Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Grand News - New Ballet Ensemble Receives $30,000 Via National Endowment for the Arts

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2019 at 3:51 PM

New Ballet Ensemble
  • New Ballet Ensemble
Great news for Memphis' forward-thinking, fusion-oriented classical dance troupe. New Ballet Ensemble & School (NBES) has been awarded a $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts

The money awarded to NBES will enable the continuation of dance residency programs in the Orange Mound community.

“Organizations such as New Ballet Ensemble & School are giving people in their community the opportunity to learn, create, and be inspired,” Mary Anne Carter, acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, wrote in a prepared statement.

Via press materials:

"The NEA grant award will support NBES’ residency programs in Orange Mound schools, including Dunbar Elementary. NBES has been working with Dunbar Elementary since 2007, and NEA support has helped grow the partnership over the years with tuition-free, after-school classes in ballet, hip-hop, Flamenco, and West African dance. NEA funding will also support students who are moving from Dunbar into the NBES studio program on scholarship for advanced training.
In 2019, NBES will graduate three seniors who began their training at Dunbar in 2007 and advanced through the studio program. These three students collectively earned $4,138,188 in scholarships from the various colleges they applied to, and all received full scholarships to their colleges of choice, including Vanderbilt University, Christian Brothers University, and Xavier University of Louisiana. "

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Friday, May 10, 2019

Popular Children's Theater Stage Door Productions Announces Shut Down

Posted By on Fri, May 10, 2019 at 4:11 PM

  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Kroc Center
UPDATE: The Kroc has responded to questions. Says understanding differs from social media accounts but does not say how. A lightly edited version of their statement is quoted at the bottom of this report.

Stage Door Productions, a 501C3 company that has hosted classes and camps and produced kid-sized Broadway musicals at the theater housed inside Memphis' Kroc Center, announced it would end operations Monday, May 13th. The announcement arrives in the wake of public allegations related to the procedural handling of a harassment complaint.

"We want each and every one of you to know how incredibly difficult this decision is to make," an email to the Legally Blonde cast and camp attendees read. The announcement came with a charge to the company's young participants: "Feel every emotion freely, but only for one hour. After that let your anger go."
"I can confirm Stage Door Productions programming will cease on Monday, following the final performance of Legally Blonde Jr. this Sunday," Stage Door co-founder Brandon Kelly wrote in an email. Kelly said he would consider sharing more information at a later time. "Right now, we will be focusing our love, passion, and support entirely on the kids in our final show. They are the ones most affected and need our support and complete attention."

Allegations regarding the mishandling of a harassment complaint appeared on Facebook last week. They were widely shared, generating community support and backlash. Less than a week after the original May 3rd posting, Stage Door shared a letter that appears to say there was no official knowledge of the complaint prior to the recent Facebook posting. "Since this has been brought to our attention, we have had an internal and external review done at Stage Door," the communication stated.  Stage Door's Facebook page is now offline. The website is live but inactive. 
The Kroc Center has not yet responded to The Flyer's request for information. Pages related to the facilities art programs and to Lindsay and Brandon Kelly are not currently live.

According to the most recent information posted at, Stage Door had posted regular losses of up to $10,000 in net assets since 2015 when that value was pegged at $91,425.

Latest Update: The Kroc responds:

"For the past five years, The Salvation Army Kroc Center – Memphis has partnered with Stage Door Productions (SDP) to provide quality theatre opportunities for the youth in our area. SDP, an independent non-profit, worked to provide a meaningful arts experience for its participants. Kroc Center members valued SDP’s programming expertise and SDP valued the Kroc’s outstanding facilities.

Last week, we were made aware of a social media post with troubling accusations within SDP of sexual harassment and abuse between two underage cast members from 18 months ago. We acted immediately—launching an internal review and ensuring the incident allegation was reported to Tennessee’s Child Protective Services."

"The Salvation Army has a zero-tolerance policy for any kind of abuse or harassment. Our staff are well trained in appropriate behavior and how to spot signs of abuse in others. Though SDP is a separate entity, we hold them to the highest standards for safety and professionalism.

Our understanding of events vary from those reported in social media. We are still conducting our review and will fully cooperate with the authorities in investigation. Because those referenced are minors and this is an ongoing investigation, we are unable to comment about specifics. Our prayers are with each one and we ask you to join us with your prayers.

Today, SDP announced it is ceasing programming effective Monday, May 13, 2019. While we are ending our work with SPD, the Arts remain a vital and vibrant pillar of the Kroc’s purpose. We are looking at ways to expand our existing arts education offerings. We know the value the Arts have on overall student achievement and want to do our part to build tomorrow’s leaders. We consistently look for ways to improve member experiences, program quality, and program offerings. Just as we strive to inspire excellence, so do we strive to be excellent." 

This post will be updated as more information becomes available. 

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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Playhouse On The Square Invites You To The Cabaret

Posted By on Thu, May 9, 2019 at 12:53 PM

The cast of Cabaret, Playhouse on the Square
  • The cast of Cabaret, Playhouse on the Square
"No use permitting some prophet of doom
To wipe every smile away
Life is a cabaret, old chum
So come to the cabaret"
— "Cabaret"

I posted some thoughts about Cabaret's nearly infuriating relevance last week. It was a kind of preview for Playhouse on the Square's opening. Only, instead of looking behind the scenes, it went behind the text to ask where all the Nazis came from. And, by extension, I wanted to know where America's Nazis went when the U.S. entered WWII and the national narrative turned against them.

As musical theater rollouts go, it was a pretty bleak exercise. But even a week ago, I don't think I could have anticipated the kinds of headlines I'd wake up to on the morning I sat down to write the review. Twitter was full of news about racism, misogyny, drunkenness, sexual exhibitionism and drug use inside Tennessee's GOP leadership — rot in the head of an organization so grotesque it wouldn't hear, let alone approve, a 2018 proposal to condemn Nazis and white supremacy. But the headline that really got my attention was this: "Man Patrolling With Border Militia Suggested Going ‘Back To Hitler Days."
“Why are we just apprehending them and not lining them up and shooting them?”  Armando Gonzalez was quoted as saying. “We have to go back to Hitler days and put them all in a gas chamber.”

That's a lot to deal with at the top of a review, but hard to ignore given Cabaret's subject matter and Playhouse on the Square's sometimes very brave and sometimes ragged interpretation of material that stubbornly refuses to become nostalgia.

