Friday, April 27, 2012

Three Answers with NOISES OFF Director Ann Marie Hall

Posted By on Fri, Apr 27, 2012 at 4:13 PM

The popular farce Noises Off opens at Theatre Memphis this weekend so I asked Ann Marie Hall if she'd be interested in doing a three question interview. Her response...

Ann Marie Hall: "sure! The answers are the Cheetah, Bismark and 3.14159."

Did I just get a Pi in the face? Oh well, here's a photo. And a link for tickets.

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Veronica's Room and the Birth of a New Memphis Theatre Company

Posted By on Fri, Apr 27, 2012 at 3:05 PM

Veronicas Room
  • Veronica's Room
Jason Spitzer, Mark Rutledge, and Randi Sluder have been been talking about producing shows together since Playwrights' Forum imploded back in the oughts. The plan became more realistic after the new Playhouse on the Square opened, Circuit moved from Poplar to Cooper, and the old Circuit Playhouse became The Evergreen Theatre, a rental space similar to TheatreWorks.

"It finally gave us the last piece of the puzzle: performance space," Spitzer says. "Up until then, TheatreWorks had been booked years in advance. You couldn't get space."

Working Title Productions, as the new company is called, launched last week with the Ira Levin creeper Veronica's Room. "Because I enjoy thrillers, audiences enjoy thrillers," says Spitzer. "It was ambitious enough from a stagecraft perspective to show our mettle by fully realizing the show in the same way it would be at Theatre Memphis or Playhouse on the Square. But small enough to still be manageable for three amateurs."

According to Spitzer, who directed the inaugural show, audience reaction has been strong and there will be more to come. "Our aim is to do shows forgotten by the passage of time—that still pack a wallop though—or to do newer shows that don't seem to get much traction or support at the other theaters where the bottom line has to be considered a little more carefully," he says.

Veronicas Room
  • Veronica's Room

Veronica's Room is at The Evergreen Theatre through May 6. Tickets are $10. (Mention WKNO and half the cost will be donated to public broadcasting in Memphis). 278-3486

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Bottomless Well: Talking to Douglas Sills, Gomez in THE ADDAMS FAMILY

Posted By on Wed, Apr 25, 2012 at 5:34 PM

Douglas Sills and the cast of the Addams Family
  • Douglas Sills and the cast of the Addams Family
What’s creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky, and visiting the Orpheum this week? If you guessed the Addams Family (and, of course you did) you’re altogether ookie, and entirely correct. Charles Addams’s morbid cartoons, a twisted reflection of the typical American family, have been frequently adapted to both the big and small screens. In 2010 The Addams Family musical opened on Broadway. And now there's a national tour which retains much of the original Broadway plot but is also completely different with new scenes and songs. Here’s what Tony nominee Douglas Sills (Gomez) had to say about his involvement in show's evolution.

Chris Davis: I understand there have been significant changes in the script. New songs, new scenes, the works. Instead of me poking around in the dark, since you’ve been so close to this process, can you just walk me through how the changes happened, and give me some idea of what to look for?

Douglas SIlls: Sure. The changes were intended primarily to refocus the center of the play around Gomez and Morticia. The creators felt it was important to augment their storyline and so a new significant plot point has been woven into the story. There are no secrets between Morticia and Gomez. Then Wedneday, their daughter, asks Gomez not to reveal to Morticia that she’s seriously contemplating marrying this young man. A young man whose parents are set to come to dinner at the Addams’s that night For over 20 years there have been no secrets in this marriage and at first Gomez resists. But his daughter’s tearful requests get better of him and he decides ultimately that it’s harmless. But the secret snowballs and it really tests the marriage.

Because of this there are significant scene deletions, and song deletions and new songs have been written. When someone asks me to quantify I’d say my show is probably 60-75% different but play’s probably only 40% different in actual words and music.

And the tone has changed too, right?

Douglas SIlls
  • Douglas SIlls

There’s more of a story in which an actor can remain in character without commenting on the character or the situation. It’s very de riguer on Broadway now to pierce the 4th wall and comment to the audience. It can be a lot of fun and almost always gets a strong response. But it can also compromise an audience’s belief in the scenes being depicted and their investment in the show.

