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

You Better Sit Down - Tales from My Parents' Divorce opens 2/20

Patrick Dodds, Joey Oppermann, and Raia Jane Hirsch -  photo by Rob Sprankle   The Richard and Debbie Cohn Trustus Side Door Theatre is about to house a fresh documentary-style theatre piece called You Better Sit Down: Tales from My Parents’ Divorce. This show examines a social phenomenon that affects Americans daily. You Better Sit Down: Tales from My Parents’ Divorce opens in the Trustus Side Door Theatre on Friday February 20th and runs through Saturday, March 7, 2015. Tickets may be purchased at www.trustus.org.

 

Crafted from interviews between the original cast and their own parents, You Better Sit Down is a heartbreaking and hilarious account of the parents' marriages and their subsequent divorces. These delicate parent-child conversations have yielded unique insights into falling in love, falling out of love, and rebuilding a life after the complex experience of dividing a family. The show explores each couple's first meeting, the ups and downs of their marriage, their split, and the surprising perspectives on life after divorce. This show will be a distinct evening in the theatre for Trustus patrons as Columbia rarely sees documentary-style productions.

 

Director and Trustus Company Member Scott Herr will make his directing debut at Trustus with You Better Sit Down. He is passionate about bringing this material to life for Columbia audiences. “The script is a well-rounded piece - there are some very funny and touching moments in the show,” said Herr. “Even though the title of the piece and the stories are about divorce, I have come to see that the piece really wants to examine the nature of love and what that looks like in a marriage.”

 

Director Scott Herr wanted a cast that would create relationships with the audience in this confessional-theatre piece. The four-person cast consists of Trustus Company member Raia Jane Hirsch (The Motherf**ker With the Hat), Patrick Dodds (Evil Dead: The Musical), and Trustus newcomers Joey Opperman and Patti Anderson.

 

You Better Sit Down accurately chronicles the phases of a relationship quite nicely,” said Herr. “What is really telling is that the show doesn’t sugarcoat anything. You see right from the beginning the quirks and failings in each person that eventually grow and become larger once they’ve married.”

 

You Better Sit Down: Tales from My Parents’ Divorce opens in The Richard and Debbie Cohn Trustus Side Door Theatre on Friday February 20th and runs through March 7th, 2015. A talk-back will follow the matinee on February 22nd, 2015. The doors and box office open thirty minutes prior to curtain, and all Trustus Side Door tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students. Reservations can be made by calling the Trustus Box Office at (803) 254-9732, and tickets may be purchased online at www.trustus.org.

 

The Richard and Debbie Cohn Trustus Side Door Theatre is located at 520 Lady Street, behind the Gervais St. Publix. Parking is available on Lady Street and on Pulaski Street. The Trustus Side Door Theatre entrance is through the glass doors on the Huger St. 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 info.

 

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

ed7

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jodie Cain Smith

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

(L-R) Amy Brower and Michael Hazin -

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

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

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

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

~ Jillian Owens

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

 

Giulia's back, and Patrick's got her! Bakari Lebby brings "The Shape of Things" to Workshop!

It's no secret that I am a huge fan of, and cheerleader/advocate for the wealth of young talent that currently abounds in Columbia.  This weekend, audiences get chance to see some of the best and brightest, in Neil LaBute's  The Shape of Things, running for two nights only, Friday 6/28 and Saturday 6/29 at Workshop Theatre.

Recent USC grad and local musician Bakari Lebby first directed this play a couple of months ago in USC's intimate Benson Theatre.   He wrote one of the best guest blogs we've ever run, which you can see here, and my review (not technically a real review, as I saw a run-through rehearsal some days before the show opened) is here.  One excerpt:

For me, you could have successive nights of Hugh Jackman doing Les Mis live with a million-dollar stage set…. and I’d still rather see four dedicated kids on a bare stage doing something meaningful to them.  This show is sometimes described as a dark comedy, a serio-comedy, or a “dramedy.”  I’d describe it as a dark fable about contemporary relationships and society, set in the context of college dating, with some great moments of humor (in the vein of perhaps Sex and the City or Friends) as well as some chilling implications about the choices that people make for love.

cap

It was a great theatrical experience, and Lebby hit a home-run with his directorial debut, aided in large part by Patrick Dodds (who played Moritz in Spring Awakening at Trustus, then sang "Those Magic Changes" as Doody in Grease at Town) as the protagonist's jerk best friend, and Katie Foshee as the female lead Evelyn, a role played on Broadway by Rachel Weisz.  I first saw Foshee and Lebby in the ensemble of jocks and brainiacs in High School Musical at Workshop in 2008, in which a radiant Giulia Marie Dalbec played Sharpay.

Now Lebby is bringing his production to Workshop for a special limited run, with Dodds and Dalbec taking over the leads.  As he describes it, "Jeni (McCaughan) at Workshop asked me if we could bring the show back for two nights, and I said yeah!   We offered the last cast their roles back, but the timing didn't work out for anyone other than Patrick.  Patrick and I talked about the option of having him play (protagonist) Adam.  We were both intrigued by it, because it would be a good chance for him to play a role in unfamiliar territory, in a show that he already has a handle on. That's just a really cool opportunity I think. He's doing a great job at it, and he is a different Adam than the last one, which is cool."

"Giulia is also a different Evelyn. It makes this production a bit different, which is really cool to check out.  Giulia is (like) my big sister and we haven't worked on a show together since High School Musical when I was 17, so I'm really stoked to get to work with her talent, and we already have a type of comfort and knowledge of each other, so we play well together. If that makes sense. It's always fun for me to see her in straight plays since we don't get a lot of that out of her."

Dalbec was almost every play produced in the Midlands over the last 5 or 6 years, playing everyone from Gypsy to Elle in Legally Blonde to Honey in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and was profiled in the March 2013 Jasper as one of Columbia's "Leading Ladies."  Dodds was featured as one of "Columbia's Theatrical Brat Pack" in  the November 2012 issue.  Both have been absent from major Columbia stages for far too long (actually, just a matter of months, but that's too long for me!) and without giving away the show's plot, there are perfect, ideal parts for each to play.  LaBute is an eloquent poet of the stage,  whose dialogue is so natural and realistic that his way with words is sometimes overlooked, just as his themes, which center around familiar, commonplace scenarios of modern relationships, are sometimes dismissed as not being important.  I suggest that the way people treat each other in their one-on-one relationships might just be the most important theme for humanity.