As taught in schools, history is the story of great men, noble ideas, and the march of progress. But history is a horror show that we live inside and can't escape. It's a theme we see even in mainstream entertainments these days, and in that vein, Cabaret director Dave Landis effectively takes us "back to the Hitler days."  His Cabaret bends the all the weirdness and decadence of Berlin's club scene toward hallucinogenic nightmare. 
Inspired by I Am A Camera, I've previously written how Cabaret, shows three snapshots of Germany during Hitler's rise to power: a sentimental Berlin, a decadent Berlin, and the Berlin where Nazis multiply and metastasize. The first pictures win out hearts and other parts before the last one comes into focus.

We experience these pictures through the eyes of Cliff (Donald Sutton), a writer visiting Weimar Germany, looking for inspiration. The young American gets more than he bargained for when he comes into the orbit of British expatriate and club singer Sally Bowles. With lighting that lands on the audience like a cutting remark and action that breaks the fourth walls at will, this interpretation of the book borrows ideas from expressionist theater, vintage German agitprop and probably Babylon Berlin, but with a considerably smaller budget.

As Bowles, Whitney Branan is more Lotte Lenya than Liza Minnelli. She lets her voice go ugly, and I mean it in the best way possible. She slings sound like a hammer or a razor. It's the perfect tool for a character who flourishes in the midst of disaster because she's more Mother Courage than meets the eye.

Though sometimes incomprehensible as he spits out too many words too fast in a thick German accent, Nathan McHenry's intentions are never unclear. As the emcee he welcomes the audience like a good horror host, and ushers them back and forth across Cabaret's intersecting storylines, on journey all the way to hell. It's an impressive, athletic performance, but it's Playhouse stalwart Kim Sanders who emerges from the chorus to deliver Cabaret's crushing blow. She leads the cast through "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," an infections, inspirational number that begins so sweetly, and ends with the earth shifting hard on its axis. From nowhere so many Nazis emerge. Only they don't really come from nowhere; they were there all along.

The film version of Cabaret achieves a special kind of clarity. Berlin's Nazis aren't hidden at the beginning, they're just pushed to the margins and not taken seriously. Then suddenly they're everywhere. They're everybody. It's a strong blueprint for negotiating any narrative vagaries in the stage musical's book.

What it lacks in this level of subtlety, Playhouse on the Square's production counters with the somnambulant urgency recently described by the Twitter parody/tribute account Werner Twertzog: "Dear America: You are waking up, as Germany once did, to the awareness that 1/3 of your people would kill another 1/3, while 1/3 watches."

I sat in a box seat far house left, and so many of this Cabaret's more intimate moments took place far stage right. That means there's a lot about this show I really can't discuss with any authority, because my view was so badly obscured. This won't be a problem for most audience members, but for me it was enough of an issue to cut the review short. What I saw was thoughtful and provocative. What I couldn't see at least sounded like a close match.

It's so easy to fall for Sally Bowles – to buy into her spiel about the short distance from cradle to tomb, and carpe diem, and all that. "Come to the Cabaret," she belts like a carnival barker, pitching all the attractions. Only Elsie, the former Chelsea flatmate Bowles valorizes in the musical's title song, didn't win a prize by dying blissfully ignorant. Nobody won anything by ignoring their prophets of doom, certainly not the people Elsie's happy corpse left behind in the soup.

I don't always know why we go to the theater anymore. I don't think it's to serve any of the old civic functions, but maybe it is sometimes. It's certainly not for any kind of meaningful moral instruction or else all those money-printing productions of A Christmas Carol would have fixed us up pretty good by now.

Escapism's high quality these days, relatively cheap,  and almost always at our fingertips. But if Hamlet's right and plays really are conscience catchers, many playgoers will see themselves inside the Kit Kat Club when the show's grimy, accusatory lights come up over audience. That's the kind of Cabaret this is. But if it doesn't move them to do more than renew their season subscriptions, we'd might as well start celebrating. Right this way, your table's waiting.  

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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Steven McMahon Named Artistic Director Of Ballet Memphis

Posted By on Tue, May 7, 2019 at 6:44 PM

Steven McMahon and Dorothy Gunther Pugh at grand opening of new Ballet Memphis headquarters. - MICHAEL DONAHUE
  • Michael Donahue
  • Steven McMahon and Dorothy Gunther Pugh at grand opening of new Ballet Memphis headquarters.
“I long ago recognized that I needed to groom the right person to guard what we have built and what we value at Ballet Memphis,” Ballet Memphis's founding CEO Dorothy Gunther Pugh was quoted as saying in a prepared statement about the dancer and choreographer who will succeed her as artistic director. The person in question is Ballet Memphis's 34-year-old Associate Artistic Director Steven McMahon.

“Steven has come up through this organization and grown as a dancer and dance-maker; he’s the best choice as well as the right choice," Pugh concluded.

McMahon, who has choreographed more than 30 works for Ballet Memphis including, favorites like The Wizard of Oz, and Peter Pan, officially assumes his new position July 1st. Pugh will continue her work at Ballet Memphis as CEO.

Video: McMahon discussed choreographing a past production of Romeo & Juliet for Ballet Memphis:

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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Tomorrow Belongs to Nazis — "Cabaret" Remains Stubbornly Relevant

Posted By on Thu, May 2, 2019 at 10:56 AM

"We are Americans, and the future belongs to us." — POTUS.
Inspired by Christopher Isherwood's story "Goodbye to Berlin" and the subsequent play I Am a Camera, the Kander & Ebb musical, Cabaret, shows three distinct snapshots of Germany during Hitler's rise to power. First, there's a sentimental Berlin, where a little old German landlady and a little old Jewish grocer might laugh and make loving, bawdy metaphors over a bowl of fruit. There's also a decadent, enticing Berlin, where transvestites and taxi dancers guzzle gin and dance in a sleepless celebration of flesh. And then there's the Berlin where Nazis multiply and metastasize like cancer cells. It's the last snapshot I want to focus on.

Where did all those Nazis come from? Hitler took inspiration from many places, but was a particular fan of American Industrialist Henry Ford, who acquired a weekly periodical called The Dearborn Independent, transforming it into a vehicle for his virulent brand of anti-semitism. Indeed, the ceaseless, almost century-long campaign against "liberalism" in media — a complaint whose ubiquity has made it conventional wisdom, undermining virtually all trust in American information workers — is essentially a politically refined twin of Ford's fear-mongering against, "the international Jew," who controls the news and entertainment industry.

