Studio Players Comedy: Sound As a Pound

Sometimes things just get too ridiculous to make any sense at all. And once it gets ridiculous enough, the laughs start rolling. And that’s when the magic happens in a play.

The world of theatre has produced lots of great farce. Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me a Tenor and Moon Over Buffalo come to mind, as does Georges Faydeau’s A Flea In Her Ear. In film there’s the Barbra Streisand-Ryan O’Neal classic What’s Up, Doc?, as well as the Tim Conway-Don Knott’s gem The Private Eyes, and nearly every Marx Brothers film. Throw in Clue, Oscar, The Impostors and most of the Pink Panther films for good measure.

How can you tell if you’ve found yourself in the middle of a farce? Great clues include: mistaken identity, especially twins or people in disguise; multiple briefcases, bags or other items of value that get mixed up; lots of physicality, pratfalls, scuffling; doors opening and closing – hotels and mansions are great settings for farce because of this; hidden mechanisms that reveal people in compromising positions – a bed that rotates through a wall is perfect. If you find two or more of these items, chances are you’ll end up short of breath from laughing.

And that is really the whole point of farce: laughing. If ever there was a place in theatre that “hamming it up” might be justifiable, it is in a farce – except that the whole thing is so fast-paced that actors seldom get a moment to bask in the glow. You don’t go to a farce to figure out whodunnit. You don’t go to be reminded of the fragility of life or the goodness of humanity. You go to laugh. You go to laugh ’til your face hurts.

With that goal in mind, Studio Players presents Funny Money by Ray Cooney, the same comic mind that brought us Run For Your Wife at Studio Players. Bob Singleton directs a top-notch cast.

Henry A. Perkins, a mild-mannered British C.P.A, accidentally picks up the wrong briefcase – one full of money. Henry assumes it is illicit cash and decides to keep it. Before he and the Mrs. can skip the country, the doorbell rings and the hijinks begin. Two cops, a pair of friends, in-laws, a bossy cab driver, a dead body, several phone calls, a bottle of brandy, a few compromising positions, and some cash outlays are in the offing for poor Henry. Oh, and a blanket.

Henry’s wife, a non-drinker, reaches for the cooking sherry. A jaunty police detective breaks the news about Henry’s “demise” (bang-bang!) Wives get swapped, in-laws are outlaws, and we learn more than we wanted to know about the proclivities of Australians.

One of the great things about a farce is that the audience is a key part of the entire experience. The material, though twisty, is not deep. That’s on purpose. You’re supposed to feel free to laugh. And once you do, and your neighbor does, and the people behind you do, the fuse is suddenly lit on the show.

So bring your tissues, and wear clothes you don’t mind rolling in the aisles in.

(NOTE: Last I heard, this entire run is 3/4 SOLD OUT, and it hasn’t even opened yet. Get tickets now.)

Funny Money
by Ray Cooney

Directed by Bob Singleton

Starring:
Stephanie Wyatt
Alex Maddox
Erica Friis
Kelly Hale
Erin Tuttle
Jason Meenach
Dave Dampier
Rob Maddox

Production Dates:
May 9-12, 17-19, 24-26

Opening Night, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm
Sunday Matinees at 2:30pm

Reservations:
http://finearts.uky.edu/singletary-center/studio-players
or 859.257.4929

More information and directions to the Carriage House:
www.studioplayers.org (654)

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On the Verge Turns a Girls Night Out Into Great Business Synergy

20130507-114727.jpg When a theatre approaches a business about a partnership, it usually means that the theatre wants cash. Commonly that’s a check written in exchange for certain perks, marketing mentions, etc. Many of these arrangements work very well for the show sponsor, as other examples we’ve considered here have shown.

But Stephen Lawrence Limited has entered into a very different kind of arrangement for their Après Vous shop on Moore Drive. They are hosting the actual production right in the shop, turning a piece of their expansive second-floor area into the theatre itself.

The show is Love, Loss, and What I Wore by Nora and Delia Ephron, presented by On the Verge theatre company. In the world of marketing, “synergy” is the Holy Grail of business partnerships. It is that time when what each partner brings to the table combines to make something greater than the parts could be alone. And this show is ideal for Après Vous.

“The play is very much about our customers: women and their clothes,” says Connie Broomhall, owner of the Stephen Lawrence group of businesses. “It was a natural fit for us. Our stores appeal to smart women who love finding bargains on clothes just about as much as they love clothes. A smart script like this is a perfect fit for our customer. Lexington has been very good to us for many years, so we’re delighted to both support a unique theatre group and encourage people who may not have experienced resale yet to visit us.”

Show Director Ave Lawyer says that On the Verge always picks its material first, never selecting a play just because they know they have a partner lined up. The tail does not wag the dog. Love, Loss and What I Wore was selected, then a suitable partner was found in Broomhall and her upscale boutique. All of On the Verge’s partnerships for their site-specific productions are selected meticulously.

“It has to speak to the material,” says Lawyer. And for a show about the momentous events in the lives of these women, and how they remember them in the context of what they wore at those times, Après Vous is like a tailored outfit.

The show itself is staged in an intimate area of the boutique. Only thirty audience members per night will be in the area, all surrounded by the upscale fashions that make up Après Vous. There are ten of these performances slated. As of early last week, 100 tickets were already gone, and On the Verge had hardly begun to push the show publicly.

Connie Broomhall is very enthusiastic about the benefits to her business of being associated with On the Verge, and especially this production.

