REVIEW: USC's The Crucible by Frank Thompson

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

New Film in Works -- "Rising" by Ron Hagell with Terrance Henderson

Rising_Logo “Rising ”is a new contemporary dance film by Ron Hagell, with choreography by Terrance Henderson. It is being made for The Jasper Project as a part of the “Marked by the Water” commemoration of the first anniversary of the 1000 Year Flood on October 4, 2016.

 

Both Hagell and Henderson have felt strongly that the artists of Columbia need to “make artwork” in response to this major event that brought upheaval to so many lives in our hometown. To that end both artists, experienced in dance and filmmaking, came together to devise this new work.

 

The artists were close to some of those whose homes were engulfed on the night of October 4, 2015 particularly along Gills Creek in the Rosewood section of the city. In the aftermath many had lost a lifetime’s worth of treasured possessions and their homes but thankfully, with the help of neighbors and strangers, few lives were lost.

 

Talking through the disaster’s lead-up and with a good deal of knowledge of the community since the flood, both felt that there has been a change in our community and that a comment about this could be the starting point for new work.

 

If we think back to our state and town in the years and months leading up to this event it is clear that South Carolina has been in a socio-cultural slump for some time. There were many problems that came to a head prior to the flood. The Charleston shooting happened and this lead to the final chapter in the decades long struggle to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from the Statehouse grounds. While one negative incident led to a positive one, the economic and political plight of many blacks and other citizens of the state did not change. Old problems of inequality and racial division seemed as intractable as ever. The SC State Supreme Court ruling regarding basic education rights for all children showed us how serious the situation had become. But many still believed that, even with these news headlines, change would only come in the far distant future - if at all.

 

Then the flood came.

 

Since the flood came so quickly and waters rose to heights never before witnessed in living memory, those affected needed a great deal of assistance from across the whole community. In most areas the destruction was so great that normal services could not cope. In these cases many communities saw neighbors and stranger helping each other in a myriad of ways regardless of race or social standing. The flood brought down barriers and in their place we have felt a change that has stayed around. It’s a ripple on the surface of our town, where history runs deeper than the three rivers. But it’s there and we hope it will lead to a new beginning and a bridge to change.

 

Our dance film speaks to this hopeful future but rests in the arms of our Southern traditional/spiritual music. As with most contemporary dance, every element of the work is symbolic. The historic photograph stands-in for much that is lost – washed away by the waters. But still our victim is helped to rise from the flood into a new life with the help of others.

 

 

 

 

“Rising” Film Production Organization:

Production: Studio 53 – Contact: Ron Hagell or Shirley Smith

Telephone: (917) 216-2098 or (803) 609-0840

r.hagell@gmail.com

Filmmaker (script and direction) – Ron Hagell

Choreographer and Music Arranger – Terrance Henderson

Principal Vocalist – Katrina Blanding

Supporting Vocals – Terrance Henderson and Kendrick Marion

Art Director – Eileen Blyth

Auditions are currently underway for dancers and additional crew. The film will be completed in late September for screening on October 4, 2016.

This film is being produced under the auspices of the Jasper Project as a part of “Marked by the Water,” under the leadership of Cynthia Boiter, Ed Madden and Mary Gilkerson.

 

 

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.”

Five Days Out from an Experiment on You.

Jay 2014 graphic  

At Jasper, we're five days away from an experiment we hope you'll help make successful.

When we started Jasper over three years ago, we set the policy that we would always celebrate the release of a new magazine with a large, free, multi-arts party that usually includes a variety of performances.  We've had concerts from both new and established rock 'n' roll bands, films, readings, opera singers singing from the balcony, gallery exhibits, excerpts from local theatre -- you name it, we've either done it or it's in our plans to do. The point was twofold: to bring artists and arts lovers from various disciplines together to help foster community and collaboration, and simply to celebrate the fact that another issue of Jasper was coming out when we said it would, like we said it would.

By now I hope we've earned your trust and that you look forward to these celebrations as much as we do.

As most readers know, Jasper is a labor of love and only made possible because more than 20 artists of various disciplines go home after their day jobs, and work to plan, write, photograph, and design this magazine by the midnight oil. Like all artists who go home from offices and commercial endeavors to their studios and stages, their guitars and cameras and pads of paper to the work that makes life a little more meaningful, we don't have to do this. We do it because we want to.

This will be the 20th time we've done this, in fact. And we want you to help us celebrate it.

Join us this Friday night, November 21st, as we announce and celebrate our third class of Jasper Artists of the Year (JAYs) in dance, theatre, music, and literary and visual arts, and celebrate the publication of the 20th issue of Jasper Magazine.  We wanted to do something special to mark this occasion, and start a tradition of honoring the artists of the year, so we decided a gala or party of sorts was in order. Not one of those parties though in which no working artist could afford to attend. We asked around and found out that $25 for an evening of entertainment complete with delicious snacks from one of the best caterers in town and an open bar of wine and beer seemed like a good and fair deal. We asked Vicky Saye Henderson to help us with the entertainment, along with Terrance Henderson who will serve as our emcee. Richard Durlach and Breedlove will be on hand both to dance, demonstrate and be honored. The illustrious Scott Hall agreed to grace us with his culinary skills. And we're putting together a bar that we hope you'll be talking about for days.

Our research question is this:  Will members of the Columbia arts community come out once a year and pay for entrance to an event they usually come to for free as a way of showing support to Jasper and honoring our 2014 Jasper Artists of the Year?