Ford's anti-semitism wasn't unique for the time but, as the man who created America's automobile industry, he was uniquely credible and the power and influence he wielded was extraordinary. Before The Independent was shuttered amid lawsuits stemming from the paper's relentless defamation, it had become the second-largest circulation periodical in America. Ford's message about the threat of Jewish influence was carried forward by America's own Nazis, the German American Bund who, in spite of having been highly active and organized in the run up to WWII, have been virtually wiped from the public memory. The Bund protested for pro-Nazi media and their rally at Madison Square Garden filled the house. In short, while few images define how America sees itself like Jack Kirby's cartoon of Captain America punching Hitler in the face, the real story's more like a comic book plot than the big cultural myth. Our Nazis went underground, and stayed undefeated. They didn't have to reintegrate into the American fabric, because they were already part the American fabric. At some point it became impolite to make even the most appropriate Nazi comparisons, because the horror of the Holocaust was incomparable, a fact lending cover to the movement's provenance and evolution.

As a side note, the famous image of Captain America punching Hitler came out a year before America entered into WWII. Not only was America not at war with Germany when Kirby drew the image, 75 percent of the the US opposed war with the Nazis.

Germans were devastated by WWI. Crippled by debt and a deadlocked parliament, the country was ripe for a despot like Hitler. In much the same way economic anxieties in the U.S. have been channeled into racial tension, creating a permanent American underclass, Germany was looking for somebody to blame for its struggles and disgrace. Decadent Weimar culture made an easy target, and Henry Ford's international Jew made an easy scapegoat. While focusing on Berlin's Kit Kat Club, and those inside the orbit of British singer and bon vivant Sally Bowles, Cabaret seeks to answer what have long been regarded as unanswerable questions: How could it happen? And where did the monsters come from?

They didn't come from anywhere, of course. They were already there, waiting for representation. They were waiting for a leader to say out loud the kinds of things they were already whispering to their children. America always had Nazis — lots of them! They didn't come from anywhere, and they didn't vanish when conscription made certain views seditious. They just went back to being good folks, if a little more conservative than most. All they've ever needed to activate was a little representation.

I haven't seen Playhouse on the Square's Cabaret revival yet, but plan to be in the audience opening night. Broadway's book is different than Bob Fosse's nearly perfect film, and how the material is interpreted and contextualized matters. Thematically, it couldn't have arrived at a more appropriate time. Again.

Here's a video preview created by Playhouse on the Square. Have a look. 

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Friday, April 26, 2019

Radical: Tennessee Shakespeare Gets Active, Playhouse Gets Orwell + More

Posted By on Fri, Apr 26, 2019 at 3:31 PM

Twelfth Night
  • Twelfth Night

"Nation-wide, it is a period of radical absolutism: unapologetic racism, anti-Semitism, and sexism among a population and leadership struggling with the pervasiveness of one religion (over science) and fighting to prevent immigrants from entering its borders. The government is widely suspected of collusion with foreign adversaries while its own citizens’ rights are drained of protection," so begins the synopsis to the Tennessee Shakespeare Company's regional premier of Speak What We Feel, a  compiled script subtitled, Shakespeare's radical response to a radical time.

While the setup may sound familiar, the place that's being described is Elizabethan England. TSC founding director Dan McCleary will be joined onstage by Stephanie Shine, Darius Wallace, Merit Koch, Blake Currie, Nic Picou, Carmen-maria Mandley, and Shaleen Cholera. Together they will explore Shakespeare's "radical response," to all these things and more.

Speak What We Feel employs scenes from Richard III, Measure for Measure, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Coriolanus, The Tempest, Merchant of Venice and Othello.

Here's a video of McLeary talking about Speak What We Feel:
  • 2+2=5
While we're on the topic of radical things, 1984 continues at The Circuit Playhouse this weekend. From the review: 
"Adaptations give us a chance to explore specific narrative threads and shine new light through old windows. In this case, exposing the audience to low grade torture techniques by way of flickering or flashing light, grating inescapable sound, triggering imagery and making us all hold our pee through the intermission-free show, drowns out a more interesting theme struggling to escape a relentlessly bleak event's sadistic gravity: Are our heroes, villains, allies and enemies all fictional constructs? Have they always been? By the time this idea expresses itself in dialogue, we're, once again, too agitated to see the elusive bigger picture. Maybe that's also the point." [MORE]
And while on the subject of Shakespeare, Twelfth Night continues at Theatreworks.
From the review: 
"If you want some measure of just how good William Shakespeare was on his best days, look no further than the New Moon Theatre Company's gag-packed production of Twelfth Night, a romantic comedy teetering at the edge of farce. Jokes can be fragile things, losing their punch with time, as sensibilities evolve. But 418 years after he wrote it down, Twelfth Night's jokes still land on their feet, and stumble hilariously into pratfall. This latest revival is curiously uneven but still bursts with life and laughter at TheatreWorks." [MORE]
Those in the mood for something a little less radical and/or Shakespeare related may want to drop in on a completely different kind of classic. Theatre Memphis is staging George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart's comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner.

Via Theatre Memphis
"Sheridan Whiteside’s fall while dining at the home of prominent socialites makes him an unexpected guest for six weeks of recovery. The hosts, however, are most in need of recovery as Whiteside invites in the glamorous and famous as a three-ring circus of comic chaos grows to include a luncheon for homicidal convicts and a complete children's choir."
Whiteside is a critic, naturally, and based on Alexander Woollcott, the ostensible leader of New York's Algonquin Round Table. Whiteside's played by Memphis actor and director, Jason Spitzer. 
Spitzer v Woollcott
  • Spitzer v Woollcott

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Friday, April 19, 2019

Victory: 1984 Gets a 21st-Century Makeover at Circuit Playhouse

Posted By on Fri, Apr 19, 2019 at 3:22 PM

This 1984 is a shock to the senses.
  • This 1984 is a shock to the senses.
What's the purpose of noise? In propaganda it's an effective tool. A barrage of information traumatizes us. It tests our will and patience. Noise and competing facts disrupt, confuse, and numb us until basic self care — not even preservation — becomes a mighty instrument of control. It's slow, low-impact torture, but the cumulative result is stunningly effective. I'm leading with this because weaponized information is a fact of modern life, and the major theme explored in Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan's recent adaptation of George Orwell's landmark novel, 1984. As the story veers away from Winston and Julia's secret, desperate romance in a broken, paranoid society, and jets down a tunnel of pure horror, this interpretation evolves into an academic lecture on the art and science of manufactured reality.

