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

 

 

There must be some other chances /

There’s a moment I’m forgetting /

Where you tell me you see me

                        --Alison, “Telephone Wire,” Fun Home

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

What: Fun Home

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

When: Thurs.-Sun. through April 14

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

Contact: 803-254-9732

REVIEW: Fun Home - The Queer Musical I Did Not Know I Needed

by Connie Mandeville

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When I told my partner she was lucky enough to be my date to a musical that had a lesbian lead character, she was less than thrilled. “A musical?” she asked. Her skepticism was understandable. Accurately portraying the complexity of coming out on a stage through song and dance seems farfetched. But as we watched Alison Bechdel’s story unfold, we both saw parts of our own stories, our own struggles, but also our own victories in her experiences.

 

Fun Home depicts the story of a queer woman who grew up in a rural Pennsylvania town during the 1960s and 1970s. It also follows her journey of discovering her sexual orientation as a college student at Oberlin College in the 1980s. Based on the tragicomic memoir, the story is told by an adult Alison (performed by Robin Gottlieb) while she forces herself through both the happy and painful memories of growing up and coming out of the closet ultimately to write her book. These memories are portrayed through flashbacks with a small Alison (performed by Clare Kerwin) and a college-aged Alison (performed by Cassidy Spencer), and as revealed in the opening scene, these flashbacks are clouded by her father’s (performed by Paul Kaufmann) suicide. Although Alison is the center of the narrative, Fun Home is also the story of her parent’s tumultuous relationship because of her father’s bisexuality and extramarital affairs which led to his death. Her father’s experience living in the closet is touching, but her mother (performed by Marybeth Gorman) triumphs as the tragic hero of the tale because of the sacrifices she made not only to maintain appearances of a perfect nuclear family, but also to keep her family together.

 

What is so refreshing about the coming out story and queer experience in Fun Home is the balance of both the blissful excitement and the excruciating heartbreak of discovering one’s sexual orientation. It is not an exploitation of queer pain, but instead a celebration of self discovery which is emphasized by solos wonderfully performed by Kerwin and Spencer. From Alison’s nervousness and excitement to attend her first Gay Straight Alliance meeting, to her feelings of validation at her very first sighting of a butch woman, this is more than just the story of her parent’s rejection when she first came out to them. Alison even has a moment of complete ecstasy the first time she sleeps with another woman, a moment so groundbreaking she burst out into song about changing her major to sleeping with her new girlfriend. Although the pains and pleasures of coming out are weaved together to create an accurate representation, Alison’s masculine gender expression is often conflated with sexual orientation which is inaccurate and borderline transphobic. A young girl rejecting dresses and other gender stereotypes does not always lead to a lesbian identity, and there are many transmen who date men.

 

In the wake of the MeToo Movement, there were aspects of Fun Home that were problematic. Her father is a teacher who had sex with male students who were underage, which is not only statutory rape, but it also perpetuates the stereotype of gay men preying on young men. Her father’s predatory behavior is never fully addressed except for one flippant comment from her mother. It is understandable to overlook her father’s abuse of power not only because of the circumstances of his death, but also because it is difficult to fairly judge someone you love so much. Additionally, Fun Home, both the tragicomic and musical, was created before the MeToo Movement went viral so the writers most possibly lacked the social context to delve into Alison’s father’s crimes.

 

Despite the tragedies of Alison’s life, Fun Home is not a depressing tale. Instead, the brutally honest depiction of coming out as a lesbian in a rural area was the queer musical I did not know I needed. 

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

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

fun home.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul Kaufmann

Paul Kaufmann

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

 

fun home robin.jpg

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

REVIEW: A Bright Room Called Day by Frank Thompson

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was

the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the

epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the

season  of  Light,  it  was  the  season  of  Darkness,  it  was  the 

spring  of  hope,  it  was  the  winter  of  despair,  we  had 

everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were

all  going  direct  to  Heaven,  we  were  all  going  direct  the 

other way—in short, the period was so far like the present

period…”

 

-Charles Dickens

“A Tale Of Two Cities”

 

   After seeing Trustus Theatre’s production of A Bright Room Called Day on opening night, I have made it a point to “talk up” the show as much as possible, but (with sincere regret) I have just now been able to write a review. With all due apologies and a promise not to make a habit of late-posting, I would like to now offer my thoughts on what may be the most riveting show I’ve seen at Trustus since August: Osage County, a couple of seasons ago. There are two remaining performances, Friday and Saturday, 2 and 3 February. In brief, you need to see one (or both) of them.

   While a completely different show in almost every way, A Bright Room Called Day does have a quite literal kinship with its predecessor. August: Osage County was the last show directed at Trustus by its beloved founder, the late Jim Thigpen, and his daughter, Erin Wilson, masterfully directs A Bright Room Called Day. This is the first of Wilson’s work I have seen, and it’s quite clear that both her professional training and the lessons she no doubt learned at the knee of her father have come together to create an insightful, skilled directorial eye and style all her own. Wilson’s attention to the small details of movement and human interaction in a confined space creates a pleasantly cozy feeling in the early scenes, which slowly morphs into a trapped, claustrophobic aura by the end of the performance. (Ironically, as fewer people occupy the room, it seems to grow smaller and more prisonlike.) 

   Pulitzer-winning playwright Tony Kushner wrote A Bright Room Called Day in the 1980s, outraged at then-President Reagan for his (Reagan’s) lack of any apparent concern over the AIDS crisis. (Indeed, Reagan is invoked in the modern-day side story that serves as a point of comment on the main story. More on that in a moment.)

 

   Though Reagan was the bete noir when the show was penned, Wilson has, without changing the script, clearly suggested that we examine the politics of 2018 and what’s going on all around us. The story, while interesting, is an oft-told one. A group of what might well have been called “undesirables” share good times together, only to be divided both philosophically and literally by the rise of The Third Reich. The scenes set in early 1932 could easily have been played in a contemporary 2016. Liberalism seems firmly established, there’s toasting and optimism (the show opens on a New Year’s Eve celebration), and the charmingly eccentric group of characters we meet are leading happy, bohemian lives and freely share their common views as well as their disagreements without rancor. There’s an opium-addicted film star, a devout Communist, a homosexual man-about-town, a one-eyed film-maker, and a seemingly meek actress of lesser fame, who owns the apartment and revels in their company.
 

   As the scenes and time progress, we sense a growing feeling of unease as Germany begins to undergo a multitude of bad decisions and changes for the worse. Through dialogue and a positively masterful use of projected titles, we follow the Nazi party’s initial defeats, its growing influence, and President von Hindenburg’s eventual hesitant appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor. From there begins the inevitable unraveling of the social fabric, both large-scale and among the small circle of leftists who inhabit the small apartment.

   Without beating the metaphor to death, or even mentioning his name, the “Trump as Hitler” theme rings loud and clear, speaking not only to the skills of the director and cast, but also to the timelessness of Kushner’s script. The 1930s scenes are intercut with a series of 1980s monologues by a young woman of high-school age (remember the side story?), who writes daily hate-mail letters to President Reagan, and offers a great deal of commentary that is just as applicable today as it was in the days of The Love Boat and the Commodore 64 computer.

