ROGER B. HEARD & THE TIGHT 45: A Man with a Deadline

ROGER B. HEARD & THE TIGHT 45: Voiceover Master with a Deadline

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: HATTheatre, 1124 Westbriar Dr., RVA (Tuckahoe) 23238

Performances: January 11-19, 2019

Ticket Prices: $25 Adults; $20 Seniors; $15 Youth, Groups, Students & RVATA; Reservations Required – No tickets at the door

Info: (804) 343-6364 or hattheatre.org

It was interesting that two of the first shows of the new year shared a theme. On Friday night I attended 5th Wall Theatre’s production of Talk Radio at TheatreLAB the basement, then on Saturday I attended Roger B. Heard & the Tight 45, which made its world premiere on Friday. A coproduction of Free Jambalaya and HATTheatre at HATTheatre’s west end black box theater, Roger B. Heard is a three-person production written by Alex Mayberry and directed by James Nygren.

Dale Leopold plays Roger B. Heard, a veteran voiceover actor with a great talent but, unfortunately, a small bank account. The rent is due, and he has several projects to record, but his studio time has been limited. It seems a musician by the name of Dirty Metal Lefty has reserved all but 45 minutes of the available studio time. With the help of the studio operator Betty Robb, delightfully played by Emily Turner, Roger churns out one assignment after another. A perfectionist, he doesn’t have time for mistakes or retakes. Wouldn’t you know, a picky client calls in and wants him to redo a single line in a previously recorded ad – over and over and over. In a flash of brilliance, Betty Robb suggests playing back the original version. Problem solved! Betty Robb keeps things moving with her snappy comebacks and no-nonsense demeanor, adding moments of humor and balance to Roger’s feverish personality.

Roger and Betty Robb (she is always referred to by her full name) embark on an impossibly tight schedule, hoping to complete an ambitious roster of voice overs in 45 minutes: a morning motivation; Tales of Fantastica, in which Roger voices six characters and a narrator; a chair sales pitch; a multi-lingual bait shop phone menu, in which one of the languages was a pseudo hillbilly dialect; a congressional campaign ad that seemed guaranteed not to get the candidate elected; the reading of a chapter of a celebrity memoire; a monster bass fishing tournament; TV dubs for an action movie; the voices and sound effects for a game called Dojo Crusader; and a tribute to a religious leader performed in English and Swahili. Listening to Leopold transition from voice to voice, character to character is both amusing and anxiety inducing. We know he’s on a deadline, and Betty Robb keeps us aware of the time.

The only other character is Dirty Metal Lefty, aka Doc Thomas, a musician and songwriter who fills the pre-show space and a final scene with Roger B.  Dirty Metal Lefty is billed as a Richmond musician, so that leaves unanswered the question of her British accent. And I guess I was the only one who was a little slow and didn’t realize that Dirty Metal Lefty played a left-handed guitar until she asked that Roger be given a right-handed one to join her in a song.

There is even some audience participation. For instance, I found myself assigned as a last-minute “intern” assigned to play the tambourine for Dirty Metal Lefty, and a couple sitting behind me had been assigned to participate in a call and response. Due to the threat of severe weather, there were only about 10-12 people in Saturday’s audience, and the Sunday performance was cancelled, but there are two more opportunities to see this show on January 18 and 19 at 8:00 PM.

This is one of the quirkiest shows ever, it runs under an hour with no intermission and the only pretense at a plot is Roger’s deadline. And, if he’s so good, why is he so broke?

 

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: photos uncredited at the time of publication

hattheatre

hattheatre2
Dale Leopold
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Dirty Metal Lefty (Doc Thomas), Dale Leopold, and Emmy Turner
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TALK RADIO: Late Night With Barry Champlain

TALK RADIO: When They Go Low, Barry Goes in For the Kill

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

 

5th Wall Theatre

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

Performances: January 10-26, 2019

Ticket Prices: $32 General Admission; $20 Students; $20 RVATA Cardholders; $10 ARGS Students

Info: (804) 359-2003 or https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3921247

Barry Champlain (Scott Wichmann) is a talk radio host, a provocative shock jock of a nightly show. He is quick to mock his callers and even quicker to cut them off mid-sentence when they begin to bore him. Barry is caustic and cruel; he drinks too much, smokes too much, and washes down his drugs with liquor. He is brilliant but unlikeable, and he is mesmerizing. He brings in ratings.

