Friday, April 28, 2017

August Wilson's Metaphysical "Gem of the Ocean" Opens at The Hattiloo

Posted By on Fri, Apr 28, 2017 at 12:32 PM

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Let's play a numbers game. August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean is set in 1904. Aunt Ester, the wise old history-keeper  referenced throughout Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle, resides at 1839 Wylie  Avenue. She is 285 years old. That means Aunt Ester was born in 1619, the year a Dutch slaver bartered African slaves for essential goods in New England, effectively beginning the North American slave trade. 1839 is an important number too because it's the year the Slave ship Amistad was overtaken by slaves who would eventually win their freedom. You don't need to know this to follow Wilson's narratively-challenged play. But for maximum enjoyment it helps to know that Wilson wrote Gem of the Ocean like he thought Dan Brown might some day write The August Code. There are games afoot.

1839 Wylie Street is a "peaceful house," a sanctuary for troubled souls, and a stand-in for the Amistad, where seekers like Citizen and Black Mary can shake off the chains of the past and become masters of their own fate. August Wilson's metaphor-rich problem play is many things including a meditation on the meaning of family in the midst of and ever-expanding diaspora. The people living in Aunt Ester's house aren't family, but they function like one. The only blood relatives on stage are Black Mary and her brother Caesar who wears a badge and has become an enforcer for white interests.

They don't get along for obvious reasons.

Gem of the Ocean is a messy problem of a play — quilt-like assemblage of aria-like like speeches, and flights of imagination. It's a frustrating, but essential mix of the playwright's most striking imagery and spiritual nonsense-speak.  It opens at the Hattloo Theatre this weekend. 

Nuremberg Revisited: An Indie Theater Company Does its Homework

Posted By on Fri, Apr 28, 2017 at 9:18 AM

Warren Kramer (Center) talks to cast members from Judgment at Nuremberg.
  • Warren Kramer (Center) talks to cast members from Judgment at Nuremberg.
Warren Kramer isn’t a hip-hop artist, but some of this elderly Jewish man’s stories would sound just fine with a beat under them. Like the story of how impressed he was by British law enforcement — when he finally got to England. Kramer was a good kid, but when he was a teenager, growing up in Nuremberg during Hitler’s rise to power, and the steady otherizing of the Jews, the Roma, homosexuals, and persons with disabilities, encounters with the police always meant trouble.

Kramer, who escaped Germany aboard the Kindertransport in 1939, sat center stage at TheatreWorks Wednesday night, and and told stories about growing up in Nuremberg, the site of major Nazi rallies, and namesake for the antisemitic Nuremberg laws. He also took probing questions from the cast and crew of Judgement at Nuremberg, a minimalist presentation of the epic trial drama closing in that space this weekend.

Kramer remembers the steady transformation from concern and anxiety to fear as life began to change. At first nobody took Hitler that seriously. He was a passing fancy. Then he wasn’t. Jewish faces were seen broadly cartooned in national media. Public school was made unavailable. And then Kristallnacht happened — the night of broken glass.

Kramer says his neighbors apologized before smashing everything in his house, turning the family’s life upside down.

Veteran actor/director Marler Stone launched his new CentreStage company with a production of Ibsen’s Enemy of the People. Judgment, which dissects the rise of inhumanity in Hitler’s Germany, is his second production. Stone says his aim is to present work that is majestic, fraught with struggle and heroism.

Kramer’s story has as happy an ending as one could hope for given the circumstances. His family survived the camps and were reunited in New York in 1947. His story is one of a time and place where heroes were desperately needed, but in incredibly short supply. His impact on the Judgment cast moving, if not actually majestic.

Judgment at Nuremberg is at TheatreWorks through April 30. Check out the slideshow. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

High School Musical Award Nominees Announced, 2016-17

Posted By on Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 1:40 PM

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The time has come to honor the stars of tomorrow with some play prizes today. The nominees for this year's High School Musical Awards have been announced. Now we have to wait till May 25 to find out who the winners are.