   The second act brings to the forefront the horrors of Berlin in the early 1930s. The Reichstag fire, book-burnings, and the official opening of Dachau are mentioned, one of the characters suffers a beating, another essentially chooses to collaborate, still another flees for his safety, and Agnes, the owner of the flat, wonders aloud if she will ever leave.

   There are also other visitors to the apartment, none terribly welcome. A pair of friendly-but-don’t-push-us bureaucrats visit Agnes to “encourage” her to rethink her upcoming performance of a skit involving a “Red Baby”, complete with painted baby doll to emphasize the message. There can be tremendous intimidation in ersatz kindness and calm, and the actors in these roles convey just that.

   The story takes two turns toward surrealism in the characters of Die Alte (which, thank you Google, translates to “the old” or “the ancient”) and Gottfried Swetts, who just happens to be Satan. As the representatives of the otherworldly, each is clearly defined as unique in the reality of the main story. Die Alte is wraithlike, eerie, and seems to move freely about within the darkness. Swetts, by contrast, is dressed spiffily in an expensive-looking suit and topcoat. (A word to the wise: don’t pet the Devil’s dog.) At first the inclusion of these characters seemed out-of-place to me, but upon further reflection, what could be more appropriate than vaguely malevolent absurdity in a play about a historically significant collapse of reason and sanity?

   By now you have probably noticed that I haven’t mentioned any actors by name. That’s because director Wilson and her team have produced an almost-flawless piece of ensemble theatre by a cast of top-tier performers. There is no “standout” because this group contains no weak links. The roles are superbly cast, and the chemistry amongst them is clear. Therefore, I offer my congratulations and unfettered praise to Krista Forster, Jonathan Monk, Jennifer Hill, Becky Hunter, Alex Smith, Mary Miles, Frederic Powers, Elena Martinez-Vidal, Paul Kaufmann, and Avery Bateman. Each of you truly disappeared into your characters.

   Danny Harrington does a commendable job with the set, somehow making a pre-war German flat and a 1980s classroom cohesively exist on the same stage. In what may or may not have been a deliberate choice, one of the paintings on Agnes’ wall is partially obscured by what seems to indicate either fallen plaster or water damage. This image spoke strongly to me, and seemed an apt representation of how none of the characters, from the most innocent to the most evil, ever seemed to grasp the larger issues, or “see the whole picture” if you will.

   With one final apology for being so late in turning in my homework, I strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t yet seen A Bright Room Called Day to catch one of the two remaining performances. You’ll leave thinking.

Reviewer Frank Thompson

Reviewer Frank Thompson

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

Tickets are available at Tapp's Arts Center

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

REVIEW: Trustus Theatre's Peter and the Starcatcher

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

- Jennifer Hill

Photos by Richard Kiraly

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

composure  

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

REVIEW: Marie Antoinette at Trustus Theatre - by Jennifer Hill

Eric Bultman and Jennifer Moody Sanchez - photo by Richard Arthur Kiraly

“I was built to be this thing and now they're killing me for it." -- Marie Antoinette

Trustus Theater starts off its 31st season strong with Marie Antoinette by David Adjmi. In the first act, Director Robert Richmond takes the audience down the rabbit hole to a French rave where Marie Antoinette is the Mad Hatter presiding over what appears to be her own opulent, insane tea party, which sets the pace for the evening. This is not a stuffy historical piece by any means. It’s sexy, provocative, humorous, and it eventually takes you to a very dark place.

Jennifer Moody Sanchez is our Marie, the girl who was plucked from Austria at 14 years old to marry wimpy Louis XVI, played by G. Scott Wild, and then went on to become the Queen of France at the tender age of 19. Moody Sanchez is a strong performer, giving us a Marie that is silly and frivolous, but grows strong with backbone as the play goes on, and ultimately descends into madness during her final days.  Moody Sanchez did some of her best work of the night in the second act as Marie grapples with sanity in her prison cell. It’s a series of intense scenes and Moody Sanchez gives a haunting performance. Props to Robert Richmond for being willing to take it so dark. Bold choices are powerful, especially when a director uses them to create a very consistent stylized world, like Richmond has. That said, I would have liked to have seen more vulnerability in Marie at times, something with which we can empathize and connect.

Sanchez is not alone in offering a fine performance. G. Scott Wild gives us a perfect Louis XVI; an awkward, possibly impotent, man-child. Marie’s ladies of the court, Therese De Lomballe, played by Lindsay Rae Taylor, and Yolande de Polignac played by Ellen Rodillo-Fowler are like those two girls at a party who keep pressuring you to take another shot; the kind of women who tell you “go ahead, buy it in both colors” on a shopping trip, the ‘yes’ women to Marie. I especially liked Rodillo-Fowler in her scene as a creepy peasant and Taylor’s scenes as Therese showing true friendship to Marie. Eric Bultman plays the most striking and sexy sheep anyone would ever want to see. That’s right, he plays Marie’s sheep friend, her spirit animal, and he sometimes informs her of the realities of her situation. Bultman physically nails every beat. The terribly handsome Ben Blazer plays Axel Fersen, Marie’s man on the side. Blazer has a nice natural stage presence that is so easy to believe. Paul Kaufmann plays the Revolutionary who imprisons Marie and her family. Kauffman is a strong actor who makes a nice subtle transformation over the second act, in that he starts out with extreme hatred for Marie, but that hatred slowly turns to pity as her execution draws near. Chris Cook plays Joseph, Marie’s brother, come to get answers for why an heir hasn’t been produced in the seven years since Marie and Louis have been married. Cook is a joy to watch: he has impeccable timing and gives some really delightful deliveries that keep the audience laughing. Cade Melnyk, with a face of a cherub, plays the little Dauphin very well. He happens to be in one of my favorite scenes, a carriage ride depicted using only three chairs. The three actors sell it with perfect timing and movement which results in a very believable and entertaining scene.

Costumes by Jean Gonzalaz Lomasto were a joy. Marie’s frocks are one-of-a-kind pieces of art, as were the wigs by Mark Ziegler and the jewelry by Neely Wald. The lighting design by Marc Hearst was on point; I particularly enjoyed a scene where Marie and Axel watch fireworks in the distance. I really enjoyed what Baxter Engle did with the sound during the prison/madness scenes; an echoing treatment that is very effective. The set, designed by Kimi Maeda and constructed by Brandon Mclver is quite impressive as basically a giant reflective guillotine blade, always there, always reminding us where this is all going to end.

And that’s really what it’s all about, right? The falling of a great star. We build them up to burn them down a la 2007's Britney Spears. Marie herself pretty much sums it up toward the end of the second act, “I was built to be this thing and now they're killing me for it”. Overall, it’s a beautiful production, well played and well executed. (Pun intended.) A feast for the eyes. Get your tickets to the disco mad tea party now as shows will be selling out. The show runs through Oct.3rd.

Correction: A previous version of this review omitted the contributions of Neely Wald. 