Talk Radio was written in 1987 by Eric Bogosian who originally played the starring role. Based on an original idea by Tad Savinar and created by Bogosian and Savinar, the play is loosely based on the story of real-life talk radio host Alan Berg who was gunned down in his Denver, Colorado driveway in 1984. There is one brief hint of this bit of history when a mysterious package is delivered to Barry at his Cleveland, Ohio studio at WTLK Radio.

Director Morrie Piersol deftly manages to avoid making Talk Radio feel dated, most of the time. It’s both frightening and illuminating to find that the concerns of late night callers have not changed much in thirty years. It’s also hard to imagine anyone other than Wichmann playing this role with its multiple and often overlapping layers of darkness, humor, edginess, and impending doom.

There is an onstage support team surrounding Barry that is supposed to keep him from running off the track. There’s his Executive Producer, Dan Woodruff (Chandler Hubbard) who brings the news that Barry’s show is about to be nationally syndicated. Stu Noonan (PJ Freebourn) is Barry’s operator who screens and feeds his callers; Spike (Jimmy Mello) is the long-suffering and mostly silent sound engineer; Linda Macarthur (Haliya Roberts) is the Assistant Producer and Barry’s sometimes girlfriend.

In brief monologues, Woodruff, Freebourn, and Roberts share background and insight into Barry. This makes him more human, but no less caustic. When told that the show is going to be nationally syndicated, he deliberately says outrageous things about the sponsors. The most interesting interactions are between Barry and his unseen callers, voiced by Darrelle Brown, George Dippold, Chandler Hubbard, Gina McKenzie, John Mincks, and Paige Reisenfeld.

There are the sad people like the panda lady and the guy who eats dinner with his cat. There’s a sixteen year old girl left pregnant by her apparently much older boyfriend, and the lady who wants to know why there aren’t any new episodes of I Love Lucy. And then there are the right wingers, the anti-Semites, the racists, and the crazies, like Chet who calls back after sending that threatening package to Barry at the studio. For most of them, Barry calls their bluff, mocks them, leads them on, gains their trust, then cuts them off. But then there’s Kent (John Mincks), the kid who parties while his parents are away. He calls in with a scary story about his girlfriend overdosing, and against all advice and common sense, Barry calls him a liar. Of course, he was right, and the next thing you know Kent shows up at the station and joins Barry at his desk for some live on-air repartee that gets quite wild and out of control. Dan says he’s in control of this train, but one wonders. Barry seems headed for an on-air breakdown, but the more outrageous he becomes, the more the listeners like it!

Darrell Brown also plays the brief opening role of financial talk show host Sidney Greenberg with George Dippold as his operator Bernie. Gina Maria McKenzie is Dr. Susan Fleming, a psychologist, who share the closing scene with her assistant, Rachel (Paige Reisenfeld). They all do multiple duty as the invisible callers, using a variety of dialects and accents.

TJ Spencer designed and constructed the authentic-looking set. Roger Price did a great job as sound designer and sound technician. I don’t know, but since this was done in the style of an on-air radio show, it seems that a bit more was involved than in most productions, and it all worked seamlessly. Erin Barclay designed the lighting, which did not require any special effects, and Sheila Russ designed the costumes.

Talk Radio is an intense and disturbing show that often pulled me to the edge of my seat. It covers a lot of ground, from people to politics. It’s harsh and raw and surprisingly still relevant – perhaps even more so in today’s political climate. Oh, and there is a full page advertisement near the back of the program that reads, “Radio’s dead. Start a Podcast!” Hmm.

