frank, and hilarious, discussion of the mechanics of puberty that wouldn't be out of place in American Pie or Portnoy's Complaint.  Downstairs, it's close to Tennessee Williams territory as the adults wrestle with problems that threaten to tear the family apart. Perhaps in the greater scope of things they don't have it so bad: Dad risks his health by working multiple jobs to support his family in the middle of the Depression, widow Blanche imagines herself as unemployable, unattractive, and a burden to her sister, hot cousin Nora and little sister Laurie feel neglected and under-valued by their still-grieving mom, and Stanley makes some unwise decisions at work.  So, pretty much any family anywhere, but Simon's genius allows us to see how intensely routine domestic conflicts can affect those involved. There is no perfect resolution; instead, forgiveness, acceptance, compromise, the occasional white lie, and the lost art of actually talking things out provide a fragile peace, until the next mini-crisis arises.

Samantha Elkins, as Blanche, and Lou Warth, as mom Kate, are best at capturing the

sound and tone of Jewish Brooklyn residents, but Kemmerling was getting there even as the opening night performance progressed. The pale blonde Warth has gone brunette, while the striking Elkins (who stepped into this role only two and a half weeks before opening) dons glasses, pins her hair back, and drops her voice by an octave or so to play much older than her own age. Both are quite believable, and do some good dramatic work in a deeply hurtful argument over virtually nothing.  Their best moment together comes as both draw inward, their backs turned as they fight back tears, unable to express how shocked and sad each is to have turned on her sister. Father Jack (Hunter Boyle) is a long-suffering mensch who accepts his mandatory role as head of the family in any number of "just wait 'til your father gets home" scenarios, but prefers to offer his modest wisdom as reasonable advice. Boyle is an accomplished, veteran actor who has distinguished himself when cast against type, especially as a sympathetic Juan Peron a few years ago in Evita. Here, sadly he is simply the wrong actor for the role, and isn't particularly believable. Fortunately, he delivers his lines with good timing and clarity, allowing his partners on stage to shine in their scenes. The miscasting doesn't really hurt the play much at all, but it doesn't help anything either.  Allie Stubbs and Catherine Davenport alternate as Nora; I saw the latter on opening night, and she and Kimberly Hubbard (as Laurie) have some good moments on stage, together and with others, but I must warn all of the younger cast members: as a former Stanley, I can attest that the upstairs level of the set will swallow your lines, so project as you have never projected before!

Speaking of that upstairs level, Randy Strange's set design is practical: a completely realistic rectangular box with the fourth wall removed would be boring, and would pose sightline difficulties for audiences on each side of center. Instead, the home's living and dining room areas are opened out, giving the actors plenty of space in which to move, and the upstairs bedrooms are angled and situated to be as close to the audience as possible. (But a few extra mikes up there still couldn't hurt.)  Director David Britt successfully helps his cast to navigate the fine line between comedy and drama which the characters cross and recross so often. Still, with the name Neil Simon attached, a fair number of potential audience members are likely to be convinced that this is hokey, sit-com style family fluff, which it isn't. Likewise, others may be taken aback by the blunt discussions of sexuality, some salty language, and a few stretches of fairly dark conflict, which are no worse than anything on, say, Mad Men, but just be advised. Ultimately this is one of the most beloved and praised works from one of the biggest comic playwrights of the last 60 years, performed capably by some good local actors, in an enjoyable community theatre context. Brighton Beach Memoirs run through Sat. Jan. 26th; contact the Workshop box office at 799-6551 for ticket information.

~ August Krickel

Review -- Workshop's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

As far as I'm concerned, places like Workshop Theatre exist to perform the works of writers like Tennessee Williams.  Colleges will always revive the classics from Shakespeare's era and earlier, high schools will keep alive the great family musicals and comedies, and regional theatre can be counted on to perform the latest cutting edge shows from New York.  For the better part of the 20th century, however, serious dramas by the great writers of contemporary theatre were the big Broadway hits, and none were bigger than Williams.  The first show I ever saw on my own as a teen (i.e. not taken by a parent or a friend's family, or as part of a school field trip) was William's Glass Menagerie, at Workshop, back when you could prop your feet on the stage if you sat in the cramped first row.   Workshop’s latest production of Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof  is a serviceable rendition of the author's account of a Southern family best by "mendacity;" while not exactly forging any new dramatic territory or uncovering any new meaning, the show is a nice reminder of why we still revere the playwright.

 

Williams takes many of his favorite themes (greed, manipulation, sexuality - both repressed and overt - class struggle, alcoholism), divvies them up among some stock character types (forceful older man, brooding and tortured younger man, vivacious beauty) and sets them loose on a hot summer night in the Mississippi Delta, when passions run high and secrets are revealed.  Which sounds a lot like a typical episode of Dallas (which ironically featured the original Maggie actress, Barbara Bel Geddes, as the saintly Miss Ellie.) But that was how influential Williams has been: just about every tale of Southern Gothic family dysfunction owes something to him.  Matters come to a boil on this particular night due to a convergence of circumstances: the Pollitt family is gathered for the 65th birthday of patriarch Big Daddy (Hunter Boyle), who thinks he has finally been given a clean bill of health. His children know the truth, that he’s dying of cancer, and has made no will.  Younger son Brick (Jason Stokes), a brooding, alcoholic ex-athlete, is particularly vulnerable, one foot in a cast due to a drunken attempt to recapture former glory on the track of the local high school. Older son Gooper (Charlie Goodrich) and wife Mae (Jennifer Simmons) see this as an occasion to make sure Big Daddy's estate (over $10 million, and "twenty-eight thousand acres of the richest land this side of the valley Nile") ends up in their hands.  The "cat" of the title, Brick's wife Maggie (Elisabeth Gray Heard) is exhausted from keeping up the pretense of a happy marriage. We see her cattiness when she observes that Mae and Gooper’s children all have names like dogs (Dixie, Trixie, etc.) yet just like cat chased up a tree by dogs, Maggie is at wit’s end as her adversaries close in.