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

velvetweapon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Director Chad Henderson shared a few thoughts with Jasper:

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

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

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

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

Jasper:  How did you go about casting Velvet Weapon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ August Krickel

 

Deborah Brevoort's "The Velvet Weapon" Wins 2013 Trustus Playwrights' Festival - Chad Henderson Directs Staged Reading Saturday, August 10th

The Velvet Weapon, by Deborah Brevoort, is the winner of the 2013 Trustus Playwrights' Festival, and will receive a full production in the summer of 2014, preceded by a staged reading  this coming Saturday, August 10th, at 2 PM on the Thigpen Main Stage at 520 Lady Street in the Vista.  As sponsor of one of the nation's longest-running play festivals, Trustus has nurtured and fostered the growth of new playwrights such as David Lindsay-Abaire, who later went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.

Over the following year, each winning playwright has the chance to develop the script for production, with the opportunity for input from and consultation with members of the Trustus staff and company, based on feedback at the initial staged reading.  This year's reading will be directed by Chad Henderson, chosen by Jasper readers as the 2012 Theatre Artist of the Year.  Included in the cast are Paul Kaufmann (Next to Normal and I Am My Own Wife at Trustus) Raia Jane Hirsch (The Motherf*@%er With the Hat at Trustus, Pride and Prejudice with SC Shakespeare Co.) Kayla Cayhill (The Shape of Things at Workshop) Trustus Managing Director Larry Hembree, Eric Bultman, and Chelsea Crook.

The reading is free and open to the public, but seating is limited; the bar will be open, with liquid refreshments for sale.

Deborah Brevoort holds an MFA in Playwriting from Brown University and an MFA in Musical Theatre writing from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she currently teaches. She also teaches in the MFA playwriting programs at Columbia University and Goddard College. Her web site is www.DeborahBrevoort.com.  She is perhaps best known for her work The Women of Lockerbie, which won the Kennedy Center’s Fund for New American Plays Award, and the silver medal in the Onassis International Playwriting Competition. It has been produced across the U.S., as well as in Scotland, Japan, Greece, Spain, Belarus, Poland, Australia and England, and has been translated into seven languages.

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

 The author kindly agreed to share some thoughts with Jasper via e-mail in this exclusive interview!

Deborah Brevoort, author of "Thye Velvet Weapon," winner of the 2013 Trustus Playwrights' Festival

Jasper:  You have written drama, comedy, and the books for musicals.  Is The Velvet Weapon your first venture into farce?

Brevoort:   Velvet Weapon is my first farce, although one of my previous plays, The Poetry of Pizza, an Arab/American comedy about love, used elements of farce here and there. Albert Bermel, who wrote the definitive critical study on farce, said that it was “an older dramatist’s medium, because the techniques involved are so formidable.”   That surprised me; farces tend to feel so slight. They are like meringues that melt the minute they hit your mouth.   So, I wanted to try my hand at the form to see what was so difficult.  I was greatly humbled by it, I have to say.   These “slight” little plays are built like Swiss watches!

Jasper:  Do you find it challenging or difficult to move from one form to another, or does that give you a sort of freedom, to work in whatever form suits the material?

Brevoort:  I love writing in multiple forms.  I always find it difficult to move back and forth between them, but that is also the pleasure of it. As a writer, I have a couple of rules for myself. One is that I don’t ever repeat myself.  Another is that in every project I do, there must be something that I don’t know how to do. These rules help to ensure that I am always stretching myself as an artist, and that I don’t stagnate, or get too comfy.

Jasper:   Your theatrical career began at Alaska's Perseverance Theatre, and from there you moved into writing - how did that transition take place?

Brevoort:  I was the Producing Director of Perseverance Theatre, which means I was the person who raised all the money, and was the public administrative face of the theatre.  But Perseverance was an unusual company, because we were basically a group of artists who administered ourselves and the company. I started out as an actor, and worked in the acting company for the better part of 13 years.  I had always wanted to be a writer, so when we started offering playwriting classes at the theatre, led by Paula Vogel and Darrah Cloud, I took them. Paula snatched me out of the class, told me I was writer, and gave me a fellowship to come to Brown University to make the switch from theatre producing and acting to writing. I accepted the fellowship, and moved to NYC, where I’ve been ever since, working as a playwright, lyricist and librettist.

Jasper: I gather that contemporary themes, especially relating to political and social topics, recur in your work, although perhaps sometimes not overtly. Do you have a particular goal in your work?

Brevoort:  I am not aware that I have a political agenda or even that I have political themes - I just write what interests me.  And I am committed to writing each project truthfully, whatever that may entail.

Jasper:  How easy or difficult is it to make the audience think while still entertaining them?

Brevoort:  There are plenty of techniques you can use as a playwright to make an audience think or feel.  To me it’s simply a matter of craft.  It’s no harder to make an audience think than feel—it just requires different tools.  I do have to say, however, that the hardest thing to do is to make an audience laugh. That is 100 times harder than to make them cry.

Jasper:  Why did the "velvet revolution" in Czechoslovakia appeal to you as source material?

Brevoort:  I was very good friends with Pavel Dobrusky, a Czech scenographer who defected from the former Czechoslovakia and came to work with us at Perseverance Theatre in the mid-1980’s.  When the Velvet Revolution happened in 1989, Pavel worked with us on production called Wonderland, a sort of Alice-in-Wonderland take on the events taking place in Eastern Europe.  It was one of my favorite productions at Perseverance Theatre.

Fast forward 15 years:  Pavel and I both now live in NYC and got to talking one night about The Velvet Revolution and how we’d love to make a theatre piece about it.  Pavel knew all the theatre artists who had been involved—they were his old friends.  We put together a grant request to CEC Arts Link, which gave money to theatre artists to do projects in Eastern Europe.  We got the grant, which enabled the two of us to go to both the Czech and Slovak Republics and to interview all the artists who collaborated with Vaclav Havel to bring down the Soviet regime.  We spent about a month conducting intense, in-depth interviews with 43 of the ringleaders.

After the interviews, I remarked to Pavel that the Velvet Revolution was like one, great big back stage farce. Literally.   So, I wrote the play as a farce.

The goal was for Pavel to eventually direct the play.  But unfortunately, Pavel passed away.

Jasper:   Once you finished the play, you had readings at La Mama and the NJ Playwright’s Theatre?  How did that process work?   

Brevoort:  In addition to getting a CEC Arts Link grant to do the interviews, I got a playwriting fellowship from the NJ Council on the Arts, to write the play. The reading at the NJ Playwright’s Theatre was part of that fellowship.  Pavel directed the reading, which was done for about 30 NJ senior citizens, all of whom thought I was writing a satire about Obama.

The La Mama reading was part of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts “Performing Revolution in Central and Eastern Europe” festival, a citywide, 5-month event to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.  Pavel was no longer in NYC at that point, so he didn’t direct the reading. Many audience members at the reading were from Eastern Europe, so they got all the references in the play and recognized it as the story about Vaclav Havel.  The other half knew nothing about the Velvet Revolution and thought I was parodying populist democratic movements taking place around the world.