“There is no other type of advertising or promotion that I have done that will do what this does. It brings a whole new customer base in to the business,” she said. Note that the emphasis here is not just on “new customer”, it is on “IN to the business”. The target audience for a production like this not only corresponds perfectly to the demographic of Après Vous, but they are literally coming in to the shop to watch the play.

“It actually brings 300 to 400 people in here that may have never been in to our business,” Broomhall notes.

But it isn’t just about seeing a play. Every evening features a reception and is an experience of champagne, food, wine – an immersive theatre outing.

As Ave Lawyer puts it, “It is a play about women and clothes performed in a fabulous boutique with a party after. Talk about the ultimate Girls Night Out. We’re hoping groups of women will come and enjoy the evening together. Mother and daughter relationships are a recurring theme in the play, so we’re opening on Mother’s Day Weekend, to offer moms and daughters an extra- special way to celebrate.”

On the Verge’s site-specific productions have worked very well in the past. They have raised eyebrows by staging a production in Milward’s Funeral Home, a show that ended up being a celebration of life that synergized ideally with Milward’s newest location.

Lawyer has another show in her pocket that she has wanted to do for a while, something On the Verge is excited about but wants to hold for just the right partner. Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard is a classic theatrical masterpiece that has a lot to say about issues that Lexington grapples with: city expansion, the loss of green spaces and natural beauty. Lawyer is waiting to find just the right horse farm or natural conservancy location to stage the play in.

Whichever lucky business ends up with that production can be sure that the marketing magic that On the Verge brings to every show will come to bear for them.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore
by Nora and Delia Ephron

7:30 p.m. May 9, 10, 11, 17, 18, 30, 31 and June 1
2:00 p.m. May 12 and June 2

Après Vous, 183 Moore Drive, Lexington, KY 40503

Tickets $25 (Includes a reception and 20% off a purchase at Après Vous)
To purchase tickets call 859 275-5577. Visa/MasterCard/Check/Cash

Starring Samantha Doane-Bates, Erica House, Georgeanne Edwards, Stephanie Peniston, Susan Dudley Wigglesworth and Janet Scott. Directed by Ave Lawyer

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“Big Love” Lets Loose the Greatest of These

My father in-law is crazy about Phantom of the Opera. He has seen the stage production numerous times and the movie dozens. He sings the songs while driving. Recently he saw Les Miserables. It was like a whole new level. In a dinner discussion a couple of days ago he told me, “People who have never seen live theatre just don’t understand. A movie can’t compare to that.”

Keep that in mind.

Project SEE Theatre opens Big Love this week at the Downtown Arts Center in Lexington. If you have never experienced that real difference of live theatre before, let this be your introduction. If you are well aware of that difference, let this be a reminder.

Big Love is written by Charles L. Mee. It is based on an ancient Greek play, which was first performed almost 2,500 years ago. But this is not some dusty, old presentation. It’s not an artifact. It’s a living, fire-breathing romp through the notions of love from many angles. And Project SEE has set a stage perfect for seeing those angles. Literally.

The flexible theatre space of the Downtown Arts Center’s black box has been transformed into a flowing but stark altar where some of the most physically demanding action in recent Lexington theatre memory takes place. It’s the closest thing to stage combat that you could get to without drawing swords. The layout is “in the round”, with the audience placed in the four corners of the room and the action swirling in and around the space. Voices will come from behind you. Music will spin down from above. It’s big.

The play is about fifty sisters who are being forced to marry fifty brothers. The marriage is pre-arranged. And it does not sit well with the ladies. In one mass runaway bride move, they leave Greece and flee by boat to Italy. But the brothers aren’t letting go easily. Led by Constantine, who has been called “the ultimate misogynist”, the brothers are determined to claim what is theirs.

People fight.

It is the sheer physicality of Big Love that drives it from beginning to end. No one walks anywhere, and they certainly don’t walk around anything. If something stands between an actor and his exit, it usually gets jumped over. Entrances are explosions of intent. Clothes come off like tin roofs in a tornado. It is athletic, and you’re allowed to cheer along.

People fall in love.

There is a militant feminism that has to weave between a longing to be dominated on one side and an insistence on domination on the other. There are people who admit the just want someone. And there is a man who will make you cringe that he could believe his own rhetoric about women. In among the bombast and exertion of Big Love are some of the most tender moments of confession and discovery. It is love in all its flavors, from old women to gay men. Savor them while they last. The choppers are coming.

People die.

This show is based on fragments of a Greek tragedy. Of course people will die. The real question is, who is left standing, and why?

The fact that a show like this is opening on Valentine’s Day is no mistake. Theatre is supposed to make people think, make people talk, make people react. Sure, you could go see a movie. But no matter how many explosions they CGI in, no matter how many close-ups of tear-brimmed eyes, no matter how blockbuster big the names in the opening credits, you’ll never match how big a live experience like Big Love can be. You’ll see these people sweat. You’ll watch them tumble and stumble. You’ll cringe and wince.

Try getting that in a movie.

Where: The Black Box Theatre at the Downtown Arts Center – 141 East Main Street.
When: February 14th – 17th & 21st – 23rd @ 7:30 and February 24th @ 2:00
For tickets and inquiries call 859-225-0370 or go to lexarts.tix.com

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In the Spotlight: Gretchen Shoot

Gretchen Shoot has worked at almost every theatre in Lexington. She has carved out a well-deserved reputation in Lexington area theatre as an adept and skilled Stage Manager. And recently she got to tackle a big one – UK Opera’s much-talked-about production of Phantom of the Opera – a $300,000 show complete with chandelier, boat and sold-out shows.

