SUGAR IN OUR WOUNDS

A Tale of Queer Love and Ancestral Voices

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Richmond Triangle Players at the Robert B. Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Ave, RVA 23230

Performances: April 20-May 14, 2022.

Ticket Prices: $30-35; $18 for Preview nights; $10 for Students.

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org. Richmond Triangle Theater has returned to full-capacity seating and requires proof of vaccine or recent negative PCR test results for entry. See the theater’s website for their COVID-19 precautions, digital programs, and more.

Just as every now and then someone says, does, or creates something so wonderful that I enviously wish I had done it. Similarly, every now and then someone creates a play, poem, or story that is so unique or so wonderful that I wonder why I never thought of or heard of the idea before. Sugar in Our Wounds by Philadelphia-based Afro-Queer playwright, poet, and filmmaker Donja R. Love is a prime example of this type of work. Rescheduled from 2020, you know, when that little thing called The Pandemic stopped by, Sugar in Our Wounds was well worth the wait. Set on a plantation in the summer of 1862, during the Civil War, “somewhere down South, by a tall, tall tree,” Sugar in Our Wounds examines the intersection of freedom and love.

“Ain’t no roamin’ the world, for a weak nigger. – Henry

STRANGE FRUIT

An elder, Aunt Mama, and her makeshift family, James and Mattie, occupy a cabin on a plantation that has a striking feature – a mystical whispering tree so tall no one can see the top. Generations of enslaved people have been hung from this tree, but James is determined this particular generational curse will stop with him. James is smart. He keeps his head down – both literally and figuratively – and follows the rules – except for one. The master’s daughter, Isabel, sneaks down to the cabin periodically to teach James how to read.  She’s bored, because her husband is away fighting the war, and predictably, at some point, like Potiphar’s wife in the Old Testament, she begins to take a dangerous interest in the only available men around, but that’s not the real story here.

The real story is about love, across time and generations, and involves a young stranger who arrives and is accepted by Aunt Mama and her little family. Mattie, who also happens to be the master’s daughter, is in a precarious position, trusted by no one. Although we never see or hear from other enslaved people on the plantation, we know there are others, but only Aunt Mama and James feel safe in the company of Mattie, who like many others in her situation, is not welcome in either of the worlds she straddles. So of course, Mattie is attracted to this able-bodied stranger, Henry, but we soon find out that Henry, while he does not entirely rebuff Mattie, is far more interested in James than he is in Mattie.

“The darker you is, the more questions you got.” – also Henry

HISTORY LESSONS

There are so many significant details in Sugar in Our Wounds that it would be nearly impossible to notice them all on just one viewing. The show opens with projections of legs and feet, photos on the rocks and trees, the “strange fruit” many of us were first introduced to by Billie Holiday’s recording of the mournful song of the same name. The tree hums and whispers, and James and Aunt Mama can hear it and communicate with it, with the ancestral spirits who reside in or around it and who use it to teach and warn their descendants. One notices a fancy chair that seems out of place in the little cabin, that is sparsely furnished with a tiny communal bed, shared by the three occupants, an all-purpose that serves as a seat or a table, and a bucket whose aroma Isabel finds offensive.  The chair, of course, belongs to Isabel. Aunt Mama refuses to keep the bucket (aka chamber pot) outside because it is a precious commodity and might be stolen by nearby residents – another way we know this little family is not alone on this plantation. At one point there is an authentic feeling ring shout for the upcoming freedom. But there were also a few moments that seemed out of time and place. Sometimes the men are barefoot, and sometimes they wear shoes – and socks. Would enslaved young men have owned socks? During one visit to teach James to read the bible Isabel says the slop bucket smells “funky” and moments later she to James, “you blow me away.” The Oxford dictionary says the word “funky” originated in the late 17th century, so maybe it would have been used, and idiomorigins.org says “blow me away” phrases date back to the 16th century.  Later, James says, “Don’t act new!” It seems people were saying something similar back in the day – as far back as the 1560s. Shakespeare even had a variation, “fire-new.” Both “brand new” and “fire-new” meant fresh from the fire. Who knew?

THE SPIRIT OF LOVE

The cast, the story, the execution of this production more than just a play, more than a love story. It felt like a work of love that was more than just acting, but more like a spiritual offering. Dorothy Dee D. Miller inhabited the persona of Aunt Mama like an act of faith, as if she did not just choose to act this role, but as if she HAD to share this role. Jónel Jones, whom I had recently seen as a scammer in a TheatreVCU production of Intimate Apparel took on a quite different role here as the hero, giving a strong yet gentle, nuanced performance that lingered some time after the final bows. Duron Marquis Tyre as Henry, the mysterious new-comer similarly maintained a balance of mystery, danger, and tenderness. Tyra Huckaby maintained a relatively low-key supporting role until the end, when the seed she was carrying elevated her to a place of prominence as the last remaining hope for the future, while Charlotte Grace Smith was a necessary but negligible presence – not because she wasn’t good enough but because Sugar in Our Wounds wasn’t about her.

Director Lucretia Marie did an excellent job, creating, maintaining, and drawing the audience into this mystical world in a way that educated, entertained, and enlightened all at once. The pacing, the acting, the setting, the atmosphere, all worked together to create that magic that every show aims for but few actually achieve. Sugar in Our Wounds is one of the most memorable and moving shows I’ve seen in recent memory, and I hope to have a chance to see it again in the future to see if it hits the same.