 

Maggie is one of the great stage roles for any actress, and Heard doesn't disappoint.  I had forgotten how much Maggie dominates the first third of the play, her lines almost a continuous soliloquy only occasionally punctuated by Brick's occasional, terse comments. It's awfully hard to root for a woman whose main goal is for her undeserving husband to inherit his father's wealth, but root for her you do, since she has Williams writing her lines. As the supporting cast enters, one by one, taking focus, we feel Maggie's growing frustration and isolation, until at the play's end she makes one last crazy gamble to take back control of the play, and her life.  Heard looks more than a little like the young Kathleen Turner, one of many stage Maggies over the years, and she's a treat to watch. Note: she alternates in this role with Samantha Elkins, who will be featured in the final week of the show's run, starting Sun. March 25th, so the 23rd and 24th are the last nights to catch Heard.

 

Boyle brings an interesting and non-traditional interpretation to the role of  the coarse, forceful, self-made millionaire Big Daddy.  (While the character's name is certainly symbolic, the reality of Southern nicknames is probably simpler: when the first grandchild was born, he surely became "Big Daddy," i.e. grandfather.)  Boyle uses a faster-paced, higher-pitched delivery than one might expect; it's the same voice in which we recall Strother Martin drawling "What we have he-yah is a fail-ya to communicate..."    Big Daddy has a lot of laugh lines, ones that might have been missed had Boyle used a sterner, gruffer delivery.  Instead,  Boyle intimidates with sudden outbursts of anger and peremptory commands rather than sustained bluster.  As Brick, Stokes is like a poster child for the axiom "depression is rage turned inward."  Much of the time he has few lines, and instead must yield focus first to Heard, then Boyle, but nevertheless carries his half of the scene, even if largely in silence.  A friend seated closer to the stage than I noticed the physicality of his performance, such as the veins in his arms protruding at moments of anger. The character is somewhat one-note as written, and basically has to suffer and smolder for over two hours, but Stokes really commits to his role; you can follow the other characters for five or ten minutes, then glance back at Stokes on the sidelines and know that he will being doing exactly what you expect.  He and Heard manage to bring out many of the complexities and subtle contradictions found in Brick and Maggie: they claim to hate each other, yet, there is still clearly affection, admiration, and a sweetly disturbing co-dependence. There's no question that Brick's last-minute realization/declaration that he is still alive is directly inspired by similar bursts of vitality from his wife and father.

 

Some of the show's symbolism may seem a bit heavy-handed by today's standards: Bricks staggers falls and repeatedly cries for his crutch; he means the wooden one, but he's heading towards the bar, for another glass of the crutch that gets him through each day. Cancer is eating away at Big Daddy just as greed and lies eat away at the soul of his family.  Fireworks go off in celebration of Big Daddy's birthday, just as verbal fireworks explode on stage. Characters often navigate a long curving porch that surrounds the set to make an entrance, just as the Pollitts often take great pains to skirt around unspoken issues. Set in Brick and Maggie's bedroom, most of the action is centered around a large bed which dominates the stage, just as marriage and family life is ...well, you get the idea.

 

Director Amy Boyce Holtcamp's main challenges are to keep the action running at a lively pace in a show confined to one small space, and to make sure that nothing seems too dated, both of which she accomplishes.  Randy Strange's set is the type at which he excels: ultra-detailed and realistic. I especially liked how even the corners of the stage are used effectively, with an exterior upstairs porch/gallery located diagonally, suggesting the huge plantation below.  The great Williams sets in the 50's made use of translucent scrims in place of actual walls, so that the audience can see what's going on outside a door or window, and that effect is recreated here.  Whoever did the actual set dressing has quite the flair for interior design, with dark sturdy wood, rich red patterned upholstery and fabric, all emphasizing the wealth and seeming genteel respectability of the Pollitt family.  Even little things, like ornate half-moon windows over some doors, transoms over others, and Chinese lanterns out on the gallery, make for a believable Southern mansion.

 

Modern audiences may find this play a bit static, as there is mainly talk, minimal action, and no real resolution to many of the issues that are raised (especially a tragic love triangle from years earlier,  involving Brick's best friend, that could be an entire play on its own.)  Dr. Phil and Oprah could resolve most of the central conflicts in minutes, splitting the estate between the brothers, sending Brick off  to the Betty Ford Clinic (where he might also confront his sexuality) and encouraging the resourceful Maggie to strike out on her own.  Still, the point of this or any Williams play is not so much action but rather emotion, brought to life on stage through the incredible poetry of his language.  No actual person could ever be as vivid and eloquent as Maggie or Big Daddy, but Williams manages to replicate just enough of the rhythms and vocabulary of normal speech to make everything believable.  Ultimately, Workshop’s revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof   is a faithful and straightforward production of one of the great works of modern theatre, from one of its greatest authors.

 

The show runs through Sat. March 31st; contact the box office at 799-4876 for ticket information.

~~August Krickel

Reach August at AKrickel@JasperColumbia.com

and visit us at Jasper Magazine.