Gretchen and I found a semi-quiet Starbucks corner where she could answer some getting-to-know-her questions about her work, what she likes about what she does, and that necklace that saved her life.

How did you get started in theatre?

I started in high school. I always kind of liked plays, didn’t really know how to get involved. I knew I didn’t want to act. That is so not my thing (laughs). Uh, I learned that from taking years of piano, and recitals being, like, torturous. So I knew I didn’t want to be on stage. So I just asked if I could be involved in any way and they said, “Sure! You wanna be the Assistant Director on this upcoming show?” And I was like, “Great, yeah!” From there I just pretty much worked on all the shows at my high school in an Assistant Director capacity. What I didn’t realize is that what they were calling an “assistant director” was pretty much a Stage Manager. So that kind of just morphed into, “Oh, that’s what stage managing is? That’s what I’ve already been doing.” When I got ready to go to college, I thought I was going to major in music. But I just couldn’t imagine not doing theatre. And so it just snatched me up. And so I went to UK, got my Bachelor’s in Theatre. I did it all through college. I worked a lot at the Woodford Theatre and then started branching out into the Lexington Shakespeare Festival. I did a show as a student at the Lexington Children’s Theatre. The other branches just continued to grow until I feel like I’ve worked with almost everybody – not everybody, but almost everybody in the area.

So, what do you do at Transy now?

Right now I am the Administrative Assistant for the Fine Arts. So I’m working with all of the faculty and adjunct faculty for the Music program, the Theatre program, the Art program, and the Writing Rhetoric and Communication program, which just recently joined the Fine Arts division. What I’m doing at Transy is completely separate from the stage managing, though of course a lot of the skill set is kind of the same. You’re still helping to orchestrate a group of people and keep communication going on and all that. So, I still get to be around artistic people, but I have a little different hours.

And you get paid.

(Laughs.) And I get paid better, yeah!

Tell me about Phantom.

Oh, Phantom! It was as giant as you might expect it to be. The chandelier fell, the boat went … it was a giant production and definitely memorable for everyone that worked on it. One night we took a picture of just the crew on the masquerade stairs and it was a giant group of people, and that was just the crew! None of the actors, none of the musicians. Just the people that were on stage making it happen. Everyone was excited by it. Everybody knew it was a bigger deal than they might usually be on board with. The union guys were saying, “I’ve never seen a crew this big. I’ve never worked with this many people on a show!” And they’re the ones that are there for every show that comes through.

What was your official capacity there for Phantom?

My title was Stage Manager. Marc Schlackman was the Production Stage Manager, so he had the bigger picture. I was Stage Manager and then I had an Assistant Stage Manager. When the show opened, I was working on deck, so I was the Stage Left Deck Captain. So I was communicating with the crew over there about what’s coming on, what’s going off, making sure actors didn’t get run over by scenery, watching for falling drops, you know, just making sure that everything that needed to happen from Stage Left was happening. The second weekend of the show I stepped in and called four of the performances as Calling Stage Manager.

What would you say is the most challenging show, aside from Phantom, that you’ve worked on locally?

That’s a hard one. ‘Cause, every place has its different challenges. Like, for example, Summerfest – I’m not an outdoors kind of person, so for me it’s really challenging working in that kind of environment because it really has to just like sprout out of the ground. And, plus, I have to have these out of body experiences when I’m calling the show and there’s things crawling all over me, you know (laughs). But then, it’s different when you’re working in the Opera House because you’re dealing with – for so many years I was dealing with a crew that had been on board from very early on in a production. They knew the show. They knew what needed to happen. And when you go into the Opera House, you have to go in realizing that your crew doesn’t know the show like you do. And so, while they’re amazing to work with, you have to come in prepared with more information than you would for someone that knows the show. Because you can’t just look at them and say, “Go get this actor,” or “You know when this comes on,” because they don’t know. They haven’t been sitting there for two months while this has been staged. They don’t know that this table is in this scene or that there is a blackout here. You have to come in with that information in order to be able to let them do as well as they always do.

Have you ever had anything happen, in or around a show, that could have been really bad had it not been caught?

Probably my close call best horror story was probably on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. There was a high platform that served as the cave where Injun Joe and Tom were going to have their scuffle at the end. That platform served as two different things. In the beginning of the show, there was a piece that was flipped up to conceal the platform. At intermission I would always climb up on the platform and look just to make sure everything was ok. And one night I climbed up and there was a coffee can full of nails on the platform! And it’s one of those things where it’s proof that one of those things that you check all the time, and it’s like, “Why am I checking this all the time? There never…”. It’s kind of that thing that I keep in my back pocket. Because you wouldn’t have ever thought that would be there. But for some reason, someone tinkered with something that day. And it wouldn’t have been found until it got flipped up in the middle of the act and you’ve got a young actor and an adult actor on a 4X8 platform fighting around a coffee can full of nails! It’s just one [experience] of many, but it’s one that I always go back to because it was such a fluke.

Do you have any tools that you always keep with you as a Stage Manager?

Sharpies. And I’ve got this little, cool like twisty light that kind of looks like an eyeball on the end of it. That’s always with me. Since I’ve started doing dance shows, I’ve always got a stop watch. There are stupid, fun things, too. Every time I call a show, I have this necklace that has this little washer on it. I tell people it’s “the washer that saved my life”. It’s kind of a lucky charm.

