Friday, December 8, 2017

Waiting for Godot, J & K Cabaret, Elves, Fairies, Ghosts, and Actors

Posted By on Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 1:46 PM


The holidays are a time of reassurance when we celebrate familiarity and comfort in all things, from food and drinks we consume to the entertainment we gobble up like sugar cookies and milk. It's the caroling time of year when area playhouses turn to beloved titles like A Christmas Carol, Peter Pan, or maybe even the Santaland Diaries for folks who prefer their cocoa on the bitter side. But the Tennessee Shakespeare Company isn't like other area theaters. The Bard-minded professional troupe has always gone its own way and, true to form, TSC has another kind of classic in mind for this season of giving — a widely celebrated, often misunderstood clown show penned in the wake of WWII, at the dawn of a frightening atomic age. Samuel Beckett's austere comedy Waiting For Godot is the 20th-century "bounded in a nutshell," as Shakespeare might say — a slapstick hymn to eternity in all its terrifying glory.
TSC's founding director Dan McCleary says he's wanted to produce Godot for years, but he waited for the right moment and the right group of people. "To work as a clown means that you feel everything very deeply, whether it's joy or loss," he says, considering what it takes to fill the ragged pants and ill-fitting shoes of Beckett's famous hobos Vladimir and Estragon, who, in the face of a random, sometimes malevolent-seeming world, turn to one another for affirmation and survival. "Clowns feel things very deeply, then in the next breath they let it go. So clowns have short-term memories.

"Out of extremes comes a play of tremendous compassion and understanding and inquiry," McCleary says, describing Godot as beautiful in timing and grace. "It's always struck me as a fine seasonal, holiday play. It's very funny."

Speaking of very funny, the J&K Cabaret is back starring Jenny Madden and Kim Justis. I've written a lot about this pair over the years, and about this show, which owes its origin to a very funny production of Parallel Lives.

Count on music, comedy, bigger comedy, and generous performances from two of the city's most gifted and committed entertainers.

A Christmas Carol is back at Theatre Memphis, Peter Pan's flying around Playhouse on the Square, and Junie B. Jones is at Circuit. And Santaland Diaries too.
Event Details The J & K Cabaret
@ TheatreSouth
Inside First Congregational Church, 1000 S. Cooper
Memphis, TN
When: Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through Dec. 16
Event Details Waiting for Godot
@ The Dixon Gallery & Gardens
4339 Park
East Memphis
Memphis, Tennessee
When: Thursdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. and Sundays, 3 p.m. Continues through Dec. 17
Event Details The Santaland Diaries
@ Circuit Playhouse
51 S. Cooper
Overton Square
Memphis, Tennessee
When: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. and Sundays, 7 p.m. Continues through Dec. 23
Theater and Holiday Events
Event Details Junie B. Jones, The Musical
@ Circuit Playhouse
51 S. Cooper
Overton Square
Memphis, Tennessee
When: Saturdays, Sundays, 2 p.m. and Thursdays, Fridays, 7 p.m. Continues through Dec. 23
Theater and Kids
Event Details Peter Pan
@ Playhouse on the Square
66 S. Cooper
Overton Square
Memphis, Tennessee
When: Saturdays, Sundays, 2 p.m. and Fridays, 7 p.m. Continues through Dec. 31

Tags: ,

Friday, November 10, 2017

Prime Cuts: A Pulitzer finalist, and an Orwell fable

Posted By on Fri, Nov 10, 2017 at 9:52 AM

Looking for something interesting this weekend? Whoever you are, the Memphis theater community's probably got something for you. 

Cloud9's a relatively new company still getting its legs. That sets up Jordan Harrison's Marjorie Prime — a significant regional premiere — as a probable coming of age story. This Pulitzer finalist is near-future science fiction about a time when artificial intelligences can be programmed to serve as companions for the elderly, even taking on the look and characteristics of lost loved ones. It would easily be the most smartly-written thing on stage this week if Voices of the South hadn't staged a narrative adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm, or if Theatre Memphis' wonderful production of Falsettos had been produced at some other time. As it happens, there's a lot of smart work to choose from. Choose well!

And there's always the ballet.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Free Shakespeare! Julius Caesar visits the Germantown Library

Posted By on Fri, Oct 27, 2017 at 4:47 PM

Michael Khanlarian, Khalil LeSaldo
  • Michael Khanlarian, Khalil LeSaldo
On a cold rainy pre-Halloween weekend the only thing I can think of that might be better than a free indoor production of Julius Caesar might be a free indoor production of Macbeth. But since the latter's not being performed you'll just have to settle for Shakespeare's tragically timeless story of murder and political intrigue in ancient Rome as performed by members of the Tennessee Shakespeare Company. 
The Ides of March come late this year. The original conspiracy theory goes down Saturday, Oct. 28 at 10 a.m.

Did I mention it was free?

Thursday, October 5, 2017

What's Your Damage? "Heathers," "Stage Kiss" Open this Weekend!

Also onstage: "Hamlet," "Romeo & Juliet," "Shakespeare in Love" and "Fetch Clay, Make Man"

Posted By on Thu, Oct 5, 2017 at 6:49 PM

“If you were happy every day of your life, you wouldn’t be a human, You’d be a game show host.” — Heathers.

I'm pretty sure Brooke Papritz has been on a collision course with Heathers the musical since she embodied brutal, ambition-free entitlement in Carrie. She played the telekinetic title character's teenage antagonist Chris, and sang the hell out of a muddled show's best song. Papritz moves into the protagonist position this time, albeit one whose teen angst bullshit has a body count. She'll play Veronica — the non-Heather-Heather made famous by a 16-year-old Wynona Ryder. She'll be joined by a deliciously terrible threesome: Gia Welsh (Side Show) as Heather Chandler (in power red), Heather Duke (in envy green) and Heather McNamara (in cowardly yellow) as her school-ruling mean-girl compatriots.