I appreciate the experiment and visual inventiveness but I'm not always sure what this latest interpretation of Orwell's cautionary tale hopes to accomplish. Projected fields of text against gray, Bauhaus inspired set pieces are as stunning, as the author's ever- prescient words: "War is peace, ignorance is strength, freedom is slavery." There are moments when the  action on stage at Circuit Playhouse leans in the direction of dance, and all these layers create an environment that's visually remarkable but at odds with itself. It's difficult to`communicate how artlessness degrades humanity in an world made of overwhelming artistic gestures. As the long one act plays itself out, Carter McHann's tremendous, anxiety-core sound design proves almost too effective. It comes on strong but its ability to punctuate and frame the action gets lost in droning persistence.

Propagandists benefit when the crowd numbs out. Theatrical goals are different, so an immersive approach to torture techniques yields mixed results.

Stripping Orwell's story down to principal characters, with only a handful of secondary voices, robs us of any real opportunity to experience the soul crushing imbalance of  individuals flickering in and out of self-awareness inside a monolithic, fear-motivated society. There are glimpses when children rat out their proud, thought criminal parents, but the bigger picture is always out of focus.

For the most part, director Courtney Oliver wrestled this seemingly minimal, but spectacle-heavy show into a matter of substance and relative clarity. Her cast seems uniquely grounded, resulting in honest, humane performances led by Danny Crowe as the show's protagonist Winston Smith. Even when the text gives actors only a note or two to blow, they blow them fearlessly. Oliver's prudence is also evident in a stubborn avoidance of contemporary political tropes. She carefully navigates the storm of projected information and noise and lets the adapted work speak, more or less, for itself. 

Greg Boller goes sleazy as O'Brien, the inner-party member posing as a gateway to the resistance. Like a good sadist, he tells his victims exactly what he's doing while he's doing it. Boller's mic drop moment is painfully literal, but he delivers a solid crash course in gas-lighting and the mechanics of the long con. So much is made of "Room 101" and O'Brien's use of torture in 1984, but that's all endgame — last mile delivery. "We are the dead," indeed.

Adaptations give us a chance to explore specific narrative threads and shine new light through old windows. In this case, exposing the audience to low grade torture techniques by way of flickering or flashing light, grating inescapable sound, triggering imagery and making us all hold our pee through the intermission-free show, drowns out a more interesting theme struggling to escape a relentlessly bleak event's sadistic gravity: Are our heroes, villains, allies and enemies all fictional constructs? Have they always been? By the time this idea expresses itself in dialogue, we're, once again, too agitated to see the elusive bigger picture. Maybe that's also the point.

As historic text, 1984 mocks us, predicting a "black mirror" environment of compromised privacy, nationalism and weaponized mass-information. As a piece of contemporary theater, this version of the story is neither agitprop or entertainment. It's an experience. Whether it's pleasant or not may prove to be a subject of contention, and probably beside the point. 

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Friday, April 12, 2019

Pressure Wash: "The Clean House" Is a Complicated, Compassionate Joke

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2019 at 6:49 PM

Dead. "I'm dead." It's a thing we say now, on the internet, when things strike us as being uniquely funny. "I'm so dead," we say. Maybe we don't laugh, but it slays us nonetheless, as jokes have slain people throughout the ages in spite of laughter's reputation for being "the best medicine." "Dying of laughter" is an old idiom and the language of comedy is largely borrowed from the world of violence,mayhem, and harm. Comics "knock us dead." Audiences "bust a gut," and so on. And while I can't say Theatre Memphis' production of Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House "kills," exactly, it may stab you in the heart repeatedly with a scalpel. 

There's a moment near the top of The Clean House when Lane, a nondescript white doctor in white clothes in her nondescript white-on white-home, tells Matilde the Brazilian maid in her black livery, she's an "interesting person." It's not a complement. The nondescript white doctor, sympathetically revealed by Tamara Wright, didn't hire an interesting person, she hired a cleaning lady who needs to get to work whitening up the grubby space or get another job.  Ruhl's heart has never seemed larger than it does in this compassionate piece from 2006, but her metaphors have seldom been more ham-fisted either. Appropriating the kind of magical realism associated with certain strains of South American literature The Clean House essays the relative merits of tidying up. It's themes are Buddhist adjacent, showing how the noblest desire to order a chaotic world results in sadness. It's a sly and deceptively poetic play about embracing the messes we make in the hallway between love and death, and maybe a little self-serving in that regard. It's the kind of work that will likely divide audiences, leaving them delighted and warm on the inside or bored and baffled.

What shouldn't divide audiences is the solid vision put forward by director Leslie Barker's creative team, and a remarkable collection of thoughtful, lived-in performances

Ruhl's work and influence has grown so familiar that her trademark idiosyncrasies barely feel like idiosyncrasies at all. Still, time and quickly evolving perspectives may also make one of the play's more elegantly prepared storylines, a little hard for some to swallow. Lane's husband Charles, who's also a doctor, falls in love with Ana, an older, exotic mastectomy patient. He subsequently undertakes a brutal hero's quest into the arctic to save Ana's life and show the purity of his intentions. Although he's not Jewish, Charles claims personal exoneration from any  wrongdoing due to an esoteric Hebrew law regarding soulmates he heard about on NPR, and sincerely wants his jilted (and not having it) wife to rejoice and share in his newfound happiness. Sweetly portrayed by Chris Cotton, Charles is helpless — swept up in an overwhelming love spell he can't understand or control. It suits the play's tone, but tangos at the edge of current sensibilities regarding masculine misbehavior. 

The show revolves around Matilde, the cleaning lady who's depressed by cleaning. She's also in mourning for her parents, whose perfect love ended badly. Dad was the funniest man in his village in Brazil, and mom was his equal. When she died laughing at one of his jokes he took his own life. Now Matilde wants to be a comedian, and Ruhl's play functions like a preview of some future network sitcom she'll star in. Jaclyn Suffel's formidable in the role, leading us through the dreamy script like a modern day Sabina, the maid, and most memorable character from Thornton Wilder's Skin of Our Teeth. It's a mature, effortlessly commanding turn in a role that often demands the impossible. I'll get back to this in a minute.

A lot of The Clean House reminds me of Wilder and Skin of Our Teeth. No dinosaurs come tromping through the theater, but the story's no less magically weird or mythological in its depiction of family, or its focus on origins and eschatology.  Only this time, for Ruhl, it's all personal.

