Friday, May 15, 2015

"Attorney/Joker: Part Sign" is a Poignant Goodbye From a Unique Artist

Posted By on Fri, May 15, 2015 at 6:45 PM

OOV perform Attorney/Joker: Part Sign
  • OOV perform Attorney/Joker: Part Sign



Playwright Randy Wayne Youngblood, who died last year at the age of 56, lived quite a life. He once toured as a roadie with the rock band Yes. He was a cofounder of Our Own Voice (OOV) Theatre Company. He was an a writer whose images, while often surreal, could land on the ear, and on the heart with extraordinary force. He was also diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1984 but he never let that define him. Instead, he used his unique perspective, and his writing to define everybody else. 



This week OOV company members say goodbye to their old friend one more time when Youngblood's last play, Attorney/Joker: Part Sign, closes at TheatreWorks.



Youngblood's funny, quirky script is patched together from pieces of 70's and 80's-era song lyrics, parts of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, and bits of the old vampire soap opera Dark Shadows. Some scenes are structured entirely around the lyrics of the Eagles 'Hotel California." Only, unlike the Eagles, the scenes don't suck.



Attorney/Joker: Part Sign is an occasionally confounding patchwork of ideas relating pop culture to identity.Director/adaptor Alex Skitolsky, who is no stranger to Youngblood's writing, has done an amazing job navigating the dense language, and finding something like a narrative. It's also clear that the cast— a who's who of OOV alum— really has its heart in this one.



I sometimes caution that OOV's work may not be for everybody, which isn't true at all.  But I want audiences— especially audiences brave enough to sample new and experimental work— to have reasonable expectations. This is no-budget theater created by a community of artists with a shared vision, and a drive to make artistically progressive,  socially responsible work. It's not about slick, polished performances, or elaborate sets and costumes. But even if you're more of a mainstream theatergoer, if you open yourself up to the unexpected, the unexpected is exactly what OOV delivers.



The lingering image from Attorney/Joker: Part Sign, for me, comes from a song performed by Zak Baker of the band Zigadoo Money Clips. "The garden is tremendous," he sings. As tended by Youngblood, and his OOV colleagues, it certainly has been. 




Thursday, May 14, 2015

There's So Much Dance in Memphis this Weekend

Posted By on Thu, May 14, 2015 at 5:04 PM

"Harlem" by New Ballet Ensemble
  • "Harlem" by New Ballet Ensemble
What would you like to see most? Would you like to see the dancers in an established classical company doing personal, all-original work? Or maybe you'd prefer to see a modern company setting family histories into motion? How about a critically acclaimed tribute to the music of Duke Ellington, fusing various dance styles with heavy doses of ballet and Memphis street? It all sounds good, doesn't it? And here's the nifty thing: You don't have to choose. It's all on tap in Memphis this weekend. And some of it is either pay-what-you-can or free. 

INTERIORWORKS is an annual pay-what-you-can opportunity to see what the dancers of Ballet Memphis come up with when left to their own devices. The 16th installment in the ongoing series runs through Saturday, May 16, at Ballet Memphis' home base on Trinity road. The suggested $10 donation benefits the Artists Resource Fund for dancers in career transition.

The dancers of Project: Motion always start with a concept.  For Bloodlines + Bylines guest artist and writer, Anna Esquivel has been tasked with weaving together the threads of various family histories collected from Knowledge Quest Memphis, the Madonna Learning Center, and Town Village at Audubon. The original choreography for Bloodlines + Bylines was created by Project: Motion dancers Bethany Wells Bak, Rebecca Cochran, Emily Hefley, Louisa Koeppel, and Wayne M. Smith.

The works will be presented on a stage without wings, eliminating the boundaries between onstage and offstage, and putting the dancers in a position where they are performing continuously. To get the inside scoop, click here. 
In motion: "Bloodlines + Bylines"
  • In motion: "Bloodlines + Bylines"

Bloodlines + Bylines opens Friday, May 15, 2015 at 8 p.m. at the Evergreen Theatre and runs through
Sunday, May 17. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students & seniors.

Saturday night at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park, New Ballet Ensemble teams up with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra to revive its critically acclaimed "Harlem." You can read all the details here, in a piece I wrote for Memphis Magazine's 901 Blog. Best of all, it's absolutely free. And coolers are welcom. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Voices of the South Launches the Mid-South Writer's Lab

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2015 at 5:05 PM

Voices of the South
  • Voices of the South

For 20-years Voices of the South has served up new plays with a distinct Delta drawl. Now the scrappy little company is entering into its third decade with a renewed commitment to the cultivation of new work.

And here's the nifty thing. Because VOTS specializes in narrative performance, they aren't only interested in traditional plays and playwrights. They are also interested in developing work by poets, songwriters, and prose-makers who are interested of seeing their work developed in a theatrical context.