Do you see other odd things that people keep with them, rituals they do, little pre-show superstitions?

I always listen to “There’s No Business Like Show Business” before every show. There’s been times that I’ve forgotten it and I’ll call and have someone play it for me.

Which version?

The one with Bernadette Peters; the one I saw on Broadway. I’ve seen some other [rituals], too. There was a guy who always had to wear the same color shirt every time he auditioned. I know there are others, but I think I’ve gotten so used to people being bizarre that it doesn’t even faze me anymore.

What’s your favorite play? It can be something you’ve worked on, seen, want to see.

Floyd Collins. I cross state lines to see that show. If it’s anywhere that I can get to I follow it like a stalker. When they did it at UK …

Micah Logsdon?

Yes! Still, to this day, the best Floyd Collins I’ve seen, by the way, was Micah. In fact, the UK production, in general, is the best production I’ve seen. I’ve seen it at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville. I’ve seen it at the state theatre of West Virginia. Where did I see it just recently … ? Horse Cave.

That’s a lot of driving to see Floyd Collins!

Yeah. People think I’m crazy. I’ve been to the Floyd Collins Museum.

Ok, what is it about that show?

The music. Adam Guettel is just a genius. The first time I saw the production – at UK – we all kind of made fun of it. It was like, “Oh, what are you gonna do? A tap number about I’m Stuck In a Cave! I’m Stuck In a Cave!“? (laughs) And, at the end – I just find it so moving. I think the final song, “How Glory Goes”, I think is the best song in a musical of all time.

Tell me about a director you really hated working with.

You know, really, I haven’t worked with anybody that I’m just like, “I will never, ever work with that director again”, you know? Most of my experiences that I would say were just impossible, that I would never want to have happen again, it’s not been just because of the director. There’s been some kind of extenuating circumstances, or there was a combination of people that didn’t work right. The show jus didn’t come together, tension got crazy, that kind of thing. Lexington is really lucky in the group of people that we have. I don’t feel like there’s anybody where everyone is like, “Yikes! Don’t go near them.” I think, in Lexington, you can’t be that way. Or you’re gonna fizzle out real fast. If you got a reputation where nobody wanted to work with you anymore, it would show up really fast.

What’s on your iPod? What do you listen to?

Pretty much Duncan Sheik is consistently playing somewhere, either on an iPod, my alarm clock, or a CD …

This have anything to do with Spring Awakening?

It has nothing to do with Spring Awakening (laughs). I will go on record as saying, “I do not like Spring Awakening …”

You’ve got two theaters in town doing it this year, and …

I know! (laughs) I loved Duncan Sheik back in ’98 when he was doing “Barely Breathing”. It was kind of sad when he dipped into the whole theatre thing.

I would’ve thought you would have been excited. Like your two worlds coming together.

Well, while I’m not a fan of Spring Awakening, his music is brilliant. And I’ve seen him do some of those songs live. I would much prefer to see Duncan Sheik do his own one-man version of Spring Awakening. Let’s see … I’m a Beatles fan. Um … there’s this real small Irish band called The Prayer Boat, they have this one CD called Polichinelle, it drops my stress level like 100%. I like The Frames; I like Glen Hansard.

Have you seen The Commitments movie?

I have not.

Hansard was in The Commitments when he was younger, as the guitar player. If you’re a fan of The Frames, The Swell Season, Hansard, you have to see The Commitments.

I will absolutely check that out!

———

Thanks so much to Gretchen Shoot for taking an hour to chat. Here’s the trailer to The Commitments movie (Glen Hansard is the redhead with the guitar). And also a Spotify playlist of songs related to the interview. (You need to have Spotify installed on your computer to play the songs. Spotify is free. Download it here.)

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Actors’ Guild Gives Relief from Politics with Mamet’s “November”

Politics makes strange bedfellows. In David Mamet’s November, it puts the president of the United States in cahoots with some real turkeys. It situates bird flu as a political strategy. Add a homicidal Indian chief to the mix and you’ve got yourself a comedy.

Actors’ Guild of Lexington is staging Mamet’s November here on the eve of a presidential election. But don’t think this is even remotely about politics. It’s about desperate people and the lengths they will go to when they want something and it looks like they aren’t going to get it.

Actor Joe Gatton, who plays the president describes the situation.

“President Charles P. Smith – Chucky – is up for reelection. Things are looking pretty bleak. As someone says, his numbers are lower than Gandhi’s cholesterol. So he’s either gotta plot really hard, really fast. Or he’s gotta figure out a way to get a lot of money before he goes out the door.”

Every member of the cast is quick to point out that this show has almost nothing to do with actual politics. There is nothing to prove here. No resemblance to actual people or events. It’s a farce that just happens to take place in the Oval Office. That should put some minds at ease. Most people are quite sick of politics. This way, you can laugh at the whole thing.

Director Bo List draws a line under that. “One of the things that I appreciate about it is that it draws no specific parallels to any current situation. The situation is totally absurd. Perhaps he’s a combination of all our mediocre presidents. It’s more about corruption in general, incompetence in general. At its heart it is nonsense and fun.”

“I’ve done a lot of serious, heavy theater,” says Gatton. “It’s kinda nice to do something that’s just for fun. Just to make folks laugh. Everybody can laugh at this. Republicans and Democrats can all laugh at it.”

“I think that’s one of the great things about American comedies,” adds fellow actor Kim Dixon, who plays an idealistic lesbian speechwriter. “It takes these heavy issues and handles them in such a way that people can have a good time.”

