The image has come to symbolize the chaos and carnage of war: A panic-stricken horse, impaled by a spear, whose death-dance dominates the center of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. Man’s inhumanity to man is a fundamental trope in the discourse of war—and one we can grow all too quickly numb to. But evidence of the widespread suffering of animals—in World War I accounts of biological agent testing, or the massacre at Tokyo’s Ueno Zoo in 1943—provides a different, and necessary, kind of shock, and a reminder that the damage inflicted by war is not limited to humans.
The National Theatre of Great Britain's production of WAR HORSE valiantly attempts to make a wartime epic out of a 1982 children's novel of the same name, in which novelist Michael Morpungo sought to view the First World War through the eyes of a horse and those closest to him.
To do this, it embraces spectacle. And Christopher Shutt and John Owens' sudden sound effects, Paule Constable and Karen Spahn's piercing lights, Adrian Sutton's alarm-filled score and Rae Smith's affecting illustrations, animated by 59 Productions and projected along what appears to be a stage-long piece of torn manuscript above the actors, all effectively convey the horrors of the battlefield.
Meanwhile, the cunningly engineered and remarkably animated two- and three-person puppets devised by South Africa's Handspring Puppet Company convey the strain and the terror of the title character, a hunter thoroughbred named Joey, and another horse named Topthorn, as they try to drag a field gun through a battlefield's mud.
But when this production focuses on humans, and not animals, the script's weaknesses start to show.
If strange be the tales that are invoked by strong drink, the National Theatre of Scotland has ginned up a production to match in The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart.
But if any expect the gravitas of Black Watch, the Iraqi War documentary drama which got our nod for five stars when the company performed here last February, they’re in for a shock. Instead, playwright David Grieg’s 2011 tall tale about a prim young scholar’s tryst with the Devil during a small-town academic conference is a whopper worth telling over drinks in a pub.
And that is exactly where Carolina Performing Arts endeavors to place it: They’ve rented out the Back Bar at Top of The Hill for the production, which runs through Thursday night. If the second-story bunker of chrome, concrete and brick lacks some of the soul required for the gig, that was provided, quickly enough, by the quintet of performers who constituted not only the show’s cast, but its band as well.
After Annie Grace’s chilling rendition of the folk song “The Twa Corbies (The Two Ravens)” establishes the tone, the crew indulges Grieg’s mischievous, rhyming discourse—appropriate enough for a title character who studies folk ballads only to find herself supernaturally stuck in one before the night’s through. A brief sample: After describing Prudencia’s father’s penchant for odd quests which would now qualify as autistic spectrum, we learn,
“Whatever he was — whatever his spectra —
Prudencia’s complex was Elektra.”
Melody Grove’s buttoned-down reading of Prudencia finds inevitable contrast with actor Andy Clark’s average-guy take on Colin Syme, her academic nemesis. Though most actors play multiple roles, it’s unclear why Wils Wilson directs a no-nonsense David McKay to split the lines of The Man Downstairs with Clark. The choice turns Clark into a demonic subordinate—and a separate character which never appears in Grieg’s script.
While karaoke night in a Kelso pub devolves into a boozy bacchanal for the rest of these Profs Gone Wild, Prudencia makes of Hell a sort-of heaven, before a crisis provokes intervention and the possibility of rescue. Yes, things get entirely too silly when audience participation is taken to a bit of an extreme; a hapless viewer who volunteered as a minor character is gifted with a lapdance in midshow. And a rewritten and, unfortunately, reiterated “Guantanamera” proves to be the one tune this group cannot sell the whole night long.
Still, this Strange Undoing remains a wild ride that occasionally rises to the poetic in its sensibilities as well as its verse. Well worth a round of drinks, or maybe two. Sláinte mhath!
Those words have already summoned the disgust of fans, admirers and even Simone family members, who don’t think casting the light-skinned, Avatar ingénue as the late, legendary artist is a good idea.
The New York Times recently reported that one woman posted an online petition that called for the producers of an upcoming biopic to cast someone who could pass for the darker-skinned Simone. Meanwhile, Simone Kelly, Simone’s daughter (who wrote on Simone’s official Facebook page that the project was unauthorized and Simone’s estate was not asked to participate in the film), stated she would have preferred Oscar nominee Viola Davis or Kimberly Elise as acceptable Simone stand-ins.
Durham playwright/ poet Howard Craft already thinks the casting of Saldana is “the worst casting in the world.”
“I know I like Zoe,” says Craft, “but she’s no Nina Simone.”