High school is a foreign land — perhaps even another, needlessly cruel dimension where every choice a teenager makes, from scrunchie color and sneaker brand to pants-or-be-pantsed, is a matter of life and death. Heathers' twisted romance/revenge plot took that idea literally turning Ryder and co-star Christian Slater into a Bonnie & Clyde for the Clearasil set.

The original film version of Heathers was 1989's antidote to everything John Hughes ever shot (that didn't include Harry Dean Stanton) and in retrospect film critic Roger Ebert's uncommonly cautious review makes an instructive frame for a film that threw caution to the wind.

"I approach Heathers as a traveler in an unknown country," Ebert wrote, admitting it made him feel like a foreigner. "One who does not speak the language or know the customs and can judge the natives only by taking them at their word."


Heathers' screenwriter Daniel Waters fully understood that teenagers don't speak in slang or jargon but in code. Shocking as a comedy about murder and teen suicide may have been for some in 1989, Heathers was always more classical than edgy, especially in terms of complexity,  idiomatic color and meaning. It set an appropriately dark and literary tone tone for Gen-Xers heading off to college and kicked open the door for savvy adaptations like 1995's Jane Austen-inspired Clueless. Wisely the adaptors Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness) and Laurence O’Keefe (Legally Blonde) held on to all the best lines (and most of the important tropes) while transforming Heathers into an unlikely musical, but they've also built it to function more of an extension of the original than a perfect carbon copy.

Memphis' favorite Tracy Turnblad, Courtney Oliver, is no stranger to adapted films about teen angst and budding sexuality. Past directing credits include Carrie the Musical, Debbie Does Dallas.


Also opening this week at Theatre Memphis: Stage Kiss by Sarah Ruhl starring John Moore and Tracy Hansom with Stuart Turner, Chase Ring, Lena Wallace Black, Laurel Galaty, and Gordon Ginsburg.

Stage Kiss is a play you can almost judge from the title. What happens when two old are cast opposite one another in an old romantic melodrama? What does it mean when two actors find themselves really kissing? These are the obvious questions but when Ruhl's writing nothing's ever that obvious or exactly what it seems to be.

Directed by Tony Isbell who recently staged the terrific if under-attended Years to the Day for Quark.
ONGOING: Fetch Clay, Make Man: Muhammad Ali enlists Stepin Fetchit to teach him Jack Johnson's anchor punch. Solid acting, intriguing relationships. To read more about the background, click here. For the review click here.
Shakespeare, Love, etc. - CARLA THE MAGNIFICENT.
  • Carla the magnificent.
  • Shakespeare, Love, etc.
CLOSING: Shakespeare in Love is the fictional story of how Shakespeare wrote Romeo & Juliet set in London's complicated theater world during the reign of Elizabeth I. Read the review here.

And speaking of Romeo & Juliet (and brutal social environments/teen suicide, to harken back to Heathers).Tennessee Shakespeare's bringing a free performance of R&J to the town Square in Collierville. Catch them both!
CLOSING: What a Piece of Work...
Our Own Voice Theatre turns its attention to another Shakespeare play — sort of. With What a Piece of Work is this relentlessly (but not indefatigably) experimental company aims to interpret Hamlet and criticize America's current president and all things that lead to complacency.

Our Own Voice has a long history of developing topical, political work but there's more at work here than mere resistance.  Maybe it's easier to share a director's note from Bill Baker.

"So, why an hour own voice production of Hamlet? Have I lost my mind? Perhaps the second question answers the first. Our Own Voice has been having a bit of an identity crisis. Reaching our 25th anniversary has involved a lot of soul searching for this company, considering if and how we should continue on our theatrical mission. It seems time for a bold move. I know it is an insane decision, to undertake one of Shakespeare's most difficult plays with a troupe of actors characterized by their lack of conventional theatrical training, a company more at home with making up plays then with serving the text of a great playwright. And, yes, I am aware that TheaterWorks has very recently been the home to a very fine production of Hamlet. New Moon Theater did an excellent production this past February. I was in the audience and I enjoyed every minute of it. In fact, I was inspired. I should say it is more because of that production than in spite of it that we have undertaken this one. Watching New Moon’s talented ensemble playing Shakespeare's glorious language in this space set me to thinking about how to OOV might go about telling the story, interpreting these words. The juxtaposition of the two ensembles telling the same tale should highlight what, for me, is the true glory of theater, the unique human encounter that happens every time an actor performs for a spectator. The potential of that encounter is what our own voice has always devoted to exploring and expanding. Our patron saint Antonin Artaud said, “No more masterpieces!” And recognized that the true language of the theater is what human bodies do in the space. So we have not yet undertaken the classic dramatic texts. The time has come. Hamlet is perhaps the greatest play ever written, and it is in the public domain! This great story, these beautiful words are no one's intellectual property. They belong to all of us. They are ours!"
So just what is Hamlet? A play about ham?
  • So just what is Hamlet? A play about ham?

Friday, September 22, 2017

Shakespeare, Ibsen, Angry Jurors, and Muhammad Ali: Memphis Theaters offer variety.

Posted By on Fri, Sep 22, 2017 at 5:55 PM

Shannon Walton and Mark Pergolizzi in A Doll's House, Evergreen Theatre. - JLAPPIN PHOTOGRAPHY
  • JLappin Photography
  • Shannon Walton and Mark Pergolizzi in A Doll's House, Evergreen Theatre.
I'm glad CentreStage is dusting off Ibsen's A Doll's House, for a number of reasons. Mainly because I'm a nerd and I think, having ascribed to the usual conversations about this groundbreaking piece of modern drama, I may have missed some things, subtle and unnerving as a Roxy Music joint. Since this is a 150-year-old classic I'll skip plot details, and get right to the meat of an academic concern that may not interest another living soul, but hey — that's what blogs are for! If you need a refresher course, there's plenty to choose from. 