Outstanding Front of House

The Sound of Music, Arlington High School
In the Heights, Hernando High School
The Little Mermaid, Corinth High School
My Fair Lady, Northpoint Christian School
Into the Woods, St. Benedict at Auburndale
Little Women, St. Mary’s Episcopal School
Shrek the Musical, Wynne High School

Outstanding Production Materials Sponsored by Winston Wolfe
Zombie Prom, Bolton High School
My Fair Lady, Northpoint Christian School
Into the Woods, Briarcrest Christian School
Sister Act, Harding Academy
Sister Act, St. Agnes Academy
Into the Woods, St. Benedict at Auburndale
Shrek the Musical, Wynne High School

Outstanding Artistic Element
The Playing Cards, Lucky Stiff, Blytheville High School
3D Glasses, Zombie Prom, Collierville High School
Under the Sea Bubbles, The Little Mermaid, Corinth High School
The Airplane, The Drowsy Chaperone, Olive Branch High School
The Library, Into the Woods, St. Benedict at Auburndale
The Witch Costume, Big Fish, St. George’s Independent School

Outstanding Chorus
The Sound of Music, Arlington High School
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evangelical Christian School
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Germantown High School
In the Heights, Hernando High School
42nd Street, Houston High School
The Drowsy Chaperone, Lausanne Collegiate School
Man of La Mancha, Memphis University School

Outstanding Small Ensemble
Toffee’s Girlfriends, Zombie Prom, Bolton High School
The Gasoline Guys, Zombie Prom, Collierville High School
The Freddie My Love Girls, Grease, Madison Academic High School
The Yellow Brick Road Duo, The Wiz, Ridgeway High School
The March Sisters, Little Women, St. Mary’s Episcopal School
The Mersisters, The Little Mermaid, University School of Jackson

Outstanding Large Ensemble Sponsored by Gould’s Academy
The Nuns, The Sound of Music, Arlington High School
The Brothers, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evangelical Christian School
The Ancestors, The Addams Family, Jackson Christian School
The Prisoners, Man of La Mancha, Memphis University School
The Mermaids, Peter Pan, Jr., Sacred Heart of Jesus High School

Outstanding Student Orchestra
The Sound of Music, Arlington High School
42nd Street, Houston High School
Sister Act, Overton High School
The Little Mermaid, University School of Jackson
High School Musical, White Station High School

Outstanding Dance Execution
Zombie Prom, Bolton High School
Zombie Prom, Collierville High School
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Germantown High School
In the Heights, Hernando High School
42nd Street, Houston High School
The Addams Family, Jackson Christian School
Shrek the Musical, Wynne High School

Outstanding Choreography
Zombie Prom, Collierville High School
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evangelical Christian School
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Germantown High School
In the Heights, Hernando High School
42nd Street, Houston High School
The Addams Family, Jackson Christian School
Back to the 80s, Senatobia High School

Outstanding Hair and Makeup
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Germantown High School
42nd Street, Houston High School
The Addams Family, Jackson Christian School
The Drowsy Chaperone, Lausanne Collegiate School
Little Women, St. Mary’s Episcopal School
Oklahoma!, Tipton-Rosemark Academy
Shrek the Musical, Wynne High School

Outstanding Costumes
Into the Woods, Briarcrest Christian School
42nd Street, Houston High School
The Addams Family, Jackson Christian School
The Drowsy Chaperone, Lausanne Collegiate School
Man of La Mancha, Memphis University School
My Fair Lady, Northpoint Christian School
Little Women, St. Mary’s Episcopal School

Outstanding Set
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Germantown High School
The Addams Family, Jackson Christian School
The Drowsy Chaperone, Lausanne Collegiate School
Man of La Mancha, Memphis University School
Into the Woods, St. Benedict at Auburndale
Little Women, St. Mary’s Episcopal School
Shrek the Musical, Wynne High School

Outstanding Lighting
Zombie Prom, Bolton High School
Into the Woods, Briarcrest Christian School
The Addams Family, Jackson Christian School
The Drowsy Chaperone, Lausanne Collegiate School
Man of La Mancha, Memphis University School
Big Fish, St. George's Independent School
Little Women, St. Mary’s Episcopal School