We hope you'll make our experiment a success by answering Yes and clicking here.

~~~~~

Seven Things You May Not Know about

Jasper Magazine

1.  In its 4th year of publication Jasper Magazine has provided unmatched coverage of the greater Columbia arts community, and has inspired collaboration and growth both between and within artistic communities including dance, film, literary arts, music, theatre, and the visual arts.

2. Jasper has covered more than 1000 artists in its pages and hundreds more in its daily blog What Jasper Said.

3. Jasper Magazine is distributed for free in almost 100 locations throughout Columbia, as well as in select locations throughout South Carolina, is available online in its entirety, and in every branch of the Richland Library system.

 

4. Via its highly active website and dynamic blog, Jasper endeavors to bring Columbia arts news and opportunities into readers’ homes on a daily basis.

5. In June 2014, Jasper collaborated with the University of South Carolina Press, Richland Library, and One Columbia for Arts and History to launch to critical acclaim the newest literary journal in the southeast, Fall Lines – a literary convergence.

 

6. In May, 2014 Jasper editor Cindi Boiter was awarded the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts for her work with Jasper Magazine.

7. As a no-profit labor-of-love, Jasper eschews advertorial financial support in favor of artistic integrity, relying solely on advertising dollars, reader support, and the kindness of members of the Columbia arts community at large.

Jasper would like to thank our sponsors for the

2014 JAY Awards ~ Big Apple Swing

City Art

Burt Pardue and Site-Image Website Design

HoPF

Jodi and Jeff Salter

Wade Sellers and Coal Powered Filmworks

Billy Guess

Pura

anonymous

Kristian Niemi and Bourbon

"Ajax in Iraq" at USC's Longstreet Theatre - a review by Kyle Petersen

Ajax-webbanner-830px_0  

All Photos by Jason Ayer Aiax-1.jpg Shown: Jamie Boller as A.J. Ajax-2.jpg Shown: Jasmine James as Athena Ajax-3.jpg Shown:  Jamie Boller (left) as A.J. and Jasmine James as Athena Ajax-4.jpg Shown:  Jamie Boller (left) as A.J. and Jasmine James as Athena

It’s hard not to applaud Theatre South Carolina for picking Ajax in Iraq to open its 2014-2015 season. Playwright Ellen McLaughlin forges a conceptually complex narrative that intertwines Sophocles’ original Greek tragedy, a play often used as a discussion tool for military veterans and civilians both to explore the deleterious effects of wartime on an individual’s psyche, with the modern-day tale of a female soldier in Iraq who, after demonstrating a heroism similar to that of the storied tragedian’s protagonist, is raped by a superior officer and suffers from PTSD.   In the process, McLaughlin takes on the politics of our invasion and occupation of Iraq, the geopolitics of the region, the philosophical and psychological issues at the heart of all war, America’s treatment of its combat veterans, and the problem of sexual abuse in the military — all extraordinarily relevant issues for a generation of college students who have essentially spent their entire lives with our nation at war. That’s a lot of meat for this almost exclusively undergraduate cast to bite off.

All Photos by Jason Ayer Aiax-1.jpg Shown: Jamie Boller as A.J. Ajax-2.jpg Shown: Jasmine James as Athena Ajax-3.jpg Shown:  Jamie Boller (left) as A.J. and Jasmine James as Athena Ajax-4.jpg Shown:  Jamie Boller (left) as A.J. and Jasmine James as Athena

Fortunately, this talented group were game for a challenge. Both Jamie Boller as AJ, the female protagonist, and Jasmine James as the goddess Athena, who narrates both storylines, shows poise and depth in their performances, with the former giving a nuanced treatment of the dramatic emotional swells her role was tasked with, and the latter providing a dynamic treatment to the lengthy monologues that are often weighed down with the heavy expositional load that the character carries. Reginald Leroy Kelly, Jr. was also a standout, with an impressive physical presence that brought Ajax’s bloodthirsty hysteria to life. The undergraduate ensemble cast as a whole dove into the play with verve, and captured the unsettling but time-honored truth that all wars are fought by children.

 

 

It’s also worth noting that the scenic design by Andy Mills was quite astute, with a gorgeously craggy set of stones with the fractured geography of Iraq outlined in chalk, and a small covered pit lowered in the center that provided an important literal and symbolic space for Ajax’s descent into madness. Director Peter Duffy’s blocking and Terrance Henderson’s choreography also made expert use of the theater-in-the-round framework, and the entire production team brought an impressive level of thought and poise to the table.

ajax-poster-200pxHowever, the play itself often felt too limited by its wide grasp. The vast majority of the story was told, rather than shown, to the audience, both by Athena as narrator and the Greek chorus of American soldiers. While on a microlevel McLaughlin’s words had power, the net effect felt too much like a rambling, lengthy, unfocused sermon. Relatively little time was actually spent on the most emotionally and thematically fraught element of the play, the details of AJ’s psychological trauma. Instead, lengthy digressions were taken to incorporate a Victorian spin on the history of the Middle East in the 20th century and what amounted to a PSA about homeless vets. And, while the Ajax story obviously recognizes the long history of soldiers psychologically traumatized by war, I feel as if McLaughlin did a disservice to AJ’s story by pairing it so unproblematically with the Greek tragedy. After all, being raped by a superior officer is categorically and qualitatively different than failing to be properly recognized for one’s efforts, and apart from actually staging the rape, the play had relatively little to say on the subject, a pity given the enormity of the problem - women who served in the war were more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than die in combat.

 Jasmine James as Athena - photo by JAson Ayer

That said, the play is littered with powerful moments, among them the deft explication of how soldiers mostly end up fighting for love of one another more than any national, ideological, or moral reason, and a powerfully staged rape scene that placed the actors across the stage from one another and captured a cold, alienating sense of aloneness surrounding that act of violence that’s difficult to connote with a literal depiction. (The play also wisely closed on the lit images of soldier’s graves with the actors taking discrete bows from the edges—a sobering way to keep the focus on the issues rather than the theatrics of the performance.)

There’s no doubt that the subject matter and staging of such traumatic stories are worthwhile, and many will likely leave these performances with a heightened sense of our nation’s collective failure to grapple with the immense psychological damage our decade at arms has caused a generation of American soldiers. But I also can’t help but see the play as a bit too heavy-handed in its polemics and remiss in its elision of the extraordinary gender inequities in today’s military. These detractions limit the ability of the play to contribute to an important, underserved conversation around these issues. Despite McLaughlin’s considerable gifts, Ajax in Iraq will always feel like a bit of a failure because of that alone.

~ Kyle Petersen

Show times for Ajax in Iraq are 8pm Wednesdays through Saturdays, with additional 3pm matinees on Sunday, October 5 and Saturday, October 11.  Tickets for the production are $12 for students, $16 for USC faculty/staff, military personnel and seniors 60+, and $18 for the general public.  Tickets can be purchased by calling 803-777-2551 or by visiting the Longstreet Theatre box office, which is open Monday-Friday, 12:30pm-5:30pm, beginning Friday, September 26th.  Longstreet Theatre is located at 1300 Greene St.

Trustus Theatre's 30th Anniversary Talk Back Schedule

Trustus 30  

  

Jasper loves back-talk -- and talk back sessions, as well, and Trustus Theatre is kicking off its thirtieth anniversary season with Christopher Durang’s hilarious “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” winner of the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play, with an intriguing talk back session scheduled the second weekend of the performance. The show runs through September 27th, with the first audience talk-back of the season following the matinee on September 21st with guest respondent Jemme Stewart who will be discussing the mental health of the stage family, and helping us explore their family dynamics.

Not THAT Jimmy Stewart --

 

Jemme Stewart

Co-founder of Upstream: A Center for Mindfulness Practice and Holistic Mental Health, Jemme has been contributing to the field of mental health for over 40 years. She obtained her Masters of Nursing Science In Psychiatric Nursing from the University of South Carolina and after ten years of working in a local psychiatrist office, she founded Carolina Psychotherapy  Center in 1981.  Jemme, along with co-founder Dr. Hilda White, sees the creation of Upstream as the perfect opportunity to bring a very positive and research-based skill set to a wide range of people in South Carolina. Jemme’s interest in founding Upstream with Dr. White was influenced by her growing awareness that MBSR skills are powerful practices to use as an adjunct to those in therapy, as well as all persons interested in stress management.

Adam Corbett, Daniel Machado, and Chad Henderson at a talk-back for Constance, part of Premieres presented by Trustus Theatre and Jasper

 

