Jason Stokes Talks About Tail! Spin! Opening Friday Night at Trustus Theatre

It's easy for a performing arts organization, be it theatre, dance, or music-based, to stick with the safe bet. Fill the seats by offering shows your audience has become accustomed to. Go to the same old pool, season after season, and keep it all familiar so your organization can pay the rent. And as long as your audience never leaves the city limits they may not realize that one of the responsibilities of an arts organization is to nurture the cultural literacy of its audience by offering new works. Works that challenge or discomfit. Works that take chances. Works that go out on a limb and take the audience with them as they shakily find their balance, but ultimately enjoy the view. While too many organizations in Columbia adhere to this boring, stagnating, audience-offending policy -- and we'll be writing more about this soon -- at least, and thank whoever the god of the performing arts is for this, we have Trustus Theatre.
Yes, Trustus has some familiar fun coming up this season (Walter Graham plays the alien transvestite Frank N. Furter in the delicious Rocky Horror Picture Show, for example). But at the same time, Trustus never fails to continue to take chances. Be it via the Trustus Playwright's Festival which last month gave us Anatomy of a Hug, one of the oddest little, top-notch shows we've seen in a while -- fresh, brand new, exciting; or via shows like the one opening Friday night on the Cohn Side Door Stage -- Tail! Spin! 
Directed by Jason Stokes,  Tail! Spin! stars Stann Gwynn, Kevin Bush, Clint Poston, Joseph Eisenreich, and Ellen Rodillo-Fowler. We asked Stokes to tell us a bit about where the story came from and how he plans to bring it to the stage. Find his comments below and plan to come out to check out this fascinating and funny piece of political theatre. It's new and different, and it should be perfect for the political season.  - CB
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Directing Tail! Spin! by Jason Stokes 

Tail! Spin! chronicles the real life political scandals of Larry Craig, Anthony Weiner, Mark Foley and Mark Sanford using their own texts, emails, Facebook messages, IM’s, and interviews. Using their own public and private words to tell the story in my opinion changes this show from being just a strict “by the numbers” bio-play, into a dramedy version of reality. The show hinges on each person’s scandal, but at its core, the show really details the toll their  actions take on them, their families, and political careers while bringing them face to face with who they really are thanks in no small part the modern-day twenty-four hour media coverage.  Some of the men are unable, or unwilling, to accept this new self-revelation.
From the beginning, the most difficult task of directing this piece was finding the right balance between the acts of these men and their humorous attempts to spin the details to a more favorable outcome. It’s my opinion that in order to get to the US Senate, House or Governor’s mansion you must possess a certain amount of intelligence … even if the intelligence comes from a team; the individual must be smart enough to adhere to the sound advice of others.  But the politicians focused on in this play react like children with their hands caught in the proverbial cookie jar after their sexual indiscretions are discovered. And their mindset becomes “If I don’t admit anything, then nobody will know.”  As is so often the case with political scandal, the denial becomes worse than the act.
We find ourselves in a polarizing political and social climate at present. Compromise is a dirty word, if you’re a republican then the democrats have no validity in their thoughts or policies; and if you’re a democrat, the republicans have lost their minds and their party is a mess with no real hope of salvation and thus should be completely cast aside (Yes, I’m generalizing, but find any two members of either party and ask them to agree on something, anything).  Which is why this show comes to Columbia at the absolute right time. While the subject matter can be shocking and their attempt to keep it quiet should be laughed at, hopefully, the audience will see these men as flawed human beings who made really, really bad decisions that when pieced together the way the playwright has, prove quite hilarious. And maybe for a few moments, we can all be Americans enjoying a night of entertainment together, as one people, the way we should be. To quote Dennis Miller however... "Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong."
Jason Stokes first appeared at Trustus as Adam in 2002’s The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told.  Other Trustus roles include Roger in Rent, Rocky in The Rocky Horror Show, Luke in Next Fall. Other shows in the Columbia area include The Full Monty, Sleuth, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In January of this year he held a reading of his new screenplay Composure, detailing the murder of N.G. Gonzales by SC Lieutenant Gov. James Tillman, in the Trustus Side Door.  He has also written, produced and directed four films, the most recent film  blocked was featured in the 2nd Act Film Festival, presented by The Jasper Project. 

