Friday, October 21, 2016

Broadway Actor Charles Holt Brings Memphis Upstanders to Life

Posted By on Fri, Oct 21, 2016 at 4:35 PM

Charles Holt
  • Charles Holt
Charles Holt hears voices. He collects voices. Studies voices. The Broadway actor also possesses quite a voice of his own — one that’s rung out from the ensemble of Disney’s The Lion King. He performed in Smokey Joe’s Cafe, and in Europe he toured as the first African-American Rocky in a professional company of The Rocky Horror Show. He left a lot of that behind, to find his true voice — and to follow voices calling out to him. Holt’s in Memphis, Monday Oct. 24 speaking at a benefit dinner for Facing History and Ourselves. Maybe "speaking" is the wrong verb. He'll perform his solo show about 14 people who changed Memphis:The Upstanders. It’s a project Holt’s developed with Facing History. It’s a good example of how he answered a call he heard while he was working in New York.

“I was in the Lion King for almost 5-years,” Holt says. “And the time came when I just thought I should be doing something else.” A mentors advised him not to just walk away from a successful show, and he listened. But Holt also started to figure out ways to find a life in performance outside the Broadway houses he usually played.

“I felt like Lion King was limiting me,” he says.

Holt grew up in Lake Providence, a small, Nashville-area community founded in 1868. He was often amused and inspired by the town elders — the way they moved and spoke. And as a younger artist, he was prone to satirizing their mannerisms. “I would get in trouble,” he says, remembering the family’s response to his antics. But in those moments of acting up Holt discovered his love for creating characters, and when he needed to grow creatively, that’s exactly what he started doing. Then he created an avenue for sharing those characters.

“I started calling colleges and universities, creating my own tour,” he says. Monday nights are dark on Broadway, so he’d fly out Sunday nights, do his own thing on Monday, them be back on Broadway Tuesday night.

After he left Lion King Holt realized his character-creating wasn’t just a passing fancy. “It became my job,” he says.

Holt’s been working with Facing History and Ourselves for two years, developing some Memphis characters. His show introduces audiences to folks like Dr. Sheldon Korones who worked to create a neonatal center in the urban core; Lucy Tibbs who testified before Congress about massacres of African-Americans and riots; Civil Rights leaders like Rev. Billy Kyles, and Maxine and Vasco Smith.

“People who have gone beyond the call of duty to speak their truth on things they felt so connected with,” Holt says.

The characters speak to Holt. “Like Lucy Tibbs,” he says. “There was a time when she felt like cowering down, because she knew her life was at stake. But something in her rose up. I hear it all, and I all these people when I’m reading the manuscripts.”

Those elders he grew up with, and imitated are the examples he draws from. “They were upstanders too,” he says.

Form more details on the dinner, click here. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"Cuddles" Won't Comfort: New Moon Tells A Better Vampire Story

Posted By on Thu, Oct 13, 2016 at 5:31 PM

  • Huggy?
Cuddles is a different kind of vampire story. And it can be hard to talk about without giving away the things that set it apart in a genre done to (un)death. Even director Tony Isbell keeps a pretty tight lip,  referencing a quote by the original British producer. He says it's "Part horror film, part domestic tragedy, part romantic comedy. And it's very disturbing."

Given the play's reputation that description sounds both accurate and understated. Cuddles is an exercise in creeping dread. It tells the story of two sisters — one human, one vampire. They have a strict system of rules created to keep both of them alive and together — tenuously in every sense. 

New Moon Theatre has made a couple of promotional videos that don't give too much away, but seem to capture the unholy spirit of the piece. If you like spooky stuff, be sure to check them out. I've been wanting to see this one since I read an early review in The Guardian a few years back, and can't wait till opening night. Only a week away. 

Cuddles Preview from New Moon Theatre on Vimeo.

Cuddles Preview Two from New Moon Theatre on Vimeo.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Circuit Playhouse Pays Tribute to the Andrews Sisters

Posted By on Fri, Oct 7, 2016 at 4:39 PM

Forget Lee Greenwood. Hell, forget Kate Smith. The most patriotic music ever performed may have referenced old glory and American soldiers, but it didn't slob all over them. Back when bands hammered it out 8-to-the-bar and Uncle Sam was recruiting young men to defeat the Axis powers nobody did it better than USO darlings Patty, Laverne, and Maxine — The Andrews Sisters. Although they performed for decades  — even got themselves into a harmony sing - off with Diana Ross and the Supremes — it's difficult to think of them out of their spiffy military duds. Even Over Here, the popular 1974 musical written for the sisters' return to Broadway was a farce calling to mind the trio's WWII-era movies and shows. 