 

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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Scott Wichmann and John Mincks
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Scott Wichmann
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Rear: PJ Freebourn, Chandler Hubbard, Haliya Roberts, and Jimmy Mello. Front: Scott Wichmann.
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Darrelle Brown

THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL: A Creatively Inclusive Take on a Classic

THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL: Classic Meet Inclusion

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Whistle Stop Theatre Company at The Hanover Arts & Activity Center, 500 South Center Street, Ashland, VA 23005

Performances: December 1, 7, 14 & 15, 2018

Ticket Price: $10

Info: https://whistlestoptheatre.weebly.com/ or email whistletoptheatre@gmail.com with any questions or concerns. The Whistle Stop Theatre Company does not have a phone number.

The holiday season, spanning Halloween through New Year’s Day (or even through Three Kings Day in January) is often seen as a time for traditions. Families get together and reminisce, pull out old photos, resurrect games and decorations and recipes from previous generations. For some, it means an annual trip to see The Nutcracker or a marathon showing of A Christmas Story (which is now considered politically incorrect).

Richmond’s theater community has many holiday offerings, ranging from the adults-only Who’s Holiday with a grown-up Cindy Lou Who at RTP to the wacky whodunit The Game’s Afoot: Holmes for the Holidays at Hanover Tavern and the trailer park trashiness of A Doublewide, Texas Christmas at CAT. There’s also A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, and the very intense A Doll’s House (which is not a Christmas story but does have a Christmas tree in it) at The Basement. (My apologies if I omitted any shows from this informal and unofficial list!)

For family oriented entertainment, there’s Mr. Popper’s Penguins at VaRep at Willow Lawn, which my 4- and 10-year-old grandsons enjoyed. On Friday, December 14, 2018, I made my way out to Ashland, VA (aka “the Center of the Universe”) for my first experience with the Whistle Stop Theatre Company, whose director, Louise Ricks, has fashioned an inclusive version of the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale, The Little Match Girl. Like many classic fairy tales and nursery rhymes, Andersen’s story is rather gruesome and graphic in the details of a young girl selling matches to help support her family. It’s cold, and she has only a thin wrap and a pair of slippers that belonged to her late grandmother are a poor substitute for boots or proper shoes. Even these are taken from her and she has no luck selling matches to the hurried and preoccupied townspeople who brush past her as she called out New Year’s greetings. In the end, she dies. Before the end, however, she strikes her matches to provide a bit of comfort for herself and her only friend – a cat named Gerda. “You’re not mangy,” The Little Match Girl assures her companion, “You’re. . .unkempt!” The glow of the fire illuminates her dying visions.

But Ricks has taken these moments and expanded them to include tales from other cultures, providing levity, insight, empathy, morality, hope, and cultural inclusion. There’s “The Uninvited Guest” (Jewish folktale for Hanukkah), “Babushka” (a Russian tale about the Three Wise Men), and “Uwungalama” (a South African folktale about a magical tree that provides unending fruit). So, there’s acknowledgement of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s and even Three Kings Day, all in one play that runs about 45 minutes.

Set in the round, using only a square platform and three black boxes, The Little Match Girl intimate and as much a night of storytelling as it is theater. The cast consists of a multi-generational, multi-ethnic ensemble of nine, most of whom play multiple roles. Sweet and natural, Ziona Tucker plays The Little Match Girl, with Caroline Beals as Gerda, her cat. Caroline’s gestures and mewls are perfectly on point.

Shalandis Wheeler Smith played the Wind, a Thief, a Venomous Snake, an Elderly Townsperson, and one of the Three Kings. Marcos Martinez is a Passerby, an Elderly Person, the African King, and one of the Three Kings. Annie Zanetti, one of my personal favorites for her generous caricatures, accents, and unrelenting commitment to her characters, played the Mother, the Wide, a Townsperson, and Babushka. She was also spirit of The Little Match Girl’s Grandmother who welcomed her into heaven. Walter Riddle was the Wind, a Thief, a Beggar, and a Townsperson, while Justin Sisk was a Sales Person, Father, Husband, Townsperson, and one of the Three Kings. Finally, Prudence Reynolds was The Child and Sarah Rose Wilkinson played guitar – the only accompaniment.

Great theater? No. Prudence, at one point kept looking towards the door. I assume a family member or friend had just entered. Given the minimal set and props, the ensemble had to mime such details as a dinner table and the gifts of the Wise Men. It was difficult to tell exactly what sort of work Babushka was performing, we just knew it was all-consuming and had Zanetti winding her bottom like a Jamaican dancehall girl.