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

composure  

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Trustus Reprises A Christmas Carol

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A Poor Man’s Götterdämmerung (God bless you!) or Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Wagner from Fools in Thule - Arik Bjorn reviews Das Barbecü

  Somebody somewhere - probably with the encouragement of a little Schnapps - declared 2013 “The Year of Richard Wagner.”  And this wasn’t even an article in The Onion.  For this reason, opera companies and classical orchestras the world over have been scrambling to place the greatest of German composers on their season schedules.  This includes Opera at USC, which for its part has chosen to bless our community with a three-night performance beginning Friday, February 1, of Das Barbecü, a best-lil’-Ragnarök-in-Texas reworking of the fourth opera of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Götterdammerüng.

 

There are more than a handful of Wagner enthusiasts none too pleased to witness the canonical characters Siegfried and Brünnhilde hogtied and dragged to a dusty, smokehouse world of armadillos and Dallas pompadours.  (For this we can credit Seattle Opera General Director Speight Jenkins, who commissioned the work in 1991 in order “to counteract the heaviness of the Ring.”)  Then again, those who find Das Barbecü an irreverent toying with Wagner’s Ring Cycle might themselves wonder how the immortals of Asgard felt when Wagner lifted and rearranged so many elements from the Norse Eddas.  Stick that in your Texas crude and smoke it, Herr Komponist.

When asked why she chose this of all possible Wagner (or quasi-Wagner) showcases, director Ellen Schlaefer (also the director of Opera at USC) admits that “it’s fun and midwinter.”  She pauses to consider the fact that a Columbia winter does not exactly threaten the leaves of Yggdrasil with hoarfrost.  She explains that USC opera students have their own matriculating cycle:  during the course of their studies, students get performance shots at a Mozart opera, an operetta, and a musical.  (Over this year, community members have the opportunity to see Opera at USC perform Copland’s The Tender Land, the baseball opera Bambino, and Don Giovanni.)  Thus, the planets were simply aligned to fit into the worldwide Wagner celebration with a fun musical.

Schlaefer also notes that it is not necessary to know Wagner’s Ring Cycle in order to enjoy the performance.  While that is the case, to my mind, it actually works the other way around.  Das Barbecü could become the quintessential Wagner primer for 21st-century theatregoers.  After all, Götterdämmerung is not the easiest tale to follow, especially if you do not have the time to read the complete works of Snorri, nor to learn German.  There are Norns, rings of fire, various personages from Valhalla, plus two fairytale lovers Siegfried and Brünnhilde.  Oh, and there’s a Ring of Power which every character seems determined to possess - yet instead of a Gollum, there is a sniveling, greedy dwarf named Alberich.  In fact, what audience members quickly realize is there are more characters in this tumbleweed plot than you can shake a horny toad at — yet only a handful of actors.  For the innumerable costume and character transitions, the cast, led by long-time Columbia musical veteran Stann Gwynn (as Wotan, Gunther, et al.) and USC student Jared Ice (as Siegfried, Dwarf, et al), plus stage manager Kaley Smith, are due copious accolades.

The show is replete with just about every honkytonk stereotype in the book, including requisite songs about guacamole and hails to the great Lone Star State.  About halfway through the performance, the thought dawned on me that perhaps every literary stage epic should be rewritten with a Texas backdrop.  I would love to see Les Mis with a storming of the UT-Austin bell tower, or Tevye in a ten-gallon hat.

