Friday, March 17, 2017

Life in Faith & Madison Counties: Weekend Theater Roundup

Posted By on Fri, Mar 17, 2017 at 11:24 AM

click to enlarge Carla McDonald and Chris Swann - PLAYHOUSE ON THE SQUARE
  • Playhouse on the Square
  • Carla McDonald and Chris Swann

Bridges of Madison
County at Circuit Playhouse

Dave Landis is a sentimental, foolish old sap... his words, not mine. "I love shows that have heart and tug at your heart-strings," he says, describing his relationship, as a director, to the musical adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County. "This music, this story, these two characters definitely tug at the essence of anybody who has ever wondered, "What if...?

For those who haven't read James Waller's best selling novel, or seen the film it inspired, Bridges — opening at Circuit Playhouse this weekend — is an autumnal love story about a magazine photographer who meets a housewife while he's visiting in Iowa, shooting  the historic covered bridges of Madison County. Her husband's out of town with the kids, and an affair begins.

Landis has been a Memphian for many years now, but hails from Iowa. "I spent over half my life in Iowa and lived about an hour away from Winterset," he says. "I can relate to that yearning and the longing to be somewhere else... to explore life beyond the state boundaries."

Landis' cast showcases the considerable talents of Carla McDonald and visiting favorite, Christopher Swann.

Violet at Germantown Community Theatre

click to enlarge Violet and her fellas in uniform. - GCT
  • GCT
  • Violet and her fellas in uniform.
Violet's the best Tony-nominated musical nobody's ever heard of. Based on Doris Betts' short story The Ugliest Pilgrim and buoyed by a collage of authentic Americana sounds, it tells the story of a hardened young woman who's pinned her hopes and dreams on a miracle. It's a road trip story prominently featuring one hot, transformative night in Memphis. In a short-feeling 90 minutes, Violet takes on big ideas about race, class, beauty, and faith with none of the usual "put it on Jesus" cliches.

Germantown Community Theatre's production boasts some extraordinary voices and some not-so-extraordinary voices, but it's all honesty and heart. Nichol Pritchard's Violet is someone everybody knows. As the young woman scarred for life when the head of her father's axe flew off its handle, her's is a standout performance in a show full of stand out performances. Her's stands out for its simplicity— the ease with which Pritchard wears Violet's troubles, and flinty determination. She's no starry-eyed, believer, this is a woman at the crossroads of exhaustion and obsession, seeing heavenly visions, like a patron saint of homely travelers.

Side Show at Theatre Memphis
click to enlarge Dani Chaum (center left) and Gia Welch (center right) as Daisy and Violet Hilton, respectively, play conjoined twins in Side Show at  Theatre Memphis on the Lohrey Stage March 10 - April 2, 2017. They are surrounded by their chosen family of "freaks" played by (clockwise) Jacquelene Cooper, Amari Keon Nathaniel, Jimmy Hoxie and Jess Brookes.
  • Dani Chaum (center left) and Gia Welch (center right) as Daisy and Violet Hilton, respectively, play conjoined twins in Side Show at Theatre Memphis on the Lohrey Stage March 10 - April 2, 2017. They are surrounded by their chosen family of "freaks" played by (clockwise) Jacquelene Cooper, Amari Keon Nathaniel, Jimmy Hoxie and Jess Brookes.
Side Show's got it all — great voices, great design, and a great story to tell. It doesn't really capture the hell conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton lived through and only hints at a life where every relationship is abusive, reducing a horrible existence to so much irony and failed romance. But for all of its missed opportunities, this circus musical cuts to the core of everyday insecurity. Who hasn't felt like everybody was staring at them and asked "Who will love me as I am?"

Blackbird at TheatreSouth
Bye, bye, Blackbird.
  • Bye, bye, Blackbird.
I'm glad I've seen Blackbird once. I'm especially glad to have seen a production so thoughtfully staged and exquisitely acted as the one you'll discover should you venture out to TheatreSouth this weekend. Frankly, for good acting, and effective, economical stagecraft, I'm not sure I can recommend it enough. At the same time, I'm not sure why I ever would. Why would anybody recommend anything so relentlessly uncomfortable? Unfolding in real time over 90 excruciating minutes, David Harrower's Blackbird tells the story of Ray, who's surprised at work by Una, the woman he kidnapped and molested 15-years earlier when he was 40 and she was 12. In the intimate black box of TheatreSouth, audiences are transformed into peeping Toms, observing a squalid, trash-strewn company break room while two already torn apart people tear themselves and each other apart again and again and again.

Maybe I can recommend it because it's perfect. Or close to. Because it's certainly not pleasant or fun. And if you don't see it, you'll be sorry you missed it.

Lord of the Flies at Playhouse on the Square
POTS's Lord of the Flies is the definition of an ensemble show where nobody's the star and everybody is. Director Jordan Nichols has brought together an able, age-appropriate cast of (mostly) teens, capable of addressing the story's heart, and its horror. Golding's violent story of tribalism and unraveling democracy is encumbered by a bit of post-colonial "savage v civilization" bias, but this sketched-in story of marooned British schoolboys playing naked dominance politics still rings as true as it ever has. And this crop of super-talented Memphis kids measures up to the challenge.

Also on stage...

Crowns at Hattiloo
The Gospel musical Crowns uses "church hats" as the entry point for an exploration of Black cultural identity. Crowns is told from the point of view of a young woman leaving the personal tragedies of a northern metropolis to rejoin family in the South. This is no Lidsville — these hats tell some extraordinary stories.

The Dragnificent Variety Show 2017 at Evergreen Theatre
The Friends of George's are back with original skits, production numbers, showcasing the talents of Memphis ’ favorite drag stars. Proceeds will benefit Planned Parenthood

Dupont Mississippi at TheatreWorks
Does anybody remember Faith County? It was a Memphis-produced radio soap opera set in a fictional Southern town and broadcast weekly over WLYX radio Rhodes. The popular comedy was written by then Rhodes student Mark Landon Smith, who's also the author of Dupont, Mississippi, opening this week at TheatreWorks. Faith County fans will find the plot synopsis intriguing: "Verna Dewberry, the evil and dictatorial matriarch of the small town of Dupont , Mississippi has died - a joyous occasion for its citizens!"

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