“Well, that’s the thing about the way [the president] talks in this. There’s something to offend everybody,” says Gatton.

If you put any four actors in a room in Lexington for thirty minutes, eventually someone will mention that they wish theaters in the area would “do a Mamet show”. Actors’ Guild has now done two: Glengarry Glen Ross last season, and now November. The prevailing opinion seems to be that theaters shy away from the Mamet material because of the language. Mamet’s characters do tend to curse a lot. But actors have their own reasons for wanting to do Mamet. The structure of the language of a Mamet play is a joyous challenge for an actor. You can not be lazy and do Mamet. You’ll flop obviously. So to pull it off is a feather in an actor’s cap.

Speaking of which, have I mentioned that there is an Indian chief in this play? That’s all I will say about him.

Pete Sears comments on his own character in the show. “The guy that I play doesn’t even have a name. He’s just referred to in the script as ‘Turkey Guy’. I’ve taken to calling him ‘Warren’. He turns up to have the president pardon turkeys around Thanksgiving in November.”

So there you have it: turkeys, lesbians, Indian chiefs, a president up for reelection, and a chance to laugh away the malaise of politics that has divided us for longer than we care to think about.

November by David Mamet

The Cast:

President Charles Smith: Joe Gatton
Archer Brown: Jeff Sherr
Clarice Bernstein: Kim Dixon
Turkey Guy: Pete Sears
Dwight Grackle: Mark Smith

Thursday November 1st, Friday November 2nd, Saturday November 3rd, Friday November 9th and Saturday November 10th at 8:00 pm. Sunday November 4th and 11th at 2:00 pm.

Actors Guild of Lexington, South Elkhorn Theatre, 4383 Old Harrodsburg Road, #155, Lexington, KY 40513

$20 general admission, $15 for students & seniors (with valid ID). Tickets can be purchased in advance at http://actors-guild.org/ or by calling the box office, toll free, at 1.866.811.4111 (Hours: 9am – 9pm M-F / 10am – 6pm Sat + Sun). $8 student rush tickets will be available to current high school & college students 15 minutes before curtain (when seating is available).

Audience Advisory: November contains adult language, viewer discretion is advised. (1218)

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Business Lexington: Powell-Walton-Milward Insurance Gets Advertising Bang With Broadway Live

As part of a new series highlighting local businesses that have stepped up, pulled out the checkbook and put skin in the game of Lexington theater, I spoke with John Milward of Powell-Walton-Milward Insurance. As sponsors of the Broadway Live at the Opera House for the past three years, Powell-Walton-Milward has helped to bring Lexington such gems as “The Midtown Men”, “Legally Blonde”, and the current season’s “Dreamgirls” (co-sponsored with Central Bank).

Milward did not have to be prodded with questions about the relationship they have with Broadway Live. The benefits were very clear to him and he talked about it with enthusiasm. From the outset, the level of trust in the quality of the productions in Broadway Live was apparent. …

(Read the rest of this article at Business Lexington.) (657)

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Transy’s “The Liar” Hits Your Funny Bone – and That’s the Truth

Josiah Knight, Jesse Johnson and Nick Spencer in Transy’s “The Liar” (Photo: Erin Tuttle)

Where else this week could you find Rimsky-Korsakov, Yakety Sax, and Gangnam Style all in one swashbuckling scene? Hold that thought.

Transylvania University Theater is pulling out the stops this week with The Liar. Maybe you’ve seen this Pierre Corneille romp before. But I doubt you’ve seen it like this.

Sullivan Canaday White, Theater Program Director at Transy, is absolutely effusive about the production. “A friend of mine, James Roemer, Director of Administration at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in DC, recommended this play to me because he knew I would just love it. So smart and so funny. They commissioned David Ives to adapt it and produced it in 2010. So it’s brand new!”

Kristen Ballard, Grace Jung, Garret Gabriel, Nick Spencer, and Sara Sproull get all French. (Photo: Erin Tuttle)

I dropped in at a dress rehearsal to have a look at the set Michael O. Sanders has designed for the show, as well as the gorgeous costumes from Missy Johnston. As a whirlwind schedule would have it, our young boys were with us. We intended to catch the first few minutes of the rehearsal to get some good photos under stage lights. We ended up staying for the entire first act because our kids were so enthralled by the lively, madcap, hilarious action. We finally had to shove off because it was a school night and because this preview could not be allowed to turn into a full-blown review. But by the time we cleared the lobby in the Little Theater at Transy, both my kids were declaring their intent to go into acting.

Here’s the lowdown. Dorante is a charming young man newly arrived in the capital, and he has but a single flaw: He cannot tell the truth. He meets Cliton, a manservant who cannot tell a lie.

I could stop right there. You’re already grinning.

He falls in love with Clarice, a charming young woman whom he mistakes for her friend Lucrece. What Dorante does not know is that Clarice is secretly engaged to his best friend Alcippe. Nor is he aware that his own father is trying to get him married to Clarice – whom he thinks is Lucrece – who actually is in love with him.

Jesse Johnson and Josiah Knight bask in the stunning set and costumes of The Liar. (Photo: Erin Tuttle)

The classic devices of mistaken identities, lies, coverups, infidelity, servants who have better sense than their masters, and sexual innuendo out the nose are all brought to bear. But wait. There’s more!

The entire play is spoken in verse.

Oh, no! Now we have to decipher all that?