If any songs remains familiar to younger audiences it's probably "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," which is still a banging little ditty for being 75-years old. But for sweet Americana, nothing holds up like "Apple Blossom Time."

In case you haven notices it's election season, and Circuit Playhouse is providing Memphians an opportunity to get their red white and blue on and return to the days when propaganda was fun. Sisters of Swing — an Andrews Sisters tribute — opens at Circuit Playhouse this weekend. Here's a sneak peek. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

"To Kill a Mockingbird" Closes this Weekend

Posted By on Thu, Sep 29, 2016 at 3:34 PM

Once in a while the Tennessee Shakespeare Company gives the bard a rest and turns its considerable talent loose on a completely different set of classics. Fall finds the Shakespeareans working with an adapted version of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird — a short-list contender for great 20th-Century American novel. 

Given the source material's powerful brand, and the fairly recent hubbub and scandal over its posthumous "sequel" Go Set a Watchman, there's not much point in recounting the story or its cultural impact. Instead, enjoy some special video cast interviews created by Jillian Barron and the good folks at TSC. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Dave Landis Talks About "King Charles III" at Playhouse on the Square

Posted By on Tue, Sep 20, 2016 at 5:00 PM

Jim France as Charles III
  • Jim France as Charles III
Mike Bartlett's deliberately and delightfully Shakespearean King Charles III is a history play about things that haven't happened yet. It begins with a sad eventuality — the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II who's still very much alive, but 90-years-old. What follows is the story of a man — Prince Charles — who gets the thing he's been been preparing for his entire life, only to discover it's all happened too late. Written in verse, Charles is a show with everything — suspense, intrigue, the ghost of Princess Di, etc.

As evidenced by supermarket tabloids, Americans remain fascinated by Great Britain's royal family, even if New World audiences don't seem to care for Shakespeare's multi-volume game of thrones. Still, given the Parliamentary crisis at the heart of Bartlett's play, there was something I wanted to ask Dave Landis, who's directing the show for Playhouse on the Square:  Just how British is it?

Dave Landis: It obviously deals with the royals we know — Charles, William, Harry, Kate Middleton, Camilla. Even the next generation are mentioned in passing. There is some British politics involved but it's all pretty straight-forward. Parliament passes a bill into law and the King is supposed to sign it because that's tradition. But, out of the blue, the King decides 'I don't want to sign it.'  That's when all hell breaks loose. Beyond that as a basic catalyst, there's stuff about the role of the monarchy. It's purpose. Has it out-lived it's usefulness?

In a more personal way, it's about the family and their individual wants and desires and objectives and how they set about pursuing them.

An interview with King Charles III star Jim France.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

"Stones In His Pockets" Questions the Luck of the Irish

Posted By on Thu, Sep 8, 2016 at 3:14 PM

There's a great little show opening at the Bartlett Performing Arts Center this weekend featuring a pair of top notch actors — John Maness and Ryan Kathman.

My favorite line from Marie Jones' Stones in His Pockets: "Just stand there and look dispossessed." Such are the instructions film extra Jake Quinn passes on to his mate Charlie Conlon. And as the movie cameras roll by, both men lean on imaginary sod-cutters, mouths agape, eyes hollow and hungry. The irony, of course, is that Jake and Charlie, like all the residents of Ireland's County Kerry, are already quite dispossessed. Poverty is the norm and hopeless depression has spread across the countryside like a thick Irish fog. Only whiskey, pints, drugs, and a wistful nostalgia for the good old days keep the general population from drowning itself in the river. These days, County Kerry's only useful as the backdrop for sprawling Hollywood dramas with fake happy endings. And since the glamorous cast and cocaine-sniffing crew of The Quiet Valley showed up with costumes, lights, and ready cash in tow, that's exactly what it has become.

There's a gimmick to this dark but giddy comedy: Two actors play all the residents of County Kerry. So it's a bit like Greater Tuna, but intelligent and set in Ireland.

Stones is only running for four performances, and I probably won't get to see this one. Would love to get some reader reviews in the comments though. 