It's probably not so strange, given translation goals, that the publishers continue to use the well-branded title A Doll's House even though that's not quite right. In Norway "Doll House" is a distinct word, and one that playwright Henrik Ibsen specifically rejected in favor of something closer to "A Home for Dolls," which is less catchy, but bends things in this atypical Christmas story in a slightly different direction. The never-used title implies a system of domesticity that imprisons all of us, not just women.

Don't worry, I'm not going #AllLivesMatter here. It's a play about women in a place where there's little opportunity for fulfillment, and I'm not here to bury the playwright's message. Rather to praise his selection of flawed heroes whose choices are steered by rules spoken and un, and not easily understood in terms of good, bad, right or wrong. With A Doll's House we can almost see an inverse to Martin Luther King's idea that none of us are free until all of us are. In the basic "must-be-more-money" rooms inhabited by Nora and Torvald, nobody can be free until somebody is. Her escape will obviously demand a price.

A Doll's House's exploration of marriage and sexual inequality broke so much fresh Earth in 1879, but I've been giving second thoughts to August Strindberg's real-time criticism of the play's iconic end — The sound of a door slamming and a woman, liberated from traditional constraint, striking out without husband or children. Conventional wisdom holds, with that slam, the famously progressive Ibsen reimagined women as, "human beings first, wives and mothers second." This was "swinish," to Strindberg, who was Ibsen's more fanciful, but socially conservative peer. Ibsen's female protagonist, Strindberg argued, wouldn't leave her children behind, which sounds like  typical conservative douchebag thing to say. But his concern wasn't really that a mother left her children behind so much as he didn't believe she would leave them in an environment she found toxic, in the care of a man she can't abide.

Strindberg's complaints are rooted in his own issues but highlight the fact that Nora's abandonment of family may be less the choice of a liberated woman than the projection of a male playwright making a man's choice in a woman's story.

As is the case with other Ibsen plays like Pillars of Society and Enemy of the People, the big antagonists can be systems inclusive of extortionists, leeches etc. more than the extortionists, leeches, etc. themselves. Conflict's made inevitable by controlled economies and all manner of cultural corseting — Houses wherein Ibsen's dolls are expected to play out proscribed sexual and social fantasies. Simply said, a lot happens in Ibsen's home for mannequins, automatons, and dolls called into the world, etc. How much did I miss as the reluctant schoolboy, when classics tasted like medicine?
Queen Ann (Marie Hall) as Lizzy-1 in Shakespeare in Love. - QUEEN CARLA
  • Queen Carla
  • Queen Ann (Marie Hall) as Lizzy-1 in Shakespeare in Love.
Blah, blah, blah. Important information: A Dolls House opens at the Evergreen Theatre Friday, Sept. 22.

In the mood for something more Elizabethan, but not as challenging as Shakespeare, and maybe a little familiar? Shakespeare in Love opens at Playhouse on the Square this week. Not the movie, of course, the stage version. I know, following productions of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and 9 to 5, it's starting to feel like a real Inception/Cloud Atlasy warping of spacetime is going on over on Cooper Street, right? And the cinematic blackouts between scenes in The Flick (recently closed at Circuit Playhouse) are being rolled out ad seriatim across the street at Playhouse on the Square where they've got more movie titles than Indie Memphis. (Totally free to steal that slogan). It's freaking me out, man!

Here's a video preview.

Other onstage offerings this week include Fetch Clay, Make Man, which I preview here, Twelve Angry Jurors which I review here, and Years to the Day, which may be the play to see if you're seeing only one. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Muhammad Ali Meets Stepin Fetchit at The Hattiloo Theatre

Posted By on Thu, Sep 21, 2017 at 2:57 PM

Muhammad Ali, Lincoln Perry AKA Stepin Fetchit
  • Muhammad Ali, Lincoln Perry AKA Stepin Fetchit
“The search for the white hope not having been successful, prejudices were being piled up against me, and certain unfair persons, piqued because I was champion, decided if they could not get me one way they would another.” — Jack Johnson

"I'm bold, he was crazy." — Muhammad Ali on Jack Johnson.

"There's power in the art of doing nothing." — Stepin Fetchit

Will Power's play Fetch Clay, Make Man, currently on stage at the Hattiloo Theatre, is set just after the assassination of Malcolm X, and just before Muhammad Ali's rematch with Sonny Liston. It explores the strange alliance and unexpected bond that formed between Ali and the delegitimized comedian Stepin Fetchit, as the boxer sought to unlock the secrets of Jack Johnson's "anchor punch." It's a conflict-laden meditation on identity, and what it means to be a black celebrity in America. Look for a full review of the show in days to come. In the meantime, here's a quick look back at Fetch Clay Make Man's crucial trinity — Ali, Fetchit, and Johnson .

It's difficult imagining Stepin Fetchit, Hollywood's first black millionaire — an embarrassment and "race traitor" in they eyes of following generations — as the bridge between the first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, and the celebrated boxer and black power icon Muhammad Ali. But as Ali prepared to take on both Sonny Liston and U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, Fetchit, an inward friend of Johnson's, was enlisted for the purpose of "secret training." Ali was particularly interested in a Johnson move called the anchor punch, a short, twisting jab that took no longer to execute than the burst of a flashbulb, and could only be executed as an opponent moved in with force. Fetchit, who made his money and built a reputation presenting broadly comic images of  lazy, mush-mouthed clowns swore he didn't know how Johnson did it, but signed on to help anyway.

Like Ali, Johnson's mouth was as dangerous as his fists. He was a masterful defensive fighter who strategically nullified his opponents arms in a way that forced them to overwork. Taunting opponents — particularly white opponents — while fighting them made them work that much harder, overextend themselves. He'd go into a clinch, delivering two to the body, one to the top floor, or he'd back up with his right hand batting at his opponent like a cat, left cocked close to the body like a tight spring ready to pop. Outside the ring he was even bolder, and Ali frequently expressed admiration for both the athlete, and the man saying things like, "Jack Johnson was a black man back when white people lynched negroes on weekends. Back in 1909 they'd send him letters saying, 'You're fighting a white man, and ni**er, if you knock him out, we'll kill you. He'd say, 'just kill my black butt cause I'm gonna knock this white man cold."