Joining this new cast are Kayla Cahill and Jeremiah Redmond.  Lebby says "Kayla Cahill is originally from New Jersey, and has a BA in Theatre from USC. She graduated in 2012. We were good friends in school. She was in Romeo & Juliet directed by Robert Richmond as the Nurse, and (played) Queen Elizabeth in The History of Queen Elizabeth I.   Jeremiah Redmond is from Lexington, SC and has most recently been seen in High Voltage's Reservoir Dogs and in Trustus's production of Kitty Kitty Kitty directed by Daniel Bumgardner."

The Facebook "event" page for the production is here.  An interview with Lebby can be found online at the Free Times.  For more information, visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com/ or call 803-799-4876.

~ August Krickel

"The Shape of Things" at USC's Benson Theatre - a must-see this weekend!

This is not a theatre review.  Not exactly anyway.  This is more of a stream of consciousness reflection on a show that opens tonight (Friday April 11) - The Shape of Things by Neil LaBute, featuring some very talented young actors, most undergrads at USC.  I was fortunate enough to see a rehearsal earlier this week. The show only runs for two performances, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 PM, at the Benson Theatre on the USC campus.  Benson was once the old elementary school for the Wheeler Hill neighborhood, right around the corner from Bates, just off Pickens Street at the top of the hill.  (Or "near where the old Purple Onion used to be," in Columbia-speak.) The Facebook "event" page is here.

shape of things 5LaBute is known for small-cast, ultra-realistic plays that tackle issues of relationships and ethics in contemporary society. Two similar works, Fat Pig and reasons to be pretty, were produced at Trustus in 2009 and 2010 respectively.  All three feature a likeable, ordinary schlub as protagonist, here a mild-mannered English major (Adam, played by Dillon Ingram) on the 6-year plan, juggling jobs as museum gallery guard and video store clerk.  All feature a cocky, misogynistic best friend who's a bit of a tool, but whose natural, believable dialogue with the lead reveals the way "normal guys" interact and look at life these days. (If I were LaBute's real-life buddy, I'd be saying "Hey wait a sec - you tryin' to say something here?")  All feature one or more attractive women, at least one of whom is scorned or betrayed, and one who causes the lead to re-examine fundamental values and aspects of his life. All explore themes about how physical appearance relates to self-image, self-worth, and relationships.

(L-R) Dillon Ingram, Katie Foshee, Patrick Dodds, Catherine Davenport

Here the playwright raises some really important, really uncomfortable, and ultimately unanswerable questions:  what if your girlfriend inspires you to be a more confident and assertive person?  What if she encourages you to work out, eat better, and get in shape?  Sounds pretty sweet, especially if she is a fabulous artsy babe, a little older, worldlier, and more passionate about life. But at what stage does "you make me want to be a better man" become "you don't love the man I am?"  And what if the gender roles are reversed?  What if an ordinary young woman is ready to marry a boyfriend who is only 5 or 6 personality traits/flaws away from being perfect?  Is she tolerant, loving and accepting... or settling for a guy who doesn't deserve her?  What if she becomes attracted to a more compatible male friend...but only after he loses weight and becomes more confident?  Does that make her suddenly insightful?  Or awfully superficial?

As the "manic pixie dream girl" (described by director Bakari Lebby in his guest blog a few days ago) determined to remake her man in her chosen image, Katie Foshee starts the show as a defiant, Nirvana T-shirt-clad rebel, preparing to deface a statue as an artistic statement against censorship. We expect the plot to center around the nature of "What Is Art?" subjective vs. objective, but soon we're into the deeper, darker territory of intimacy and betrayal.  Or are we?  Elegant, icy, calmly assertive in 5-inch heels and a mini-skirt as she presents her MFA project towards the end, Foshee gives a very subtle, under-stated performance.    Is Evelyn - yes, the main couple are Adam and Eve(lyn), if there's any question as to the universality LaBute is channeling - a free spirit, an extremely experimental artist, a manipulative and bitchy girlfriend, or a sociopath?  Possibly all of the above, but nothing is as it seems, and a plot twist that was foreshadowed extensively and repeatedly caught me totally by surprise, thanks to Foshee’s commitment to and underplayed portrayal of her character.  Dillon Ingram starts out resembling a cross between Patrick Wilson in Watchmen and Johnny Galecki in Big Bang Theory, which is appropriate, given the Leonard-Penny vibe that Adam and Evelyn have. Indeed, the wacky beauty and the uptight establishment type turn up everywhere in pop culture, from Hepburn and Grant in Bringing Up Baby, to Dharma and Greg.  Yet as above, things are not as they seem, and plentiful references to literary predecessors like Pygmalion and Frankenstein that explore the relationship of the creator to his creation  only hint at some of the complex turns the plot takes. In retrospect, even random references to films like Blade Runner, a movie in which some creations seek out their creator looking for answers, while others are oblivious to their real nature, seem unlikely to have been coincidental.

Katie Foshee as Evelyn, the "manic pixie dream girl"

Patrick Dodds, the only non-USC student involved, first blew me away a year and a half ago in Spring Awakening, with his heart-breaking portrayal of Moritz, a boy unraveling before our eyes.  Just a few months later he was rocking out as a smooth T-Bird singing "Magic Changes" in Grease, and a few months beyond that he was singing Andrew Lloyd Weber songs in Dreamcoat.  Here Dodds successfully creates yet another entirely different persona, ostensibly a stereotypical chauvinist college dude, yet still a real human being with genuine feelings. I once wrote that as Moritz, he reminded me of the angsty young Pete Townshend; here, with a cocky attitude and his long jaw, sharp nose and dark wavy hair, Dodds bears more than a little resemblance to the young Bruce Campbell. If they ever film Campbell's best-selling autobiography, Dodds needs to play the lead. Catherine Davenport likewise takes a stock role (the wholesome college girl ready for marriage) and creates a sympathetic and three-dimensional character.

rehearsing "The Shape of Things"

The great work by the young cast and first-time director Bakari Lebby points to the importance of arts education in our schools, as well as charting a sort of Six Degrees of Local Theatre Separation.  Dodds, Davenport and Ingram were all theatre students of Jeannette Arvay Beck at Dreher, while Foshee studied with Monica Wyche at Blythewood, and Lebby studied with E. G. Heard at Heathwood. Heard played a LaBute heroine herself a couple years ago at Trustus (indeed, a sociopathic one, according to one review) and directed Lebby, Davenport and Foshee in last summer's Camp Rock at Workshop; her assistant director for that show, Samantha Elkins, alternated with Heard as Maggie the Cat last year, and played Davenport's mother in Brighton Beach Memoirs in January. Both Heard and Elkins stopped by the rehearsal I attended to offer some tips and notes for their young protégés.

shape of things 4

Director Lebby is of course limited by the intimate space and shoestring budget of an all-student production in Benson, but at this tech rehearsal he was experimenting with creative lighting and tone-complementing musical effects. The play is almost all dialogue, in generic apartments, galleries and campus locales, and LaBute's ultra-realistic script forces the characters into certain directions and choices no matter what. Still, we see Lebby's artistic vision so clearly and beautifully in the show's final moments, as a sole figure is left to reflect on what has just transpired, and Lebby allows the moment to play out naturally, with perfect music and lighting enhancing the mood.  Lebby just finished a successful run in The Color Purple, and one would have to be insane to simultaneously be rehearsing a lesser-known, quirky show in a bare, alternative space after success in a name-brand play... yet I did the same damn thing in my senior year in college, so I have to give him a huge shout-out.  Foshee and Dodds are both performers whose work I have admired for a while now, and it's so nice to see them get the chance to delve into meaty character roles.  Foshee and Ingram will be heading off to seek their fortunes on the west coast after graduation, so now may be your last chance to see them; Dodds, on the other hand, needs to enroll his ass in USC's drama program right now, and any parental/authority figures reading this may quote me, because he has mad potential.

I normally try to avoid talking too much about the type of shows I enjoy, or specific performers whose work I admire, but see above - this isn't a real review, so, like, dig it.  For me, you could have successive nights of Hugh Jackman doing Les Mis live with a million-dollar stage set.... and I'd still rather see four dedicated kids on a bare stage doing something meaningful to them.  This show is sometimes described as a dark comedy, a serio-comedy, or a "dramedy."  I'd describe it as a dark fable about contemporary relationships and society, set in the context of college dating, with some great moments of humor (in the vein of perhaps Sex and the City or Friends) as well as some chilling implications about the choices that people make for love.

As above, The Shape of Things only runs for two performances, tonight and tomorrow at 8 PM, at the Benson Theatre on the USC campus. The Facebook "event" page is here.

~ August Krickel

Making “the shape of things” happen: confessions of a twenty-two-year-old first-time director - a guest blog by Bakari Lebby

Hi!   I’m Bakari!   I hope you’re having a great day so far.   Me?    I’m pretty good, I suppose.   Jasper told me that I can be as informal as I would like to with this, so here goes. Here’s a synopsis that I wrote for my upcoming production of the shape of things, by Neil LaBute:

When Evelyn, a quirky art student, and Adam start dating, Adam’s friends notice that his appearance begins changing rapidly. Adam is transforming into a more attractive person and as time moves on, his attitude also begins to change. His friends take notice and respond in conflicting manners.

Pretty good, right? That took me about 30 minutes to write.

I’m going to try and explain the production process a bit, and just ramble in text;  I hope this makes sense, but I make no promises.

This show came together through Green Room Productions, a student-run organization at the University of South Carolina.  Back in November, I got it in my head that I wanted to direct this play in Benson Theatre, so I wrote a proposal and sent it to Green Room.  They got back to me in late January, I held auditions, pulled a cast together, blah blah blah, and now we have a show!  A lot of people ask me:  “Is this for you to graduate or something?” Which really sounds like “Why the hell did you go this out of your way for no payment or credit hours?”

shape of tuings

I have a couple reasons. I realize that we as undergraduates at the University of South Carolina don’t get as many opportunities for leading roles in demanding material.  Dillon Ingram (Adam), for instance, is a great actor whom I’ve seen on the mainstage at Carolina, but I felt that he would kill in a leading role.   Also, I really wanted to direct something that people aren’t getting at Carolina.   I felt that the shape of things was just the thing I was looking for.   I’ve always been a LaBute fan, and even though he had many other works to choose from, I knew this was the one, the one for me.   It’s funny, it’s unsettling, it’s vulgar, and most of all it’s real.  The dialogue is very real.  The plot is very real.  Even though there is a bit of hyperbole, this play talks about things that happen that we may choose to ignore when it becomes too personal.  Things like art and the concept of being cultured, being attractive and how far being attractive will get you, and infidelity. Especially infidelity.  No one ever wants to talk about it, and I don’t think that’s fair, because it happens.  I guess where I’m going with this is that I think people will see parts of themselves all over the show.  Hopefully audiences will question themselves later that evening or the next day.  So, that’s kind of a roundabout way of me explaining why I chose this play.

Still with me?

I have a super cool cast.  They are all amazing actors, but I don’t think that’s the only reason they’re so super cool.   It’s also because none of them are playing roles that they are used to playing.   For an actor, or one who is at all ambitious, that’s the dream. This is like anti-typecasting.   Patrick Dodds (Phillip) actually told me a few days ago that this is so cool to him, because he’s “never really played a dick onstage before”.  That’s a very basic illustration of the character, but I know what he meant, which is why I cast the kids that way.  It’s also intriguing for audiences to see actors trying new stuff. I acted in Camp Rock last summer at Workshop Theatre with Katie Foshee (Evelyn) and Catherine Davenport (Jenny).   The difference in roles between these two shows could not be more extreme.   I feel like I should have a poster that says “Come see Doody from Grease and Mitchie from Camp Rock say a bunch of bad words on stage!”   Or not.   That looks so much crazier written down than it did in my head.   Speaking of things that look less crazy in my head, directing anything of this length is new for me.   I’ve done things like music videos and small sketches, but never a full-length play.   I’m sure the cast can agree, sometimes things make more sense in my head than they do out loud.   But give me a break, I’m learning.

shape of things

 

shape of things 5

Directing is weird.  It’s cool, but it’s weird.  Mostly because it’s so interesting to see things come together and watch characters grow, but also because it’s so time consuming.  We’ve been doing a lot of stuff when not rehearsing, like discovering props and set pieces and painting and building and designing sound and finding set and lighting designers and SCHEDULING ANYTHING.   It’s so worth it though.   Also, the team I’m working with is awesome.   The stage manager, Lauren Pace, who was assistant stage manager for  Legally Blonde at Workshop this season, keeps me in line and sane. Samantha Elkins has been coming through in the clutch, helping me as an assistant director.   She rocks, because I love having a second eye, and especially a trained second eye.   I also like having an untrained second eye, which is why I brought in my boy Chris Pickering. He’s a theatre virgin, and my assistant stage manager.   I asked him if he wanted to be Prop Master General, and he responded “I have no idea how to do any of this, but yeah!”   He really put the team on his back.   He also helps a ton, because he can be a “normal person” when I need that viewpoint.   If that makes any sense.   So, I feel that the team is pretty clutch.   And I’m extremely grateful that they’re all on top of it.   Especially considering that I do a million things at once.   I’m currently a full-time theatre major at the University of South Carolina), a part-time employee at Sid & Nancy, a local musician, and an actor.   I actually just finished performing in Workshop Theatre’s production of The Color Purple on Saturday. Directing a show while being in a show makes for very little sleep and a lot of forgetting to eat dinner. Supposedly that’s unhealthy or something.

shape of things 3

This production is totally worth seeing, because you’ll see a boy-meets-girl story that isn’t at all what you’ll think it will be.   You will see the pains of being an artist in a small town, or the confusion of art and wondering where it crosses the line.   You’ll hear a soundtrack that only uses local and regional music.   It tackles the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, or MPDG, trope, because I think it’s nice to see a side of American storytelling where the depressed boy realizes that MPDG's aren’t real,  AND where the female lead who seems to be the MPDG is more than just a cutesy shell of a human.   She’s an actual person with plans and thoughts. If you have no idea what a MPDG is, I believe this article should help, but think Natalie Portman in Garden State, Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown, or Zooey Deschanel in anything she is ever in ever. Actually, for all of the characters. This production takes notice that even though the world around us may be black and white, no human being is two dimensional. People are still people.

So, please come see it, Soda City. I think you’ll like it.

~ Bakari Lebby

the shape of things, a stageplay by Neil LaBute, will be performed at Benson Theatre (301 Pickens Street) on April 12 and 13 at 8 PM. Tickets will be $5 at the door.

 

Memorable Theatre Moments from 2012 - August Krickel's picks

This time last year, on a lark, I put together a stream-of-consciousness recollection of some things I had enjoyed on stage over the preceding year.  Would you believe - we set a new record for site visits with that blog post!  Sure, sure, the site and blog were still young, and most of it was folks logging in to see if they were mentioned or not, but still, it showed everyone involved that there is significant interest in theatre among the greater Columbia arts community.  As I wrote at the time, "theatre for me is sometimes not about the final product, but rather individual moments that move me, make me smile, or stay with me long after the show is done."  This year I have been fortunate to see most of the shows at the main theatres in downtown Columbia:  7 of 8 done on the Thigpen Mainstage (plus a late-night show) at Trustus, 3 of the 5 done at the Trustus Side Door, 5 of 6 at both Town and Workshop, plus a couple at Columbia Children's Theatre.  That's 23 freakin' shows, which sadly means that I didn't have time to see any at the many excellent theatres and venues on campuses and in the suburbs.  So with that disclaimer, I give you the best, funniest, and most memorable theatre moments for me from 2012: - the opening image as the curtain rose in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Town Theatre, with dancers frozen in exotic poses. In particular, Haley Sprankle, Grace Fanning and Becky Combs were draped over their partners with extension that went from here to the moon, and it perfectly captured the look and feel of the carefree and free-spirited Riviera setting.

- Doug Gleason in Scoundrels, goofing and camping it up shamelessly, then breaking into song with the voice of an angel, not a buffoon.  In my review, I wrote that he reminded me of the young Bill Canaday, a gifted comic actor now happily retired from the state and (at least temporarily) the stage. Several people mentioned to the real Bill that they saw his name in a theatre review, and he laughed and later told me that this was like the actor's nightmare - was he supposed to have been in a show somewhere?  Did he miss his entrance?

- Elizabeth Stepp as a huffy, haughty insect, miffed over being shooed away in Pinkalicious at Columbia Children's Theatre.  Lindsay Brasington, vamping and cooing for the press as she imagined being the first doctor to diagnose acute "pinkititis." George Dinsmore, dramatically confessing to his wife after all these years, his dark secret that he too secretly had a fondness...for the color ....pink.  (At which point Sumner Bender leaned over and whispered to me "But they named their daughter ... Pinkalicious?"

- Shelby Sessler's tour-de-force as three separate and distinct characters in Alfred

Hitchcock’s 39 Steps at Town.  Only a couple of weeks after portraying the titular tyke in Pinkalicious above,  she played a va-va-voomish German femme fatale,  a forlorn Scottish farm wife, and a proper yet spunky yet romantic British lady. As the German she somehow managed to not only play dead, but to feign rigor mortis, stretched out over an armchair... I still don't know how she managed it.  As the lady, she and her castmates mimed all the effects to convey a train speeding down the tracks.... and if you looked down, very subtly her hand was fanning the hem of her skirt back and forth to add the effect of wind.  Not surprisingly, she was one of three finalists for Jasper Theatre Artist of the Year, and organized the entertainment for the November issue release party at City Art.

 

 

- Avery Bateman and Kanika Moore playing multiple roles in Passing Strange at Trustus.  Bateman cracked me up as a materialistic princess-type whose life with hero Mario McClean was pre-planned within about 5 seconds; then she and Moore turn up as Dutch girls, then Germans. "Have a conversation vit' ze hand," Moore declares, almost getting American slang right. Even music director Tom Beard got a line in on stage, rising in outrage, when the cynical German nihilist characters dismiss the punk movement as commercialism, to protest "What about The Clash, man???"    Also loved the vivid colors that symbolized the free-spirited European setting of Passing Strange, provided via original paintings from ten local artists, and director Chad Henderson's always-moving, never-a-dull-moment, no-one-wasted-on-stage  blocking.  (And sure enough, Henderson was voted Theatre Artist of the Year by Jasper readers!)

- Randy Strange's lush, opulent, plantation-interior set for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Workshop Theatre. There was something to take everyone's breath away in this classic show, from Jason Stokes in a towel, to E.G. Heard (and on alternating nights, Samantha Elkins) in a negligee. Ironically, the beautiful and talented Heard teaches theatre at my old high school, while the equally lovely and gifted Elkins teaches drama at the one I was zoned for. I seem to recall my old theatre teacher was nicknamed "Sasquatch" - my how times have changed!

- G. Scott Wild utilizing the teeny Side Door Theatre space at Trustus more efficiently and realistically than I had ever seen before, with his set design for A Behanding in Spokane. The entire show takes place in a hotel room, and Wild wisely used every single

inch of available space, including the main entrance into the theatre as the room's only door, complete with deadbolt and peephole.  And Wild himself, perfectly capturing a world-weary, frustrated (possible) serial killer, then seamlessly segueing into the character's actual nature: a world-weary, frustrated, hen-pecked nebbish.  When you meet him, you realize Wild is quite young, but with little make-up and primarily mannerisms, he effectively embodied a character 20+ years older than he. Christopher Walken played this role in New York, but I somehow suspect that Walken played Walken, while Wild embodied and fleshed out the character.

- Also, in Spokane, Elisabeth Smith Baker embraced a challenging character role.   In my review, I wrote that she somehow managed "to be pathetic and sympathetic, winsome and adorable in a skanky sort of way, vulnerable, crafty and resourceful, yet sometimes just dumb as a post. She has some nice moments of physical comedy that would make Lucille Ball proud.   At one point she makes a quite logical decision to try to charm her way out of a life and death situation, yet her effort is so obviously contrived that only an idiot would fall for it... and of course, one does."

- Sumner Bender and Ellen Rodillo-Fowler, both getting a chance to sink their teeth substantial roles in In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play at Trustus.  Color-blind casting is always a tricky challenge, and Bender and her infant's wet nurse need to be white and black respectively, because of specifics in the script, but Rodillo-Fowler played another society lady, and peer to Bender.  Was she perhaps the mixed-heritage daughter of a prominent admiral or missionary? Could she have simply been adopted, and raised in starchy whitebread Victorian society?  Or was she (as my spirit-guide Dr. Moreau suggested) a Native American? Most importantly, it didn't matter.

- Vibrator also featured the return of Steve Harley, not seen enough on local stages in recent years. I got some mileage out of this line of his:  "Hysteria is very rare in men, but then he is an artist.” The artist referenced was played by Daniel Gainey, one of a number of gifted young actors who seemingly came out of nowhere to captivate local audiences. (See Wild and Gleeson above, and Andy Bell below; with Gainey, "nowhere" was actually many roles in opera and operatic musical theatre.)

- Speaking of Gleeson, he played a vastly different type in Andrew Lippa's Wild Party at Workshop, still a clown, but a scary one. The extreme physicality of some of the choreography was impressive, as were his scenes with Giulia Marie Dalbec (his leading lady in Scoundrels above, but more on her in a moment.) Also in the cast as part of the ensemble was Grace Fanning, as an underage party girl in the Roaring 20's. At one point the lyrics describe each "type" as they enter: a dancer, a producer, a madam, a boxer, and.... as Fanning sashays in, anticipating something like "a flapper," "a beauty," "a vamp" .... all she gets is: "a minor." The look of shock and outrage on her face was priceless, a combo of "I'm busted!" and "Is that all I get?"

- the strong supporting cast in Grease at Town, finally getting to sing all their best songs. The film version cut out a lot of the 50's do-wop homages, and focused on Sandy and Danny.  Here, Sirena Dib got to break hearts with "Freddy My Lo-ove," and Patrick

Dodds (still sporting his high hair from Spring Awakening) not only got a chance to smile on stage, but rocked out with "Those Magic Changes," two of my favorite songs of all time. Hunter Bolton reclaimed Kenickie's "Greased Lightning" (complete with the original lyrics describing exactly what sort of wagon it is) while Jenny Morse and Mark Zeigler beautifully harmonized in "Mooning," a song I had forgotten entirely. Leandra Ellis-Gaston got to drop the (Italian) F-bomb on Town Theatre's stage (it's just the seemingly meaningless "fangu," but it means the same thing) and was another example of how color-blind casting rarely hurts

anything.  Sure, the script calls for Rizzo to be Italian, but who's to say her dad wasn't progressive, and married an African-American?  Dodds also got some incredible moments of physical comedy with Haley Sprankle, as he tries to match her, move for move, at the prom.

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Stepp, a gifted comedienne, literally throwing herself into each scene with abandon, as a beautiful Cinderella (at Columbia Children's Theatre) who still managed to get plenty of laughs.

 

 

 

 

- Gerald Floyd's increasing frustration with life after death in Almost An Evening (at the Trustus Side Door) navigating obstacles that ran from a maddeningly matter-of-fact receptionist (Vicky Saye Henderson, another Theatre Artist of the Year finalist) to a smooth-talking, winking bureaucrat (Jason Stokes.) Followed by his sympathetic portrayal of a grieving Texas father, in his scene with Kendrick Marion, playing against type as a stuffy, repressed government operative.

- the graphic puppet sex and nudity in Avenue Q at Trustus. And Kevin Bush hastily inventing his girlfriend Alberta...from ...um... Vancouver...in Canada.  And Katie Leitner voicing and manipulating two very different-sounding characters, Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut, with the aid of Elisabeth Smith Baker, who voiced plenty of others too, including one of the Bad Idea Bears. "Important day at work tomorrow?  Let's do some shots!"

 

- the commitment by director Shannon Willis Scruggs and costumer Lori Stepp to go all the way into the absurd in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Town.  The musical numbers are pastiches of various styles (country, rockabilly, calypso, etc.) and here, almost like a live cartoon, the cast morphed quickly into Frenchmen with berets, cheerleaders with pom-poms, you name it. Frank Thompson as the King, baby, i.e. an Elvis-style Pharaoh, was particularly amusing.  James Harley noted in his review that "some of the show’s best energy comes from deep within the ensemble, Charlie Goodrich leading the way with 100% commitment to every movement he makes on stage."  There were dozens of people on stage at any given time, so I made a point to look for Goodrich within each number, and sure enough, whether or not he had any lines, he was always the best at reacting appropriately to whatever was going on.  And conceiving the "hairy Midianites" as members of ZZ Top was just inspired.

- Katie Foshee, who has enlivened the ensembles of about a hundred musicals in recent years, stepping into (and owning) the lead role in Camp Rock - The Musical at Workshop.  Avery Herndon and Alex Webster too were adorable as they as they succumbed to puppy-love-at-first sight, and Kathryn Reddic made a great mean girl.  From her bio, Reddic would have had Linda Khoury for drama in high school, meaning that she is well-versed in Shakespeare, and as a current English major at Vanderbilt she is surely immersed in Shelley and Keats, Joyce and Yeats, Chekhov and Strindberg, yet she rocked out like Beyonce in some complex hip-hop dance numbers.  Commodore girls represent, y'all.

- James Harley back on stage in Palace of the Moorish Kings at Trustus, under-playing a complex character who wasn't given a lot of lines or movement. Silence can sometimes speak volumes, and Harley had some great moments where he started to say something... then words failed him, and the point was nevertheless made.  But he did get a few memorable lines as a member of the "greatest generation," who never felt entirely comfortable as being seen as a hero, since he never killed anyone, never did anything heroic, and only served after being drafted.

- Elisabeth Smith Baker (yet again!) so sweet and natural in Next to Normal at Trustus.  And the show's big "reveal," which fooled me entirely, even though I more or less was familiar with the plot.  Andy Bell made a great transition from musician to actor/singer on stage, and the entire cast distinguished themselves as professionally as if they were the original cast on Broadway. The set too (by Danny Harrington, with input from Chad Henderson) showed how even the big-name New York shows are going for simple, stylized, low-cost sets these days, which often work better than trying to achieve realism.

- Giulia Marie Dalbec dominating the year with not one but four bravura performances.  While she has played countless roles as vixens, ingénues, or someone'sgirlfriend or daughter, Dalbec made her mark as a name-brand lead in Scoundrels and Wild Party (above) and as Elle in Legally Blonde at Workshop. The word that immediately comes to mind to describe her on stage now is "confident" - and with that confidence, she bravely took on the role of the meek Honey in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (also at Workshop) and nailed that one too.  Half the time Honey was drunk, or passed out, or ignored by everyone else, but Dalbec was always engaged in believable action and movements, however subtle.

 

- Robert Michalski's swaggering cameo as a UPS delivery guy in Blonde; I don't think I've ever seen a performer simply walk across a stage and then through the audience and get such a big laugh.  As I wrote at the time, he definitely had a package, and was determined to deliver it.

- Elena Martinez-Vidal's characterization (complete with New England accent) of Martha (in Virginia Woolf) as an aging Snookie, the college president's scandalous daughter who bluffs her way through academia via booze, sex, humor and bravado.

- Paul Kaufmann playing 35 different characters in I Am My Own Wife at the Trustus Side Door. Clad for most of the time in a dress!  The main figure was an East German "tranny granny" who may or may not have been a pioneering cultural historian, a murderer, an informer for the secret police, and/or a courageous activist and supporter of the oppressed gay community in Berlin.  After a while you got used to most of the various German and American "voices" ...and out of the blue, he's also a crisp Anglo-Indian reporter called Pradeep Gupta, with the perfect, smooth, musical lilt to his voice that you'd expect.  And this was a week after playing the male lead in Next to Normal !

 

 

- the striking, sunset-hued panels that comprised most of the set for Next Fall at Trustus. And the banter between G. Scott Wild and Jason Stokes (both yet again!) as mismatched lovebirds who just happen to be guys.  And the odd (but probably fairly common) paradox of fundamentalist Christian characters as they try to rationalize their own "sinful" lifestyle, especially as detailed by Bobby Bloom.

- Abigail Smith Ludwig, conveying the flowing, soft, lyrical beauty of German syllables and consonants in a  disgruntled rendition of "O Tannenbaum" in Winter Wonderettes at Town. And Alexa Cotran, yet another remarkable discovery, a very young performer who matched her older castmates note for note, scene for scene. Cotran bears a striking resemblance to my first grade teacher, who had that exact same huge 1960's hairdo, perfectly coiffed here by Cherelle Guyton, who was responsible for most of the good-looking hair in the shows mentioned above.

- the wonderful cast of [title of show] at Trustus in just about every moment on stage. Laurel Posey recounting her recurring lead role as "corporate whore," and Robin Gottlieb segueing from a cute number on secondary characters into Aerosmith were especially funny, but somehow the genuine moments in this little show touched me as few usually do.  "Who says four chairs and a keyboard can’t make a musical?  We’re enough with only that keyboard - we’re okay with only four chairs. We’ll be fine with only four chairs - we’ll rock hard with only four chairs!"  That sort of do-it-yourself mentality and optimism can be applied to so many things in life, as can their conclusion that it's better to be "nine people's favorite thing, than a hundred people's ninth favorite thing."  Score one vote for the rice crispy treats, as this was far and away my favorite show of the year.

- the actual do-it-yourself production of Plan 9 from Outer Space - Live and Undead 2.0 presented at Trustus, but essentially cobbled together on a shoe-string six months earlier at Tapp's Art Center.  Thanks to enlisting the aid of some of Columbia's finest actors, the show almost became a real play, even though the basic idea was to do a tongue-in-cheek spoof of what many feel is the worst movie ever made. So many of the cast were inspired in their campy re-imagining of the film's original dialogue, including Jennifer Mae Hill as a sexy stewardess (Hill was a gifted actress at Trustus, Chapin, and elsewhere long before she got into doll-making) and Chad Forrister as the stolid hero. Forrister was also the hero of 39 Steps above, and has perfected the mock-heroic, ever-so-slightly-exaggerated tone required by these spoofs.  Victoria Wilson was beautiful as an evil alien, but used a

rich, serious, Shakespearean voice that reminded you of Judith Anderson or Maggie Smith. Some of Forrister's best moments came with Catherine Hunsinger, playing the soon-to-be-abducted heroine.  There's an exercise in acting classes called "give and take," where two actors alternate allowing each other to take focus and dominate a scene. Hunsinger could have gotten some laughs as a stereotypical 1950's housewife, and given some to Forrister; instead, she wisely chose to downplay her performance, setting him up for vastly bigger laughs than either would have gotten separately.  As I wrote in the review, "Another example of her generosity on stage comes when the zombie-fied Scott Means attacks her; she swoons melodramatically...but at the same time, falls over the actor's shoulder in a perfectly-timed movement, allowing him to lift her easily, with as much grace as two ballet dancers.  Well, or pro wrestlers."

Hunsinger is a fearless performer, taking an emotionally demanding role in Spring Awakening the year before as the (semi-compliant) victim of a disturbing rape/seduction by the show's protagonist, yet somehow she managed to allow him to still seem deserving of the audience's sympathy. And then she tackled the Olivia Newton-John role in Grease (above) which is surely a daunting vocal challenge for the most talented of singers, but she filled Sandy's saddle oxfords with ease.  That incredible voice had its biggest test in Plan 9, as Hunsinger's character was pursued across stage and into the house by zombies.  The

original villains' make-up from the film was absurd enough, and here it was made even campier, yet Hunsinger chose to play the entire scene straight. As Chris Bickel cued some vintage movie chase-scene music and Hunsinger gamely screamed her head off, just for a moment I was no longer at Trustus.  Just for a moment I was a 13-year-old watching the Mummy or the Wolfman or the Creature abduct some forgotten heroine on the Universal or Hammer Studios back lot. Just for a few seconds there was a genuine chill down my back, as a brave young actress fully committed to being a terrified damsel in distress, running for her life from unspeakable horror.   Theatre is supposed to transport you, to take you out of yourself, and so this was for me, however briefly, the most memorable moment on stage in 2012.

So there are some of the things I enjoyed in the last year.  How about you?  That "comments" section below is there for a reason. What did you enjoy on stage in 2012?

~ August Krickel

 

Memorable Theatre Moments from 2011 by August Krickel

Theatre for me is sometimes not about the final product, but rather individual moments that move me, make me smile, or stay with me long after the show is done.  While I didn't see every show in the Midlands this past year by a long shot (and sadly didn't see a single one at Chapin or USC) I can say that I saw the majority of the new, regular-season shows at the three main local theatres (i.e. I missed most of the summer shows, holiday shows, children's shows, and revivals/holdovers from the previous year) plus two shows at Columbia Children's Theatre and another in the Trustus Black Box.

Here then were the best, funniest, and most memorable theatre moments for me from 2011:

- Rob Sprankle's mastery of broad physical comedy, as the vision-challenged Smudge in Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings at Town Theatre.  Drifting aimlessly without his glasses, Sprankle first took a daring plunge off the stage and onto the floor, and that stage has got to be 4-5 feet off the ground at least.  Sure it was choreographed, and a big mattress was stashed there in advance, but still a bold move. Hilarity ensued as he later wandered off stage and out into the parking lot, then knocked on an outside door until an audience member let him back in.

- Chris Riddle's deadpan barbs as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Columbia Children's Theatre's production of The Somewhat True Tale of Robin Hood.  When asked by the evil Prince what punishment Robin deserves, Riddle anachronistically replied, "I say we should whip him.  Whip him good."

- the send-ups and spoofs of conventions of musical theatre in The Drowsy Chaperone at Town Theatre.  As Larry Hembree paused or replayed favorite moments from an original cast recording of the titular musical, we saw the performers actually freeze in place, often precariously, or repeat their lines or lyrics from seconds earlier.  None took it better than Chad Forrester, a stoic butler on the receiving end of the classic "spit-take," replayed nearly a dozen times. Other highlights included Kathy Hartzog's entrance while reclining on a descending Murphy bed, martini firmly in hand, the cast's reaction when Hembree realizes he has been playing (and they have been performing)a number from the wrong show entirely, and a ridiculous, extravagant  production number accurately described as part Busby Berkeley, part Jane Goodall.

- the dancing skill, glamour, and va-va-va-voomish poses of Maria Culbertson, Grace

Fanning, Katie Foshee and Addie Taylor as the Angels in Workshop Theatre's Anything Goes.  While all quite young, their chic style and professional performances livened up what could have been some middling musical numbers in an 80+ year-old musical.

- the sassy and quotable one-liners from women of a certain age in The Dixie Swim Club at Workshop. Some of the best came from Barbara Lowrance, like how she gave her ex "the thinnest years of my life," or "Just because I'm vain and frivolous doesn't mean I'm shallow." Drucilla Brookshire got her fair share too, such as "I never knew true happiness until I got married, and then it was too late,” and "I traded in my treadmill for stretch pants and a deep fat fryer!"

- Elizabeth Stepp's moonstruck portrayal of Paul, a little boy with a crush on one Lizzie Patofski, of whom he just can't get enough-ski, in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day at Columbia Children's Theatre. Was Paul from Queens?  Brooklyn?  Down the shore? Who knows, but the accent was adorable.

- the feather boa-clad Jocelyn Brannon, channeling performers like Eartha Kitt as a vamp, a camp and a bit of a scamp, telling off a would-be Don Juan in Smokey Joe's Cafe at Trustus. Her sultry delivery was enjoyable enough, but one appreciated it all the more when comparing it to her harsh, tragic portrayal of the long-suffering title character in Caroline, or Change just a few years back.

- individual moments that transcended the material in Spring Awakening, still running at Trustus Theatre through January 21st. Some of my favorites included:

  • the vocal strength of the female cast in the opening "Mama Who Bore Me" number. Whoever was hitting those high notes, they sent chills down my spine when I saw a preview at Tapp's Art Center during November's First Thursday event, and again when the show opened a month later.
  • Patrick Dodds breaking your heart as a boy losing it step by step, moving from comic relief to tragic victim in little more than an hour on stage.
  • the energy of the male cast in The Bitch of Living, managing to depict repressed vitality and sexuality while constricted by the mores of their society. Their explosive, foot-stomping choreography was a sight to see.
  • Avery Bateman and Adrienne Lee, adding a subtle and empowering touch that one could easily overlook. Each character sings about unspoken abuse from her past. Each is essentially revealing this secret to the audience, not to each other or any other character.  When Bateman moves over to Lee's side as they sing, it's the actresses, not the characters (who are miles apart, referring to events years apart.)  There's plenty happening onstage, but I realized that very subtly, the actresses were holding hands, as if to allow the characters to give each other strength and support that they never actually find within the story. I cannot fully express what a touching and moving moment this is.

- an extended seduction stretched out over two separate scenes in Third Finger, Left Hand at the Trustus Black Box, and featuring Kristin Wood Cobb and  Ellen Rodillo-Fowler. At first you're not sure which girl might be gay, and which might be hitting on the other...then it reverses, and then switches back again, literally climaxing in a nod to "Paradise By The Dashboard Light," by way of the "I'll have what she's having" scene from When Harry Met Sally.