———-

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

———-

SUGAR IN OUR WOUNDS

Written by Donja R. Love

Directed by Lucretia Marie

CAST:

James …………………………………….          Jónel Jones

Aunt Mama ……………………………          Dorothy “Dee D.” Miller

Isabel …………………………………….          Charlotte Grace Smith

Mattie …………………………………..           Tyra Huckaby

Henry ……………………………………           Durron Marquis Tyre

Understudies

For Isabel – Juliette Aaslestad

For Aunt Mama – Sharalyn Bailey

For Mattie – Ayana Flowers

For Henry – Calvin Graves

For James – Makai Walker

CREATIVE TEAM:

Scenic Design by William Luther

Costume, Hair & Make-Up Design by Margarette Joyner

Lighting Design by Steven Koehler

Sound Design and Original Music by Kyle Epps

Projections Design by Dasia Gregg

Props Design by Tim Moehring

Intimacy Choreographer – Kirsten Baity

Violence/Asst Intimacy Choreographer – Stephanie Tippi Hart

Assistant to the Properties Designer – Nicole Pisaniello

Dialect Coach – Evamarii Johnson

Dramaturg – Shinji Elspeth Oh

Assistant Director – David Powell

Original Scenic Concept – Mercedes Schaum

Technical Director – Rebecka Russo

Assistant Stage Manager – Dwight Merritt

Production State Manager – Shawanna Hall

Photo Credits: John MacClellan

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LOVE/SICK

It’s 7:30 on a Friday Night in June in a Big Box Store Somewhere in Suburbia

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 U.S. Route 1, S. Chesterfield, VA 23834

Performances: May 21 – June 25, 2022

Ticket Prices: $49. $44 for seniors, students, military, and first responders.

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

Lovesick – adjective. in love, or missing the person one loves, so much that one is unable to act normally.

It’s spring and love is in the air – only not in the way you might expect. For LOVE/SICK John Cariani (author of Almost Maine) has constructed nine discrete tales in which love falls somewhere on a spectrum of, well, mental illness. Each ten-minute play is set “at 7:30 PM on a Friday night in June, in an alternate suburban reality.” The backdrop for this suburban reality is The Super Store – a generic mock-up of a big box store, in which some of the silhouettes on the shelves remind me of miniature tombstones.

The nine couples are portrayed by four actors who zanily and adeptly transform from character to character between scenes: costumes, hair, voices, mannerisms, posture. Before the pandemic, it was fairly unusual to see a show in which actors played multiple roles, but that seems to have become a necessary skill in the new normal we are all adapting to. Described as Almost Maine’s “darker cousin,” each Love/Sick  story line has an unexpected twist.

Among my favorites: “The Singing Telegram” man (Matt Hackman) hesitates to deliver his message because the sender is using the singing telegram to break up with his girlfriend (Katherine Wright). This is probably the saddest of the collection, while “Uh-Oh” is probably the sickest and displays the most twisted humor. In “Uh-Oh” a bored wife (also Wright) seeks to bring some excitement into her one and a half year old marriage – by fabricating a story about a research article and then assaulting her unsuspecting husband with a very real looking squirt gun.

“The Answer” starts off with a groom (Hackman) hiding in a bathroom, crying and ends on a somber note, while “Lunch and Dinner” is filled with Freudian slips of the tongue. When lawyer husband Mark (Freebourn) asks his corporate wife (Reisenfeld) what she had to eat at her business luncheon, she inadvertently responds, “sex.” And so it goes, until we come full circle ending up back at The Super Center where two exes (Hackman and Wright) are reunited and the original “Obsessive Impulsive” couple (Reisenfeld and Freebourne) bump carts again. Occasionally a profound thought punctuates the hilarity, as when Jake (Hackman) wonders why, “when you meet and fall in love and it doesn’t work out, how come we don’t call THAT destiny?”

Two monitors on either side of the stage announce the titles of the scenes while the scenery and the actors change, and Width keeps the pace and the laughs moving along with the smooth regularity of a train schedule. Of course, what makes it work, what makes it funny, is that we can recognize bits and pieces of ourselves – or our partners – in many of these characters. Have you or someone you know thought about killing their spouse – even jokingly – or considered getting back together with an ex? Still, ninety minutes without an intermission is hard on some of us with mature bones and joints that need to move periodically. Oh, and one more thing – the transition music between scenes was (perhaps intentionally?) unnecessarily irritating, but not enough so to interfere with my enjoyment of this hilarious show.

LOVE/SICK

By John Cariani

Directed by Tom Width

Cast:

PJ Freebourn

Matt Hackman

Paige Reisenfeld

Katherine Wright

​​

Production Team:

Directed by Tom Width

Costume Design by Maura Lynch Cravey

Lighting Design by Joe Doran

Scenic Design by  Tom Width

Technical Direction by Liz Allmon

Incidental Music by Julian Fleisher

“No Lie” composed by John Cariani

Performance Schedule:

Fridays @ 8:00PM: May 27, June 3, June 10, June 17, June 24

Saturdays @ 2:30PM: June 11, June 25

Saturdays @ 8:00PM: May 21, May 28, June 4, June 11, June 18, June 25

Sundays @ 2:30 PM: June 5, June 19

Wednesdays @ 2:30 PM: June 8, June 15

Thursdays @ 8:00PM: June 16, June 23

Tickets:

$44-49

Run Time:  Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission

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A SINGLE PRAYER

A New Play by K. Jenkins

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Firehouse 1609 West Broad St., Richmond, RVA 23220

Performances: April 20 – May 8, 2022

Ticket Prices: $30

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

A Single Prayer was originally scheduled for its world premiere in March 2020, but then along came a little disruptor call The Pandemic. This unusual and provocative play finally made its debut April 20, two years later, with a blast.  A literal blast – the show opens with a storm. Blinding light, thunder, the sounds of birds and rain and waves accompany the destruction of the neatly set stage. A long table, covered with a cloth, four chairs, a bowl of fruit are all dislodged. The tablecloth becomes a billow representing the storm waves and when everything has settled down a broken and disjointed table remains centerstage – perhaps a metaphor for this tale of family dysfunction and a young person who must find their place in a blended family and navigate through the challenges that accompany all that follows.

The cast of characters is centered around Clem (Madison Hatfield). There is Juniper (Maggie McGurn), Clem’s stepmother, a nail model whose nails change color to reflect her mood, while Clem’s mother (Laura Shelton Bassin) remains mute, apparently by choice, and chooses to communicate by drawing disturbing pictures of birds. Clem’s Dan (Matthew R. Dubroff) is chained to his laptop and tries to remain distant from anything remotely emotional or ontrover3sial, while Stan (Fred Iacovo), Clem’s geneticist stepdad makes futile attempts to bring a semblance of normalcy to this family. Perhaps the most interesting character is Michael (Adam Turck), Clem’s friend, who seems to embody the spirit of the birds and all that goes through Clem’s mind. And Charlie (Ed Whitacre), who emerges from a front row seat in the audience, where he has been observing with the rest of the audience, has the unfortunate and futile task of being the family therapist for this family.

