DOUBLEWIDE, TEXAS: A Hoot ‘n a Hollar

DOUBLEWIDE, TEXAS: Trailer Park Victory

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: CAT Theatre, 419 No. Wilkinson Rd., RVA 23227

Performances: June 1-16, 2018

Ticket Prices: $23 Adults; $18 RVATA Members; $13 Students

Info: (804) 804-262-9760 or cat@cattheatre.com

 

Doublewide, Texas, now onstage at CAT, is written by the same trio – Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten – that created Always a Bridesmaid, which is currently running at Swift Creek Mill Theatre. True to form, Doublewide, Texas is a comedic farce, deliberately designed to be played over the top and it reaches for the broadest laughs possible.

Set in a tiny trailer park in Texas, the flimsy premise is that the trailer park is about to be annexed by the nearby town of Tugaloo, and the residents – mostly related – are banding together to fight the annexation and the accompanying high taxes. There are laughs aplenty, with plenty of puns and running gags, physical humor, and generous hints about deep dark secrets. The cast of nine is generally delightful and maintains a natural camaraderie that makes it easy and natural to laugh at even the most obvious groaners.

First up is Big Ethel Satterwhite (Catherine Cooper) who delivers a lecture on nutrition to the county inmates and parolees. The only problem is Big Ethel doesn’t believe in the program and succumbs to the temptation of a gigantic cookie, tossing a large, fresh cabbage over her shoulder, and, along with it, her job! By placing her podium on the floor in front of the stage, Big Ethel and director Michael Fletcher immediately engage the audience and draw us into the play.

Next, there’s Georgia Dean Rudd (Donna Marie Miller) who runs the local diner, Bronco Betty’s Buffeteria, where fried foods are the specialty every day.  Georgia Dean helps spearhead the  efforts to save the trailer park.  Her best friend, Joveeta Crumpler (Crystal Oakley) has vowed to fight the annexation tooth and nail – but has only a few days before escaping to a new job with a discount cruise line.

Joveeta is part of a zany and loving family that includes little brother Norwayne “Baby” Crumpler (Travis Williams), a lovable galoot who spends much of the show practicing for the womanless beauty pageant;  and their beer-guzzling mother Caprice Crumpler (Jeannie Goodyear) who is determined to break into show business as the star of a mattress commercial. She appears in a series of costumes, each more outrageous than the other, ranging from Dorothy, from The Wizard of Oz to Marilyn Monroe to Cleopatra. I guess it’s a case of like mother, like son, because “Baby” wears one crazy get-up after another, starting with high heels, then adding panty hose, and finally an oversized, white satin, fringed cowgirl getup.

Lark Barken (Christiana “CC” Kaniefski) is a breath of fresh Oregonian air as the new age child – who happens to be heavy with child. A young widow with a secret, she is new in town, as are her strange habits of chanting and burning sage. She sets up and maintains a running gag with a series of nontraditional baby names, such as Saffron and Willow. No comedy would be complete without a villain, and in this one there are two. Neighbor Haywood Sloggett (Wally Jones) can’t wait to get rid of the “trailer trash,” until the tables are turned on him. Super tall, handsome, and swaggeringly obnoxious Lomax Tanner  (Kent Slonaker) is the newcomer who proves that things are not always what they appear to be. Olivia Laskin has a small but key role as the mayor’s wife, Starla Pudney.

Michael Fletcher keeps things moving in his mainstage directorial debut, but there were a few scene changes that lagged a bit, and the pace could be a bit faster overall.  Scott Bergman’s set is authentically finished with fake wood paneling and pink curtains. There are pink flamingoes in the small flower bed out front, and there is even pink insulation peeking out of the cutaway roof, but I’m pretty sure the CAT stage is deeper than a standard doublewide. Becki Jones probably had fun designing the costumes, especially the more outrageous ones for Caprice and “Baby.” CAT often features a show-themed raffle; this time the prize is Georgia Dean’s pinkety-pink quilt, which will be awarded at the final performance. Doublewide, Texas is a hoot and a holler, but does not quite rise to the standards set by The Dixie Swim Club or The Hallelujah Girls.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Daryll Morgan Studios

CAT Jeannie Goodyear -Travis Williams
Jeannie Goodyear and Travis Williams
CAT Jeannie Goodyear as Caprice
Jeannie Goodyear
CAT Donna Marie Miller
Donna Marie Miller
CAT Crystal Oakley-Kent Lonaker
Crystal Oakley and Kent Slonaker
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TOPDOG/UNDERDOG: America Here & Now

TOPDOG/UNDERDOG: This, Too, Is America

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: TheatreLab, The Basement, 300 E. Broad St, RVA 23219

Performances: May 25 – June 9, 2018 / NOTE: Production has been EXTENDED with additional shows June 15 & 16 @8:00pm.