In February of this year I had a reading of the play at William Patterson University in NJ, and this time the audience thought I was writing about Occupy Wall Street.

This of course tickles me to no end; it was my goal that this play be about populist democracy not about the Velvet Revolution—and it appears to be working on that level because people are seeing references to American politics or world politics in it.  But I have also loaded the play with lots of inside jokes and references that only Eastern Europeans would “get”—and they seem to be “getting” them.

Each reading helped me to CUT the script. Speed of delivery is necessary for farce. If you have one syllable too many in a line, you won’t get a laugh.  So these readings have helped me to pare each line down so they work like darts.

Jasper:  How did you discover Trustus and the Playwrights' Festival?

Brevoort: I have heard about Trustus for many years,  most recently when I was the playwright-in-residence at Center Stage in Greenville, SC.  I’m delighted to get a chance to work with them!  I’ve never been to Columbia, so I don’t know anything about the community, and am looking forward to coming down and being there next year for rehearsals.

~ August Krickel

Jasper's Fave Non-Film Part of Indie Grits? Spork in Hand Puppet Slam -- Hands Down!

  Lyon Hill - Self Portrait

 

It's no secret that Jasper is a big fan of Indie Grits -- we love independent film! And while we'd just as soon have a film festival that was about film and film only, we admire the way the good folks at IG try to incorporate the whole community in their special week. AND, we are crazy about one specific part of the festival, the Spork in Hand Puppet Slam.

Why? Lots'o reasons, but the strongest being the opportunity to see three of Columbia's most creative minds demonstrate their incredibly eclectic, innovative, and just plain out-there abilities. Lyon Hill, Kimi Maeda, and Paul Kaufmann.

(Jasper wrote about Lyon Hill here and Kimi Maeda here.)

(And is it true that the strangely brilliant Alex Smith is also involved this year? Yes? No? Somebody?)

We lifted the below information info from the Indie Grits website about these folks:

Lyon Hill lives with his wife, Jenny Mae, and their son, Oliver, in Columbia, SC. He has been a puppetmaker and puppeteer with the Columbia Marionette Theatre since 1997. His paintings and puppets have been shown in numerous galleries over the years and his puppet shows have been performed at regional and national puppet festivals. Three of his short films are part of Heather Henson's Handmade Puppet Dreams film series, which are shown internationally

Kimi Maeda

Kimi Maeda is a theatre artist whose intimate visual performances cross disciplines and push boundaries.  Trained as a scenic and costume designer whose work has been recognized nationally, she is drawn to the versatility of puppetry and delights in the fact that it allows her to explore all of her diverse interests; from science to storytelling.  Kimi worked for several years as a puppeteer and set designer for the Columbia Marionette Theatre, writing and directing Snow White and The Little Mermaid. Her shadow-puppet performances The Crane Wife and The Homecoming are original adaptations of traditional Japanese folktales interwoven with her own bi-cultural experience growing up as a Japanese-American.

 

Paul Kaufmann

Paul Kaufmann is an actor, writer and artist.  His acting credits include three productions at New York’s famed LaMaMa E.T.C.: The Cherry Orchard Sequel (2008, NY Times critic’s pick), The System (2009) and the title role in this year’s Hieronymus, all written by Obie Award winner Nic Ularu. With Mr. Ularu, Paul has also toured Romania in The System (2006). In 2010, he performed at the Cairns Festival in Queensland, Australia in Dean Poynor’s H. apocalyptus, a zombie survival tale. He has performed the same role in the Piccolo Spoleto Festival (2011) and at The Studios of Key West. Also at TSKW: One Night Stand: 3, 4 and 5. Recent roles at Trustus Theatre include Dan in Next to Normal, Charles Guiteau in Assassins, Bill Fordham in August: Osage County and all roles in I Am My Own Wife.  For pacific performance project/east, Paul played Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2012) and Man in Pile in Mizu No Eki (The Water Station) (2010). A founding member of the SC Shakespeare Company, Paul has acted onstage, in television and in film (including Campfire Tales and Lyon Forrest Hill’s Junk Palace) for 40 years. His collages, assemblages and paintings have been exhibited at Anastasia and Friends gallery.  He’s thrilled to be a part of the Spork In Hand Puppet Slam. In May, Paul returns to Romania to perform at the Sibiu International Theatre Festival in a new production directed by Mr. Ularu.

To what they have to say above we'll just add this -- There is nothing like the experience of good adult puppetry theatre. It effects the viewer in ways that are personally, emotionally, and psychologically surprising. It can be intimate, evocative, and funny -- all in the same breath. It is touching and exhilarating. It can move you in ways you have never been moved before. It makes you laugh and it makes you think. Don't miss this beautiful experience.

 

Kimi Maeda

jasper watches

 

presented by Belle et Bête

Saturday, April 13th at 7pm & 9:30pm - $10 - Nickelodeon Theatre

CLICK HERE TO BUY TICKETS

-- Cindi Boiter, editor - Jasper Magazine

Columbia artists in the Conch Republic -- A Guest Blog by Chad Henderson

Note: This story goes best with Jimmy Buffet on the radio, a Hemingway novel on your nightstand, and a Key Lime specialty drink made with generous pours…

 

During the week of July 4th, four Columbia artists traveled down I-95 heading for the Southernmost point in the United States – Key West. Our Columbia collective consisted of myself (a local theatrical director), local dancer (turned stage manager for this trip) Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, and local actors Paul Kaufmann and Eric Bultman. Of course, some much-anticipated vacationing was expected – but our reason for traveling to the Conch Republic derived from an invitation from The Studios of Key West to be part of “One Night Stand” – a highly popular 24-hour theatre project that was celebrating its fifth incarnation.

 

The Studios of Key West (or TSKW) describes itself “as a place that provides a truly collaborative and supportive environment for creative experiences.” They offer studio space, lectures, workshops, residencies, partnership projects and nurture the creation of work. Their publicized mission is to “build audiences and support the advancement of established and emerging creative people in the Florida Keys.” TSKW is driven by a distinct cultural and educational mission to support creative community development, nurture artists and the artistic process, while forging collaborations that celebrate and advance Key West’s unique sense of place. And let me assure you – I have yet to experience any place in this country which offers such an inspiring array of opportunities with distinct cultural individuality.

 

Paul Kaufmann and I first went to TSKW in 2009 when we were part of their first theatre troupe residency. We stayed in The Mango Tree House - one of the studios’ residencies where the oldest mango tree on the island actually drops fresh delicious mangoes into your backyard. Our residency lasted two weeks, and we workshopped a new script called “Homo Apocalyptus” written by playwright Dean Poynor and featuring local actors Monica Wyche and Sydney Mitchell. TSKW provided us the time and space to explore and shape this story daily. This script went on to have productions mounted at Piccolo Spoleto in Charleston, and at an arts festival in Cairns, Australia.

 

While we were in Key West in 2009, we were also asked to participate in “One Night Stand” during that residency. So, imagine our excitement when we were invited to participate again in 2012! Bags were packed and loaded, and four travelers from Columbi-Yeah took their talents south for a week-long stay, and 24 hours of theatrical creation.