When the storyline isn’t strong the show’s not as potent. For example SPAMALOT is an interesting example of sketch comedy stretched out over 2-hours. You don’t really get involved with the knights and their quest for the Holy Grail. They’re all being silly and commenting on what they’re doing all the time. And it’s all really very funny. But when you watch, say True West , the characters stay within the boundaries of the story. It may not be as humorous but there may be a bigger payoff at the end.

I’ve made it a point to invest very strongly in the storyline, and in the stakes. Whether it’s losing my daughter or losing my wife or whatever.

What you’ve said about the secret reinforces what I already thought about the show. It’s especially interesting, I think, that this is playing The Orpheum on the heels of La Cage aux Folles. Because they’re both about a children in love who aren’t sure what to do about parents are different.

Right absolutely. Yes. There are similarities. No question. But there are differences too. In La Cage the parents know they are different than the surrounding community. Their lives have been constructed to live in a society where they are seen as being “other.” The Addams don’t have an awareness that they are that different. They’re normal. Or, if anything, they’re superior with more refined tastes. That’s one of the big things about this show: What’s normal and who decides.

At one point Wednesday asks, “Can’t you just relax and be normal?” And Grandma says, “Define normal.”

Also, when La Cage was written they couldn’t really portray the heat between Georges and Zaza. And for Gomez and Morticia that heat has to radiate white hot. I thought early on that this would be a great important development. If I was going to take a crack at this show after some really great actors like Nathan [Lane] and Bebe [Neuwirth] I had to figure out the reason, my reason for doing it. For me it was to demonstrate a love affair up there with Scarlett and Rhett or Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember. It had to be hot. White hot. Gomez thinks he’s the luckiest guy in the world. That’s the crux of the difference between our show and the original.

And another thing about La Cage is that it’s almost a period piece now.

It really did go from being kind of edgy to being very mainstream, didn’t it?

It can seem a little dated. What you’ll find, our writers wrote this story recently and rewrote it very recently. One of them [Rick Elice] just got a rave review in the New York Times for Peter and the Starcatchers. The other, Marshall Brickman, is a writing partner with Woody Allen. Rick and Marshall also wrote Jersey Boys, so these guys are really at the top of their game right now.

This show seems to be living its life backwards. Aren’t all the tweaks and changes supposed to happen out of town BEFORE a show opens on Broadway? Did the opportunity to reinvent the show make things more exciting or does that just mean more work?

Definitely more exciting. Absolutely. At this point in my career touring isn’t high on my list. But the opportunity given to me by the creators... That’s interesting to me.

There’s a new production that has opened in Brazil and it’s being well received. It’s our version of the script. There’s about to be an Austrailian production, and that’s our script too. I think they [producers] are seeing how much they can make in global revenues.

When it came time to look at an Addams Family tour the creators wanted an opportunity to improve the show before it was published. Publishing is where the revenue streams come from. It will eventually be released for subsidiary rights for community theaters. There will be a West End production, I’m sure. And I’m sure there will be many others. Because it’s easy to love these characters.

Can’t seem to get enough.

People have an incredible memory for it and a soft spot. The first thing they hear is Da-da-da-dump and something cracks open— even if they’ve had a hard day at work something cracks and they snap their fingers. Suddenly I’m not walking into a cold room. Just those few measures of music have warmed the audience to me before I ever speak.

I have 9-year-old twin girls who are musical. One, the very first time she really sat down at a keyboard and said “I’m going to figure this out,” started pecking out the Addam’s Family theme. Unprompted. It was the first thing she thought to play.

I guess that’s what they call a hook. It’s like a fragrance that brings back all these emotions and memories. One of the things Andrew [Lippa] our composer did so well is how he took that familiar strain and made it into something else. Obviously we can’t use that song in our show for copyright reasons. But you can announce that strain and then ease the audience into something different. He makes his own song that launches from that original in a very seamless way.

Were you humming it as a kid?

In the beginning...
  • In the beginning...

Well, The New Yorker was hanging out in our house like in most suburban Jewish households. And I certainly did come home from school and plop down in front of the television with a casserole dish of Coco Crispies and watch Little Rascals, Three Stooges, Addams Family, Munsters, Dark Shadows. What else? These are some of the earliest cells that formed in my brain.

There have been so many incarnations. The New Yorker, a Saturday morning cartoon show, two live action TV shows that I know of. Film...