Truly deserving of praise is scenic designer Teddy Moore, who has turned the stage of Drayton Hall into a sprawling, ocher, bourbon bottle label, with cartoonesque backdrops and set pieces that play like candy to the eye during scene changes.  Equally pleasant are the splendid singing voices of the quartet of female actresses, Shelby Sessler, Christa Hiatt, Stephanie Beinlich, and Jordan Harper (Brünnhilde), as well as the live musical student performances directed and joined by USC faculty member Rebecca Phillips.  A final note of thespian praise goes to the aforementioned Ice, who plays the entire role as Alberich the Dwarf in a bent-knee-catcher position, which left my 40-year-old knees wincing all night long.

Asgard & Co. do not make rounds to Columbia very often.  I highly recommend a trip to the USC campus this weekend for a Lone Star/Valhalla hoedown.  You will laugh to beat the barbecue band, and then can brag to all your friends that you too participated in the great Global Wagner-Fest of 2013.

Das Barbecü runs February 1-3 at Drayton Hall on the University of South Carolina campus.  Drayton Hall is located at the corner of Greene and Bull Streets.  The February 1 and 2 performances are at 7:30 p.m.  The February 3 performance is at 3:00 p.m.  Performances are $5 for students, $15 for seniors/USC faculty & staff/military, and $20 for other adults.  For tickets, please call:  803.777.5369.  To learn more about Opera at USC, visit them on Facebook.

~ Arik Bjorn

 

Barefoot in the Park, Night of the Living Dead, Das Barbecu running this weekend!

Neil Simon's classic Barefoot in the Park runs another weekend at the Village Square Theatre in Lexington, this Friday, February 1st through Sunday, February 3rd. From press material:  Paul and Corie Bratter appear as different as they can be.  He's a straight-as-an-arrow lawyer, and she's a free spirit always looking for the latest kick. Their new apartment is her most recent find:  too expensive with bad plumbing and in need of a paint job. After a six-day honeymoon, they get a surprise visit from Corie's loopy mother, and decide to play matchmaker during a dinner with their neighbor-in-the-attic Velasco, where everything that can go wrong, does. Paul just doesn't understand Corie, as she sees it. He's too staid, too boring, and she just wants him to be a little more spontaneous, running "barefoot in the park" would be a start.

The show features the talents of Rachel Goerss as Corie Bratter, Michael Hazin as Paul Bratter, Gina Calvert as mother-in-law Ethel Banks, Dennis Kacsur as their eccentric neighbor Victor Valasco.  Harrison Ayer and Steven Nessel complete the cast.   For more information or tickets, contact the box office at (803) 359-1436.

 

 

 

 

 

Opening downtown on Main Street in the Tapp's Art Center on Friday, Feb. 1st is Night of the Living Dead, based on the 1968 film by George Romero.  From press material:  High Voltage Theatre, the Southeast’s premiere performance company dedicated to presenting classic and modern horror on stage, brings to Columbia the granddaddy of all zombie stories! The play is adapted and directed by Chris Cook and features Hollywood-level special FX make-up, stage combat,  firearms, and hordes of man-eating zombies! A true classic of American cinema is now the hottest theatrical event in Columbia of 2013! Reviving the edgy, off-beat, Chicago-style theatre that put High Voltage on the Midlands map in 2002.

Night of the Living Dead promises to shock, thrill, chill, and excite audiences currently on a steady diet of The Walking Dead. Yes, "We're coming to get you, Columbia!"

 

For reservations please call: 803-754-5244

Tickets: $15 per person

8 PM curtain for all the performances at the Fountain Room in the bottom of Tapp's Art Center.

Runs: Friday and Saturday February 1st, 2nd, 8th, 9th, 15th and 16th!

 

 

Starring: (In order of appearance)

Mary Miles as "Barbara" Harrison Ayer/ Michael Layer as "Johnny" Marques Moore as "Ben" Chris Cook as "Harry Cooper" Jenna Sach as "Judy" Evelyn Clary as "Helen Cooper" Mazie Cook as "Karen"

Meanwhile, over on campus, Opera at USC presents: Das Barbecu by Jim Luigs and Scott Warrender on Friday, February 1st and Saturday, February 2nd at 7:30 PM, and Sunday February 3rd at 5:30 PM, at Drayton Hall.    "A re-telling of Wagner's Ring Cycle. This time set in Texas.”

