Friday, October 30, 2015

Wait Until Dark Is a Stylish Thriller in the Classic Vein

Posted By on Fri, Oct 30, 2015 at 1:43 PM

Jeffrey Hatcher's update of Fredrick Knott's classic thriller Wait Until Dark is unusual. Instead of moving the story closer to the present to give it currency, it's been pushed back in time to the 1940's. The heroin packed inside a doll, and accidentally smuggled into the country by an unsuspecting man and his blind wife has been written out. Now that doll's full of diamonds. And everything feels just a little more Hitchcockian. 

It's a smart move framing the manipulative, sometimes belabored script in a way that brings out all its best qualities. 

Wait Until Dark tells the story of a murderous con man and how he and his partners plan to retrieve the doll full of diamonds, and frame an innocent man. The best parts are told in the dark, giving the play's blind heroine, Susy Hendrix, an unanticipated edge. 

Theatre Memphis' production isn't perfect, but it's often very good. Director Tracy Zerwig Ford has assembled an able cast. She gets solid performances all around and especially fine turns from Andria Wilson as Hendrix, and Willie Derrick, as a con artist pretending to be one of her husband's old war buddies. Kaitlyn Poindexter is delightfully obnoxious (and deeply sympathetic) as Gloria, the brat who lives upstairs. 

The real star of this show, however, is Daniel A. Kopera's stylish scenic design.  Jeremy Allen Fisher's lights, are also noteworthy. 

Wait Until Dark takes a long time to set up, and the story strains at the edge of credibility. But when things get rolling in the second half, it's just about everything you could want from a mid-20th-Century thriller. 


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Titus Andronicus, a Foretaste of Hell

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 12:40 PM

Love the poster.
  • Love the poster.
My big takeaway from New Moon’s production of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus is that James Dale Green might have made a top notch Horror host. You know, like Memphis’ famous Sivad, or Professor Ghoul — the ghastly clowns that tell corny jokes and introduce scary-terrible horror movies on TV. That’s his function in this tonally inconsistent show directed by the usually reliable John Maness. But here’s the thing about theatrical conceits— if they require too much explaining, they’re probably a bad idea. And, although it’s done in the spirit of good fun, this is a plodding, weirdly pedantic approach to the Bard’s infamous contribution to the slasher genre, and it's all about explaining.

New Moon's take on Titus begins with the announcement of a terrible plane crash from which there are no survivors. Audience members (the passengers) are welcomed to Hell with the first of many monologues Shakespeare didn't write. All the players onstage are dead, we're told, and this performance functions as a kind of "welcome to the afterlife" for sinners. Adding creepiness to the concept, those killed on stage will actually die (again!). It’s a broad, hoaky device at odds with sincere, graffiti-covered scenic design, but not necessarily the general tone of a play that's hell-like and grossly exploitative to begin with. Throats, guts, and sundry major arteries are slashed. Hands are cut off before our very eyes. The problem is one of competition (between texts, new and old) and consistency.

The story is this, basically: Roman soldier Titus Andronicus returns home victorious, with Goth royalty as his prisoners. Politics happens, revenge is sought, and truly Gothic horror is inflicted on Titus, who goes a little mad, and gets a little crazy with his own payback. Characters are hacked, defiled, dismembered, baked into pastry, and eaten. This is Drive-In theatre Shakespeare-style, so New Moon’s stylistic choice makes a kind of sense. Maness is also clearly borrowing from a pair of Peters: Brook and Greenaway. The conceit that the characters are portrayed by spirits of the damned calls to mind Brook’s Artaudian Marat/Sade where asylum inmates played heroes and villains of the French Revolution. Having James Dale green hold onto a dusty book, and read all the minor character roles, echoes Prospero’s Books, Greenaway’s take on The Tempest with Sir John Gielgud reading all the roles. (Also, a little of this delightfully silly thing). All of these could be good ideas, if executed with any kind of consistency. But it’s hard to understand why only some characters appear undead, while actors playing larger roles (thankfully) play things completely straight. And from a practical POV, spicing up the stage with some lumbering zombies just makes “enter/exit all” a slower, messier process than it needs to be.