Craft should know who would be essential to play Simone, a native of Tryon, N.C., considering he’s written a one-woman play about the woman that will run this weekend at UNC’s Sonja Haynes Stone Center, as part of a retrospective exhibit on Simone.
Both the play and the exhibit are titled Nina Simone … What More Can I Say? Beginning tonight, the exhibit will be on display until Nov. 30. Culled from three different collections (including a collection from her brother, San Diego civil-rights activist Dr. Carrol Waymon), the exhibit will feature photos, LPs, even correspondence between her and her brother.
According to Stone Center director Joseph Jordan, this is a chance for people in her home state to discover Simone and her legacy. “She’s one of those people that you could arguably go over to France or London, and those young people there, as well as the general public, would know more about her than we do,” says Jordan.
“So, in a lot of ways, she’s sort of that story in the African-American community—whether it’s Paul Robeson, whether it’s James Baldwin—that, every now and then, we discover these individuals. And she’s one of those people that we think should be rediscovered and never placed away again.”
The play, on the other hand, will only have two shows this weekend: Saturday night at 7 and Sunday afternoon at 2. The play, which stars actress and vocalist Yolanda Rabun as Simone, is a one-woman show that Jordan says will be both autobiographical and speculative.
“In other words, what if she was alive today?” muses Jordan. “What if she could Tweet, you know, with all of the stuff that’s in her head? So, you see all of those kinds of speculative items in this theater piece.”
Craft worked on the play for several months, reading autobiographies as well as pulling up articles and looking at interviews and performances Simone did. It was a challenge that led to many fascinating revelations.
“I mean, she done shot a couple of people, dog!” exclaims Craft. “So, her life is so expansive, the challenge is trying to figure out what parts to pull out that contain the best picture of who she was as a person. And the play is my attempt at that.”
Ultimately, the entire exhibit is both a tribute to Simone and a lively example of how the woman inspires and influences to this day. Hell, Meshell Ndegeocello’s new album, Pour une ame souveraine (For a sovereign soul): A dedication to Nina Simone, is a straight-up Simone salute, containing 14 Simone tracks.
“By and large, we didn’t do this for it to be a history lesson,” says Jordan. “This person’s work is much too alive to say that it’s only a history lesson, all right? It’s a little bit more than that.
Decades after he rose to prominence in the 1970s, the Amazing Kreskin remains a pop culture touchstone and a busy performer whose touring takes him to the Carrboro ArtsCenter tonight. For many, his name is synonymous with hypnosis, predictions and finding the check for his appearance in the audience.
In a call from his home in New Jersey, Kreskin (real name: George Joseph Kresge) says he's grateful for his career longevity. “With the economy as tough as it is, I guess I’m pretty blessed, because I did 261 appearances around the world. The airline company [I use] announced I’d flown 3 million miles with them,” Kreskin says.
“In every period in modern civilization, there’s been interest in areas related to my work: before the Civil War, after the Civil War, the world wars. There was incredible interest during the Depression. I think it’s because though I don’t have answers to many things—I’m an entertainer—but my work speaks to the idea that there might be more out there, that we haven’t solved everything.”
Though he still regularly makes predictions for the new year on cable news and has made his pick for the 2012 presidential election, Kreskin emphasizes that he does not actually predict the future, though he’s been eerily accurate in the past.
“One of the most dramatic moments in my life was Jan. 1, 2001 on CNN, and the hostess was reading a prediction I made about a world war that the public wouldn’t know was going on, and on the air, I don’t know why I said this, but I said, ‘There could be here in New York in September of this year a major, gigantic disaster involving two airlines.’
“Needless to say, after Sept. 11, my life changed forever. I had intelligence, the FBI asking me how I knew this. Really, all I’d done was study the Middle East for the past five or six years.”
A generation of fans may remember his syndicated TV series The Amazing World of Kreskin or his appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. He’s excited that within the past week he was referenced during coverage of the Olympic boxing events and on the A&E series Longmire.
He’s less enthusiastic about the title character allegedly based on him in the 2008 film The Great Buck Howard, portrayed by John Malkovich: “That’s not my biography by any means!” Written and directed by Kreskin’s former road manager Sean McGinley, the film’s title character is a verbally-abusive has-been constantly name-dropping his Tonight Show appearances.
Kreskin says the film’s producer and co-star Tom Hanks told him off-stage, Malkovich studied hundreds of Kreskin videos and said, “That’s the good side of you.”
“I said, ‘Well, Tom, what do you think is the bad side?’ Tom said, ‘Each day, he shook hands with about 30 people the way you shake hands.’ And I said, ‘Oh!’ Regis Philbin always says to me, ‘Kreskin, the way you shake hands like a chiropractor’s dream.’”