Outstanding Technical Achievement

Into the Woods, Briarcrest Christian School
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Germantown High School
42nd Street, Houston High School
Man of La Mancha, Memphis University School
Into the Woods, St. Benedict at Auburndale
Big Fish, St. George's Independent School
Little Women, St. Mary’s Episcopal School

Outstanding Music Direction
Tammy Holt, Into the Woods, Briarcrest Christian School
Jason Eschhofen, 42nd Street, Houston High School
Thomas Bergstig, Zombie Prom, Bolton High School
Josh Quinn, Man of La Mancha, Memphis University School
Julie Millen, Little Women, St. Mary’s Episcopal School
Johnny Kimbrough, The Addams Family, Jackson Christian School
Lalania Vaughn, Oklahoma!, Tipton-Rosemark Academy

The Bravo Award
Harriston Jones as Pugsley in The Addams Family, Jackson Christian School

Student Technical Achievement Award
Amber Allen Germantown High School
Jazmin Arnold Bolton High School
AJ Cocroft Germantown High School
Natalie Eslami Lausanne Collegiate School
Emma McVay Collierville High School
Deborah Noel Germantown High School
Wolfgang Stoltz Germantown High School
Olivia Trippeer Hutchison School
Arianne Untal Bolton High School

Student Creative Achievement Award Sponsored by The Crump Firm, Inc.
Elizabeth Austin Hutchison School
Trevor Birchett Northpoint Christian School
Aubrey Dearen Harding Academy
Lily Donaldson Bolton High School
Michael Gaffney Bolton High School
Susan Ily Jeanniton Arlington High School
Grace Korsmo Arlington High School
Madison Neel Evangelical Christian School
Kirsty-Rhe Janse Collierville High School

Student Stage Management Award
Dustin Aibarracin Corinth High School
Cheyenne Jones- Rhodes Southaven High School
Maggie Lathem Germantown High School
Grace Looney & Shelby Williamson Bolton High School
Megan Leslie Northpoint Christian School

Outstanding Featured Dancer
Grayson Todd as Rolf, The Sound of Music, Arlington High School
Maggie Page as Turquoise Wife, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evangelical Christian School
Fred Garner as Durdles, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Germantown High School
Tim O'Toole as Andy, 42nd Street, Houston High School
Juli Anna Stanford as Anytime Annie, 42nd Street, Houston High School
Melody DeMoulin as The Moon, The Addams Family, Jackson Christian School
Carrie Clowes as Dream Laurey, Oklahoma!, Tipton-Rosemark Academy

Outstanding Featured Actress
Caroline Morath as Sister Margaretta, The Sound of Music, Arlington High School
Taylor Cage as Mimi's Mother, Rent, Central High School
Josie Davis as Alexi Darling, Rent, Central High School
Erin 'O Brien as Trix, The Drowsy Chaperone, Christian Brothers High School
Lucy Nassif as Fermina, Man of La Mancha, Memphis University School
Katy Cotten as The Witch, Big Fish, St. George’s Independent School
Marlee Wilson as Pinocchio, Shrek the Musical, Wynne High School

Outstanding Featured Actor
Paris Harvey as Ensemble Man #1, Lucky Stiff, Blytheville High School
Nicolas Blue as Homeless Man, Rent, Central High School
William Trotter as Mr. Feldzieg, The Drowsy Chaperone, Christian Brothers High School
Trenton Jiles as Simeon, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evangelical Christian School
Kyle Bowers as Bazzard, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Germantown High School
Will Crowe as Uncle Fester, The Addams Family, Jackson Christian School
Wynston Turner as TJ, Sister Act, Overton High School

Outstanding Supporting Actress
Ellie Armitage as Ginger, Zombie Prom, Bolton High School
Riley Paige Lara as Daniella, In the Heights, Hernando High School
Sarah Cate Melton as Maggie Jones, 42nd Street, Houston High School
Olivia Wilkinson as Cogsworth, Beauty and the Beast, Hutchison School
Christina Frye as Kitty, The Drowsy Chaperone, Lausanne Collegiate School
Emma Nair as Housekeeper, Man of La Mancha, Memphis University School
Katelyn Stewart as Aunt Eller, Oklahoma!, Tipton-Rosemark Academy