Green functions as narrator, commentator, and living Cliff’s Notes, sometimes jumping onto stage to provide insight into Shakespeare’s sources. His interruptions are often literally that, stopping any momentum the actual play might be building dead in its bloody tracks. It’s not the actor’s fault though, he does the best he can with intrusive dialogue that is so ill-considered in some cases,  it pulls the whole production over into Ed Wood territory. For example, the first act doesn’t end with a Shakespearean cliffhanger, but with a newly crafted monologue summarizing the half and inviting audiences to enjoy refreshments at intermission. 

The real tragedy here is that New Moon attracted a top notch cast, and there’s clearly a decent production of Titus Andronicus trapped inside a bubble of bad decisions trying very hard to escape. Greg Boller, Greg Szatkowski, Steven Brown, Lyric Malkin, Erin Shelton, and Jeramie Simmons all do solid work hinting at this show's unrecognized potential.

I’m no purist. I’d love to see Titus imagined as a Kung Fu feature, or as a full on rock concert in the spirit 
Greg Boller as Titus Andronicus.
  • Greg Boller as Titus Andronicus.
of Alice Cooper or Gwar. I might have even loved to see a tighter, taunter version of what New Moon has done with this underperformed novelty. Still, one should change the name and adjust the authorship of classics sufficiently fucked with. “A Night in Hell with Titus and Tamora” would have altered expectations enough to soften (but not change) my opinion.

Having said all that, if you're looking for some silly Halloween carnage, but prefer something a bit more cerebral than a haunted house, there are many great parts pulled together in this Frankensteinian take on Titus. The whole is (appropriately, perhaps?) something of an abomination. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Preview of "Ring of Fire" at Germantown Community Theater

Posted By on Tue, Oct 27, 2015 at 1:12 PM


I haven't had a chance to see Germantown Community Theatre's production of Ring of Fire, yet, and it's killing me a little. Jukebox musicals aren't usually my thing, but I'm an enormous Johnny Cash fan, only a step or two away from being an outright tribute artist. Moreover, Cash's love of American song tradition puts him in direct alignment with his in-laws, A.P. and Maybelle Carter, who found their songs by scouring the countryside like natural-born musicologists, asking people to share the tunes they grew up with. The music doesn't belong to anybody, it belongs to everybody. And while Cash's booming baritone may have defined them, these songs were intended to be passed along. 

The thing about, Ring of Fire: It doesn't tell the Johnny Cash story. It uses his songs to reflect ordinary life experiences. That sounds like a more fitting, less exploitive way to treat the Man in Black's complicated legacy. 

Knowing I was going to see the show this week I re-read the obituary I wrote for Cash when he passed in 2003. And I thought I might re-share it for this community, because I think it speaks to the qualities that make this approach to the material make so much sense. Also, I've linked many of the songs that appear in Ring of Fire. It's a pretty good playlist, whether you're a Cash neophyte or an enormous fan who knows every word by heart.

Anyway, the following reprint links every song in Ring of Fire and just a handful more. If it doesn't whet your whistle for some JC, your whistle is unwhettable. 

He Walked the Line

Johnny Cash was uncompromising, unafraid, and unbeatable.


"Hello, I'm Johnny Cash." For close to 50 years those four words brought audiences screaming to their feet. Alas, no more. Death has finally claimed "The Man in Black," whose appeal was universal and whose body of work, when all is said and done, may turn out to be more influential than Elvis'. Unlike the King of Rock-and-Roll, who died young, leaving a beautiful corpse, Cash's longevity worked in his favor — a rare thing in the youth-obsessed world of popular music. He gave us something special: a voice that speaks not to one particular generation or time but to each of the seven ages of man. His artistry was matched in equal measure by an uncompromising sense of justice and an indomitable faith in the ultimate triumph of good over evil. But his faith was tempered with reality and could be fiercely critical of the world — and the industry he worked in — without ever lapsing into bitterness or cynicism.

Johnny Cash had a deep voice, a booming voice, but it was ragged and it could go flat in a hurry. A critic once said that the late Waylon Jennings proved he had balls by singing like someone was squeezing them in a vice. The same was true of Cash. But that big clumsy voice could express more emotion in a single syllable than most singers can wring from an entire song. When Cash sang gospel he could make the staunchest atheist long to believe, because sin never seemed more palpable and salvation never so necessary. And Cash, whose own failures of the flesh were well chronicled, could make believers tremble in awesome certainty of God's all-knowing might. When he sang that crazy hillbilly boogie that made Sun Records famous, his touch could be astonishingly light, his voice as sweet as brown sugar melting in a skillet. When he sang traditional country, he assumed the role of an epic storyteller, reminding us of disasters both natural ("Five Feet High and Rising") and man-made ("San Quentin"). He was equally gifted in comedy ("A Boy Named Sue") and tragedy ("Long Black Veil").