Matilde's inability to clean is balanced by Virginia's compulsion to straighten, dust, vacuum and organize. Virginia is Lane's sister. She's a damaged soul made of right-sized expectations, and she wants a relationship with her busy, distant sibling so badly enters into a bargain with Matilde to do the depressed maid's work, just to get a toe in the door. Virginia's tragic cheerfulness is stretched to the point of psychopathy, and Aliza Moran walks a tightrope in presenting a deeply silly character who's just a little too fragile to laugh at. It's the show's dilemma in a nutshell.

The Clean House's narrative strategy also reminds me, at times, of some of the more vexing routines devised by stand up comic Andy Kaufman who was always more prankster and performance artist than gag-man. It's a show about the power of jokes where all the jokes are whispered or spoken in a language most English speakers won't understand.  "It doesn't work in translation," Matilde explains at one point. Honest laughs happen throughout, but the literary force of dangling the play's jokes just beyond reach doesn't translate — and that's okay. Like Kaufman, Ruhl sometimes tests an audience's patience while she's resetting their expectations. This is why Suffel's performance is so key. As the show's narrator, she frames the important stuff, and ushers us through the rough spots even though she's sometimes armed with nothing but a brow crinkle or a little weaponized side-eye.

I've got to say, it's nice to see Christina Welford Scott set free, both as Matilde's mother who dies laughing, and as Ana, the "home wrecker," who thinks that sounds like a marvelous way to go. I sometimes think Scott — a local treasure if there ever was one — gets cast in some shows because directors see her in great roles, not because they see great roles in her. That's not to say she doesn't deliver in serious leading parts that call for lots of seriousness and crying. But Scott's capacity for real greatness is most evident when the challenges are physical and fun. Get this woman laughing or clowning or dancing lighter than air and she'll rip your goddamn guts out. Here she's cast as a classic "mysterious" femme fatale, but with a variety of subtle, deeply satisfying twists.  Her death (not a spoiler) is full of life, and hung all around with joy and agony.

I have a mixed relationship with The Clean House. I get tired of both its sense and its nonsense for long stretches. But the more I think about its individual parts, the more I find to recommend about the whole complicated dust bunny of a play — this morbid joke built on sixes not threes. So, I'm throwing caution away, embracing my messy feelings, and calling it a win for everybody involved. Well, everybody except for the poor guy snoozing on the front row. 

Or maybe he was just dead? 

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Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Falling and the Rising

Posted By on Thu, Apr 11, 2019 at 12:21 PM

Stephanie Doche (left) and Chelsea Miller - ZIGGY MACK
  • Ziggy Mack
  • Stephanie Doche (left) and Chelsea Miller

When America has gone to war, there typically has been a national sense of purpose and involvement. Even if the engagement was controversial, as with Vietnam, there was passion. Today’s drawn-out wars seem to inspire little more than a collective shrug. It surely is a combination of several factors. The nation is not exhorted to buy war bonds, or save metals, or send books to our warriors. The casualty count has been relatively low and our troops are superbly trained and capable, so there’s little national sense of urgency. The enemy is amorphous, and so is our patriotic rage. And there are a comparatively smaller number of troops involved — how many people do you know that are in a combat zone?

But our soldiers still die, get wounded, are permanently injured, go insane, commit suicide.

On occasion, there are efforts to break through the apathy and remind us of the profound seriousness, efforts, and sacrifices of those who wear the uniform. One such is a superb work being staged by Opera Memphis during its Mid-Town Opera Festival, which began last weekend and concludes this weekend.

The Falling and the Rising is a sublime opera that distills the complexity of our wars into vivid portraits of the women and men who continue to fight them. It is a beautiful work, deep but not heavy, a one-act that packs in a lot.

The libretto is by Memphian Jerre Dye, now a Chicagoan, but Memphis lays its claim to his remarkable talent as an actor, writer, and teacher. I daresay there aren’t many operas that have passages such as: “A parachute that’s poorly packed ain’t really worth a pile of shit.” And “I’m a grown-ass women.” Along with references to propofol and midazolam. But Dye’s verbal forays pack an indelible punch in telling the story of a soldier who is seriously injured when a roadside IED goes off. The military doctors induce a coma to help the chances of her recovery. The liminal dream space she inhabits brings her face to face with others who are serving or who have served, and the telling of their stories elevates the understanding of the soldier as well as the audience.

Zach Redler is the composer and deftly brings together various influences to beautifully express the story. The text is paramount, he says, as he speaks of what supports it: bluegrass, of black gospel music, Debussy’s Clair de Lune, and dollops of Sondheim. It is tonal with leitmotifs for the distinct characters that further sharpen their definition.

And the characters are beautifully rendered in the libretto and performed with remarkable power and grace by the singers. The Soldier is Chelsea Miller, former artist-in-residence at Opera Memphis, and possessed of an expressive soprano voice.

Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Doche is explosively eloquent as Toledo, the tough-as-nails “grown-ass woman” who reveals her past to the Army psychiatrist. As the parachute instructor Jumper, the popular tenor Philip Himebook brings a mix of kindness and swagger to the role. Darren Stokes, a bass-baritone, sings the part of the Colonel, grieving over the loss of his wife in action with exquisitely rendered restraint and feeling. The final character to appear in the Soldier’s dreams is the Homecoming Soldier sung by Marcus King with elements of rage, sardonic wit, humility, and reluctant acceptance, expressed at his hometown church where he keeps himself in check because his mother is there. But you can’t miss how he seethes, copes, and shares his wheelchair-bound fate as he embarks on this new life he never chose.

The Dye-Redler opera would have been complete with the original finale, but director Ned Canty, general manager of Opera Memphis, added a genius touch. He enlisted 24 veterans and active duty military men and women to be the chorus of the opera. When the five principal singers were bringing the performance to a close, it was already emotional, but then, as the two dozen chorus members walked slowly out joining in — some in dress uniform, some in POW T-shirts, some in fatigues — it became larger, deeper, something of a higher mystery and resolution. And an ideal conclusion to a brilliant performance.

The Falling and the Rising performs April 12th and 13th at 7:30 p.m. with members of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra playing. Tickets: or call 257-3100.

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Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Vince Vawter's Paperboy a Future Musical?

Posted By on Tue, Apr 2, 2019 at 6:36 PM

  • Michael Donahue
  • Vince Vawter

Paperboy: The New Musical?