The seven-show Mainstage season will also include the return of last season’s sell-out family friendly show, “A Christmas Carol” and two musicals: an update of the hit 70s’ musical “Godspell,” and the award-winning “Dreamgirls.” The Mainstage will also feature two dramas: the first part of a three-part trilogy, “In the Red and Brown Water,” by the young Tarell Alvin McCraney; and “Other Desert Cities,” by Jon Robin Baitz. The season will conclude with the 2014 Trustus New Play winner, “BigCity.”

For each production, one performance will feature a post-show talk-backs with experts in subjects related to the productions, giving audience members the chance to discuss their reactions to each show and ask questions about its content. 

 

There's more ...

In addition, Trustus will present four plays at its Richard and Debbie Cohn Side Door Theatre, the annual Vista Queen Pageant and Henderson Bros. Burlesque, and several special events.

 

MARK YOUR CALENDARS FOR THE FOLLOWING DATES:

 

“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” through Sept. 27, 2014. By Christopher Durang, directed by Jim O’Connor, with talk-back September 21st. Winner of the 2013 Tony Award for Best Play, 2013 Drama Desk Award for Best Play and 2013 Outer Critic’s Award for Best New Broadway Play.

 

“A Christmas Carol,” Nov. 21–Dec. 20, 2014. Based on the novel by Charles Dickens, A new adaptation by Patrick Barlow, directed by Chad Henderson, with talk-back December 14th.

 

“In the Red and Brown Water,” Jan. 23–Feb. 7, 2015. By Tarell Alvin McCraney and directed by Chad Henderson, with talk-back February 1st.

 

“Godspell,”  March 27–Apr. 11, 2015. Based on the gospel according to St. Matthew with music and lyrics by Stephen Sachwartz and book by John-Michael Tebelak, directed by Dewey Scott Wiley, with talk-back March 29th. Nominated for the 1971 Tony Award for Best Original Score, 1971 Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Composer and 1971 Drama Desk Award for Most Promising Lyricist.

 

“Other Desert Cities,” May 8–23, 2015. By Jon Robin Baitz, directed by Jim Thigpen, with talk-back May 10th. Nominated for the 2012 Tony Award for Best Play and  2012 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Drama.

 

“Dreamgirls,” June 26–Aug. 1, 2015. Book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Krieger, directed by Terrance Henderson, with talk-back July 26th. Winner of the 1982 Drama Desk Award for Best Book, 1982 Tony Award for Best Book and 1983 Grammy Award for Best Cast Show Album.

 

“Big City,” Aug 14 –22, 2015. By Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich, winner of the 2014 Trustus New Play Festival. Talk-back TBA

 

The Richard and Debbie Cohn Side Door Theatre season includes:

 

”The Other Place,” Oct 17–Nov 1, 2014. By Sharr White, directed by Jim O’Connor with talk-back October 19th.

 

“Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays,” January 3–17, 2015. A collection of plays by Mo Gaffney, Jordan Harrison, Moisés Kaufman, Neil LaBute, Wendy MacLeod, José Rivera, Paul Rudnick, and Doug Wright and conceived by Brian Shnipper, directed  by Elena Martínez-Vidal with talk-back January 11th.

 

”You Better Sit Down: Tales from My Parents’ Divorce,” Feb. 27 – Mar. 14, 2015. By Anne Kauffman, Matthew Maher, Caitlin Miller, Jennifer R. Morris, Janice Paran, and Robbie Collier Sublett, directed by Scott Herr with talk-back February 22nd.

 

“Bill W. and Dr. Bob,” May 29–June 13, 2015. By Samuel Shem and Janet Surrey, directed by Dewey Scott Wiley with talk-back May 31. Winner of the 2010 Regional British Columbia Drama Festival for Best Play.

 

 

 

For Trustus ticket prices and reservations as well as information on other happenings, please see trustus.org or call the box office at (803) 254-973.

 

Giving Voice to Terrance Henderson - Guest blog by Larry Hembree, Managing Director of Trustus Theatre

Terrance Henderson

Years ago when I was working for the SC Arts Commission in the performing arts arena, I had a strong understanding of theatre and a basic one of music  but I always struggled with dance, especially my ability to articulate what contemporary dance performances are about, what they mean and how they made me feel.  I came to realize that I simply wanted more context before I saw a contemporary dance performance. 

Over the next three weeks, I am going to tackle the challenge of explaining who Jasper Dance Artist of the Year, Terrance Henderson, is and what you should know about the upcoming premiere of his contemporary performance piece, “The Black Man… Complex” as part of the new Trustus Theatre and Jasper Magazine’s “Premieres” series. His performances are at 8 p.m. August 20 and 22 in the Thigpen Main Stage at Trustus Theatre.  For those who don’t know Terrance, among other things he was the winner of the 2009 Bronze Leo Award for Outstanding Jazz Dance Choreography at the Jazz Dance World Congress in Chicago and the only South Carolinian to ever win the award. 

Early Terrance

Terrance grew up in Newberry SC and took part in an after school theatre program there, eventually spending some time in Minneapolis at age 15 (when he didn’t get into the SC Governor’s School for the Arts) working  in a program produced by the Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis.  It was in Minneapolis when he learned about public transit, i.e. how to ride a city bus. He also realized that being Southern was “something different.”  He always thought he would become an actor and eventually enrolled at the University of South Carolina as an undergraduate in the theatre department.  He also decided to take some dance classes there and dance instructors saw that he had potential.  And the ability to do both theatre and dance started somewhat of a struggle.  At USC, the theatre department thought he was more of a dancer and the dance department thought he was more of an actor.  Obvious to Terrance, however, was that he would never make a living in ballet with a body that just didn’t fit in to that world.

I am hoping that people who do know Terrance’s work locally, and who have him pegged as a choreographer of musicals and dance pieces, a dancer and an actor/singer and a uniquely innate dance and movement teacher, see this work and think of him in a new way.   Terrance says he sometimes has a difficult time maintaining his own artistic identity because as a choreographer he often works under a director and is part of that dream, not necessarily being able to affirm his own dream.  But in this dream he is the sole creator.

The Voice and early snippets of this premiere

Ten years ago Terrance was participating in a text to movement class at the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, Maine where he had a profound out of body experience brought on by his grief from the death of his grandmother. Through this experience, it became clear to him that as an artist he had permission, the responsibility and the talent to be a catalyst for change. In about 2006, he began to keep a journal where he wrote down his private thoughts about the world around him, specifically tied to who he was and how his role in society was manifested.  Much of the text of the premiere comes from this journal. In 2011 the initial concepts of The Black Man…Complex began sparked by Terrance’s invitation to be a guest artist with a repertory company at the Rogue Festival in Fresno, California. Here, he presented a ten-minute duet called “Two Brothers.”  The following year he applied to be a part of the festival and created another short piece called “A Hole in My Bucket.”  These were the initial works that became part of this larger Columbia premiere.

I am always intrigued by why artists choose to create the work they do and the process of creation, how things begin and when an artist knows when to put the brakes on the initial creation process and just present their work.

The Work

Since this work is his own personal journey capturing his thoughts about his identity and how he participates in the acceptance of that identity, he calls upon all of his skills as a singer, actor, dancer, writer and poet to create “the voice” that drives the piece. The entire work is actually ten separate pieces but he most likely will not present all of them …yet.   As far as the actual production (which is one act without an intermission) Terrance formally describes it as “A tapestry of movement, sound and images incorporating original text and choreography with a wide variety of music.”   The performers are Mario McLean, Jabar Hankins, Kendrick Marion, Jonathan Smith, Sam McWhite and Henderson.  With sections of the piece including titles like “A Farewell to Obligation,” “We Are The Sons of Misunderstanding" and “Naked Soul and My Feet,” it might seem driven by an episodic narrative but Terrance insists that in order to work audiences must be moved by the whole tapestry and that its success will lie in its feeling inherently organic, never like a “show.”

I am somewhat guilty in trying to assign meaning and motivation to everything artistic and creative and I beg Terrance to tell me whether this work is a tension filled angst ridden work informed by his being a black man growing up in the South but he simply won’t go there and says it’s not about black or white or color.  I am curious and excited to see how his voice interprets inequality, racism, homophobia and the struggle of the black man … on some level, things that are part of my own understanding of being a Southerner.

The Experience for Me

The original audiences who saw the first shorter incarnations of the work in California were audiences used to understanding avant garde performances and original works.   Terrance hopes that the content of this first Southern premiere will be even more meaningful to the audience who should identify with that aspect of the work that West Coast audience may not have understood. But I ask him if I going to feel uncomfortable watching the performance.  Without missing a beat, he says that because he embraces and respects the power of art, he takes his responsibility as a human and creator very serious and that “comfortable” or “uncomfortable” are not concepts that enter the creative process.  In this instance, it’s not his job to entertain but to awaken.