Set “Here” in the Past, Present, and Future, A SINGLE PRAYER is mythical, mystical, metaphorical, and mysterious.

Clem: ​This is my blended family. That’s what Charlie says, he’s our therapist. But blended isn’t really the right word. It’s more like shaken up in a ride like at the carnival where the seats are all dirty and scratched and you’re not sure if it might fall apart all at once from the rusty nails and something that got put together after a couple of beers, and then taken apart again in pieces everywhere and then put back together again so that you wonder how it all ever got together in the first place.

Jenkins, the author, holds degrees in religious studies and sociology and has written extensively on relationships, but don’t expect any answers to life’s big questions to arise from this work. It is, instead, a poetic journey that offers alternate routes to navigate life’s complex and divergent paths.

Kudos to Tennessee Dixon for the intriguingly minimalist scenic design and Joan Gavaler for the movement. It seems Adam Turck has been moving as much as if not more than speaking in several of his most recent productions, and he does it with a compelling, quirky confidence. Mark J. Lerman’s direction is organic and invisible, by which I mean the direction is not heavy-handed and the words and actions seem to flow naturally and unpredictably. Perhaps the beauty of A SINGLE PRAYER lies in its acceptance of the exceptional.

A SINGLE PRAYER

By K. Jenkins

Directed by Mark J. Lerman

Performers:

Laura Shelton Bassin – Mom / Clem’s Mother

Matthew R. Dubroff – Dad / Clem’s Father

Madison Hatfield – Clem

Fred Iacovo – Stan / Clem’s Stepfather

​Maggie McGurn – Juniper / Clem’s Stepmother

​​Adam Turck – Michael

Ed Whitacre – Charlie

​​

Production Team:

Director – Mark J. Lerman

Set Designer – Tennessee Dixon

Costume Designer – Alex Valentin

Lighting Designer – Andrew Bonniwell

Composers and Sound Designers – Mark Messing, Kate Statelman

Movement/Dance Director – Joan Gavaler

Stage Manager – Emily Vial

Asst. Stage Manager – Dennis Bowe

Performance Schedule:

Wed April 20 @ 7:30pm (preview)

Thu April 21 @ 7:30pm (preview)

Fri April 22 @ 7:30pm (preview)

Sat April 23 @ 7:30pm

Thu April 28 @ 7:30pm

Fri April 29 @ 7:30pm

Sat April 30 @ 7:30pm

Sun May 1 @ 3pm

Thu May 5 @ 7:30pm

Fri May 6 @ 7:30pm

Sat May 7 @ 7:30pm

Sun May 8 @ 3pm

Tickets:

$30

Run Time:  Approximately 80 minutes with no intermission

PHOTO CREDITS: Bill Sigafoos

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DEAR JACK, DEAR LOUISE

A Timeless Love Story

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Hanover Tavern, 13181 Hanover  Courthouse Rd, Hanover, VA 2309

Performances: March 18 – April 17, 2022

Ticket Prices: $48.

Info: (804) 282-2620 or www.virginiarep.org

It was inevitable that Dear Jack, Dear Louise would prove to be such a heart-warming story. It is the story of playwright Ken Ludwig’s parents’ courtship, performed by a couple of actors who are married to each other in real life.

The story begins when aspiring actress Louise Rabiner received a letter from U.S. Army Captain Jack Ludwig, a military doctor stationed in Medford, Oregon. The first letter is dated June 1, 1942. The tentative and touching relationship grows warmer with each exchange of letters until August of 1943, when Louise is preparing for a big audition and Jack is awaiting orders to deploy overseas, they each sign off their letters with “love.” For those of us accustomed to the fast pace of modern life and the directness of relationships initiated through dating apps, the leisurely pace and storybook romanticism of this budding relationship is both shocking and sobering – in a delightfully endearing way.  

Set mostly in Jack’s office in Oregon – and later, his undisclosed overseas deployment – and the New York City boarding house and various dressing rooms occupied by Louise, Dear Jack, Dear Louise is not just a story of a romance, but also a story of war and how it touches individuals who are powerless to affect the outcome, or even control their own involvement. After months of planning, Jack and Louise must postpone their first date due to escalating war activities.

Louise’s side of the stage is populated by signs for a NYC automat, the Barrymore Theatre, and 42nd Street, while Jack’s side has the drab accoutrements of a military base and a sign for a diner. There are wall telephones with cords and Jack even sends Louise a telegram when he needs to get an important message to her quickly. Further drawing us into this historical fiction, Ludwig (the author, not the character) has the audience join his characters  in listening to songs, like, “Yes, We Have No Bananas” (first published in 1923 and resurrected during periods of rationing during WWII), and Louise’s big audition is for Hellzapoppin’ (1938), the longest running Broadway show during that time period.

Sue Griffin and Marcia Miller Hailey’s costuming for Louise is a veritable fashion show of WWII women’s garments, from the sweater with one black sheep to the classy plaid traveling suit to the high-waisted pants that remind me of the pants worn in The Color Purple (that I have yearned for since the VaRep production of that show some years ago).

When date night rolls around, (October 2, 1943), Louise is on tour in Cincinnati and Jack is in Ft. Houston en route to his deployment. October 31, that same year, Jack received a care package from Louise. She’s in Tennessee and he’s now somewhere in England. And then the letters stop. Louise receives a letter from Jack’s friend, informing her that Jack is MIA. But we know this is a love story, and it has a happy ending. Miraculously, Jack returns home, some three years after that first fateful letter, and the play ends with a first kiss.

Lydia Hundley has some wonderfully meaty comedic turns, and Neal Gallini-Burdick comes across mostly as sincere and delightfully awkward in matters of the heart. Debra Clinton’s direction is nicely paced, and somehow even the pauses – the times when communication between Jack and Louise breaks off – never become boring. Hundley and Gallini-Burdick, who met in college and married in May 2021, have appeared in five shows together, and may have had the advantage of drawing on their own love story to bring authenticity to Dear Jack, Dear Louise. And, if course, once cannot watch a wartime play these days without reflecting on current events in the Ukraine.