 

Our group was split between two residencies –Bonnie and I inhabited a lovely studio-style apartment with a private court-yard complete with a pool. Paul and Eric stayed in the newly renovated Ashe Street cottages just behind “The Armory” – the building that TSKW uses as their business headquarters. Paul and Eric had the pleasure of sharing the cottages with Danish artists-in-residency Lise Kjar (Installation/Sculptor/Video Artist), Gina Hedegaard Nielsen (Installation Artist/Sculptor), and Grette Balle (Textile Designer/Painter). Trust me folks, look these women up – they’re amazing and their work is just as awe-inspiring.

 

 

The week ensued with your local heroes partaking in some of the expected touristy fare: Sloppy Joe’s visits, sunset celebrations, sunning on gorgeous beaches with blue water, drinks up and down Duval Street bars (think the Bourbon Street of Key West), lunches at Fish Shacks where your meal was caught that day, drinking water from coconuts, and petting polydactyl cats at the Hemingway house. However, we were able to enjoy the colloquial treats of the island with our new Danish friends, and New York filmmaker and painter Christopher Bennett (also a TSKW artist-in-residency).

 

The time flew by, as it does when you’re having fun in paradise; and soon the weekend was upon us. On Friday, all of the “One Night Stand” participants gathered at the afore-mentioned Armory at 7pm. TSKW Deputy Director Elena Devers took the stage in the main gallery space, which was borrowed and transported from the beautiful St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Duval Street. She started by welcoming everyone to the Fifth “One Night Stand” – which was met with thunderous applause from all those involved. In the room at that moment were four writers, four directors, twelve actors, four stage managers, a collection of visual artists and their assistants who would serve as scenic designers, and four teams of costume and props designers.

 

The goal was seemingly simple – write and produce four new shows in the span of 24 hours. After names were drawn from baskets to team up writers, directors, actor groups, and designers – the project had begun.

 

As a director I was asked up to the stage to draw a writer out of the basket. I drew and opened the paper to reveal I’d be directing a show written by locals Mike Marerro and Chris Shultz, co-author of local publication “Quit Your Job and Move to Key West: The Complete Guide.” I had worked with Schultz during my last visit when he was an actor in the play I directed for “One Night Stand” in 2009. Drawings concluded and our team was assembled, with Bonnie Boiter-Jolley stage managing my show and Paul Kaufmann and Eric Bultman acting with another team.

 

Besides the teams being assembled, there were a few extra guidelines for the shows. The plays had to be no longer than 10 minutes, there was a hand-mirror that had to be used as a prop, and each script had to include the iconic line “Powerful you’ve become, the dark side I sense in you.” Each writer also had a draw a specific location – we drew “Outer Space,” appropriate considering the required line of dialogue.

 

We left The Armory around 8pm, and the writers took off into the night to spend the next eleven hours drinking coffee (or beer) while constructing a 10-minute play that would be performed at a 7pm and 9pm showing the following night. I have no idea how the other teams spent the rest of their night, but we decided to do what we did best – be care-free and have some dinner and drinks with our Danish friends and Chris, the filmmaker.

 

My alarm went off at 6:30am the next morning, and Bonnie and I headed to the Armory. We arrived at 7:15am, met with a table covered in tasty morning treats and the most important element: a warm urn of coffee. I sat down at a table with writers Chris and Mike, and they looked on as I and the designers read the script. The actors were returning to the Armory at 8am, so there was little time to assess the story and decide what was needed from the designers.

 

The title at the top of the page read “Frank Hates China” – which instantly warranted a chuckle from this director. The story was simple: a group of tourists are visiting a viewing platform on the moon where they can get the best view of a soon-to-pass meteor. However, when the meteor goes off its expected path and crashes into the earth, the group loses their cool and struggles to pull it back together. The tour group was led by a just-doing-her-job guide played by theatre newcomer Ashley Kamen. The tourists consisted of a over-the-top Star Trek fan played by Brandon Beach – a popular leading-man in the Key West theatre-scene, a Star Wars nerd dressed as Yoda (remember the required dialogue) played by Mike Mongo – a entrepreneur who lives in Key West, goes to church in Jamaica, and has a web design business in Miami, and finally a widow who has brought the ashes of her husband Frank along for the visit played by Key West theatre critic Connie Gilbert.

 

After the first pass on the script, I asked our scenic designer Corynn Young to explore a Jetsons inspired moonscape with a dash of Metropolis. She alerted me she was a painter and not a scenic designer, to which I replied, “Just do whatever comes to you. There’s no way to go wrong - just have fun.” I then went down the props and costume list with our designer Kelly Duford – who does some work with Key West Burlesque. Kelly and her mother took off to scrounge through costume shops at the local theatres and use the $150 budget to get any other necessary materials.

 

Once the actors showed up at 8am, we immediately headed to a convention center near Mallory Square Dock where the famous sunset celebrations take place. We made a conference room our rehearsal space, and began blocking immediately following a quick read-thru. Bonnie, who was just planning on stage managing, became a performer in the show out of necessity. She walked the ill-fated meteor across the stage and then made a quick change of direction towards earth – which we were hoping would incite some laughter that night at the performance (it did, by the way).

 

Lunch was served at noon, and we had some visits from our tired writers just to make sure everything was working out. After a few more runs, I asked the actors to depart and learn lines for two hours. After that break, we reconvened at the Armory to continue rehearsing in an art studio upstairs.

 

There were varying degrees of success with the line-learning. Brandon Beach, who was quite experienced, was having the most difficulty. Whether it was the strange vernacular of his Captain Kirk inspired lines or the pressure of the situation – I don’t know. However, I had faith it would all come together. The others were off-book, and sometimes having the support of your cast can make all the difference.

 

We made our way downstairs to the main gallery for the one-and-only technical rehearsal at 5:00pm. The cast had one chance to run the show on the stage, and we were able to set levels for the three sound cues we had for the show. The cast was having intense problems remembering their lines at that moment – but still; optimism was the name of the game.

 

We left the technical rehearsal, and had a pizza dinner that was served in the court-yard behind the Armory. As I dined on delicious local slices with Bonnie, Paul, and Eric – I noticed members of my cast pacing around trying to recite their lines as they chewed cheese and drank a relaxing beer. Brandon Beach was sitting at a table under the aforementioned mango tree with his head in his script, when a mango almost fell directly on him – barely missing his head and landing behind him in his chair. He quickly moved to a more secure area to continue studying.

 

With the show an hour away, I asked Paul and Eric how their show was going. They seemed optimistic and devoid of anxiety. Minutes later I saw both of them exit their cottage with leather cowboy-wear featuring tassels…Bonnie and I could only smile as we tried to imagine what we were about to see our travel-partners perform.

 

At 6:30pm my cast convened in the makeshift backstage area in the main gallery. They put on costumes, make-up, and prepared to perform this show that had been written less than 24 hours earlier.

