Monday, September 30, 2013

Project: Motion pays tribute to the Soul Burger at Earnestine & Hazel's

Posted By on Mon, Sep 30, 2013 at 5:21 PM

Id dance for a Soul Burger
  • I'd dance for a Soul Burger

ArtsMemphis is hosting a fundraiser dinner at Earnestine & Hazel's tonight (Monday, Sept 30). The event has been sold out for some time but I wanted to share a bit of rehearsal footage from a new site-specific piece developed by a trio of choreographers from Project:Motion that's on tonight's program.

Louisa Koeppel, Emily Hefley, and Rebecca Cochran have been collaborating on an homage to E&H's celebrated Soul Burger.

In the video you'll see dancers who are still working out the kinks, and my fingers play a brief cameo role (still learning how to shoot with the iPad) but I thought dance enthusiasts, Memphis boosters, and burger lovers, as well as friends and fans of the bar's recently deceased owner Russell George might like to share in this sweet tribute to a Memphis classic.

Friday, September 27, 2013

"Sunset Limited" & "Clybourne Park": Tips & Tidbits for the Theatrically Inclined

Posted By on Fri, Sep 27, 2013 at 2:30 PM


Our Own Voice is best known for producing original, often experimental plays that explore topics related to mental health and healthcare, although the tenacious company occasionally branches out to tackle other subjects. At first glance, a production of Cormac McCarthy’s Sunset Limited seems like a major departure from business as usual. But in many ways it's a perfect fit.

McCarthy’s play-like novel is a dramatic dialogue between an educated, cynical white man who tried to kill himself and the happy God-fearing black man who saved him once but can’t keep saving him. It is, in a fairly literal sense, the condition of depression having a conversation with itself: knowing that there are coping mechanisms, and things that get other people through the day, and not being able to use that knowledge in any way.

As a piece of theater SL is problematic. It’s more angst than action and too parochial to owe much to Beckett. The New York Times’ Jason Zinoman got it about right when he described the work as, “ A poem in celebration of death.”

For now my issues with theatricality are being overwhelmed by my excitement about experiencing McCarthy’s rich language as performed—or read at least— by two of Memphis’ finest: Ron Gephart and TC Sharpe.

Sharpe and Gephart
  • Sharpe and Gephart

A staged reading of Sunset Limited, directed by Chad Allen Barton opens September 27 and runs through October 12.

Treating Lorraine Hansberry's landmark drama A Raisin in the Sun like a prequel in order to explore modern attitudes toward integration and gentrification is brilliant. And that’s exactly what happens in Clybourne Park, Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer-winning drama that’s receiving its regional premiere at Playhouse on the Square this week under the direction of Stephen Hancock.

You don’t have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of Raisin to appreciate this show, but it helps. Clybourn Park opens with scenes that occur just before the opening of Hansberry's play, then moves us 50-years into the future. The once all-white neighborhood pioneered by the African-American Younger family is now primarily black… but gentrifying.

Hancock has assembled a cast of heavy hitters: Michael Gravois, Mary Buchignani, John Maness, and Claire Kolheim, fresh from her big Ostrander wins for The Color Purple.

Dates and ticket information, here.

Night Market Bonus: 30-Days of Opera on Broad

Posted By on Fri, Sep 27, 2013 at 9:57 AM

Another taste from yesterday's Broad Ave. Night Market.

Dancing in the Street: Ballet dancers leap on asphalt while Memphis Gangsta Walkers take it to the studio

Posted By on Fri, Sep 27, 2013 at 8:52 AM

Last night's Broad Ave. Night Market was packed with things to do and vendors to visit. One of the highlights was getting to see a casual performance by the dancers of Ballet Memphis set to the tune of Green Onions.