My grade school kids held on just fine. And that is a testament to the clarity of delivery and the grasp of meaning of their lines that Sully White’s charges bring. The verse is not something to be overcome. It makes for some very witty bits to roll around in.

“It’s been a truly hilarious rehearsal process–long and a lot of hard work, but very funny! The students worked diligently on the language and physicality and many of the ‘bits’ up on stage came from their imaginations,” says White.

A great sound design and fitting stage combat get some onstage practical help from the entire cast – SLAP! (Photo: Erin Tuttle)

If there are any enduring themes or universal truths to glean from this production, you’ll have to pull them out yourself. I walked away from a piece of a rehearsal admiring the explosion of color in the set and on the actors, confident that the development of young actors in Lexington is in good hands. Go see for yourself.

The show runs Oct. 25-27 and Nov. 1-3, at 7:30 p.m., and Oct. 28, at 2 p.m., in Transylvania University’s Lucille C. Little Theater. Tickets are $10 and may be reserved by calling the box office at (859) 281-3621, Monday-Friday, from 1-4 p.m. For more information, contact Transy’s fine arts office at (859) 233-8141.

THE LIAR
ADAPTED BY DAVID IVES

PRODUCTION TEAM
Directed by: Sullivan Canaday White
Set Design/Lighting Design: Michael O. Sanders
Costume Design: Missy Johnston
Stage Manager: Tony DelGrosso
Dramaturg: Elizabeth Davis
Assistant Stage Manager: Olivia Luken
French Theatre Consultant: Simonetta Cochis
Scene Coach: Michael Bigelow Dixon

CAST
DORANTE Nick Spencer
GERONTE Andrew Traugber
CLITON Garret Gabriel
CLARICE Sara Sproull
LUCRECE Grace Jung
ALCIPPE Jesse Johnson
PHILISTE Josiah Knight
ISABELLE/SABINE Kristen Ballard (1146)

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Balagula’s “Mrs. Klein” Gives Plenty to Talk About

In the recent hotbed political climate, two incredibly important topics have come up time and again. The first is those matters often termed as “women’s issues”, particularly including fair pay, as well as reproductive health and contraception. Another is “immigration issues”, including the debate over the status of the children of immigrants that are born in the U.S., attend school here and graduate, but are “undocumented” and then unable to get work.

This Sunday, October 21 sees the opening of the latest stage production from Balagula Theatre Company in downtown Lexington. Through the story of Mrs. Klein, a play by Nicholas Wright, director Ryan Case and his cast of three powerful women explore a page from the life of Melanie Klein (1882-1960), a child psychoanalyst whose views remain controversial even today. Her story is compelling on its own, but will also sound familiar tones regarding women and immigrants. How so?

I sat down with Natasha Williams, who plays the title role of Melanie Klein, director Ryan Case, and actor Lisa Mendez, who plays psychoanalyst Paula Heimann, to discuss the show. Quickly the relevance of this play to today’s world became apparent. First is the obvious fact that this is an all-female cast portraying women who had a lasting impact on society in their own day and whose views affect people even today.

“Every play is a pool of ideas that can be discussed,” says Williams. The audience that comes to see Mrs. Klein, or any play, should leave with the urge to talk about what they have seen. Melanie Klein and Anna Freud, daughter of the (in)famous Sigmund Freud and respected psychoanalyst in her own right, were key figures in 1940′s Britain in the discussion of child psychoanalysis. Their debates over analysis techniques were so polarizing that schools of thought on the topic remain split largely between “Freudian” and “Kleinian” camps to this day.

Paula Heimann (Lisa Mendez) and Melanie Klein (Natasha Williams).

All this is even more astounding when you consider that Melanie Klein did not even hold a Bachelor’s degree. Add to that the fact that her own life was fraught with difficulty. Her parents ignored her. Her elder sister, whom she loved dearly, died when Melanie was four. She was made to feel responsible for the death of her brother. Her own son died in a climbing accident that may or may not have been a suicide. And, germane to this production, she fought with her own daughter, Melitta (Schmideberg, played by Stephanie Pistello) over her analysis techniques. Their fight was very public and lasted the rest of Melanie’s life. Her daughter did not even attend her funeral.

“These women were courageous, independent figures,” says Williams.

Strong women, duking it out in public, observed and debated by the men in their field. And all this in the 1930′s and ’40′s.

But Mrs. Klein is relevant in another area. Melanie Klein, her daughter Melitta, and Paula Heimann are all people removed from their homeland. They live and work in Britain, but are German and Austrian.

“Klein and her daughter are culturally displaced,” says Williams. “They have been uprooted. And a lot of new thought comes from people who are first generation culturally displaced. When that happens, you are immediately put in a position of questioning.”

While the play takes place in Britain, where Klein, her daughter and Anna Freud worked, this idea of the innovative thinking of culturally displaced people rings in American society today. In the most recent presidential election debate, the topic of the children of immigrants and the DREAM Act was raised. Each candidate spoke of the fact that America is a “nation of immigrants”. Each went their own way in how to handle the big issues of what this means for American society, but the recognition was there: America is built by people who come from somewhere else.

Williams notes that innovative thinking spawned by different backgrounds is not a result of bringing something “foreign” to America, but rather it causes a “colliding” of cultures and notions that births an all-new thinking. That all-new thinking brought by culturally displaced people is at the heart of America’s innovation.

Steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was from Scotland. Google founder Sergey Brin is from Russia. Albert Einstein was from Germany. The list of innovators in science and technology is chock full of “displaced” people. The debate over how people who are born in the U.S., even to undocumented parents, should be treated is at the center of our national discussions even now.