Similarly, Stepin Fetchit (born Lincoln Perry), who was 20-years younger than Johnson, and who shrewdly and deliberately traded Vaudeville for a career in Hollywood less than a decade after Birth of a Nation, has to be understood in a hostile climate and context — and with the full understanding that, at the same time, black artists like Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson,  and Paul Laurence Dunbar chose to make definitive African-American statements over Hollywood salaries.

But was Fetchit's clown as reprehensible as emerging comedian Bill Cosby made it sound in 1968 when he appeared in the Andy Rooney-penned documentary, Black History: Lost, Stolen, or Strayed? Cosby, a frequent moral scold whose own reputation has come under fire in recent years, described Fetchit as, "The traditional lazy, stupid, craps-shooting, chicken-stealing idiot." Gentler critics have found a lineage of subversion in otherwise hard-to-defend routines, by placing Fetchit's work in the long tradition of stock servant characters who pretend laziness or incompetence to trick masters into doing the work for them — a kind of comedic rope-a-dope echoing, faintly at least, the sweet science of both Johnson and Ali.

It's difficult to imagine any common ground between the physically and rhetorically powerful Ali and Lincoln Perry's submissive sleep-warrior Fetchit. Then again, our understanding of race and pop-culture continues to evolve and comparisons of Ali to Johnson that were once dismissed as superficial seem evermore apparent in hindsight.

Fetch Clay, Make Man is running at the Hattiloo through Oct. 15

Friday, September 8, 2017

"Years to the Day": Offbeat Theater in an Offbeat Venue

Posted By on Fri, Sep 8, 2017 at 12:29 PM

Quark Theatre co-founder/director Tony Isbell has a tidy description for Allen Barton's play, Years to the Day: "It's sort of like if David Mamet had written a play set in a version of our world with a slightly different history."

Years to the Day is difficult to describe in a way that makes it sound as dynamic as it should: two middle-aged guys — former college pals, still digitally networked — organize a face-to-face coffee reunion and discover via device-steeped, and rant-laden conversation, the vast differences between connected and connecting. "Politics and the personal are irrevocably intertwined," Isbell says. "It's sort of like what happens on Facebook when you discover that an old college chum has completely changed his political stripes. Or maybe he was 'that way' all along, and it just never came up. Can you remain friends with someone who has a radically different view of the world?"

Who doesn't ask that question several times a week?

A Downtown Memphis Commission program to help revitalize Downtown's North side has provided Quark with a temporary home. Years to the Day is being presented at 7 N. Main, Sept 8-29. Details here. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

2017 Ostranders — Picks, Pans and WHO GOT ROBBED!?!?

Posted By on Fri, Aug 18, 2017 at 10:20 AM

Lord of the Flies
  • Lord of the Flies
The Ostrander Awards are just around the corner and I've got some questions.

Where is Killer Joe?

[Looks sternly, menacingly around the room]

I'm not playing judges? Where the eff is Killer Joe?

Nothing? You've got nothing? No nominations? Not a crumb? Not a courtesy nod for this upsetting season highlight?
I've read the nominations over and over, hoping I'd overlooked something. But no. It's just not there. I've heard tell it wasn't even recommended for judging, and if that's so, somebody's got some explaining to do. Because in this particular moment, as we consider just how very screwed up our world has become, that show was fire.
True fact.
Maybe it wasn't pleasant. And maybe it wasn't perfect. And I'm not sure I ever want to see that ugly thing again. But New Moon's Killer Joe was sometimes thrilling, and outstanding in most regards. The set —  a hyperrealistic mobile home interior — was as convincing as Katie Bell Kenny's Sun Studio simulacrum for Million Dollar Quartet. It was more believably lived in than the (gorgeous) Georgetown doll house Jack Yates dreamed up for The City of Conversation too. The  glowing blue bug-zapper on the trailer's porch was a special touch— a perfect detail triggering good off-kilter memories from the last time New Moon produced a Tracy Letts script. Killer Joe's cast made me feel icky, I admit. It was a refreshing change from feeling nothing at all.

I'll be ranting more about this and a few other glaring omissions later but, as good as many of this year's Ostrander nominees may have been, I struggle with the idea that Letts' disturbing black comedy wasn't even a contender. Judges can hide behind reasonable differences of opinion and taste but I'm not having it with Killer Joe. It was a powerhouse indie and a strong example of what what can bubble up when a motivated community outgrows its institutions.
Killer Joe: Love & Death in the trailer park.
  • Killer Joe: Love & Death in the trailer park.
Oh well, here's this year's cranky list of Ostrander picks, pans and yes, of course, "Who Got Robbed?".

Set Design
Is it just me or does it seem like the judges really have a thing for literal environments and lots and lots of money?
Katie Bell-Kenny's lovingly detailed brick by brick Sun Studio was the spitting image of a place we all know just a few blocks down the road. Ryan Howell solved a lot of big problems for Priscilla Queen of the Desert and his beautiful bus sang in perfect harmony with Kathleen R. Kovariks costumes. Jack Yates  gets three nods for Beauty and the Beast (epic Disney at a nearly human scale), The City of Conversation (whole lot of set for not much drama) and for the doctor's office drama Rasheeda Speaking, for which he crafted an artificial environment so realistic I watched an audience member walk onstage before the show and attempt to use the fake public restroom. These are all fantastic nominees and I think (hope) Yates takes the prize for Rasheeda — or even for Beauty and the Beast were he darkened the corners in ways that might make old Cocteau smile.  But it's strange to me that Yates has three nominations while some really interesting work was ignored. As perfectly theatrical gestures go, things don't get much better than the enormous but not very flashy stairway built for Charles III. With its plain raked stage and floating french doors JImmie Humphries design for The House That Will Not Stand was a lean ghostly vision of Old New Orleans that looked great under light and Killer Joe was a convincing germaphobe's nightmare. Flat mugged, all three of these guys.