Details here. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Jim & Jo Lynne Palmer Honored for Lifetime Achievement in Memphis Theatre

Posted By on Fri, Aug 19, 2016 at 1:48 PM

Jim, Jo Lynne: The Gin Game
  • Jim, Jo Lynne: The Gin Game
I can’t remember when I’ve received a press release that made me happy like this year’s Ostrander nominations. There it was in black and white beside the words “Lifetime Achievement Award: "Jim and Jo Lynne Palmer." This acting couple is the very heart and soul of Memphis theater, and so very deserving.

I became aware of Jo Lynne Palmer’s brilliance in the fall of 1985 during the run of Nicholas Nickelby at Rhodes College, where I was a freshman poli-sci major taking voice and diction lessons because that kind of training would certainly come in handy in my future career as an attorney. (Ahem). I was working backstage at the McCoy Theatre one day and overheard the sweetest, liltingest, most angelic sou
thern voice you’ve ever heard asking questions that made me blush, a little. It was Mrs. Palmer, a community actor I recognized from the show, and, with great earnestness, she was asking two of the student performers why they were backstage being all studious instead of doing all the delicious things people do when they’re young and beautiful. I hope it’s not embarrassing to Jo Lynne — one of the humblest, and most gracious and giving people I’ve ever known— to note that her advice was, perhaps, a bit more direct than I’ve reported here. Because that’s when I fell in love with backstage life, and went head over heels for this free spirited, incalculably talented creature of earth, fire, air, and water. We’d work together later in shows like She Stoops to Conquer and A Lie of the Mind, but one of the great privileges of being a theater writer in Memphis, has been watching this extraordinary artist deliver one convincing performance after another in shows like Beauty Queen of Leenanne and, more recently, Distance, a play Memphis/Chicago playwright Jerre Dye wrote with her perfect voice in mind.

I’m not sure when I first met Jo Lynne’s husband Jim, but I tumbled for him, and his unfussy approach to acting, nearly as fast. I’m fairly sure I saw Jim’s cartoons in early issues of the Memphis Flyer before I ever saw him perform though. He’s done so much fine work over the years, it’s hard to call favorites, but his turns in the complicated skins of poet Ezra Pound, and the suicidal Weston patriarch from August Osage Co., are especially dear to me.

Last season Jim and Jo Lynn were cast opposite one another in The Gin Game, a remarkable production cut short because Jim, who performed the role in a wheelchair, had broken his hip and was in too much pain to continue. That Jim tried to make things work in the first place is testament to the kind of love of craft and commitment these two actors have shown through thick and thin for decades. Here’s what they had to say in advance of Sunday’s Ostrander Awards.

Intermission Impossible: What’s the origin story of the two Palmers?

Jim Palmer: We met in 1968 when I came to Memphis to work for Front Street Theatre. It was still called Front Street Theatre but they had lost their location and were housed at the Memphis State in Big Red. I did several shows there. We met during the very first show I did there which was Showboat. Keith Kennedy directed, and he’d been my teacher in Texas for a couple of years before coming on to Memphis. He and I reconnected after I got out of the Army in ‘68.

Jo Lynne: I was going to Memphis State in the theater department and the Showboat cast had lost a singer/dancer/actor so everybody had to move up a notch. Well, Keith got in touch with me and said, we may have lost a great singer/dancer/actor but we got a great little actress instead. I didn’t even know who Jimmy was, the cast was like 30 or 35 people. I remember Ken Zimmerman was in it. I was living in the dorm at the time and back in the old days girls had to be back in the dorm by 11. So I had to be back after rehearsal every night. Well, Jimmy was always looking for a girl to go out and have a beer with him. Well, I was leaving the theater by that side exit near the law building, and Jimmy was way down the hall. And he said, “Hey do you want to go have a beer?” And I said I was sorry, but I had to go back to the dorm. And then when I turned around the first thought that came to my mind was, “I’m going to spend the rest of my life with that man.” That’s come out true.

Where did you two go for that first beer?

Jim: The beer Joint was called Berretta’s, at the corner of Park & Highland but we didn’t get to go.

Jo Lynne: Not the first time.