Ticket Prices: $30 general

Info: (804) 506-3533 or theatrelabrva.org

 

Suzan-Lori Parks’ award-winning Topdog/Underdog is one of those challenging plays that is easy to dismiss as a race play or a social play or some other specialty nook. But even though the two brothers, Lincoln and Booth, are black, and even though they are hustlers, and even though they come from an unbelievably dysfunctional background, there is something universal and far-reaching about their story. Topdog/Underdog is a story about family and striving, and, as the lyrics of Childish Gambino’s “This is America” remind us at the closing scene, it is about America.

Gambino’s lyrics and music video did not yet exist when Parks wrote Topdog/Underdog in 2001, but it’s existence today makes for some interesting comparisons. Cultural sociologists have taken the time to dissect the symbolism in the song; there are also symbols in the play. For starters, the two brothers are named Lincoln and Booth. We all know the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth. And let us not forget that Booth was, in real life, an actor. In Gestalt Therapy, there is a kind of self-torture game, Topdog vs Underdog, in which people learn to face their anxieties by weighing the “topdog” or should do’s and ought to’s against the “underdog” or internal excuses. It also refers to the dominant and the submissive.  On one level, this is exactly what these two brothers do; they weigh their options and take turns trying to dominate one another. Then there is the symbolism of Lincoln, a black man, named for the white man who signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Parks’ Lincoln, however, portrays the historic Lincoln by wearing a long coat, a stovepipe hat, a fake beard, and white face, and his job is to sit in a chair in an arcade where tourists come and shoot him with fake bullets. His job is to die, over and over, every day.  At what point does the fake become a reality?

Similar discussions could be developed around the symbolism of the card game, Three-Card Monte, that the older brother has given up and the younger brother is trying to take up. Booth, in the play, even adopts the name 3-Card, and the game ultimately plays an important role in the devastating final scene. The gun is another incendiary symbol, appearing in both the opening and closing scenes.

This production is directed by Katrinah Carol Lewis, who is certainly no stranger to the stage, and marks her Richmond theater community directorial debut. Running about two and a half hours, with one brief ten-minute intermission, Topdog/Underdog is unrelenting in its intensity and presents a challenge for the audience as well as for its two actors, Jamar Jones (Booth) and Jeremy V. Morris (Lincoln). Set in the here and now, in a tiny rundown apartment, furnished with a mattress set on cinderblocks, a couple of mismatched chairs placed around two stacked milk crates with a cardboard square on top, and a recliner that has seen better days, David Melton’s set, holds the audience intimately close and aware.

As Booth, the younger brother, Jones maintains a rebellious anger from start to finish. In a few rare instances, usually when reminiscing about the parents who abandoned the brothers when they were ages 16 and 11, or when speaking of his on-again, off-again relationship with the unseen Grace, he allows his vulnerability to show through. Morris, as the older brother Lincoln, shows more control, partly due to character but mostly because of experience. After trying to put his street hustling days behind him, he finds his marriage to the also unseen Cookie has crumbled, and he is relying on his younger brother for a temporary place to rest his head. Lincoln’s speech is more measured, and his actions slower but he is no less passionate. Spit flies generously during the brothers’ usually heated exchanges – which are often nose to nose. I can’t help but wonder if the play would be just as effective if it were shortened by, say thirty minutes.

A few minutes into the play, I realized that it was not, in fact, my first time seeing it. I actually reviewed the Sycamore Rouge production in February 2012.  At that time, I commended the Petersburg-based (and, sadly, now defunct) theater company for mounting such a challenging work but found that the two actors did not connect – at least for me. I think director Katrinah Carol Lewis and actors Jamar Jones and Jeremy V. Morris were much more successful in creating seamless transitions and an authentic theater experience. (But. . .it’s still too long.)