Does that mean that Mrs. Klein is a dry presentation on psychoanalysis, feminism and immigration reform? Not at all.

“When played well, it is as engaging and easy to follow as the best action drama,” says Williams, “It is an action drama, only the action is the one deep within”.

The play was written in 1988 and is set in London, 1934. It originally ran in London, but was revived in New York in 1995 with famed actress and drama teacher Uta Hagen playing the title role. Hagen said that Melanie Klein was a role that she was meant to play.

Balagula Theatre encourages theatre-goers to learn more and discuss the topics they see on stage. To that end, their Facebook page contains links to additional material about Melanie Klein that will complement your theatre experience.

Mrs. Klein by Nicholas Wright
Directed by: Ryan Case

starring Natasha Williams as Melanie Klein, Stephanie Pistello as her daughter Dr. Melitta Schmideberg and Lisa Mendez as Paula Heimann .
October 21-26, 29-30
(Dinner seating 6:15-7:15 / Curtains at 8pm)
Ticket Price: Adults $18/Students $12
Reservations call 859-259-2754 or visit www.beetnik.com

Production of Mrs. Klein is sponsored by One Horizon.
Directing is sponsored by Dupree Financial Group
PohlRosaPohl and DTK are “Deliver the Arts Sponsors”
LexArts has provided funding support for Balagula Theatre’s 2012-2013 Season through its Funds for the Arts.
The Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency provides operating support to The Balagula Theatre Company with state tax dollars and federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.
WUKY is Season 2012-2013 Media Sponsor. (1773)

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Sometimes Our Choices Are Scrambled

“We know what we are, but not what we may be.” – Wm. Shakespeare; Hamlet, Act 4, Sc. 5

“Who are we but the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, and believe?” – Scott Turow

“Who are you? I really wanna know.” – Pete Townshend

What makes a person who they are? Is it family? Is it a choice they can make? Is it the opinion of others? Is it the job they work, clothes they wear, neighborhood they live in?

What if you found out you were not who you thought you were? What if that lifelong certainty were challenged by someone?

Bluegrass Community and Technical College is about to open their next production. The play is “Scrambled”, by award-winning playwright Beth Kander. Like most stories, “Scrambled” seems to be about one thing, but is easily about something else entirely.

Beth Kander also brought BCTC Theater regulars another play back in 2010 called “See Jane Quit”. Now this show has already gotten acclaim through the Southeastern Theater Conference by winning the 2012 Charles M. Getchell Award. Kander summarizes “Scrambled” this way:

“The story centers around wisecracking, broke, secular Sara and whether or not she’s going to donate her eggs to a fertility-challenged Orthodox Jewish couple (a suggestion made to her by her over-achieving, not-Jewish-so-ineligible-for-this-particular-donation roommate, Margie). Sara’s mother, Janice, and grandmother Bubbe also complicate the decision, without even knowing what Sara is considering.”

Sara (Katy Luyster) and Neshema (Sarah Mansfield) both have a choice to make. (Photo: Erin Tuttle)

The play stars five women. There are three men who are important to the story, but we never see them in person. We see them through these five women. This show is about the relationships of these women – some connected by blood, all connected by choice. It is that factor of “choice” that rings throughout the play. There are many things we can choose in life: who our friends are; who we marry; where we live.

But what do we do when what we prefer is not possible? What if, for example, you can not have a baby? What if you can not find a job? What if the person you thought you would spend the rest of your life with is suddenly not there anymore?

Director and BCTC professor Tim X. Davis talked about how those choices weigh in to help determine who we are.

“What drew me to this play was the question of Identity: Are we who we think we are? Or who the world thinks we are?

For example, old friends still think you are the person you were back when they knew you. Family even does that. They would even argue that they know the real you. But I am not who I was back then. They don’t know me anymore. The friends I have now know me. My wife knows me. We change. That intrigues me.”

Janice (Aly Miller) and Bubbe (Tonda-Leah Fields) are a wife and mother-in-law who have to learn to walk together. (Photo: Erin Tuttle)

Sara begins sure of who she is, though she does struggle with some choices. She knows how she was raised and she is secure in her identity as Jewish. But her mother was a convert to Judaism. She made a choice. Her best friend is getting married, and is now suddenly faced with lots of choices. Her grandmother lives her life secure in her identity as a Jewess, but struggles to respect the choices of others around her.

And, finally, the new person in Sara’s life, Neshema, has choices to make that affect Sara. Neshema is a devout Orthodox Jewess who would seem to many today to be a study in opposites, but they all boil down to her choices. For example, she says of her husband’s involvement in deciding about an egg donor:

“In these matters… it’s like I said. All the choices are mine. We both pray about it, and we talk about it, but it’s my body. My decision. Whatever I decide, he’ll accept. No further discussion.”

But she also observes the mikveh, an Orthodox Jewish tradition of ritual cleansing, after every menstrual cycle. Sara thinks this is a practice that shows a patriarchal disdain for women. Neshema sees it differently:

“I believe men and women are different. And we all have obligations, and challenges – and my religion, our rituals, give us a way to process all that. I hate my body, Sara. I don’t hate it because it’s female, or impure. I hate it because it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. I hate the week, every month, that comes as a reminder of my emptiness, mocking me for my body refusing to do what I want it to do. Going to the mikveh helps me stop hating my body. It is a ritual that directly involves my body, giving me the opportunity I need to reflect and remember my blessings and step out cleansed and renewed and able to let go of that anger at my own body. That’s why I go. Nobody forces me. My husband doesn’t ask if I went or not. It’s something I do for myself. Because sometimes, I feel lost. And I need a compass. And that’s what my faith gives me.”