One young audience member, presumably one not acclimated to live theater, at one point broke out into uncontrollable laughter. Zanetti handled this beautifully, including the young lady and her friends in an interactive search for “the Newborn King,” An inviting family-friendly experience? Yes, and well worth the trip to the unfamiliar territory of Ashland! Not only is this a welcoming environment for families with children of all ages, the program began with a gentle introduction to theater etiquette, and can be enjoyed by audience members from ages 3 and up on age-appropriate levels of understanding. In keeping with the outreach and communication, on Friday audience members who arrived early on Friday were able to take photos with The Snow Queen (Ricks), and on Saturday there are holiday crafts before the 3:00pm show.

 

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: Louise Ricks & Whistle Stop Theatre Company

Little Match Girl 6
Marcos Martinez, Shalandis Wheeler Smith, Ziona Tucker, and Walter Riddle
Little Match Girl 4
Annie Zanetti and Prudence Reynolds
Little Match Girl 5
Ziona Tucker and Caroline Beales
Little Match Girl 2
Ziona Tucker

 

A DOLL’S HOUSE: Well, Shut the Door!

A DOLL’S HOUSE: Love and Marriage

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: December 6 (Preview)/December 7 (Opening) – December 22, 2018

Ticket Prices: $30 General; $20 Seniors/Industry (RVATA); $10 Students/Teachers (with ID)

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

The theme of TheatreLAB The Basement’s current season is “In Pursuit of Happiness.” Following on the heels of the season’s memorable opening show, Significant Other, is a most unlikely production – the thee-act Henrik Ibsen classic, A Doll’s House. First produced in 1879, A Doll’s House created a sensation then because of its unconventional take on marriage and the roles of husbands and wives. One hundred thirty-nine years later, the show remains on the cutting edge, due in no small part to the forcefulness of the cast and the nail-biting intensity of Josh Chenard’s direction.

In what some refer to as color-blind casting, Katrinah Carol Lewis inhabits the role of Nora Helmer, with Landon Nagel as her husband, Torvald. Lewis has tackled some emotionally challenging roles in recent years, from Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, both at TheatreLAB, to A Raisin in the Sun and River Ditty with Virginia Rep, but this may be the most highly charged of them all. With her naturally large eyes accented by makeup, and in the intimate space of The Basement, it was easy to see every nail biting emotion, to hear every breath, to practically feel her trembling. Nagel, whose character at one point remarked how warm it was in their staged apartment, was sweating real beads of perspiration. A Doll’s House is not a play for the faint of heart; it’s hard work for the audience, too, not just for its emotional intensity, but the three acts run nearly three hours, including two intermissions. It also took awhile to adjust to the mannerisms and affectations of the main characters.

On the program, the women’s names are flush left, and the men’s names are slightly indented. This is, no doubt, part of Chenard’s homage to women: the women in his life; the women on stage; the women on the production team; even the women on the awesome playlist he assembled for this production: Bessie Smith, Marianna Faithful, Marian Anderson, Loretta Lynn, Aretha Franklin, Dolly Parton, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Carole King, and Adele.

Amber Marie Martinez is calm and insightful, in contrast to Lewis, in her role as Nora’s childhood friend, Kristine Linde. Jocelyn Honoré has a supporting role as the family’s maid and nanny, Anna, but all three women are linked by the social mores of their time that require they surrender their own thoughts, feelings, and needs to those of the men in their lives or the needs of their families. Kristine entered into a loveless marriage in order to support her mother and younger siblings. Anna gave up her own daughter and went into service to others. Nora has gone from her father’s house to her husband’s house, and doesn’t even know who she is, other than a doll to be played with at the whim of first her father, and now her husband. These three women are bound together, whether they want to be or not. Their interactions are sometimes sharp, sometimes brittle, but always there is the knowing glance, the slightest turn of the head, the knowing eye toward whichever man is currently acting clueless.