While Ballet Memphis was taking it to the street to promote the company's world-premiere of River Project 2, opening on October 19, master Gangsta Walker and promoter Jaquency Ford was preparing for an Old School vs. New School dance battle that's being waged in the Madison Dance Studio tonight (Friday, September 27) at 7 p.m.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Lincoln Two Ways: Tips & Tidbits for the Theatrically Inclined

Posted By on Fri, Sep 20, 2013 at 2:42 PM

... In his own words.
  • ... In his own words.
President Abraham Lincoln once spoke of the “better angels” of our nature. The "Lincoln Portrait," being performed this weekend as a part of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks series, is the sound of a person struggling to find those same angels and set them free.

In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor Aaron Copland was commissioned to create a new work inspired by the life of a great American. Initially the composer wanted to honor Walt Whitman, but he eventually turned to Lincoln, suspending the President's own words on a bed of melancholy, majesty and brass. America was in a Depression. The world was at war. Words first used by the great emancipator and preserver of the Union often found their way into the mouth of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, just as they now seem to find their way into the mouth of President Barack Obama.

For a chance to let those words seep into your own imagination you might want to spend some time with the MSO this weekend.

As Ron Popeil might say, "That's not all..." Former MSO concertmaster Joy Brown Weiner and guest concertmaster Ellen Cockerham will be the featured soloists for Bach’s Concerto in D-minor and the evening concludes with a performance of Strauss’ Ein Heldenlebenin.

For details and ticket information click here.

The cast of The Whipping Man
  • The cast of "The Whipping Man"

There’s another way to experience the 16th President this weekend. The Hattiloo Theater’s strong production of The Whipping Man isn’t actually about Honest Abe but Lincoln’s intense spirit is felt throughout. Set in a war-ruined mansion in Richmond, VA, April, 1865— the month of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and Lincoln’s assassination at Ford’s Theatre — The Whipping Man reunites a Jewish Confederate with his newly freed slaves.

The Whipping Man actively aims to portray the best of all possible relationships between the master and his human property. The audience is presented with a real family in faith and blood alike. The unusual approach doesn’t mitigate the atrocities of slavery and the African diaspora however, it confirms and even magnifies them.

Note to the squeamish: The live onstage amputation is performed in mercifully dim light. You'll live through it, but it may leave a scar.

The Whipping Man also showcases the considerable talents of Memphis actors Bart Mallard, Delvyn Brown, and Shadeed Salim. Imagined as a jazz trio Brown and Mallard are the soloists and Salim is the steady heartbeat. It’s a terrific ensemble in an old-fashioned play that feels positively up to date.

For more details here's your click.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Skinny on Elaine Blanchard's "Skin and Bones"

Posted By on Thu, Sep 19, 2013 at 9:55 AM

You know the old cliche about Eskimos having some ridiculous number of words for snow? It’s one of those things that sounds unique until you stop to think about just how common the human urge to define things really is. A building with four walls and a roof might be a house, a home, a manse, or an hourly-rate-motel, and so on. Every word expresses the same basic idea but paints a very different physical and emotional picture. So, with this thought in mind, which comes first, the actor or the storyteller?

I ask only because I'd like to do some justice to Elaine Blanchard, a local artist who, once you get past the word “artist,” isn’t all that easy to define.

She is a minister, and handy with loaded anecdotes. She’s also an activist of the “Do as I do, and as I say” school. She is possibly a bit of an exhibitionist, compelled for whatever reason, to tell the kinds of true life stories that most people pray nobody will ever discover. She is a documentarian and a fiction writer who will mix the two forms together if she thinks it makes a more compelling story. More than anything else though, Elaine Blanchard is a survivor. She has lived her share of hell and believes at her core that good stories can be a lifeline.

Blanchard’s latest effort, Skin and Bones, is not about eating disorders, although it does chronicle the years the narrator spent throwing up her meals to stay thin. Neither is it about sex or sexual identity, although it also covers abuse and a personal awakening.