Original work is something that I have always been interested in and have participated in as a writer, director and actor.  One of the major reasons for presenting this work is that Trustus wants to become more aggressive in presenting new live work eventually branding it as part of the Trustus identity.  The challenges are many from engaging an audience to participate to figuring out what the next steps are once a piece is performed or executed. 

Where do we go from here?

After each performance there will be a facilitated discussion with the audience about the work so that Terrance can get constructive feedback to help mold the next performance.  He does not see this performance as the end of the work but hopes to get some great footage and submit it to other places to allow him to continue to grow the piece.

terrance dancing 2

There is nothing more fun than to sit in a room of artists and talk about who has influenced their work the most. Terrance remembers seeing Alvin Ailey who he saw on the Phil Donahue show as a kid which was the first time he saw black dancers. He also gives the utmost respect to Cindy Flack of the USC Department of Theatre and Dance;  Marc Joseph Bamuthi of The Living Word Project; choreographer, dancer, theater director and writer Bill T. Jones and Kris Cangelosi, Artistic Director of the Cangelosi Dance Project, who he says made it a possible for him to have a career in dance. But he does admit that his spiritual guru is Nina Simone, the high priestess of soul. My gut feeling is that we will hear her voice in this show alongside his. I hope so.

Part II - coming soon

Larry Hembree - Managing Director, Trustus Theatre

 

Columbia Dance and Improvisation Festival happening NOW - blog by Jasper Intern Abby Davis

improv The first annual Columbia Dance and Improvisation Festival (CDIF) is taking place in Columbia from Thursday, August 7th through Sunday, August 10th.  The event is being hosted by The Power Company Collaborative at Columbia College.  Dancers will spend the four days participating in a wide array of classes, improvisational jams, informal performances, and discussions. The four-day intensive aims to bring South Carolina dancers together to practice improvisational skills, showcase works in progress, and share feedback.  Associate director and instructor Amanda Ling says she hopes people leave with “more security in dancing and moving through space with other people.”

 

CDIF is offering six different classes—contemporary dance technique, contemporary dance fusion, yoga and somatic reflection, contact improvisation, improvisational methods, and site-specific dance and composition. Instructors include Martha Brim, Marcy Yonkey-Clayton, Amanda Ling, Ashlee Taylor, Erin Bailey, Angela Gallo, and Terrance Henderson, the 2014 Jasper Artist of the Year in Dance.

 

In addition to technique classes and morning yoga, there will be three improvisational jams throughout the festival.  Amanda Ling says that she is mostly looking forward to the improvisational jams, “that is the time for people to just be spontaneous, and you never know how it’s going to turn out.  Sometimes they’re really subtle, reflective, and meditative, and other times they get really wild and crazy where everyone is dancing and laughing and the music is loud.  It can really go either way, and I enjoy both directions, so I’m excited to see which way they will go.”

 

“Dance, dessert, and discussion” will take place on Saturday night, with the dance aspect consisting of an informal performance from any dancers that wish to share.  This gives the dancers an opportunity to showcase some of their works, finished or unfinished, and get constructive feedback from fellow dancers.  The Power Company Collaborative, Columbia College, Coker College, and Winthrop College will all be participating in the showcase.

 

While this is only the first annual Columbia Dance and Improvisational Festival, The Power Company Collaborative is already looking forward to the future of the event.  They are interested in adding a component that would involve younger dancers, offering housing to people coming from out of town, and expanding to include other states and even other disciplines. Martha Brim, director of The Power Company Collaborative, says “The Power Company has just gone through a transformation of becoming more collaborative, so I think it would be wonderful to open it up to other arts and disciplines beyond dance.”  For this year, however, Brim hopes that when the dancers leave the festival, “everyone feels rejuvenated, artistically and personally, and really connected with a community that’s growing.”

 

- Abby Davis

Henderson Bros. Are At It Again

Terrance Henderson of the Henderson Bros. -- photo by James Quantz Henderson Bros. Burlesque returns to the Capital City this February for another round of teases, bawdiness, and skin. Last year’s premiere performance saw over 600 patrons at the one-night-only event, and co-creators Chad and Terrance Henderson have crafted another night of naughty fun with new acts, dances, and teases. Henderson Bros. Burlesque will run February 13th through the 15th, with show times at 8:00pm every night. There will be a special late night performance at 10:00pm on February 14th. Reserved seating may be purchased online at www.trustus.org, and standing room tickets may be purchased by calling the Trustus Box Office only: (803) 254-9732. Seated tickets are $30, and standing tickets are $20.

 History of Henderson Bros. Burlesque

 Last year over 600 patrons attended the one-night-only performance of Henderson Bros. Burlesque at 2013’s What’s Love at 701 Whaley. With the success of the first show, Trustus decided to bring the show to the Thigpen Main Stage this February. Since Trustus offers less seating than 701, the show will be performed over the course of three nights – but seating will still be limited.

Henderson Bros. Burlesque co-creators Chad and Terrance Henderson are not actual relatives, but they certainly see a union in their creative approaches to entertainment. The two have collaborated on many shows at Trustus Theatre since 2009, and they’ve been brainstorming a burlesque show for the past two years. “Doing a burlesque show was one of those ideas that come up over a couple of drinks,” said co-creator and director Chad Henderson. “I had been reading a lot about the history of burlesque, and felt like Columbia was way overdue for a big theatrical burlesque show. I went to Terrance because I knew I wanted his choreography involved in the show, and he said he’d been wanting to produce a Burly-Q show as well. We kept brainstorming and sharing ideas because we were planning on producing it ourselves.”

The end result was a rocking evening that had patrons dancing in the aisles and begging for more.

 

 What’s The Show Like?

 Henderson Bros. Burlesque is one part burlesque teases, one part dance show, and one part rock concert. It’s a variety show that’s a professionally thrown party.

Henderson Bros. Burlesque, boasts over 20 performers. Chad Henderson, the 2012 Jasper Magazine Artist of the Year in Theatre, will be directing the production. Co-creator Terrance Henderson the 2013 Jasper Magazine Artist of the Year in Dance will be singing his heart out as the Emcee Nauti Boogie, as well as choreographing the ensemble pieces in the show. He’ll be backed vocally by Kendrick Marion and Katrina Blanding.

Music Director Jeremy Polley (Alter Ego) will be directing a 7-piece band featuring guitar, drums, bass, piano, trumpet, trombone, and saxophone. The music in the show, hand-picked by the Hendersons, ranges from jazz standards, funk, hip-hop, club music, and rock. Songs from Beyonce, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Christina Aquilera, and more will be reverberating through the Main Stage. Patrons can count on needing their dancing shoes.

Local actor Hunter Boyle will be returning as Vaudeville clown Bumbleclap McGee, the resident funny-man of the Henderson Bros. Burlesque. Bumbleclap will be bringing back jokes from the days of Vaudeville, with a lot of wit, winks, and nudges. Rumor is that he’ll be bringing a live version of “What Does the Fox Say?” to the performance this year.

The burlesque performers in the show range in age, sex, race, build, and character – providing a little something for everyone who attends. Performer Sugar St. Germaine will be teasing with a fan dance, Burgundy Brown will be driving the crowd crazy with her beaded New Orleans inspired act, and Latte Love will be drive the audience wild with her trademark dressing screen act. Other performers will be performing ensemble Crazy-Horse inspired group teases – including a male dancer feature where the only thing they’ll be wearing by the end is a wash cloth. We suggest patrons bring handkerchiefs to wipe the sweat from their brow.

 

Announcing the Jasper 2013 Artists of the Year Finalists in Dance, Music, Literary Arts, Theatre, and Visual Arts

Jasper leaf logo

With a total of 55 nominations, 20 adjudicators, and over 10 hours of deliberation behind us, Jasper Magazine is pleased to announce our top three finalists for the honor of

Jasper 2013 Artists of the Year

in

Dance, Music, Literary Arts, Theatre, and Visual Arts.

 ~

~Dance~

Wayland Anderson

Erin Bolshakov

Terrance Henderson

~Music~

Phillip Bush

FatRat da Czar

The Restoration

~Literary Arts~

James Barilla

Janna McMahan

Aida Rogers

~Theatre~

Bobby Bloom

Terrance Henderson

Vicky Saye Henderson

~Visual Arts~

Michaela Pilar Brown

Thomas Crouch

Philip Mullen

