Monday, May 23, 2005

Hunka hunka burnin' love

New Stage's next production will be Idols of the King, a show that reminds me alot of Always Patsy Cline, but with Elvis Presley as the central celebrity. I may go check it out. I missed it when it played at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival last season. An old friend of mine, Chris Roebuck, has been cast, and it might be fun to see him performing again. (You may recognize him from the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi commercials. He's the voice at the end, saying, "Ya' bettah tell somebody!") Here's the skinny on the show:

Idols of the King is a musical tribute to the King of Rock 'n' Roll, his legacy, his career, and his incredibly loyal fans. Many hit songs made famous by the legendary entertainer are featured in the show including "Blue Suede Shoes," "Heartbreak Hotel," "Burning Love," "Love Me Tender" and "Jail House Rock." Idols of the King has received rave reviews; the show has audiences clapping along, laughing and reliving those old days of rock when "The Pelvis" was the King.

Idols of the King opens Wednesday, June 1 and continues through Sunday, June 12 for a 10 performance run. Curtain times for the performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. on the Sunday matinees. Ticket prices are $22.00 with discounts available for students, senior citizens and groups. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, located inside the Jane Reid Petty Theatre Center, or charged by phone by calling the theatre at (601) 948-3531.


Monday, May 16, 2005

Heavy metal.

I went to see The Sound of Steel last night. It's a new play by a Jackson local, produced by the Fondren Theatre Workshop. First of all, let me say that this type of production is exactly what I want to see happening in Jackson. The encouragement of new, original work; the discovery of new performers, writers, and directors. It felt really good to go see a production that only exists by the virtue of people right here in Jackson. Kudos to FTW.

First, the script. The plot hinges on three primary characters: Art, a young, idealistic, ambitious Southern reporter; Jim, a cynical, jaded, older reporter from Mississippi; and Sarah, a hopeful human rights activist from New York. The opening scenes are very cleverly written, with lots of repartee and character-based exposition. Some of the comedic lines in the opening scenes are, I think, the best in the play. The three characters converge on a Missisippi bar and motel in connection with the execution of a penitentiary inmate. The script uses alot of symbolism. The paper that the two reporters write for is the Daily Mirror, and much is made of how the media holds a reflection (of life, of themselves, etc.) up to the public, how this reflection is distorted/dishonest, how people only see what they want to see when they look in the mirror (and whether this can be sustained). If I had worked on set design, I might have put a mirror behind the motel bar. Nothing fancy, just a visual ripple of the script. That way, audience members might have even been able to see themselves when they looked at the set. (Lighting, all from trees at the back of the house, might have made this an impossibility for this production.)

The train is also a metaphor used in the script, and it serves as the source for the name of the play. The train always leaves Memphis on time, and it always arrives in New Orleans on time, but the residents of Northview, Miss., never know quite when it will pass through their town. But the relentlessness of the train, and the sound it pours into the town, seem to represent many things for the different characters in the play. The train steals Jim's brother from him, the "noise" seems to be what Art might be trying to escape from or shut out. Sarah just wants to get on the train and never get off, to always be moving through some pastoral setting rather than arriving at a real destination.

Of all the characters, Cotton seems to best represent the voice of the playwright. Cotton, the owner of the motel, is astute. He knows alot about the town, and looks as if he might have sprung fully-formed from his own beat-up bar. He directly addresses the audience quite a bit, talking about the train and how people respond to it.

As for performances, the stand-out of the evening was John Howell as Jim. He made every line count, and the arc of his character was finely drawn throughout. He had great delivery, and he's obviously very comfortable in his own skin. Cotton, although not really as full of a character as some of the principals, made the most of his lines, using a style of delivery that, I thought, fit his function as a character very well. Art, played by David Fowlkes, started out in Act I a little stilted, but made up for it in later acts, particularly in a scene where he blasted Sarah with the duplicity of his own character. I would have liked to have seen more range from Alyssa Silberman, who played Sarah. I felt that so much of her dialogue was delivered with the same spirit that the arc of the character was never fully realized. I think she could really benefit from some movement training as well. She appeared a little self-conscious on stage.

All in all, though, I really enjoyed the production. I thought it was a great example of what community theatre is capable of, and how it can tackle material that is different from professional theatre (at least in Jackson, anyway). If you get the chance next weekend, go out and see it. Call 601-353-9053 for reservations, though. Last night, I think just about every seat in the small space was filled.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Gadding about

Hubby and I went to Schimmel's last weekend. Yum! It's an upscale restaurant in the heart of downtown Jackson. They have a great prix-fixe dinner on the menu right now - appetizer, entree, and dessert for about $30. I had the lobster bisque, the fish, and the cheesecake. And Shiraz. De-lish.

While we were there, I ran into a former college professor of mine. He'd just returned from an archaeological dig in Mexico. He and his students are unearthing all kinds of fascinating things down there. To learn more about him and his work, you can visit him online.

I'm reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius right now. Some of the early chapters hit a little too close to home, with the kids taking care of their sick mother. I'm not quite half way through it yet. I'm finding parts of it really good, and parts of it way too tongue-in-cheek and self-aware for my tastes. Who knows what I'll think by the end of it, though. After that, I'm toying with the idea of picking up I Am Charlotte Simmons.

Hubby and I are in the process of asking for time off for our Southwest vacation. We are thinking early October. I've always wanted to see the Grand Canyon. I think that it's one of those iconic American monuments that should not be missed. I wonder if I'll have the fortitude for a mule ride . . . ?