His big voice wavered — first from the weight of total honesty, later with the effects of disease — but it never stopped. Musical styles sprang up and burned out, but Cash kept singing the traditional American music he loved. Addiction couldn't stop the songs. Hard times couldn't keep him down. And most important, in spite of the fame that came his way, he never stopped singing for the "poor and the beaten down, living on the hopeless, hungry side of town."

When the 1960s exploded in a kaleidoscope of psychedelic colors, Johnny Cash went into mourning and donned a solemn suit of solid black. He was sympathetic to the hippie protesters who took to the streets to protest the war in Vietnam, to the call for an end to segregation, and to meaningful social change in his beloved land of liberty. But he refused to grow his hair beyond his shoulders like the other country outlaws of his era. He didn't put on a paisley shirt and a peace-sign pendant or dress up in red, white, and blue. He likewise rejected the rhinestone-studded Nudie suits that were de rigueur for honky-tonk heroes of Cash's pedigree. Instead, he became "The Man in Black": a man who lived in a constant state of protest.

If nothing else, it was one hell of a gimmick. Cash owns black like Coke owns red. But it was more than that. Nothing about Cash was ever insincere. In "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," he tells the true story of a poor Pima Indian who became a war hero only to die drunk and abandoned in an America that had little use for redskins, or brownskins, or blackskins, or any skin that wasn't pale. In "Sunday Morning Coming Down," he sings about a man's day-to-day struggles with addiction and profound loneliness. In his over-the-top cover of Leonard Cohen's "The Mercy Seat," he addresses the awfulness of capital punishment. And this is just scratching the surface. Cash's body of work, taken as a whole, serves as an astute critique of the modern American condition.

Of course, Cash's tunes aren't all gloom and doom. "Ring of Fire," a song penned by his wife June Carter Cash (with Merle Travis), describes the utter helplessness that is part and parcel of love in full bloom. "Jackson," an up-tempo duet with June, tells the rollicking tale of what happens to youngsters when the fire of lust turns cold after the wedding and wandering eyes turn to wandering ways. And then there are novelty songs like "One Piece at a Time," which tells the story of an autoworker who can't afford to buy the product he makes so, one piece at a time, he smuggles a Cadillac out of the factory in his lunch box. On the surface it seems like a harmless goof, but it speaks directly to the humbling absurdities of working class life: The worker's "brand-new" Cadillac is a hodgepodge of makes and models, with a single tailfin, two headlights on one side, and one on the other. It's a loving metaphor for the cobbled-together life of America's resourceful working class.

In later years, as Cash performed songs by punk/metal maestro Glenn Danzig and covered tunes by Nine Inch Nails, it seemed as though his image was being exploited. The man who wore black on principle was being marketed to kids who wore black because they thought it was cool. But regardless of the motive, each of Cash's American recordings brought him a small army of new fans — without the benefit of extensive radio play or the support of the Nashville music industry.

"Oh I'd love to wear a rainbow every day," Cash sings in his signature song, "Man in Black." "And tell the world that everything's okay. But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back. Till things are brighter, I'm the man in black."

We can only hope that Cash is finally in that "better place" he sang about with such conviction — wearing a coat of many colors.

Monday, October 26, 2015

MJ Urban Ballet Launches at Hard Rock Cafe

Posted By on Mon, Oct 26, 2015 at 2:25 PM

Jookin in Memphis
  • Jookin in Memphis

U-Dig Dance Academy co-founder Tarrik Moore is launching a new project to showcase Memphis Jookin. 
MJ Urban Ballet is being described as an "evolution" of urban dance in Memphis, and as a more overt hybrid of hip-hop and traditional ballet.

Moore has exposed more that 7000 students to Memphis dance and hopes that a successful capital campaign for MJ Urban Ballet will help him triple that number in short order. In addition to dance, the new program will expose students to photography, clothing manufacturing, graphic design, carpentry, flooring and other potential avenues of employment. 

Moore is joined in this endeavor by his wife Kia, who hopes to use her experience with non-profit organizations to build stronger relationships with established arts organizations. She also wants to build an endowment that will eventually cover tuition costs for students.  

