The 31-year-old stand-up comic and Belmont, N.C. native has gotten herself the sweetest of gigs, as a writer for Chelsea Lately. Feimster says there were many people angling to be on Chelsea Handler’s popular, late-night bitchfest. Luckily, her appearances on NBC’s Last Comic Standing led to Handler and her staff taking a chance on her.
“They had about 400 people apply and I turned in a [writing] packet thinking I wouldn’t have a chance in the world,” says Feimster, on the phone, about to hop on a plane for a stand-up gig in San Francisco.
“And, then, they called me in, like, two months later for a meeting and it went well. Then, two days later, they called me in to meet Chelsea and, the next day, I had the job. So, I was pretty shocked.”
For a curly-haired, openly gay, zaftig gal who is funny but was also an entertainment news writer for the LA Daily News, writing for a pop-culture mocker like Handler is practically a dream job.
“I didn’t realize how much being an entertainment journalist would help out with doing Chelsea Lately, because it’s still pop-culture stuff,” she says. “So, I was very familiar with that world.”
Although she was an entertainment journalist for six years, she also had her foot in the funny, doing sketch comedy and improv with West Coast mainstays the Groundlings at the same time. She’s been doing stand-up for four and a half years.
Feimster caught the comedy bug while attending Peace College in Raleigh.
“I did some acting while I was there,” she says. “I kinda dabbled in improv, but not really. So, when I went to LA, I thought it would be cool to kinda take that back up again and see what it was like as an adult.”
She came up with many characters during her Groundlings time. She even made a YouTube video starring one of them, a portly, Southern-fried Hooters waitress named Darlene Witherspoon, that received more than 300,000 hits. “I’ve been on TV now for a year and a half and, like, I still get the most comments about that YouTube video,” she says.
“And people come up to me, like, quoting lines from it. . . . And some people think it’s a real person. They think that it’s an actual Hooters waitress.”
Feimster had Witherspoon and other characters ready to showcase when she had the opportunity to audition for Saturday Night Live not once, but twice. “It was certainly one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had,” she remembers.
“It’s such an iconic show, and everybody was really nice. Not a lot of comedians can even say that they got to try. So, I was happy just to get the try.”
So, would she consider leaving Chelsea Lately if she was given another shot at being a Not Ready for Prime Time Player?
“There are just so many opportunities at Chelsea Lately and with Chelsea Handler that I feel like the future is really bright there,” Feimster says. “So, I’m kinda content. I’m not really looking to do other things.”
At the moment, she’s also content with doing stand-up, which she’ll be doing as a first-time headliner at Goodnights Comedy Club this Friday. “I consider Raleigh kinda my hometown too,” she says. “So, it’s nice to be in front of a hometown crowd.”
And while Feimster may be known as a lesbian stand-up, she of course would prefer to be known as a stand-up who just happens to be a lesbian.
“Yes, it is a part of who I am, and people do know that I am gay,” she says. “But, luckily, comedy is kinda universal, and when you’re making people laugh, they tend to forget, like, if you’re gay or what race you are or your gender. They just know that you made them laugh. So, that’s kind of cool that comedy is one of the few things that sort of bridge the gap between different kinds of people. But it’s never hindered me and, hopefully, it never will.”
Fortune Feimster performs two sets Friday, Dec. 23, at Goodnights Comedy Club. Here's Feimster as Darlene Witherspoon.
The death last weekend of Vaclav Havel reminds me that this region's last independent production of the Nobel laureate and playwright’s work took place 14 years ago this month. ArtsCenter Community Theatre mounted Tom Stoppard's translation of LARGO DESOLATO in December, 1997.
It wasn't just one of the best shows of that year; it was one of the strongest works this area has produced in any of the ensuing years. The only local staging of Havel I could find after it was an undergraduate student show at UNC's LAB Theatre in 2001.
If anyone’s wondering what we’ve been missing ever since, read on.
Below: a mixdown from two pieces I wrote on LARGO DESOLATO in 1997:
= = = = =
Apocalyptic music from some forgotten 1950s monster movie blares into a darkened theater. Just as the audience gets a good case of the creeps, someone pulls the plug and the music grinds to a halt. The lights come up on a man in the grips of a terminal bad hair day inspired by comic great Stan Laurel, seated upon a sofa half-covered in olive-drab acoustical foam.
He stares at the audience. The audience stares back. After a moment, he agitatedly goes to one of six differently painted doors, looks through a peephole, and then puts his ear to the door.
That's it. The lights fade.
The scene repeats. Bad horror music, grinding halt, lights, stare, look, listen, fade. A third time through these paces, something different happens.
Funny? Undeniably. But the absurd opening to Vaclav Havel's black comedy LARGO DESOLATO bears a hidden barb in the joke. A dissident in a totalitarian state, where government thugs can knock on that door—or break it down—at any hour, would sooner categorize this simple scene as journalism, not paranoid farce.
These and other plot devices in LARGO spring from Havel's own experiences as a Czech theater artist whose political activism predated the Prague Spring of 1968. During 14 years of systemic intimidation, abuse and imprisonment under the regime of Gustáv Husák, it's telling that, after a four-year stretch in a labor camp, the first thing Havel wrote was this: a scathing satire about an intellectual anti-hero who once opposed a totalitarian government—but now finds himself very carefully counting the cost of further engagement.
The mission at the heart of Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol could not be more trite: a race to stop a Russian megalomaniac from triggering nuclear war. However, I suspect the simplicity is by design, for it allows the audience to sit back, have fun and enjoy this action-packed ride.
The members of this Impossible Missions Force (IMF) lineup are cast from an archetypal mold. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) returns as the embattled leader; Will Brandt (Jeremy Renner) is the newcomer who may be hiding secrets; Jane Carter (Paula Patton) is the feisty but sultry female seeking revenge for a murdered partner; and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), the one other holdover from the last film’s team, is the tech-head whose loquacious comic relief is initially bothersome but quickly becomes a needed respite from the sensory cacophony.
This fourth installment in the M:I franchise is directed by animation ace Brad Bird, whose work making The Incredibles showed his firm grasp of action thriller tropes. Moreover, from Michael Giacchino’s heavy use of Lalo Schifrin’s theme song—which all but disappeared during the previous two sequels—to the intricate, cloak-and-dagger undercover operations, Bird reclaims the familiar formula that made the original television series so popular.
That said, what makes Ghost Protocol the best episode yet is the dazzling, breathtaking and, yes, clever action that hits you seconds into the movie and never lets up (the opening sequence plus roughly 30 minutes of runtime were shot using IMAX cameras). Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team don’t just break into a building—they infiltrate the Kremlin. Ethan doesn’t just climb a skyscraper—he scales the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai, the tallest building in the world. There’s not just a car chase—there’s a high-speed pursuit through the middle of a sandstorm. Accompanying all of it are enough sleek cars and goofy gadgets to make James Bond jealous.
None of this is meant to imply that Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol is an action movie classic. The plot is too slight and the characters too one-note, plus there’s the noticeable absence of a charismatic villain, that most essentially of actioner elements. At the same time, Bird breaks from familiarity just enough to keep the audience guessing. Things don’t always go smoothly for this IMF team—equipment breaks down and precision planning sometimes goes awry, prompting some white-knuckle improvisation. Moreover, this is a straightforward celebration of action, not the twisty thriller some may expect. As the Dean Martin standard asks, during a Russian prison break early in the film, “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?” —Neil Morris
Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows is a cute comedic mystery hidden inside a bustling, overproduced blockbuster. Watson (Jude Law) is getting married but he gets swept up in Holmes’ new case, they need to track down a gypsy for some reason, Moriarty is linked to terrorist bombings, the ramifications of which keeping getting bigger and more international, and Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) has a fat brother who spends his days in the buff.
It goes on and on, full of not only tons of action sequences but slow-mo versions of action sequences played out before they are repeated in real time. Is there some taboo in Hollywood about getting a big budget thriller in under 100 minutes? The movie gets so far out of its own range that it might be funny for its grotesquerie if it weren’t so clinical. It feels like the highest priced shoot-your-own-movie booth in history, every scene seeming to take place entirely in front of a green screen, every prop and speck of dust dropped in after the actors have been shot hamming to each other in a vacuum.
Director Guy Ritchie seems tickled by the occasionally charming and undeniably smug repartee between Law and Downey, but you can hardly make out any lingering traces of wit behind all the bombast. —Nathan Gelgud
= = = = =
"It was a large room. Full of people. All kinds.
And they had all arrived at the same building
at more or less the same time.
And they were all free.
And they were all asking themselves the same question:
What is behind that curtain?"
— Laurie Anderson
In each issue, the Independent's critical crew is more than happy to answer Laurie's question.
But when it comes to sizing up an entire year on the area's stages...well, that take a little more time.
So we've been busy over the last two weeks, putting our heads together on what will be, by far, the region's most comprehensive look at the year in local theater.
That sounds pretty confident, we'll admit. But we say it because we've never settled for a single, arbitrary "top ten" list.
Our critics present the whole picture, instead: the best they saw in shows, in acting, in designs, original scripts—and 11 other theatrical categories. Because the region's artists—and audiences—deserve no less.
That's what's behind our curtain.
Showtime's next Wednesday, Dec. 21.
And best of all, admission's free. At a newsstand and a website near you.
Say—who's on your awards list this year?
Director Joshua Benjamin and actors John Honeycutt and Jess Jones find themselves in the best of theatrical company this week. Would that that were better news than it is.
For after I witnessed two of the region’s most renowned actors humbled by the demands of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at PlayMakers Rep the night before, this upstart company’s production of Romulus Linney’s last play, Love Drunk, similarly seemed a theatrical puzzle only partially solved by last Sunday night in Raleigh Ensemble Players' Fayetteville Street theater space.
By now Honeycutt is certainly no stranger to the independent theater set, and Jones has been quickly assembling a respectable portfolio of roles over the past two seasons. A wildcat production at this point wasn’t a bad move for either artist. And, truth to tell, after I read the first half of Linney’s script the week before, I could see these actors in these roles.
But on one level this tale of two ill-met and addictive personalities—an aged, solitary homebuilder and a young, unstable woman he’s just picked up in a mountain-town cafe—has nearly as many emotional switchbacks and plot twists as Albee’s famously imposing text. In Linney’s play, a variation on Ibsen’s cautionary work The Master Builder, both Wilbur (Honeycutt) and Karen (Jones) repeatedly realize that the stories each other is telling them—about their past, their present and their true intentions—keep not adding up. Two strangers who came to a room for a sexual encounter—if not something a bit darker—are forced to reassess one another. Then they have to reassess again.
You get the picture. As these characters lead us through two interpersonal labyrinths, an early, Hitchcock-like suspense is supplanted by a more profound, existential one as our sense of Wilbur and Karen’s downward personal trajectories fill in.
Philip Glass is one of those artists who make you work for the satisfaction that is ultimately to be found in his music. His 1980 opera Satyagraha is no exception. Although it is based on Mahatma Gandhi’s early adult years in South Africa, where Gandhi developed his techniques for non-violent protest, the opera is highly abstracted, and lacks a narrative through-line even though the scenes are chronologically arranged. Unless you know a great deal about Gandhi, the basis of his ideas, Indian theologies and the history of the British Empire in India and Africa, you must rely on the program to make sense of the scenes.
The vocal text (by Constance DeJong) is unlikely to help: It is in Sanskrit. Satyagraha also includes, like all of Glass’ work, innumerable passages of repeated note sequences that make you nearly crazy before resolving themselves and kicking you to a higher plane of consciousness.
The Metropolitan Opera has just completed a run of performances of Satyagraha, including a matinee for the Nov. 19 live broadcast, using the inventive 2008 staging by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch that includes quirky, surprisingly emotive, design and fabulous large scale puppetry by The Skills Ensemble.
Visually the work seduces and thrills. The movement is magisterial, mythic, infused with changing energies by the colors of light, props and costumes. You don’t really have to “make sense” of the scenes: Just go with the flow of energy. “Satyagraha” means “truth-force,” and the truth is in the music as well as the visual and kinetic aspects of the opera.
Could there be a better composer than Glass to musically tell the story of Gandhi, who spent a lifetime making slow structural change? In Gandhi’s life and work (as in the South Africa of the apartheid era, when Glass was writing), there was a lot of repetition before social shift could occur; the patterns of Glass’ music mirror this.
The sounds are beautiful, but stamina is required for the journey. There is of course more to the cast, but it is Richard Croft as Gandhi who’s unforgettable. He and orchestra conductor Dante Anzolini, with his deep experience with Glass’ work, seem to have been on just the same wavelength, because the mesh of orchestral and vocal sound was particularly tight during Croft’s many long solos. The staging involves projected texts (minimal) and, in the cinema version, subtitles, but they can’t detract from the mystical quality of the sound of the Sanskrit words sung in resonant tones over and over. You emerge from the theater at the end as if returning from a long meditation session.
Here's a slideshow trailer for the opera:
Apparently there's some confusion about whose production of A CHRISTMAS STORY: THE MUSICAL is currently running in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium.
It's understandable enough. After all, this time last year, North Carolina Theatre and Hot Summer Nights collaborated with long-time Raleigh presenter Broadway Series South on a joint venture—a locally produced stage adaptation of Jean Shepherd's classic holiday tale, A Christmas Story. That gentle saga of triple dog dares, a table lamp resembling a leg in fishnet stockings on a stiletto heel—and, of course, a genuine Red Ryder carbine action BB gun—enchanted critics and audiences so much that a return engagement was virtually guaranteed.
A year has passed and, yes, the three companies have gotten together again—this time, to bring us the Shepherd yarn in a musical form.
But the production on stage this week in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium is actually a professional touring version of the show, one created by New York's Alchemy Production Group. The names of N.C. Theatre and Hot Summer Nights prominently appear on the playbill, publicity and the companies' websites ("Our next production," says NCTheatre.org—while the show’s cast page remains blank, and its gallery features photos from a 2009 production in Kansas City, with actors not appearing in this version).
In reality, though, aside from a handful of local musicians hired to round out the orchestra pit, no directors, designers or artists affiliated with either N.C. Theatre or Hot Summer Nights are connected with the show. They've just brought it here, and put their brands on it.
And since N.C. Theatre will shortly do this twice again, in January and February, when they co-host—and co-claim—professional touring productions of Green Day's American Idiot and Les Miserables, two significant questions are raised that aren’t going to go away when A Christmas Story's final curtain falls on Sunday.
One of those icons is Mongolian warrior/leader Genghis Khan, about whom the museum just happens to have an exhibit. It opened a couple weekends back, and we were invited to visit. The museum hopes you’ll show up tonight for the free movie, but also that you might wanna plunk down cash to see artifacts from Khan’s time.
If you still need convincing, here are five reasons you should check out the exhibit (with help from Albert Ervin, the museum’s special exhibits coordinator).
1. The exhibit has a lot of cool stuff.
The exhibit itself is a traveling museum devoted to both Khan’s legacy and Mongolian culture. You get weaponry both real (like a Mongol cavalry saber) and replicated (like a triple-action crossbow). But the exhibit also has about 200 artifacts belonging to Mongolia, ranging from clothing to bowls to musical instruments, all encased for your viewing pleasure. Ervin says many of these artifacts come from other empires and dynasties Khan conquered.
“His empire was twice the size of the Roman Empire, at its greatest extent,” he says. “So, he accumulated cultural artifacts from the people around him. [Khan] brought people from China and Europe sort of together along the Silk Road.”
2. It gives a well-rounded view of Khan.
Sure, Khan killed a lot of people (as Marc Maximov drolly pointed out in his 8 Days a Week writeup for the Indy), and this exhibit shows the armor, weaponry and tactics he used on the battlefield.
But Ervin says that’s not the whole story.
“I think this exhibit does a good job of showing Genghis Khan as the warrior that he was, because he was that,” says Ervin. “You don’t conquer most of the known world unless you’re a warrior—at least, in his day and age.
"The other side of it is that Genghis Khan was also a statesman. And he had a lot of really—I guess we would call them progressive ideas for his day. He created what would be very similar to a democracy. People rose in the ranks of the hierarchy of his military and of his government based on merit, not based on who they were related to.”
3. The place reeks of incense.
When you first walk in, you’ll find that the exhibit has a very exotic, alluring odor. That comes from a machine, located above a small recreation of the palace Khan's grandson Kublai called home, that blows the scent of incense all over the place. Ervin says that idea came from the exhibit organizers.
“I guess they just felt that it would put people in the mood of a Chinese palace,” he says. (It put me in the mood of an Erykah Badu concert when I took a whiff. But I’m sure your mood may be much different.)
4. This exhibit features a dead person’s bones!
Unfortunately, they're not Khan’s. No one knows where he’s buried. But someone did find the tomb of an unnamed Mongolian princess (they refer to her as “Princess Mummy,” but I like to call her “Karen”), and the bones of said princess are on display at the exhibit.
Says Ervin, “Based on the things that were found in the tomb with her, we can sort of extrapolate about how Genghis Khan may have lived or how he might have been buried.”
5. YOU’LL LEARN SOMETHING!!!!
You might even find it—dare I say—fascinating. “What I think is the cool part of this exhibit is that people will learn that Genghis Khan wasn’t just this ruthless barbarian,” says Ervin.
“He had that other side of him that made a lot of progressive changes in his empire and the people that he conquered. So, his empire wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did if all he was was just going out and killing people.”
"I'm hopeful, but wary… because I've seen defeat," Dorfman said of the Occupy protest movement.
Dorfman, the renowned novelist, playwright, poet and journalist, read from his latest book, Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of An Unrepentant Exile, Tuesday night at the Regulator Bookshop in Durham. Dorfman, also a professor at Duke University and a prominent human rights activist, shared his thoughts on Chile, the challenges of creating true political change and the Occupy movement.
Dorfman was a staunch and public supporter of Salvador Allende, who became the first democratically-elected president of Chile in 1970. After the election, Dorfman served as a cultural adviser to Allende's chief-of-staff. Although he was recounting events four decades past, his presentation carried whiffs of the present.
"There is nothing quite like it, the thrill of being present at the birth of a new social order when the tired conventions of the past are swept away," Dorfman read from his book.
But in 1973 the democratic movement in Chile was brought to an abrupt and violent end. The Chilean military staged a coup to depose Allende, and the country was ruled by Gen. Augusto Pinochet until 1990. Dorfman went into exile, and devoted much of his subsequent career to advocating for human rights causes and the return of democracy to Chile.
Feeding on Dreams details Dorfman's life in exile—his evasion from death squads, his life in America, his yearning for Chile, and what happened when he and his family moved back after the country's return to democracy in 1990. Chile's transition to democracy, Dorfman found, was fraught with challenges and fear—the consequences of being ruled by a dictatorship for 17 years.
There is no such thing as pure change, Dorfman explained to the crowd of about 30 people who gathered to listen to him speak last night. He was referring, not to the Chilean revolution, but to the Occupy movement—"a movement of exiles in their own country."
Dorfman described purity as the Occupy movement's greatest asset, but as its greatest potential problem as well. Change must happen through the institutions, he explained, which inevitably leads to negotiations, and betrayal.
But "it's very encouraging," he said. The Occupy movement, like other protest movements before it, has demonstrated that you can evict a person from land, he said, but not an idea from the mind.
Debating the relative artistic merits of the film is as meaningless as reproaching Transformers movies for having too many robots. In spite of the guilty pleasure of the franchise, I do find the deeply conservative politics underlying the romance troubling.
Bella Swan, as embodied by the modestly talented Kristen Stewart, lives for love. She has no interests or passions besides the one she conceives for the mysterious new boy in school. He’s firmly abstinence-only, on account of his uncontrollable urges. The only solution is for her to be married at the age of 18. (If there is one character I truly feel sorry for, it’s her perennially clueless father, who is coerced into consent.)
So, there’s a wedding. Hot vampire sex finally commences—but kept within the constraints of the PG-13 rating. But, of course, the wages of sin and duty are pregnancy and, in short order, death. Bella wants to keep her baby even as it devours her from within. Ruby-eyed Bella will be reborn, subject to thousands of years of Edward’s devotion, or if you like, suffocating, controlling behavior.
Stephanie Meyer, the author of the Twilight series, is a Mormon mother of three. For me, the dominant ethos of the books and movies is not romance but an agenda evoking the restrictive worldview of the LDS church. The Cullen clan is a vampire mother church that will keep Bella within its cult, smothering it with what its calls love, and what I would call hell.
The experience of attending a film screening is like going to the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I will admit to howling in concert with the wolves under the full moon. My daughter attended a midnight screening in Manhattan, where half the audience seemed to be rich girls from the Upper East Side, and the other half African Americans from farther uptown. These seemingly disparate demographic groups met at five screens at 86th Street, in a space where teen-girl fantasy—and irony—was allowed free rein, in a community not mediated by either adults or Facebook.
The world of Harry Potter is much more appealing to me. It’s much easier to identify with the primal fight of the Boy Who Lived against the evil of He Who Must Not Be Named. Bella, the Girl Who Lived, doesn’t endure in order to save the world from evil, but, more frighteningly, to keep her unruly desires firmly within the family.