Jim: We got married in 1970. In mid ‘71 we took off for New York. Well, we did six months on the barn dinner theater circuit, connected with some people from Memphis, and then moved on to New York and tried to break into the theater, like you do. We were there almost five years to the day. Then we returned to Memphis and started doing community theater because we didn’t think we were getting anywhere in New York. I don’t think we had a clear picture of just how long it takes. We were doing shows in toilets hoping to get an agent to come see us. But no agent would dare go into that part of town. Not at the time, anyway. Thought we’d go back to Memphis because, compared to where we were working, the theaters were much nicer. Although, I should say this: When Front Street closed there was the Memphis Little Theatre, which became Theatre Memphis, and there was Memphis State and there was Children’s Theatre, which was seasonal. And that’s all there was. Circuit had started up, though it didn’t really have a permanent space when Front Street closed.

Jo Lynne: Like Jimmy said we did a lot of off, off, off, off, off Broadway. And we did some extra work on [the soap opera] Love of Life. When we came back Jackie had started Playhouse on the Square. We started doing shows there and Theatre Memphis. Jim’s been drawing cartoons trying to make it as a cartoonist, and we’ve been doing that since.

What are some of your favorite shows you’ve done together?

Jo Lynne: Trip to Bountiful

Jim: That one started out as an independent production. In 1991 our friend Sam Weakley said, “I’ve got a play for you Jo Lynne.”We rented the NextStage at Theatre Memphis and put it on for two weekends. First weekend we didn’t draw too many people. Then the next weekend we had to have people stand if they wanted to see the show. One of the nicest things I’ve ever seen Jo Lynne do. Then they asked us to repeat it again at Germantown Community Theatre on their regular season with the cast in tact. One of several things I’d put in a time capsule.
How many shows have you done together?

Jim: I tried to count it up. I think it came out to be maybe 14.

Do you enjoy working together?

Jim: Jo Lynne probably will not deny this. We love it when we have worked together. Working together not so much. Trying to nail down lines, bouncing each other all the time in shows like Gin Game can be difficult.

Are you able to leave the characters in the theater, or do they ever follow you home?

Jo Lynne: We leave them there.

Jim: We try to leave them there.

But you do help each other prepare?

Jo Lynne: Oh shit yeah, all the time. When we’re in a play together. When one’s in one and one’s in the other, we help each other.

Memphis is a place where there are some professional opportunities, but most folks who do theater do it for the love. Can you talk to me about being a part of this community?

Jim: It’s a terrific feeling. Jo Lynne never cared what role she was playing as long as she was in a show. I wanted to pick things that were really good. Or something I thought I could do well.

Jo Lynne: We just love doing it whether we get paid for it or not. You do it because you need to do it. Because it’s the only thing you feel like you’re halfway good at. And the only thing you really feel good doing when you do it. That’s why you do it. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

What's on Stage in Memphis This Week?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2016 at 3:37 PM

Honey, I shrunk the Joads!
  • Honey, I shrunk the Joads!
The Promised Land isn't all milk and honey. That's one big takeaway from John Steinbeck's Great Depression-era novel, The Grapes of Wrath. GOW tells the hard luck story of the Joad family, who pack up and head for the West coast after losing their drought-stricken farm to the bank. This week Germantown Community Theater is opening a kids-only production of the American classic. That's right, kids-only.

Last year GCT responded to an apparent need. Between school productions, children's theater, regional theater extravaganzas like Theatre Memphis' Oliver, there are many opportunities for young people to perform in musicals. But how often do they get a chance to dig into something serious and meaty? 
Is Orpheus there? Can he come down?
  • Is Orpheus there? Can he come down?

The GCT All Children's Theatre launched last year with a production of the Scopes monkey trial drama Inherit the Wind. Grapes of Wrath is its second dramatic installment. 

And speaking of Grapes of Wrath, expat Memphis playwright Jerre Dye has been received outstanding notices for his performance in a Chicago production. Check it out. 

The new Cloud 9 theater company got off to a shaky start with its production of the a the forgettable play Marriage to an Older Woman. For its sophomore production the group has chosen to keep things relatively obscure, but with a much better script. The Outgoing Tide, by Bruce Graham tells the story of Gunner, a man who recognizes that he's slipping into dementia, but has a plan to insure his family's security. Gallows humor meets heady emotion in a show featuring the extraordinary talents of JoLynne Palmer, Jim Palmer, and Marques Brown.


The Wiz closes at Hattiloo this week, as does Orpheus Descending at Evergreen and Peter and the Starcatcher at Circuit Playhouse. 