Jeremy Allen Fisher  and Theatre Memphis pick up three lighting nominations for a trio of lushly lit musicals: Beauty and the Beast, Side Show and South Pacific. I didn't see The Bridges of Madison County, at The Circuit Playhouse but I'm a John Horan fan and Priscilla Queen of the Desert didn't disappoint. I get the sense that our judges have a "more is better" aesthetic, so they probably picked Beauty and the Beast but South Pacific and Side Show were more enchanting. Who got robbed? Killer Joe's bug-zapper was an awfully special practical but no show made better use of illumination this season than Playhouse on the Square's production of Lord of the Flies. I was especially struck by the closing scene when the rescue occurred and bright lamps flooded the stage. Until that moment I didn't realize just how literally dark things had gotten. Robbed!

Also, I don't know who to call out for Rasheeda Speaking. Jeremy Fisher's listed as the lighting designer but the practical lighting built into Jack Yates' set made the illusion complete. Did I mention that an audience member tried to use the onstage bathroom? Good stuff.
Sometimes the set's the star.
  • Sometimes the set's the star.
Costume Design
Disney's Beauty and the Beast is a a show about spectacle and Amie Eoff should probably win for that (with Anne Suchyta, Dawn Bennett and Rafael Castanera) though she may have done better work for Side Show, where she wasn't beholden to any animated expectations. I missed Sisters of Swing but have seen enough to know why this vintage snapshot of the Andrews Sisters career was included. Odds on Favorite: André Bruce Ward for Sense & Sensibility. Andre's period work is always on point and this lifetime achievement honoree is retiring from Theatre Memphis this year, leaving behind an extraordinary body of work (and 15-tons of sequins). and I'm betting the judges set him up with one for the road.

Sound Design
Screw this category.
TV and radio broadcasts intrude throughout Killer Joe creating a secret sixth character in the drama. Without Killer Joe in the mix Sound Design is a 100% illegitimate category. Okay, okay, un-screw this category. Chris Cotton's design for Haint was lonesome, haunting and deserving and so was Carter McHann's post-WWII soundscape for Victory Blues. I'm calling this for Cotton, but it's a tossup.

Supporting Actress in a Drama
I didn't catch Mary Buchignani  in Sense & Sensibility, and that's on me because she's reliably fantastic. That makes this category a tough one to call. The similarly consistent Jessica “Jai” Johnson started a terrific year with Disgraced and Eugart Yearian lifetime achievement honoree Jo Lynne Palmer brought the spirit of a a stock Southern character to life in Hain't.  I particularly enjoyed Kristen Vandervort 's shellshocked take on Laura in The Glass Menagerie, and Leah Beth Wingfield's irreverent turn in Hand to God. If I'm forced to choose from this truly fine field I'll take Vandervort for shining new light through old windows. But Mersadies Burch's performance as the Laura Wingfield of Killer Joe was more interesting than any of these. Annie Freres' performance in Killer Joe was braver than all of these. And then there's Maya Robinson's breakout performance in The House That Will Not Stand. In my realtime review I wrote, "I predict an Ostrander nomination [for Robinson] and have a hard time imaging who might even rise up to challenge this winning performance." I still have a hard time imagining it, so here's to you Ms. Robinson. You were 110% ganked.
House That Will Not Stand
  • House That Will Not Stand
You know who else got 110% ganked?  There were three superb things about Theatre Memphis' profoundly meh production of the political drama City of Conversation. One of them was Jack Yates' eye-dazzling recreation of a swanky Georgetown home.  One of them was Michael Walker's pitch-perfect performance as a Southern politician. The third was Shannon Walton's savagely imagined, Eve-like temptress offering the apple of Reaganism to any powerful man who'd sit still long enough. A thrilling performance in a play mythologizing bullshit. And speaking of plays mythologizing bullshit, Christina Welford Scott owned the stage as Camilla Duchess of Cornwall in Charles III — ganked.

Supporting Actor in a Drama
Another botched category absent a nomination for Daniel Pound as the no-account daddy and beer-swigging couch-wart in Killer Joe. Among the actual nominees Gabe Beutel-Gunn was solid in Disgraced but maybe better in The 39 Steps and Emmanuel McKinney turned in one of his strongest performances since Hurt Village as the aging boxer Joe Louis in Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting. I'm calling this one for McKinney but Pound needs to file a police report sometime in the nest 24-hours. Robbed!

Leading Actress in a Drama
Why is Karen Mason Riss nominated for The City of Conversation? I'm not asking because she's not one of our best, she is! I even thought she was fantastic in last season's forgettable Mothers & Sons. But this show was a misfire. Her co-star Shannon Walton might just as easily be considered a lead, and her's was the more interesting performance in a show so crisply written you almost don't notice how  muddled the vision is. It wouldn't be terrible if Anne Marie Caskey and Jessica “Jai” Johnson shared this year's award for Rasheeda Speaking. But my pick: Michele Somers Cullen. She swore she'd never act again and then along came Haint to make her a liar. She was remarkable as the misunderstood old root worker in this enjoyable Southern noir, but swears once again she's done.  Maybe a play prize will change her mind.

Who got robbed? I've seen The Glass Menagerie many, many times. I've seen as many fine Amandas. But I've never seen one half as interesting or alive as Christina Welford Scott — Robbed! And while we're on the subject of Tennessee Williams poor Natalie Jones was a promising Maggie in Theatre Memphis' misfire production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I can't say she was robbed exactly, but aggressively panhandled at the very least.
Glass Menagerie: Blow out your candles, Laura.
  • Glass Menagerie: Blow out your candles, Laura.

Leading Actor in a Drama
There was a scene in Hand to God where Jordan Nichols and Leah Beth Wingfield act their asses off while the puppets on their hands engage in frenzied, pagan sex. It's a high-wire moment scoring a solid 9 on the actor difficulty meter. Everybody else was fine, but if this season had one perfectly perfect moment that was it. Wingfield was amazing too.

