A Train Leaves a Seed - a guest blog by Todd Kemmerling, author of "Last Stop Chapin"

chapin It was January of 2010 and my younger son, Jared, was participating in his first play – Cheaper  By the Dozen - with director Tiffany Dinsmore and the Chapin Theatre Company - CTC’s final production at their long-time venue on Columbia Avenue in downtown Chapin.  Jared was 11 at the time.  Most nights I would be the one to drive him to rehearsal, and typically I would sit near the back of the theatre and read. You might be thinking, “Yeah? So what?”  I know.  Bear with me.

Two things stand out from that time: First, the theatre was unheated, and sometimes the room felt like a winter’s day in New Jersey.  Second, a couple of times each night, a freight train would barge through Chapin, sounding its horn at each and every railroad crossing. As the theatre was located not a hundred yards from the nearest crossing, the rumble of the train – and its horn – would overwhelm all other sounds as it crossed Columbia Avenue.

On one of those nights, when I happened to be standing outside as a train came through, the whisper of a story idea wandered into my mind ... What if?

And so it was on that cold January night that the seed of a story took root in the recesses of my  brain; a seed that wouldn’t begin to grow until the summer of 2012 when I started sketching out the themes, storylines, and characters who would inhabit its world. Upon completion of the first “storyboard,” I quietly shared the premise and scene flowchart with experienced thespian Jim DeFelice. After receiving some quality feedback from Jim and others, I starting writing the story and four weeks later, a clean rough draft of Last Stop Chapin was born.

“So,” you might be thinking, “What is this story about? Will it relate to me?”  Well, the over-arching theme is at the same time simple and complex.  Should I reach for my dreams and risk failure, or should I follow a safer route that provides a more realistic chance for a stable, secure life.  For just about all of us, this is a dilemma that we have faced – or will face – in some form or fashion.

“Okay, but... what’s it about?” Alright -  here’s a synopsis of what you will see and hear on stage:

Since he was a small boy, Tripp Corbett has watched with wonder as the trains powered through his small, rural hometown, all the while dreaming about the amazing places to which they might be headed. Encouraged by his Uncle Mike, Tripp learned to use a battered old guitar and an uncanny ability for songwriting to vocalize those dreams. Now, within weeks of his high school graduation, Tripp’s talents have gained the attention of a major record company. But the promise of travel and a career in music hangs in the balance as Tripp is forced to decide between his dreams and the realities of life – his love for his girlfriend, the demands of a father who lives by a strict code of personal responsibility, and a web of family secrets that threatens to tear the Corbett family apart.

 

Better?  Good. So, here we are, under two weeks away from the Sept. 5, 2014 world premiere of Last Stop Chapin at the Harbison Theatre on the Midlands Technical College campus in Irmo, SC.  And all I can tell you is that the cast is strong, and, under the directorial leadership of the talented and experienced Jocelyn Sanders, the first edition of the show is coming together nicely. So, for more information and to reserve your tickets,  go to ChapinTheatre.org.

I look forward to seeing you there!

n the accompanying photo are the Corbett Family: Tyler Kemmerling as Tripp Corbett, Eliza Schneider as Emma Corbett, Shelby Beasley as Rose Pollard Corbett, Cathy Carter Scott as Abby Corbett, Merritt Vann as Harlan Corbett, George Dinsmore as Mike Corbett and Jim DeFelice as Walt Harris.

 

Last Stop Chapin, an original play by Todd Kemmerling, will open Friday, Sept. 5, 2014, at the Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College, 7300 College St., Irmo, SC 29063.

Staged by Chapin Theatre Company and directed by Jocelyn Sanders, this will be the show's debut production after a staged reading last year at Trustus Theatre. Show dates are: Sept. 5-6, 11-14, and 18-20, 2014. All performances are at 8 pm, with the exception of the Sept. 14 performance, which is a 3 pm matinee. Visit www.chapintheatre.org for tickets and more information, and visit the

Cast

Harlan Corbett -- Merritt Vann Abby Corbett -- Cathy Carter Scott Tripp Corbett -- Tyler Kemmerling Rose Pollard -- Shelby Beasley Mike Corbett -- George Dinsmore Walt Harris -- Jim DeFelice Emma Corbett -- Eliza Schneider Cody Bass -- Logan Baldwin Jed Lewis -- Kyle Myers Daryl Matson -- Jared Kemmerling