Sister Act begins its second week at Playhouse on the Square and Theatre Memphis' critically acclaimed and popular production of Oliver! continues at Theatre Memphis through July 3. 
God is Love. Gruel is yucky.
  • God is Love. Gruel is yucky.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

New Editions: Pelican Shakespeare Gets a Facelift

Posted By on Thu, Jun 23, 2016 at 12:45 PM

  • The Midsummer of Shakespeare
Looks like Arthur Miller isn't the only playwright getting some Penguin love this summer. The Pelican Shakespeare line's also getting a whole new look.
What You Will...
  • What You Will...

 I'm not going to pretend to know enough about previous editions to comment on what's changed other than the cover illustrations. The introductory essays are light reading and full of fun facts about everything from Elizabethan economics and theater's capitalist roots to the way performance changed as it moved indoors.
The best stuff addresses the silliness and snobbery that informs the most common authorship conspiracies. 
There's probably nothing new here for the Shakespearienced. But if you're looking for some new editions, here you go

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

"Film" and "NotFilm": Buster Keaton & Samuel Beckett visit Brooks Museum

Posted By on Wed, Jun 15, 2016 at 1:38 PM

  • Buster
It should have worked. It should have been amazing. 

What could be better than a team up between absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett, and cinema's great clown Buster Keaton? Add to that, a story that's nothing more than a chase scene boiled down to essence? What could have possibly gone wrong?

The rather preciously named Film— screening at the Brooks Museum this week — should have been a spectacular cinematic event, not some footnote and fascinating curiosity. But Beckett had no idea how to make a movie. His friend and longtime collaborator Alan Schneider didn't either. Worser
  • Sam
  still, neither of these grand men of the theater knew how to talk to the poker-faced (and minded) Keaton, a certifiable master of the form.

Beckett and Keaton couldn't have been more different. The former was a heady, experimental philosopher, the latter more interested in technical details and visceral pleasures. Keaton had previously turned down the role of Lucky in the American premiere of Waiting for Godot, because, like so many American theatergoers, he just didn't get it.

Ironically, Beckett described Keaton as impenetrable. 

Keaton didn't understand Film either, and said so publicly. He took the gig because he needed the work. 

Visual essayist Ross Lipman tells the story of Beckett’s struggle to understand the language of film and of his difficult relationship with collaborators like Keaton and award winning cinematographer Boris Kaufman in the documentary Notfilm, also screening at the Brooks this week. Lipman's digital feature (not film) is narration-heavy, and contemplates itself into some un-cinematic corners. It also contains fantastic interview footage with actress Billie Whitelaw, who's widely regarded as the definitive interpreter of Beckett's work.

As a teenager, Leonard Maltin visited the movie set hoping to meet Keaton, whom he idolized. With starry-eyed fanboy zeal the popular film critic recounts his story of an uneventful meeting that, nevertheless, made a lasting impression. He knows Beckett was probably on location too, but Malton only had eyes for Keaton.

Beckett regarded Film as a qualified failure, and strong evidence that his peculiar brand of performance didn’t translate well to the big screen. Still, the curious artifact functions as a kind of movie trailer, teasing images and themes the playwright explores more thoroughly in plays like Endgame and Rockabye. It does so with lots of stark visual appeal thanks to Kaufman's cinematography.

NotFilm, by contrast, is a qualified success that could take a lesson from Beckett's show-don't-tell ethos. 

On a side note, Kaufman was the younger sibling of Russian film pioneers Dziga Vertov and Mikhail Kaufman. He worked as cinematographer and director of photography on a number of Hollywood features including Tennessee Williams' gorgeously-shot The Fugitive Kind. That was the story's third title. It had originally been staged as Battle of Angels, then rewritten and staged as Orpheus Descending

New Moon Theatre Company's solid production of Orpheus Descending is currently on stage at Midtown's Evergreen Theatre. 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, June 10, 2016

Will Call: What's on Stage in Memphis this Week?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 10, 2016 at 1:19 PM

You know the Buckaroo Banzai catchphrase, “No Matter where you go, there you are?” There’s a lot of the sentiment in Tennessee Williams’s drama Orpheus Descending. The original film adaptation was called The Fugitive Kind, and its spirit is beautifully captured in Merle Haggard classics like "The Running Kind" and "Lonesome Fugitive." But Williams’ musically-inspired drama name-checks blues icons like Leadbelly, and and bumps and grinds to older, slinkier rhythms.