(Here’s a link to that 2012 review: http://www.richmond.com/entertainment/theater-review-topdog-underdog/article_0f45bd5f-5c6b-5ed8-bb80-8cc79651fff2.html)

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Tom Topinka

 

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ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID: Southern Hospitality in a Comedy of Recognition

ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID: Southern Women Ensemble Humor Strikes Again

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 Jefferson Davis Highway, Colonial Heights, VA 23834

Performances: May 19 – June 30, 2018 [Note: Opening weekend was postponed due to flooding from regional spring storms]

Ticket Prices: $38 Theater only; $55 Dinner & Theater

Info: (804) 748-5203 or swiftcreekmill.com

 

Director Tom Width fondly refers to Always a Bridesmaid as a “comedy of recognition” because viewers are likely to recognize themselves or a family member or friend in the broadly drawn, zany characters. Written by the trio of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jaime Wooten, who also gave us The Dixie Swim Club and The Hallelujah Girls, Always a Bridesmaid is an amalgam of  television sitcom and every southern woman ensemble play you’ve ever seen – from Dixie Swim Club to  Hallelujah Girls and let’s not forget Steel Magnolias.

There’s nothing deep here, no life-changing moral theme, no political controversy, just good-natured female bonding and free-flowing laughs, built around the premise of four friends who made a vow during their high school prom to be bridesmaids at each other’s weddings. Who knew, at the time, that some of them might get married multiple times and this promise might evolve into a life-long, even multi-generational covenant?

The best thing about this production of Always a Bridesmaid is the cast. Amy Berlin is the statuesque and sharp-tongued Monette. In the first scene she is about to jump into the murky waters of her third marriage – to a man she has known for just about two weeks. Already the tallest of the quartet, Monette favors stiletto heels, which sets up the foundation for a running joke as well as some not so subtle physical humor. Jacqueline Jones is Libby Ruth, who in good southern form is always referred to by both names. For most of the play, Libby Ruth is the level-headed, perpetually cheerful member of the group, the one who always sees the bright side of things and finds a solution to every problem. But in the final scene, when it’s her own daughter who is getting married, she folds up like a lace fan.

Debra Wagoner is Deedra, a high-powered judge who uses a smile and southern charm to mask her steel trap legal mind. Wagoner, whose own real-life wedding to husband Joe Pabst took place at Swift Creek Mill 23 years ago, is walking with a slight limp in her first role after her debilitating fall resulting in a broken ankle during last fall’s production of Mary Poppins, but it never showed on her face. Jennie Hundley completes the quartet as Charlie, perhaps the quirkiest of them all. A landscaper, Charlie prefers pants and Birkenstocks and when we first meet her, her friends are trying to tame her wild nest of  hair, which is home to leaves and other bits of flora. Watching Charlie stumble about in a pair of heels during one of the weddings is one of the most hilarious moments of the evening.

It is worthy of note that with the exception of Libby Ruth, who appears to be a happily married housewife and mother, these southern women are independent business women and professionals.  Deedra is a judge, Monette owns a club, and Charlie owns her own landscaping business. But they are not the only characters bringing something to this table.

Jody Smith Strickler plays Sedalia, the owner of the elegant venue where all the scenes take place. Historic Laurelton Oaks, in Laurelton, Virginia, twenty miles northwest of Richmond is the setting for the entire play, which takes place over a period of seven years. Sedalia is known for providing top notch wedding services, but she rules her domain with an iron fist – and occasionally wields an axe to keep recalcitrant brides in line and on schedule. You’d better be at that top step when the first note of the wedding march begins – or else! Last but not least, there is Rachel Hindman as Kari, Libby Ruth’s daughter, who appears as a bride giving her reception speech at the start of each scene.  Sipping from a champagne glass, Kari becomes increasingly tipsy at each appearance, and shares such tidbits as the restraining order on her uncle was temporarily reduced to 30 feet from his estranged wife so that both could attend her wedding. In a “small world” turn of events, Kari is marrying Sedalia’s son.

It’s all very cozy and nothing really bad ever happens. There is an off-stage fight, but no one dies and it’s all love and kisses at the final curtain. Physical and visual laughs are provided by a fashion parade of ugly bridesmaid dresses, including a French maid, and a Marie Antoinette costume worn by Monette that is so big Charlie can hide behind her without even bending down. Kudos to Maura Lynch Cravey for her creativity and diversity in costume design for this show. Tom Width designed the elegant sitting room.

Personally, after some three-weeks of being housebound after two surgeries, this was the perfect outing for me. While I did not recognize any of these women from my immediate circle – I am after all, from Brooklyn – I did recognize them from other plays and sitcoms, and I thank them for bringing laughter and joy, with a nod to loyalty and love.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Robyn O’Neill

RICHMOND DANCE FESTIVAL 2018: Week Three

RICHMOND DANCE FESTIVAL 2018: Week Three – From Trilogies to Meeping Peeps

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 W. 15th Street, RVA 23224

Performances: April 27-28, May 4-5 & May 11-12 @ 7PM + Next Generation May 5 @ 2:30PM

Ticket Prices: $15 General; $10 Students/Children

Info: (804) 230-8780, dogtowndancetheatre.com or https://rdf18.brownpapertickets.com/

 

The Richmond Dance Festival closes out its three-weekend run with a new program of diverse works, six live dances and three short films. Richmond choreographer Lawanda Raines opened the program with Trilogy of Womanhood, set to music by Quincy Jones, Peggy Lee, and Nina Simone, was performed by a quartet of dancers from the RVA Dance Collective. The opening feels a bit like a strip tease, and during the course of the work the dancers do, in fact, shed their blazers, then their bras, and shed their hi-low skirts for pants. The movement is by turns elegant, sassy, and quirky, and while there is a bit of narrative (e.g., “Is that all there is?”) the dance ultimately feels unfinished.

The second half of the program began with Losing a Good Thing. Luisa Innisfree Martinez’ biography lists her occupations as choreographer, dancer, and baker, and her homes as Brooklyn, NY and Baltimore, MD. Her diverse background and peripatetic lifestyle seem to have informed her smart and amusing solo, Losing a Good Thing. Martinez begins by fighting with a white sun dress, eventually giving up and asking an audience member to zipper it up for her. All dressed up (in the white dress, a black sports bra, black trunks, and black socks) with nowhere to go, the second part of the solo is spent waiting for the phone to ring – a red corded phone. Martinez is lovable and engenders laughs with her shoulder isolations and an awesome balance on her shoulder ending in a slow spin out, sort of like a 1980s break dancer in slow motion. [See video here: http://www.luisainnisfree.com/losing-a-good-thing/]

Megan Ross (Durham, NC) closed the program with the highly satisfying and very amusing To Meep Like a Peep. You can look for meaning if you want (a video game, colorful marshmallow peeps, slang for “people,”  the sound the cartoon character Road Runner made, and more) but that’s totally unnecessary. Meep Like a Peep is a colorful dance full of wiggles and jumps, shakes and balances, and side-long looks at the audience. Set to percussion by Dj Plie, the dance is pure fun freed from restrictions of technique and style. One moment the dancers seem to mimic dogs chasing their tails, the next a marching band. Movements originate from unexpected places – a hip, a knee, a hand attached to the head like a unicorn’s horn. Audience members could not help but giggle and guffaw out loud; what a great way to end the evening.

Other dance offerings included Navigating Around Saturn and Around and Around, a contemporary ballet choreographed by Juliana Utz of Turning Key dance (Boston, MA); Run, Rerun, by Kara Priddy of RADAR (Richmond, VA); and Amid by Kara Robertson of Karar Dance Company (Richmond, VA).  Lulo Rivera’s short film, Impetu’s: Flamenco’s Driving Force, features beautiful backdrops, like a beach and a pedestrian walkway.  Dancer Jesus Carmona dances contemporary flamenco perched on a bridge beam seemingly just feet from the water, reminiscent of a seagull. Unfortunately, the captions are all in white and most fade out against the sandy and light backgrounds while others are obscured by being at the bottom of the frames and therefore out of sight of many viewers in this space where the lovely, large screen goes all the way down to the floor. Nick Zoulek’s Symmetry n Memories has dancer Claire Curry performing simultaneously in a ballet studio and outdoors creating layers of symmetry and perspective.  And last, but not least, Dylan Wilbur’s short film, Trussed, with choreography by SubRosa Dance Collective, has dancers Kailee McMurran and Zohra Banzi dancing with their hair eerily braided together into a single braid. The work, an excerpt from a larger work called Living the Room, also features one dancer in a bathtub, first in a classically tiled bathroom and then, quite suddenly, in a remote field.

The Richmond Dance Festival successfully brought the world of dance to Richmond, with works by local and familiar choreographers as well as works by new and unfamiliar artists. The dance films were especially well curated. Overall, Program Two (the second week) seemed to be the strongest, but there were excellent and noteworthy works all three weekends. At the time of this writing, there is one final performance, on Saturday, May 12 at 7:00pm. If you have not been, it is definitely worth your while.

And finally, kudos to Dogtown Dance Theatre. This week Artistic and Executive Director Jess Burgess announced that Dogtown is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Art Works grant in the amount of $10,000 to support performances and programming for dance artists.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Richmond Dance Festival production photos by Mike Keeling

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RICHMOND DANCE FESTIVAL 2018, Week Two: A Little Night Dancing

RICHMOND DANCE FESTIVAL 2018: Week Two, in Which Imagined Deities Shift the Permeating Presence of the Fantastic Plums of Paw Creek

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 W. 15th Street, RVA 23224

Performances: April 27-28, May 4-5 & May 11-12 @ 7PM + Next Generation May 5 @ 2:30PM

Ticket Prices: $15 General; $10 Students/Children

Info: (804) 230-8780, dogtowndancetheatre.com or https://rdf18.brownpapertickets.com/

Oh my – I was completely blown away by Week Two of Richmond Dance Festival 2018. Eight works: five live dance performances and three dance films and each and every one of them was engaging and compelling. Normally, I would not talk in detail about each work on a lengthy program, but each of these dances and films is deserving of its own mention.

The program opened with Permeating Presence, a quartet by Maryland-based LucidBeings Dance choreographed by Franki Graham and Jeanna Riscigno. The movement comes from the inside out, and is affected by gravitational pull, variable balances, and other outside forces. The words that come to mind in describing this dance are organic and organism. There is a fascinating juxtaposition of nature and science fiction, which provided a natural segue into British filmmaker Barney Cokeliss’ short film, Night Dancing. This mysterious and intriguing dance film has a narrative involving a man who is haunted by the bitter sweet memory of a dancer, a lost love who may or may not be real.

Adventure of Fantastic Plum, choreographed and performed by Ching-I Ching Bigelow and Marsell Chavarria of Nina Simone’ – an embryonic “dance practice project” that embraces improvisation and “people/environment watching.” The pair initially caught our attention with their elaborate preparation; they created a stage-covering pathway of crinkly tarp that wound around the edges of the floor, ending in the center with a colorful pile of clothes or fabric. Bigelow and Chavarria travelled this path, sometimes struggling, sometimes helping one another. Along the way, they danced a bit of salsa and some West African dance steps, and at one point simultaneously balanced on one leg with the other suspended in an impossible position for an insane amount of time. Their journey ended n the center with a rather violent tussle, ending in a sea of calmness. The original score included narrative about “patterns of love in people of the diaspora” and the “loss of home place.” It reminded me of earlier ancestor-conscious works by LaWanda Raines, Kevin LaMarr Jones/Claves Unidos, and Annielille Gavino-Kollman/Malayaworks and seemed to share DNA with the work of Alicia Diaz, seen in the second half of this program.

The first half of the program closed with Francesco Belligerante’s short film, Sifting, filmed in China at several beautifully diverse locations, including a mountain museum and a dam. Beginning with the dancers running through stone or cement corridors, up ramps and up long flights of stairs, the scene suddenly changes to mountains and water, and the dancers slow down, arms wide, heads back, reminding us to take the time to connect with nature and enjoy the moment.

The second half of the program began with Richmond-based choreographer Alicia Diaz/Agua Dulce Dance Theatre’s Portrait of an Imagined Deity. The dancers and Diaz painted a large mandala on the floor with colored sand – a combination of male and female symbols, the peace symbol, and perhaps other images as well. Shoulders back, hips forward, buttocks up, the trio of dancers, all dressed in white, performed a series of vaguely tribal, universally familiar rituals to percussive music, ending with the sound of crashing waves. The deity may have been imagined, but the humanity was real.

North Carolina-based Eric Mullis initially reminded me of a dance minister I had met and worked with at a conference in Dallas, so it should have come as no surprise when his solo, Paw Creek, turned out to be a powerful display of sometimes fractured movement performed to an original score featuring an audio sampling of a charismatic Pentecostal minister.

Curing Albrecht, the third and final film, turned out to be an amusing turn by the English National Ballet. In this beautifully produced short, filmed in the Victoria Baths, a man checks himself into an institution, seeking a cure for his dancing addiction. [See the video here: https://youtu.be/pQYP96phKKE]

Finally, there was /Shift/, choreographed by Jeanne Mam-Luft and Susan Honer  of Mamluft&Co. Dance (in collaboration with the original performers, Rubio and Hannah Williamson). Tense and confrontational, dancers tentatively approach one another from opposite sides of the stage with extended, open hands – only to turn away, to jump as if singed by a hot wire, or to poke at one another with curiosity. At the end, as in life, nothing is resolved, and we are left with the hollow resounding words: “You are not machines; you are not cattle; you are men!”

I am not saying this program was perfect, just that I have nothing to complain about. This program will be performed again on Saturday night, May 5. On Saturday afternoon, the RDF Next Generation youth dancers will perform. The third and final weekend, May 11-12, will feature an all new program of choreographic works by RVA Dance Collective, Turning Key Dance, RADAR, Luisa Innisfree Martinez, KARAR Dance Company, and Megan Ross. There will also be films by Lulo Rivero (flamenco), Nick Zoulek, and Dylan Wilbur.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Richmond Dance Festival production photos by Kate Prunkl

Dogtown Dance Fest-1

Dogtown - RDF 2.5
Mamluft and Company
Dogtown - RDF 2.4
LucidBeings Dance
Dogtown - RDF 2.3
Eric Mullis
Dogtown - RDF 2.2
Marsell Chavarria and Ching-I Ching Bigelow of Nina Simone’
Dogtown - RDF 2.1
Christina Carlotti-Kolb, Christine Wyatt, and Marsell Chavarria with Agua Dulce Dance Theater

APPROPRIATE: Of Race, Sex, Family Dysfunction, History, and Ghosts

APPROPRIATE: Race, Sex, Family Dysfunction, History, and Ghosts

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Virginia Rep/Cadence Theatre Company

At: Theatre Gym, Virginia Repertory Center, 114 W. Broad St., RVA 23220

Performances: April 28-May 20, with Previews on April 25 & 27. Showtimes 7PM Thursday; 8PM Friday & Saturday; 2PM Sunday. Talkbalk after the May 6 matinee.

Ticket Prices: $10-35

Info: (804) 282-2620 or va-rep.org

 

Appropriate, an award-winning -play by young playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, is one of the most shocking, inappropriate, and well-done productions of the season. And to be clear, there is very little that takes place in this play that could be called “appropriate” by any stretch of the imagination.

The patriarch of the Lafayette family has died, and his three heirs reunite at his Southeast Arkansas plantation house to settle his decrepit estate. The siblings, Antoinette “Toni” Lafayette (Susan Sanford), Beauregarde “Bo” Lafayette (Joe Pabst), and François “Franz/Frank” Lafayette (Happy Mahaney) have been estranged, and Frank’s ill-timed attempt to reunite leads to the uncovering of long-buried family secrets.

As the only girl, Toni was left with many of the household responsibilities after the death of the trio’s mother, including caring for her troublesome younger brother, Frank, and their dying father. This has left her bitter and, apparently, emotionally unstable. Sanford played this role to the hilt and it was the first time in my life I ever felt like strangling the affable actress. Sanford made Cruella de Vil, or whatever female villain comes to mind, look like mother of the year.

Mahaney, turned up unexpectedly for his own father’s estate sale and auction, climbing in through an open window with his new-age fiancé, River Rayner (Kathryn Humphries). Mahaney’s lovable inability to complete a sentence, or indeed to make sense at any time, along with his boyish good looks and his character’s bad-boy background made it difficult to trust Frank’s assurances of having put aside his old ways. Toni’s repeated questions to anyone in earshot as to whether Frank was high or drunk were initially annoying – but an explosive revelation in Act 3 brought clarity to those accusations and make her seem just a little less crazy. (But I still wanted to strangle her.)

Tyler Stevens plays Toni’s teen-aged son, Rhys Thurston, who seems to be following in his estranged uncle’s footsteps. And for some reason, most of the family seems to be okay with the possibility that Bo’s daughter, Cassidy seems to have a crush on Rhys – who happens to be her first cousin, by my reckoning. I know the play is set in Arkansas, but the characters now live in New York and Portland, Oregon, and other places where that sort of thing is not condoned. On opening night, Cassidy was played by Caroline Johnson, a former elementary student of mine, I am proud to say, but probably not as proud as her mother, director Anna Senechal Johnson. Lola Mühlenfeld and Grace Connell are also listed for this role in the program.

Pabst plays Bo with shaking hands and tense, terse verbal exchanges. Bo is a ticking time bomb, caught between the needs of his wife, Rachel (Jill Bari Steinberg) and the unreasonable demands of his sister, Toni. I do not envy his position. He has problems of his own, and little or no space to deal with them, and his third act breakdown is much needed.

As the outsiders, Rachel and River become friends, but when things come to a boil and an honest to goodness brawl breaks out in the cluttered living room of the old manor house, they find themselves caught up in the fray. John Chenard must have had a ball staging the choreography for this fight: furniture is tossed, Rhys jumps on his uncle’s back – or was it his dad’s back? – pillows are smashed into faces, and words are thrown out that make it impossible to look the others in the face the next morning.

As the family struggles to make sense of their past, their loss, and their future, they uncover some disturbing memorabilia about their deceased father: an album full of pictures showing the lynching of black people, and jars containing souvenirs ears and bones and such. What does this all mean and how do they reconcile this with the father they knew? Sometimes a sheet is just a sheet, and sometimes it’s not. . .

It’s interesting that Appropriate is playing in the Theatre Gym while right next door in the larger November Theatre space River Ditty is also exploring themes of family secrets and dysfunction, societal intolerance and racism. And it seems more than a coincidence that Appropriate is playing this season while Richmond, Charlottesville, and other locales are still reeling from the discussions of whether statues of Confederate generals and Confederate flags are simply history or heritage or hurtful symbols of a deeply rooted institutional racism.

 Appropriate was directed by Cadence Theatre Company’s Artistic and Managing Director, Anna Senechal Johnson. The beautifully detailed set was designed by Rich Mason. Special note should be made for Daniel Burgess’ set dressing and all the stage and properties managers who transformed the stage. The opening act showed the cluttered living room of a bonafide hoarder; the second act showed a cleaned-up room; and in the final scene of Act Three, a crew destroyed the room in a matter of seconds – tearing up the floor, smashing down bookcases, taking down pictures, staining the walls. There were even plants climbing in through the shattered windows!

Michael Jarett designed the lighting – I think I mentioned in another post that he’s designed the lighting for all but possibly two shows that are running this month, including several dance productions! Albert Ruffin, my date for opening night, declared repeatedly on the walk back to the car that Appropriate is “the best show I’ve seen all season.” It is, without a doubt, powerful, memorable, well-written, superbly acted (I still want to strangle Susan Sanford/Toni), and deftly directed. I highly recommend it.

 

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Jason Collins Photography

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16th ANNUAL MID-ATLANTIC CHOREOGRAPHERS SHOWCASE: Eclectic Dance and Exposed Bras

16TH ANNUAL MID-ATLANTIC CHOREOGRAPHERS SHOWCASE: A showcase of female choreographers from NYC to Miami

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Grace Street Theater, 934 West Grace Street, RVA 23220

Performances: April 28 @ 5pm & 8pm and April 29 at 2PM

Ticket Prices: $15 General Admission

Info: (804) 304-1523, starrfosterdance.org, or http://www.showclix.com

 

The 16th Annual Mid-Atlantic Choreographers Showcase, formerly known as the Richmond Choreographers Showcase, featured 9 works by 7 female choreographers representing 6 companies. In the dance world, most dancers are women, but try to name a choreographer, and you usually come up with a male name, so this in itself is noteworthy. (This is such a controversial topic that dozens of articles will pop up on a cursory Google search.)

Produced by Starr Foster Dance, Inc., the goal of the Showcase is to expose audiences to “eclectic and engaging” dance and so far, some 120 choreographers representing 60 cities have participated. This year’s selection included some hits and a few misses (no pun intended).

One of the most engaging works opened the second half of the program. Catherine Cabeen, founder of the interdisciplinary performance group Hyphen (NYC) created and performed . . .yet again. Danced to music by Westin Oxking Portillo and a text in which Cabeen and Jeff Morrison have an infuriatingly civil conversation about women’s choice and oppression – filled with words and phrases like “emotional” and “your kind” and “your place” – Cabeen’s lanky body moves from agitated angular movements to swirls and curves that exude confidence and control. A former member of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Cabeen’s style seems grounded in the self-exploratory kinetics of early works by Jones. . . .yet again is visually satisfying and emotionally cathartic.

