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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Theater & Dance Week: Lives, live on stage

Posted by on Wed, Jan 26, 2011 at 2:24 PM

mural of Pauli Murray by Brett Cook
  • mural of Pauli Murray by Brett Cook
It’s the week regional theater takes a turn to the biographical—sometimes even performed by the original cast.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, the SOLO TAKES ON festival returns for its second season of striking autobiographical solo shows, before a Duke Human Rights Center contingent in cooperation with the award-winning regional theater troupe Hidden Voices unearth one of the most famous and influential Durhamites in recent history—and the one you've most likely never heard of—in TO BUY THE SUN: THE CHALLENGE OF PAULI MURRAY.

Jeffrey Blair Cornell
  • Jeffrey Blair Cornell
We’re particularly interested in seeing Jeffery Blair Cornell’s take on the historically unrepentant—and closeted until death—conservative ideologue Roy Cohn, now that Playmakers Rep is finally getting around to staging Tony Kushner's epic ANGELS IN AMERICA. And in their midst, emerging playwright Monica Byrne rips the lid off the passions of a late-night college bio lab in Manbites Dog’s dark comedy, NIGHTWORK.

(Wait—that last one? Not so biographical. At least, let's hope. Make plans to see it anyway.)

More shows, after the jump.

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    Biography on stage — with the original cast?

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

red, black and GREEN: a blues redefines environmentalism in hip hop culture

Posted by on Sat, Jan 22, 2011 at 3:18 PM

Marc Bamuthi Joseph, in red, black and GREEN: a blues, in the Process Series at UNC-CH
  • photo by D.L. Anderson
  • Marc Bamuthi Joseph, in "red, black and GREEN: a blues," in the Process Series at UNC-CH
red, black and GREEN: a blues (rbGb)
Marc Bamuthi Joseph
The Process Series
Gerard Hall, UNC-CH
Jan. 22, 8 p.m.

Multi-media artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph noticed that there wasn’t a lot of overlap between the environmental movement and the people actually living in some of the most compromised environments in America. It got him to wondering why—and wondering if increased communication, exchange and cooperation between these populations were possible.

“Obviously, folks of color and folks in low-income communities have had survival practices for generations that have often gone unnoticed by the environmental movement—and unseen by ‘corporate green’,” noted colleague Hodari Davis, at a “Life is Living” festival in New York. Similar festivals over the past year in Chicago, Houston and Oakland, Calif. have attempted to redefine environmentalism in the context of hip hop culture—and have served as “field work” for a new performance piece that asks if art can facilitate community organizing and environmental change.

The name of the work in progress is “red black and GREEN: a blues.” And since it’s the latest participant in UNC’s “Process Series,” an audience in Chapel Hill sees an early version of two sections from the piece tonight.

“What we’re trying to do is create space on different levels for new work to be developed,” notes curator Joseph Megel.

This week, the three-year-old program for professional works in progress hasn’t just provided Joseph and collaborators Theaster Gates and documentary filmmaker Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi with studio time.

“We’ve created the opportunity for them to talk to professors in urban planning and ecological sciences here, so there can be a deepening of the discussion with scholarship on ecology,” says Megel.

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    Joseph gets folks living in compromised environments talking.

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"I’m just a black man trapped in a white woman’s body": Questions for Marshall Chapman

Posted by on Sat, Jan 22, 2011 at 10:41 AM

  • Photo by Anthony Scarlati

There may not be a harder-working woman in country music than Marshall Chapman. She's a musician, songwriter, journalist and actress. In her four decades-plus on the scene, she's played with, or had her songs performed by, or interviewed such luminaries as Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Joe Cocker and dozens of other leading lights.

Last year, Good Ol' Girls, a musical she collaborated on with Triangle literati Jill McCorkle and Lee Smith, received a Broadway run.

And she acted with Gwyneth Paltrow, in the recently released Country Strong.

This weekend, she's in the Triangle for a pair of events. She's performing tonight at a house concert in Durham (sold out, sorry) and tomorrow at 2 p.m., she'll be at McIntyre's Fine Books at Fearrington Village to promote her newly released book, They Came to Nashville, a collection of interviews and profiles. Her website is here.

Her latest album is called Big Lonesome, and when we caught up with her by telephone on Friday, she told us she was operating in a sleep-deprived state due to the demands of promoting a record and a book simultaneously.