If anything Skin and Bones is an exploration of the word “good,” in an especially Southern context, and as it might be applied to little girls, ‘ol boys, habits, and behavior relative to cultural expectations. It begins with a chubby, adolescent preacher’s daughter molested in a cheap motel by a rich man and his wife— "good people." Considering the autobiographical nature of the piece it’s no real spoiler to say that it ends onstage, in real time, with triumphant bows.

Blanchard is a spellbinding performer. She slips effortlessly back and forth between many characters—male, female, young and old. She never judges or overplays.

As I mentioned, Skin and Bones is a distinctly Southern story, with a subtle, but healthy dose of sun-bleached nostalgia and a curiously strong sense of humor given the tough subject matter. Before a final dress rehearsal Blanchard admitted that she was having a little trouble not breaking character following some of the show’s bigger punchlines.

“That’s how it is with family,” she said. “The funny and the awful sitting right next to each other.” And so it sits.

Elaine Blanchard in Skin and Bones
  • Elaine Blanchard in "Skin and Bones"

Blanchard has a way with the awful too. She makes you feel the weight and humidity of the good ol’ boy businessman as he lies down on top of an underaged girl asking repeatedly, “Isn’t that nice?” You can smell his sweat and cologne. You can practically hear "Dueling Banjos" when the guns finally come out and Blanchard’s essentially true and moving story begins to resemble a drive-in movie. (Which it should eventually become, probably).

Skin and Bones sounds awfully academic if you describe it as a one woman show about gender identity and eating disorders. It also sounds a little like some intolerable piece of coffee shop performance art circa 1989. But the story elements in this sprawling, drawling yarn, listed one after the other, sound like lurid teasers on the cover of a pulp novel. And contrasting her ministerial skills, Blanchard has a little Quentin Tarantino in her. She glories in the glory. And in all the gritty, often funny detail.

Skin and Bones is another impressive launch for Voices of the South. And instead of calling Blanchard a storyteller, or an actor, or a writer of imaginary screenplays, I think I’m just going to call her a marvel because her ability to stand in an empty space and take her audience on such a vivid mental journey makes telepathy seem absolutely plausible.

For ticket information click here. The show has already been extended but Theatre South is tiny and if opening weekend is any indication it may sell out.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Proof" Proves that Theatre Memphis Has Still Got It

Posted By on Thu, Sep 12, 2013 at 11:59 AM

  • Proof of life at Theatre Memphis
The 2013-14 theater season has kicked off with memorable interpretations of Les Miserables at Playhouse on the Square, and Red, just across Cooper St. at the Circuit Playhouse. Not to be outdone, Theatre Memphis has followed its uneven and not very funny production of the 20's era comedy The Royal Family, with an understated, thoroughly engrossing production of David Auburn’s 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner, Proof.

Set in Chicago, Proof aims to measure the distance between genius and insanity while telling the story of Catherine (Jillian Barron), the daughter of a brilliant, recently deceased mathematician, who must prove that an important mathematical breakthrough originated with her, not with her mentally-ill father.

The relationships in Proof are emotionally raw, and excruciatingly real. Before she says a word you can read the fatigue and depression in Barron’s posture, as she putters around the backyard of her family home. As Claire, her parachute sibling whose support over the years has been primarily financial, Taylor Wood drops in from New York like the last great superpower. She's well-intentioned but clumsy and willing to do whatever it takes to fix problems that may or may not exist, in a landscape she barely understands.

Stephen Garrett’s comic sensibilities serve him well as a younger mathematician attempting to begin a relationship with Catherine, while sifting through her father’s papers. He charms through the smarm, enduring this Kate’s onslaughts like a modern day Petruchio.

I’ve seen Sam Weakley do more detailed character work in shows like All My Sons and August: Osage County. But he’s never been any more effective than he is as the too-real memory of a loving parent, broken by forces beyond his control.

Richly textured and inventive lighting is icing on the cake.

Proof is at Theatre Memphis through September 22

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