Overall, though, he says he enjoyed the film: “I’m just thankful I haven’t been referred to as a wifebeater or terrorist, sir!”
Kreskin’s also quick to distance himself from the wacked-out mentalist played by Zach Galifianakis in the American remake of Dinner for Schmucks , who keeps a Kreskin photo on his desk (“I must assure you he’s not me!)”—and the title character on CBS’s hit The Mentalist.
“That’s interesting because he’s not really a mentalist, he’s a former fake psychic—excellent actor, by the way— he’s more of a Sherlock Holmes character,” Kreskin says. “I watch it from time to time but it’s not me because he’s looking for clay on people’s shoes and whatever. It’s extremely well-done and refreshing, but it’s not me.”
He says his next book will include a section on how CBS talked with his people about his work without telling him The Mentalist was in development.
And yes, at his appearance tonight, Kreskin’s check will be hidden in the audience, and he will have to find it or not get paid. It’s a feat he’s performed thousands of times, only failing on a few occasions. “One drama critic said that it’s like watching a mystery play where the solution is different every night,” he recalls with pride. However, on one evening, he didn’t locate his payment: “That was for $50,000,” he says.
The Amazing Kreskin appears at the Carrboro ArtsCenter tonight at 8 p.m. Tickets are $24. For more information, visit artscenterlive.org or call 919-929-2767.
It’s hard enough being one character on stage in a musical.
In Hot Summer Nights / Theater Raleigh’s lively production of AVENUE Q, Heather Maggs, Adam Poole and Erik and Annie Floor play ten.
They’re the heroic puppeteers animating, speaking and singing the roles of the self-described “people of fur” (and fuzz) who occupy this slightly scuzzy neighborhood well beyond the city’s high-rent district. And since their characters weave in and out of the various scenes—and some of the puppets require two of the four actors to animate—the logistics and quick-changes are pretty intense at times.
So credit them—and director Richard Roland—that you couldn’t tell by looking on the opening night. But after a performance that was never less than smooth and assured in Fletcher Opera House, why did I still leave this show feeling somewhat bemused?
As many readers already know, the titled tract of real estate in this comic musical is something of an urban staging ground, a pre-professional purgatory for a group of relatively disaffected Generation Y’ers like central character Princeton (Erik Floor), recently out of college and now facing lives in the world as adults.
None of them are all that ready. Princeton has a grubstake from his parents that he’s burning through on beer, but zilch for employment prospects with a B.A. in English. Lucy Monster (Annie Floor) is a kindergarten teaching assistant with no romantic prospects; she dreams of having her own “Monsterssori School,” but is making no headway toward it. Rod (Erik Floor) is a type-A (and robin’s egg-blue) Republican banker who secretly wants his slacker roomie and long-time friend, Nicky (Poole)—but he’ll never, ever come out of the closet to pursue him. Meanwhile, Trekkie Monster (Poole) stays holed up in his apartment, addicted to Internet porn.
I never thought I’d say this, but I’m glad I missed Christie Brinkley last night.
A buzz of disappointment ran through the opening-night crowd for the brash and bawdy musical Chicago at the Durham Performing Arts Center. Supermodel Brinkley, due to play murderous ingénue Roxie Hart, would not appear due to illness.
She may return later this week. (DPAC announced this morning that Brinkley will not perform in Durham.)
But Bianca Marroquin, who's playing the lead in the current Broadway incarnation, hopped a plane from New York to stand in for the cover girl, and knocked her performance onto Waveland Avenue.
Frankly, it’s hard to imagine Brinkley bringing but a fraction of the pizzazz to Roxie that Marroquin does. Combining a muscular sexiness with the jerky slapstick sensibility of Cheri Oteri, Marroquin gave Roxie rich layers of innocence and libido. The Mexican actress knows this role, for she's been playing it on and off since she made her Broadway debut as Roxie Hart in 2002.
Marroquin wasn’t the only stand-in for a principal. Kecia Lewis-Evans stepped into the role of Matron “Mama” Morton, garnering some of the loudest cheers of the evening for belting out her character’s signature tune “When You’re Good to Mama” and providing the only voice in the cast to fill the cavernous DPAC.
Amra-Faye Wright is brassy and hilarious in the other lead role of Velma Kelly and Tony Yazbeck’s slick-and-sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn glues the evening together with a solid, steady performance amid the burlesque hysteria of almost incessant musical numbers.