MJ Urban Ballet makes its first public appearance at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 27th at the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale St. According to press materials the opening event will "combine traditional ballet
technique, classic pop music and urban-nuanced hip-hop dance for a unique experience."

Ballet and Jookin have been dancing partners for some time, and Memphis' influence on the classical form has grown in recent years

 This event is FREE and open to the public. For more information, visit the U-Dig website.  

Thursday, October 22, 2015

"Wait Until Dark" Actress Andria Wilson Talks About Growing Up Blind

Posted By on Thu, Oct 22, 2015 at 8:01 PM

We're starting a brand new feature here at Intermission Impossible. It's called the Green Room because of the format — actors, directors, and designers hanging out talking to other actors, directors, and designers. Sometimes these pieces will take the form of a traditional interview, but Green Room features may also be more casual and intimate conversations between people who know each other very well. They might focus on current theater projects, or not at all. The point is to make something new that's fun and informative, and puts local artists where they belong— in the spotlight. 

I want to avoid this becoming a forum where PR folks at area theaters interview their current casts. For two reasons, I'm making an exception for this first installment. For starters, when he's not repping for Theatre Memphis, guest interviewer Randall Hartzog is a pretty fine actor in his own right. Also, his interview with Wait Until Dark performer Andria Wilson tells a great great story. Wilson, who plays the show's visually impaired protagonist, was legally blind as a child and teenager. 

—Chris Davis

Actor Randall Hartzog talks to Andria Wilson about struggles with visual impairment and her role in Wait Until Dark at Theatre Memphis. 

Andria Wilson
  • Andria Wilson
Randall Hartzog: What was the extent of your visual impairment? 

Andria Wilson: Nearsightedness runs in my family. My mother has severe nearsightedness and hers has resulted in a detached retina, and macular degeneration. Equipped with my genetic history, the ophthalmologist was aware of potential issues from my childhood.

I remember going to my first eye exam at the age of 6. The doctor was surprised I would even read because my vision was so poor. I was given my first pair of (now) vintage amazing 80’s Strawberry Shortcake glasses that changed prescription each year until I was put in contacts at age 9. Due to the rapid deterioration of my vision via nearsightedness, the doctor suggested contacts early due to the fact that contacts can help slow this process. I was declared legally blind at 9, although this was correctable with the aids of glasses and contacts.

Due to wearing contacts so young, my mother took them out each night and put them in each morning until I was a more capable 12, as I was prone to infection and eye ulcers. Looking back, I remember several times that poor vision kept me from experiencing normal childhood activities. I often pur
posely  skipped out on summer camp and sleepovers because dealing with my contacts was such a pain. Additionally, once my contacts were removed, I couldn’t see well, even with glasses, and this left me feeling different and not quite as confident in social situations. I remember being in 4th grade and attending a swimming party. I removed my glasses/contacts to swim and when the game Marco Polo was played I didn’t have to close my eyes as friends shouted “Marco Polo!” – I couldn’t see them, so there was no point in shutting my eyes. While others found this funny, I found it as a barrier of connection to my friends. As if red hair and freckles weren’t bad enough as a kid, right?!

Do you mind telling the cause?

Heredity. Bad genetics, man. 

Describe your treatment/recovery and your current state.

Throughout my teens my eyesight became additionally challenging with infections, ulcers, and my vision became worse. In my early  20’s Lasik was becoming a popular tool for nearsighted individuals to reclaim their vision. Dr. Freeman from The Meca Eye Clinic here in Memphis met with me and informed me that while they could do the 
surgery, the outcome would probably not be the best as it would be with a less severe nearsighted individual and I would still need the aid of contacts and glasses. Honestly, I was most concerned about being disabled without the aid of contacts/glasses. If an emergency came along and I was without my contacts or glasses for some reason, whether I was driving or at a mall shopping…I was in big trouble and I knew it.

At the time of the surgery my vision was a sad -10.25 and – 11.50, and the nurses had to physically lead me to the operating room. I remember one of the nurses whispered to me how much this would change my life. She was right. After that day, my “normal” was no longer “normal” and I could actually see when I awoke. I had become so accustom for years to keeping my eyes closed while doing my morning bathroom routine of brushing teeth and washing my face — as it was pointless opening my eyes as I couldn’t see anything prior to putting in my contacts. After surgery, I remember having to remind myself to literally open my eyes in the morning as I could now see. The surgery changed my  life. While I still have to utilize glasses and contacts, I am comforted in knowing that I can see well enough without them that should an activity or emergency arise that requires me
 to do without, I’d be more than okay. I’m no longer disabled. I no longer live in that fear. 

