Theater briefs: Burning Coal takes Iron Curtain Trilogy to its native England | Theater | Indy Week
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Theater briefs: Burning Coal takes Iron Curtain Trilogy to its native England 

click to enlarge Johnny Johnson - PHOTO BY SERENA EBHARDT
  • photo by Serena Ebhardt
  • Johnny Johnson

Traditionally, British theater criticism is more pugilistic than its American counterpart. The brilliant, provocative critic Kenneth Tynan heeded the credo he kept over his desk: "Rouse tempers, goad and lacerate, raise whirlwinds."

So we wondered how Burning Coal Theatre Company would be received when it took its audacious production of the three plays in David Edgar's THE IRON CURTAIN TRILOGY, which ran here in September, to its native country for a November run at London's Cockpit Theatre. The answer? Quite well.

The trilogy received 16 reviews from 11 London-based news sources and theater websites. Six critics gave the shows four-out-of-five star reviews. The most prominent came from daily newspaper The Guardian, which called The Shape of the Table "an excellent revival." After praising actors Marc Carver, Tim X. Davis and Brian Linden, Michael Billington noted: "One is only left wondering why it has taken an American, rather than a British, company to realize the topicality of Edgar's portrait of a pivotal moment in history."

The outlier among the major theater news sources was Time Out London's two-star review of The Prisoner's Dilemma, which dinged a cast "play(ing) emotion over situation" and judged that the production couldn't "handle Edgar's incisive nuance."

The prospect of hearing Kurt Weill songs that have not been performed in more than 70 years drew theater buffs and scholars to Kenan Theatre Company's painstakingly reassembled production of JOHNNY JOHNSON (Nov. 20–24, ), Weill's collaboration with North Carolina playwright Paul Green.

Parts of Weill's score were lost after director Lee Strasberg cut most of the songs before Johnson's 1936 debut. UNC professor Tim Carter spent six years tracking down the missing music.

Unfortunately, the content in this anti-war piece was upstaged by the strange stitching that Green and Weill used to veer between comedy, tragedy and satire. Musical and emotional gears were grinded by a bizarre mix of clashing styles. The banjo-inflected political jokes of "Democracy Advancing" and the show-stopping, ironic torch song "Oh Heart of Love" evoked vintage Weill. But a cowboy non sequitur, "Oh, the Rio Grande," contrasted with operatic dirges in "The Song of the Goddess" and "The Song of the Guns."

Andrew Plotnikov, Annie Keller and Rachel Tuton distinguished themselves onstage. But the brilliant parts here seemed greater than the whole.

Though high-schoolers rarely lack for ideas, few of them wind up as four-star productions.

Ana Radulescu is different. She graduated early from East Chapel Hill High in order to start a theater company, Skydive Productions. As she sought to produce her company's first work, her mentors directed her toward an internship at Common Ground Theatre, where executive director Devra Thomas guided her through assembling a creative team.

The improbable result: one of the stronger productions of the season.

Catherine Trieschmann's funny, heart-filled CROOKED (Nov. 13­–15, ) depicts the awkward coming of age of a literary but troubled high school student dealing with changes in family, locale and culture when her mom, Elise, relocates from Seattle to Oxford, Mississippi.

Co-directors Jules Odendahl-James and Amanda Hahn deftly probed the pair's relationship. Radulescu's Laney was a tightly wound character study of someone trying to come to grips with her artistic ability, her nascent sexuality and the instability in her family and herself.

Amber Wood's Elise was a nuanced portrait of a mother marshalling few resources to make a new life. Leigha Vilen brought integrity to Maribel, the credulous daughter of a Holiness minister, in a rare show in which the lives of women are critically, compassionately placed at center stage.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Theater briefs"

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  • Plus, lost Kurt Weill songs and a high-school theater prodigy in the Triangle

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