That’s the working title for a musical now in development based on former Memphian Vince Vawter’s 2013 novel, Paperboy. Jim Wann, composer/lyricist, author and star of the 1982 Tony-nominated Pump Boys and Dinettes, is doing the music.

The semi-autobiographical novel is about an 11-year-old boy named “Little Man” (Vawter), who throws a paper route in Memphis one summer in 1959. The novel recounts the adventures of the boy, who stutters, and the characters he meets on his Midtown route.

Vawter, 72, who threw the old Memphis Press-Scimitar newspaper as a teenager, went on to become news editor of that paper. He was managing editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel and publisher and president of the Evansville Courier & Press.

Paperboy was a Newbery Medal Honor book in 2014. Vawter's current novel is Copyboy.

Vawter says the whole musical idea began about two years ago after he asked John Verlenden, a friend who went to school with him at Southwestern (now Rhodes College), what he thought about Paperboy becoming a stage play. “He said it ought to be a musical,” Vawter says. “You need to talk to my friend Jim Wann.”

“So, I contacted him,” Vawter says. “Sent him the book. And I didn’t hear anything for a couple of weeks. And then these damn songs started coming. And they blew me away. I don’t know much about that stuff, but he did what he calls ‘song sketches.’ Plays them on his guitar, writes the lyrics.”

Wann sent the songs as mp3s. “It’s just him and his guitar.”

Among the songs were “Paperboy Song,” “The Typewriter Song,” “Streets of our Neighborhood,” and “Lay That News Gently at my Door.”

They’re all “songs you wind up humming,” Vawter says.

Wann, 70, who lives near Hudson, New York, says he “was just entranced” by Paperboy after he read it. “Like so many people.”

He described Little Man as “a wonderfully brave character. And that impressed me so much. His bravery. His struggles to find a way to overcome his feelings about his stuttering. I guess he would have loved to wake up one morning and have it not be there at all, but he had to come to terms with it somehow.”

Wann, who is from Chattanooga, and Vawter share similarities about their Southern upbringing. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll write a few songs and see what Vince thinks of it.’”

Describing “Streets of our Neighborhood,” Wann says, “I just loved the sounds of these streets: Vinton, Melrose, Harbert, Union. It was a way of introducing Little Man into the world of delivering papers into the neighborhood.

“All of the music in all of my shows has a Southern roots connection. It always comes in some form of Southern roots music, whether gospel, folk, blues, rhythm and blues. And I felt like this being set in 1959, would be a good fit for that.”

When will the musical be finished? “We are still a good distance from achieving our goals for this story as a stage musical,” Wann says.

And, he says, “I feel, even though we have a full draft at this point, it’s still very sketchy and I think we’ve only just started figuring out how to let the other characters live and breath on their own. The other parts of the story are so rich and the characters are so interesting. I still think we have a way to go with really expressing Little Man’s feelings of loneliness and isolation and his bravery in going out into the world and making new friends, however awkwardly.”

Getting to know Vawter was the icing on the cake, Wann says. “We’ve worked together on and off for a couple of years now. I really enjoy his company. And all the things he tells me. It’s a real friendship between us now. And that’s a huge plus.”

Jim Wann
  • Jim Wann

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Saturday, March 30, 2019

Women of Color in the Arts Co-Founder Kaisha S. Johnson Visits Memphis For Performing Arts Summit

Posted By on Sat, Mar 30, 2019 at 1:45 PM

Kaisha S. Johnson drops a reminder: “Memphis is a unique city with a unique history, but there are many cities and communities grappling with the same issues.”

The issues being grappled with begin with implicit bias that inhibits inclusiveness and equity in the arts. These problems plague other industries too, obviously, but as the co-founder, and founding director of Women of Color in the Arts (WOCA), this is where Johnson's efforts are focused. She’s coming to Memphis April 5-7, to facilitate conversations for the inaugural Memphis Performing Arts Summit, an event created by Memphis Performing Arts Coalition (MPAC).

“MPAC along with a lot of other organizations around the country, are all looking for change, right?,” Johnson says, laying the groundwork for subverted expectations. “The first step— We need to be on the same page in terms of language and how we think about things and how we express ourselves, right?" Right!

"So the first thing everybody thinks is,  'We need some kind of training,' Johnson says. But that's not where her story ends. "As an organization, my organization doesn’t think ‘training’ hits it on the head. Because we can’t ‘train away’ bias. We can’t train you ‘how to be’ 
in the world. What we do is facilitate conversations. We instigate dialogue so people can begin to think differently about how they work. To think differently about impact — the impact direct and indirect actions have on their colleagues. On their fellow humans. That’s the work we’re immersed in.

“A lot of people jump on the ‘We want to fix it,’ bandwagon, but maybe the fixes aren’t well thought out,” Johnson says regarding issues like equity and inclusiveness where ”fixes” can be just another expression of bias. “Our job is just getting everybody in the room that actually wants to be there. It’s the first critical step in initiating change.”

MPAC is a, "coalition of Memphis performing artists working in a collaborative way to engage our community to promote equitable and safe practices."

The Memphis Performing Arts Summit kicks off Friday April 5th, 5:30-8:00 with an introductory "meet and greet."


Saturday April 6th or Sunday April 7th, 9am-4pm: Pick either day. We will be providing the same facilitated dialogue on both days, to reach as many people as possible. Limited to 40 attendees per day. On both days, we will have a delicious lunch at Caritas Village (not included; lunch prices range from $5-$10).

How do we create safer and more equitable spaces in our small companies, artists studios, as well as the major institutions in this city? With the right tools, artists can leverage their collective power to institute new practices that dismantle systems of inequities.Together we can harness our energy and engender a community of learning and sharing with a weekend of community action and professional development at Caritas Village.

Kaisha S. Johnson is Co-Founder and Founding Director of Women of Color in the Arts (WOCA), a national service organization dedicated to creating racial and cultural equity in the performing arts field. Johnson, who recently received the Sidney R. Yates Award for Outstanding Advocacy on Behalf of the Performing Arts from APAP, will guide our community through an anti-oppression and implicit bias dialogue as well as facilitate next steps on helping us implement fair practices in the community.
For more information about the Memphis Performing Arts Summit click here. 

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Friday, March 29, 2019

Expansion, Upgrades Result in Abbreviated Season at Theatre Memphis

Posted By on Fri, Mar 29, 2019 at 12:29 PM

Theatre Memphis' 100th anniversary is on the horizon and big changes are afoot. But first, a somewhat smaller 2019-20 season. When TM hosts its grand re-opening in August, 2020, patrons will enjoy expanded restrooms and common areas, additional service areas, and more.

And if the new season is somewhat abbreviated by the renovations, it's also crowd-pleasing. Mamma Mia! AND Cats back to back on the main stage with only A Few Good Men in between?  That should fill seats and make people very thankful for the expanded bathroom facilities to come.

Mamma Mia! August 16 – September 8, 2019
Set on a Greek island and to the music of the international pop group ABBA, a young girl plans her wedding while trying to discover who of three men may be her father … all to the distress and ultimate joy of her mother.


October 11 – November 3, 2019
Based on the book Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot, will follow in the season line up with striking choreography and memorable tunes by Andrew Lloyd Webber. In this most-loved musical the scene is set in a large rubbish area which, after dark, becomes alive with cats of all types, shapes and sizes gathering for the Jellicle Ball, during which one cat will be allotted an extra precious life. Cats is heralded as one of the longest running shows on Broadway and includes the remarkable tune, “Memory”.

A Christmas Carol
December 6 - 23, 2019
A special holiday offering in December for the 42nd consecutive year at Theatre Memphis.
Little Women
Returning to the Next Stage
July 10 – 21, 2019
A sold out run during the 2018-19 season prompted the return of the classic which has been adapted and directed by Jason Spitzer. Though not part of the season membership, members will be afforded discounts on the adult full price ticket.

A Few Good Men.
September 13 – 29
Next Stage
An apathetic military lawyer is assigned to the case of two Marines charged with the murder of a fellow squadron member at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. An Internal Affairs legal ace thinks there is something amiss and pursues justice as the defendants refuse a plea bargain. The facts come out and lead to a court martial courtroom showdown that exposes the truth.

Ruthless! The Musical
November 8 – 23, 2019
Next Stage
[Ruthless!] satirize[s] old movie classics like The Bad Seed and All About Eve. The plot reveals a talented eight-year-old, Tina, who declares her show biz ambition. Enter Sylvia St. Croix, an overbearing, sleazy talent agent with a secret who encourages her to audition for the school play. Tina “accidentally” hangs her major rival to get the part … only to be sent up the river and swept aside by her mother, Judy Denmark, who finds her own voice and soars to stardom. Once Tina is released from incarceration, she returns for her own revenge with dreams of a comeback and more murderous

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Friday, March 22, 2019

Farce Meets Horror in a Top Notch Radiant Vermin

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2019 at 2:26 PM

Michelle Gregory, Lena Wallace Black, Chase Ring in "Radiant Vermin"
  • Michelle Gregory, Lena Wallace Black, Chase Ring in "Radiant Vermin"
Philip Ridley's Radiant Vermin is a comedy about a newlywed couple discovering the dream-home they've always wanted can be theirs, if they're willing to do what it takes. What it takes is both awful and potentially in the service of some grander, even more awful agenda. Think Whose Line Is It Anyway? meets American Psycho (but British), all rolled up in a gloriously ham-fisted metaphor for a related set of familiar urban plagues. 

Storytelling techniques eliminate the need for sets and costumes. Shocking events are shared directly with the audience via light narration and flashbacks, with three actors taking on all roles. Things come to a head in a climactic garden party from hell, when neighbors who've all recently moved into the almost mysteriously trendy area converge. With its terrific cast leading the way, Quark Theatre's creative team plays every note in this darkly comic aria perfectly, delivering surprise laughter and even more surprising flashes of tenderness.   
Michelle Gregory, Lena Wallace Black, and Chase Ring make up the tightest ensemble in town. They pull off an energetic balancing act that threatens to soar too far over the top, but stays just grounded enough for the human stakes to matter. 

What's the worst thing you ever did for security? Comfort? Luxury? Did you even know you were doing it? And who are the real rats? These are some of the questions at the core Radiant Vermin, a show that gets in its audience's face bit, while spoofing some contemporary British problems that sound awfully American.

Radiant Vermin is a kind of Macbeth for moderns exploring creature comforts, and how they help us manage guilt and other unpleasant feelings.  It asks us who the real rats are.

Radiant Vermin is at Theatre South through March 31. I cannot recommend it enough. More details are available here

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Thursday, March 21, 2019

1776: Theatre Memphis Makes History With a Solid Revival

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2019 at 3:41 PM

"I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace — two are called a law firm — and that three or more become a Congress.” — John Adams opening remarks in 1776. The musical, not the year. 

Like the nation whose birth it celebrates, 1776 is an extraordinary creation — the most delightful musical stuffed inside the most contentious play, wrapped in an endlessly urgent history lesson more truthy than accurate. It's a miracle, of sorts, famous for containing the longest scene in any musical without singing, choreography, or a single note of music played. Also, like the nation it celebrates, 1776 is complicated, built on enough deception, prioritizing drama over all else, that it's probably a good thing to knock the dust off from time-to-time and re-evaluate.

Cecelia Wingate's known for staging monster musical extravaganzas. What surprised me most about her very fine production of 1776 for Theatre Memphis, was just how conventional it is, erring on the side of magnificent. The lush, 18th-Century costumes are so thoughtfully detailed they often say as much about characters as the actors wearing them. That's saying something given a mostly superb cast. Though it's hardly palatial in spirit, the gleaming, brightly-lit set works at cross purposes, making the emerging nation seem too solid and formidable — less the worn-out crazy quilt with no chance in hell of weathering the coming storm. We hear it's "hot as Hell," in Philly, but take away the fans and complaints, and not much else in the breezy space says so.

It seems critics can't write about 1776 these days without some comparison to its kindred Tony-winner, Hamilton. I won't do that, but will say that between the hotly-paced Hamilton and a faintly iconoclastic interpretation of 1776 staged by The Encores! in 2016, one might hope for a touch more currency and self-awareness.

I'm almost afraid to give John Maness another glowing review. People will think he's paying me. But Maness's growing reputation as a dramatic actor who vanishes into his characters, obscures the fact that he's always been a solid musical theater performer as well. When Hedwig and the Angry Inch finally made it to town, Maness took the title role and rocked it just right. Now older, and more furrowed, his John Adams is a firebrand, full of righteous fury — always just at the edge of caning somebody on the floor of Congress.

Adams' character — a blending of John and his second cousin Samuel — doesn't quite mesh with reality. Though he had adversaries in Congress (even among allies), the man from Massachusetts wasn't universally regarded as obnoxious and disliked until after his presidency. Independence was the popular choice in the year of our show, and Adams was a tireless, vocal advocate.  Maness translates the alleged obnoxiousness into impatience at the edge of impertinence, and, excepting turns by Lydia Hart's's Mrs. Jefferson and Kevar Maffitt's Rutledge, he's seldom the second most interesting thing on stage.

Wingate's 1776 — a story about uniting the American colonies to declare of independence — struggles a bit with antagonists. Though he has been absent from Memphis for a long time, I know Brian Helm to be a fine and committed actor who relishes physically demanding roles. As Dickinson, a patriot whose intellectual reservations are amplified for dramatic purposes, he's the face of opposition. As one of the show's two principal "bad guys," he makes the case for wealth, tradition, and security over independence, leading Congress's anachronistic right-wing through the song "Cool, Considerate Men."

landed on Broadway in 1969, a year after the infamous televised debates between arch-liberal Gore Vidal and arch-Conservative William F. Buckley Jr. On the page, Dickinson's gravitas mixed with cool certitude calls to mind the latter, who once dryly claimed, "It's terribly hard to stand carrying the weight of what I know." Helm's more scheming and excitable interpretation is more reminiscent of radio pundits like the late Mike Fleming, or a stiffer Rush Limbaugh. It makes the debate at the heart of act one less dynamic, and more shrill than it might be, as he seeks to match and top Maness's Adams rather than own him. This less poised depiction yields the floor, and principle antagonist role, to the reliably excellent Maffitt,  who delivers a cooler, more self-sufficient vision of Rutledge, the pro-slavery representative from South Carolina whose eerie, musical lesson in triangle trade makes a case that implicates every man in congress with the shameful practice. But does it also implicate itself? The script? 50-years worth of audiences, swept up in light nationalism? 

Theater Memphis serves up charming, humanizing portraits of America's best known founding fathers like Ben Franklin (Jimbo Lattimore) and Thomas Jefferson (Sean Carter). It does a somewhat better job bringing in lesser known figures like George Washington's messenger and a hard-drinking representative from Rhode Island who never met an idea too dangerous to talk about. As Abigail Adams and Martha Jefferson, Edna Dinwiddie and Hart show two distinctly different ways to keep the home fires burning while the menfolk, "Piddle, Twiddle, and Resolve."  The ensemble is built on solid foundations, and the voices collected for this production blend gorgeously, lifted by a tight orchestra.

 When it comes to critique, it's sometimes said that "everything before the 'but,' is BS." Can't disagree. I'm sure regular readers sense a "but" coming and, of course, they're right. See, 1776 makes a virtue of compromise at any cost, and as we know, the cost was human bondage and chattel slavery. As considerate as the script may be, sounding bells over the struggle for common ground feels off in 2019, as the last campaigns of the American Civil War play themselves out in proxy battles over Confederate iconography. Where some may see currency in these debates, I tend to see continuity, and even affirmation. But — and you knew it was coming — I don't think we need to put 1776 away just yet. If anything, it's probably not revived as often as it might be. But (yes, another one) we know how the story ends. Furthermore, we know where it goes after it ends and where it goes wrong. So maybe in 2019, it might be more interesting to strip 1776 down than to dress it up.

To summarize: Great voices? Check. Good acting? Check. Profound wig game? Double check. Given Theatre Memphis's reputation for razzle dazzle, Ellen Inghram's choreography is uncharacteristically subdued. The acting is top-shelf, from Bill Andrews as John Hancock to Helm, whose questionable use shouldn't be mistaken for bad work. Songs stuck in my head for decades never sounded better, from the lusty, "He Plays the Violin," to the mournful "Mama Look Sharp." Maybe, like the nation whose birth 1776 celebrates, I was just expecting too much.


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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Meet Quark Theatre's "Radiant Vermin"

Posted By on Thu, Mar 14, 2019 at 11:13 AM

Michelle Gregory, Lena Wallace Black, Chase Ring in "Radiant Vermin"
  • Michelle Gregory, Lena Wallace Black, Chase Ring in "Radiant Vermin"
What's the worst thing you've ever done for something you really wanted?

Chase Ring likes attention. Ring — currently lending his talents to Quark Theatre — made his marriage proposal onstage at Memphis' annual Theatre Awards, The Ostranders. He's one of the players in Philip Ridley's Radiant Vermin, opening at Theatre South this weekend, and he's quick to tell stories about the lengths he's been willing to go to for a little limelight — minor self-mutilation, skinny dipping in the Tony Garner memorial fountain in front of the McCoy Theatre at Rhodes College. None of it's really bad, but Ring's co-stars Michelle Gregory and Lena Wallace Black shrink a bit because, to hear them tell it, they've never broken the rules for any reason ever. Then, at length, another member of team Vermin makes a sheepish admission.

"I had a fake ID," she says. I won't say who engaged in this heinous criminal deceit, nor will I call out the other for fibbing to reporters about never veering from the straight-and-narrow because, as St. Augustine made plain in his Confessions, being a little bad can be its own reward. And once you get rolling it can be hard to hit the breaks.

We humans are infinitely adaptable creatures, all too willing to take risks, and subvert shame and conscious when the payoffs are suitably rewarding, and that's the most I want to say about this condition as it relates to Radiant Vermin.  Sometimes we cross the line for funsies — like a little skinny dip here and there or fudging our ages for access.

Sometimes there's a body count. Sometimes we're all implicated in the carnage.

I took the sound out of this video to enhance mystery and let users add their own soundtrack. Trust me, you'll want to.

Philip Ridley's Radiant Vermin is a comedy about a newlywed couple discovering the dream-home they've always wanted can be theirs, if they're willing to do what it takes. And what it takes is ...  a lot.

What are you willing to do for security? What are you willing to do for comfort? Luxury? To let folks know who you are? And here's maybe the more important question? Did you even know you were doing it?
Caption contest?
  • Caption contest?

"I almost hate to say the word, but it's a very 'meta' kind of play," Director Tony Isbell says. "Some have compared it to a sketch show. It's not a naturalistic, at all, there's a performative element to everything they do, and it's funny."

Ridley's plays can be dark. The English visual artist and storyteller turned playwright pioneered what's been described as the "In-yer-face" style. Radiant Vermin marks a shift in tone for Ridley but the fast-paced morality-farce still gets in the audience's's face at least a little bit. 

"His early stuff is funny but it can be dark-dark," Isbell says. "This is more dark-light."

Radiant Vermin opens this week at the best little basement theater in Cooper Young, Theatre South. Click here for details.

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