Outstanding Supporting Actor
Christian Powell as Neville, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Germantown High School
Riley Young as Sonny/Piragua Guy, In the Heights, Hernando High School
Benjamin Cheng as LeFou, Beauty and the Beast, Hutchison School
Alex Fleet as Gangster #1, The Drowsy Chaperone, Lausanne Collegiate School
Stan Smythe as Dr. Carrasco, Man of La Mancha, Memphis University School
Matthew Horton as Padre, Man of La Mancha, Memphis University School
Sam Childers as Steward, Into the Woods, St. Benedict at Auburndale

Outstanding Lead Actress
Asia Smith as Ms. Strict, Zombie Prom, Bolton High School
Megan Cheng as Cinderella, Into the Woods, Briarcrest Christian School
Mackenzie Kuykendoll as Princess Puffer, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Germantown High School
Paige Hollenbeck as Peggy Sawyer, 42nd Street, Houston High School
Maggie Nash as Wednesday Addams, The Addams Family, Jackson Christian School
Dani Chaum as Jo March, Little Women, St. Mary’s Episcopal School
Emma Lawyer as Fiona, Shrek the Musical, Wynne High School

Outstanding Lead Actor
Jeremy Beloate as The Baker, Into the Woods, Briarcrest Christian School
Spencer Germany as Adolpho, The Drowsy Chaperone, Christian Brothers High School
Bradley Wallace as Usnavi, In the Heights, Hernando High School
Ethan Benson as Benny, In the Heights, Hernando High School
Bailey Dumlao as Julian, 42nd Street, Houston High School
Ethan Brasher as Gomez Addams, The Addams Family, Jackson Christian School
Brooks Eikner as Don Quioxte, Man of La Mancha, Memphis University School

Outstanding Direction by a Teacher
Karen Dean, Zombie Prom, Bolton High School
Kell Christie, 42nd Street, Houston High School
Jenna Britt, The Addams Family, Jackson Christian School
Ashley Bugg Brown, The Drowsy Chaperone, Lausanne Collegiate School
Flip Eikner , Man of La Mancha, Memphis University School
Ryan Kathman, Into the Woods, St. Benedict at Auburndale
Jenny Madden, Little Women, St. Mary’s Episcopal School

Outstanding Overall Production
Zombie Prom, Bolton High School
42nd Street, Houston High School
The Addams Family, Jackson Christian School
The Drowsy Chaperone, Lausanne Collegiate School
Man of La Mancha, Memphis University School
Into the Woods, St. Benedict at Auburndale
Little Women, St. Mary’s Episcopal School

People’s Choice Award
Voting Begins April 28, 2017 at 10am and closes May 20 at 10am.

The Orpheum’s High School Musical Theatre Awards are Thursday, May 25,  at 7pm. Tickets are $15-$40 and go on sale to the public Friday, May 5. Tickets will be available at www.orpheum-memphis.com and the Orpheum Box Office (901-525-3000).

CORRECTIONS
The original press release contained a couple of errors. This is the correct list of costume and choreography nominees.

Outstanding Costumes
Into the Woods, Briarcrest Christian School
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Germantown High School
42nd Street, Houston High School
The Addams Family, Jackson Christian School
Man of La Mancha, Memphis University School
My Fair Lady, Northpoint Christian School
Little Women, St. Mary’s Episcopal School

Outstanding Choreography

Zombie Prom, Collierville High School
The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Germantown High School
In the Heights, Hernando High School
42nd Street, Houston High School
The Addams Family, Jackson Christian School
Back to the 80s, Senatobia High School

Thursday, April 20, 2017

World Lit By Lightning: GCT's Glass Menagerie Has Flashes of Brilliance

Posted By on Thu, Apr 20, 2017 at 11:20 AM

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Is there anything more depressing than watching a great, beautifully acted play that, for whatever reasons, audiences have chosen to avoid like it was a rat-faced hobo yelling at traffic? The crowd that turned out for last Saturday’s showing of The Glass Menagerie was bigger than the cast, but slim enough that Germantown Community Theatre’s converted one room schoolhouse — one of the region’s most intimate play-spaces — felt cavernous, and lonely. Written in the 40’s, Menagerie is a little long in the tooth, but the script’s gathered little dust. It remains remarkable, and relatable to any working stiff who’s ever felt trapped by obligations, and entombed in a dead end job, with nothing but fantasy get by on. With director John Maness at the helm, and a strong ensemble cast, GCT’s take on the Tennessee Williams’ classic is a minor key study in subtlety and restraint. Like Violet, the last fine show I watched at a virtually empty GCT, it fills the tiny playhouse, without ever feeling crowded, or forced.