The first show at 7pm was sold out and had a very supportive audience. Two of the shows preceded ours, and then it was our turn. The audience clapped and laughed as our outer-space moonscape backdrop was revealed. Then I hit play on Bonnie’s iPhone that was plugged into the sound board. My cast came bounding down the aisles in the audience making their way to the stage by way of space-walking leaps as “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (The 2001 Space Odyssey Theme, or Gamecock Football intro music) blared through the speakers. As the final climax of the song hit, the cast was on stage and met with applause. So far so good…

 

The show commenced with very few mistakes. A few lines were dropped or changed, but it still looked very competent. There was a prompter off-stage to help in some of those situations – and the audience expected there to be some difficulty. However, when the show was drawing to a close, Brandon Beach – our struggling experienced actor – drew a complete blank on his final monologue. With complete confidence, he crossed the stage and took the script from the prompter inciting the loudest laugh all night. He then recited his last monologue, then threw the script down on the stage calling out, “who writes this shit?” More laughter. He then crossed to his last mark, and said the last line leading the cast off-stage. The audience cheered like they were having the best time of their lives.

 

As soon as they were off-stage I told Brandon, “Well, that certainly worked. Keep it for the 9pm – we’ll pretend we planned it the whole time.” He laughed and agreed.

 

Paul and Eric’s show followed, and it was the final one of the evening. The show titled “An Incident Proposal” was story about Eric’s character and his prostitute friend in 1950’s Key West. When Paul’s character entered the story he proposes $10,000 for a night with Eric’s “wife”. Well, the deal goes down, and Paul and Eric’s excellent performances brought a lot of comedy and presence to the show. The audience was enjoying it immensely, and by the end of the show we realize that Paul’s character is a wheeler-and-dealer who’s had a history of abandoned wives and crooked financial deals.

 

The first audience was escorted out after the show, making way for the almost-sold-out 9pm audience. The emcee told the new audience that “the 7pm show was more of a dress rehearsal and that they were about to get the ‘real’ show.” So the show commenced, and yet again – the shows got great laughs and response from a lively crowd.

 

At the end of both shows, the audiences were asked to pick a “crowd favorite” by round of applause. Both times, the emcee awarded the title to “Frank Hates China” – which meant absolutely nothing, but it did add a sweet cherry to the top of this already rewarding sundae of collaborative arts.

 

Paul, Eric, Bonnie, and I were humbled by an embarrassment of riches while in residency at TSKW. We dined and conversed with international and national visual artists, collaborated with local theatre artists, and were able exercise our craft for audiences in the Conch Republic. A truly unique experience that is just as amazing as the memories it creates.

 

As we began our 13+ hour-long trek back to Cola on Monday, I was thinking about how the locals of Key West were so supportive of “One Night Stand”. We actually produced a 24 hour theatre project at Trustus years ago. While the actual event was a testament to the talents we have in this city, we had a hard time selling 134 seats to our local audiences. TSKW filled hundreds of seats two shows in a row … that fact alone started an itch that I feel needs scratching.

 

Maybe its time for another 24 hour theatre project here in Columbia! We’ve certainly got directors, writers, and actors who could pull it off. We’ve even got an excellent group of visual artists in this city who could bring the scenic design to life in a big way. We don’t suffer from a lack of venues either. I also think, with the right press, we could generate a lot of excitement for this unique type of project.  Plus – we’re all enjoying multi-disciplinary collaborations these days – so why not? What do you say Columbi-yeah? Is it time for another go at it? Do you want to see what can happen when theatrical creations come to life in 24 hours? Let’s make it happen!

 

Note:

Artists interested in residencies should check out www.tskw.org for information.

Guest Blog from Susan Lenz in Paradise

   

I am so honored to have my work as the cover article of Jasper’s latest issue!  Unfortunately, I had to miss the Pink Power release party held right outside my studio door at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios.  Why?  Well, I was in Key West experiencing a “month of Sundays”, a dream-come-true art residency with The Studios of Key West.

 

It all started during “First Thursday” on Main Street over a year ago.  I was at Anastasia’s and Friends Gallery listening to actor Paul Kaufmann talk about his time at this fabulous place.  “Paul, what did you say the name of this program is?” I asked.  Later that night I Googled for the information, book-marked the website, and started thinking about my forthcoming application.

 

I was one of twenty-five lucky artists selected from five different countries for this year’s roster.  Yet, next year’s program is expanding!  Up to forty will be accepted for residencies between October 2012 and August 2013.  Visual artists, writers, composers, performers, and interdisciplinary artists can apply (totally on-line!)

 

This is a real community … an arts mecca!  Artists-in-residences generally give back to the community through presenting a workshop or class, an exhibition, a reading, performance, concert, or a special project.  I conducted a one-day, sold-out fiber workshop on March 8th.  It was a fantastic experience.  The facilities were better than I could have imagined and the participants were wonderful!  For the rest of my days in Key West, I explored the island on the provided bicycle, worked in my studio, and took hundreds of photos of this tropical paradise.

 

But that’s not all!  Four visual arts exhibitions have opened at The Studios of Key West while I’ve been here.  I was invited to a concert by three musicians from the Vienna Symphony and another concert by Darrell Scott.  I got to listen to photo critiques for Allan Rokach digital photography workshop and pose for Russian trained/Art Student League instructor Leonid Gervits’ life painting workshop.  Every day has been an adventure … and it is all coming too quickly to an end for me!  I leave at the end of the month.

This, however, can be a new beginning for you!  Just apply.  Also, be sure to “like” TSKW on Facebook!  If you’ve got a questi on, don’t hesitate to contact Elena Devers at elena@tskw.org  (She’s a friend of Paul’s too!)

 

 

The Art of Passing Strange -- Blog #2 with Krajewski, West, Puryear, Smith, and Umoja

REMINDER Jasper #4, our 1st annual All Women - All Art issue releases on Thursday March 15th with a spectacular release party at Vista Studios Gallery 80808 -- 808 Lady Street that evening. Women Only from 6 until 7 -- and then at 7 we'll open the doors to the gentlemen. Admission is free and we'll be enjoying the famed Jasper EconoBar as well as a

GIANT PINK CAKE!

Please join us.

~*~

A few days ago, we shared with you the exciting news about Jasper and Trustus Theatre's collaboration on The Art of Passing Strange. There's even more excitement in the air as the 10 selected artists (Thomas Crouch, Cedric Umoja, Alex Smith, Whitney Lejeune, Lisa Puryear, Paul Kaufmann, Lucas Sams, Michael Krajewski, David West, and Lindsay Wiggins) begin to complete their paintings and share them with us at Trustus and Jasper. So in the interest of fairness and generosity, we're sharing the images we receive with you, as we receive them.

Read on to see what lies in store for you if you attend the opening of The Art of Passing Strange on Friday night -- but while pictures are a great tease -- they're nothing like seeing the real thing. And remember, all the art is for sale -- we'll be conducting a silent auction throughout the run of the show with 100% of the proceeds going straight back to these artists who so often give of their creativity to various causes throughout the Columbia community. (And if you have your heart set on any one specific piece, each artist will be determining a BUY NOW price which will allow you to purchase the piece and take your selected painting out of the auction. You'll just need to pick it up at the end of the run of the show.)

