Intermission Impossible: You used to direct quite a bit but then you took a long hiatus while raising your family. What made you want to start directing again?
Terry Scott: I did not stop directing to raise my family. I became involved with The Bouffants, and the success of that band made it difficult to commit to a directing gig. Additionally, I found the rush of performing with the band to be a superior high to the rush of watching a polite audience applaud (politely) during a theatrical production. In the end, I found that I missed the directorial process.
Intermission Impossible: Obviously GCT chose The Hollow—an Agatha Christie— because people love stories about horror and suspense, especially around Halloween. What, in your opinion, is the most terrifying, gruesome, or suspenseful moment in The Hollow?
Terry Scott: For me, the most suspenseful moment occurs when Gerda decides to drink the drink—you'll have to come to the show to find out what that means.
Intermission Impossible: You've cast your wife Christina. How does that work? Does rehearsal stay in the theater or does it follow you home?
Terry Scott: Are you trying to get me in trouble?
Intermission Impossible: Yes, it's what I do.
Terry Scott: Kidding. Of course it follows us home. Christina is my confidante and she has a keen sense of what makes a scene work; we act as a sounding board for each other. We come home from rehearsal and stand around in the kitchen trying to solve this problem or that—I hope to work with her more often.
The Hollow is at GCT through November 7.
Frankly, although there's a lot of fun stuff out there right now, only one play is calling my name this weekend...
I'm catching the show on Sunday and talking to the director Leslie "Sticky" Reddick for a feature in next week's Flyer. This timeless Moliere farce is all about how a con man pretending to be a preacher is able to use a family's middle class values against them. I can't wait to see how this story is interpreted by a spunky African-American company that's not afraid to ruffle a feather or two.
Tonight (Friday, Oct. 29th) Rhodes College students, faculty, and alum will celebrate The McCoy Theatre's 30th anniversary with a sold-out performance of The Robber Bridegroom followed by a party.
The Robber Bridegroom's cast is a blend of students, notabile community performers like John Hemphill, and alum like Michael Towle, Mary Buchignani, and me, your humble Intermission Impossible blogger, who was in the McCoy's original production of The Robber Bridegroom in 1988.
This is something of a public service announcement since pretty much everybody who has ever been involved in theater in Memphis has, at one time or another, wanted to see my cut off head in a box.
Intermission Impossible: So, are you a fan of mysteries?
Tony Isbell: I don't really consider myself a "mystery" fan. I like certain stories—but I guess it depends on how you define "fan". I loved the Holmes stories when I discovered them as a kid—probably about 12 or 13. I read many, but not all of them at that time. And I absolutely adored the Jeremy Brett "Holmes" on Masterpiece Theatre. But do I read mysteries for pleasure? Very occasionally. I tend to prefer science fiction.
Intermission Impossible: Holmes seems almost impossible to humanize. He carries such an impossibly vast store of arcane knowledge that he's a Deus ex Machina unto himself, able to change the course of a story suddenly and unexpectedly because he can identify 150 kinds of tobacco ash...
Tony Isbell: Hmmmm...this isn't a question, really, is it? More of an observation. But I tend to agree, although I would hazard to guess that, nowadays, Holmes might perhaps be diagnosed as having Asperger's.
In this production, I was attempting to highlight Holmes' vanity, sense of humor and near addiction to excitement. My take was that Holmes derives a lot of pleasure out of Watson's amazement—even to the point of making semi-absurd requests of Watson just to amuse himself (i.e., asking Watson to "exit through the coal chute"). And it's obvious that he's an "excitement junkie". He says as much in the play—and in the stories, if I recall correctly. And there's no question as to his vanity. I think all these qualities "humanize" him—although, you're right, there's plenty of Deus ex Machina in there too.
Intermission Impossible: In this adventure the playwright has done the unthinkable and given holmes— who has no use at all for women in the original stories— a romantic sub plot. Is this heresy?
Tony Isbell: Heresy? Nah. It's just a play, using a character that's in the public domain. I think the playwright has actually done a pretty good job of taking two stories from the canon, as well as the Gillette play, and combining them with some of his own ideas to make a script that's fun and entertaining. I think most people probably enjoy the idea of Holmes falling in love. And if he's going to do so, then Irene Adler is the obvious choice, right? After all, Holmes did always refer to her as "the" woman—the only woman who ever beat him at his own game—and if Holmes were to ever fall for any woman, it would have to be someone like her.
So even though purists might cry "heresy", I say "Heresy-schmeresy, just relax and enjoy the show!"
A few words on Othello and actor Johnny Lee Davenport from the Tennessee Shakespeare Company's founding director Dan McCleary
Othello is at St. George's Church in Germantown Through Oct. 17. 759-0604
Stuff Happens, David Hare's docudrama about how America went to war in Iraq is Shakespearean in scope and the University of Memphis's fine production gives Dubya, Condi, Rummy, Cheney, and the whole Neoconservative gang the fair trial they all so richly deserve.
I hope to make it by to see the Tennessee Shakespeare Company's Othello in its second weekend. I've got to admit, when the company's visionary director Dan McCleary described the play as "holy" my expectations sank a bit. When classics become "holy" theater becomes church in the most institutional sense of the word and Othello, a play about lust jealousy, revenge, and evil for its own sake, is anything but. This is one of my favorite tragedies and I missed it when Theatre Memphis staged it a few years back. All Bard-worship aside I'm really looking forward to this one.
Othello is at St. Georges Episcopal through October 17. Call 759-0604 for more information.
I'll have more about Joe Turner's Come and Gone in next week's Memphis Flyer. The Hattiloo Theatre has assembled a great cast, but there doesn't seem to be any cohesive vision for how this lively show set in a black boarding house during the great migration, should play itself out.