Comedy, romance, war, two actors with great chemistry, and good direction equals a heart-warming play that effectively meets the challenge of balancing love and war, reality and fiction.

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

Cast

Jack Ludwig……….Neal Gallini-Burdick

Louise Rabiner…….Lydia Hundley

Direction & Design

Direction: Debra Clinton

Scenic Design: Dasia Gregg

Costume Design: Sue Griffin, Marcia Miller Hailey

Lighting Design: Matt Landwehr

Sound Design: Jacob Mishler

Stage Management: Joe Pabst

Assistant Stage Management: Amber Hooper

Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

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FREE FALL

An evening of dance works by Shane O’Hara, Scott Putnam & Malcolm Shute
A dance review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 W. 15th Street, RVA 23223
Performances: April 15-17, 2022
Ticket Prices: $20 General Admission; $15 Students
Info: (804) 230-8780 or https://www.dogtowndancethetre.com

THE PROGRAM
A Day in the Life of My Brain
Choreography: Shane O’Hara
Music: John Zorn
Costume Design: Kathleen Conery
Performer: Shane O’Hara
Cascade
Choreography: Malcolm Shute in collaboration with the dancers
Dancers: Susan Donham, Roxann Morgan Rowley, Alexander Short, Malcolm Shute
Music: “Adagio in G Minor” composed by Albonini, recorded by Miguel Del Oro Orchestra
A Cloud of Probability (2022)
Choreography: Scott Putman
Dancers: Sophia Berger, Erin Dutton, Sydney Goldston, Abby Hardy, Celine Lewis, Makayla Woolner
Music: “Tower,” “Dirt,” “Hero Brother” by Sarah Neufeld
Costumes: Damion Bond
Personal Space
Choreography: Malcolm Shute in collaboration with Katie Sopoci Drake
Dancers: Katie Sopoci Drake and Malcolm Shute
Music: Malcolm Shute
Travelblog…The Grand Tour (2009)
Choreography: Shane O’Hara, Ric Rose, and Ryan Corriston
Music: Sound score by Mitchell Mercurio
Text: Shane O’Hara, Ric Rose
Performers: Ryan Corriston, Shane O’Hara

A weekend of dance by Shane O’Hara, Scott Putnam, and Malcolm Shute at Dogtown Dance Theatre had the feeling of a James Madison University dance faculty/alumni reunion combined with a going away party for outgoing Dogtown Artistic Executive Director Jess Burgess.

The diverse selection of dance works ranged from the comedic to the meditative. O’Hara opened the program with “A Day in the Life of My Brain” and closed it with “Travelblog…The Grand Tour.” The former is a kaleidoscope of gestures – humorous, percussive, and precise. A soundscape of buzzes, squeaks, and screeches – ranging from funny to irritating – complement O’Hara’s Elizabethan neck ruff (clown collar) and kinetic shenanigans. For example, O’Hara rises from the floor and attempts to assume a dignified stance, only to appear to be attacked by a swarm of invisible bugs.
In “Travelblog,” O’Hara starts off as a tour guide narrating a London excursion, only to wander off on a tangent – which is exactly what he warns his charges not to do. Equal parts dance, mime, and dialogue, “Travelblog” is a zany tour de force. O’Hara and partner Ryan Corriston are dressed in conservative gray suits and high top Converse All Stars. Corrison, at one point, passes his umbrella to an audience member for safe-keeping, as the two embark upon a journey that includes a riotous litany of TSA airport vocabulary that is anchored by the ubiquitous “three-ounce” rule. There is a marvelous moment of apparent weightlessness and O’Hara’s encounter with a “bad knee” ends in audience participation. O’Hara inexplicably dies centerstage, so Corrison retrieves his umbrella and calmly sits on O’Hara’s apparently lifeless body. And scene!
Bookending O’Hara’s comedic offerings were two vastly different works by Malcolm Shute – “Cascade” and “Personal Space.” In “Cascade” the dancers began piled atop one another and moved as a unit. They separated briefly, but not for long, drawn back by an invisible, magnetic pull. When they peel off and roll at the end it doesn’t feel like an act of freedom; it seems more sad than liberating. The dancers’ black tops and pants have a paint splattered pattern and Albonini’s “Adagio in G Minor” contribute to a vaguely familiar, and simultaneously funereal atmosphere.
“Personal Space” is an expansive exploration of a confined space. The two dancers, Katie Sopoci Drake and Malcolm Shute, collaborated on the symbiotic meditation. They gently fit together, back to back, but as Shute’s textured and eclectic score ratchets up into what sounds like an antique movie film reel whose lose end is flipping over again and again, Shute’s transitions become more challenging. At one point he is cantilevered over Drake, legs suspended in the air, seemingly supported solely by his core. Throughout the piece, neither dancer’s feet ever touch the floor. The one odd moment – was it a technical decision or a technical faux pas? – occurred near the end when the rear curtain that had been unobtrusively open throughout the duet suddenly closed. I found this distracting and an unwelcome intrusion into the meditative flow of the dance.
In the middle of the program, closing out the first act, was Scott Putnam’s “A Cloud of Probability.” Damion Bonds’ colorful costumes suggested characters from epic tales as the six dancers traced mesmerizing circles and spirals. The spirals were often accompanied by an upward look with the head and eyes following. The piece was set against a background of Sarah Neufeld’s violin compositions. Neufeld’s work has been described as minimalist and post-modern classical, but in “A Cloud of Probability” I would characterize it as futuristic folk music that enhanced the subtle intensity and energy of the work.
Saturday night’s program included an emotional tribute to Jess Burgess, the outgoing Artistic and Executive Director of Dogtown Dance Theatre. Burgess came to Dogtown as a volunteer in 2010 when the space opened its doors and served in a volunteer capacity before coming on as director in 2015. Burgess will be moving to South Carolina to become the CEO for the Greenville Center for Creative Arts.

No photos available at the time of publication.