Michael Krajewski is a self-taught artist whose work has appeared throughout South Carolina and locally at Anastasia AND FRIENDS, HoFP Gallery, Tapp’s Arts Center, Frame of Mind Gallery, the Columbia Museum of Art, and more. He was chosen to be the first artist featured as a centerfold in Jasper Magazine – the Word on Columbia Arts. Reach Michael at krajewski101@hotmail.com.

~*~

David West has a BFA in Studio Art and a Masters degree in Art Education. He has worked professionally as a graphic designer for the last 13 years, while also creating and showing fine art in his free time. Though he still provides design services, he is currently transitioning into a teaching career. You can see some of his fine art at his studio in the Arcade on Main Street. Reach David at http://www.live2create.com/.

~*~

 Lisa Puryear studied at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities and the University of South Carolina under Philip Mullen, Roy Drasites and Ann Hubbard.  Lisa is currently a member of the Trenholm Artists Guild in Columbia, SC and About Face at the Columbia Museum of Art. Reach Lisa at lisa_puryear@yahoo.com.

~*~

Alex Smith is an actor, director, and visual artist who returns to the Trustus stage (in the form of visual artist) after a 12 year hiatus since he painted the backdrop for the production of Gross Indecency:  The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, which he directed in 2000. He dedicates his work for Passing Strange to Jim and Kay Thigpen, whom he loves more than words can say. Reach Alex at alex@whatartmademedo.com.

~*~

Cedric Umoja attended the Art Institute of Atlanta and studied in South Carolina under Tony Cacalano. He is a founding member of the artist collective Izms of Art, a recipient of a 2012 South Carolina Arts Commission grant. His influences are Dondi White, Max Beckmann, Hans Hoffman and Sam Keith. Reach Cedric at umoja.artofficial@gmail.com.

~*~

 

The Art of Passing Strange - Blog #1

My story being done,
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs;
She swore, in faith 'twas strange, 'twas passing strange ;
'Twas pitiful. 'twas wondrous pitiful,
She wish'd she had not heard it, yet she wish'd
That heaven had made her such a man.
Othello, the Moor of Venice, act 1, scene 3, lines 158–163

 

Those of you well versed in Jasper's mission know that we are all about bringing together artists and patrons from a variety of arts disciplines as a way of growing and sustaining Columbia's burgeoning arts community. So when Chad Henderson, director of Trustus Theatre's upcoming play, Passing Strange, approached us about collaborating on a project which would bring the visual and performing arts together for an extended run this spring, we were delighted to get involved.

Here's the deal, 10 local artists were invited to view a 2009 Spike Lee-directed film of the Broadway production of Passing Strange, a rock musical about a young man's journey into enlightenment via his travels in Europe. Then, each artist was given two four by four canvasses on which to create the art that the film inspired. Those 20 canvasses will be used on the set of the musical throughout its Trustus run. Simple and beautiful, right?

Now here's where you get involved.

Come to Trustus Theatre on Lady Street in Columbia's Vista on Friday night, March 16th for the opening of The Art of Passing Strange. There will be music and entertainment -- more on that below -- snacks, a cash bar, and most importantly, you'll have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the 20 paintings newly created for the musical as well as the artists who created them. And the exciting thing is this -- the art is for sale. Throughout the run of the play, bid sheets for each painting will be available in the lobby and you'll be able to register your bid for your favorite art. There are two especially cool things about this.

One, the artist gets 100% of the sale of her or his work.

And two, each painting will also feature a "Buy Now" price at which you can purchase the painting, close all other bids, and know then that you'll be taking that art home at the end of the run of the show on April 14th.

For more information, read on below and visit The Art of Passing Strange's Facebook page.

So, come out on the 16th for the art show opening -- The Art of Passing Strange -- and then return to the theatre during the March 23 - April 14 run to see the art on stage and take in this Tony winning rock musical, with local musical groups like Day Clean and The Mobros opening up each performance with a a free pre-show concert for theatre ticket holders.

And yes, Friends, this is how our community continues to grow. Stay tuned for more of What Jasper Said about the artists and their art in The Art of Passing Strange.

 

Trustus Theatre and Jasper Magazine present

THE ART OF PASSING STRANGE - a one-night only event!

PASSING STRANGE is a one-of-a-kind rock musical charts a young musician's journey to find "the real" through an exploration of artistic voice and authenticity.

Trustus' pro...duction of PASSING STRANGE marks a new level of inter-disciplinary creation - mixing theatre, dance, music, and visual art together for an unparalleled artistic event. Local visual artists will be creating 20 brand new pieces inspired by the show that will serve as the scenic design, and local singer/songwriters will be performing during pre-show.

THE ART OF PASSING STRANGE is the grand unveiling of the new pieces created for the show. Get an intimate experience with each piece before they make their way onto the set. Also, enjoy music performances by Major 2 Minor and a dance performance by Vibrations Dance Company. You'll also get the chance to make your mark on the set - we will provide the paint, you bring the inspiration. The cash bar will be running - so join us at Trustus to celebrate a unique artistic collaboration in Columbia, SC!

Artists: Lisa Puryear, Michael Krajewski, Lindsay Wiggins, Cedric Umoja, Paul Kaufmann, Lucas Sams, Alex Smith, Thomas Crouch, Whitney LeJune, & David West

Admission is free!

(Please check out Jasper Magazine's Facebook page, and click on "Like," and please be sure to subscribe to What Jasper Said so you'll always be on top of the latest in Columbia's arts news.) 

 

Review -- August: Osage County

Jasper loves dysfunctional families.  Wait, let's clarify that - Jasper loves Pulitzer Prize-winning dramas about dysfunctional families, and there's a doozy of one running right now through Sat. Nov. 12th, at Trustus Theatre. August: Osage County, by Tracy Letts, is billed as Jim Thigpen's directorial swan song; he and wife Kay, with whom he founded Trustus 26 years ago, will retire at the end of this season (see the current issue of Jasper at http://jaspercolumbia.net/current-issue/ for details.) Fortunately, he has assembled a highly functional cast of family, both literal (brother Ron Hale and daughter Erin Wilson) and theatrical (a veritable who's who of local theatrical talent) to bring this provocative and compelling work to Columbia audiences.

The show recounts a few weeks in the lives of the Weston family, disrupted by the disappearance of the father. His three daughters return home, family and significant others in tow, to support their mother, and along the way we meet an aunt, and uncle, a cousin, and a few innocent bystanders. I was only familiar with this work from some reviews I read a few years ago, when it premiered and promptly won the Tony and N.Y. Drama Critics' Circle Awards for Best Play, the Drama Desk and Outer Critics' Circle Awards for Best New Play, and the Pulitzer. As a result, I had some misconceptions going in.  This is in no way, shape or fashion a comedy, even a dark one.  There are certainly some witty lines; most of the characters are fairly eloquent people connected to academia, and often barbs spoken in moments of great anger, frustration, and passion get some big laughs. Nevertheless, this play is a tragedy of the ordinary, an examination of the dark underbelly of contemporary American society, depicted before us via one truly unfortunate family.