Williams once described his version of the Orpheus myth as the story of a, “wild-spirited boy,” named Val who wears a snakeskin jacket and makes his living with a guitar. Val wanders into, “a conventional community of the South and creates the commotion of a fox in a chicken coop.” Underneath it all, according the the author, “it’s a play about unanswered questions that haunt the hearts of people and the difference between continuing to ask them...and the acceptance of prescribed answers that are not answers at all."

In other words, it's a play about race, sexual oppression, and how civilized and not-so-civilized folk talk about things we’re not supposed to talk about.

To whet your whistle for the New Moon Theatre Company’s opening weekend of Orpheus Descending, here’s a clip of Marlon Brando talking about his guitar.

Also opening this week:

“Oh, for a muse of fire that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention!
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars, and at his heels,
Leashed in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire
Crouch for employment.”
• Oh yeah, that’s the good stuff. Shakespeare’s Henry V is a multifaceted epic about politics, patriotism, friendship, loyalty, war, and it’s spoils. This production comes to us courtesy of Tennessee Shakespeare Company and the University of Memphis.

Den Nicholas Smith directs Together Alone for the Emerald Theatre Company. Together Alone’s about Bryan and Bill — if those are their real names — who hook up and talk about life and sex and death and things.

Everybody’s second-favorite orphan is back for more.


Yes, that’s right, dammit, I said, “more.” Oliver’s not quite Annie I suppose, even though he has a more compelling story, full of hardship, thievery, and gruel. This latest revival— a first-time production for Theatre Memphis, surprisingly — is directed by A Christmas Carol regular, Jason Spitzer, who, at this point, should know a thing about grubby industrial London.


• Peter and the Starcatcher at Circuit Playhouse: This deeply silly Peter Pan origin story is too glib by half and one of the most magical things you’re likely to see on stage anytime soon. It’s reviewed here.

The Starcatcher and Peter
  • The Starcatcher and Peter

 • The Wiz: There sure is a lot of homage and redux on this week’s list. This funk and soul-infused Wizard of Oz sold out before it opened, so tickets are scarce. But it you didn’t get tickets, don’t worry. This isn’t the Hattiloo’s best effort, and Season 11 is just around the corner. 
Off to see the Wizard.
  • Off to see the Wizard.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

On Stage this Week: "The Wiz," "Peter and the Starcatcher," and "The Great Cable Cooking Show Contest."

Posted By on Sat, Jun 4, 2016 at 2:17 AM

If there's one show people associate with Playhouse on the Square it's Peter Pan. The boy who wouldn't grow up has made Christmastime appearances off and on for years. This season he's back on stage at Circuit Playhouse in a very different kind of show.

Peter & the Starcatcher is a dark-edged and self-aware origin story. It's all about how Peter Pan became Peter Pan and how a certain pirate lost his hand. It's a nifty take on the J.M. Barrie classic. 

In this rehearsal footage from the Circuit Playhouse production you'll note the presence of none other than musical theatre powerhouse David Foster who's been sidelined for most of this season due to medical issues.

It's good to have him back. 
What a piece of work is Hamlet. How evergreen. How ripe for appropriation and parody. Aye, there's the rub. Will Memphis theater audiences be over Shakespeare's original man in black when the curtain rises on New Moon Theatre's February production? That may not be the question, but given all the Hamlet-related shows we're seeing this season, it's one worth asking. Or will productions of shows like The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and One Ham Manlet whet appetites for the real, complete thing?

Paul Rudnick's light comedy I Hate Hamlet is Germantown Community Theatre's contribution to Hamletpalooza, and it sure is a mixed fardel. Rudnick's script is a bumpy muddle of real-estate gags, sitcom hijinks, and splendid set pieces about celebrity, passion, immortality, and tight pants. An uncommonly engaging cast pulls it all together and keeps spirits high, even when the writing threatens to let everybody down...
Long story short, it's a fine production of an uneven play with some great performances that make everything worthwhile. To read the rest of my review, click here

I Hate Hamlet closes at GCT this weekend. 
Also opening this weekend The Great Cable Cooking Show Contest, a new play written and directed by Memphis theater artist Ruby O'Gray.

A synopsis: 
The play is a zany look at chefs from the most unlikely places, who compete in the small town for money and bragging rights for their culinary creations. Five finalists are chosen to prepare their creations for judges and TV land along with storylines that will tickle your funny bone.
The Great Cable Cooking Show Contest is at TheatreWorks through Sunday, June 5, with two shows on Saturday. 