It was a condition of the Charles Addams estate that the creators go back to the original cartoon and not base anything on the television shows or the movies.


What is it do you think that keeps drawing us back to the crossroads of humor and morbidity?

That’s an astute question, and one that I’ve thought a lot about. It goes back as old as civilization, I think. It goes back to the first time somebody stood up in front of a campfire, created a scary mask and did a skit. We’ve always had holidays like Halloween where there’s a moral reversal for a day. Vice becomes okay. Dark things become good things. Somehow it releases the fear and anxiety that evil dark inversions have for us and we can have less fear.

The scary stuff seems especially popular now. Very mainstream from Harry Potter to Twilight. My twins don’t play with Barbies they play with Monster High dolls, which are like Franken-Bratz. Does that translate into ticket sales for you guys?

I don’t know that I had a realization of the current revival. For me it’s always been a cyclical thing. It sort of never goes away. You can go through popular culture and always find that novel, TV show or movie every couple of years. And every TV producer knows. it. Every good TV producer.

Look at how many times we’ve made and remade Dracula and Frankenstein...This moral reversal, if it’s done right, you can’t sell it enough. There are serious versions like War of the Worlds and comedic versions like the Munsters and the Addams Family. There's no bottom to the well.

Many Addamses
  • Many Addamses

Friday, April 20, 2012

Clowning around with ye olde Tennessee Shakespeare Company

Posted By on Fri, Apr 20, 2012 at 12:47 PM

I've watched this conversation with The Tempest's clowns too many times. It's not especially revealing but I've known Shawn Knight since he was born, haven't seen him since he was tiny, and he looks exactly the same.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Calling all Women (And a Few Good Men):Auditions for the Women's Theatre Festival of Memphis

Posted By on Thu, Apr 19, 2012 at 4:54 PM

Auditions for the Women’s Theatre Festival of Memphis performances
will be held Monday, April 30, 2012 from 6:30 pm – 9 pm at
TheatreWorks 2085 Monroe.

For more information about WTFMemphis, here's a link.

Present Laughter

Posted By on Thu, Apr 19, 2012 at 4:32 PM

Noel Coward's Present Laughter opens at The Circuit Playhouse this week. That's a perfectly good excuse to revisit my Memphis profile of the show's star, Jerre Dye. Check it out HERE.

Jerres girls
  • Jerre's girls

Deets.

Colors of Paradise: The Spitfire Grill at Germantown Community Theatre

Posted By on Thu, Apr 19, 2012 at 4:23 PM

A taste...

The place.

A Thousand Twangling Instruments: Shakespeare's Tempest makes beautiful music at Shelby Farms

Posted By on Thu, Apr 19, 2012 at 4:19 PM

Good fooling in The Tempest
  • Good fooling in The Tempest

'Nature made me happy and good, and if I am otherwise, it is society's fault."— Rousseau, Emile

"Man isn't a noble savage, he's an ignoble savage. He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective about anything where his own interests are involved... I'm interested in the brutal and violent nature of man because it's a true picture of him. And any attempt to create social institutions on a false view of the nature of man is probably doomed to failure."— Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange

Now I will believe that there are unicorns! - William Shakespeare, The Tempest, 3.3

The best thing about the Tennessee Shakespeare Company's production of The Tempest was driving past the bison herd on my way to the Shelby Farms amphitheater. That sounds like I'm taking a jab at the show and maybe I am a little. But only a little. The thing is, you just can't direct nature. And at the end of a beautiful night it was nature not nurture that made my evening with Prospero and the gang such a wonder.

No set piece, no costume, and no lengthy passage of descriptive poetry—not even Shakespeare's— can transport a person from the grinding realities of a concrete jungle and put them in a more primitive frame of mind like the sight of grazing bison silhouetted against a perfectly pink and violet sunset.

The night I attended was warm enough for shirtsleeves and cool enough not to be plagued by bugs. A steady breeze that smelled of rain rustled artificially-lit leaves on real trees breathing honest life into Kyle Davis's Saturday morning kid's show set. Intermitent gusts tussled hair, tossed robes, and blew spirals of dust into the lights like some comic book illustration of supernatural powers.

Prospero, Shakespeare's vengeful wizard is always calling up some kind of madness and it didn't hurt one bit that nature decided to be a good improv partner.