I’m not going to rehash the story here. The tragedy of the faded Southern belle Amanda Wingfield, her missing husband, and her poor, disappointed, and disabled children Tom and Laura, is one of the few modern plays that still seems to creep into school curriculum. And plot's almost beside the point in this tone poem, anyway.

The best Toms flash with pent up anger, and the sense that it’s taking every ounce of will to keep from ghosting on mom and sis, and tripping the light fantastic out of town. Obligation is only part of what keeps him living at home, the 1930’s were an economic wasteland, and dependence also plays its part. As the son of an absent father — the telephone man who fell in love with long distances — Kevar Lane Maffit feels more woefully resigned, and almost gleeful when he’s messing with his prattling mother’s head.  He shines in little, quieter moments shared with his castmates. As the play’s narrator, Tom is often literally set outside the story. This performance finds Tom simultaneously looking for a way to blow out of town while also looking for cracks in time, space, and his mother’s fantastic bubble, trying to find, or fight his way back in. It’s a performance that never feels extraordinary, but becomes just that.

Maffit’s brooding presence is balanced by Kristen Vandervort's skittish Laura, whose low self esteem manifests as a kind of social shellshock. The nervousness makes sense, given her inability to escape her bombshell mother’s blast radius.

With her mannered manners, and sweeping stories of gentleman callers, and old South courtship, it’s easy to imagine Amanda as the Lost Cause-myth incarnate — a grand, self-deluding fabulist whose obsession with a perfect past (that never was), and faded promise (that has) walks an ever finer line between merciful escape, and psychotic break. There can be no doubt that, while she may have driven them away as quickly, Christina Wellford Scott’s Amanda most definitely turned heads. Still could, were she not so humbled, and forced to sell her romance magazines over the phone — penned by an author who never lets you down. Scott’s surprising Amanda shows us what a more grounded Blanche DuBois might have looked like, had children given her purpose, and something to project her fantasies onto. When Amanda flirts with Jim, Laura’s “gentleman caller,” it’s usually grotesque. This go-round she’s an elegant cougar, and sexually, a little threatening.

Scott, with stylistic help of Maness, transforms Amanda into the kind of romantic illusion one usually only finds in the movies — twisted by time and changing sensibilities, into something ridiculous. It’s so easy to just make her overbearing and bonkers.

The Gentleman Caller’s a tough gig. He represents hope, and hope’s a little bit of jerk, especially when nobody’s paid the light bill. Hey, maybe a kiss from a guy with executive potential really can fix a broken girl’s low self-esteem! (sigh) We know this date’s going nowhere. But when Jared Graham’s Jim’s dances Laura around the room, we want to believe, at least in the moment, that something completely unexpected could happen.

Williams dropped his Wingfield family between an economic rock and an even harder world “lit by lightning.” The World Wars are alluded to so often it’s fair to describe the play’s imaginative setting as a battlefield, occupied by ghosts and refugees. This imagery hasn’t been lost on GCT’s creative team, who’ve reduced portions of the family’s St. Louis apartment to rubble.

Hopefully word of mouth will result in fuller houses going forward. A show this good deserves an audience.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Memphis Theater Community Mourns Actor, Volunteer Ron Gordon

Posted By on Mon, Apr 17, 2017 at 4:21 PM

Ron.
  • Ron.
I don't know what Ron Gordon's actual last words were, but I know exactly what his last words were to me. On March 10, 2017, the delightfully irreverent Memphis actor and serial volunteer typed, "By the way, that was improv" —  then he ghosted away. If our years long, reliably uplifting conversation had to come to an end, that's as appropriate a closing line as I can think of for such a free, and generous spirit.