How has the experience affected your life and to what effect has it had on this role?

I remember during the audition process transporting myself as much as I could to my old “normal” prior to surgery. The old “normal” of listening, feeling around, not relying as much on my eyesight as I did on my other senses. I continued this process throughout the rehearsals of Wait Until Dark and found the experience both cathartic and rewarding. As a child and young adult struggling with vision impairments I often felt that I was less-than or somehow not quite as worthy as my friends without visual impairments. This thinking greatly affected my self-esteem and willingness to join in.

Through the preparation process, the character of Susan reminded me that blindness and/or visual impairments aren’t a measuring stick to determine self-worth. Confidence and courage are revealed through our challenges. As I walked with Susan navigating her dark world, I rejoiced at her willingness to own her blindness, use it, and cheered as it propelled her towards the discovery of her power, to turn the tables on her assailants. There’s a grace to her stumbling around her apartment, her world, in an effort to find stability, to claim her strength.

This character is witty, smart, and struggling, and she eventually learns the value of owning her story in the mist of her vulnerability. I believe she’s a role model for not only visually impaired women, but for all women navigating their worth and discovering their power.

Any additional comments you would like to share?

We as a cast and crew have been blessed with the input and friendship of Stephanie Jones, a teacher from Clovernook, a service center for the blind and visually impaired in Memphis. Stephanie lost her sight 9 years ago (and has five kids!) and is a source of incredible strength and beauty. She is living a life full of joy and gratitude and has been thoroughly excited to play the part of “consultant” for our show. Her input from prop usage to character development has been invaluable. Stephanie feels that the blind community misses out on experiencing theatrical opportunities around town and is thrilled we are going to offer an audio version of this show to allow those with visual impairments to have the audience experience. We love her!
(Tracey is currently in talks to make this happen)

Favorite roles to date? 

I did a play reading of The Shore at the Pasadena Playhouse several years ago with Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen. Although I was a bundle of nerves and my role was rather small, the experienced proved to be heart-lasting. Both Mary and Ted were lovely and I found myself laughing hysterically with Mary in the bathroom over a wardrobe malfunction, chatting over various line delivery options with Ted, and ended the adventure with a late night sushi dinner with them and the director. They were gracious and kind. Like I said, it was a heart-lasting experience.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Lord What Fools: Rhodes Hosts a Symposium on Early Modern Comedy

Posted By on Tue, Oct 20, 2015 at 5:40 PM

It's homecoming week at my alma mater. And nothing says "Rhodes College homecoming" like...

Back in the day...
  • Back in the day...

Okay, well, apart from those kinds of shenanigans, nothing says "Rhodes College Homecoming" like a sweet tailgate party, some football, some cool brews, and some thoughtful discussion about the theater of William Shakespeare, R.B. Sheridan, Oliver Goldsmith, and other masters of early modern comedy. Am I right?

This week's Comedy Symposium is co-sponsored by the Rhodes Department of Theatre, Gender & Sexuality Studies, and by the Pearce Shakespeare Endowment. It features students performing scenes from a variety of works with comment and commentary by visiting director Nick Hutchison, and Shakespeare scholar Fiona Ritchie, author of Women and Shakespeare in the Eighteenth Century

Hutchison has visited Memphis on several occasions, and will talk about staging period comedy. Ritchie will talk cross-dressing, women, and, of course, Shakespeare.

Events are free, open to the public, and take place in the McCoy Theatre's studio Friday, Oct. 23 from 2-5 p.m.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Peter Lorre Lives (and Dies Again) at TheatreWorks

Posted By on Sat, Oct 10, 2015 at 1:18 PM

Peter Lorre is still dead.
  • Peter Lorre is still dead.

An Actor in Purgatory
is an unusual script for Our Own Voice Theatre Company. The subject matter— actor Peter Lorre — only makes it more interesting. Bill Baker's original script is, in the best possible sense, a Frankensteinian monster.  Unlike many of the company's unapologetically experimental works, this play seems like it might have a life beyond its death when OOV closes the show. It might even have — dare I say it — commercial appeal. And yet it also contains many bits culled directly from the Bill Baker playbook.