Prospero's island is presented as a grass-covered rock inhabited by spirits, and dotted with glowing orbs like something from the original Land of the Lost TV show. Bruce Bui's period costumes are nicely detailed, and music by avant cellest Zoe Keating and contemporary sacred music composer Arvo Part hits all the right emotional notes.

The design elements can be as cheesy as one of those original Star Trek episodes where the Enterprise crew finds itself stranded on a strange planet that has improbably evolved into some perverted reflection of Earth's past. Silly? Sure. "Shakespearian"? Oh, you bet! And the werewolf costumes are a real howl. But it's also a magical vision in the woods, and on a beautiful night, hard not to love.

The Tempest is a play that lends itself to interpretation. I'm not talking gimmick. There's simply a lot of space to explore how these broadly-drawn characters relate to one another in a nearly but not quite allegorical framework. Most interpretations will highlight the play's theatricality and self-awareness or else its sketchier political themes. Some— the very best in my opinion— exist in a rarified place where performance art and politics intersect.

Director Dan McCleary has played down much of the torment and exploitation and embraced the play's musical nature, its abundant theatricality and good fooling. That's probably the right choice for a family attraction in such a lush natural setting. Still, there's a little something lost along the way.

Prospero uses his magics to gain mastery over Island spirits. He keeps them in check with a cocktail of torments, pleasures, and the promise of freedom. No wonder it's so often imagined as an imperfect metaphor for the New World, colonialism, and lingering Eurocentric biases. A wizard seeking refuge from homeland hostilities brings his daughter and his own version of civilization to a savage land. In this wild place he teaches language to Caliban, the malformed son of a witch who was the island's original master. The "kindness" is repaid with curses, revenge fantasies, and a poetic vision that rivals even the Master's.

Calaban is Prospero's photo negative but sympathetic only to a point. He's a beast that dreams of rape and murder. And he might accomplish all of these things if he wasn't a such a natural addict given to pathetic drunkenness.

Prospero is similarly motivated by convoluted visions of justice but for all of his personal vendettas he finds the practical benefits of forgiveness, which is both an unnatural act and the cornerstone of human possibility


Director Dan McCleary has brought together a capable ensemble.

Quinton Guyton makes Calicban a tattooed islander and not much of a monster at all. He's cranky and slightly dull but never a real threat to anybody, and that makes things less interesting than they might be. Guyton is also very funny, and uncommonly free.

There's no getting around it. Ariel's costume looks like Slim Goodbody's circulatory system with roach clip wings. But Caley Milliken does solid, energetic work as Prospero's loyal scout and foot soldier (possibly the secret guiding force of the entire narrative). She's especially fine as a disembodied head at a spectral tea party so glow-y and gossamer it could pass for a scene in a Tim Burton movie.

Slim meets an airy spirit (with a tabor!)
  • Slim meets an airy spirit (with a tabor!)

Johnny Lee Davenport has a lot of presence but nuance isn't his strong suit. I didn't like his Oberon in TSC's intimate indoor production of A Midsummer Nights Dream at all. Every line shouted in cadence, every movement stiff and artificial. If his Prospero is better if it's only because the acting style that made him such an annoying indoor fairy king works better under the big trees and far away stars. Davenport does a lot of Shakespeare. He knows where the jokes are and what Prospero wants is always clear. Who Prospero is, is a lesser concern.

And sometimes when he'd consult his magic books, it really seemed like he might be reading his lines. I'm not saying that's what was happening, but the action was confused and confusing.

The young lovers are young and lovely enough but the best part of this Tempest is the burlesque comedy, especially Shawn Knight's slurring, stumbling, gloating, Stephano.

In many ways TSC's Tempest exceded expectations but it let me down sorely in others. Like Prospero, I'm compelled to forgive. In the world of Shakespeare's imagination times spent in wild placess tend to be transformational and a night in the forest can be its own reward. All the pretty words and glowing pictures are as good an excuse as any. And if you happen upon this vision in the wilderness on just the right night, when the moon's hanging low and wind blows just so, some magic is absolutely guaranteed.

CORRECTION: Kyle Davis, Bruce Bui are identified above (and also on the Tennessee Shakespeare Company's website) as the Tempest's principle designers. This is incorrect. Costumes were designed by Sona Amroyan, and the scenic design is by Roger Hanna. Sorry for the error.