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STARR FOSTER DANCE:

Two Weekend Festival of Dance

What if, in one moment, you had changed your mind during your journey. And if so, how would that change affect the final outcome? – Introduction to Starr Foster’s Crave

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The ConciliationLAB – The Basement, 300 East Broad Street, RVA 23219

Performances: April 1-3 and April 7-9, 2022

Ticket Prices: $10-$15

Info: www.starrfosterdance.org, www.facebook.com/starrfosterdance, Instagram/starrfosterdance

THE PROGRAM

Program A

Crave (2019)

Choreographed by Starrene Foster

Original Music by Billy Curry

Lighting Design by Michael Jarett

North Stage Performers: Fran Beaumont & Ana Pavón

South Stage Performers: Anna Branch & Lydia Ross

Program B

The Apology (2022)

Choreographed by Starrene Foster

Original Music by Daniel Deckelman

Lighting Design by Michael Jarett

Performed by Fran Beaumont, Ana Pavón, Keeley Hernández, and Lydia Ross

Bridge (Reworking of 2014 work)

Choreographed by Starrene Foster

Music by Camille Saint-Saëns: “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso”

Lighting Design by Michael Jarett

Performed by Fran Beaumont, Ana Pavón, Keeley Hernández, and Lydia Ross

Over the course of two consecutive weekends Star Foster Dance presented a revival, a recent work, and a premiere in two separate programs at The Basement.

First up was Crave, a work unique for its staging. On entering the space, audience members receive a slip of paper with the word “North” or “South,” designating which side of the space to sit for the first half of the program. After intermission, the audience shifts to the other side.    

On each side, separated by a black curtain or screen, a pair of dancers explores a series of movements using the same choreography but different motivations fueled by the idea, What if? What if you changed your mind and followed a different path along your journey?

Crave premiered at The Basement three years ago, and I’ve had the opportunity to see it twice, once starting on the “North” side, and once starting on the “South” side. Amazingly, it is quite a different experience on each side and further, it is a different experience depending on which side you start on. A friend who saw the work for the first time voiced the opinion that the “South” side where we began seemed more aggressive or forceful, while others thought the opposite. I thought the interactions of one pair of dancers lingered more thoughtfully than their counterparts on the opposite side of the curtain. Seeing the piece more than once encourages the viewer to focus on the dancers’ use of weight and force, timing and accents. Whatever your personal take-away, Crave is undeniably immersive and engages the audience with both simplicity of movement and complexity of motive.

For the second weekend of performances Starr Foster Dance broke out the beautiful new work, The Apology, with an original score by Daniel Deckelman. A quartet performed by Fran Beaumont, Ana Pavón, Keeley Hernández, and Lydia Ross, The Apology is populated with large, expansive movement juxtaposed with delicate, precise phrases, as when Lydia Ross seems to pluck invisible hairs from the air. The dancers hug, lift, and support one another as we feel the tension in the music build up steadily and reach a crescendo and repeat in waves, interspersed with gentle palpitations and gently tinkling bell-like vibrations. The wave-like permutations fostered thoughts on the meaning of “apology.” There’s an admission of error, accompanied by an expression of regret, or a written or spoken defense, or even a poor or inadequate example, or some nuanced version of any of these. The dancers, clad in shades of red, might be seen to replicate the shades of passion –- or the letting of blood — that precede, accompany, or follow an apology.

Finally, there was Bridge, a humorous quartet that sets the four women around a card table   and watches how their friendship explodes or deteriorates. They attack the dance/the game with the ferocity of the dignitaries around Kurt Jooss’ Green Table. I don’t know if Foster was aware of a 2004 New York Times article about how men and women play bridge differently, but this is a hard-hitting, anything goes game. Forget the poker face; these four ladies, in their demure 1950s-style house dresses, grimace and give out the sly side eye; their faces are animated and don’t leave anything to the imagination.

The work is set to French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso,” a work for violin and orchestra that often sounds like a dramatic waltz. The four dancers bang the table, slide under the table, lay across the table, walk, slide, and toss their chairs, and eventually build up to assaulting one another in various and sundry creative and mind-boggling ways – the viewer will never look at bridge or any other card game the same way, but they will look forward eagerly to the next Starr Foster Dance performance of Bridge.

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

———-

Photo Credits: Starr Foster Dance by Douglas Hayes. Rehearsal photo (dancers at the Bridge table) by Charlotte Bray.

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AN ILIAD

War is Still Hell

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dominion Energy Center, Libby S. Gottwald Playhouse, 600 E. Grace Street, RVA 23219

Performances: March 24 – April 16, 2022

Ticket Prices: $24 – $45

Info: (804) 340-0115 or quilltheatre.org

AN ILIAD (2010) is a masterful piece of storytelling. Director Lisa Peterson and actor Denis O’Hare adapted Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad, into a play for one actor. Many of the characters – and places – will be familiar to some: Achilles, Agamemnon, Hector, Paris, Helen, Troy. But even if you did not pay attention in your high school literature classes, you will be able to relate. This is more than a retelling of an ancient tale. Whereas Homer’s The Iliad tell the story of the final year of the Trojan War, An Iliad tells the story of the Trojan War from a contemporary perspective. What makes it relevant? Well, the Trojan War went on so long – some ten years – that people began to forget why they were fighting, what they were fighting for, what the end goal was, and that has a ring of familiarity for us today.

The Poet (Alec Beard) appears carrying a battered suitcase filled with a bottle of whiskey, a glass, and some papers containing, what – photos? memories? His overcoat, hat, and scarf signal that he is a time traveler. The stage is a war-torn battleground of scaffolds, an overturned chair, deserted props and tools. It is a place that appears to have been abandoned in a hurry, due to the ravages of neglect, disinterest, a war, a pandemic, or some unnamed man-made catastrophe. A ghost light on stage at the beginning and ending of the play seals the metaphoric atmosphere: security, superstition, repetition, tradition.