Now for the bad news. Every time I think I've seen The Glass Menagerie enough and never need to see it again, I see a production that changes my mind. Shining in quiet, unexpected ways Kevar Lane Maffit is one of the best Toms I've ever seen. He was 100% Robbed!

Supporting Actress in a Musical

Annie Freres' voice is a force of nature and she blew down the house in both Mama Mia and Rock of Ages. Her only real competition here may be Jude Knight, who did Mrs. Potts proud in Beauty and the Beast.

Supporting Actor in a Musical
Philip Andrew Himebook was a perfectly heroic heel in Beauty and the Beast and Nathan McHenry sure could bang his piano in Million Dollar Quartet but I don't think there was any supporting performance more satisfying this season than Stephen Garrett's LA metalhead turn in Rock of Ages. A win in this category will more than make up for the fact he wasn't nominated for playing Sam Phillips in Million Dollar Quartet.
Also Mark Pergolizzi I hope you had insurance. You were the heart of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and you got ROBBED! Also robbed — Did the judges even see Quinton Rayford in Violet?
Sense & Sensibility & Vampires but without the Vampires.
  • Sense & Sensibility & Vampires but without the Vampires.
Leading Actress in A Musical
I'm not considering anybody not in Side Show and not named Dani Chaum and Gia Welch. They had to play two distinctly different characters functioning as a single body. It was another high difficulty performance and they stuck the landing. A young team with talent to spare, and that's all I have to say about that. Any other choice is just wrong. Except for one choice that's not really a choice at all. There were a lot of good musical performances this season but only one was perfect — Nichol Pritchard as the titular Violet in GCT's uneven, but no-less rewarding production.

Violet had issues and I can see why might not have received many nominations. But, as the musical teaches us, we're so much more than our scars and blemishes. Prichard's performance was brassy and beautiful and all she got for it was ROBBED!
Beauty & the Beast: A metaphor for things that happen in our drawers?
  • Beauty & the Beast: A metaphor for things that happen in our drawers?

Leading Actor in a Musical
The choices are Gary Beard in Liberace!, which I didn't see, Kent M. Fleshman in South Pacific, David Foster in Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Daniel Gonzalez in Sisters of Swing, which I also didn't see, and Bruce Huffman in Priscilla Queen of the Desert. As good as Fleshman and Foster were Huffman's the only nominee to really show me something new and unexpected. I don't know how you ground that much fabulous camp, but there was something uncommonly down to Earth about Huffman's over-the-top flights of fantasy. It was a winning performance among winning performances.

Who got robbed? I know Sam Phillips doesn't have any songs in Million Dollar Quartet, but y'all do know it's his show, right? Go check your insurance policies Stephen Garrett, you've been ROBBED!
Sam Phillips tribute artist.
  • Sam Phillips tribute artist.
Large Ensemble
Am I the only person who thinks it's funny to see Million Dollar Quartet in the large ensemble category? It's a show about a quartet. That's four people plus Sam Phillips which makes five. Then Elvis brings a date, making it six. Thing is M$4 also brings the backing band on stage adding a costumed bass player and drummer who basically just sit/stand there till it's time to play.That technicality brings M$4 into the large ensemble category where it still doesn't belong. Who's winning this one? I don't know. If One-Ham-Manlet the one-man Hamlet didn't get nominated, can't care. That Ryan Kathman contains multitudes.

Small Ensemble

Blackbird wasn't eligible and Killer Joe wasn't nominated so whoever wins this category will have to live with the full knowledge that they were second or third best at least. Having said, I wouldn't cry a bit if Mr. Ricky — a show with one more principle cast member than M$4 — took this one. It was a great example of Hattiloo choosing fantastic material nobody else is even looking at and elegantly performed.

Cameo/Featured Role
Better be Ron GordonHamlet, New Moon Theatre Company. Flights of angels and all that...

Excellence in Direction of a Drama
I sound like a broken record but without James Kevin Cochran who directed Killer Joe and Tony Horne who brought together a real "wow" of a show with The House That Will Not Stand I'm not sure what we're rewarding here. Where's John Maness' nomination for GCT's tight, fuss-free Glass Menagerie? (Robbed!)

I missed only one among the chosen: Sense & Sensibility— that John Rone always does a fine job with Jane Austen. Irene Crist's a pro too but if Disgraced was more polished than her fun but spotty Hand to God.  Dennis Whitehead Darling's sure and invisible hand allowed Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting to speak for itself, and boy did it have a lot to say. Tony Isbell unleashed a storm of silliness and sight gags in The 39 Steps, a show I don't always enjoy. None of the nominated shows excited me like the ones that were overlooked.

Excellence in Direction of a Musical
Please let Scott Ferguson win for Rock of Ages. God how I hate (old-school hate, I'm a total H8R) some of the music in that ridiculous, gaudy, shitshow and Ferguson made it so much fun I got mad at myself and punched myself in the face for liking it. Michael Detroit did a fine job with Million Dollar Quartet and I suspect an equally competent job with Sisters of Swing. Dave Landis is also double-nominated for The Bridges of Madison County and a popular staging of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. For over-the-top vision and execution it's hard to beat Ferguson at his worst. Landis got close sometimes with Priscilla, but this was Ferguson at his best.

Best Dramatic Production
The 39 Steps was a screwball romp. The City of Conversation was a boring af. Disgraced was a firecracker. Hand to God was a messy, cathartic shart-fart of a comedy. I'm calling this one for Rasheeda Speaking. From its hyperrealistic, perfectly lit set, to similarly realistic performances Rasheeda was certainly the most relevant thing nominated.

Best Musical Production
Million Dollar Quartet has a hometown advantage and POTS did a fine job with the show. But it wasn't as humane as Priscilla Queen of the Desert or as hilarious as Rock of Ages. Sisters of Swing and
South Pacific both seem to be popular this season but I'm picking Rock of Ages. Because it's no easy easy job turning shit to solid gold. 