Last but not least... The Wiz.

I'd say, "Get ready to ease on down the road" with this popular favorite. But if you haven't already purchased tickets, the road may be blocked. The Hattiloo Theatre sold this show out before opening night. That's good for them, but not so good for those among us who always wait till the last minute to reserve. 

Oh, there may some stray tickets available here and there, but good luck getting one. 
A shot from the Hattiloo''s first production of The Wiz.
  • A shot from the Hattiloo''s first production of The Wiz.

Tags: , , , ,

Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Weekend of Festivals Not Named 901

Posted By on Sat, May 28, 2016 at 6:26 AM

This weekend, right? So many festivals, so little time. 

This Saturday, noon till 3:00 p.m. in Overton Park the Hattiloo Theatre is hosting its annual Black Arts Fest, showcasing artists from a variety of disciplines. 

Admission is FREE.


There's even more good stuff happening just a stone's throw from the Hattiloo's event at Rhodes College's McCoy Theatre.  Voices of the South's Memphis Children's Festival has become a Memorial Day tradition featuring storytellers, musicians, and numerous theater troupes specializing in kid's stuff. It's a joy every year. 

As always, it's Pay What You Can.
For details VOTS has made this informative commercial. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

McCoy Theatre Alumni Throw a Party for Retiring Professor Julia "Cookie" Ewing

Or the True Confessions of a B-Student

Posted By on Wed, May 4, 2016 at 4:47 PM

Teresa Morrow Brown directs a cast of 43 Rhodes College theater alumni.
  • Teresa Morrow Brown directs a cast of 43 Rhodes College theater alumni.
I'd never questioned a grade before, but something about that B in beginning acting just bugged the hell out of me. How could I have made a B? I was a senior for gosh sakes. I'd already taken advanced acting, and directing, and "Languages of the Stage," and done quite well. I was only returning to the 101 course because I'd changed my major late in the game and the intro-level class was required to graduate with a degree in Theater & Media Arts. Thing is, I loved that intro class and did so much more than what was required. But there it was, big as life, staring back at me —- B.  

"I think there's been a mistake," I said to my professor and faculty advisor, Julia "Cookie" Ewing, making what seemed like a strong case for a better grade. She listened intently, as always, nodding her head from time to time. Then, when I finished my pitiful monologuing she agreed. No, she vociferously agreed, doling out high praise. 

"But I require students to give themselves a daily grade in their journals," Cookie reminded, softly, melodically. She's always had a switchblade edge, zero tolerance for malarkey, and a reputation for gentleness and generosity, in addition to an uncanny ability to shut out the whole world and devote her full attention to whoever she might be talking to. She didn't have to say another word. I knew exactly where this conversation was going. 

"What's the highest grade you ever gave yourself?" she asked, and I sputtered excuses about not wanting to be presumptuous, and always thinking I could make even my best work better. Then I ran out of steam and answered the question she asked: "I gave myself a B."

"Why would I give you a grade higher than the highest grade you gave yourself," she then asked, with the intensity of Meryl Streep playing Yoda.  Oh, I had an answer. But  I couldn't bring myself to say, "Because I earned it, dammit!" Because suddenly, I wasn't so sure I had. 
  • Cookie

With Cookie there was often very little separation between life lessons and the regular kind. She's one of those tough-loving teachers who makes you want to work harder and be better at everything you do. Everybody who's ever worked with her has a story to tell and many of those stories were related this past weekend — on stage and off— when numerous representatives from every class she's ever taught, and every show she's ever directed or acted in, returned to the McCoy Theatre to thank her, hug her neck, and wish her a happy retirement.

What happened Saturday was supposed to be a surprise, though I have it on good authority, she'd sniffed out the plot a week or so before. Hopefully she was at least surprised by the scale of the SRO event, which included a performance co-written and directed by Teresa Morrow Brown (Class of '83),  featuring a cast of 43 former students. (I encourage you to read all about it here). The show referenced dozens of productions including J.B., Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Brecht on Brecht, The Metamorphosis, Pippin, Cabaret, The Miss Firecracker Contest, Summer and Smoke, The Children's Hour, and Rhodes' landmark production of Nicholas Nickleby. It ended, appropriately enough, with images of a mama bird turning an out of the way corner of the McCoy Theatre into a safe place to raise her babies, followed by the formal presentation of a bronzed nest.  The McCoy Theatre's newer studio space was also renamed The Ewing Studio Theater. 