Nagel is positively frightening in his ability to switch effortlessly from domineering husband to sweet-talking lover. Torvald has an unending list of pet names for Nora; literally – he keeps calling her different kinds of birds! For his role as the ill-fated employee Nils Krogstad, Axle Burtness holds his left arm close to his body and limps slightly on his left leg, nursing an unnamed handicapping affliction. Torvald’s close friend and daily visitor, Doctor Rank, played by Todd Patterson (more color-blind casting) also has an unnamed debilitating disease, but it seems his spinal affliction is due to a venereal disease inherited from his philandering father.  Young Faris Alexander Martinez was adorable as Nora and Torvald’s enthusiastic if neglected young son, Jon. (Faris did not appear for the opening night curtain call, presumably because it was past his bedtime.)

The family dynamics and levels of dysfunction in A Doll’s House may have been endemic to the 19th century, but they are all to frequent even today, which makes the play as much a horror story as a drama. Women giving up their own hopes and dreams to take care of aging parents or young siblings, women burying their own desires in order to please their husbands, women living in fear or thinking they do not deserve better, men who view women as possessions or objects, men who think women’s thoughts, feelings, intellect, contributions are worth less than those of men: all of these themes remain as prevalent in 2018 as they were in 1879. So, when Nora takes her final steps out the front door, slamming it behind her with the finality of nails in a coffin, not only is it the most dramatic exit ever in the history of theater, it is, as Chenard wrote in his director’s notes, “a celebration of. . .resilience and strength.”

Chris Raintree’s scenic design is a black and white outline or blueprint, with the names of the rooms – sitting room, playroom, main hall, study – printed on the floor, along with the room’s measurements, and a door opening that the actors mostly respect as they navigate the space. There are a few period pieces, a sofa, a desk, a child’s toy horse, and at the end of the main hall, where we, the audience sit, there appears to be a mirror, as Nora always stops, stares, and adjusts her hair and before going into her husband’s study. Ruth Hedberg’s period costumes make it clear where each character stands in the social hierarchy, and the overall look is one of a slightly shabby middle class striving.

Chenard’s direction is both gentle and shattering. Lewis’ performance is electric and the interaction between Lewis and Nagel is painful and shocking. Lewis’ side-eye when Nora makes her mental shift is epic. The end of each act is met with a blackout and gasps from the audience – both for emotional release and in recognition that one has been holding one’s breath for the last five minutes.

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

a dolls house 2
Katrinah Carol Lewis and Landon Nagel
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Amber Marie Martinez and Katrinah Carol Lewis

a dolls house 3

THE GAME’S AFOOT: Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem for the Holidays

THE GAME’S AFOOT: Holmes for the Holidays

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

VirginiaRep

At: Hanover Tavern, 13181 Hanover Courthouse Road, Hanover, VA 23069

Performances: November 30, 2018 – January 6, 2019

Ticket Prices: $44

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

Ken Ludwig’s hilarious whodunit, The Game’s Afoot, continues the comedic theme of this season’s holiday shows. (See my reviews of A Doublewide, Texas Christmas November 30, A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol November 25, and Who’s Holiday November 18). Debra Clinton directs this murderous farce that has more twists and turns than a roller coaster, a task that must have been made easier by her stellar cast of characters, most of whom are no strangers to the Hanover Tavern stage.

Scott Wichmann stars as Broadway actor William Gillette (a real life actor who made a name for himself playing Sherlock Holmes on Broadway). There’s a play within a play, and life imitates art as Gillette is shot by an unknown assailant while taking his bows at the end of his show. Recuperating at his palatial Connecticut mansion (also real, and now known as Gillette Castle State Park, in Lyme, CT), Gillette invites his friends and fellow cast members to spend the Christmas holidays with him and his mother, Martha (Catherine Shaffner).

Gillette, however, has an ulterior motive. Having blurred the line between his own life and that of the character he portrayed for two decades, he fancies himself a sleuth and sets out to uncover the identify of his mystery assailant – and solve a few other mysteries along the way. Mayhem and misdirection ensue, and Clinton keeps things moving at a fast pace. There is physical comedy and lines that depend on split second timing are delivered flawlessly. There are plenty of clues and possible motives, so it’s not a complete surprise when we find out “whodunit,” but the ride is so much fun that the end is not the focal point.

