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Now Playing:
"The Commedia Hansel and Gretel," June 10-19, Columbia Children's Theatre, 691-4548.

"Lone Star" and "Laundry and Bourbon," June 10-18, Village Square Theatre, 359-1436.  

"The Testament of Mary," June 10-18, Trustus Theatre at the Columbia Museum of Art, 799-2810.


"The Curious Savage," June 17-28, Chapin Theatre Company at Harbison Theatre, 240-8544.

"State Fair," June 17-18, Ritz Theatre of Newberry, 276-6264.

Upcoming:
"Hairspray," June 23-26, Workshop Theatre, 799-6551.

Green Day's American Idiot, July 1-30, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.

"Willy Wonka," August 3-7, Chapin Theatre Company, 240-8544.

"Anatomy of a Hug," August 19-27, Trustus Theatre, 254-9732.
 

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Walking On Water Productions

On Stage Productions
Laundry & Bourbon and Lone Star Characters Charm Audience With a Glimpse into Their Small Town Lives Through a Lens of Nostalgia
Review by Dell Goodrich

Dynamic characters and ribald humor, scripted by James McLure, in Laundry & Bourbon and Lone Star, (two companion One Act Comedies), are brought admirably to life by the talented ensemble cast of The Lexington County Arts Association’s production at The Village Square Theatre.
The comedies, directed by Debi Young, represent the inaugural run of a Fringe (Rated PG-13, Non-Season) show at The Village Square Theatre. I attended the second night of the run (June 11). What our modest audience lacked in size it made up for with enthusiasm. Laughs were abundant in the house throughout both plays. Community theatre goers, who missed the first weekend of the run should make haste to purchase tickets for one of the final two performances (June 17/18) or risk missing out on a pair of fresh, hilarious shows. Because this run is a Fundraiser for the theatre’s building fund, patrons will also be supporting a member of the phenomenal theatre community we are so lucky to have, in an around Columbia and Lexington.

