It happens every so often in this business: A company just a little too desperate for praise distorts a critical review in its publicity for a show, by cherry-picking a positive word or phrase out of an article that's just a bit more…qualified in its endorsement.
But somehow, one expects Christian actors performing Christian drama to be...above that sort of thing. (Perhaps that has something to do with the penalties reserved for bearing false witness, lies or perjury—extreme examples of which are littered through Old and New Testaments.)
Still, dearly beloved, it seems that itinerant Christian actor Brad Sherrill, who performs his one-person show, The Gospel of John, on Good Friday in Chapel Hill, has succumbed...to temptation.
We first learned about the show from a playbill we picked up at PlayMakers Rep last week. The ad had a series of impressive critical endorsements: glowing quotes from the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
But above these was this praise from the New York Times: “A famously compelling tale, lively and engaging. Mr. Sherrill is a poised performer with a subtle physical grace.” On the show’s Web site, the same quote appears—placed on top of a cross-like figure, no less—just above a photo of Sherrill.
Now, touring shows cite the New York Times so often that it's tempting to take them at face value. But, on a whim, we decided to research this one a little further.
As a result, we'll be doing so a bit more often in the future.
Brothers and sisters, it pains me to tell you: the New York Times review Sherrill quotes actually pans The Gospel of John.
Usually, determining a play’s subject is something of a preliminary task: one that leads us, more or less directly, into deeper critical waters. But within the past week, two productions—MoLoRa (Ash) at Duke and I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda at UNC—have stopped me at what is usually a fairly neutral border in my critical walk. In both cases, it wasn’t enough to ask what each work was about. I felt I had to ask what each should be about, as well—based upon the focus each work has ultimately chosen.
By coincidence, both plays deal, at least tangentially, with different atrocities that occurred upon the African continent. MoLoRa, performed by the touring South African company Farber Foundry, seeks to reframe the tragic Greek trilogy The Oresteia against the achievements of that country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission from 1996-1998. A Remarkable Document concerns the Tutsi genocide of 1994 in Rwanda.
But both of these statements actually set the true trajectories of these dramas off by a few, crucial degrees.
Where there's fashion, you can reliably find people who adore the industry, and worship it with every fiber of their being. But you can also meet people whose interest might be surprising, until it starts to make sense
For example, Sean Avery, a hockey player for the New York Rangers, interned at Vogue in the summer of 2008 and now aspires for the plush life of the fashion editorial after he hangs up his skates.
OK, Avery is an extreme example, but N.C. State's Art to Wear show has to grapple with aspirants who come from outside the departments normally associated with fashion.
3 1/2 stars
(closed March 21)
Call the Durham Savoyards a theatrical anachronism—if you dare. For the truth is this: At this writing, over 50 such companies in the United States (and another 100 or so, back in Britain) exist to do one thing only—cart the lot of us back to the last two decades of the 1800s, and plant us in the boxes of the Savoy Theater of London, as William S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan employ classically-trained musicians and singers to ever-so-gently ridicule the absurdities of Victorian culture. Gilbert’s penchant for unhinging the conventions of proper society and send them careening to their logical (and hyper-verbal) conclusions qualifies him as a great-grandfather to those fantastical creatures, the Goons, the Fringe and the Pythons: in short, the British comic vanguard from the middle of the last century on.
Traditionally, participating in a school fashion show has proved to be a great way to launch one's career. In 1995, Stella McCartney inaugurated her first line while attending England's celebrated Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. And when another of that school's students unveiled his work, the eccentric socialite Isabella Blow bought each piece of the graduation collection. The student's name? The great-and now late-visionary Alexander McQueen.
Among these parts, Art to Wear is no exception in that regard. Previous designers have gone on to such varied fields as graduate school, arts management and design for companies large and small.
Orvokki Halme was part of the event's inaugural class in 2002, and is now in graduate school at Carnegie-Mellon University pursuing a master's degree in arts management.