Monday morning, April 17, Gordon died of complications related to heart surgery. Don't be fooled by factual detail, or any number of past procedures that turned his chest into a map of old scars. Anybody who ever met this gentle giant of a man knows one thing for certain: There was nothing wrong with Ron Gordon's heart. Unless, like Kilroy, the Everyman boxer from Tennessee Williams' experimental play Camino Real, it was just too big to go on beating.

Whether he was acting, working backstage, building sets, or writing checks, it's hard to think of any one person who contributed so much of himself to so many different performing arts organizations.  He worked with our biggest playhouses, and with our scrappiest independent troupes. No role was ever too small. No task was ever too large either.

Gordon was a combat veteran, and loving parent. He's a 4-time Ostrander Award winner and past technical director for Germantown Community Theatre, and Southwest Tennessee Community College.  His own life's struggles made him uncommonly sensitive, and quick to aid anybody in need of a helping hand — or a helping guitar. He regularly donated red Epiphones to charity auctions, reflecting another of his other great loves — live music.  

So what, exactly, was "improv?" I'd made some comment about Gordon's wonderful nonspeaking role as a hirsute gangster in the 1980's-era Judd Nelson film Making the Grade. In one scene Nelson gives Gordon a fist-sized onion, which he immediately polishes and bites into like it was a delicious apple. It's not a very good film, but it was shot in Memphis and, as a high school student who'd soon be attending Rhodes College, I must have watched it a dozen times or more. I was a special fan of Gordon's onion business and would rewind the taped-from-Cinemax video, to watch his scene over and over again — and wince. I suppose that makes Gordon my first favorite Memphis actor.

As this clip shows indisputably, the man could make one hell of an entrance too. His exit however — if I may be allowed one final review — was far too abrupt. He will be sorely missed.
 

A memorial has been scheduled for Monday, May 15, 6-7 p.m. at Playhouse on the Square. 
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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Glass Menagerie Opens in Germantown

Posted By on Thu, Apr 13, 2017 at 6:48 PM

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The opening monologue from Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie is one of the 20th-Century's most haunted and haunting pieces of writing. While the play's original context slips further and further into the past, its themes remain frustratingly current. To that end Williams' first major success as a playwright, may also be the most timeless thing he ever wrote.

Menagerie wasn't Williams' first play. He'd completed a number of short, and full-length works including The Fugitive Kind, Battle of Angels, and many of the one-act plays eventually collected in American Blues. He'd consistently explored ideas related to authority, and of societal order trumping justice for those who didn't fit in — or weren't allowed to. The "lost" prison drama Not About Nightingales, with its anti-fascist core, multiracial cast, and sympathetic portrayal of homosexuals, suggested a radical in the making. All the while the young writer worked menial jobs that worked his nerves to the edge of collapse. Though not exactly autobiographical, Tom's story in The Glass Menagerie, is also the story of the making, and the breaking of that same young radical. 13-years before Jack Kerouac published On the Road, and 22-years before Timothy Leary made dropping out sound like a groovy idea, Tom, Williams' beat-to-his-socks protagonist, abandons the impossible, even tyrannizing fantasies of a merit-based American Dream, and follows in the footsteps of his absent father, the telephone man who fell in love with long distances.

Speaking of telephones...

So much is made of Laura Wingfield's glass unicorn, from her titular collection of fragile glass critters. But as central images go, the telephone— the play's  prominent  technology— is more pervasive, and more interesting. The phone, which Amanda WIngfield uses to sell magazine subscriptions, with diminishing success, had been around in some form or another for nearly a century when Menagerie first his the stage. But it had only really just become a household staple — a necessary expense for anyone hoping to connect with friends, business associates and modernity itself. The combined necessity and burden had been around just long enough to have had most of the virtue sapped from its potential.