The Tempest is at Shelby Farms through April 22. For additional info you can click this.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Play about Ben Hooks

Posted By on Tue, Apr 17, 2012 at 10:30 AM

Bandele & Hooks
  • Bandele & Hooks

The Hattiloo Theatre is staging Who Will Bell the Cat? a new play created for the Benjamin Hooks Institute.

The play, written and directed by the Hattiloo's founding Executive Director Ekundayo Bandele is a one-act retrospective of Hooks' life. Bandele describes it as "a telling recount of this pioneer's struggles as well as his accomplishments."

The play is part of a celebration of Hooks' life and accomplishments leading up to the Orpheum's red carpet premiere of the documentary Duty of the Hour, April 20.

Who Will Bell the Cat?—- Wednesday, April 18th, at 6:30 p.m., at the University of Memphis in the University Center Theatre, Tickets $10

Monday, April 16, 2012

GPAC Announces its 2012-2013 Season

Posted By on Mon, Apr 16, 2012 at 1:10 PM

The Voca People
  • The Voca People

I know what you're all thinking: Gosh, I sure hope the Capitol Steps will come back to the Germantown Performing Arts Center next season. Because who can get enough of their their slightly irreverent musical satire, right? Am I right? Well, you're in luck my friends!

September 7 The Secret Sisters

September 14 Capitol Steps

September 30 Chick Corea and Gary Burton with the Harlem String Quartet

October 7 “Sleeping Beauty” with David Gonzalez

October 14 Cirque Chinois - National Circus of the People’s Republic of China

October 21 Chucho Valdéz & The Afro-Cuban Messengers

November 14 The Theater of Needless Talents - Spectrum Dance Theater

January 6 Cinderella - Russian National Ballet Theatre

January 25 Savion Glover

February 10 The Black Watch and the Band of the Scots Guards

February 17 Jane Monheit with special guest Mark O’Connor

March 16 Van Cliburn Gala

March 24 The Voca People

April 21 Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour 55th Anniversary Celebration

April 23 The Rite of Spring - Béjart Ballet Lausanne

April 26-28 Erth’s Dinosaur Petting Zoo

For more details visit GPAC.

Bad Romance: Hedda Gabler lacks navel-gazing excess

Posted By on Mon, Apr 16, 2012 at 1:09 PM

"I want your love and I want your revenge. You and me could write a bad romance."— Lady Gaga

"Really to sin you have to be serious about it."— Henrik Ibsen, Peer Gynt


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Hedda Gabler aimed a pistol at her boyfriend Eilert Lovborg and babbled something about killing. And after the breakup he never stopped wanting her back. How Jerry Springer is that?

Director Bo List's production of Hedda Gabler, on the NEXT stage at Theatre Memphis, is a tasty take on Ibsen's classic snooze of a play.

Well, the play's not a snooze, but it can be. You know, not much story but lots of deeply felt feelings in the parlor and such. The setup: Hedda Gabler, the headstrong daughter of a military man, has married second-rate academic Jorgen Tesman. Now the lackluster honeymoon's over and she's probably preggers. She's also bored to death with the ordinary life and barely tolerant of her dull husband. But Hedda's attitude brightens when she hears that Eilert Lovborg, an old flame with a bad reputation, is back in town, and riding high on the success of his recently published book. Let the deadly head games begin.

Theatre Memphis's Hedda boasts a fine ensemble of unfussy actors who keep the action galloping ahead as recklessly as the title character on one of General Gabler's prized horses. Justin Asher, Meghan Lisi, Bill Andrews, Aliza Moran, and John Maness, are all precision instruments who cut to the desperate heart of their respective characters.

Momentum is the key to this production. Even the pauses between scenes are filled with Hedda— the irresistible force of nature— dressing and undressing in a spotlight; ripping herself out of and plowing impatiently into layer after layer of cumbersome fabric.

Hedda has been described as "the Female" Hamlet," They're both great roles, obviously, but beyond that I've never understood the comparison. She's really more of an Iago, isn't she? Intrigue without accountability, right? And having so little control over her own circumstances she burns to shape another person's destiny

Lisi's Hedda didn't just remind me of Iago, it reminded me specifically of Bob Hoskins' Iago, laughing at his accusers because he's the only guy in the room who gets the sick joke.

Ibsen named his play Hedda Gabler instead of Hedda Tesman to emphasize that his heroine was more her father's daughter than her husband's wife. Lisi is an appropriately commanding presence; always in charge, even when she's entirely out of control.

Tesman (Maness) is a normal boring man in normal boring debt. He's engaged with his family in normal boring ways and there's something about all that normal earnestness that makes him ridiculous to Hedda. Judge Brack is slightly more interesting.

Brack's a shameless epicurian who favors "back ways." Bill Andrews pours on the smarm and makes Brack Hedda's dirty equal: a confident rapscallion who plays a long game.

Justin Asher is convincing as a newly-dry drunk, all anxious and white-knuckled. His Lovborg's never gotten over booze or his relationship with Hedda, and it's all poison. As his companion, Thea Elvsted, a sad neurotic who left her loveless marriage to assist the troubled writer, Aliza Moran comes across like some displaced member of the Manson family.

When I think of Hedda Gabler a number of positive words leap to mind but "fun" isn't usually one of them. This Hedda is that just that. It's everything you could want from a bad romance with a little something extra.

The last time List was turned loose on the NEXT Stage he turned Shakespeare's Richard III into an off-the-rack black leather bondage fantasy. There's something equally fetish-y about his Hedda, only it works this time around. Because it's not so common. And the bondage is real.

Aliza Moran and Meghan Lisi
  • Aliza Moran and Meghan Lisi

For ticket info click here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Hattiloo Theatre's 2012-2013 season includes two plays by Memphis native Katori Hall

Posted By on Fri, Apr 13, 2012 at 12:52 PM

From A Streetcar Named Desire
  • From "A Streetcar Named Desire"

Next season the Hattiloo Theatre turns a spotlight on social issues affecting the African American community, from the gentrification highlighted in Hurt Village, to the epidemic of recidivism among black males brought out in Native Son.

THE BUBBLY BLACK GIRL SHEDS HER CHAMELEON SKIN – Kirsten Childs
July 26th – August 12th, 2012

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF – Edward Albee
August 30th – September 16th, 2012

HURT VILLAGE – Katori Hall
October 4th – 21st, 2012

MAHALIA – Tom Stolz
October 27th (ONE DAY ONLY)
3:30p and 7:30p
Germantown Performing Arts Center

IF SCROOGE WAS A BROTHER – Ekundayo Bandele
November 29th – December 23rd, 2012

THE MOUNTAINTOP – Katori Hall
Collaboration with The Circuit Playhouse
January 18th – February 10th, 2013
AT THE CIRCUIT PLAYHOUSE

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM – August Wilson
February 28th – March 17th, 2013

NATIVE SON – Richard Wright
April 4th – 21st, 2013

SARAFINA! – Mbongeni Ngema
May 23rd – June 9th, 2013

The Saturday before each opening night, Hattiloo will hold a free panel discussion focused on the theme of the respective upcoming play

Celebrating Samuel Beckett's Centennial

Posted By on Fri, Apr 13, 2012 at 11:51 AM

Shall we all become depressed and laugh about it? In honor of Samuel Beckett, who would be 100-years old today, I've assembled some documentary clips and some examples of his best known work.


Waiting for Beckett (a documentary in six parts)


Film with Buster Keaton


Waiting for Godot

Continue reading »

Thursday, April 12, 2012

King of Fools: New Moon tackles Lear

Posted By on Thu, Apr 12, 2012 at 5:47 PM

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Flattery will get you nowhere.

That seems to be a running theme for The New Moon Theatre Company. The scrappy indie staged a fantastic production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman last season and followed it up this spring with a competent and mostly compelling production of Shakespeare's King Lear. Both plays revolve around characters that are studies in arrested development, brutal portraits of men who grew old but never wise. Shakespeare's monarch and Miller's "low man" have even more in common. Both have a weakness for material things and are easily confused by superficial praise and popularity. The two plays are classic tragedies with tragically modern implications.

The story of Lear in brief: an ancient king of ancient Britain, looking to insure a stable path to succession, announces his retirement and also his intention to divide the kingdom equally among three daughters, Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia, his favorite. Before gifting the lands he asks his daughters to say how much they love him. The elder two shower down praise while Cordelia, who feels much but speaks only according to her needs, says she loves him only as much as a daughter should love her father. Lear misunderstands Cordelia's modesty and the not altogether subtle criticism of her lying sisters. Furiously and foolishly he disowns the "thankless child."

As any generous father might Lear assumes he'll be able to spend his twilight years living with his two loving daughters and their happy families. He asks only for 100 attendent knights. He's denied everything, and turned out to fend for himself in the wilderness. War begins to rumble through the land.

In Act IV the homeless, ragged, angry Lear encounters Gloucester, a nobleman betrayed by his bastard son, then blinded and banished. Gloucester is lead by his legitimate son Edgar, disguised as poor Tom, the mad beggar who's even more ragged than the king.

“Through tattered clothes small vices do appear," Lear says of Poor Tom. "Robes and furred gowns hide all.”

Wisdom arrives too late. In one unassuming line the old blustery King summarizes the moment his life fell apart, offers searing commentary on a sheltered, hypocritical ruling class, and describes, quite clearly, a remarkable modern dilemma. Read any comment thread regarding the Memphis and Shelby County school muddle to and be amazed by the language of blind privilege and pretty ideas used to disguise age-old biases.

New Moon's stylized modern dress production opens strong and finishes strong but loses some momentum along the way.

Bill Baker, who founded the Our Own Voice Theatre Company and works with Playback Memphis is an animated and elfish Lear. Baker is accustomed to working in a more experimental vein, but it's always nice to see him tackle something a bit more straightforward. The broad physical work he's championed over the years serves him well here. The old king's horse-voiced tantrums are childlike and explosive but the language is always crystal clear.

Director Anita "Jo" Lenhart has assembled a strong supporting cast. Kell Christie and Christina Wellford Scott as Regan and Goneril (both powerhouses, both excellent), the always effective Bennett Wood plays Gloucester, and Greg Boller, who played the titular character in Theatre Memphis' interesting if weirdly misguided Richard III, does some of his most nuanced work yet as Kent, who believes in Lear and remains loyal even after his banishment.

Lear is, among many things, a play about fools and the various meanings of foolishness. Cordelia (an understated Heather Malone) plays the part at times as does Kent, Edgar (Michael Bolinski), and even Lear himself. But nobody out-fools Lear's court fool played here by,James Dale Green, a versatile character actor who, as a youngster, played Puck in the celebrated Theatre Memphis production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, staged by Ellis Rabb. Green's Fool is a sad-faced clown in the spirit of Emmett Kelly, and his delivery couldn't be simpler or more effective. "I'd rather be anything than a fool," he says to Lear. "But I would not be you, nuncle." And there's no doubt that the little tramp means it.

It's been 50-years since a theater in Memphis last mounted a full run of King Lear. Why that's the case is a real head-scratcher, all things considered. The show may be more didactic and less nuanced than Othello or Hamlet but, as George Bernard Shaw once noted, one would be hard pressed to craft a more perfect tragedy. This unassuming, if occasionally shocking production may not be perfect, but it's often very good, and scarcity makes it absolutely precious. Catch it while you can.

Heather Malone and Bill Baker
  • Heather Malone and Bill Baker

At TheatreWorks through April 22. 484-3467

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Too Much Dance

Posted By on Thu, Apr 12, 2012 at 3:45 PM

Ballet Memphis revisits Cinderella
  • Ballet Memphis revisits Cinderella

It's shaping up to be a busy weekend, I'm off to Hedda Gabler this evening, have plans to take in The Tempest on Friday, then GCT's Spitfire Grill on Sunday. On Saturday I'll be forced to choose between Ballet Memphis's remount of Cinderella, and Momentum at the U of M.

I've gotta say it's a tough call. Choreographer Steven McMahon's Cinderella is a real charmer but Momentum's got Ondine.

Momentum at the U of M
  • Momentum at the U of M

Thank goodness New Ballet Ensemble's SpringLoaded weekend doesn't get underway until next weekend. I mistakenly thought it was happening this weekend too and had been trying to work miracles with my calendar.

SpringLoaded 2012 from New Ballet Ensemble on Vimeo.

New Ballet Ensemble's collaboration with the Hattiloo Theatre looks exciting

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Flyer Flashback

Looking Back at Flyer Story About a "Religious Freedom" Protest in Mississippi.

To celebrate the Flyer's 25th year, we're looking back on stories from past issues.

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