Beard holds our attention from start to finish, wielding a paint roller as a scepter, a random table leg as a spear, and words as weapons and keys. Beard is mesmerizing as The Poet. In the background, cellist Chris Chorney provides a timeless acoustic soundscape, and serves as a foil for Beard’s ruminations. When Beard tells a joke about Achilles, Chorney remains poker-faced; it’s as if he’s heard it all before, many, many times before. The Poet is like a vampire, immortal, timeless, no longer moved by the bizarre and inexplicable road rage that litters human history, even when animatedly re-enacting scenes from the past atrocities we seem determined to repeat. Director James Ricks has created an immersive experience that makes it impossible for the audience to distance themselves emotionally or intellectually. The Gottwald Playhouse becomes transformed, temporarily, an intimate cocoon that wraps around the performers and audience and only releases us when the lights come back up.

An Iliad includes a litany of wars, conflicts, and invasions, starting in ancient times and concluding – for now – with the current events in the Ukraine. Does An Iliad encourage the audience to understand the past by placing it into a modern context, or does it inspire us to understand the present by comparing it to the past?  Like Achilles, are we, too, addicted to rage, or do we need to re-examine our definition of heroes?  Returning the ghost light to center stage before exiting, The Poet asks, “You see?” But do we…

An Iliad

By Denis O’Hare & Lisa Peterson

Cast

Alec Beard as The Poet

Christopher Chorney as Muse

Direction & Design

Director:  James Ricks

Composer: Niccolo Seligman

Dramaturg: Dean Simpson

Lighting Designer: Gretta Daughtrey

Scenic Designer: Missouri Flaxon

Production Manager: Oliver Samson

Box Office Manager: Margot Moser

Marketing Consultant: Emily Adler

Stage Manager: Corrie Barton

Assistant Stage Manager: Hope Jewell

Scenic Construction: Quinlan Boyle

Run Time: 90 minutes with no intermission

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

———-

Photo Credits: Dave Parrish Photography

 

Moments with MommaJ: #2

MOMENTS WITH MOMMAJ: March 29, 2022

March has been very adventurous for me.

During the VCU Spring Break (March 6-13) I got to spend a few days in North Myrtle Beach/Myrtle Beach, SC mostly relaxing, and getting some work done. The weather did not know it was Spring Break; it was cold and windy, and the day we headed back home to Richmond, VA we fled a rain and windstorm and drove straight into a minor snowstorm.

I was home for a few days – long enough to unpack, do my laundry, and repack for the next adventure. On March 15 I left for Hopkinsville, KY for a residence with MKArts, the first of several for a new project that is scheduled to debut in Spring of 2023. This was my first time flying since the pandemic, and I was pleasantly surprised that there were no inconveniences or incidents (you know, people refusing to keep on their masks on the plane or assaulting flight attendants). It was also my first time staying at an Airbnb – a four-bedroom, two bath duplex not far from the Community College that was sponsoring us. Even though I didn’t have to cook, and the rest of the team is “mostly” vegan/vegetarian, I overate WAY too much, and I’m still paying for it. Who knew that a small town in KY had such great vegan soups and awesome tacos?

The biggest part of the adventure, however, occurred on the way home. My first flight got delayed not once, not twice, but three times due to weather conditions in Florida, where the flight originated. (To get to Hopkinsville, KY, one flies into Nashville, TN). So. . .instead of having an hour to catch my connecting flight to Richmond, I had 20 minutes. The plane from Nashville landed in Charlotte’s Terminal E, and my flight to Richmond was leaving from Terminal C. I dashed through that airport like O.J. Simpson in that old commercial some of you may be old enough to remember – only to miss the flight by less than two minutes. There were three of us trying to make that connection: me, a portly gentleman, and a lady in a wheelchair. The gentleman and I arrived at the gate huffing and puffing. The gate attendant tried to get permission for us to board – but no. Once the doors are closed, they won’t open them again. After getting rebooked for a 6:15 AM flight, I asked for my options. The gentleman opted to find a hotel. I didn’t want to spend more than $100 for a hotel room where I would have time to sleep only 3 to 3.5 hours, before returning to the airport, going through security, etc., etc., As for the lady in the wheelchair, I don’t know what sort of accommodation was made for her. Since the problem was weather related and not the fault of the airline, the airline had no responsibility to help. And that is how I got to spend my first night in an airport.

I was surprised to find so many people spend the night in an airport. There was a young woman who came prepared with a can of Lysol to spray down the seats. How did she get a full-sized can of Lysol through security?!?!?! Two young Jamaican guys came and sat near us, but something about them reminded me of Nigerian scammers, so I decided to go to the Concourse I’d be leaving from in a few hours. There I found several airport employees gathered near my gate, and lots of traffic – people cleaning, moving supplies, and the like. There were a couple of other single women nearby. Then a young nerdy guy came and sat two seats away. Two. Seats. Away. He was chatty. I decided he was a serial killer, so I took a trip to the ladies’ room to plan my escape, but when I got back he had moved on to another victim (I mean gate). I staked out my territory and got as comfortable as I was going to get. I dozed off and napped for about an hour or 90 minutes during the night. I had layers of clothes to keep me warm. Regulars had come prepared with blankets, pillows, and even sleeping bags. Later that morning, taking a walk, I found an area near the food court that had banquets where I could have stretched out a bit. I’ll keep that in mind should there be a next time.

Well, “anywho,” after performing in Hopkinsville on Thursday evening and helping facilitate a PD at the Community College on Friday morning, I was scheduled to teach and the Virginia Black Dance Festival on Saturday morning and to perform on Saturday evening. My flight landed at 8:30 AM and I had plenty of time to go home, shower, and arrived at Dogtown Dance Theatre about 9:35 AM – in plenty of time for my 10:00 AM class. The session after mine was facilitated by MK Abadoo, who was still in KY. I was able to assist live while she led the workshop virtually. After class and a workshop panel or two, I picked up some food and coffee, ate in the car as I drove home, took a nice nap, and returned to Dogtown for the evening. The Virginia Black Dance Festival, directed by LaWanda Raines, was well attended and I had a marvelous time. I am so glad I was able to participate.