The conceit: as audience and actors, we've arrived in a liminal space—A theater that is also the mythological purgatory. No doubt there are some among you who find the metaphor especially apt for all the wrong reasons. To that end, it's an idea that works on every level. Even if it sometimes lists in the direction of an intro to (edgy) theater class. The story (story?) goes something like this: Lorre, freshly dead of a cerebral hemorrhage, awakens in purgatory where he's forced to examine his life's work, and come to grips with his essential character. This is an often troubling, but ultimately liberating journey for Lorre, who launched his career in Germany working with great innovators like Jacob Moreno and Bertolt Brecht. But he's best known to Americans (and probably to the world) for creating 20th century cinema's archetypical foreign psychopath/creep in films ranging from M to Mad Love to The Maltese Falcon and various Roger Corman cheapies.

"[Fritz] Lang made me a murderer!" Bob Klyce's Lorre declares, in naked frustration, parsing the freedoms afforded by a prison of success. Before the film M became an international success, Lorre was an actor of notable range. Afterward, he was seldom allowed to venture too far beyond the shadow of Lang's child killer. Figure in Lorre's health-related morphine addiction and there's more than enough internal conflict to build a show around. 

Like most OOV pieces An Actor in Purgatory plays with form. The result is a better approach to a specific  genre of plays that are usually developed as predictable, one-man biographical sketches. 

An Actor in Purgatory opens OOV's 25-th season. I cannot express how lucky Memphis is to have had this committed troupe of actors, directors, dancers and writers for so long. Even in larger cities, the market for experimental work is limited, and you have to be very scrappy, or extremely fortunate to survive. This new play is a perfect entry point for those who are reluctant to sample the unusual. It could stand a bit of trimming and focus, but An Actor in Purgatory is a fun, fearless look at the life of a great actor who was made— by Lang, Hollywood, and himself— into the image of a great monster.

In a roundabout way the play is also as autobiographical as it is biographical. Our Own Voice's struggle to produce meaningful progressive content in a city that loves its Broadway musicals is reflected in Lorre's life story. The perfect Brechtian protagonist was always torn between the urge to be an artist and the need to feed himself.

And his habits.

The clash between Lorre and Jerry Lewis is classic stuff. You may walk out whistling the theme to M.

People may treat you differently.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Fools Among Fools: "The Matchmaker" is Classic Comedy

Posted By on Fri, Oct 9, 2015 at 6:46 PM


A strange deja vous kept me from fully engaging with Playhouse on the Square’s delightful production of Thornton Wilder’s screwball comedy, The Matchmaker. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the play’s musical doppelganger Hello Dolly too many times. Maybe it’s because I studied the play’s English and German source material when I performed in On the Razzle, Tom Stoppard’s Dolly-free version of the story (alongside the same Ann Sharp who’s playing Dolly in the current production at POTS). And yet— weirdly— I’ve never seen Wilder’s popular and influential play. I've never even seen the movie. As a result, so much feels familiar— but not quite right. I constantly found myself anticipating music cues that never came and waiting for gags that never gagged. Then I’d fall right back into a well-told story till the next (not really) missing piece broke the enchantment. Adding to my singular confusion was the mere presence of Sharp and fellow Theatre Memphis mainstay Jude Knight performing in Midtown alongside Dave Landis, a denison of Overton Square.

I hope nobody mistakes any of this for complaint. There’s a reason why the farce is so frequently replicated. The comic architecture is very nearly flawless. (if you really need a synopsis, here). It’s also a perfect vehicle for Wilder’s prescient, unimpeded political messaging. It’s nice to hear levelheaded and cleverly spoken words about how money supposed to work, instead of the usual shouted shitshow talking points.

In this video Ann Sharp, who has performed in The Matchmaker, Hello Dolly, and On the Razzle, admits to deja vous similar to my own. She got over it. 

I’ve got to admit, I sometimes feel like Sharp gets painted into a costume drama corner (and Knight too for that matter). She’s good at it, sure, but always surprises and shines in sharper-edged modern pieces like Rapture, Blister, Burn. Of course she’s a perfect Dolly, and a joy to watch, as she deftly guides all the players toward something like a happy ending. Knight gets the less showy (but more fun) part of a progressive and free thinking lady of means. Michael Gravois’ turn as a fast-talking, hard-drinking man for hire, is a master class in classic clowning.