- alternating vignettes of dark drama and dysfunctional comedy, brought to life by a dream cast, in August: Osage County at Trustus:

  • Ellen Rodillo-Fowler, brassy and aggressive (and at one point wearing about a quarter inch of black lace and some stiletto-heel boots) just a few weeks earlier in the show above, here playing soft and demure and stoic.  Add that to her histrionics as the drama teacher in High School Musical a few summers ago, and her carefree and saucy chorus courtesans in recent musicals like Evita and Best Little Whorehouse, and you just want to shout "Somebody give this lady a lead role NOW!"
  • Stann Gwynn's yuppie slime character, perving on a 14-year-old girl, with the excuse: "She told me she was 15!"
  • Dewey Scott-Wiley staging a family dinner table coup, overthrowing her mother's reign in an electric Act 2 curtain-closer.  As well as her third act attempts, in vain, to make her mother (Libby Campbell) have something to eat, culminating in a shrieked "EAT THE FISH, BITCH!"
  • Gerald Floyd slyly sneaking in the best lines in the show, as when he deflates Elena Martinez-Vidal's rant on how she would never take him back if he left her, repeatedly shutting her down with "But I'm not going anywhere." Or when he simultaneously teases/mocks a vegan, and tries to diffuse a tense confrontation by faking illness, then revealing that he simply bit into a big piece of "fear." Or his surprising assertion to his wife that she must show some iota of compassion to their son.

- the perfect timing of frenetic slapstick and chaotic physical comedy in Workshop's Victor/Victoria, including:

  • a big madcap brawl involving 20+ cast members that concluded the first act
  • a necessary "reveal" towards the end where four separate groups of performers are each doing something funny, punctuated by Matthew DeGuire's appearance at a window, back-lit as if by a lightning bolt, looking for all the world like Wile E. Coyote about to take a long fall.
  • Giulia Dalbec as the quintessential blonde bimbo, doing things with her legs I had never thought possible. When she sang how she tried Toronto, but departed molto pronto, then saw Geneva, but it was hardly jungle "feva," you know you're in for a double entendre rhyming tour of the world.

This was for me overall the most entertaining show I saw this past year, indeed in several years, and makes me wish that Henry Mancini and Blake Edwards, so successful in films for decades, had tried Broadway earlier in their careers.

So those were for me the most memorable moments that I saw on Columbia stages in 2011.  What were yours?

In addition to writing for Jasper Magazine - The Word on Columbia Arts, August Krickel is a native Columbian and theatre buff who has performed at Town, Workshop and Chapin Community Theatres, directed at Act One, and narrated the touring Road to Victory shows. He has done everything from fundraising and PR for universities and non-profits to teaching Latin, but probably enjoys acting and writing best. His reviews, articles and interviews have appeared in Briefs Magazine, Free Times, and at OnstageColumbia.com.

 

This is Not a Review of Spring Awakening

There are a couple of reasons why Jasper cannot review Trustus Theatre's current performance of Spring Awakening -- not the least of which is the fact that the director of the play is dating the daughter of the editor of the magazine. The fact that we can't review the play is unfortunate for a couple of reasons, as well -- not the least of which is the fact that the editor of the magazine doesn't hold anything back, and doesn't care who is dating whom.

That said, there are issues of propriety which we will respect. So, as you read, please keep in mind that this is not a review of Spring Awakening.

What this is is the story of how, thanks to the generosity of Coralee Harris, a dear friend and all around lovely person, whom Tracie Broom most aptly denominated as a bon vivant, this writer and more than one hundred other luckies had the opportunity to enjoy one of the last dress rehearsals of Spring Awakening on Wednesday night last week. It was cozy and friendly -- we sipped champagne, munched on our free popcorn, and simply took in all the youthful angst and profundity that the performance offered.

As frequent theater goers, it is unusual for us to attend a play in Columbia in which we know few of the actors, but this was the case on Wednesday night. Of course, we were very familiar with the work of the  director, Chad Henderson, who previously directed such plays as Assassins, Dog Sees God, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and more. And if you live in Columbia and don't know the work of the two people who played the parts of the adult male and female respectively, Christopher Cockrell and  Vicky Saye Henderson , I'm sorry, but it's my duty to inform you that your life would be so much better than it is if you did.

The new faces were universally young and unaffected; their voices, powerful and eager. From the closeness of our second row seats we were easily caught up in the almost palpable atmosphere that their combined energies created -- it was like some kind of youthful and frustrated pheromone. We could sense how thrilled and terrified they were to be on the stage, and how delighted they were by their own abilities to overcome their terror and giddiness and give us a professional performance. While I would usually never recommend sitting so closely, this was one time that proximity paid off.

The contrast of the young and eager cast against the laid-back and experienced persona of the band also needs to be noted. With local legends like professor of Jazz, Bert Ligon, and loyal Trustus stage musical director, Tom Beard, on deck, we expected the music to be exceptional, and it was. The gentlemen were joined by Jeremy Polley on guitar, James Gibson on bass, Greg Apple on percussion, Dusan Vukajolvic on cello, Jerrod Haning on viola, and Jennifer Hill on violin. Their steady, subdued-but-excellent sounds seemed at times to perturb the young actors who, when singing seemed to try to channel to the band the message to play louder and faster so they could metaphorically roll down the windows on the theatre and let their voices and spirits soar.

Our favorite part of the performance happened before the play itself got underway. Director Henderson had his actors frolicking about the stage, as young people are wont to do, as the audience arrived.  Then, they took their places perched atop chairs that were literally hanging off the wall at random heights and order. It was as if the young people had been set on shelves -- out-of-the-way, out of sound, out of mind -- until the performance began, and the young actors were finally in charge -- taking the stage and, with sometimes heart-breaking results, taking control.

It is the little things, like suspending the children on the wall at the beginning of the show, and two young and damaged women singing together and ultimately taking one another's hands in courage, that touch people so much about Spring Awakening. It's the authentic tears of young Patrick Dodds who plays Moritz and the Judy Collins-like voice of Adrienne Lee's Ilse. It's the sad realization that the premise of the story -- adults being fearful and unwilling to affirm the agency of a new generation, and the individuals within it, because of the fear of their own authentic selves -- is just as applicable in modern America as it was in late 19th century Germany.

No, this is not a review of Spring Awakening -- clearly it was a night to remember -- but you can find an excellent assessment by Jasper's own staff writer, August Krickel by clicking right here.

 

(Like reading Krickel? Tune in tomorrow for his reflections on, for many of us, the day the music died.)