The one thing lacking from the performance was the title character itself. The city of Jazz-Age Chicago, land of speakeasys and feverish promiscuity, fails to make a real appearance in the production. The staging couldn’t be more spare, as the orchestra occupies the majority of the performance floor in a three-level riser that images a nightclub. This leaves a surprisingly narrow area between the riser and the lip of the stage for the cast to perform in, which presented occasional challenges Tuesday night. Marroquin’s nose was nearly taken off by a chorus dancer skidding in for the final ta-da to “We Both Reached for the Gun.” If anything, it gives the numbers a dangerous edge.
But the absenteeism of the City of the Broad Shoulders is hardly the fault of the cast, who top to bikini-briefs-clad bottom blasts the audience with enthusiasm. Chicago stays fun and fast throughout, with or without a supermodel in the mix.
It’s not really a surprise that Charles Dickens’ larger-than-life characters, comic settings and twist-filled plots would make for good musical theater, though it is a bit odd to find his novels, with such focus on class strife, transmuted into family-friendly entertainment. Oliver!, the Tony-award winning musical based on Dickens’s Oliver Twist and playing through Sunday at the North Carolina Theatre, is emblematic of Broadway’s tendency to elevate emotional spectacle over social critique.
Containing a number of catchy songs and charismatic performances, director Richard Stafford’s production follows the familiar tale of the 19th-century orphan Oliver Twist (Sam Poon) and his adventures around London. Broadway veteran Kevin Gray brings wit and charm to sleazy thief Fagin, and Clayton native Nicholas Craft is great as young pickpocket the Artful Dodger. The set, a giant block of rotating buildings, is the exactly the sort of thing you’d like to see in a big musical production.
However, Oliver! simplifies much of the danger of the novel’s criminal world. Fagin is more clown than threat, and the London underworld never feels very dangerous. There are exceptions: Crime boss Bill Sykes (Stephen Tewksbury) is menacing, and there’s a subplot involving his abused girlfriend (Heather Patterson King) that feels lifted from a much darker play.
If this show's general levity is a flaw, it’s a flaw built into the genre himself. Certainly there is much humor in the source material, but the big-budgeted musical’s need to provide spectacle and entertainment unfortunately elides more trenchant material about class and poverty.
All art is to some degree autobiographical. Any creation tells us something about its creator. But some art is more explicit, depicting or revealing the artist as she sees herself, or in the case of Killian Manning’s new work, exploring the milieu that shaped her.
Manning was born in 1956; she is 56 this year. Her age makes looking back and taking stock almost inevitable, and the numerology makes the undertaking feel cosmic and lucky. In her 1*9*5*6 Degrees of Separation, which is the final show in this season's Other Voices series at Manbites Dog Theater, she explains and—yes—celebrates herself by animating a cast of famous 50s characters, and her mother. In fact, the dance-theater work can also be taken as an extended love letter to her mother. At her daughter’s insistence, Cathy Manning joined the cast for their bows on Wednesday's opening night, shifting her feet in the same signature movement that Killian gave character Cathy on stage.
And there are voices in this dance. In fact, the dance feels secondary to the theatrical exposition (but it is not a drama). After a little introduction, Manning parades her characters onto the stage one by one, and each does a little movement riff by which we shall know them. Manning has chosen these people to represent an imagined zeitgeist of her natal year (and beyond), but it is as interesting to think about who’s not there as who is. The only dance artist included is ballerina Margot Fonteyn. Not, for instance, modern dancer/choreographer Martha Graham, who was certainly making news in 1956. Grace Kelly (Elisabeth Johnson) gets a role, for making the transition from actress to princess, but Ingrid Bergman, who won an Oscar that year for her work, goes unmentioned. The great Beat poet Allen Ginsberg gives what you could call the keynote speech (Derrick Ivey, reciting from "Howl," in the show’s most gripping moments), but there’s no equivalent musical giant like Charles Mingus, who released the amazing Pithecanthropus Erectus album that year. Instead, there’s the young Elvis and his new release, “Hound Dog.” The point is not that Manning’s choices are wrong in any way, but that this is her version of her 1956. She has shaped it to fit the woman she has become.
Manning mixes straight biography with a soft-edged magical realism, some of it quite charming, as when President Eisenhower dances and chats with Cathy Manning, or when J.S. Bach appears to her for a long conversation in which he explains that Killian really is musical, it just all comes out in the dances. There are a number of pleasant and enjoyable dance sequences in this work, but none of them are special, not even Margot Fonteyn’s (and really, she should have been wearing pointe shoes) or the well-conceived duet between Bach (Jonathan Leinbach) and Glenn Gould (Matthew Young).