~~~

The above 15 artists were among 55 artists nominated by their peers and fans. Based on the information submitted with the nominations, a panel of judges selected the top three artists in each category to compete for the title

Jasper 2013 Artist of the Year.

Now the fun begins!

You’re invited to vote for your choice for Jasper 2013 Artist of the Year in each of the five categories by visiting Jasper's website

starting on Wednesday, September 25th.

There, you’ll find summaries of each artist’s accomplishments for the period of

September 15, 2012 – September 14, 2013.

The winners of Jasper 2013 Artist of the Year in Dance, Literary Arts, Music, Theatre, and Visual Arts will be announced on November 21, 2013 at the release of Jasper Magazine V. 003, N. 003 during Vista Lights. All 15 artists will be featured in the same issue of Jasper Magazine.

Go to www.JasperColumbia.com

and vote for your choice of Jasper 2013 Artist of the Year starting on Wednesday, September 25th

Voting ends on midnight, October 20th, 2013.

A New Era Exploding at Trustus - a review of Ragtime (the Musical) by Jillian Owens

It was the music of something beginning. An era exploding.

A century spinning.

In riches and rags,

And in rhythm and rhyme.

The people called it Ragtime.

(L-R) Avery Bateman, Terrance Henderson, Marybeth Gorman, Luke Melnyk, G. Scott Wild

 

Ragtime (the Musical) - based on the E.L. Doctorow novel of the same name - is a story of hope and disillusionment in the face of the American Dream.  This dream is interpreted in many different ways by the many characters in the show, which opened at Trustus Theatre this past weekend.  Ragtime opens during the “Progressive Era” in 1904.  Industry is booming, and excitement is in the air.  This air is filled with the strange, new, simple, and syncopated music of Ragtime.  The music (by Stephen Flaherty) is catchy and tender, simple yet deep, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by Terrence McNally.

Mother and Father have a kind, though sterile marriage.  When Father, played by G. Scott Wild, heads off to explore the North Pole with Admiral Peary, Mother - played by Marybeth Gorman - is left to tend to their son, large house, and business affairs.  When she digs up something very unusual in her garden, a chain of events are pushed into movement that will change the lives of her small family, as well as the communities around her.

ragtime2

Ragtime shines thanks to one of the most talented casts it could have possibly pulled together, consisting of many Columbia theatre veterans, as well as a few talented new faces.  There are no weak links in this production.  Terrance Henderson pulls double duty as the charismatic ragtime musician Coalhouse Walker and the show’s choreographer.  Vicky Saye Henderson plays the radical anarchist, Emma Goldman, with gusto, Younger Brother - played by Kevin Bush - is passionate about finding something to be passionate about, and Scott Vaughan’s appearances as Houdini, though short, are very charming.  Chip Stubbs delivers a beautiful standout performance as Tateh, with a voice that conveys all the determination, elation, and heartache of a poor immigrant father struggling to reconcile his dream of America with the reality of his new world.  Stories are intertwined and alliances are made and broken.  With so many characters and stories, you’re bound to find at least a few you can identify with.

(L-R) Terrnce Henderson, G. Scott Wild, Luke Melnyk, Marybeth Gorman, Avery Bateman; photo by Jonathan Sharpe

If you call the Trustus Box Office hotline, a friendly recording will inform you that this show has over thirty actors in the cast – the most they’ve had onstage at one time.  Upon hearing this, I must admit I was a little worried.  When Trustus tries to put on a large-scale show, it usually ends up being a mixed bag.  Their small stage can only hold so much spectacle, scenery, and cast members before things start to get cramped.