Another solo, Little Red Crush, choreographed and performed by Lisa Innisfree of Richmond proved to be quite humorous and mildly reminiscent of the classic mime work of the late Marcel Marceau.  Dancing to My Boy Lollipop by Millie Small, Innisfree arrives onstage with a red balloon. She dances with it, hugs it, kisses it, and eventually puts it under her dress like a mock pregnancy. But the balloon pops, the baby miscarries, and Innisfree embarks on a period of mourning to the music Sur Le Fil by Yann Tiersen, during which she folds herself into a red milk crate and performs a number of acrobatic stunts, many of which involve balancing on her head or shoulder and demonstrate astounding flexibility in floorwork. It was an unfortunate distraction that many of these stunts resulted in an inordinate amount of what can only be called crotch shots – involving generous and frequent displays of her red briefs. When she is done grieving for her “little red crush,” she adopts a new blue crush, strips off her red dress, revealing a blue sports bra, and walks off with her new friend.

In Whatever. Wherever. Whenever. Rain Ross of Rain Ross Dance (Philadelphia) put her six female dancers in 1960s style prom dresses, with some in ponytails, to dance to songs by Doris Day: Que Sera, Sera; Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps; and Fly Me to the Moon. Day, who recorded all three songs in 1964, is still alive and just turned 96 on April 3. The piece, for eight dancers, is nostalgic and shamelessly girly.

Foster’s own company closed the first half of the program with The Space Between the Echoes, set to an original score by Billy Curry that features a very contemporary beat drop, some jazzy riffs, and an industrial/mechanical sound that has six dancers moving through various permutations: three sets of two, two sets of three, a soloist, a duo, and a trio. The movement and the title remind me of that quotation about jazz attributed to Miles Davis, that jazz is “the notes you don’t play.”  The piece is very musical in that way and seemed more sophisticated than the pieces that preceded it. Foster also choreographed the final piece on the program, a new work entitled Waiting Room, performed by her company and six additional guest dancers. The work features three ceiling-to-floor red panels, and the dancers are dressed in red and/or black for this intriguing and intense work.

Other works on the program included Her and She, a duet by Andrea Dawn Shelley of iMEE (iNFINITE MOVEMENT EVER EVOLVING) of Miami; Comme je Suis (As I Am)  by Stephanie L Dorrycott of Motion X Dance DC (Washington, DC); Here We Are. We Are Here. By Rain Ross and Caroline Fermin of Rain Ross Dance; and Intransigent by Kristina Ancil Edwards of Motion X Dance DC.

Now, while there was some humor and some liberation and some womanist work, the program, overall, was dark – both literally and figuratively – and many of the choreographers felt compelled to display bras and panties. Enough, already! I don’t have any moral or fashion motive for this outburst – I just found it excessive and after several iterations (4 of 9 dances featured exposed bras and one featured red panties), it became a distraction. Okay, rant done. Thank you for another year of bringing new dance to RVA!

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits:

Catherine Cabeen by Joe Markwalter

iMEE by Roi LeMay

Luisa Martinez by Evan Zimmerman

Motion X by Ruth Judson

Rain Ross by Brian Mengini

Starr Foster Danc

Mid-Catherine Cabeen_Photo by Zoe Markwalter
Catherine Cabeen. Hyphen Dance.
Mid-iMEE_ Lize-Lotte Pitlo and Melanie Martel, Photo by Roi LeMay
Lize-Lotte Pitlo andMelanie Martel. iMEE (iNFINITE MOVEMENT EVER EVOLVING).
Mid-Luisa Martinez_Photo by Evan Zimmerman
Luisa Inisfree Martinez.
Mid-Motion X Dance_Emily DiMaggio and Marina Di Loreto_Photo by Ruth Judson
Emily DiMaggio and Marina Di Loreto. Motion X Dance DC.
Mid-Rain Ross_ Photo by Brian Mengini
Rain Ross. Rain Ross Dance.
Mid-Starr Foster Dance_Ryan Davis, Caitlin Cunningham, Angela Palminsano_Photo Doug Hayes
Ryan Davis, Caitlin Cunningham, and Angela Palminsano Starr Foster Dance.

e by Doug Hayes