Wichmann makes Gillette, who tends to be pompous, a bit more endearing, but there’s no mistaking who is the star here. Shaffner is hilarious as his mother, who always has a flask close at hand. Joe Pabst plays the role of Gillette’s best friend, Felix and his bumbling attempts at subterfuge are a highlight of the show. Donna Marie Miller is the villain here – a vengeful theatre critic named Daria Chase who has dirt on everyone and knows how to use it.  However, I was taken aback when she had a meltdown and demanded to be left alone – in Gillette’s house. Umm, that’s now how things work. . .

Meg Carnahan and Caleb Wade play the newlywed couple Aggie Wheeler and Simon Bright and Lisa Kotula is Felix’s wife, Madge whose big scene involves a seance. All have secrets that come to light when a strange detective, Inspector Goring, arrives to investigate a murder that may or may not have happened. Audra Honaker makes the role of Goring most interesting, alternately staring off into space or spouting off lines from Shakespeare. Given that the characters are all actors, there is much grandstanding, with each trying to outdo the other with dramatic delivery of drama and poetry.

The play’s isolated location and limited pool of suspects give this all the major requirements of the locked-room mystery genre, and Terrie Powers’ set attempts to capture the spirit of the genre as well. Derek Dumais and B.J. Wilkinson apparently had great fun with the sound and light design, creating lightning (it must have been a thundersnow storm) and thumps, bumps, and mysterious knocks and Sue Griffin’s costumes are in keeping with the period and the holiday spirit.

If this sounds a bit vague, some of the best moments and funniest situations cannot be mentioned here without spoiling it for those who have yet to see it. What I can say is that there are multiple doors and a secret room, as well as a wall full of weapons, which may or may not be loaded.  There are plots and subplots, motives and alibis, and even false confessions. Everyone is a suspect except the butler, because he was given the night off, it being Christmas Eve and all.

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: Aaron Sutten.

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YES! DANCE FESTIVAL: Nationally Acclaimed Dance on a Local Stage

20TH ANNUAL YES! DANCE FESTIVAL: Presented by K Dance

A Dance-Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Firehouse Theatre, 1609 West Broad Street., RVA 23220

Performances: November 30 & December 1, 2018

Ticket Prices: $25; $15 Students & RVATA Members

Info: (804) 804-355-2001 or firehousetheatre.org

This year marks the 20th anniversary of artistic director Kaye Weinstein Gary’s Yes! Dance Festival. The festival has brought 150 national and international artists to Richmond and enriched the small but resilient local dance community. This year’s program was quite remarkable for its scope and diversity, with performances by Lucky Plush Productions from Chicago, Illinois; Sandra Lacy from Maryland; Pas de Monkéy from Ohio; slowdanger (Taylor Knight and Anna Thompson) from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Courtney D. Jones/CDJ Dance from Houston, Texas; and Carrots Carrying Water (Logan McGill and Ching Ching Wong) from Salt Lake City, Utah; as well as an offering from the host company, K Dance of Richmond, Virginia.

Pas de Monkéy proved to be a surprising departure from previous years’ guest artists and stood out from others on this year’s program as well due to the hip hop infused genre and subject matter that touched on political hot topics. “Lose It All” was the first dance on the program, following an opening video of excerpts from previous festivals. Kweku Bransah choreographed and performed the solo that held the audience spellbound with his isolations, flowing transitions, and breathtaking muscular control. Bransah pops, waves, breakdances, and glides and his movements also reflect a foundation of pantomime that carries a story of lost love.

Bransah returned in the second half of the program to perform Robin Prichard’s “The Art of Making Dances (Not About Ferguson).”  Set to the music of The Whites, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Sweet Honey in the Rock and the voice of a grieving mother, “The Art of Making Dances” is overflowing with negative social, political, and racial symbolism. Bransah begins the solo with a noose around his neck, one gigantic clown shoe and one bare foot, and an oversized boutonniere, dancing to the lyrics, “Keep on the sunny side of life.” He looks like a caricature of an American minstrel, a representation that was already an unflattering caricature of black people.