The Mid-South Writer's Lab is being described as an incubator that will provide artists with space, feedback, actors and workshop opportunities. 

And a $200 stipend.




11169979_10153278661129803_2978822094144671073_n-1.jpg

Tennessee Shakespeare Announces New Musical Series

Posted By on Mon, Apr 27, 2015 at 2:43 PM

Rosemary Clooney
  • Rosemary Clooney

Good news for anybody interested in sampling tomorrow's musical theater today. 

Tennessee Shakespeare Company
is partnering with the University of Memphis' Department of Theatre and Dance to present Showplace Memphis: Musical Works in Progress. Showplace Memphis is a new musicals series. It's sponsored in part by Broadway licensing company, Theatrical Rights Worldwide (TRW), and will give regional audiences access to new Broadway-bound musicals in various stages of development.

Readings will be staged at the U of M featuring professional casts. 

According to press materials each each musical will be played and sung in its entirety and audiences will be able to interact with the actors and creators immediately following the readings.  

Showcase Memphis Schedule of Musical Readings:

Tenderly 
The Rosemary Clooney Musical
based on the life of Rosemary Clooney
By Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Freidman
Directed by Kent Nicholson
Musical direction by Matt Castle
Title Sponsors: Pat and Thane Smith
Reading: Saturday, May 23 at 7:00 pm



Midsummer Night
A musical loosely adapted from William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Book, music and new lyrics by Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda
Additional music by Gene Lewin
Adaptation conceived and directed by Janet Roston
Musical direction by Ryan O’Connell
Reading: Saturday, June 27 at 7:00 pm



The Oliver Experiment
What if your entire life were a Broadway musical… and you had no clue?
Book and lyrics by Jeremy Desmon
Music by Jeff Thomson
Reading: Saturday, August 15 at 7:00 pm
University of Memphis Theatre Building Mainstage


Tickets may be purchased by calling 901-759-0604, or visiting www.tnshakespeare.org. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Memphis College Of Art Students Explore Creativity and Nonviolence with Elaine Blanchard

Posted By on Fri, Apr 24, 2015 at 10:13 AM

Elaine Blanchard.
  • Elaine Blanchard.

Occasionally there is a line in a press release worth quoting:

"This is what we have learned: Face to face conversations create hope for the one who talks and for the ones who listen."

That's from a notice about storyteller Elaine Blanchard's recent work with Memphis College of Art students. It sums up what she does about as succinctly as possible. 

Blanchard
is so much more than just a storyteller, really. She’s an alternative historian, an artful activist and, a consistently relevant antidote to the internet outrage du jour. Using unvarnished oral and written histories, she teaches us how to see through other people’s eyes, and takes us on intimate guided tours through hard, rocky places we might not choose to visit on our own. And Blanchard, who's probably best known for her work on the Prison Stories series, makes us glad we came along for the ride.

In recent years Blanchard has added Emmy winner and “teacher” to her resume. This weekend a group of MCA students who enrolled in Blanchard’s Creativity and Nonviolence class are will be sharing works of visual art, and giving theatrical form to the many stories they’ve collected from people who live in their assigned neighborhoods. Some of the students have built sculptural pieces from refuse, others have assembled collage, and written poems and songs.

The stories, which are additionally informed by work with an area sociologist and police officer, come from a wide range of multigenerational sources. They follow people whose families have lived in the same neighborhood for generations as well as immigrants, newly arrived in America. There are stories of traditions interwoven with stories of loss and change, for better and worse. And there are stories about communities where people are deeply involved in one another’s lives.

“There was a time when, in Orange Mound a doctor might live next to a sanitation worker,” Blanchard says. “If you needed something, it was in the neighborhood. You could go to the store, or to a movie, or a dance hall, all in the neighborhood. And none of that’s there now.” She counters the historical change with anecdotes about people from the Mound who arrived at their interviews dressed in orange, preparing to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the place they call home.

“There was so much excitement,” Blanchard says. 

The art and storytelling events are free and open to the public. Saturday, April 25th

10:00 am at Beulah Missionary Baptist Church on the corner of Douglas and Grand in Orange Mound.
11:30 am at Caritas Village, 2509 Harvard Ave. 38112 in Binghamton.
1:00pm at Lifeline to Success at 1647 Dellwood 38127 in Frayser.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Orpheum Theatre Announces Nominees for the 2015 High School Musical Theater Awards

Posted By on Tue, Apr 21, 2015 at 1:06 PM

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Arlington High School
  • The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Arlington High School

On Monday, May 11th at 7:00 p.m. the Orpheum Theatre will once again host the High School Musical Awards, celebrating Memphis' best young performers and the teaching artists guiding their development. The ceremony will be hosted by Broadway and TV star Kyle Dean Massey.

The Orpheum High School Musical Theatre Awards are part of the National High School Musical Theatre Awards program. Winners of the Lead Actor and Actress categories  compete nationally in the Jimmy Awards held at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway. T

And the nominees are...

Outstanding Front of House sponsored by Nolan’s Audiovisual

The Sound of Music, Northpoint Christian School
White Christmas, Southside High School
Leader of the Pack, St. Agnes Academy
Beauty and the Beast, St. Mary’s Episcopal School
An Evening with the Characters of Pride & Prejudice, Tipton-Rosemark Academy
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Wynne High School

Beauty and the Beast at St. Mary's

Outstanding Production Materials sponsored by Winston Wolfe

Lucky Stiff, Bolton High School
Fiddler on the Roof, Briarcrest Christian School
She Loves Me, Christian Brothers High School
Big Fish, Germantown High School
The Wedding Singer, St. Benedict at Auburndale
An Evening with the Characters of Pride & Prejudice, Tipton-Rosemark Academy

Outstanding Artistic Element

The Parfumerie Shop, She Loves Me, Christian Brothers High School
Fiona’s Tower, Shrek the Musical, Evangelical Christian School
The Gargoyle Statues, Beauty and the Beast, Jackson Christian School
The Giant, Into the Woods, Lausanne Collegiate School
The Waves and Seashore, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Memphis University School
The Bathtub, Jelly Fish, and Umbrellas, Seussical the Musical, St. George’s Independent School

Little Women at Hutchison

Outstanding Chorus
Fiddler on the Roof, Briarcrest Christian School
She Loves Me, Christian Brothers High School
Les Miserables, Collierville High School
Big Fish, Germantown High School
Little Women, Hutchison School
Leader of the Pack, St. Agnes Academy
An Evening with the Characters of Pride & Prejudice, Tipton-Rosemark Academy

Outstanding Small Ensemble
The Witches, Big Fish, Germantown High School
Three Blind Mice, Shrek the Musical, Millington Central High School
The Bird Girls, Seussical the Musical, Ridgeway High School
The Jivettes, Leader of the Pack, St. Agnes Academy
The Delta Nu Sisters, Legally Blonde, Jr, Whitehaven High School
The Brothers, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Wynne High School

Outstanding Large Ensemble
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Arlington High School
Lucky Stiff, Bolton High School
Les Miserables, Collierville High School
Avenue Q, Cordova High School
The Wedding Singer, St. Benedict at Auburndale
Fame, White Station High School

Outstanding Student Orchestra sponsored by Yarbrough’s Music
Godspell, Jr.,Central High School
Les Miserables, Collierville High School
Avenue Q, Cordova High School
Shrek the Musical, Evangelical Christian School
Big Fish, Germantown High School
Fame, White Station High School

Big Fish at GHS.

Outstanding Music Direction sponsored by Hick’s Convention Services

Avenue Q, Cordova High School
Big Fish, Germantown High School
Little Women, Hutchison School
Leader of the Pack, St. Agnes Academy
Beauty and the Beast, St. Mary’s Episcopal School
An Evening with the Characters of Pride & Prejudice, Tipton-Rosemark Academy

Outstanding Dance Execution
Lucky Stiff, Bolton High School
Shrek the Musical, Evangelical Christian School
Thoroughly Modern Millie, Hernando High School
The Wedding Singer, St. Benedict at Auburndale
Beauty and the Beast, St. Mary’s Episcopal School
Legally Blonde, Jr., Whitehaven High School

leader_of_the_pack_poster-1.jpg
Outstanding Production Number
Tevye’s Dream, Fiddler on the Roof, Briarcrest Christian School
The Speed Test, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Hernando High School
I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General, The Pirates of Penzance, Houston High School
Be Our Guest, Beauty and the Beast, Jackson Christian School
Like Zis, Like Zat, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Memphis University School
River Deep, Mountain High, Leader of the Pack, St. Agnes Academy
Bend and Snap, Legally Blonde, Jr., Whitehaven High School

Outstanding Hair and Makeup
She Loves Me, Christian Brothers High School
Shrek the Musical, Evangelical Christian School
Little Women, Hutchison School
Into the Woods, Lausanne Collegiate School
Beauty and the Beast, St. Mary’s Episcopal School
An Evening with the Characters of Pride & Prejudice, Tipton-Rosemark Academy

Outstanding Costumes
Shrek the Musical, Evangelical Christian School
Little Women, Hutchison School
Beauty and the Beast, Jackson Christian School
Seussical the Musical, Ridgeway High School
The Wedding Singer, St. Benedict at Auburndale
Beauty and the Beast, St. Mary’s Episcopal School
An Evening with the Characters of Pride & Prejudice, Tipton-Rosemark Academy

Outstanding Set
Lucky Stiff, Bolton High School
She Loves Me, Christian Brothers High School
Avenue Q, Cordova High School
Shrek the Musical, Evangelical Christian School
Little Women, Hutchison School
Beauty and the Beast, St. Mary’s Episcopal School

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Arlington High School
  • The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Arlington High School
Les Miserables at Collierville High

Outstanding Lighting

You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown, Bartlett High School
The Drowsy Chaperone, Harding Academy
Little Women, Hutchison School
Into the Woods, Lausanne Collegiate School
Beauty and the Beast, St. Mary’s Episcopal School
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Wynne High School

Outstanding Technical Achievement
Lucky Stiff, Bolton High School
Shrek the Musical, Evangelical Christian School
Big Fish, Germantown High School
Little Women, Hutchison School
Into the Woods, Lausanne Collegiate School
Beauty and the Beast, St. Mary’s Episcopal School

Thoroughly Modern Millie, Hernando High School

Outstanding Achievement in Musical Theatre sponsored by Jack Pirtle’s Chicken

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Arlington High School
Lucky Stiff, Bolton High School
Shrek the Musical, Evangelical Christian School
Big Fish, Germantown High School
Legally Blonde, Jr., Whitehaven High School
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Wynne High School

The Bravo Award
Jonathan Alpizar as Gavroche, Les Miserables, Collierville High School
Reagan Hall as Brigitta, The Sound of Music, Northpoint Christian School
Kaitlyn Poindexter as JoJo, Seussical the Musical, Ridgeway High School

Student Technical Achievement Award sponsored by Memphis Audio
Sean Byrne, Germantown High School, Big Fish
Macy Kloville, Hutchison School, Little Women
Annie Wepfer, Hutchison School, Little Women
Natalie Martin, Southside High School, White Christmas
Patrick Brown, Tipton-Rosemark Academy, An Evening with the Characters of Pride & Prejudice, Tipton-Rosemark Academy

11_the_wedding_singer_poster.jpg

Student Creative Achievement Award sponsored by The Crump Firm

Donovan Hughes, Bolton High School, Lucky Stiff
Taylor Shennett, Germantown High School, Big Fish
Charlotte Gray, Hutchison School, Little Women
Lauren Hope, Ridgeway High School, Seussical the Musical
Catie Blackwood & Arielle Labilles, St. Benedict at Auburndale, The Wedding Singer
Aidan Cooper, St. George’s Independent School, Seussical the Musical

Outstanding Featured Dancer
Maddie Dunavant in Fiddler on the Roof, Briarcrest Christian School
Lexie Lang in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Hernando High School
Kylan Owens in The Wiz, Overton High School
Catie Blackwood in The Wedding Singer, St. Benedict at Auburndale
Jordan Davis in Legally Blonde, Jr., Whitehaven High School
Sophia Karabell in Fame, White Station High School

Outstanding Featured Actress sponsored by Mark and Jacqueline Barry
Mary Ashley Greene as Fruma Sarah, Fiddler on the Roof, Briarcrest Christian School
Avery Blanton as Jolene Oaks, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Memphis University School
Daneka Norfleet as Addaperle, The Wiz, Overton High School
Maddie Arnold as Grandma Rosie, The Wedding Singer, St. Benedict at Auburndale
Kirkland Shular as Linda, The Wedding Singer, St. Benedict at Auburndale
Jessi Edgerly as Charlotte, An Evening with the Characters of Pride & Prejudice, Tipton-Rosemark Academy

ECS Shrek the Musical from John DePaola on Vimeo.


Outstanding Featured Actor sponsored by Mark and Jacqueline Barry

Tyler Gaffney as The Body of Uncle Anthony, Lucky Stiff, Bolton High School
Robbie Ramirez as Luigi, Lucky Stiff, Bolton High School
Brice Boyer as Lord Farquaad, Shrek the Musical, Evangelical Christian School
Caleb Suggs as Karl the Giant, Big Fish, Germantown High School
Will Crowe as Lefou, Beauty and the Beast, Jackson Christian School
Adam Schween as George, The Wedding Singer, St. Benedict at Auburndale

Outstanding Supporting Actress sponsored by Lexus of Memphis
Jasmine Robertson as Rita LaPorta, Lucky Stiff, Bolton High School
Grace Martin as Ilona Ritter, She Loves Me, Christian Brothers High School
Tamlyn Sampson as Gary Coleman, Avenue Q, Cordova High School
Patsy Detroit as Beth, Little Women, Hutchison School
Gabby Willingham as Darlene Love, Leader of the Pack, St. Agnes Academy
Arielle Labilles as Holly, The Wedding Singer, St. Benedict at Auburndale

Avenue Q, Cordova High School

Outstanding Supporting Actor

Donovan Hughes as Vinny , Lucky Stiff, Bolton High School
Jake McCutcheon as Enjolras, Les Miserables, Collierville High School
Austin Russell as Nicky, Avenue Q, Cordova High School
Thomas Truoy as Sammy, The Wedding Singer, St. Benedict at Auburndale
A.J. Wimberley as Wickham, An Evening with the Characters of Pride & Prejudice, Tipton-Rosemark Academy
Noah Haney as Levi, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Wynne High School

Outstanding Lead Actress sponsored by Bill and Cheryl Stegbauer

Parker Chase as Olive Ostrovsky, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Arlington High School
Madison Alexander as Amelia, She Loves Me, Christian Brothers High School
Kathryn Sterling as Fiona, Shrek the Musical, Evangelical Christian School
Erica Penninger as Millie, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Hernando High School
Adele Fish as Jo March, Little Women, Hutchison School
Shelbi Sellers as Elizabeth, An Evening with the Characters of Pride & Prejudice, Tipton-Rosemark Academy

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at MUS
  • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at MUS

Outstanding Lead Actor

Christopher Williams, Georg , She Loves Me, Christian Brothers High School
Mark Elich as Jean val Jean, Les Miserables, Collierville High School
Stephen Timberlake as Shrek, Shrek the Musical, Evangelical Christian School
Maclean Mayers as Ed Bloom, Big Fish, Germantown High School
Kylan Owens as Scarecrow, The Wiz, Overton High School
Kyle Van Frank as Robbie, The Wedding Singer, St. Benedict at Auburndale

Outstanding Direction by a Teacher

Karen Dean & Jeff White, Lucky Stiff, Bolton High School
Chris Luter, Avenue Q, Cordova High School
Ashleigh Williams, Big Fish, Germantown High School
Jay Rapp, Little Women, Hutchison School
Ryan Kathman, The Wedding Singer, St. Benedict at Auburndale
Jenny Madden, Beauty and the Beast, St. Mary’s Episcopal School

Outstanding Overall Production sponsored by Gould’s Salons & Spas
Les Miserables, Collierville High School
Avenue Q, Cordova High School
Little Women, Hutchison School
The Wedding Singer, St. Benedict at Auburndale
Beauty and the Beast, St. Mary’s Episcopal School
An Evening with the Characters of Pride & Prejudice, Tipton-Rosemark Academy

The Orpheum’s High School Musical Theatre Awards are Monday, May 11th, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $15-$35 and go on sale to the public April 22nd.

Nina Raine's “Tribes” Maps the Boundary Between Listening and Hearing

Posted By on Tue, Apr 21, 2015 at 1:52 AM

25E583EB3-AC2F-4112-312FA20FA62B0606.jpg

I think it’s time to add a new word to the dictionary: Beiged. Mr. Webster should define it as anything, but especially something reasonably exotic, made to seem boring and bland because of too much tan-colored pigment. For example: “Tribes is one of the most daring plays to come down the pike in years but it was completely beiged by that monolithically tan, badly lit set.



Obviously, Nina Raine’s dark-edged comedy has some specific technical requirements. Surtitles are projected so hearing audience members can follow along when deaf characters converse in sign language. It’s an appropriately operatic conceit but there had to be a way to manage it without throwing up a tall, solid, oppressively khaki-colored wall that makes the space seem so shallow and the work feel so flat.



Tribes has deaf characters. It is not a "deaf" play.  It is also a study, not a story, considering the many ways individuals and groups exchange information. We’re introduced to a smart, relentlessly combative, sometimes outright mean family of adults who are all occupying the same house for the first time since the children started leaving for college. The father (Barclay Roberts) is an academic and author of argumentative books. He’s learning Japanese, but he won’t insult his son’s intelligence by learning sign-language. The mother (Irene Crist) is writing a detective novel set around a dissolving marriage.



“I don't know who's done the murder yet. I'm going to decide at the end and then put all the clues in," mother says, in one of the play’s more wantonly self-conscious moments.




The children are all struggling to define themselves outside the family. Daughter Ruth (Morgan Howard) is an aspiring opera singer piecing together a career performing in pubs. Only she’s been listening to herself lately, and that may not be a good thing. The oldest son, Daniel (Cameron Reeves), is a student writing his thesis about how language doesn’t determine meaning. He’s mentally ill and sometimes turns up the radio to drown out the voices he hears in his head. Billy's the youngest. He's been deaf from birth. He’s also an expert lip reader, raised by his opinionated father, to believe he’s no different than anybody else.



As one might imagine in a play called Tribes, conflict arises when an outsider enters the picture. Billy begins to interact with organized deaf culture and falls in love with Sylvia, who was born with normal hearing into a deaf family. She is also losing her hearing and descending into a silence that she describes as being much noisier than she ever could have imagined. Act one closes with the inevitable gladiatorial dinner party scene where she meets Billy’s family and is bloodied up from “hello.”



Odd, smug, and compulsively argumentative families are almost a cliche. We’ve seen this dynamic depicted countless times in stories by J.D. Salinger, in plays by Kaufman & Hart, and films by Wes Anderson. We’ve even seen it reflected in the macabre satire of The Addams Family. Raine’s sometimes jarring, immensely resonant script digs deep into this tradition, while venturing into new, exciting, and relatively uncharted territory. Circuit Playhouse's finely acted production is never all it might be, but it's never too far off the mark either. 



I blame the beige. 


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Dido, Dirty Madrigals, Christopher Marlowe, and Sweet Baroque Music

Posted By on Thu, Apr 16, 2015 at 12:45 PM

Gu__rin___n__e_racontant____Didon_les_malheurs_de_la_ville_de_Troie_Louvre_5184.jpg

Opera Memphis' Midtown Opera Festival opened with strong modern and contemporary work. It returns this week with Henry Purcell’s baroque opera Dido & Aeneas. The story of Dido, the Carthaginian queen and her ill-fated love for the Trojan hero Aeneas, will be accompanied by an orchestra playing traditional baroque instruments like harpsichord, therobo, and the viol de gamba 

What's better than beautiful antique music played on beautiful antique instruments? Dirty antique music played in a traditional style, of course. And that's what's being served up in the opera lounge following Friday's performance of Dido & Aeneas.

Screen_Shot_2015-04-16_at_12.24.48_PM.png

The rarest treat has been saved for Saturday Night. To compliment Purcell's opera, Threepenny Theatre Company has undertaken a staging of Christopher Marlowe's brief, seldom seen tragedy, Dido Queen of Carthage. Marlowe's version, which is believed to be the English playwright's first theatrical effort, cleaves closely to the classical source material, telling a fiery story of Gods, humans, sex, obsession, and madness. 


April 17th @ 8:00 pm: Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas
April 17th @ 9:15 pm: Naughty Madrigals and Catches (and possibly instrumental music) in the lounge
April 18th @ 3:00 pm: Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage, performed by Threepenny Theatre Company (“pay what you can” at the door)
April 18th @ 4:15 pm: Dido Fest Panel, including representatives from Rhodes, Threepenny Theatre Company, and Opera Memphis – revolving around the many representations of Dido on the stage
April 18th @ 5:15 pm: Beginner's Guide to Baroque Music with Zak Ozmo
April 18th @ 6:00 pm: Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Return of One Sentence Reviews: "Glory Denied"

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 at 5:20 PM

Glory-Denied-Page-Image.png

Watching Opera Memphis' minimal but mighty production of Tom Cipullo's Viet Nam-era one act, Glory Denied,  is like being clobbered by angels and dumped in a freezing river of 1970's pop culture. 

This video from the Fort Wayne Opera features Michael Mayes as Co. Jim Thompson, America's longest serving Prisoner of War. It's a role he's reviving for the Midtown Opera Festival. 


Glory Denied is just one of many shows to explore at the Midtown Opera Festival. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Growing Pains: Voices of the South stages "The Awakening"

Posted By on Thu, Apr 9, 2015 at 5:05 PM

werec_TheAwakeningPoster.jpg
It's nice to have a glass of wine at intermission. But halfway through The Awakening a tall espresso would have been more helpful. 

In theory, this show sounds like an exciting proposition. More than that, an ambitious adaptation of Kate Chopin's seminal 19th-Century proto-feminist novel sounds like a perfect fit for Voices of the South, the innovative theater troupe known for its colorful collage of Southern musical and literary traditions. Only this time around there's not much color. Everything in director Swaine Kaui's staging is rendered literally, and figuratively, in a monochromatic scale of dirty white. Strangled by artifice, the adapted script links chunky narrative passages with more traditional scene work and incongruent bits of musical theater. It wants to be as bold and modern as Chopin's story was when it was first published in 1899. But the story's characters and human conflict are as poorly defined as the play's formal elements are shapeless, bloodless and interminable. 

Pretty is as pretty does and prettiness is often the only thing this Awakening has going for it. Lyrical dance-like sequences employing large strips of light-reactive fabric are lovely to look at. But we've seen Voices do this sort of thing a little too often now. And how much nicer might it all have been if the ghostly imagery was accompanied by a developed character or any relationship at all.

There's no heat between cast members. Imitated voices of parrots and children are accidentally funny. Actors pronounce their lines, and project their lines, and recite their lines and make great whooshing noises that are accompanied by great whooshing movements to indicate some great universal  whooshing, and throw themselves body and soul into a deep dark ocean of mix-and-match theatrical conceits. But it's a rare moment when anybody successfully communicates with the audience or with each other.

Anne Marie Caskey in The Awakening
  • Anne Marie Caskey in The Awakening

The adaptation's musical interludes are unmotivated. They feel tacked on, lacking meaningful context even in a story that's steeped in song.

VOTS co-founder Alice Berry plays Chopin's groundbreaking protagonist Edna Pontellier, who experiences artistic and sexual awakenings while vacationing in Grand Isle, LA with her husband, Léonce. I've watched Berry grow as an artistic force since we were both students at the U of M in the 1990's. She's sensitive, smart, and driven to hard work with a natural born fierceness and real knack for developing complicated gimmick-free characters, unsullied by judgement or ostentation. She's one of my very favorite area performers and this is the kind of role she should own. But somehow Berry never connects with Edna. And nobody on stage connects with her or with anybody else. It's like watching a cast of somnambulists, but never quite as exciting. Ink on a page has more life. And possibly more dimension.

Maybe it's not that bad. Maybe I caught an especially flat show. But Voices of the South has set a high standard and expectations were set accordingly. This is exactly the sort of thing this mature company usually does very well. And when it flirts with self-parody, I have to wonder what the hell went wrong.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Will the Tennessee Legislature Make it Illegal to Perform Hamlet in Schools?

Posted By on Thu, Apr 2, 2015 at 10:14 AM

h-duel3.jpg
Okay, I'll admit that the headline might be somewhat sensational. The Tennessee House of Representatives hasn't outlawed Shakespeare just yet. But let's hope nobody's prop room gets raided in the near future. An amendment tacked onto HB995 makes it illegal to carry swords and toy guns within 100 feet of a school. HB995, also known as the "Guns in Parks" bill, passed Monday.

The language:

 
“A person commits an offense who intentionally carries an explosive, explosive weapon, permanently disabled firearm, hoax device, imitation firearm, machete, or sword openly within one hundred fifty feet (150′) of the real property that comprises the grounds or facilities of a public or private preschool, elementary school, middle school, or secondary school."
That would seem to put a lot of classical performance off limits. Not to mention West Side Story


Ironically, the ban doesn't apply to actual guns which aren't considered an explosive weapon. Guns are already covered under a federal gun-free schools act. 

On the other hand this may encourage the creation of Machete Kills: The Musical  since there is at least one specific exception:

"(B) Carrying or possessing a machete and employed in a
profession where a machete is customarily utilized."

Friday, March 27, 2015

Russian Roulette: "The Seagull" Soars at Playhouse on the Square.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2015 at 11:57 AM

226BB3527-B758-A6AB-177F602F1F59A3B6.jpg.pagespeed.ce.TgzFBFjwYXgpWucKuVQ9.jpg

The Seagull is a special kind of balancing act and a proving ground for actors and directors alike. It’s functionally a comedy but it's got a dark side. And for being as old as dirt is still feels progressive, even a little edgy. When Masha declares "I am in mourning for my life" only a few lines into the play, it can bring the house down laughing. Only she means every word. And so it goes with Anton Chekhov’s bleak knee-slapper about an aging actress, her lover the philandering author, her son the struggling young artist, reluctant horses, the spirit of humanity, and various other friends, employees and family relations all perched somewhere between disappointment and death. Every giddy note is rooted in sensuality and laced with sorrow. Every tragic strain an excuse for wit and whimsy. On an epically-imagined set that faintly echoes POTS' Angels in America, director Irene Crist and her first rate company of character actors negotiate a dramatic obstacle course to find exactly the right balance. The result is a fast-paced, bittersweet revival of a modern classic that, in its most darkly absurd moments, could be mistaken for a farce by Eugene Ionesco.


Don’t let my brevity fool you, I think this Seagull soars. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Blood Ritual: “King Hedley II” is an All-American Tragedy

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 4:11 PM

hattiloo_KingHedley-email.jpg

August Wilson’s King Hedley II is a patience-testing tragedy as fascinating as it is frustrating. The three hour play has a disconcerting lack of focus even by Wilson’s own meandering standards. Portions of the script will confound audiences not familiar with the playwright’s earlier work. It also contains some of the Pittsburgh poet’s most soaring language and searing imagery. Wilson was ahead of his time, digging deep and exploring ideas related to market segregation, mass incarceration, and (awkwardly) gun proliferation. Time has been uncommonly kind to King Hedley, a play set in the 1980’s, in the moment before crack and the subsequent War on Drugs pulverized the poorest urban communities. For all of its structural shortcomings, it's probably a better play today than it was when it opened.

The penultimate entry in Wilson's Pittsburgh cycle opens with an incantation. Evil omens abound. Aunt Ester, the neighborhood’s magical matriarch dies at the age of 366. Stool-Pigeon, a “Truth sayer” (expertly portrayed by Jonathan WIlliams) divines the future from yesterday’s newspapers. Meanwhile, the play’s doomed title character kneels on a broken sidewalk, burying seeds in a crumbling patch of gravel and dust that he savagely defends: “This is good dirt.” It’s a picture ripped from Sophocles. It couldn’t be more modern or more contemporary American.

King Hedley is ferociously portrayed by a brooding and volatile Ekundayo Bandele. He doesn’t know beans about dirt, but he knows a little something about planting things. King’s fresh out of jail, having spent the past seven years behind bars for burying a man who slighted him; robbing a little boy of his daddy in the process. He aims to go straight too after he sells enough stolen refrigerators to open a video store. Yes, a video store. And yes, the pathos is thick and darkly funny, providing the audience with a nifty object lesson in the ways a play can change as it moves through time. From our perspective, Wilson’s Reagan-era story seems even more cruelly fatalistic than it was at the beginning of its theatrical life. In 2001 video shops were a declining but still a viable business. There was a faint glimmer of hope that even in this barren landscape fertilized with blood, something of lasting value might grow.

Director Erma Elzy gets solid if overly cinematic performances from Mary Ann Washington and David Muskin as Ruby, King’s absentee mother, and her slick, dice-throwing beau Elmore. Ruby’s a retired nightclub singer stuck in the past and trying to assert herself into her son’s life. Like King, Elmore’s got blood on his hands, and time in his past. But he also has luck, some common sense, and more than a little style.

Steven Fox’s Mister is a sympathetic, somewhat clownish reflection of King, his old buddy/partner in crime. He and Williams are responsible for most of the show’s real laughs, the best of which are uncomfortable. The real star of this shooting match is Ekundayo Bandele’s fantastically detailed set. It’s a stunning urban still life, populated with litter, wreathed in decrepitude and decay. It’s Pittsburgh for sure, but it could just as easily be South Memphis.

Bandele is the founding director, heart and soul of the Hattiloo Theatre, and he’s proven himself to be a capable performer, author, designer, and rainmaker. Hedley is his best on stage performance since he played Booth in a 2008 production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer Prize winning Topdog/Underdog. 

For all of its goodness and grandeur, the script is structurally all over the place. As a result, it's hard to imagine that even a perfect production of King Hedley II could build very much momentum. The play's odd misfire ending is also in serious need of better framing.  But since its founding, the Hattiloo has shown a steadfast commitment to staging the complete works of August Wilson. It's a notable undertaking and this is easily one of the still-young company's best all around efforts.   

Friday, February 27, 2015

MSO Conductor Mei-Ann Chen to Step Down Following the 2015-2016 Concert Season

Posted By on Fri, Feb 27, 2015 at 12:36 PM

Mei-Ann Chen - PHOTO BY JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Photo by Justin Fox Burks
  • Mei-Ann Chen

Mei-Ann Chen, who has served as Conductor and Music Director for the Memphis Symphony Orchestra since 2010, will step down when her contract expires at the end of the 2015-2016 concert season.  

According to a press release issued Fri., Feb 27,  officials from the MSO are currently in discussions about her future role with the symphony as Conductor Laureate.

With her dramatic, dance-like conducting style, Chen is often credited with revitalizing the orchestra, although it's probably more fair to say that she brought her rising star-power to an already innovative orchestra, in the process of revitalizing itself through a variety of artist-led, community building initiatives.  

"Mei-Ann is one of the most in-demand guest conductors for orchestras, and we respect her decision to step away at this time to pursue her many opportunities around the world,” MSO Board Chair Gayle S. Rose was quoted as saying. 

Although it has enjoyed a period of exceptional artistic achievement, he MSO has fallen on hard times and is working to determine the new way forward.

MSO President and CEO Roland Valliere says the 2015-2016 will be dedicated to Chen. 







Friday, February 20, 2015

Gloria Baxter on "Long Day's Journey Into Night"

Posted By on Fri, Feb 20, 2015 at 4:14 PM

1016380_1553846451521855_857471281056720432_n.jpg

I'd planned on seeing Long Day's Journey Into Night Monday. But then the Ice Storm Cameth, and things got cancelled, and then things got complicated and the sad trombones played, and yadda, yadda, yadda.

Anyway, I love sharing audience reactions, and this is a good one from retired U of M theater professor Gloria Baxter

"Still thinking about the bold choice of Threepenny Theatre Company to produce Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night. (To the best of my memory, the last production of this American classic in Memphis was at U of M in the 1970's). In 1995 I became immersed in O'Neill's work as I was invited by the American Embassy in Paris to give a lecture tour to Universities in eight cities in France regarding O'Neill's play, Strange Interlude. The reception and deep appreciation of O'Neill I found there had lasting effect on my Script Analysis classes at U of M. (As many former grad and undergrad students know I often had folks engaged in study of Long Day's Journey Into Night long into the midnight hour!) So for all those reasons I especially looked forward to seeing this production at TheatreWorks. I was not alone. The audience on opening night (Friday, February 13th) was wholly present—a spontaneous and immediate standing ovation at the end of the show. All of us in unison so appreciative of Threepenny’s commitment to producing such a demanding play and so grateful for the rich and admirable performances we had just experienced. Accolades to Bill, Christina, Dylan, Gabe, and Jillian! Thank you and Matt for a wonderful evening at the theatre!"

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

© 1996-2015

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