Fortunately, for director Chad Henderson, this particular big show doesn’t require a massive set or much spectacle beyond the talent of its actors.  That’s not to say the set is unimpressive.  Brandon McIver’s construction of his giant Statue of Liberty was well-documented on the Trustus Facebook page in the weeks before the opening.  This, along with fragments of early 1900’s Americana, are evocative of the period and theme.  The orchestra is small but skilled.  The costumes are period-accurate and lovely.

Between Henderson’s (Chad) stage direction and Henderson’s (Terrance) choreography, the actors don’t seem confined or cramped at all.  I would advise you to try to get a seat closer to the back as sight lines are a slight issue.  I can’t help but wonder…Is the success of Ragtime just the beginning of a new era of larger-scale productions for Trustus?  Are we ready for this “new music”?

~ Jillian Owens

 

 

Off the Top of my Head -- Kevin Bush Takes the Stage Again -- by Sam Smith, Jasper intern

Kevin Bush Off Did you miss the first showing of Off the Top of my Head? Don’t worry, you have one more chance on July 12 when the Last Call Series at Trustus ends its season. After Ain’t Misbehavin’, Kevin Bush will perform an original show with special guests Terrance Henderson, Vicky Saye Henderson, Jason Stokes, and his brother Eddie Bush. Doors open at 10:45, and the show will start at 11:15. Tickets are sold at the door for $15.

The word ‘cabaret’ was first used in 1655 as a variation of the word tavern, and taverns are where cabarets began. The sun would go down and people would head to the local tavern for a night of drinking, laughter, and music. Eventually, cabarets moved out of taverns and into strip clubs, night clubs, restaurants, and finally to the stage. In America, cabarets became popular in the roaring twenties during Prohibition, where it was a fixture, just as much as a light would be, in speakeasies. After the rising popularity of concerts, variety shows, and comedy houses in the sixties, cabaret saw a slow decline until there were very few places left in America that still did cabaret. Luckily, cabaret is starting to see a revival with new artists interpreting it in new ways.

Off the Top of my Head starts with music where cabaret left off. It pulls heavily from music of the sixties, and Kevin Bush describes it as a sort of “Great American Songbook, Volume 2.” The night will be filled with songs by Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Marvin Gaye, Freddie Mercury and Queen, Ben Folds, Stephen Sondheim and a few others. Off the Top of my Head will focus on songs that Kevin Bush finds inspirational due to their lyrics, music, or artists, and he intends to make the show, in his own words, “a sort of "mix tape" that's intended to share the brilliance of these songs, and their songwriters, with an audience.”

This promises to be an entertaining and enjoyable evening. The resurgence of cabaret as a medium of entertainment is unique to particular areas of the United States, and Columbia, South Carolina usually wouldn’t be among that list. The chance to see a cabaret without traveling is something you don’t want to miss in the end of the Last Call season. Off the Top of my Head gives its audience a chance to hang out, have fun, and enjoy the performance art that is a cabaret show without them needing a time machine, and it’d be a shame to miss it.

Trustus Theatre is at 520 Lady Street, behind the Gervais Street Publix. For 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.

- Sam Smith, Jasper intern

A Whole Lot of Misbehavin’ Goin’ On! - Stephen Ingle reviews the new show at Trustus Theatre

  Having never been to a musical at Trustus Theatre before, I went in with an open mind, and my suspension of disbelief was as high as the sky. Upon discovering that Ain’t Misbehavin’ is a musical revue, my expectations lowered a bit. In fact, when I first walked in and saw that the band was the focal point at center stage, and that the set design was predominantly muted by a grey wash, I thought that perhaps this might not be quite the show for me. I mean, who wants the band or orchestra to be the focal point? However, from the first musical number, I could tell I was in for a very entertaining evening.

the cast of Ain't Misbehavin' -  Photo Credit: Richard Kiraly

With a cast of only five members and non-stop musical numbers, one might not expect for there to be much character development, or relationships between the characters. In this case one would be wrong. Director Terrence Henderson took what could have been an otherwise repetitive evening of Thomas “Fats” Waller songs and dynamically wove a very fun and diverse tapestry of quirky characters, relationships, and amazing singing. This show is more than simply an homage to Fats Waller. Typically, I would choose the standout performances to highlight in my review. However, all of the performances were equal in effectiveness. Devin Anderson has once again shown audiences that she has both the vocal and acting chops to fill any stage. Last seen in The Color Purple at Workshop Theatre, Anderson has revealed to audiences that she is much more than a one-note dramatic actress. Her various characterizations and songs will make you laugh and feel as you may never have before. In my opinion, Avery Bateman is the stage equivalent to the Sun, and can blindingly brighten any theatre. Much like Anderson, I last saw Katrina Blanding in The Color Purple in a very dramatic performance. Like Anderson, Katrina created a wonderful, multi-layered character that I couldn’t take my eyes off of, even during another performer’s songs. Rounding out the cast are Kendrick Marion and Samuel McWhite, the latter of whom I also saw in The Color Purple. These two gentlemen, while providing the perfect foils for the strong female characters, each had his own particular flavor. Marion played more of the fun, charming, energetic, and nice guy while McWhite boasted as more of the player going through the female characters smoothly and confidently. They were the perfect bookends in the library of Waller tunes.

L-R: Avery BAteman, Katrina Blanding, Devin Anderson, Samuel McWhite, Kendrick Marion -  Photo Credit: Richard Kiraly

Much like other musical revues, and shows like Cats, Ain’t Misbehavin’ easily could have provided an evening of entertaining songs without any other substance. Henderson thankfully did not accept this as his vision of the production. Although the set was a bit bland, which I venture to guess could have been on purpose so the colorful characters and their costumes could be illuminated, it was divided into its own little worlds inside this Cotton Club. The bar seemed to have been a nice little rest area for the entertainers to have a drink, and a place for Blanding’s character to go fume about the attention Bateman’s character was getting from the men. The sitting area on stage left provided a place where the audience could be let in to the dynamic of relationships between the company members. Finally, the upstairs dressing room allowed us to peek behind the curtain and see how the “performers” took breaks.

L-R: Avery Bateman, Devin Anderson, Katrina Blanding -  Photo Credit: Richard Kiraly

All in all this revue proved to provide more than just songs from a time gone by. In fact, early in the first act there was a nice reminder of this time with a video projection onstage of Fats Waller and the era in which he lived. The music, under the direction of Walter Graham, was both playful and effective, and the members seemed to be having as much fun as the cast.  Additionally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that not only did Terrance Henderson direct, but also choreographed. The dancing was as fun, energetic, and seemingly natural as the acting and singing performances. As with the rest of the performances, the dancing resonated as more spontaneous and impromptu than choreographed.  Ain't Misbehavin' runs through Sat. July 20th at Trustus Theatre; contact the box office at 803-254-9732 for more information, or visit www.trustus.org.