Stoppard’s busy, wordy version of the story eliminated Dolly Levi and expanded the comic potential of The Matchmaker’s many finely-drawn bit characters. That may be what I missed most (unfairly). Wilder’s scenes are less chaotic but he still makes plenty of room for the coachmen, waiters, merchants, and tourists that enliven the streets, shops and cafes of old New York. Director Irene Crist has also assembled a nice slate of characters to round out the cast. Evan Mann and Benjamin Mcilvain are especially fun as Cornelius and Barnaby, the assistant shopkeeper and apprentice who aren’t going home till they’ve kissed a girl.

Dave Landis cuts a fine figure in Vandergelder’s guild uniform. He is certainly stern enough and stingy enough, and often very funny, though he lacks the swollen chest and peacock strut of a man who loves parading about in brass buttons and tassels. Just a little more misplaced pride would yield a lot more laughter.

Christopher Rhotan’s elegant and versatile, latticework set is my favorite thing about this classic. As for the rest, it’s fun — especially for theater nerds. It’s a bit stuffier than it might be, but only a bit. And the aforementioned nerds and fans of Hello Dolly and other variations on this well worn material should consider themselves warned. Even though you know this isn’t the musical version, or the German version, or the British version, you may experience dissociative moments. Don’t worry— Ms. Levi’s got this.

Killer Clowns: Opera Memphis brings Pagliacci to GPAC

Posted By on Fri, Oct 9, 2015 at 2:37 PM

Scenes from a dress rehearsal.
  • Scenes from a dress rehearsal.

It's all fun and games 'til somebody's cheating ass gets stabbed through the heart. That, more or less, is the moral of Pagliacci, Ruggero Leoncavallo's iconic one-hit wonder of an opera.

There's no scene in opera history more famous than the one where Canio, a beloved clown, confronts his hateful clothes and his ridiculous makeup, and tells himself to put on the costume, ruffles and all, and to go out on the stage and laugh for the crowd — laugh in spite of heartbreaking disappointment and swelling homicidal rage. The image, tragic and terrifying as it is, has been referenced and parodied on countless occasions and used to sell everything from Coke to Rice Krispies.

A snippet of the prologue at GPAC. 

Pagliacci is an especially good opera for beginners. For starters, it's short, packing a lot of tragic action into 90 minutes. It's also a leading example of opera verismo, or "realistic opera," which, of course, sounds like an oxymoron. In response to operas about gods and kings and weird mythological creatures, the verismo movement aimed to bring a bit of realism to the least realistic of all theatrical forms. These grittier works focused on sensational "slice-of-life" stories, and often depicted scenes of graphic violence.

Opera Memphis' colorful and fast-paced production makes the most of a large chorus that fills the stage and cheers convincingly for their favorite clown while jugglers pitch their rings and acrobats tumble. The show features Memphis favorites like Matt Worth and Jennifer Goode performing alongside "Neapolitan powerhouse" Marco Nisticò.

Scenes from a dress rehearsal.
  • Scenes from a dress rehearsal.

Opera Memphis presents "Pagliacci" at Germantown Performing Arts Center, October 9th-10th, 7:30 p.m. $33-$84. 

Ads in this week's Memphis Flyer contain a promo code for discount tickets. So you might want to grab a copy before ordering. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Ira Aldridge Has a Cold: STCC Puts History On Stage

Posted By on Fri, Oct 2, 2015 at 4:59 PM


Delvyn Brown is one of Memphis' most dynamic actors and he brings a lot of energy and daring to Southwest Tennessee professor Levi Frazier's historical drama, For Our Freedom and Yours.

For Our Freedom
is a one man show about the life of the 19th-Century expatriate African-American actor Ira Aldridge. 


Aldridge was a free man and just starting to make a name for himself as a serious actor when the growing popularity of blackface minstrel shows made it hard for a skilled Shakespearean of color to find work. Aldridge left America for Europe where he was admired for notable performances in Othello, Richard III, Merchant of Venice, and other works, both classical and contemporary. Aldridge would eventually use his fame to help foment the anti-slavery movement in Poland. 


I say that For Our Freedom And Yours is a one man show. That's not entirely true. Other actors appear on stage as Aldridge's mute dressers, loved ones and attendants. Frazier's text is delivered in the form of a speech, delivered by the great actor, to the people of Poland, on the eve of his death. It's essentially one great big information dump. Thankfully Frazier knows how to tell a story and Brown never disappoints. In fact, throughout much of the performance I felt sorry for the actor who was clearly giving his all in spite of having a nasty head and chest cold. Turns out, all that coughing was part of the plot.