During the following days, I needed to catch up with theatre events here in RVA, so I attended How I Learned to Drive at the Conciliation Lab/The Basement on Sunday, March 20, followed by the Richmond Ballet’s Studio 3 performance on Tuesday, March 22, VaRep’s Dear Jack, Dear Louise at Hanover Tavern on Thursday, March 24, Greater Tuna at Swift Creek Mill on Friday, March 25, and Quill Theatre’s An Iliad at Dominion Energy Center’s Gottwald Playhouse on Saturday, March 26.

Sunday, March 27 I had the honor of sitting in on a rehearsal of Starr Foster Dance. Foster will be premiering a new work, The Apology, at The Basement (300 E. Broad St.) on Thursday, April 7. The program, that also includes a re-working of her humorous quartet, The Bridge, will run for four performances, April 7-9. Starr Foster Dance will also revise Crave – a work that takes place on two sides of a wall and requires the audience to switch sides midway through – for four performances April 1 – 3. For more information and to get tickets, contact Staff Foster Dance at http://www.starrfosterdance.org

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

GREATER TUNA

The Third Smallest (Fictional) Town in Texas Makes Us Laugh for All the Wrong Reasons

At: The Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 U.S. Route 1, S. Chesterfield, VA 23834

Performances: March 19 – April 30, 2022

Ticket Prices: $49. ($44 for seniors, students, military, and first responders.)

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

There are so many ways I could write about GREATER TUNA. So, I’ll just start and see where this goes.

The first in a series of four satirical plays about the fictional town of Tuna, TX, GREATER TUNA requires two actors to portray twenty citizens of this conservative Texas community. John Hagadorn and Bartley Mullin are so good at quickly transforming from one character to another that it’s almost possible to overlook the content they are sharing that is making us laugh out loud. Hagadorn thoroughly encapsulates the town’s KKK leader Elmer Watkins, with his baseball cap pulled low over his eyes and so convincingly inhabits the characters of town matriarchs Bertha Bumiller and Pearl Burrus that we almost forget he is a male actor portraying these stereotypical southern women. Hagadorn is familiar with the inhabitants of Greater Tuna, having appeared in SCM’s production of A Tuna Christmas (2016-2017 season). This is the Mill’s first production of Greater Tuna, the original play, since 1985, and director Mark Costello returned to steer this wild ride and keep it on track.

Then there’s Bartley Mullin. His interpretation of the chain-smoking used weapons shop owner, Didi Snavely (“if we can’t kill it, it’s immortal) and the whiny and angst-filled teenager Charlene Bumiller are all that and more. His endearing but jumpy Petey Fisk, who works for the Greater Tuna Humane Society (who knew there were enough people in this town to support such an organization!) and the pretentious Vera Carp (Vice President of the Smut Snatchers of the New Order) are wonderfully over the top. Hagadorn, his face hidden behind a newspaper, provides the voice of an annoying puppy Petey is trying to find a home for. It is all but impossible not to laugh and that reminds me of what Swift Creek Mill artistic director Tom Width said of A Tuna Christmas, that he produced and directed in November 2016, “It’s so wrong in the best kinds of ways.”

Right off the bat, we are introduced to Thurston Wheelis and Arles Struvie, the anchors of the town’s radio station, OKKK. The station’s call letters are repeated frequently, and yes, the “KKK” stands for just what you think it does. One of the first bits of news is the announcement of the winners of the town’s essay contest. First place goes to an essay entitled, “Human Rights, Why Bother,” while the second and third place winners are “Living With Radiation,” and “The Other Side of  Bigotry.”

Of course there is a group tasked with banning books, to protect the town’s children from undesirable and divisive literature such as Roots, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (a book that even students in my NYC high school protested against until the teacher caved in and removed it from the syllabus), Huckleberry Finn  (because it showed a child cavorting with a criminal, no mention of “Nigger” Jim), and even Romeo and Juliet (because it portrays young people disobeying their parents). Then there are The Smut Snatchers of the New Order, whose focus is cleaning up the dictionary. Just send them a word you want removed. . .

When a visiting reporter brings up the concept of intellect, Bertha Bumiller, the woman he is interviewing, responds with a deadpan, “I don’t believe we have that here in Tuna.” Act One ends with Pearl Burrus and Stanley Bumiller running over a dog to cover up the fact she poisoned it! In another of Greater Tuna’s few somber moments Stanley, at one point, reveals a dark secret surrounding the sudden death of the town’s judge.

The dilemma, of course, is that Greater Tuna is so authentically hilarious and Hagadorn and Mullin are so darned good that we find ourselves laughing at uncomfortably racist statements and stereotypical images of people that, frankly, most of us have encountered in real life – and some call family. So, how does one approach Greater Tuna? Do you just ignore the racism and bigotry and laugh at the humor? Do you acknowledge the political incorrectness and call it out? And if so, to what purpose? It is, after all, a satire – and it is intended to expose and comment on our stupidity and foibles. But. . .does that make it right, or relevant? I do not have answers to any of these questions. I just know that at least one attendee left at intermission and those who stayed for the final bows seemed happy and satisfied. And yes, I laughed. Without apology.

GREATER TUNA

By Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard

Cast:

John Hagadorn plays                                      Bartley Mullin plays

Thurston Wheelis                                            Arles Struvie

Elmer Watkins                                                 Didi Snavely

Bertha Bumiller                                              Harold Dean Lattimer

Yippy                                                               Petey Fisk

Leonard Childers                                             Jody Bumiller

Pearl Burrus                                                    Stanley Bumiller

R. R. Snavely                                                    Charlene Bumiller

Reverend Spikes                                              Chad Hartford

Sheriff Givens                                                  Phinas Blye

Hank Bumiller                                                 Vera Carp

Direction and Design Team:

Directed by Mark Costello

Lighting Design by Joe Doran

Costume Design by Maura Lynch Cravey

Scenic Design by Tom Width

Scenic Art by Liz Allmon

Original Music by Matthew Costello

Run Time:

2 hours, 1 fifteen-minute intermission

Tickets:

$49

$44 for seniors, students, military, and first responders.