"It gave a venue, for those of us who were creating apparel at the time, to show our work that seemed more fitting than a pin-up or a gallery setting," Halme said. She notes that fashion design seemed to be a new trend in student interest in the art and design degree. After finishing her undergraduate studies, she worked in fashion briefly and was involved with runway shows and New York Fashion Week.
Another designer who got started at Art to Wear is Ryan Wayne, who designed for the show for three years and served as co-director in 2006.
"Directing was great and is an experience even most of the graduates from the major fashion schools from all over the world get to do," Wayne said. She said she still gets looks of amazement when she talks about ATW and the caliber of its importance. After stints designing in London and forecasting fashion trends in New York, Wayne now attends in graduate school in England, studying textile design at Chelsea College of Art and Design.
Other Art to Wear alums have made a splash here at home.
Liz Morrison designed for four years starting in 2005, and directed in 2008. She now works as a costume designer in Chapel Hill for Deep Dish Theater, citing Art to Wear for teaching her the ins and outs of nonprofit event management for the performing arts along with designing. Morrison has also been instrumental in compiling the annual event's extensive archive, housed in the Harrye B. Lyons Design Library in Brooks Hall.
"First and foremost, I learned the importance of time management. It is imperative to keep a well-organized schedule when planning an event, particularly at this scale," Morrison said, citing both her experiences as designer and director as learning experiences.
Designer Marie Cordella, who showed at Art to Wear in 2006, has been a fixture at SPARKcon since the festival's inception in 2006. She and about seven others ignited the first fashionSPARK, and she's been a featured designer each year since then. The show has become a celebrated mix of a few better-known local designers and a collection of newer, fresh designers with new work and ideas to strut down the runway.
"Art to Wear is a relevant experience in relation to fashionSPARK because of its similarity in nature," Cordella said, mentioning the parallel processes from applying to participate to eventually showing off that time-intensive hard work in a public space.
Morrison really enjoyed her Art to Wear experience, especially in directing.
"[Through Art to Wear] I found out about the incredible power of artistic collaboration. It is really amazing what a group of motivated, creative individuals can accomplish," Morrison said.
Morrison will be present for next month's show, and she surely won't be the only member of a growing list of alumni in attendance.
'rie Shontel's Mama Juggs: Three Generations Healing Negative Body Images
March 19-20; rieshontel.blogspot.com
'rie Shontel's autobiographical theater work is a strange amalgam of comedy, pathos and public service announcement. Set in a shabby Oakland, CA, public housing living room where she grew up, which is oddly draped with a small fortune in brand-new bras, Mama Juggs is a series of related skits about the author and her family, focused on breasts, their life-giving force and their death-dealing disease.
This is certainly fertile ground for theatrical exploration, but Shontel does not take it very far-however, if you should somehow have been ignorant of the correct way to check your breasts for lumps, you will be educated.
If you have trouble with the idea of multiple generations of the same family living in public housing, keep in mind that the author-by day public radio producer Anita Woodley-has broken the cycle. Shontel is as adept as a mockingbird at creating the individual voices and forms of her characters, all of whom are piquant and interesting.
Some of the stories are wonderful, and she is an excellent storyteller, with an instinct for comic timing. This is not a play, with arc, crisis and resolution, but a story-telling event with some charming playacting.
After creating a series of "testimonial plays" based on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the 1990s, playwright Yael Farber approached a group of women from the Xhosa people in 2008, and told them the story of The Oresteia. The Greek tragic trilogy still confronts us with dilemmas our civilization hasn't fully solved. How do we distinguish justice from vengeance? What is the appropriate punishment for murder? And once "eye for an eye" violence is ingrained in a culture, how can it be stopped?
At the time she was looking for umngqokolo—traditional overtone throat singing for her new project. But the women's responses to the tale shocked the playwright. What became a spontaneous Greek—yet uniquely African—chorus sought and found a solution to this ancient dilemma of justice. It differed from the one depicted in the writings of Aeschylus.
This week, those women, their musicians and three actors sing and enact the conclusions they've reached in the Farber Foundry production of MoLoRa (Ash) at Reynolds Industries Theater.