I could list all of Cookie's awards, accomplishments and accolades, but I'd rather share the image of former students, separated by decades, interacting like old friends and family. The sense of kinship and camaraderie was palpable. The abundant love and clear legacy evidenced an extraordinary teacher's virtuoso performance as a mentor to generations.

Standing O.

Oh, about that B. The grade stood — and I've continued to earn it. I never really learned that last lesson, and remain my own worst critic. Now, at least, I'm everybody else's worst critic too. 

Florence Johnson, Amy Matheney, and an all Rhodes cast celebrate the career and legacy of Cookie Ewing.
  • Florence Johnson, Amy Matheney, and an all Rhodes cast celebrate the career and legacy of Cookie Ewing.

Special thanks to Wes Meador, Dustin Pappin, Laura Canon, and Kevin Collier for the parts they all played in organizing a perfect evening.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

When Shakespeare Was Small: The World in 1616

Posted By on Wed, Apr 20, 2016 at 3:56 PM

Galileo goes before the inquisition for expanding the Copernican heresy.

What's the deal with 1616?

Well, Shakespeare died in England, obviously. Cervantes kicked the bucket in Spain. But celebrity death's not all that interesting, in and of itself. 1616 was a time of enormous contradiction. Old dynasties crumbled while a new world was being plundered. The Earth was growing larger and smaller at the same time. A slave trade and smallpox flourished in the places where where sea monsters once appeared on flat world maps. Science advanced brave new ideas while the church doubled down on its authority and witches were hunted with renewed fervor. Globalism was in its infancy, as were global corporations. Applied arts and sciences found themselves at odds with establishment values.

Thomas Christensen's book 1616: The World in Motion is an entertaining and enlightening romp through the early modern era, when Spanish Galleons delivered silver from Acapulco  to China and exchanged it for silk and spice. Christensen's a first rate storyteller, with a curators eye for art and artifact. He's also the keynote speaker for the 1616 Symposium at Rhodes College this week. Although it's been made possible by the Pearce Shakespeare Endowment, the symposium uses Shakespeare's death as a pretext to assemble scholars from different disciplines to discuss a world that was, quite literally, on the move. 
Louise Bourgeois, the Royal Midwife
  • Louise Bourgeois, the Royal Midwife

Christensen's book covers a lot of ground. In less than 400 heavily-illustrated pages he touches on a little bit of everything from major world events to a power struggle that escalated between a French midwife, and the king's physicians because the latter group had, "No knowledge of the placenta and the womb of a woman, either before or after her delivery." 

"Shakespeare's Sisters," a chapter devoted to women in 1616, is especially fascinating. More "rational" views of the natural world had curious consequences. Witch hunting, for example, had once swept up equal numbers of men and women. By 1616 accusations were leveled primarily at older women who were more likely to be herbalists, and keepers of folk traditions. Christensen elaborates on reasonably well known stories about Pocahontas' visit to Europe, the reign of Nur Jahan over the Mughal Empire, and the trials and artistic triumphs of baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi. My favorite part, however, is Christensen's  juxtaposition of the life of two crossdressing women: Mary Frith (AKA Moll Cutpurse), a pipe-smoking pimp known as the "Roaring Girl," and Catalina de Erauso, a Basque soldier who aided in the conquest of the Americas, and was later given special dispensation by the pope to dress in men's clothing.

Erauso, who first dressed as a man to escape life as a nun, served as the right hand man to her brother who never recognized her.  She was eventually transferred to a heavy combat zone after the siblings came to blows over another woman. 
Gorgeous double-paged spread from 1616: The World in Motion
  • Gorgeous double-paged spread from 1616: The World in Motion

As far as Shakespeare is concerned, he was quite the innovator in his day, but it would be another hundred years before his Romantic makeover as the great lion of Western literature. As his fame grew in the 19th and 20th centuries, the man himself became harder and harder to see. Like Rhodes professor Dr. Scott Newstok explained in a recent interview for Memphis Magazine, the "fixation on Shakespeare occludes the way he actually worked."

To that end the 1616 symposium doubles as a reverse-engineered portrait of Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi.
  • Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi.

Judith Slaying Holofernes by Caravaggio.
  • Judith Slaying Holofernes by Caravaggio.

© 1996-2016

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation