Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mise en scène: 100 things that defined Memphis theater in the Aughts. Part three.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 30, 2009 at 4:51 PM

  • Hedwig

39-1 of my highly subjective list starts now...

1: Playhouse on the Square breaks ground on a beautifully imagined new theater that will soon host performances by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Memphis, Opera Memphis, and—you guessed it— Playhouse on the Square. We're looking at you Chicago.

2:In 2001 the Memphis Theatre Awards are named for character actor Jim Ostrander.

3: Anne Dauber is the troubled conscious of Spinning into Butter a show all of Memphis should have seen in the Aughts... but didn't. Circuit Playhouse, 2002.

4: Darius Wallace and Ekundayo Bandele go for broke as Lincoln the sideshow attraction and Booth the hustler in Susan-Lori Parks' comic American tragedy Topdog/Underdog. Hattiloo Theater 2008.

5: In the theater, where metaphor is everything, there are few sounds more horrible than military dog tags hitting the ground, one at a time. It sounds like death. It sounds like torture. It sounds like a thousand awful things that can only happen in a faraway land. That was the sound of Good Time

Book of Days
  • Book of Days
Speech, an original play by Randy Youngblood and Our Own Voice Theatre Company. “I had to put the flag in the washing machine to get all the dirt out of it.” TheatreWorks, 2004.

6: With its narrow swath of blue sky, Bruce Bergner's expressionist design for Of Mice and Men at Playhouse on the Square puts the audience into the off kilter world of the Great Depression. Circuit Playhouse, 2005.

7:Love! Valour! Compassion! Sets an impossibly high standard for ensemble acting.Circuit Playhouse, 2001.

8: Debbie Litch becomes Executive Producer for Theatre Memphis. The tailspin stops. Almost instantly things start getting better at Perkins & Southern. 2004

9:Book of Days is all about Evil in small town America and a contemporary answer to Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown. Playhouse on the Square, 2004

10: Vicious shrew Laurie Cook McIntosh tortures horrible hellbag Jo Lynn Palmer in Beauty Queen of Leenane: Two incredible actresses do the best work of their lives. Theatre Memphis 2000.

11: Memphis Symphony Orchestra director David Loebel explains why the MSO and Playhouse on the Square were teamed up for a rare production of Tom Stoppard and Andre Previn's Every Good Boy Deserves Favor: “Because there are always governments cracking down on freedom of expression.. Because governments are always cracking down on religion of some kind, on the right to assemble, and, of course, on the arts." Cannon Center, 2004.

12: Jonathan Lamer is an ice cold serial killer in Frozen. Circuit Playhouse, 2006.

13:Three Days of Rain: Brian Mott, Michael Gravois, and Kim Justis convert little intrigues into big ideas. Next Stage, 2003.

14:The cast of Hair sings “Let the Sun Shine In” as America invades Afghanistan. Playhouse on the Square. October, 2001.

15:”The Origin of Love”: Hedwig & the Angry Inch rocks out and sells out. Theatreworks. 2004

  • Seascape

16: T.C. Sharpe astonishes as Troy Maxon, August Wilson's Everyman of the Ghetto. He's a robber, an inmate, a Negro League heavy-hitter, a husband, a father, a drunken adulterer, a garbage man, an unaware civil rights hero. Fences. Hattiloo Theatre, 2008.

17:Matt Reed shakes his tail as a giant talking lizard in Seascape. Frightening, primitive and very smart. Next Stage, 2007

18: The Hattiloo Theatre opens strong with a production of Samm Art Williams' Home. 2006.

19: Jerre Dye straps on the nose for Cyrano. Theatre Memphis, 2009.

20: Keeping Up With the Joneses an original comedy by Nate Eppler opens at the University of Memphis as a part of its main stage season. U of M, 2001.

21: Jenny Odle Madden and Kim Justis are “vurry vurry pretty” and very, very funny in Parallel Lives. Next Stage 2001.

22.Ken Zimmerman waddles and squawks his way through Urinetown, spinning dark treachery into

delightful foolishness along the way. Playhouse on the Square, 2006.

23:Tony Isbell and Irene Crist conjure the ghosts of Lawrence Oliver and Vivien Leigh. Homage, imitation and honest acting converge in Orson's Shadow. Circuit Playhouse, 2008.

24: Steve Swift's character Sister Myotis preaches about the evils of thong panties on youtube. The clip receives more than 2-million hits. Months before her New York debut Myotis—originally created for Voices of the South's Christmas show Present Present— hosts the Ostrander awards and brings down the house. 2009.

Michael Gravois
  • Michael Gravois
25:Audiences may expect a snarling, angst-ridden Hamlet sawing the air with his hands and reciting "To be or not to be.” They get Kyle Hatley, a guitar picking songwriter in black who sets his internal dialogues to music. Hamlet, Rhodes College, 2003.

26: Michael Gravois plays 30+ characters in I Am My Own Wife. Circuit Playhouse, 2006.

27: Dorothy Blackwood is the warm fuzzy heart of Over the River and Through the Woods. She'll make you eat a sandwich. Circuit Playhouse, 2002.

28: Wendy Wasserstein's Third shows us how memory fails and America tears itself apart. Circuit Playhouse, 2009. Also, for the decade's best typo in a video review click below...

Bonus: It's all about ME!!!

It happens like clockwork. Somebody gets a bad review so I get an angry letter accusing me of terrible jealously. And it's all true. I envy all the talented people in Memphis' vastly talented theater community. Not their talent mind you. I envy all the good press they get. I still act and direct from time to time. I even win the occasional award. But as a theater writer I can't very well write about how awesome I am now can I? Well, except for here. Except for now.

The Aughts were a good decade for me. I re-connected with my roots as an actor in The Robber Bridegroom at Theatre Memphis and I directed several shows including The Underpants, Ubu Roi, Not About Nightingales, and The Rocky Horror Show. I'm probably most proud of my work on Ubu but if I had to pick a favorite moment I'd have to choose the scene where Frankenfurter cuts Eddie in half with a chainsaw in the Rocky Horror show. It comes at the end of this clip (5:55-ish) if anybody wants to take a peek.

Okay, that's the last thing I'll write about me until the next end of the decade list. Onward!

29: Voices of the South contributor Virginia Matthews scores the coolest little kids musical ever with some help from Memphis rockers Tripp Lamkins and Joey Pegram. Wilhemina Millicent's Wonderful World of Imagination. TheatreWorks, 2004

30: Addiction and impotence are great motivators turning a good soldier into a suicidal serial killer. Macbeth. Playhouse on the Square, 2003.

31: Rebecca Fisher pens and performs a one-woman-show about her mother's murder in Central Gardens. The Magnificence of the Disaster. TheatreWorks, 2006

32:Leah Nichols makes the allegorical musical Violet heartbreakingly human. At first glance this ambitious but flawed musical seems to remind us that beauty is only skin deep. But as Violet says in this play juxtaposing faith in the God of televangelists with terrible childhood disfigurement, ''The truth is never so pat...Try and wrap your mind around that.” Circuit Playhouse, 2000.

  • Violet

33: Jim Palmer takes on Ezra Pound. Difficult poetry ensues. Playwrights Forum, 2006

34:With her flaming red hair and porcelain skin Laurie Cook McIntosh isn't the most obvious choice to play a, liberated Muslim whose bubble-headed "it's like/you know" speech patterns mask a deep understanding of America's hate-culture. But who could possibly be better? The Laramie Project, Circuit Playhouse, 2001.

36: Who really cares about Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers? Benvolio (Jane Kilgore), Mercutio (Bob Arnold), and the Nurse (Lindsey Patrick) are more interesting. Romeo & Juliet is a thoughtful multimedia event at Germantown Community Theatre 2007.

37:Dan McCleary launches The Tennessee Shakespeare Company in Germantown. 2008.

38: The Seafarer brings Jim Palmer, Tony Isbell, and Michael Gravois together for a devilish Christmas show. Yes, the accents are all over the place but it beats the Hell out of A Tuna Christmas. 2009.

39: I usually get my claws out for Cats. I hate everything about ALW's musical felines. But I must admit Theatre Memphis made it purr. 2006.

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