Photos: from the SCM Facebook page

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STUDIO THREE: IT’S A WOMAN’S WORLD

Three For Three: Richmond Ballet Studio Three Presents Works by Three Women Choreographers

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: The Richmond Ballet

At: The Richmond Ballet, Canal Street Studios, 407 East Canal Street, RVA 23219

Performances: March 22-27, 2022

Ticket Prices: $26-$46. (Choreographer’s Club: $66-$101)

Info: (804) 344-0906, etix.com, or richmondballet.com

Updated COVID-19 Protocols, see below.

THE PROGRAM
LIFELINE         

Choreography by Sarah Ferguson

Music by VOCES8 and Zapp4

Costume Design by Emily Morgan

Lighting Design by Jack Mehler

World Premiere: March 22, 2022, at Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre, Richmond, VA

GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER

Choreography by Jennifer Archibald

Music by Jacob Banks, Ray Charles, Frank DeVol. And Leon Russell

Costume Design by Emily Morgan

Lighting Design by Jack Mehler

World Premiere: March 22, 2022, at Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre, Richmond, VA

KALEIDOSCOPIC ETUDES

Choreography by Katarzyna Skarpetowska

Music by Philip Glass

Costume and Scenic Design by Fritz Masten

Lighting Design by Jack Mehler

World Premiere: March 22, 2022, at Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre, Richmond, VA

As soon as I learned that Richmond Ballet’s Spring 2022 Studio Three production would be a program of works by women choreographers I was filled with eager anticipation. The program that was delivered did not disappoint. A combination of the Ballet’s New Works Festival and the Studio Series, the program featured two new works – by Sarah Ferguson (a VCU Dance grad who serves as a Richmond Ballet administrator and photographer) and Jenifer Archibald (a prolific Canadian-born choreographer with an extensive background that includes hip hop and theater) – and a commissioned work by Katarzyna (Kate) Skarpetowska a native of Poland and Juilliard graduate, who lists her residence as Petersburg, Russia and New York City. Skarpetowska premiered her work Polaris for the Richmond Ballet’s New Works Festivalin 2015.

The three works were widely diversified and each was glorious in its own way.

The Richmond Ballet New Works festival has supported the development of and presented 89 new works since its inception in 2008. Each choreographer is offered 25 hours of studio time with selected company members and presents their work at the New Works studio performance. Many of these short works  go on to be developed from five- to ten-minute ensembles to full 20-minute ballets.

Ferguson, familiar to many as a company administrator in a variety of roles and to others as the company’s resident photographer, revived her interest in choreography during the days of the pandemic. She says that she now choreographs like a photographer, and her new work, “Lifeline,” has a juicy, languid quality. The dancers are often directly connected to one another, reaching, pulling, and stretching like an evolving organism. During the opening night post performance discussion, images of starfish and even armadillos were evoked to describe the organic and tidal movement that at times resembled the animated sculptural qualities of MOMIX or Pilobolus. The pod, the entity, the emerging and evolving unit, consisting of nine dancers in inky dresses and pants led by Sarah Joan Smith and Enrico Hipolito, were beautifully lit to create illusion of floating. The first of three works on the evening’s program, “Lifeline” received a standing ovation.

The color and flair of Archibald’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” initially gave me a fleeting flashback of the high school dance scene in West Side Story but Archibald drew her inspiration from the film starring Sir Sidney Poitier and her own experience of growing up with interracial parents. Archibald likes to explore storytelling that is not grounded in Eurocentric narration and likes having a diverse cast of dancers to explore a range of human experiences. Her vocabulary seamlessly merges classical ballet with hip hop and jazz. Her women softly leap, are caught horizontally and lay out as if landing on a soft pillow instead of on two arms precariously molded over thin air. Then a swiping motion that could be playfully affectionate – or not – forces the receiving partner to duck. Timing is everything, and Archibald’s timing veers towards the daring and unexpected. For those familiar with modern dance history, her use of the ensemble is reminiscent of the exhilarating way Talley Beatty filled a stage with bodies and energy. If all goes as planned, Archibald is expected to return in November to lengthen “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” into a full-length (i.e., 20-25 minute) ballet.

The second half of the Studio Three evening was given over to Skarpetowska’s beautifully lit and colorfully costumed “Kaleidoscopic Etudes.” Set to five Philip Glass etudes for piano and string quartet. Ferguson stressed that she choreographs like a photographer, but Skarpetowska’s new work is visually stunning with the floor and background representing two different versions of a kaleidoscope and the dancers’ playful attire carrying out the same color scheme of pink, lime green, and blue. Like an optical kaleidoscope, Skarpetowska’s movement and Glass’ music continually adjust and readjust, reflecting complex and constantly changing ephemeral patterns that seem on the brink of evoking a memory or telling a story. Sabrina Holland and Joe Seaton were featured in this work that is fueled by an exciting and slightly dangerous tension that teases with unexpected punctuation and then just as suddenly, it’s gone.

Studio Three Performance Schedule

Tuesday, March 22 @6:30PM (Choreographer’s Club)

Wednesday, March 23 @6:30PM

Thursday, March 24 @6:30PM

Friday, March 25 @6:30PM

Saturday, March 26 @5:00PM

Saturday, March 26@8:00PM

Sunday, March 27@1:30PM

Sunday, March 27@4:00PM (Final Program)

UPDATED COVID-19 Protocols (As of March 2022): Please note that we are seating at 100% capacity this season. Beginning with Studio Three in March, we will no longer require patrons to wear masks or to show proof of vaccination/negative COVID test in order to attend a performance.

MASKS: In light of the latest CDC guidelines and Central Virginia’s current “Low/Medium Community Level” status, masks are optional at these performances.

BALLET BARRE: The Ballet Barre (cashless) will be open for our spring Studio performances. Beer, wine, and soft drinks will be available for purchase pre-show as well as during intermission.

CHOREOGRAPHER’S CLUB: In addition to the exclusive Q&A session with the artists, designers, and dancers, we will host a modified post-show reception. More details will be found in your House Notes email.

WELLNESS CHECK: Patrons who do not feel well leading up to a performance are asked to stay home. If you have tested positive or have symptoms of COVID-19, please call our Box Office at 804.344.0906 x224 so that we may discuss ticket options.


Photo Credits: All photos by Sarah Ferguson.

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