Delvyn Brown as Ira Aldridge.
  • Delvyn Brown as Ira Aldridge.

The multimedia performance is directed by Evelyn Little and features numerous projected images of Aldridge.


For Our Freedom and Yours
runs through October 11. STCC Theatre, Union Ave. Campus. Performances are free but donations are encouraged. Friday's shows are unusually early: 12:30 p.m. Saturday curtain's at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. 


Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Premature Burial: Theatre Memphis' GIN GAME is a Safe Bet

Posted By on Thu, Oct 1, 2015 at 1:49 PM

GIN! JoLynn and Jim Palmer on a winning streak in The Gin Game. - THEATRE MEMPHIS
  • Theatre Memphis
  • GIN! JoLynn and Jim Palmer on a winning streak in The Gin Game.

UPDATE: "Sadly, due to a continued health issue, the remaining shows for The Gin Game at Theatre Memphis in the Next Stage are cancelled." If you want to know what you missed, keep reading.

Nutshell descriptions of D.L. Coburn's one hit wonder of a play, The Gin Game, can be difficult. "Elderly man and woman get to know one another over cards," Sounds slit-your-wrists boring, right? Well, exactly. But The Gin Game— when it cooks— is a play about Hell. Or maybe it's a play about purgatory, which is just Hell-light.  At any rate, it's a subtle, pee-smelling horror story about two damned souls who aren't dead yet. Old man Weller and Miss Fonsia are a strangely matched set of gargoyles thrown together by fate for the express purpose of making drama. Lonely and unvisited, they seek to avoid the popular nursing home patients (and the comatose), and they wince when a church choirs sing hymns in the next room. Together, and with more occasions for comedy than one might imagine given the effortlessly infernal setup, these friends of necessity dissect their miserable circumstance over an absurd game of cards. And they dissect one another.

I'm overstating a little. I know nobody else is reading the same bloodless slasher script I'm reading. And I certainly don't think Coburn, who added a darling little dance bit to The Gin Game following a 90's-era revival, sees himself as a master of horror. But there's a haunting and haunted quality that gives his play its edge. If you figured in a shrouded representation of grim Death (and maybe some mushrooms growing out of control in a corner) it could be an Ionesco study. Build in some visual puns and it might be one of Tom Stoppard's odd meta-fantasies about an old folks home for the surviving victims of tragic melodrama. It could be Endgame for people with no patience for that mess. Theatre Memphis' production, as directed by Marler Stone, is more ordinary, and that's not a bad thing. It's also more sympathetic and framed by junky verisimilitudes that compete with the actors for attention. But if you like good acting, this is must-see theater. Stone insured it would be when he cast regional theater power couple Jim and JoLynn Palmer as Weller and Fonsia. 

JoLynn's an earthy hoot, and one of the most convincing performers I've ever seen. When she says, "Look there," you look every time. She got you! And it never grows stale. Her Fonsia is fragile as a glass ornament and just as transparent. Like a lost Tennessee Williams secondary character, her reality is carefully constructed, held in place by manners and routine. Weller's a rogue — superficially charming, but rough at the edges. He's overwhelming and obnoxiously competitive with an ugly, explosive temper. Weller's probably harmless, but you never know. Jim Palmer, last seen as a singing root-digger in Mountain View at TheatreWorks, shape-shifts into the role. It's a finely-tuned performance, nakedly honest and full of rage. He's a geriatric Biff Loman with a hint of Stanley Kowalski: Unlucky in cards, love, business... you name it. 

The Gin Game teases (threatens?) the possibility of mid-winter romance. But just when things seem to be heating up an emotional blizzard sets in. Fangs and claws replace smiles and helping hands. It can be devastating, and for the most part Stone's production delivers. 

I'm an admirer of Jack Yates' scenic work, but sometimes less is more. HIs detailed set for The Gin Game feels like a thoughtfully-constructed misfire. It suits the story perfectly. The clutter, decay and covered storage approach metaphor. But this needs to be a closeup. It needs to be about two actors and not much else. The beautiful work the Palmers are doing together should be framed by their environment, not adrift in it. 

Sad News from Theatre Memphis: "Due to a continued health issue, the remaining shows for The Gin Game at Theatre Memphis in the Next Stage are cancelled."
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