Featuring Jared Ice (recently seen as Don Giovanni) Jasper Theatre Artist of the Year Finalist Shelby Sessler, Jordan Harper, Stephanie Beinlich (recently seen as Cendrillion) Stann Gwynn (recently seen as George in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf") and Christa Hiatt.

 

$5 - Students $15 - Seniors/ USC Faculty & Staff/ Military $20 - Adults

FOR TICKETS CALL (803) 777-5369

Rebecca Phillips, Conductor Ellen Schlaefer, Director Lynn Kompass, Musical Preparation Anna Dragoni, choreographer Teddy Moore, scenic designer Chet Longley, lighting designer

 

 

 

"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" at Workshop Theatre - a review by August Krickel

Shattered survivors struggle over scraps of nourishment in a barren, apocalyptic wasteland in Workshop Theatre's new production of Edward Albee's classic play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  At least, it seems that way, as we spend a few desperate hours in the alcohol-fueled, vitriol-filled lives of a seriously disturbed, and disturbing, married couple, George and Martha. Audiences eager to experience Albee's dark fable with no holds barred will undoubtedly get their money's worth and then some, thanks to brilliant characterizations by a committed cast. Metaphors notwithstanding, the set-up for Who's Afraid is deceptively simple: two academic couples drink, carouse, and argue into the wee hours of the morning. Martha drunkenly and shrewishly criticizes George's shortcomings as a husband, a professor, and a man; he returns fire with wry, catty observations on said drunken shrewishness. Like rival boxers engaged in a harmless exhibition bout, often one or the other can't resist sneaking in a sucker punch or two. Neither really knows where to draw the line, but a bizarre game/deception has enabled the marital battle to rage on for 23 years. Like many, I read this play many years ago, and saw the Burton-Taylor film version, but I had forgotten how devastatingly witty the dialogue is. Elena Martinez-Vidal portrays Martha as an aging Snookie, the once-scandalous college president's daughter, now using booze and random affairs to carry her through a seemingly unhappy marriage. For Martha, it's far easier to get laughs from a clever play on the author Woolf's name and the nursery rhyme, than to actually discuss (or understand) Woolf's work.  Stann Gwynn as George wears a natty, professorial blazer, but sinks his hands deep into its pockets as if it were an old sweater, indicating general despair. Oddly, however, he is verbally clever and quick, nimbly playing with words, images and ideas; if this brilliant man's career has stalled, one wonders how responsible his drunken wife may have been in the squashing his ambitions. Both leads are at the top of their acting game, utterly believable as these amusing yet unlikeable characters.

Lee Williams and Giulia Marie Dalbec play a younger couple, labeled Nick and Honey in the program, although Nick is never referred to by name, and only he ever calls to his wife, as "honey."  Dalbec is either offstage or passed out (or both) for almost half of the play, but does a great job in a radically different role for her, playing mousy rather than the usual vivacious. During long stretches while others are speaking, she is always completely in character, busy with countless, unobtrusive little bits of business that make perfect sense.  It would be very easy to say that Williams seems awkward and self-conscious... except that Nick the character is supposed to be seen that way.  One could add that he is at times overwhelmed by the forceful personalities of the two leads...yet again, the character is written that way. Albee never gives Nick the lines to establish him as a scholar or scientist; in fact, in many ways he seems to be a younger, blander, incomplete version of George himself, with modest career goals, a wife who can't hold her liquor, a wealthy and larger-than-life father-in-law, and unspoken issues in his past. (The Trekkie in me wants Nick and Honey to be George and Martha from some alternate universe, visiting via a temporal flux, but no such luck.) Overall, Williams does his best with a difficult role.