And that's the end of this year's highly-anticipated peeing-in-the-punchbowl party.

See y'all at the Ossies!
Mr. Huffman
  • Mr. Huffman

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The 2017-18 theatre season launches this week with "Ruined," and "9 to 5"

Posted By on Tue, Aug 15, 2017 at 8:58 AM

It's enough to drive you crazy if you let it. - CARLA MCDONALD
  • Carla McDonald
  • It's enough to drive you crazy if you let it.

As a lifelong Dolly Parton fan and country music cosplayer who spent one of the best afternoons of his life shooting the breeze with Lily Tomlin, and most of his teen years watching Jane Fonda's Barbarella over and over again on the VCR, I'm trying to get excited about Playhouse on the Square's season opener, 9 to 5. But I've got to confess, I could use a up of ambition. Help?

I never warmed  to the Broadway tour, which seemed, sometimes, to miss the point of a story that comes with a special history and and maybe some obligations.

9 to 5
 isn't just a screwball pink-collar relic of the pre-Reagan-era. It's a transgressive anti-chauvinist romp with politics, to borrow  from The New Republic:
 "rooted in the moment when Second Wave feminism prompted the entrance of millions of middle-class white women into the paid workforce and the exit of many of those same women from the marriages they had entered in the Baby Booming 1950s and ’60s." 
Like most labor expressions born in the 70's it never found the right intersection of race, gender, and class, but it found other things that make this 1980 film — a film Roger Ebert described as good-hearted but "simple-minded"— look like the secret roadmap to a largely unclaimed future. The shenanigans get underway following a good old fashioned pot party/fantasy sequence that presages an actual office coups that makes Johnny Paycheck's "Shove It" look weak. Three overworked (and over-groped) secretaries kidnap the boss and take over the office. Then they listen to worker needs, and introduce radical ideas like in-office daycare, flex time and a bunch of wacky stuff that still probably sounds like paradise to the average cubicle-dweller in your average right to work state, and an unobtainable blue collar fantasy. Or, maybe "OMG SOCIALISM!!!" if you're insane.

Not to be all Danny Downer while discussing a zany musical farce, but a lot of the stuff we all learned in school about women's progress in the 20th-Century is bunk. Good stuff happened and things are marginally better but bodies are still battlefields, there's a groper in the Oval office, and when you boil down the data historic shifts toward economic parity tend to reflect a general decline in male earnings not great strides for womankind. Every time a glass ceiling shattered two iron window-shades slammed shut and for all its silly laughs, 9 to 5 is an expression of pure Hulk-smash rage. It's a sharp comic book vision, firmly set in reality, and built around a set of interviews actress Jane Fonda conducted with members of a Cleveland-based group called Working Women. According to WW organizer Karen Nussbaum, every aspect of author Patricia Resnick's story, from 9 to 5's pet-along-to-get along office environment to its characters' dreams of taking revenge against the boss, were drawn from Fonda's original interviews. Everything except for the part where the boss/villain played by Dabney  Coleman gets kidnapped and and trussed up like an S&M clown show. That part is pure fictional revenge porn.

Crafted in the right spirit, a good musical adaptation could  translate into something even more righteous and radical than the source material. But does it?Will it? Did it ever have a chance? Fonda's sincere desire to give Working Women a voice everybody could hear is unlike the motivations driving Broadway producers who've perfected the art of transforming nostalgia into piles of cash.

The struggle is real, you can hear it in the original cast recording.

Parton's original songs ground things, but arrangements are way more broad than Butterfly. On the plus side, Playhouse on the Square often makes the most out of okay film adaptations — Priscilla, anyone?  And to end on a high note, 9 to 5 unites a trio of heavy hitting, slapstick-capable musical theater artists. Jeanna Juleson, Nicole Hale, and Jenny Madden take on the roles made famous by Tomlin, Parton, and Fonda. Mike Detroit stands in for Coleman. Gary John La Rosa who delivered a memorable Les Miz, and a forgettable American Idiot directs. Well, that was sort of a high note.


MAMA COURAGE: With Ruined Lynn Nottage explores the curse of plenty, and weaponization of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Opening at the Hattiloo this weekend.

"You gentlemen who think you have a mission
To purge us of the seven deadly sins
Should first sort out the basic food position
Then start your preaching, that's where it begins"
— Bertolt Brecht, "Second Threepenny Finale"

“If things are bad, then Mama eats first.” — Mama Nadi in Lynn Nottage's Ruined .  

Americans tend to think of foreign conflicts as things happening across some ocean or another — Somebody else's problem. But our global village often means the violence is closer than you think. When you watch a production Lynn Nottage's raw, ragged, prize-winning script Ruined, you've got to know that the global infatuation with electronics helped fund Civil War in the Congo. Cell phones funded it. Video games funded it. I helped make it happen. You too, probably. That's not what the show is about, but the brutality has context.

Ruined is is set in and around Mama Nadi’s bar, bodega, and brothel in a mining town in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Nadi's character was inspired by Brecht's Mother Courage who finds opportunity in conflict. Nadi sells a mix of vices and necessities to soldiers, but she buys too. Nadi has rage and uses some of her income to rescue women from sexual torture that scars them physically and turns them into socially ruined outcasts.

She rescues from one horror then puts them and puts them to work servicing the military men.

Disaster feeds on disaster in a vicious cycle, punctuated by hope and horror. Nottage's play is informed by her travels in Africa and exposure to the suffering of women amid the Congolese civil war. And unlike Brecht, who wanted to create emotional distance between characters and audience, she wants us to feel every piece of it.

Maya Robinson plays Mama Nadi with Ostrander nominated Jessica "Jai" Johnson as one of her rescues, Salima.

Love & Bank Robbery: Willie & Esther finishes its run at TheatreWorks

Bluff City Tri-Art Theatre Co. stages James Graham Bronson's comedy about middle aged lovers who plan an imaginary bank robbery and figure things out about commitment.  Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sunday, August 13, at 3:00.