Freed from the noose, Bransah speaks, asking, “How can dance be meaningful when people are getting shot in the streets?” A mother’s voice grieves, a youth cries, and song lyrics urge the dancer to “smile.” This intriguing solo blends hip hop with ballet, turning the dancer upside down to perform pas de bourée while standing on his head, and leaves the audience with the question, “How do you take actions that matter?”

Another highlight of the program was “Let’s Be Honest,” performed by Logan McGill and Ching Ching Wong from the Salt Lake City-based company with the fascinating name of Carrots Carrying Water. A world premiere, the duet featured a couple dealing with and avoiding their emotions. They started in business attire, she in a pencil-skirted suit and heels (worn with socks) and he in a light-toned suit, but the stage was soon strewn with their clothes and shoes as the two engaged in a tension-filled test of wills. The way the two connected – whether touching or not – was intimate and palpable.

Not all was tense or political. Lucky Plush Productions out of Chicago presented a delightfully refreshing trio, “Cinderbox 2.0 Remix” choreographed by founder and artistic director Julia Rhoads, that reshapes parts of an evening length work based on reality culture experiences. The three dancers, Michel Rodriguez Cintra, Elizabeth Luse, and Meghann Wilkinson dance in unison, upstage one another, and take turns sitting on metal folding chairs and one another – all while sipping from a shared bottle of Fiji water. Their dialogue incorporates moments from earlier dances on the program, including the feathers from Sandra Lacy’s “Giving Up the Ghost,” and the teapot table from K Dance’s short play, “Helen Keller visits Martha Graham’s Dance Studio.”

Written by Stephan Kaplan and directed by Jacqueline Jones, “Helen Keller visits Martha Graham’s Dance Studio” is the program’s second premiere. Based on real life, the short scene introduces the audience to an intimate moment in which Helen Keller (Maggie Roop) visits the studio of her friend choreographer Martha Graham (Kaye Weinstein Gary) Kelly Kennedy fills the role of Polly Thompson, Keller’s interpreter and companion. Not only was this friendship news to me, a student of dance history, but the piece also made an impression because of a unique teapot shaped table created especially for this work by Juliet Wiebe.

The program also included Sandra Lacy’s spiral-filled and feather-finished solo, “Giving Up the Ghost,” Courtney D. Jones’ intense solo about life in solitary confinement, “Hell is a Very small Place,” and slowdanger’s sci-fi thriller, “hybrid memory | reflector,” choreographed and performed by Taylor Knight and Anna Thompson. Kudos to Kaye Weinstein Gary for an all-around excellent program and for bringing international and nationally known artists to our local stages. Among this year’s guest artists, Courtney D. Jones, Ching Ching Wong, Julia Rhoads, and slowdanger have been included on Dance Magazine’s prestigious 25 to Watch list. All are well worth watching.

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: individual photos as labeled

Yes.2
Kweku Bransah. Photo by Dale Dong.
Yes.1
Robin Prichard. Photo by Chris Golden.
Yes.5
Sandra Lacy. Photo by Marlayna Demond.
Yes.3
Courtney Jones. Photo Credit: dabfoto creative, University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts
Yes,4
slowdanger. Photo by Umi Akiyoshi.

 

A DOUBLEWIDE, TEXAS CHRISTMAS: A Trailer Park Carol

DOUBLEWIDE, TEXAS CHRISTMAS: The Tiny Town Tackles the Nativity

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: November 30 – December 15, 2018

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

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

The citizens of the tiny town of Doublewide, Texas, population 10, are back and so is the fun. A Doublewide, Texas Christmas, written by the trio of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten, is written, directed, and played strictly for laughs. There is no hidden agenda, no deep message, just plain old stupid fun, filled with Texas stereotypes, exaggerated hair and costumes, and a set that looks like a cross section of a dilapidated doublewide trailer park home.

Picking up where Doublewide, Texas left off last June, the town, under the leadership of Mayor Joveeta Crumpler is eagerly awaiting their incorporation papers from the country board, but there are complications. The county is making one more attempt to annex Doublewide, and then there are the added twists of revenge and reunion.