"People said the telephone would: help further democracy; be a tool for grassroots organizers; lead to additional advances in networked communications; allow social decentralization, resulting in a movement out of cities and more flexible work arrangements; change marketing and politics; alter the ways in which wars are fought; cause the postal service to lose business; open up new job opportunities; allow more public feedback; make the world smaller, increasing contact between peoples of all nations and thus fostering world peace; increase crime and aid criminals; be an aid for physicians, police, fire, and emergency workers; be a valuable tool for journalists; bring people closer together, decreasing loneliness and building new communities; inspire a decline in the art of writing; have an impact on language patterns and introduce new words; and someday lead to an advanced form of the transmission of intelligence.

Privacy was also a major concern."

Sounds like a lot of the same stuff people said about the internet, right? Until people started documenting all the loneliness, and mapping polarization. To that end, Tom's larger-than-life mother, Amanda Wingfield, seems less like a fossil leftover from a more genteel age that never really existed, and more like the average single mom, with a disabled daughter answering every piece of Internet SPAM promising extraordinary opportunities to work from home and get paid. The only thing out of date about Amanda is her famously out of date world view.

Jim — the "Gentleman Caller" — rounds out the cast.  Tom describes Jim as the long anticipated something we live for. Does it surprise anybody, in this bleak story, that everybody's last great hope is almost all artifice, just learning to mouth the mantras of success? That he sounds like he's destined to be the victim of some future Ponzi-scheme? That hope itself is kind of a jerk?

Yeah, other plays come and go, but The Glass Menagerie hangs in there.

Germantown Community Theater had critical, and presumably commercial success with last season's production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Menagerie is evidently an attempt to see if the struggling 45-year-old company can re-can the lightning.

Even if you can't make the show, do yourself a favor and reacquaint yourself with the script. At least the opening — and perhaps the hard, lovely, closing passages where Williams skips right past "to be or not to be," and straight on to "blow out your candles." And so, goodbye.

Timeless


TOM
Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.

To begin with, I turn back time. I reverse it to that quaint period, the thirties, when the huge middle class of America was matriculating in a school for the blind. Their eyes had failed them or they had failed their eyes, and so they were having their fingers pressed forcibly down on the fiery Braille alphabet of a dissolving economy.

In Spain there was revolution. Here there was only shouting and confusion.

In Spain there was Guernica. Here there were disturbances of labour, sometimes pretty violent, in otherwise peaceful cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Saint Louis. . . .

This is the social background of the play.

[MUSIC begins to play]


The play is memory.

Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.

In memory everything seems to happen to music. That explains the fiddle in the wings.

I am the narrator of the play, and also a character in it. The other characters are my mother Amanda, my sister Laura and a gentleman caller who appears in the final scenes.

He is the most realistic character in the play, being an emissary from a world of reality that we were somehow set apart from. But since I have a poet's weakness for symbols, I am using this character also as a symbol; he is the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for. There is a fifth character in the play who doesn't appear except in this larger-than-life-size photograph over the mantel.

This is our father who left us a long time ago.He was a telephone man who fell in love with long distances; he gave up his job with the telephone company and skipped the light fantastic out of town. . . .The last we heard of him was a picture postcard from Mazatlan, on the Pacific coast of Mexico, containing a message of two words -
'Hello - Good-bye!' and no address.
I think the rest of the play will explain itself ...


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Human Resources: Rasheeda Speaks Loud and Clear at Theatre Memphis

Posted By on Tue, Apr 11, 2017 at 10:38 AM

Neither of these women are Rasheeda
  • Neither of these women are Rasheeda
Well, that was awkward. A poor audience member, tricked by the convincing verisimilitude of Jack Yates’ set design, walked right into the theater and attempted to use a fake public restroom built down stage right. Yeah, that happened. It wasn’t as embarrassing as it could have been though, since the show hadn’t yet started, and it was pretty clear, once you got beyond the toilet door, there was no privacy, and no real facilities in the onstage facilities. But good theater is made of good illusions, and, in this case, as I’ve mentioned already, Rasheeda Speaking — a tense comedy about race, gender, office life and the way we work now — hadn’t even begun.