“Scrambled” is about choices – the choices that make us who we are, even if someone else doesn’t see us that way. That could be the choice to become a parent, or a spouse. Or to not do either of those things. It’s easy to look at people around us – old friends on Facebook, strangers at a red light, people on the news, even our family members – and judge what they should do differently. But we have not had their choices, sometimes choices that they wish they did not have to make. These five women show us how that looks in real life. And their men have the good sense to stay out of the way.

Beth Kander, Playwright

Note: There will be a special talkback session with playwright Beth Kander after the performance on Friday, the 12th. The audience is invited to stay and ask any questions you like of Ms. Kander or Mr. Davis.

“Scrambled”
by Beth Kander
Directed by Tim Davis

October 11, 12 and 13 at 7:30 PM
The Lucille Little Theatre
Saints Peter and Paul Regional Catholic School
423 Short Street, Lexington

All tickets are $12.00 and sold at the door only

For more information, call Tim Davis: 859-246-6672 (1851)

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The Central Kentucky Radio Eye

For someone who suddenly has limited or no use of eyesight, life can get quite daunting quickly. There are the obvious difficulties of simply getting around, taking care of oneself, etc. But even once those obstacles have been handled, there is so much reading that we do every day that is now out of reach of someone who is visually challenged.

This is where Amy Hatter and the Central Kentucky Radio Eye can help. The CKRE website explains their service this way:

“Central Kentucky Radio Eye is a radio reading service for those who are unable to access the printed word. We broadcast the reading of current newspapers, magazines, health materials, grocery ads, and much more, offering greater independent living to people who are blind, visually impaired, or physically handicapped.”

(Read the rest of this article at No Falling Sky.) (601)

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Business Lexington: With No Facilities Of Its Own, BCTC’s Theater Program Takes Its Shows On the Road

There are certain things most college theater programs have. To start with, they have a nice theater, and maybe even more than one. They may also have a scene shop, where sets are built, painted and assembled. Perhaps they have a costume shop and storage areas. Add to that list some dressing rooms, sound and lighting equipment, and a nice, hefty budget for putting on lavish productions.

Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) doesn’t have any of that. The budget is small, there is no scene shop and one beleaguered professor runs the whole thing. BCTC also has no costumes, no equipment, and most surprising of all, no theater.

It would seem that they have nothing. But as Paul Newman’s lovable chain-gang convict Lucas Jackson reminded us, sometimes nothing can be “a real cool hand.” …

(Read the rest of this article at Business Lexington.) (1781)

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#Chicago

Since I am involved in the BCTC Theater production of “Chicago” in a couple of different ways (Sound Designer and married to Velma Kelly), I can’t rightly comment on the quality of that production with any authority. But long before this show was even chosen, my wife and I would listen to the music on long road trips – and we’ve had plenty of those of late – discussing what the whole thing was really about. I think this show could be one of the most relevant things you’ll see this year.

“Chicago” is set during 1920′s Prohibition. And, with all the skin-showing, leg-kicking, finger-snapping and machine-gunning, it might be tough to see the point of it all. Maybe it’s my tendency to see the political in everything, but stick with me.

There are 7 women in a Chicago jail, all accused of murder. All but one readily admits, or at least intimates, that she did it. But, they have plans. All you have to do is pay this guy over here, see? And this guy will take your story and spin it into something utterly unrecognizable. And, he will tell it in such a way as to have the media eating out of his hand, parroting the words he gives them. He will take the most cold-blooded killer and cast her as the most misunderstood, lovable, maligned saint ever deserving of a jury’s mercy. He’ll make you root for her. This guy will not only bring in a “not guilty” verdict for you, he’ll make you a celebrity in the process. Murder is a form of entertainment. And this guy is the ringmaster.

You should not really like any of the characters in “Chicago”, save two. Amos Hart is a hard-working man who does not deserve to be treated the way he is. He sacrifices himself for others. But, he is taken advantage of, used, cast aside, ignored.

Hunyak is “not guilty”, but no one understands her. She does not know how to play the game. She casts herself at the mercy of Uncle Sam. The only two innocent people in the whole show and one nobody sees, the other nobody hears.

But, even though we should not like the murdering ladies of the Cook County Jail, they tango for us. We watch them all cheat each other, hoodwink the press, elbow for better position. And, we pick sides in those matches. These women have killed people for popping gum. But, how could you tell them that they were wrong?

Billy Flynn asks, “How can they see with sequins in their eyes?” He knows how to razzle-dazzle a jury, the press, the public. Squint your eyes and look closer. Director Tim X. Davis and his cast are doing the same thing. But, there are holes intentionally left in the tale. There are rope tricks and soft shoe numbers that remind you that even you are being strung along.

“Chicago” takes a slice of 1920′s corruption, polishes it to a high shine, and holds it up like a mirror to 2010′s society. It could easily be called “#Chicago”, the ladies recast as mortgage agents and brokers and lobbyists. Your Congressman, is he the lawyer? Or is he in the gallery with you, pointing out how Billy’s lips never move? The difference between Flynn’s murderesses and today’s crooks? These guys will never have to bother with the inside of a courtroom at all.

We had it comin’.

Now, go see “Chicago”. You’ll clap in the theater. You’ll shake your head on the drive home. (1844)

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