BCTA has finalized its season. Here's what else they have in store.

“FITTIN’ INN” /August 25, 26, 27, 31 TheatreWorks 2085 Monroe Ave. Celebrating our 12th Season!
BCTC presents series hosts the Women’s Theatre Festival of Memphis production of the comedy “Fittin’ Inn” by Ruby O’Gray. Set in pre-Katrina NOLA, 3 ladies stumble upon an injured man whose deathbed request they grant. They are soon Memphis bound, but someone’s following them, which leads to-a-gut busting laugh fest. Friday 25 & 7:30pm.

/September 9 & 10/Evergreen/1705 Poplar Ave. 26, 6:00pm & 8:30pm/ Sunday 27, 3:00pm. Thursday 31, 7:30pm/ Tickets are $20/$15 for Seniors (50), Students,&
Bluff City Tri-Art Theatre presents “The Strange Case of Mr. Wolf ” by Ruby O’Gray. A fun show for parents & children, as the town takes the ever-menacing Big Bad Wolf to court for his misdeeds. Tickets: (Early Bird) $10 for ages 14 and up & / $5 for age 3-13. Saturday 9th-5:00pm & 7:30pm/ Sunday 3:00pm At The Door: $12 ages 14 and up /$10 ages 3-13

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy: Remembering "A Play in 5 Betties"

Posted By on Wed, Aug 9, 2017 at 11:56 AM

Jamie Boller takes a peek. Because sometimes you've gotta.
  • Jamie Boller takes a peek. Because sometimes you've gotta.
Boy oh boy do I ever love the energy at late shows starting at 11 p.m. and midnight. Audiences tend to be younger. Folks have already been out for a while, and they bring that good-time momentum with them. The room vibrates with it before curtain time when it spills out onto the stage. You just know something mad is about to happen. Something exactly like Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties. (Originally A Play in 5 Boops).

Oh sure, they had shows at all the normal theater hours too. But I hit the late one, and it did not disappoint.

Normally I don't review shows that have already closed. What's the point? But this fine, fine show was here for such a short time and I really wanted to say a few words about the producing body Femmemphis, and a giddy, smart, stripped to essentials piece of theater so portable they could do it at birthday parties if they wanted to. Although that would be weird. Loosely inspired by Betty Boop, the cartoon flapper who's always fending off wolves and cat callers, (and also by A Midsummer Night's Dream) Collective Rage is a daring comedy of self-discovery and a perfect antidote to the toxic last hurrah of old, white, Viagra-fueled, cisgendered nut-rage. It's also a sly critique of an insane and irresponsible media landscape comprised mostly of outrage with vivid splashes of abject horror.

You know the thing women have that Donald Trump grabs with impunity because he's a celebrity? That's what Collective Rage is all about. And the male gaze. And the female gaze. And expectations, appearances, disappointments, truck maintenance, cocktail parties, boxing, love, loss, trial, error and ultimately, "the THEATRE!" Jen Silverman's script is as savage as it is humane, and Femmemphis' terrific cast — Kristen Vandervort, Jamie Boller, Christina Hernandez, Eileen Kuo, and Brianna Hill — devoured it like pie.
Fuck it, Brianna Hill is a wall. A non-gender-conforming male-identifying but cool with female pronouns brick effing wall.
  • Fuck it, Brianna Hill is a wall. A non-gender-conforming male-identifying but cool with female pronouns brick effing wall.
The stated mission of Fememphis is "to champion all womyn by empowering and promoting the female artistic voice in the Memphis community." Collective Rage was a fantastic place to start, and I can only hope  the show's requirements are so few  it will have a life beyond its single week run at the U of M lab theater. It's something that could attract attention over an extended run, and the kind of show some folks (like me) would happily see more than once. Even if this one doesn't come back, this collective is one to watch. Priorities are all in the right place — good material, detailed performances. Who needs fancy design when you can't take your eyes off the actors?
Jamie Boller, Brianna Hill, Kristen Vandervort, Eileen Kuo
  • Jamie Boller, Brianna Hill, Kristen Vandervort, Eileen Kuo
If I was reviewing this in real time I might grumble that there's a lot of cool and distinctive group movement  in the old Max Fleischer cartoons, and it's a shame some of that couldn't be folded into the show's transitions. Isn't that just like me to complain that a very good thing wasn't somewhat better?  But I'm not really complaining so much as imagining a more interesting future with this brave, smart, and giving group of performers in the mix.

More like this please.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Theatre Memphis Showcases Singers, TheatreWorks Gets Victory Blues

Posted By on Fri, Jul 7, 2017 at 2:10 PM

Kinon Keplinger in Victory Blues
  • Kinon Keplinger in Victory Blues
Set in 1947 Victory Blues tells the story of  a combat veteran adjusting to postwar life. It's the latest installment of Playhouse on the Square's NewWorks@TheWorks series.

Three Tenors... and a Baritone is an original cabaret performance featuring four Theatre Memphis mainstay performers, Philip Himebook, Charles McGowan, Joseph Lackie, and Charles “Chuck” Hodges. It's a mix of Broadway and opera inspired by the Three Tenors. But, you know, with a baritone. Compiled by music director Jeff Brewer.

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Slideshow Peek at Tennessee Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors

Posted By on Fri, Jun 9, 2017 at 8:32 PM

Two sets of identical twins and their parents are separated at birth. 20-years later they wind up in the same city in one of Shakespeare's wildest romps.

Tennessee Shakespeare Company sets it all against the backdrop of 17th-Century Grease.

Have a peek. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

South Pacific Opens at Theatre Memphis: Photo Preview

Posted By on Fri, Jun 2, 2017 at 5:06 PM

Musical theatre doesn't get more bedrock than Rodgers & Hammerstein. Take a gander at what Theatre Memphis is doing with one of the duo's most celebrated classics. 

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

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. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Memphis Theater Community Mourns Actor, Volunteer Ron Gordon

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

  • 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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