This is usually the time of year when all the holiday shows start opening and, humbug that I am, I have nothing to get excited about. But man, what a great week for going to the theater this is!
First, before I get on with telling everybody why they should go see Blood Brothers at the University of Memphis and The Seafarer at Circuit Playhouse, let me give everybody an early Christmas gift by telling a little story about this one time when I got something really, really wrong.
I saw Blood Brothers in Memphis for the first time in 1999 over a weekend that also included my first brush with then-new U of M chair Bob Hetherington. I was blown away by Blood Brothers and Rhodes College's simple approach to Willy Russell's brilliant and brutal musical about a set of twins who are separated at birth but eventually fall in love with the same woman. I was not nearly so taken with Hetherington's Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which was presented as a plodding tech-heavy costume drama that was as flawed and boring as Blood Brothers was unconventional and engaging. In spite of the excellent student cast Les Liaisons was hard, almost painful to watch and I laid every bit of the blame on Hetherington's shoulders. The U of M's theater department had become an isolationist colony where students were punished for participating in off-campus productions, and I thought Hetherington's arrival in Memphis represented more of the same. That's where I was way off the mark.
In addition to helming some extraordinary productions over the past decade Bob Hetherington has built incredible bridges between the University of Memphis and the greater Memphis theater community making the U of M vital in a way it never could have been under previous regimes. And did I mention the extraordinary productions?
So what has this heartfelt confession of failure got to do with the price of theater tickets in Memphis? Nothing really, unless you love irony as much as I do. Because ten years after praising Blood Brothers and panning Hetherington in the same column, Russell's musical is on stage at the U of M, Hetherington is directing Conor McPherson's The Seafarer at Circuit Playhouse. I am chomping at the bit to see both shows and think everybody else should be too. I'm particularly excited about The Seafarer which boasts a cast of Memphis all-stars including Michael Gravois, Ron Gephart, Tony Isbell, and Jim Palmer.
It's difficult to say what The Seafarer is about, really. It's probably best to call it a rowdy Irish stew in the spirit of playwrights like John Millington Synge, Sean O'Casey, and Samuel Beckett and to leave it at that.
Also opening this weekend: Devil Boys from Beyond, which I know nothing about but am also dying to see simply because it's called Devil Boys from Beyond and is about two reporters from NYC racing to Texas to cover a possible alien invasion. Even if it's awful that's got to be good, dontcha think?