I might have wanted to see a deeper debate on science vs. history or philosophy, but Albee is working in a different direction entirely, as the couples spend a solid two and a half hours (plus intermissions) seemingly fighting over nothing.  There's a central (and famous) plot twist that I won't reveal here, but in retrospect, it seems telegraphed from early in the first act, but I'm uncertain how newcomers to the show will perceive it.  Martha tells George that he doesn't know the difference between truth and illusion, to which he replies "No, but we must carry on as though we did."  In interviews, the playwright has professed a desire to aggressively engage the audience in the business of understanding the material, and accordingly we have to fill in many of the blanks and connect the dots for George and Martha's backstory and motivations. Only at the very end do we glimpse the actual affection and co-dependency shared by the couple, which then explains much of the dysfunctional fiction they have created, but audiences, scholars and critics have spent the last half century debating just how believable and effective that may be, from a literary standpoint. From a dramatic standpoint, it's quite moving.

Director Cynthia Gilliam allows the fast and furious dialogue to proceed naturally, never missing any of the many laugh lines that pepper the dark material.  I was surprised at how fresh and contemporary the 50-year-old script seemed, with just the tiniest hint of the Mad Men era, before certain modern expressions became common.  Costumes (by Janet Kile) are authentic, and yet could be worn today; a couple of random references to the Depression and World War 2 are the only things to indicate the setting. Towards the show's conclusion, George recites part of a Latin requiem, while Martha recounts an often-told story. Gilliam cleverly takes advantage of Gwynn's rich voice and has him actually sing the words, giving the moment a haunting beauty that is not otherwise found in the original.  Randy Strange's set accurately depicts an ordinary, upper-middle class living room, but I must praise whoever dressed the set (I'm guessing Meg Richards, credited for props.) Among all the customary suburban bric-a-brac are two framed photos, and sure enough, they are youthful portraits of Gwynn and Martinez-Vidal.

The ultimate question becomes: did I enjoy the play?  My answer is that I thoroughly enjoyed and admired the performances by the cast, and the new insights gained into the material via the director's vision.  I’d really question someone who actually enjoys Albee, much as one might admire the first ten minutes of Saving Pvt. Ryan, but not technically enjoy them.  Albee is one of the giants of contemporary theatre, and undeniably a genius, although possibly a mad genius. Joe Six-Pack who might otherwise be watching WWE Raw will likely not appreciate this work (although it features similar smackdowns and trash-talking!)  Any literate adults with backgrounds or interests in literature, sociology or psychology, and who want to see challenging themes acted out live by gifted performers, need to see this production.  With only seven performances left in a 199-seat theatre, there's no excuse for there not to be standing room only.  The show runs through Sat. Nov. 24th, i.e. the Saturday after Thanksgiving, contact the Workshop Box Office at 803-799-6551, or visit http://www.workshoptheatre.com for ticket information.

~ August Krickel

Cynthia Gilliam reflects on her upcoming production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" at Workshop Theatre

Veteran Midlands director Cynthia Gilliam, one of the founders of Workshop Theatre, recently took time to chat with Jasper Theatre Editor August Krickel about her upcoming production of an Edward Albee classic. Jasper: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is currently being produced on Broadway in a very high-profile revival - why do you think it still resonates with audiences?

Cynthia Gilliam:  For me, Albee's script is as timeless as Macbeth. Delicately balanced between comedy and tragedy, I believe this play will be staged again and again, right on into the foreseeable future. While George and Martha are bickering, disappointed, aging, alcoholics, they are deeply in love with each other. Their marriage, like the play, is a tightly wound tragicomedic concoction bound to endure. While (the) script is incredibly heavy lifting for actors, it is a different experience for the audience, when it is well played.  First-timers are as amazed and delighted at the rich comedy in the script as they are raked by the anger and vitriol there.

Jasper:  Albee has said that he wants audiences still to be completely entranced by and caught up in his shows even as they leave the theatre.  What sort of ideas/themes/messages do you hope audiences will take from this show?

CG:  However they are wounded, most people manage to make their way through life as best they can. Those with scars seek others similarly wounded, and they accommodate each other, often with made up games, hearty laughter, and a good sex. The cards we are what they are. We must deal with what we are dealt.