There’s a lot to love about these two one-hour plays. Most noteworthy is the clear effort that went into the ensemble work in both. These actors are working as teams, not individuals, and it shows.
Both Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star are set in the rural Texas town of Maynard, post-Vietnam, when nearly the entire town is on the brink of poverty and has been reduced to a few scattered buildings, two cemeteries, and two churches. By the mid-1960s Maynard had already disappeared from lists of Texas towns and communities. Both shows highlight the recurring themes of nostalgia and longing for lost youth and the good old days. Lonestar’s leading man longs for his high school glory days, in a way that- to this reviewer- is oddly reminiscent of the public image of David Hasselhoff. Both men are “legends in their own minds”, who peaked a long time ago, but are still trying to cling to the past. [**Author’s Note: I had to work The Hoff in here somewhere in order to win a bet!]
These two stories were called collectively 1959 Pink Thunderbird, by James McLure. The characters are all connected in one way or another, a common characteristic of small-town life
Laundry and Bourbon takes place on the front porch of Roy and Elizabeth Caulder's home on a hot summer afternoon, where Elizabeth and her social-climbing friend Hattie are passing time folding laundry, watching reruns of “Let’s Make a Deal”, sipping bourbon and Cokes, and gossiping. A high school “frenemy” Amy Lee, who has lately become an intolerable representative of the country club set, arrives unexpectedly and accepts an invitation to stay for a drink and a chat. As the cocktails flow, secrets are revealed.
Julie Fear delivers many strong moments as a seemingly wistful Elizabeth. She is concerned for her troubled husband, but is standing by her man, in spite of all his faults. Elizabeth is competent and diplomatic, the peace maker of their trio. Fear interprets her character believably and shows real proficiency in her ability to subtly portray the range of emotions Elizabeth feels as the story unfolds.
Debra E. Leopard plays a hilariously irreverent and sharp-tongued Hattie, who admits she has arrived at Elizabeth’s so she could “get away from the kids and get bombed”. An especially funny incident occurs when Hattie becomes personally affronted by a couple dressed in chicken costumes on a TV game show and yells at them, “Chickens don’t have bangs!” Leopard ascribes a winning sassiness and a quick wit to Hattie that keeps the audience in stitches.
The gold-digging Amy Lee, gleefully personified by Jaime Presor, (who told me she usually works behind the scenes and not on stage- but is a natural comedienne) is married to Cletis, the owner of an appliance shop.  She is determined to climb the social ladder, come hell or high water. She is on a quest to convince her friends to buy overpriced tickets to the Pancake Supper at the Baptist Church. She advises her companions that the money will support the church’s mission work in Paraguay. It is particularly urgent that they get there as soon as possible because, as Amy Lee explains, “the Catholics got a head start”.
In a lively turn of events, Hattie, who has just finished calling Amy Lee “tacky” and joking that “Ray Charles picks out her wardrobe”, is horrified to see Amy Lee walk through the door wearing the same dress she is. The exchange is side-splitting, with laudable body language and comedic timing by all three actresses. The two identically-garbed actresses go on to swap barbs with a saccharine, two-faced skill that rivals any southern belle. Bless their hearts. The more drinks the women consume, the more revelations surface. The episode culminates with Amy Lee suddenly acquiring a strangely prim case of the hiccups. A madcap chase around the porch brings the gathering to an end, after Hattie’s attempts to cure Amy Lee’s hiccups-by scaring her- result in Amy Lee vomiting into Hattie’s shoe.
Lone Star, named after the brand of beer we see Roy rapidly consuming by the case as the play opens, takes place outside a local honky-tonk bar near the outskirts of Texas. Roy, portrayed by Chris Kruzner, is the stereotypical, former high school football hero and is still clinging to the memories of his glory days. He has been home from Vietnam for 2 years and is still trying to gather the pieces of his life. Given that fact alone, this play is slightly more subdued than the first. However, it never detracts from the humor to be found in the play.
Roy regales his little brother Ray, performed charmingly by Merritt Vann, with tales of his exploits. Ray idolizes his older brother and their affection for each other is evident. The siblings stage a reenactment of a conflict in Vietnam, just like two little boys playing war. The exchange is witty and utterly and wickedly funny, and is one of the highlights of the show. Both Kruzner and Vann are believable as brothers; never more so than when they practically wallow in the wonder of Roy’s pink 1959 Thunderbird.
The role of Roy was originated on Broadway by the talented Powers Boothe, a friend and classmate of the playwright. In this production, Chris Kruzner impresses as much as one might imagine Boothe would. He demonstrates his own expertise at characterization right out of the gate and immediately sets a high bar for what the audience may expect in this second play. I imagine that it must be challenging to credibly assume the role of an increasingly intoxicated and belligerent Texan. And yet this is exactly what he does. Kruzner is convincing as the troubled war veteran Roy, who likely suffers from PTSD. He permits the audience to glimpse a likeable vulnerability as he navigates all 5 stages of grief, throughout his night of drinking and brawling.
Roy (Kruzner) opens the performance by staggering tipsily across the stage, taking a seat at the edge, beginning to guzzle the aforementioned beer and tunefully singing a few lines of “Mammas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”, by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.

“Cowboys ain't easy to love and they're harder to hold.
They'd rather give you a song than diamonds or gold.
Lone star belt buckles and old faded Levi's,
And each night begins a new day.
If you don't understand him, an' he don't die young,
He'll probably just ride away.”