ARTERY: It seems like for all of the over-produced commercial stuff that comes out of Nashville, there is still an allure for younger, hipper musicians to come there and struggle to make it.

MARSHALL CHAPMAN: The talent level is phenomenal. There are more musicians living in Nashville now than there are in New York or LA. There’s a husband and wife team, the Wrights, do you know them? Adam Wright plays guitar like Dick Dale meet Daniel Lanois. You can hear five to 10 acts that good on any given night.

Back in the late ‘70s, you did an interview in which you described the town as a “really weird place, where everybody wants to make a hit record,” and you even said there’s no place to hear live music anymore. What’s changed?

I think the Internet changed it. You can make a living.

We didn't see Country Strong but we saw the nice mention you got in The New York Times. What was the movie-making experience like for you?

I have great insurance and so does my husband. It was really enjoyable, like summer camp for lovable eccentrics. And Gwyneth Paltrow was just great to work with.

She’s got some serious pipes, huh?

She’s got a wonderful voice. Better than half the slickly produced stuff out there right now.

You’ve done your memoirs [Goodbye, Little Rock and Roller (2003)], but They Came to Nashville comes from a slightly different place. How did that come about?

The first line of the book is, “The night I met Billy Joe Shaver, my hair caught on fire.” When that line came to me, everything just followed. I said, ‘Uh oh, I have to write a book now.’”

Having been in the spotlight and behind the scenes, and various levels in between, would you say you’ve found the sweet spot?

That’s a good way of putting it. This year has been the best year of my life; I made the best record I ever made [Big Lonesome], which the Philadelphia Inquirer named among their top 10 “country roots” albums of the year. I worked on a musical called Good Ol' Girls with the authors Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle, which opened on Broadway; I turned 62, which was as old as my father was when he went from seeming like a man of 35 to…just gone, all in the space of three weeks, from cancer.

You seem to favor a handful of chords in your songs.

Well, I did a Hank Williams cover on Big Lonesome that had some jazz chords in it, but basically I subscribe to the school of “three chords and the truth.”

What can people expect at your reading at McIntyre's?

I always bring my guitar to my readings. And my concerts are like 80 percent music. So I like to describe what I do as R&W: rhythm and words.

Kind of a blues notion. In your song “Why Can’t You Be Like Other Girls,” you sang, “Learning to be white was nothing I needed to know.”Still true?”

I’m just a black man trapped in a white woman’s body, and it’s too late for the NBA.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reynolds Price, Duke teacher and author, dies at 77

Posted by on Thu, Jan 20, 2011 at 5:05 PM

Reynolds Price in 2008 - FILE PHOTO BY D.L. ANDERSON

Reynolds Price, the prolific author and longtime professor at Duke University, died this afternoon after suffering a heart attack on Sunday. He was 77.

Price wrote fiction, essays, poetry and nonfiction. He taught the works of John Milton and other topics to several generations of Duke students, dating back to the 1950s. A self-described "outlaw" Christian, in 1992 he attracted attention with a speech that denounced anti-intellectualism in the Duke student body.

Price's greatest success as a fiction writer came with the 1986 novel Kate Vaiden, which won the National Book Critics Circle award.


Here is the Indy's review of his 2009 book, Ardent Spirits: Leaving Home, Coming Back, which was the third volume of his memoirs and explored the period of his 20s that he spent living in Europe.

According to Price's wishes, there will be no public funeral.

The news release from Duke University follows. Duke's news service has posted more information about Price here.

DURHAM, N.C. — Reynolds Price, the celebrated writer of fiction, poetry, memoirs, essays and plays who turned a three-year teaching appointment into more than 50 years on the faculty at Duke University, died Thursday afternoon. He was 77.

Price, the James B. Duke Professor of English at Duke, his alma matter, had a major heart attack early Sunday. “With a poet’s deep appreciation for language, Reynolds Price taught generations of students to understand and love literature,” said Duke President Richard H. Brodhead. “Reynolds was a part of the soul of Duke; he loved this university and always wanted to make it better. We can scarcely imagine Duke without Reynolds Price.”

A native of Macon, N.C., Price graduated summa cum laude from Duke in 1955, where he studied creative writing under influential professor William Blackburn, whose other Duke students included noted authors William Styron ’47 and Anne Tyler ’61. Price was a Rhodes Scholar and studied in Oxford, England, with W.H. Auden and Lord David Cecil. He returned to the United States and took a teaching job at Duke in 1958. The letter offering Price that job warned that the position was a three-year appointment — with no chance of being extended. “That seemed a little discouraging, but I thought, ‘Well, three years is three years,’” Price recalled in a 2008 interview. During those three years he wrote his first novel and was asked to stay on. He remained a Duke faculty member for the next 53 years.

In 1962, his novel “A Long and Happy Life” received the William Faulkner Award for a notable first novel. Price published numerous books after that, including the novel “Kate Vaiden,” which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1986.

In his early days as a published writer, Price took offense at reviewers labeling him as the heir to Faulkner. “The search for influences in a novelist's work is doomed to trivial results,” Price wrote in a 1966 piece for The New York Times. “A serious novelist’s work is his effort to make from the chaos of all life, his life, strong though all-but-futile weapons, as beautiful, entire, true but finally helpless as the shield of Achilles itself.” Price became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and received the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities from the North Carolina Humanities Council.

In 1987, Price received the University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service at Duke, the university’s highest honor, and the Distinguished Alumni Award. A professorship in creative writing honoring Price was established at Duke in 2008. He had a commanding presence in the classroom, using his deep, rich voice to convey the beauty of the English language.

For many years, Price taught courses on creative writing and the work of 17th-century English poet John Milton, as well as a course on the gospels in which students wrote their own version of a gospel story. Price’s Halloween reading of ghost stories and poems became a tradition on campus that lasted more than a decade. Price said he experienced two main rewards as a professor: reading and teaching great writing by other people, and getting to know his students, who included Tyler, writer Josephine Humphreys and actress Annabeth Gish.

In a fiery Founders’ Day speech in 1992, Price took aim at what he deemed a lack of intellectualism at Duke, describing students as enthusiastic about partying but marred by a “prevailing cloud of indifference, of frequent hostility, to a thoughtful life,” reported Duke Magazine. Some university officials cited that speech as an impetus for a greater emphasis on recruiting more intellectual students to Duke, according to the magazine article. Price, who considered himself an “outlaw” Christian, wove his faith into his writings. His 2007 book “Letter to a Godchild,” for example, was a christening gift to his godson, intended as a brief guide for the child’s spiritual future. He also published two biblical translations: “A Palpable God” (1978) and “The Three Gospels” (1996).

Price became confined to a wheelchair in 1984 when a cancerous tumor affecting his spinal cord left him paralyzed from the waist down. A 2006 article in The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., noted that Price had pondered and accepted the truths articulated in the Book of Job: that God’s ways are often beyond understanding or finding out. “The fact that my legs were subsequently paralyzed by 25 X-ray treatments ... was a mere complexity in the ongoing narrative which God intended me to make of my life," he said. Price’s account of cancer survival is captured in his 2003 book, “A Whole New Life: An Illness and a Healing.”

Price’s third volume of memoir, “Ardent Spirits: Leaving Home, Coming Back,” was published in the spring of 2009. The book explores six crucial years in Price’s life, from leaving home in 1955 to attend Oxford University to his return to North Carolina and the start of his career as a university teacher. According to Price’s wishes, there will be no public funeral. Duke University has not yet announced plans to honor Price.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

News & Observer lays off Craig Lindsey as McClatchy continues assault on film criticism

Posted by on Tue, Jan 18, 2011 at 7:42 PM

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in the greatest newspaper movie ever (and there have been some good ones)
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  • Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in the greatest newspaper movie ever (and there have been some good ones)
Once again, the News & Observer is reporting in its business pages that members of its own organization are losing their jobs. Today, 20 members of the organization were let go; an unknown number of them were offered voluntary buyouts.

It's my particular displeasure to report that fellow film critic Craig Lindsey was among those laid off today by the McClatchy-owned paper. It's been my privilege to work with and around Craig for several years, getting to know both his renowned eccentricities and his boundless love of pop culture in general and movies in particular.

His departure is not only personally troublesome but also adds to the number of major news dailies not providing full-time film criticism. Indeed, I believe Craig was the last full-time film critic employed by a major news daily in North Carolina. Just last year, the Charlotte Observer (another McClatchy-owned paper) converted longtime film critic Lawrence Toppman to the position of "theater and culture writer," although Toppman still occasionally contributes movie reviews.

Here is Craig's (typically irreverent) Facebook posting about today's events. [Click past the jump for the text, which is otherwise only viewable by Lindsey's FB friends. We've reprinted with his permission.]

And here is one of his last bylines for the News & Observer, an appreciation of the late filmmaker Blake Edwards that is also a revealing memoir of a film critic as a (very) young man.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Friday night movies: The Green Hornet isn't all that, but there are three terrific revivals tonight

Posted by on Fri, Jan 14, 2011 at 1:42 PM

Seth Rogen does the action-hero thing...
  • Photo by Jaimie Trueblood/ Sony
  • Seth Rogen does the action-hero thing...
Moviegoers have a few options tonight. Among the new releases, there's The Green Hornet (see Zack Smith's short review below) and, in art houses, Rabbit Hole with Nicole Kidman. Read Nathan Gelgud's review.

If you're in the mood for revivals, tonight poses a dilemma: Raleigh or Durham? Melodrama or sci-fi?

At Raleigh's N.C. Museum of Art, there is Make Way for Tomorrow, an absolute stunner of a gem from 1937. Read Smith's take on it here. Don't forget your Kleenex.

In Durham, consider the Carolina Theatre's exceptional Retrofantasma double feature of Forbidden Planet, with the recently deceased pair of Leslie Nielsen and Anne Francis, and The Thing from Another World, which carries an improbable credit from the admittedly versatile Howard Hawks. Read Smith's preview.

Two stars
Opens Friday, Jan. 14

Michel Gondry and Seth Rogen’s re-imagining of the radio/ film/ TV hero better known for his name, car and Bruce Lee playing his sidekick than any actual storylines is an odd mixture of superhero-film parody and straightforward action-comedy. Displaying much of the same fascination with 1980s buddy comedies he exhibited in Pineapple Express, star/ co-screenwriter Rogen plays a disgruntled playboy who develops a ridiculous scheme to become a vigilante/ fake criminal after the death of his disapproving newspaper-magnate father (Tom Wilkinson) with help from an ass-kicking gadget expert (Jay Chou). Director Gondry has some fun with the fight scenes (the added 3-D is mostly unnecessary), and, well, that’s one cool tricked-out car. But the film isn’t quite willing to commit to being a comedy or an action flick, and there’s no real reason why Cameron Diaz is in the film for anything other than star power. Last year’s Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) does have an amusing bit as a gang lord obsessed with re-branding himself as scary and cool. Occasionally, the movie hits an inspired comic riff, such as a Clouseau-esque scene of Rogen and Chou beating up on each other in a pool house, but this is mostly the larking-about of comic filmmakers given some cool toys to play with, and the result lacks punch... or more appropriately, sting. Rated PG-13. —Zack Smith

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Choices and children: Exit Cuckoo comes to PlayMakers

Posted by on Thu, Jan 13, 2011 at 2:14 PM

Lisa Ramirez in Exit Cuckoo
  • Photo by Carel Di Grappa
  • Lisa Ramirez in Exit Cuckoo
Exit Cuckoo (nanny in motherland)
3.5 stars

@Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre; through Jan. 16

Who’s taking care of the children is a question that seems to become more pressing every day. Their mothers have never been the sole caregivers of the children, but taking care of their children did formerly constitute a respected job of work (if unpaid) for many women, along with the myriad other tasks that formed their contributions to the familial economic unit. Poorer women have always done other work for money, as well—including caring for richer women’s children.

But now, a couple of generations into the shifted social terrain formed by feminism (and workable family planning methods), more and more women find they can only have it all at once in the world if they have help at home. As in, a nanny. Like the cuckoo bird that lays its eggs in other birds’ nests for them to hatch and feed, these women leave their children for other women to nurture.

San Francisco theater artist Lisa Ramirez moved to New York to further her career and became a nanny the way others become waitresses and office temps. It was supposed to be a day job while she took classes and went to auditions, but in nanny-dom, she found a coil of stories that would spring her onto the stage as both writer and performer.

Ramirez has translated her experience into Exit Cuckoo (nanny in motherland), a remarkably thoughtful one-person show, which she performs through Sunday in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s second stage series, PRC2.

She deals deftly with some mighty large material—woman’s place in the world, what makes a mother, privilege and deprivation, self-involvement and self-sacrifice, the vicissitudes of class and color—tying interrelated story threads into a neat 85-minute package. (Readers of The Help will recognize these as the same issues that drove Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel.) While Ramirez can be dry and droll, and sometimes highly humorous in her social commentary, she is surprisingly gentle to even the most appalling of the “beige women” who expect a new kind of indentured servitude from their nannies—who “are just like part of the family” until summarily fired.

It is greatly to Ramirez’ credit that she has written and can present these characters with as much humanity as she gives to the beleaguered “United Nations of nannies.” The only character for whom she has no mercy is the leader of the therapy group she joins when the motherworld-nannyworld-artworld demands push her to the edge.

A one-person show depends mightily on the person’s ability to transform before our eyes into widely divergent characters. Ramirez excels here, with minimal help from clothing items, props and set, relying on wonderfully complete speech patterns and accents and highly communicative body language. The pattern is often that “our” nanny enters a situation, then the actress switches almost unnoticeably to the other woman in the scene—the nanny broker, the mother, her own mother, the other nannies, an irate grandmother, the speaker at a rally for domestic workers’ rights.

Right up until the final few sentences, the text is limpid, unsullied by easy sentiment or unneeded demagoguery. It is very difficult to bring something like this meditation to a close, and in the end, Ramirez slips into a bit of triteness. It is not enough to ruin the work; just enough to make you want to find out if she can avoid it in her next play, which you will definitely want to see after seeing this one.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Durham native Heather Havrilesky discusses her new memoir and working for Rupert Murdoch

Posted by on Tue, Jan 4, 2011 at 11:31 AM

  • Photo by Whitney Pastorek
Who doesn't feel that their quirky childhood would make a great book? But actually producing such a book takes the kind of wit and talent that Durham native and Duke graduate Heather Havrilesky has manifested into a writing career.

In the introduction to her new memoir, Disaster Preparedness, Havrilesky writes: “Growing up in the ’70s, it was tough to avoid the specter of disaster. On every movie screen, airplanes plummeted to the ground, earthquakes toppled huge cities and monster sharks ripped teenagers to bloody bits. But more disturbing than the catastrophes themselves was the utter lack of foresight demonstrated by the adults in each harrowing scene. As meteors hurtled toward Earth and gigantic dinosaurs crushed cars under their feet, grown adults either ran screaming or stood in confused clusters… Why wasn’t there a plan? I always wondered.”

I cannot say if it was Havrilesky’s No. 1 plan to embark upon a journey as a writer, defending against mass-produced media meteors by hurling her own fine-tuned bits of sarcasm and “grumpy” insights into the mix, but there’s no denying she’s been successful. From her start in the mid-’90s as the co-creator of the popular weekly cartoon Filler for to her seven years as a TV critic and essayist for (and commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered) to recently snagging a column with Rupert Murdoch’s to-be-unveiled-Jan. 17 iPad-only newspaper, The Daily, Havrilesky has developed a reputation and a following in the always churning journalism industry.

Havrilesky is a quirky writer who’s been given what she called “an alarming amount of creative freedom” by her editors, resulting in such entertaining diversions as reviews of televised whoring sea donkeys, the creation of TV-themed puppet shows and two Deadwood-speak columns that make generous use of the word “cocksucker.”

Yet witticisms and profanity aside, Havrilesky has a singular talent that runs like an undercurrent beneath her varied assignments. Whether boiling down the essence of a complex situation to a pithy cartoon punch line or elaborating upon an idle memory from childhood for her memoir, her words have a knack for mirroring what is absurd or touching—or likely both—about the intersection between the human condition and the American lifestyle. In Disaster Preparedness, Havrilesky’s unique voice explores her own bumpy childhood for clues about what makes or breaks a family, how to survive “transformative traumas” and what lessons may be harbored therein.

On Wednesday, Jan. 5, Havrilesky will celebrate the publication of her book with a reading and reception at The Regulator Bookshop. We spoke with her recently by telephone.

Independent: In Disaster Preparedness, you write: “The real goal in life should be, first, to move out of your parents house, then, to find some very practical way to avoid real work at all costs.” If you measure yourself by your own standards, how do you think you’ve fared so far?
Heather Havrilesky: If it were my choice, I’d probably work a little bit less. Or a lot less. I have a dream of living a life of total leisure that never quite stops haunting me. Ideally, I think people should work a lot less than they do. But then, I say that, and then I go on vacation for a week and wind up chomping at the bit to go back to work.

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