Jasper:  This is the 50th anniversary of the original Broadway premiere of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.  However, you've done this show previously in Columbia?

Cynthia Gilliam:  This marks my third, and most likely final, encounter with (this) play. I produced and directed it the first time with Milton Dixon as George, and Bette Herring as Martha at the Playbox Theater, housed in an old Postal Office in Eau Claire. Years passed, and Russell Green, former head of the Theater Department at USC and an incredible director, cast me as Martha opposite Bob Hungerford’s George in a production staged at Charlton Hall Antiques Gallery on Gervais Street.   Acting with Hungerford was a stellar experience, and Russell was a whiz, with a very firm hand. We were gypsies back in those days, but we managed to stage credible productions, get decent reviews, draw good crowds, pay our bills, share what was left over, and do exactly as we pleased. Adding up the days and nights spent on these first endeavors would likely equal five months of living inside this script. Martha was my very last appearance as an actress.

Jasper:  Stann Gwynn and Elena Martinez-Vidal (profiled in Jasper 004 as one of Columbia's "leading ladies") play George and Martha in this production.  Just like with the Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor film version, it may be hard for local audiences to realize that Stann and Elena are old enough for these roles.  Have you worked with them before?

CG:  This production is my first opportunity to work with Stann, although I have admired his talent on many occasions.  He and Elena cast me as their director, and I responded to their call!  Elena and I go way, way back. We have been talking for several years about working together again.

Jasper:  We've followed the career of Giulia Dalbec-Matthews for a number of years, and are so impressed with the increasingly complex and challenging roles she has taken on in the last year.  Still, the vulnerable character of Honey is very different from anything she has done on stage previously - how did you come to cast her?

CG:  I have made a point of trying to see everything (on stage) I can this year, as I want to do more, and need to know what everyone is doing, and how well. Lucky for me, I saw Legally Blonde at Workshop, primarily because my daughter, Liz, is involved in producing the show at Dreher High School, and she wanted to see it.  I was struck with the incredible energy and focus coming from Giulia, (and so) I cast Giulia based on her performance in Blonde.  I believe Giulia is very serious about growing herself as an actress.  Wise beyond her years, her intuition tells her that the more roles she tucks into her resume, the more she can widen her range of opportunities. To become the best actress you can possibly be, you have to practice the craft regularly, stay on the lookout for roles that will give you growing pains and lengthen your reach. I admire her for taking on this part, and she is making it all her own. She is very “directable.”

Jasper:  We profiled veteran Workshop Theatre set designer Randy Strange this summer in Jasper 006. How is he to work with?

CG:  To borrow from Mr. Albee, Randy is “a beanbag”. He is the perfect collaborator. Because of Randy, this cast will have more than ten days to rehearse on a complete, furnished, and finished set. He has made a very challenging prop called for in the show, and I tested it three days ago. I irritate the snot out of him, but he endures and produces just what I need. Who could ask for more?

Jasper:  Big-budget musicals are always a hit locally, and sometimes so are new, name-brand dramas, but this show is 50-yrs. old, and touches on issues not everyone might relate to (academia, middle-age, upper-middle-class malaise, etc.)  Why should a Columbian theatre-goer come see this show?

CG:  Theatre-goers should come to this show for the same reason they would attend a fine production of Hamlet. Virginia Woolf is an American classic, and, as you said, it is over 50 years old. Yet, people are still putting it up on the stage all over the country. It is worth hearing and seeing every decade or so.  Were I in Chicago next week and a production was running there, I would book tickets as soon as I got to my hotel.   I do not believe it will wilt with time or fall from favor. There is so much in this script that is yet to be mined and put on display.

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Ticket information can be found at http://www.workshoptheatre.com/ or by calling the box office at 803-799-6551 from noon to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.  Show dates are Nov. 9-11, 14-18, and 23-24.  All performances are at 8:00 PM, except for matinees on Sunday Nov. 11 and 18.