Yates is such a gifted artist and technician his uncanny ability to build complete, lived-in spaces can actually be a challenge for less challenging productions. When nothing’s left to the imagination, imaginations don’t always engage as powerfully as they might. But Rasheeda Speaking is a different kind of stage story, and it benefits from playing out in such a familiar place — A surgeon’s clean, brightly lit waiting room in some anonymous professional building in some city, somewhere, just like every other city in America. This is Everyoffice, and the audience is dropped right behind the fabled fourth wall, where it’s encouraged to slip into full voyeur mode, and witness icky banal conversations never meant for public consumption. Add to this picture a trio of solid performances from Anne Marie Caskey, Brian Everson, and Dusty Walsh, and an extraordinarily confident one from Jessica “Jai” Johnson, and it’s easy to give into the fantasy and pretend it’s all happening right there in front of you — that there really are sinks and stalls just beyond the clearly marked restroom door. You can almost smell the urinal puck.

Rasheeda Speaking opens with the Surgeon (Everson) instructing his newly appointed office manager (Caskey) to observe her co-worker Jaclyn (Johnson) and take detailed notes. “Jackie,” as he calls her, doesn’t really fit in. She’s angry, he says, acknowledging that won’t be a good enough reason for the Human Resources department to let her go, or move her to another, more appropriate position. This opening conversation establishes a familiar, flirty and manipulative relationship between the doctor and his submissive senior staff member. It doubles as instruction to the audience/jury. The strong, quirky, slightly sadistic black woman they’re about to meet, is officially exotic, and absolutely on trial for it.

That’s all misdirection. While we’re all busy watching Jaclyn (She prefers Jaclyn), and wondering if she may be genuinely toxic, the doctor and his mousey spy unravel in even more dramatic ways. What begins as a variety of harassment suits waiting to happen ends in absurd hysteria and the terrifying threat of a “stand your ground” moment. 
Sometimes the set's the star.
  • Sometimes the set's the star.

It’s worth mentioning that both playwright Joel Drake Johnson and director Jerry Chipman are white guys, only because it’s worth asking whether or not we really need more deep thoughts on race and gender politics from a white guy’s POV. Thing is, Rasheeda Speaking is deliberately exploitative, putting its one brown face and two women on exhibit for study in an otherwise petty drama of arrested development, and playground paternalism. From coded beginnings, to unmistakable outbursts, it’s a native habitat diorama, instructing us on how white folks are when they don’t think any black people are in the bathroom listening. It’s never exactly what you think it is — uniquely voiced, and frustratingly topical.

Nobody in Rasheeda Speaking is named Rasheeda. It’s a name, we’re told, a group of young white professionals —liberals by implication — have mockingly given to all working class black women. It’s an inside joke they felt comfortable laughing about day after day on the bus to work. Jaclyn agrees to be called Jackie, but when the indignities pile up she surrenders to this minstrel stereotype the way Bruce Banner surrenders to the Hulk. That’s when phones get answered, “Rasheeda speaking!” It’s a messy moment, in a messy play. It’s the realest thing you’ll see on stage this week.

Rasheeda Speaking
is at Theatre Memphis through April 23.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Theatre Roundup: Black Box Festival at Hattiloo, "Rasheeda Speaking" at Theatre Memphis

Posted By on Fri, Apr 7, 2017 at 2:01 PM

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The Hattiloo Theatre's National Black Box Performing Arts Festival continues through this weekend with a selection plays, cinema, concerts and dance performances. Artists on tap include slam poet turned recording artist Toussaint Morrison, film and TV actor Debbi Morgan, and artist/activist Antonio Lyons.

There are also screenings of the James Baldwin documentary, I Am Not Your Negro, and public performances by arts groups like Cazateatro, Inner City South, and the Black Arts Alliance.

For more information, here's the official schedule.

Theatre Memphis hosts the regional premiere of Rasheeda Speaking, a 100-minute drama exploring institutionalized racism in office politics.

Ongoing
The Bridges of Madison County closes this weekend at the Circuit Playhouse.


Cloud9's Someday For A Crown, at TheatreWorks.
This new play by Memphis stage vet Ron Gephart is inspired by his father's struggle with Altzheimer's disease. Featuring Jim Palmer, Jo Lynne Palmer, Karin Barile, Lazora Jones, Bob McIntosh, and Charles Ingram.
Rasheeda Speaking at Theatre Memphis
  • Rasheeda Speaking at Theatre Memphis

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