~ Stephen Ingle

 

"Next to Normal" at Trustus Theatre - a Review by Jillian Owens

When I was asked to review Trustus Theatre’s first show of the season, Next to Normal, I was hesitant.  I don’t usually like musicals.  It seems like the vast majority that are being launched on Broadway nowadays are pure fluff – adaptations of 80’s and 90’s movies hoping to bank on an easily entertained populace’s desire for nostalgia and escapism.  But then there was this little gem that won the Tony for Best Score, Best Orchestrations, and Best Book by Tom Kitt (Music) and Brian Yorkey (Book and Lyrics).  It also won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama - an uncommon honor for a musical.  “What am I in for?” I wondered. The story of a family being ripped apart by mental illness seems an unlikely subject for a musical, which is one of the reasons this one works so well.  The play opens on what appears to be a typical morning with Diana Goodman (played by Vicky Saye Henderson) preparing lunches for her husband, daughter, and son, and devolves into her throwing sandwiches on the floor.  Diana is not well.  She suffers from severe bipolar disorder, accompanied by hallucinations.   In the next few weeks, Diana visits her psychotherapist (played by Terrance Henderson) who adjusts and readjusts her meds until she is mentally numb, but deemed “stable”.   But she misses her highs and lows…making her something less than the most cooperative patient.

This show’s power comes from the twisted but strong ties between the characters.  Dan (Paul Kaufmann) loves Diana, but wonders who is crazier: her for her illness, or him for staying with her?   Natalie (Elisabeth Baker) is perhaps the most sympathetic character in the play.  She is struggling to be the perfect daughter, but gets lost in competition with her brother (the song “Super Boy and the Invisible Girl”), while living with the very real fear that her mother’s illness might be lurking somewhere in her DNA as well.  Fortunately, she has found a friend in her new love, Henry (played by Chase W. Nelson) whose struggle to keep her out of trouble is a haunting mirror image of the struggle between Dan and Diana.  I won’t give any spoilers here, but rest assured, the plot twists in surprising and heartbreaking ways that will leave you agog.

The entire cast is simply terrific.  Vicky Saye Henderson’s vocal chops are on perfect display here, and Paul Kaufmann’s numbers will make you tear up.  Terrance Henderson’s voice is powerful and lush, and he gives great dimension to what could easily have ended up being a throwaway role.  It’s exciting to see terrific young talent cropping up in Elisabeth Baker, Andy Bell, and Chase W. Nelson – all relative newcomers to the Trustus stage.  I look forward to seeing more from them.

Next to Normal, directed by Chad Henderson,  is the type of show Trustus does best.  They have taken an amazing script, combined it with a small but amazing cast, and put it on a simple but well-designed set.  Musical Director Tom Beard's orchestra is subtle and effective.  The music melds with the story seamlessly.  Spectacle and shows with huge casts have never been the ideal for such a small stage, and this one doesn’t need it.  This show is powerful…spine-tinglingly so.  This is a beautifully challenging piece of theatre that needed to be created, and demands to be seen.

You should see this show.  Yes…you.  Even if you don’t like musicals, and especially if you or anyone you love has been affected by mental illness.  You will leave the theatre profoundly affected.

This is the first show without Jim and Kay Thigpen at the helm (Happy Retirement!), and proof that you can still put your trust in Trustus.

~ Jillian Owens

Next to Normal runs at Trustus Theatre through Sat. Sept. 29th; contact the box office at 803-254-9732 for ticket information.

 

Review -- Passing Strange at Trustus

  Passing Strange is one part rock concert specifically tailored for theatre aficionados, and two parts Broadway play that's particularly accessible to artists and musicians.  Incorporating elements from both forms, the show is an autobiographical reminiscence of one young man's search for artistic, ethnic and spiritual identity.  Raising some interesting points and issues, the new production at Trustus Theatre never forgets to keep the audience rocking, even as they may ponder larger questions.

The show was written by Stew (the stage name of musician Mark Stewart, i.e. like "Bono" or "Sting"), who also composed the score with Heidi Rodewald; both worked with original stage director Annie Dorsen (who gets an "in collaboration with" credit) to realize Stew's vision. In addition to Stew the real-life author, there is Stew the narrator, played by himself on Broadway and here by Samuel McWhite, and Stew the Youth, played by Mario McClean. The Narrator alternately sings and tells of his formative years as a teen and young adult, as the Youth brings them to life on stage. Sometimes the Narrator, with the perspective and wisdom of a mature adult, explains what the Youth was really thinking; at other times he makes jokes about his younger self's naiveté, or wistfully shares an insight realized too late.  Just as often, McClean shows the audience the depth and intensity of a sensitive artist's sorrows, hopes, and joys, as McWhite, backed by a capable 5-piece band (led by Musical Director Tom Beard on keyboards) sings Stew's often witty and self-deprecating lyrics. It's an inventive narrative technique, since one is never quite sure whose perspective is the more accurate.

Both McClean and McWhite (and you couldn't find a more fortuitous combination of names to play different aspects of the same character!) have pleasant, rich voices that easily adapt to the show's meandering journey through musical styles, from rockers to ballads, and McClean displays an impressive vocal range.  McClean also captures his character's utter innocence in his mid-teens, then convincingly grows into a gifted, if fairly cocky, young intellectual; meanwhile the world-weary Narrator reminds the audience of the choices he might have made along the way.  Towards the show's end, the suffering on his face is palpable McWhite attempts to relay difficult truths; without saying a word, he conveys both reluctant acceptance and defiant denial of the lessons his older self strives to teach.

Stew the composer is a rock guitarist, but shows an impressive mastery of just about every musical form. Some songs, especially those set in the earlier part of his life, are smooth soul, and recall acts like the 5th Dimension.  Others are bluesy, with McWhite channeling artists like B. B. King. Later numbers reflect anarchist metal and punk influences; quite a few reminded me of Pete Townshend's softer, piano compositions from his solo projects, and from the classic Tommy, songs like "Welcome" and "Sally Simpson."  Stew won a Tony for his book, but not for his score, however, and while all the songs are pleasant enough, there are no "Let the Sun Shine In" anthems to be found.  I must note that often his rhymes, while amusing, border on the obvious, and at times can be almost Dr. Seuss-like in their simplicity. Still, that too can be used for good comedic effect, as when every possible rhyme for "keys" is used to describe how a generous, trusting European offers her apartment to the Youth; he compares that with the way a snobby American might reject him, concluding "bitch, please - she gave me her keys."

Katrina Garvin, as Stew's mother,  makes the most of her moments on stage. Her voice is just as beautiful as it was in last summer's Smokey Joe's Cafe, and here she gets to show off her acting skills, alternately stern, loving, comical, or a combination of all three.  Four performers depict every other character, and one might think there was a hidden ensemble of another dozen singers somewhere.  It's just the four, however, and each has one or more meaty character parts. Terrence Henderson, who doubles as choreographer,  chews the scenery shamelessly and hilariously as an over-the-top performance artist, while Kanika Moore is at first scary and authoritarian as a nihilist/revolutionary/Bohemian, then softens as we see her genuine affection for the Youth.  Her demand that he "have a conversation with the hand!" is just priceless.  Avery Bateman gets lots of laughs as a suburban, church-choir princess, then is sweet, appealing and vulnerable as the Youth's Dutch girlfriend, while Kendrick Marion does fine supporting work as assorted friends and colleagues in each of those settings.

One of the show's many ironies is that in a theatre world, and a local theatre community, where good roles for actors of color are hard to find, all of the performers are African-American, yet they spend much of their time convincingly playing Dutch and Germans. And that is another irony: although the search for meaning in life and art is universal, Stew's journey is different than one might expect.  A baby boomer born in Los Angeles, he might easily have been one of the children answering James Brown with "I'm black and I'm proud!"   Stew, however, is black and ambivalent, verging on (but not quite) self-loathing. Growing up in a traditional, religious, middle-class home, his rebellion is not against 'the man," but against his mother's church, and the societal expectations placed on him by his peers, that as an intellectual, he will naturally gravitate into a Cliff Huxtable-style respectability. Instead, he forms a punk band, then flees first to Amsterdam, then Berlin, where he can find his musical voice.  The supreme irony, however, is that in a culture oblivious to his color, the Youth affects an oppressed background that he hasn't completely experienced, compelling his German peers to concede "his ghetto angst is far superior to ours."  It's quite a courageous move for the author Stew to admit that to some extent he exploited his own heritage for artistic acceptance, and when the Youth asks (paraphrasing from memory here) if anyone really understands what it's like to struggle on the streets of South Central, the Narrator stops the action, wryly observing that no one in the show, characters or performers, really understands that.  The show's title, a quote from Othello that refers to a fascinating, exotic tale, also is a reference to an accusation that just as African-Americans once tried to "pass" for white, for acceptance, so the Youth is passing for ghetto, to be accepted as a performer.

Director Chad Henderson wisely emphasizes the non-theatrical aspects of the play. Bland white drapes suggest the sheltered and clean-cut background of the youth, then open to reveal a Europe represented by vivid abstract paintings, exploding with color and vitality.  (Full disclosure: Jasper - The Word on Columbia Arts  partnered with Trustus on the original art featured in the production, and all works can be bid on via silent auction though the run of the show. Most of the artists as well as Henderson have been featured in the magazine, and we heartily encourage you to support local art and artists this way.  This writer's involvement with all of that, however, has been limited to drinking a beer or two while looking at the paintings, and saying "Wow - cool art.") There is no set, nor is one needed; all action plays out naturally in front of the live band, with the occasional table, chair or hand prop used when necessary.  When characters are on stage but not directly involved in a scene, they behave naturally, listening to music on headphones, writing some private composition, or occasionally sharing a joint with the band. Yet when the time comes for a choral number, often you hear their voices while they remain focused on their personal business, seemingly uninvolved in the action. It's a technique we also saw in the recent Spring Awakening, and the result is quite effective.  Director, Musical Director, and Choreographer reunite with cast members Bateman and Marion from that show, which explored similar dramatic territory: intellect searching for truth in the midst of youth and sexuality (and Germany!) set to contemporary rock music, and performed by an energetic and talented young cast.

At the recent Jasper release party, I joked with a friend about a review he once got where the critic didn't realize how much she enjoyed the show. She detailed how good the performances were, but griped about the play itself.  So skip to the next paragraph if you are interested solely in this specific production's qualities, which are excellent.  I must commend Trustus for yet again taking a risk, being adventurous, and producing not one but two bold musical choices in quick succession, both tackling controversial themes via non-traditional storytelling and contemporary rock music.  (The composers for both Passing Strange and Spring Awakening were respected but non-mainstream rock artists who transitioned to musical theatre, and both shows premiered within months of each other in New York.)  Yet for me, the universality of this show's themes was severely undercut by an unsatisfying conclusion, or lack thereof, a gripe I also made about the generally enjoyable Spring Awakening.  The Youth asserts that "life is a mistake that only art can correct," while the ostensibly wiser Narrator cautions him that "song is a bong" (again, those witty but nursery rhyme-ish lyrics) and that what the youth is looking for in life can only be found in art.  Which are two sides of the same coin, in a way.  The Narrator maintains that love is the highest power of all... but what I longed for was a stronger declaration.  Either an extra scene showing wisdom that led the Youth to mature into the Narrator, or a song channeling The Faces'  "Oo La La" that clarifies how the Youth will have to learn it all on his own, or an admission that even now, the Narrator doesn't have all the answers.  In many ways, I was left with the impression that his former girlfriend, the German nihilist, might still see the author falling prey to the same weakness: mining his own history for immediate effect, in lieu of finding a deeper emotional truth. The ground he covers has been done before, and better, in everything from Tommy and Quadrophenia, to Purple Rain and Pippin. Still, if this was Stew's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, I look forward to whatever next project becomes his Ulysses.

That said, the less one has seen the artist's struggle to find his identity depicted on stage before, the more one will marvel at this show's existential themes, acted out live with an accompanying rock band.  As above, Passing Strange is theatre for non-theatre-goers, pop music with an intellectual edge, an art exhibition with music and lyrics. Go for the art,  go for the talented cast, and go because this sort of show, one that addresses timeless yet intangible questions while actually entertaining you, just isn't done often enough in Columbia.  Passing Strange runs through April 14th; call the Trustus box office at 254-9732 for ticket information.

~ August Krickel

Of Ugly Sweaters, Funny Tunes & Smart Fundraising

It's not that Jasper doesn't care for fashion -- he adores a dapper chapeau and a neatly cinched windsor or pratt -- it's just that Jasper doesn't require haute couture of his friends or neighbors and is, in fact, a bit more inclined toward the comfies than the prissies in his own personal trousseau. And, of course, he only wears natural fibers. So the old boy was a bit taken aback Friday last when, in order to attend a night of merry-making at his beloved Trustus Theatre, he was implored to don garb specifically in the category of ugly -- an ugly sweater, to be precise.

It was all part of the plan to raise money for Trustus via their Ugly Sweater Karaoke Night in which lucky patrons paid a mere $10 at the door, filled their cups with $1 and $2 beer, then spent the evening laughing at one another as well as themselves. And while there were many chuckles to be enjoyed over the course of the evening -- both at the sweaters and the singing -- the joke was on the hosts because the impromptu vocals of several of the stage regulars was nothing short of stellar. Special kudos to Kim Harne, Kevin Bush, Terrance Henderson, and Walter Graham -- Jasper even swooned a bit, when the latter took the stage.

Congrats to the young bloods at Trustus for asking for about the only kind of money people can give these days, and giving folks a fun, silly, and easy-going way of giving it.

And now, for a look at those (gasp!) sweaters!

(With thanks to Kristine Hartvigsen for her photography.)