Kruzner, in those few short measures showcases a melodic, fluid voice. He allows the audience to share this intimate moment with him, inviting them to immediately become emotionally involved with Roy. Kruzner, himself, suggested this addition, recognizing the parallels between the song’s lyrics and the themes that unfold throughout the play. It’s a clever approach and provides a strong opening to the play. It also demonstrates the obvious commitment to true ensemble work that is evident throughout both plays.
Enter Cletis “Skeeter” Fullernoy, portrayed exceptionally by relative theatre newbie, Samuel Hetler. Cletis is a former class nerd turned successful nerd businessman and is husband to Amy Lee.  He is garbed in a powder blue leisure suit, whose pants are hiked up nearly to his chin, reminiscent of Steve Urkel.  His geek uniform is complete with pocket protector, thick black-rimmed glasses, and hair styled with copious amounts of Brylcreem. His arrival stirs up conflict in the same way Amy Lee’s did in the previous play. Neither one of them is very popular. Roy, who has always disliked and bullied Cletis, dismisses Cletis’s attempts to join in their reminiscing. Roy taunts “Skeeter” (who HATES to be called Skeeter) and evokes the classic high school jock, bullying the geeks and refusing to allow them to hang out with the cool kids. Reportedly, this is only Hetler’s second production, but it’s hard to believe. He’s a natural. He steps into Cletis’s skin as if he had be born with it. I predict we will be seeing more of Hetler on our local community theatre stages.
Roy, just like any teenager would, brags to his pals about his high school escapades with the opposite sex. He delivers a monologue using salty vernacular that is so hysterical that it almost makes up for the poor taste of the story he is sharing.
Towards the end of the piece, Ray makes a disturbing revelation to his brother that stirs up violence and rage from Roy and leads to an all-out physical fight. Again, in this second play, we witness how many more revelations surface as more drinks are consumed by the men,
Ultimately younger brother teaches older brother a few things. First, Ray points out that, though Roy always calls him stupid, Roy is in fact the stupid brother because he is the one who went to Vietnam and got shot. That line was delivered so piquantly by Vann, that I was caught off guard. I erupted in such laughter that, had I been drinking a beverage at that moment, I would have probably felt it come out of my nose.
Additionally, Ray is always looking for the silver lining and begins to teach Roy how to do this as well. When Roy learns that Cletis has driven completely totaled his cherished pink Thunderbird, Ray tells him that “pieces of that car are spread from here to yonder”. Roy laments that he always wanted to have the car to pass on to his kids and Ray cheerfully points out that now Roy “can give them each a piece.” You can always find something to be thankful for.
Director Debi Young assigns Ray the task of making announcements before the show begins. In full character, Vann explains the House Rules, decreeing politely that “…nary a picture or video can be taken” and helpfully informing the audience that there are “outhouses” that way (in the lobby).
Young’s direction elicits 110% effort from all of her actors.  This is crucial, as the characters in James McLure's plays demand great emotional commitment from their audience and the actors must give before they can receive. The two plays provide a funny and fairly accurate snapshot of small-town life. The only flaws I noted were within the script. Unfortunately, moments of real substance are somewhat limited by the McLure’s writing. Then again, this is supposed to be a farce. The skill of these actors in embodying their roles, more than compensates for any perceived textual inadequacies.
A modular set provides for simple, clean, and effective staging. It depicts the change in locale, from Elizabeth’s porch to the back of Angel’s Honky-Tonk Bar, with a simple rotation of the platform and some thoughtful prop choices.
Ted Koppel once said, “It becomes increasingly easy, as you get older, to drown in nostalgia.” Such experiences should be familiar to the audience as features of the human condition. By addressing serious topics through a lens of humor, McLure suggests that sometimes you just have to laugh at life. Otherwise you will go crazy. The action of the second play closes as effortlessly and gratifyingly as it began in the first comedy.
The ensembles of both one-act plays are strong and believable and make the most of what the script provides. Smart casting, artful direction and shrewd, intuitive, detail-oriented acting decisions all contribute to the success of this production, creating audience investment and fostering emotional intimacy with them. The assemblage of talented artists featured in this production provided a welcome and entertaining evening.


 
 
Commedia Hansel and Gretel Brings Exuberance and Laughter to Grimm Tale

Review by August Krickel

A highlight of summer theatre offerings in recent years has been Columbia Children's Theatre's original versions of traditional fairy tales, done in the style of Italian commedia dell' arte. That’s  an improvisational art form that lives on today in burlesque, slapstick, circus and pantomime performances. If you go to the "Archives" section of this site, and do a quick search for "commedia," you'll find a more extensive explanation; for now, let's just say that it's broad comedy featuring lots of audience interaction, but with plenty of satire and topical references for the amusement of any adults in attendance. The Commedia Hansel and Gretel, written and directed by CCT Artistic Director Jerry Stevenson, continues in that successful vein, which led to two previous works running successfully off-Broadway.  Seriously - commedia versions of both Rapunzel and Cinderella were developed by writer/director Sam LaFrage and premiered at CCT several years ago; the former later won an award at the New York International Fringe Festival and was picked up for an extended run off-Broadway - with LaFrage and CCT alum Elizabeth Stepp in the cast - at the SoHo Playhouse, where the latter is running currently. 