When I dropped by the Hattiloo last week there wasn't much of an audience at all. "It's a drama you know," said one of the folks working the box office. It made for an interesting contrast to the sold out production of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance across town at Theatre Memphis.
This week I'm dropping in on Stuff Happens, David Hare's controversial play about America's military adventure in Iraq at the U of M. This one's kind of exciting.
Albeee's wordy play, a claustrophobic take on the American family drama uses a faintly surreal conceit to ask big questions and essay the relationships between form, content, language, and identity. Shortly after they become empty nesters Edna and Harry (Ann Sharp and Barclay Roberts, both superb) are driven from their home by a nameless formless terror they can't explain. The absence of sustained intrigue and the business it inspires compels them to barge in on their "oldest and dearest friends" with the intention of taking up residency.
Agnes (a characteristically precise Karen Mason Riss) and Tobias (Bennett Wood) are the friends in question and they are already hosting Claire, an acerbic lush who insists she can quit drinking but simply won't. They are also preparing for the return daughter Julia, a frequent divorcee who becomes homicidally furious when she discovers that her room's been loaned out to the Edna and Harry.
Poletti gives her loudest and most confident performance in ages as the intermittently stable serial bride.
I've always had an affinity for Claire. Probably because the boozy one-woman Greek chorus is such a natural theater critic. "I don't know whether to cry or applaud," she says to her benefactors, wondering (earnestly and aloud) which her family truly prefers. Scott, icily patrician one moment earthy as a barfly the next knows how to goad sister Agnes who is quaintly fascinated by madness and thoroughly obsessed with maintaining the shape of things that are by their very nature inclined to change. Scott clearly spoke for an uncommonly engaged crowd that never seemed comfortable laughing with characters that were never able to unleash the farce at the heart of A Delicate Balance. But they couldn't quite cry for them either. Applause, however, was abundant and richly deserved.
A Delicate Balance is an easily overlooked classic and this is a good evening at the theater. Warts and all.
A Delicate Balance is at Theatre Memphis through October 10
Intermission Impossible: Our Own Voice has changed quite a bit over 20-years. Can you describe that change and give me some sense of how it will continue to evolve?
Bill Baker: Of course the major change is the one mentioned in the play and in numerous interviews over the past ten years or so, the transformation from a mental health consumer group to an inclusive theatre company, based in the idea that everybody should have access to the theatre and that the work should grow out of the very specific talents and experiences of the ensemble. I’d say in the last ten years, that change has led to the evolution of an aesthetic which I believe in very strongly and which I think needs consideration and respect in the twenty-first century, as theatre struggles to be more than an elephantine and overpriced marginal novelty in a bloated and increasingly oppressive entertainment industry. It seems to me that our struggle has moved from addressing the stigma attached to the labels of mental illness to the stigma attached to labels like “local artist”, “community theatre”, “non-actor or non-dancer”, “original play”, and “amateur.” More than anything, Our Own Voice has grown over the past twenty years to embrace and promote the recognition that community is something that can be found and celebrated in even the most diverse group of human beings. We find that theatre is the art form uniquely suited to do that, both for the artists and the spectators.
Intermission Impossible: Ephemera aims at targets big and small: the local theater scene and performing arts generally. What are the big takeaways, in your opinion? And without dropping names, how would you describe the styles used to both sweeten and sharpen the show's polemical/parochial edges?
Bill Baker: Ephemera takes aim primarily at the big target of consumerism and the impoverishment of what historically has been a spiritually and politically powerful art form into a culturally irrelevant trinket of show business. My local targets are simply the attitudes in our community that perpetuate this trivialization. It’s what I call the “Guffman effect”, after Christopher Guest's brilliant parody of the same phenomenon in Waiting for Guffman: a community theatre that somehow embodies the life of its community but which still seeks its validation from elsewhere, from the New York representative. I see something of that in my friend Jackie’s statement (on your blog, by the way), validating his enormous achievement for our community by assuring us that the guy from the National Endowment said it was good enough to be Pre-Broadway. What I hope people would take away from this production (and from any of our productions) is that what is essential is being present, aware of oneself and open and attentive to the presence of others. As Dubbs puts it in the penultimate monologue, “It’s about this moment. Now.” As for the styles used in presenting the message, I’ve dropped all the names during the play so I needn’t mention them again, but the key approach that has emerged during this production has been the juxtaposition of the scripted sequences with the improvised sequences, and even within scenes, the lines versus the ad libs, the choreographed versus the spontaneous movement, the order vs. the chaos, etc. It is never the same stream twice, but it is reliably flowing within its intended course.
Intermission Impossible: I've asked you a lot of questions over the years. Instead of asking a third specific question think of this as a free space. What would you like to add to the conversation about Ephemera and your involvement with Our Own Voice?
Bill Baker: The pain and the pleasure of my years with Our Own Voice come from the ephemeral nature of what we do. Looking back, as anniversaries cause us to do, I feel a mixture of sadness and pride as I think about those creative collaborations which can never be replicated, which were as profound and inspired as any I shall ever experience, and which were witnessed by only a handful of appreciative spectators. It’s hard to think about Boxing Unformed or Experimental Movement or Country Spacecraft Ballerina without wanting to scream from some mountaintop, “Wake up, people! You don’t know what you’re missing!” We joke a lot in the play about the empty seats, about the struggle to find an audience, and about our marginal place within the marginal community of theatre in Memphis. But we accept the role we play and the foolhardiness of our task. We know this is, as Bombast says in the play, “a ship of fools’, but we sail on. Our goal is simple: to change the world, twenty spectators at a time.
Ephemera II: You Can't Do That Again at TheatreWorks through Friday, October 10th. Tickets are $10 for adults or $8 for students and seniors.
For reservations or more information, call 274-1000.