We spoke with Yael Farber by phone for an hour on March 11.
INDEPENDENT: I’m aware that South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has had a profound influence on your work. I’m wondering what lessons you believe the rest of the world hasn’t learned yet from South Africa after the fall of apartheid. Why is a work like MoLoRa (Ash) needed—why is it a work the world should have?
FARBER: The genesis of project was actually images of New York City after Sept. 11. For days after the tragedy, there were those incredibly poignant and moving images of ashes falling down on people in Manhattan.
CAROLINA THEATRE/ DURHAM—Ask any high-school theater geek, and they'll have heard of Gilbert and Sullivan. Ask me, I was one. But amazingly, I graduated high school and went all through college without once seeing one of their plays or hearing any of the songs.
All of that changed when I attended a rehearsal for The Mikado, performed by the Durham Savoyards. Founded in 1963, the troupe is dedicated to performing solely Gilbert and Sullivan standards. While they rotate through a number of titles, they return to the more popular ones more frequently.
This outing marks director Derrick Ivey's second time helming the opera. His first time directing for the Savoyards occurred in 2003, when he directed a different version of The Mikado.
"The one we did in 2003 was a really radical re-visioning. It was a modern setting, and we had a huge back story," Ivey says, noting that the text and music remained unchanged. The modern characters then stepped into the Japanese story after the choreographed overture, creating a layered story-within-a-story effect. That production was the last time the Savoyards performed the opera.
Though the Savoyards only have one large performance each year, they make sure to do it in style. Sarah Nevill, one of the show's producers, says that the group has sold more tickets than at this point last year. As far as Nevill knows, no other group like the Savoyards exists in North Carolina.
A technical rehearsal was underway during my visit; as I walked through the Carolina Theatre's backstage corridors, cast and crew bustled about, absorbed in their preparations. A peek into the makeup rooms revealed actors getting their faces brushed with white paste to simulate Japanese Kabuki-style makeup. Actors padded around the halls in dressing gowns, with hair held in caps to aid in wearing wigs later. Orchestra members tuned up in the pit the cast's first full-dress rehearsal (involving not only costumes, but also make-up and wigs).
As veteran broadcaster Ron Burgundy of Anchorman might say, North Carolina State University's Art to Wear fashion show is kind of a big deal.
People know it and mark their calendars for what's become known as a reliable showcase of talent. The annual fashion show, put on by the College of Design (COD) and College of Textiles (COT), has made quite a mark in the burgeoning Raleigh fashion scene.
"People [tend to] stake out their seats hours beforehand," says Vita Plume, COD art and design teacher and Art to Wear faculty advisor. Plume was the sole advisor until COT joined the event in 2006, and Dr. Cynthia Istook, associate professor of textile and apparel management, has served in the same capacity for COT since that time.
In 2002, Plume taught a fibers studio in which many students were working with garments. One student, Kate Crawford, presented a new collection for every critical evaluation, which gave Plume the idea to put on a fashion show. Crawford eventually became the event's first director.
"If they hadn't been making clothing, I wouldn't have thought of it," Plume says.
Two hundred and fifty people came out to witness the inaugural event, which was held in Kamphoefner lower courtyard (known as "The Pit") near the Design School, with six designers showing their semester's work.
"People heard the music, and they were hanging off [the railings]," Plume says. The second and third years saw audience members crammed in to the venue, and organizers introduced video projection screens to showcase the designs to more people.
As word of mouth spread about N.C. State's unique fashion event, the show's audience grew. By 2005, the show was big enough to warrant a permanent name. Art to Wear had arrived.
After five years, organizers realized they needed a bigger venue. Designers showed collections in the Court of North Carolina on the university's East Campus in 2007 and 2008 (audience members either paid for seats or lounged in the grass for free), before moving indoors to Reynolds Coliseum last year. The number of attendees peaked in 2008, with an estimated 2,700 on hand. (Last year's count dipped slightly, with the show attracting 2,500 attendees.)
Naturally, with that growth, the show's budget has ballooned. In a meeting with committee heads and designers on Feb. 22, this year's event director Eleanor Hoffman put that number as pushing $30,000. That's a far cry from the event's inaugural year, where each student ponied up $25 and relied on friends and family for assistance with set-up-for example, founding co-director Brannan Hackney's dad DJ'ed and the participating designers used their own money for votive candles to decorate the runway. This year, each designer is responsible for raising at least $100 to help with costs, which include components such as still photographs, videography, and hair and make-up sponsored by local salons.
The event has also attracted established figures in the Raleigh arts community to be judges. One name especially jumps out: William Ivey Long, famed Broadway costume designer and North Carolina native who's won five Tony Awards. In 2008, Long was a member of the three-juror panel (not unlike the judging triumvirate on Project Runway), that decides which designers get to show their collections. (That year, 17 out of 31 hopefuls made it in.) This year, Long is donating a cash prize to be awarded in a fashion that has yet to be determined.
This year's show takes place on April 14 in N.C. State's Reynolds Coliseum. Until then, I'll be covering various aspects of putting on the show and creating collections with weekly installments on the process. Visit the Web site here.
On the phone about her appearance at Meredith College on March 8, Jodi Picoult is friendly, bubbly and frequently laughing. There's no indication of the misery and tragedy visited upon the characters in her best-selling novels, including My Sister's Keeper, Handle With Care and her latest, House Rules, which hit bookstores on Tuesday.
Picoult's novels often involve such horrors as school shootings, execution, infanticide, date rape, sexual abuse, suicide pacts and more. The tales frequently combine courtroom drama with deeply flawed characters that don't always make it through the story intact. (On the other hand, last year's film of My Sister's Keeper angered many fans of the book by cutting the last tragic twist, something Picoult says she was unhappy about.)
Though she's closer to her characters than anyone else, Picoult has few qualms about what they go through in each book. "I don't really feel bad about it, though very often I want to slap them. I want to say, 'God, can't you see the bigger picture?'" Picoult says with a laugh. "I wish they'd make better decisions, but if they did, I wouldn't have much of a book."
House Rules, Picoult's 17th novel since 1992, deals with a teenager with Asperger syndrome who is accused of murder. The story uses the crime as a window into the teenager's life and the effect his condition has on his family.
Picoult said that the idea for the story came from discussions with an attorney about how the legal system breaks down when there are problems with communication. "That got me thinking about what would happen if you had some sort of disability that made it difficult to communicate with law enforcement," says Picoult, who has an autistic cousin.
"There's always some kind of disconnect when someone who is autistic is brought in before a judge, or the police, or anyone in law enforcement, and I thought that was something people should know about."
To research House Rules, Picoult not only shadowed CSIs, but met with nearly 50 children with Asperger's and their parents, combining face-to-face interviews with a detailed survey.
Picoult says the surveys yielded hundreds of pages. "Many of the observations went into the book, because they said it better than I could myself."
"The thing about a kid with Asperger's is that while they might have trouble talking to you, if you ask them to write something down, they're incredibly articulate, because they're very bright, once you take away that fluster of being in a social situation," Picoult says. "It's one reason the Internet has been so important to people with Asperger's, because in chat rooms, you don't have to look anyone in the eye."
Picoult has already completed her next book, a tale of embryo donation and gay rights called Seeing You Home, which will include a CD featuring songs "sung" by the main character (actually an actor-musician, of course). She believes the secret to her writing is the focus on the characters. "I think what attracts a reader is emotional honesty," Picoult says. "Most readers can tell when a character doesn't ring true, or the contrary, where the character rings so true that it almost hurts to read that part of the book. I think if you write with emotionally honesty, you can write about almost anything at all and you'll be able to take an audience with you."
Jodi Picoult appears at Jones Auditorium at Meredith College at 7:30 p.m. on March 8 to read from and sign copies of House Rules. This is a ticketed event; tickets are available with purchase of House Rules or her other works. For more information, call 528-1588 or visit www.quailridgebooks.com.