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Thoughts on storytelling

There was a great article in the New York Times this week on the role of theatre. Charles Isherwood debated the virtues of storytelling for pure entertainment versus using drama to make a social statement/comment. You can read the article here (free registration required). Isherwood's article got me thinking about the plays I've really loved by Ibsen (and others), in which the plot and the characters DID entertain, but they also kept me thinking once I'd left the theatre. I don't necessarily think that a playwright who provokes thought about social issues with his work has an "ax to grind." Rather, I think such statements elevate the value and the catharsis of the performance experience. If, somehow, theatre can stimulate social thought/discussion as well as entertain, isn't it a more worthy endeavor? (Or, is it all about escapism for us now?) Individual human experience does, indeed, have social implications. Does it make a story/play "less true" if those implications/reverberations are portrayed on stage? Life teaches lessons. If theatre accurately depicts life, its characters should learn these lessons, too. I suppose the real test is whether these commentary acrobatics can be accomplished without seeming contrived.

I just finished reading Sand in My Bra: Funny Women Write from the Road. I must admit, some of the stories were really good. Others were less funny than I'd hoped. (I think maybe the title built up an untrue expectation. Lots of the stories weren't funny at all. They were more about feeling good in your own skin, or being secure enough to travel on your own, or just reveling in the variety and craziness of the world in general.) Armchair travel writing is often hit-or-miss that way. Sometimes I'd rather just read a really great novel that is set in an atmospheric place. That makes me want to travel more than almost any guidebook. I'm considering heading to the Southwest in the fall, once the temperatures aren't prohibitive. On my list: Pheonix, Sedona, and the Grand Canyon. I've been meaning to get around to the Grand Canyon for years now. Now that the dollar has tanked, I have no excuses.

My whole family went to dinner at Nick's (a swanky Greek restaurant) last night to celebrate my little sister's 21st birthday. I had a sublime paneed tilapia encrusted with nuts, and a fabulous glass of Blackstone Merlot. (I don't care what people are saying about Merlot. Sheesh. One movie about wine comes out, and folks are trying to tell me what to drink!) It was so good to see everyone and spend time together. (Corny but true.)

Tonight, we're off to Schimmel's (another swanky restaurant). I haven't been there for dinner in a while, so I'm interested to see what they've changed on the menu (if anything). Not sure about the valet parking, though. I have distinct reservations about handing over my car keys to a teenager I've never met before. (Call me crazy . . . )

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Sex and violence at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival

I've just returned from a WONDERFUL weekend seeing two shows at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Taming of the Shrew.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof had some wonderful performances in it. Big Daddy (played by Joe Vincent) was a revelation. He really made the most of his Act 2 lines, portraying the aging millionaire as, by turns, relieved, disgusted, and awkwardly moved. Big Mama (expertly created by Sonja Lanzener) was another stand-out. She is a regular at ASF, and she's definitely an actress to watch. Her portrayal of the Nurse last season in Romeo and Juliet was one of the most inventive I've seen. She has a wonderful way of summoning up the extremes of the human experience that I really appreciate. Incredible range. Unfortunately, the actress who played Maggie (Tanya C. Clarke) suffered from both being a Yankee and from some poor direction. (And a really bad wig. Shame on the costumer/hair and makeup person.) Her Southern accent was extremely thick, and some of the vowel sounds she used were just plain wrong. The director had instructed her to speak many of her lines while facing the audience. (There was supposed to be an invisible mirror above the vanity table, and she was apparently supposed to be looking at her husband's reflection as she spoke to him.) The only problem with that was, it bothered the hell out of me. And if you're baring your most intimate soul to your husband, trying to seduce him, etc., wouldn't you want to actually LOOK at him? I mean, she's still an attractive woman. Her face and body are some of the most persuasive tools at her disposal. Why wouldn't she turn around to her husband and show him all that he's missing?

Anyway, the show was good, regardless. The set was wonderful, with everything sloping towards a forced perspective in the back corner. And the lighting, as always with ASF, was marvelous. They have so many instruments in that theatre (this was on the Festival stage) that their capabilities are practically limitless. They made use of several really nice gobos, giving the lighting a very layered effect.

The Taming of the Shrew also evidenced some great technical prowess. The set was really versatile, showing the town square in Padua, then opening (on casters) to reveal the inside of Baptista's house, then reconfiguring to represent Petruchio's house. They also had a painted drop that they flew in to represent the countryside. And a great floor.

Kate was played by Kathleen McCall, and what a gem she was. I saw her in last season's production of MacBeth (she was a fabulous Lady MacBeth), and I was thrilled to see her in this role. She made some great choices in Kate's final speech at the wedding celebration, and her performance throughout was both solid and deilghtful. In what I thought was a slightly odd choice, Petruchio was played by Douglas Rees. Rees turned in a good performance, but he doesn't fit the type that is usually cast as Petruchio. For one thing, he was bald. I know that it's trivial for me to cite that as a stumbling block, but I've always conceived Petruchio as young and virile, and a bald man doesn't necessarily convey those characteristics. They didn't even put a wig on him. I thought that Paul Hebron was particularly good as Baptista, as well.

As far as direction, this was played more as a comedy than as a farce. While director Susan Willis acknowledges the influence of the commedia dell'arte style in her notes, she does not push the "type" of each character (the aged suitor, the shrew, the sweet young virgin) to its limit. Rather, the characters are less two-dimensional. While this directorial choice does have its advantages, the script does lose some belly laughs as a result. The friend that I attended the show with, a theatre professor, prefers the play to be performed in the strict commedia style, a la William Ball.

Both productions were enjoyable and worth seeing. They also both will continue to play during the summer. If you're interested in tickets, you can purchase them online at http://www.asf.net/.