Likewise, the title notwithstanding, this isn't really a rural or country-themed play at all.  While there is a plaid shirt here, some cowboy boots there, a backdrop that suggests dull stucco or adobe walls, and a Native American housekeeper, the setting isn't so much Oklahoma as it is any desolate location, and the desolation is as much spiritual as literal. One character notes that this isn't the Midwest, but rather the Plains, which he compares to the Blues, just not as interesting.  Nor is the show particularly surreal or avant-garde, as I somehow had expected. Sadly, the obstacles that confront these characters (with perhaps one Southern Gothic exception) are all too commonplace: divorce, infidelity, youthful rebellion, repression, substance abuse, suicide, and depression. The language is sometimes quite eloquent and poetic, but more often quite down-to-earth and familiar.

Yet this is a tremendously entertaining evening at the theatre, thanks to the supremely talented cast. While each of the thirteen actors gets his or her moment to shine on stage, top honors have to go to Libby Campbell Turner, in the central role of Violet, the harsh matriarch of the Weston family. We first see Violet helplessly struggling to form her words and thoughts as a result of her addiction to painkillers; the effect is shocking, especially for those familiar with Campbell Turner's assertive stage presence in any number of shows over the last several decades. Have no fear, however: Violet's coherence returns with a vengeance, as she tries to bring down each of her three daughters in turn. We chillingly realize that while the pills may have loosened her tongue, they surely didn't create her venom.

Violet's main adversary is her eldest daughter, Barbara, played by Dewey Scott-Wiley. She and Paul Kaufmann (as her husband Bill) are masters of the stage whisper, which they must employ for a marital spat that they desperately wish to remain unheard.  Scott-Wiley expertly depicts this ordinary yet complex character, as we see her first channeling her father in an alcohol-fueled intellectual ramble, then mirroring her mother, attempting in vain to control all around her, while still clad in her nightclothes.

Another standout is Gerald Floyd, as Violet's amiable but long-suffering brother-in-law whom she bitingly notes is now the family patriarch "by default," after her husband's disappearance. In a play where characters often naturalistically talk over one another, timing is everything, and Floyd is the champ, portraying a man who rarely gets a word in edgewise, yet always makes his point known.  Late in the third act, his demand that his wife (played by Elena Martinez-Vidal) show some shred of decency and compassion to their son, was for me perhaps the most moving moment in the play.

Another cast member whose vocal talent must be noted is Ellen Rodillo-Fowler, as the housekeeper Johnna. Brassy and feisty just a few weeks ago in Third Finger, Left Hand, here she plays soft and stoic, often pausing a half-second before most of her lines, and thus showing the depth and thought behind them.  Ron Hale, as Violet's husband, shines in the opening scene, waxing poetic and philosophical while concealing the depths of despair into which he has fallen. Sarah Crouch as the granddaughter Jean, Joe Morales as the local Sheriff, Kevin Bush as the supposed loser cousin "Little" Charles, Erin Wilson as the frustrated, plain-Jane middle daughter, and Robin Gottlieb as the somewhat spoiled youngest daughter who foolishly thinks she has escaped the family cycle, all do fine work, many playing against type.  Stann Gwynn as Gottlieb's fiancé has perhaps the fewest lines, but is memorable for making the audience wonder which is creepier: his interaction with Jean (which quickly moves into "Like to watch gladiator movies?" territory) or his career as a yuppie entrepreneur profiting from the Persian Gulf conflict.

One suspects that just as every great actor must try Hamlet in his youth, Macbeth in middle age and Lear as he gets older, so too must every playwright, Letts included, take a stab at a tragedy of family dysfunction.  August: Osage County presents us with no moral or lesson, but rather portrays people making the choices they must, but then living with the consequences.  I was reminded more than once during the show of a line spoken by Clint Eastwood in the film Gran Torino, about how "the thing that haunts a man most is what he isn't ordered to do."

Critics have called this the first great play of the new century. I'm not so sure I'd quite go that far, but there are certainly echoes of any number of classics:  Lillian Hellman's "little foxes, that spoil the vines," the spectre of substance abuse from A Long Day's Journey Into Night,  the bleak sense of frustration and yearning from  Chekhov's The Three Sisters and Turgenev's A Month in the Country, families coping with long-repressed secrets from Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Ibsen's The Wild Duck,  and a dozen Tennessee Williams works, and the domestic battles in the homes of academics from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and On Golden Pond.   Shoot, stick togas on the Westons and you'd basically have the cursed House of Atreus.  Time will tell if this is the latest retelling of eternal themes from the human experience, or a well-crafted pastiche of those themes, designed as an acting tour-de-force for a talented ensemble.

Either way, it rarely gets better than this if you want to see some of Columbia's finest performers flexing their dramatic muscles in some rich and juicy material. Director Thigpen made a wise choice for his finale, and deftly pulls it all together for a rich and thought-provoking evening at the theatre.

If you're going, note that the show runs a solid three and a half hours, with two intermissions, but it feels like not much more than two. Just be sure to make dinner and babysitter arrangements accordingly.  Call the Trustus Box Office at 254-9732 for ticket information.

 

~ August Krickel

Change is Good

Change is always good, but at no time is it better than when it benefits both the arts and humanity at the same time.

WACH TV, in conjunction with the City of Columbia and a whole slew of other partners, is once again sponsoring Change for Change, a community art project which benefits Columbia's Climate Protection Action Campaign. After having raised more than $7000 last year, this year's Change for Change campaign is bigger and better than ever. The brainchild of WACH TV's Kacey Liles and the City of Columbia's CPAP guru Mary Pay Baldauf, Change for Change recycles out-of-service parking meters, via the artistic sensibilities of some of Columbia's most innovative artists, and the result is public art that ranges from the whimsical to the intentionally scary.

Part of the Jasper crew had the opportunity to join WACH TV's Kristin Morris for coffee last week and we got the low-down on this year's campaign which kicks off this week with a preview from 5:30 until 8:30 on Wednesday night, October 19th, at anastasia & FRIENDS gallery at 1534 Main Street. At least six brand new recycled meters will be on hand as well as several of last year's favorites. According to Kristin, who acts as artist liaison, "I was literally overwhelmed by the talent last year, and we expect this year to be even better."

On the organizational side of the project, a few things have changed. For one thing, participating artists will recoup 10% of the proceeds of the sale of their creations. "We hope that will at least help to offset some of their expenses," Kristin explains.

The Wednesday night event will feature new work by Anastasia Chernoff, Paul Kaufmann, Matt Kramer, Katherine Elliott, Sammy Lopez, and James Lalumondier. Music will be provided by C. Neil Scott & Matt "Musician X" Falter - Sax & Drums/Percussion Duet. And from 8 until 8:30 the gallery will revisit last week's über - successful Black Light, Black Night -- An Ultraviolet Light Experience party for those who missed it on First Thursday.

But Wednesday night is when the fun is just beginning. Artists may still pick up parking meter canvasses and have plenty of time to prep them for the big show which will take place on December 20th at 701 Whaley. Meters and posts will be available Wednesday night. For more information go to http://www.midlandsconnect.com/changeforchange.

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