Most of the cast are not advanced dancers (a fact all too obvious during ADF season), and even if they were, they would still be contending with the concrete floor—it is no wonder if there is a slow tentativeness to their movement. Some of this may have been purposeful, to enhance the dreamy magical quality, but it made for a lack of brio.
What has brought them out tonight? It’s the monthly gathering of No Shame Theatre a performance forum devoted to five-minute pieces by anyone who wants to participate. Limits are strictly on time, copyrighted material and not harming the audience.
The tradition of No Shame dates back to 1986; famous alumni include actor/comedian John Leguizamo and the actor Toby Huss, who apparently created his character “Artie, the Strongest Man in the World” for the Nickelodeon series The Adventures of Pete & Pete in a No Shame performance. Hell, that’s good enough for me.
Artie, the Strongest Man in the World, on one of the greatest TV shows of all time, ever.
“Dare to Fail” is No Shame’s credo, but none of the 10 acts I see tonight fall completely flat. Though many of the actors simply perform texts they get when they show up (Mark Cornell, one of the organizers, emails me names and titles afterward), there’s solid material to be found.
The material is, by and large, humor-oriented. Highlights, specifically, are a short piece by Ken Wolpert about a couple analyzing the logic and grammar behind “I Love You More,” a couple of comic songs about condoms and sensitive males by Pete Leary, and a more traditional song called “Front Line” by Adam Fenton that sounds about as good as anything you’d hear on the radio. A couple other pieces sort of trail off and there’s some improvisational exercises that don’t connect with me, but everything exhibits some real thought and professionalism, and is at least over quickly.
Storytelling venues such as the Monti and the Moth have cropped up in the Triangle over the last few years, along with increasing improv groups and open-mic opportunities. For those uncertain of their abilities in such venues, No Shame offers an excellent training ground of sorts. When you’re dared to fail, at least you’ll try. And there’s a few parodies of British sci-fi I’ve been meaning to drag out of the mothballs anyway…
For more information on No Shame’s upcoming performances, visit www.artscenterlive.org
This afternoon, the company sent an email to members of the area theater community confirming that the company had ceased operations, effective immediately: "Following the unanimous adoption of a resolution by REP's Board of Directors, the company has filed for bankruptcy." The email was signed by C. Glen Matthews, the company's artistic director.
According to documents filed yesterday in the United States Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District of North Carolina, REP has $224,507.77 in unsecured debts.
The company has no real property, but its personal assets, including lighting equipment, costumes and props, were valued at $9,932.14.
According to a profit and loss statement for April 2012, REP's monthly expenses included $4,070 in rent and $3,523.65 in office and administrative expenses.
For the first four months of 2012, the company reported revenue of $31,734.78, with nearly 80 percent coming from grants and donations.
The two largest debts are owed to figures associated with the company's new performance space at 213 Fayetteville St., which opened in the summer of 2009.
The largest creditor is Alphin Design Build, the contractor hired to renovate the theater space, which is owed $110,000. The second-largest debt, $60,000, is owed to Jean Pauwels, the owner of the building. Raleigh Ensemble Players does not have equity in the building.
Also listed among more than 20 creditors is Vincent Whitehurst Architect, who is owed $2,489, according to the documents.
Whitehurst and Will Alphin are owners of Foundation, a popular bar located in the basement of 213 Fayetteville St. Whitehurst designed the Raleigh Ensemble Players space and Alphin served as the contractor. Pauwels, the building's owner, operates a business in the same building, a countertop materials supplier called Pyrolave.
Gary Williams, the company's managing director, is owed $10,000 for unpaid wages.
REP, the Triangle's oldest independent theater company, had performed in Artspace, located on East Davie Street, for 20 years prior to its move to Fayetteville Street. In 2011, it was recognized by the Independent Weekly with an Indie Arts award.
In a 2009 article in the Independent Weekly, company artistic director C. Glen Matthews cited a desire for the greater visibility that a permanent downtown home would bring them.
Pauwels, for his part, was looking for a tenant for the four-story building he was renovating.
"I wanted something I would enjoy having around, something more unusual, more fun than a clothing store or fast food," Pauwels told the Indy in 2009. "Some artistic activity in the building would be good for Fayetteville Street, good for everyone. It would make downtown more lively."
But in the same article, the company acknowledged difficulties in paying its contractor.
At the end of March, $100,000 in debt to its contractor, company management asked the builder to stop further work. "We didn't want to get in over our heads more than we already were," said Williams.
Calls to Alphin, Williams and REP board members Betsy Henderson and Don Davis were not immediately returned.