Three actors have returned in their same roles: Crystal Oakley as the beleaguered and frumpy Joveeta, Jeanie Goodyear as Joveeta’s barfly mother, Caprice Crumpler, and Wally Jones as the once crotchety Haywood Sloggett.

Other roles were recast, with Laura McFarland-Bukalski as the hilariously droll Big Ethel Satterwhite and Lisa Way Piper as Georgia Dean Rudd, manager of the local Bronco Betty’s Buffeteria. Lorin Hope Turner now plays the millennial flower child Lark Barken, and Hunter Mass, who simultaneously serves as Assistant Stage Manager is Norwayne “Baby” Crumpler. New characters include Rebekah Spence as Haywood’s vengeful sister Patsy Sloggett Price and Michael Edward McClain as the long lost Harley Dobbs, who is Haywood’s estranged son and Lark’s unknown father. If this all sounds like a soap opera, I am sure that was the intention.

Highlights include Big Ethel’s scenes with the residents of the Stairway to Heaven Retirement Village at the beginning of each act, and Caprice’s overly inflated pretensions of celebrity as the spokesperson for the local funeral home. This time there is only one commercial recording scene, and Caprice is called upon to use her celebrity to entice new residents to move to Doublewide within the week – a condition of approving the town’s incorporation papers.  Big Ethel must lecture the retirees on their extra-curricular activities, having found yet another pair of boxer briefs and a peek-a-boo nightie hooked in the bushes on the retirement village grounds.

“Baby” was not required to wear a dress or heels this time, but he did don a pink frilly apron while preparing a sweet potato casserole and the town entered a Battle of the Mangers competition with the patriotic theme of “Nativity at the Alamo.” Plot twists and turns involve Patsy’s narcissistic need to get revenge on a competitor from her former town, which she was forced to leave in disgrace, a family of belligerent raccoons, a celebrity yam, a budding attraction between Caprice and Haywood, and a Christmas wish that Lark’s father, who is also Haywood’s son and Georgia Dean’s long lost true love, might be found and enticed to return home for the holidays.

It was interesting to see the evolution of Haywood from crotchety old man to loving family member, but I think there was more comedic value in the role of villain. Patsy partially filled this much-needed role, and Spence embraced ownership of this role; she even threw in an evil laugh or two for good measure.

Crystal Oakley had to be mic’d on opening night as she was just getting over a case of laryngitis. Her character, Joveeta, was plagued by back pain, so Oakley, a real trooper, was beleaguered on two fronts. Other cast members were also hit with illnesses and accidents, requiring last minute and behind the scenes adjustments. Considering all that CAT Theatre has had to go through this year, starting with the uncertainty of whether they would, in fact, be able to have a season due to the looming possibility of losing their long-time home, it is nothing less than amazing that opening night went as smoothly as it did and this cast and crew, including Mike Fletcher who directed both Doublewides on the CAT stage, deserve an extra round of applause for pulling this off without any obvious signs, other than Oakley’s microphone.

Mike Fletcher’s pacing kept the laughs coming, although I found the actor’s blocking was sometimes awkward, making me aware that they were directed to face the audience. Scott Bergman’s set included dilapidated, mismatched furniture in a cut-away of a doublewide trailer with the standard wood panel walls, insulation showing, a Santa on the roof, and a plethora a blinking Christmas lights framing the entire set. Sheila Russ’s costumes ranged from Joveeta’s frumpy sweaters and slacks to Caprice’s holiday print leggings and wildly curled wig. It’s Texas, so almost everyone wore cowboy boots. And since it was Christmas, Buddy Bishop and Mike Fletcher’s sound design included songs from the traditional to the silly, such as “White Trash Christmas.” People who enjoyed Doublewide, Texas or Always a Bridesmaid, by these same authors, or those who enjoy the 1970s style sitcom genre, will feel right at home with A Doublewide, Texas Christmas, as will anyone who just wants an excuse to laugh steadily over a two hour period.

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: Jeremy Bustin Photography (photos to come)

Doublewide TX Christmas

Doublewide TX Christmas.2
Lisa Way Piper, Crystal Oakley, and Lorin Hope Turner