Production Staff:

Jocelyn Sanders -- Director Jim DeFelice -- Producer Kara Pound -- Stage Manager Tiffany Dinsmore -- Costumer

Show Dates: Sept. 5, 6, 11, 12, 13 (8 pm) Sept. 14 (3 pm) Sept. 18, 19, 20 (8 pm)

"Crimes of the Heart" - a review of the new show at Workshop Theatre

(L-R) Katie Mixon, Allison Allgood, Erin Huiett Tennessee Williams meets Steel Magnolias meets Charmed. That's how Crimes of the Heart might be pitched for a tv miniseries, as the power of three sisters reunited by family crisis enables them to navigate the murky swamp waters of Southern Gothic dysfunction. Beth Henley's dark comedy (or witty drama, depending on your perception) was all the rage in the early '80's, winning both the Pulitzer and the Critics' Circle Award for best play, receiving multiple nominations for Tony awards and Oscars (for its screen incarnation) and running for 535 performances on Broadway.  In ensuing years it has become a staple of regional and community theatre, due to its small cast, simple set, and easily-accessible-themes of love, loss, conflict and reconciliation among family members. These themes, being universal, have been addressed in other works before and since, and as a result, much of the material seems awfully familiar, but director Jocelyn Sanders has chosen a talented cast for her revival currently running at Workshop Theatre, and they ensure a spirited and lively evening of fun on stage.

The Magrath sisters can't get a break.  Their mother notoriously committed suicide when they were children, after their father abandoned them; the grandfather who raised them now clings to life in a hospital. Eldest sister Lenny (Allison Allgood) faces becoming a spinster as she turns 30 in small-town Mississippi in 1974, while free-spirited, scandalous middle sister Meg (Katie Mixon) is recovering from a failed show business career and a stay in a psychiatric hospital. Meg's return coincides with the arrest of youngest sister Babe (Erin Huiett) for the attempted murder of her abusive husband. As the play opens, we learn that even a beloved family horse was struck by lightning.  This all sounds pretty grim, yet most of the show plays like a situation comedy, as if Tennessee Williams had penned a terribly wicked episode of Designing Women. Lenny is a more functional version of The Glass Menagerie's Laura or Summer and Smoke's Alma, with Meg and Babe high-strung variations on Blanche Dubois.  (If in parallel time streams Blanche had either set out for California, or married a rich lawyer, only to give in to her penchant for young boytoys.)  Mixon portrays Meg fairly seriously, allowing the laughs to come naturally with the lines, while Allgood goes for a more comic interpretation, while nevertheless revealing assorted wounds and vulnerabilities.  Huiett faces the biggest challenge. In the notes I took during the performance, I see that at three different times I wrote "This is a woman on the edge."  Huiett employs an array of vocal mannerisms and affectations to convey a person repressing deep emotions, and some work better than others.  There's a detached, upwards lilt to much of her delivery, yet to me, it's indicative of her very tenuous grasp on stability.  Babe chooses each word very carefully, fearful that she may reveal too much about the shooting and what led up to it, and more fearful that recalling certain events may send her off the deep end.  It takes getting used to, but there is great power in her performance, especially in a riveting monologue midway through the show.  Huiett admirably sustains tremendous highs and lows over the course of more than two and a half hours. (There is only one intermission, in between Acts 2 and 3, so be forewarned.)

(L-R) Katie Mixon, Erin Huiett, Allison Allgood

Denise Pearman, George Dinsmore and Hans Boeschen (alternating in his role with Lee Williams) do good work as supporting characters; all function as plot devices to provide exposition, and to give one or more sisters a challenge or obstacle to overcome, yet each performer has some good bits. Dinsmore, as Meg's ex-boyfriend, becomes frustrated as he falls into familiar patterns of behavior; the actor flails his hand with unspoken emotion and powerlessness, giving a visual echo to the thoughts we know are within.  Pearman is the sisters' nosy neighbor/catty cousin, and perfectly captures the parochialism of a small-town "Ladies' League" member. (Interestingly, her hair is far more beautiful than her nature. Bless her heart.) Boeschen is growing as an actor, and is convincing as a rookie lawyer determined to save Babe from jail, while trying to resist his attraction to her. Although as Huiett observed in a tv interview promoting the show, good luck with that.

Director Jocelyn Sanders has successfully helmed a number of big-cast, big-budget musicals in recent years, but is back in her comfort zone of character-centric drama, with plenty of opportunity to focus on characterization, line readings and mannerisms.  At times the sisters, each histrionic and often hysterical, talk at once in rapid fire, but then Sanders will allow for a long and uncomfortable period of silence, to accentuate a particular emotion or realization. The entire cast does well with body language. Characters find themselves alone on stage, sometimes pacing frantically, or engaging in frenzied stage business, alternating with quiet and meaningful moments of reflection. The action takes place in the kitchen of the Magrath family home, with a finite number of places to locate the actors (a table, some chairs, the counter, a cot placed by a stairwell) yet Sanders keeps her cast moving rapidly yet naturally. She also creates some interesting stage pictures, as when Lenny, ostensibly the eldest and most grounded, rests her head in the lap of her younger - and ostensibly more troubled - sister, looking for comfort and reassurance.

Randy Strange's set is up to his usual level of excellence. A glimpse of a tree outside the kitchen window is well-lit by Barry Sparks's lighting design, which incorporates subtle shades of violet and blue to remind us of the time of day during different scenes. Baxter Engle's sound design incorporates a very believable ring for a busy kitchen telephone that thankfully sounds exactly as if it's ringing (instead of a sound effect coming from a speaker somewhere else.) I might add that on opening night the rings were timed perfectly, since nothing ruins a mood on stage like a phone still ringing after the actor has answered it.  Costumes by Alexis Doktor are.... well, I can't say attractive, so let's just say they are quite authentic for the 1974 setting, and are exactly what these characters would think are attractive.

Literary aficionados will surely catch hints and traces of everyone from Faulkner to Eudora Welty and Carson McCullers, while theatre buffs will spot themes addressed in the plays above. Younger audience members will have seen similar plotlines in a dozen or more made-for-cable movies. Still Henley is working in a tradition, and her work, and in particular this work, has influenced a generation of successors and imitators.  Were this the miniseries I imagined above, there would also be preceding scenes focusing on the Magraths' childhood years, and a conclusion where we learn if Babe prevails in court, if Lenny finds a "fella," and if Meg can ever pull it together. Instead, the play ends in media res, with the assurance that the reunited family unit will somehow find the strength to prevail.  Which is almost disappointing, but I thought about the implications over the weekend, and realized the bigger message. As each parental figure leaves, the Magraths' lives slowly unravel, and each sister grabs at some possible escape. Had they stayed together, Babe might never have ended in a bad marriage, or at least might have found the strength to leave it sooner. Lenny seems quite confident and happy when her sisters are around.  Even Meg, who provides most of the liveliness that keeps the family unit going, might make fewer bad choices if she were secure in the knowledge that her (remaining) family loves her.  Indeed, the implication is that the power of three together is more than the sum of its parts. When the sisters laugh and giggle and gossip together, their problems seem smaller somehow, and easy to overcome.  None of that would succeed, however, without the talent of cast and director working in concert to bring out the nuances and themes within the text.

Whether by design or fortunate coincidence, Workshop is revisiting some of the more important plays of the last few decades this season, each representing a particular genre.  Last summer's Doctor Dolittle was a classic tale for small children, while Beehive was a musical revue featuring girl groups from the 60's. Sleuth was a male-centric, sophisticated comic thriller, and here Crimes of the Heart represents female-centric theatre that addresses....well.... affairs of the heart. Up next is a vintage but decidedly male-centric Neil Simon coming-of-age comedy, Biloxi Blues, and the season concludes with a wacky and broadly comic new musical straight from Broadway, Young Frankenstein. That's a nice and representative tour through the repertoire of modern theatre, and exactly what one expects from Workshop.

Crimes of the Heart runs through Sat. Jan. 25th, with a 3 PM matinee on Sunday the 19th.  Call the box office at 803-799-6551 for more information, or visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com .

 

~ August Krickel

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Melissa Swick Ellington

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

Workshop Theatre’s "The Color Purple" Offers a Beautiful Rainbow of Colors for Columbia Audiences - a review by Stephen Ingle

When a stage musical is based on a very popular movie, in turn based on a very popular novel, it is often almost impossible to accept the new format, actors, and plot adaptations as genuine. However, when I attended Workshop Theatre’s presentation of the musical adaptation of The Color Purple, I had no problem separating the live performance from the film. This was because the stage production was so fantastic. For those not familiar with the film plot, The Color Purple is a coming-of-age story about Celie, an African-American girl (Devin Anderson) in the early 1900s who is forced by her father to marry "Mister" (Shawn Logan) in exchange for some livestock. Mister mistreats her, abuses her, forces her to wait on him and all of his sons hand and foot, and breaks off all communication between Celie and her sister/best friend Nettie (Kanika Moore.) This naturally causes Celie to feel completely alone in this world, and hopeless that she will never see Nettie again or ever know what it’s like to feel happy, safe, and secure. The mirror image to this story line is that of Sofia (Michelle Rivera) who is married to Mister’s son Harpo (Bobby Rogers). Sofia is a very strong-willed woman who refuses to let any man abuse her or tell her what to do and, in fact, is the abuser to her husband. However, when she leaves Harpo (ending up as a maid for a white family) she finds that her temper lands her in jail. When she is released, she is a shell of the woman she once was, and has become docile and closed off. caption

The other influence on Celie’s life comes in the form of a sassy singer named Shug Avery (Katrina Blanding). She is a boozy, juke joint singer, and the object of Mister’s desire. Her character reflects the independence that Celie so desperately needs, but also reflects the sadness of living a lonely life. All of the performances are, for lack of a better word, riveting. Although they do not really look 14 years-old, Devin Anderson (Celie) and Kanika Moore (Nettie) truly inspire both through their touching and playful scenes together and their beautiful harmonies during their duet. Devin Anderson, however, does a spectacular job guiding the plot along through Celie’s life. As Sofia, Michelle Rivera performs at a level that could rival Oprah’s depiction of the film role. Her transition from strong, loud, and independent matriarch to beaten down and muted victim was handled brilliantly by the actress. As Shug, Katrina Blanding seamlessly handles the role of a gin-soaked club singer turned responsible married woman, and the scene between her and Celie where she helps Celie discover her femininity is performed with both sensitivity and effectiveness. Another performance worth mentioning is that of Shawn Logan as Mister. From the character you love to hate as the abusive and controlling husband, to becoming a submissive pleaser to Celie, his performance perfectly illustrates the traits of shameful, funny, and charming.

ColorPurpleSplash

All of the aforementioned kudos would not have been possible without the stellar direction of Jocelyn Sanders, beautiful musical direction of Roland Haynes, Jr., and energetic and inspirational choreography of Barbara Howse-Diemer. Unlike straight plays where there is one director, musicals are unique because of the combined visions of these three roles. In The Color Purple, it appeared that all three of these brilliant directors came together and shared a vision that paints a masterpiece of sadness, inspiration, humor, and humanity. Typically in big musicals with huge casts, one’s eye will directly be drawn to a weak link or “dead zone” in the cast. It is always a nice surprise to not be able to find one. Additionally, hats off to the costume designer Alexis Doktor specifically for the wonderful African costumes that took the audience to a whole new place, time, and feeling of joy. Unfortunately, the one African scene where the village is attacked by some sort of outside forces was very unclear. When the members of the tribe ran off, the sound effects were muddy. Had I not seen the movie and known it was an invasion, I would have thought they were running from an oncoming storm. In fact, as has been the problem with other musicals, some of the dialogue and songs suffered from the lack of microphones. Also, the show does run very long at almost 3 hours. There are several extraneous scenes towards the end with songs that simply delay the wonderful ending we are all waiting for. However, that is my issue with Marsha Norman, who wrote the book, and not with anybody connected with this production.  Jocelyn Sanders weaves together a beautiful tapestry that even Alice Walker (the original novelist) would be proud of. The Color Purple is a show that will quite literally make you laugh, cry, sing, dance, and cheer.

~ Stephen Ingle

Show Dates: March 20-24 & 27-30

Show Times: 8:00 p.m. except March 24, which is a  3:00 p.m. matinee

Prices: $22 for adults, $20 for seniors/military, $16 for students, $12 for children

Contact the box office at 803-799-6551 for ticket information, or visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com.