That big city success in fact provides some of the initial merriment, as the actors assembled to perform get excited over being big stars... until they realize it's a different cast. The framing device features stock characters from commedia: the ingénue, the clown, the surly wench, the rascal, and the old guy; when the actors speak with Italian accents - actually more like a mad hybrid of Wales-meets-Mumbai - they are the Spaghetti and Meatball Players, a down-on-their-luck troupe about to perform Hansel and Gretel for us, often breaking character to squabble with each other. When different accents are employed, they become the chiefly German characters from the Grimm Brothers fairy tale, often breaking the fourth wall and interacting directly with the young audience members.  Broad acting and exaggerated reactions carry the basics of the storyline for youngsters, while most of the actual jokes and wordplay poke fun at contemporary pop culture, and are aimed at Mom and Dad.   For example, exuberant chefs who turn up to help the evil witch (Frances Farrar) with recipes on how to cook a little boy will be seen by kids as oddball characters with funny wigs and mannerisms, while adults will spot impressions of celebrities from cable tv cooking shows. It's the same gimmick used in classic cartoons, when children laugh as Bugs Bunny is greeted as "L-L-L-Leopold," while adults recognize a reference to famed conductor Leopold Stokowski. In fact, Farrar's vocal characterization of the witch is a cute homage to voice actor Bea Benaderet (most famous as the voice of Betty Rubble, and as Jethro's mother in The Beverly Hillbillies) in a classic Loony Tunes version of this same story, 1954's Bewitched Bunny.

Farrar doubles as the hapless children's stepmother, who constantly forgets their names, referring to them as Bart and Lisa, or Luke and Leia. Their woodcutter father (George Dinsmore) is poor - mainly because he's more into the cutting of the wood, but not so much the selling of it - and so the children are sent into the woods, with the hope they will never return. Dinsmore adopts a stylized, artificial manner intended as a parody of dads from vintage sitcoms like The Brady Bunch or Father Knows Best. Julian Deleon is underused as the narrator of the story, but gets to double in some amusing cameos, and has the show's best line, when Hansel and Gretel discover the witch's candy house, and are indeed chewing the scenery. Paul Lindley II does his usual professional job as Hansel, while Mary Miles's Gretel is a pouty, whiny valley girl - that would have to be the Rhine Valley - who periodically breaks into frenzied yet graceful dance moves. Miles is one of those performers whom I've loved in supporting roles, but whenever she plays a lead, I end up missing the show, and so it's nice to finally get to see her take center stage. The performance I attended was packed with just about the rowdiest hundred little children I've seen in a while, but the cast admirably took control, forcing the unruly little tykes to focus by cranking their performance and energy level up to 11.

In fact, it's the charisma and sheer exuberance of the cast that makes this production so successful. The actual plot of the folk tale of Hansel and Gretel is very simple, and while the references to sitcoms (complete with an artificial laugh track that bewilders the characters) and the Food Channel are amusing, as are shout-outs to the New York cast and to last summer's production of Br'er Rabbit by the NiA Company, this particular script isn't as joyously funny or as sharply satirical as some of Stevenson's other works.  Which is something that the intended demographic, i.e. children ages 7 and under - won't care about. They will simply love the outrageousness unfolding on stage. As well as in the aisles, and practically in their laps, as characters sit down beside them to ask for advice. Grown-ups meanwhile will smile and snicker at least once every minute or two of the 55-minute run, even if that's only about a third as much as, say, 2014's Commedia Snow White. That said, CCT has been attracting larger and larger audiences for their "Late Night Date Night" events for adults only, where the same cast performs the same script, but with PG-13 ad-libs and improvisation added. My guess is that this unrestrained quintet of performers will make up for anything they've been wanting to throw in during the show's regular run, and then some.  That will take place this Friday, June 17, while the child-friendly version returns Saturday, June 18. For information, visit www.columbiachildrenstheatre.com, or call 803-691-4548.

 
 
Humanity On Display in One-Woman Performance of 
The Testament of Mary

Review by August Krickel

Although venerated throughout the Christian world as the blessed Virgin, Mary the mother of Jesus makes few appearances in canonical accounts of her son's adult life and ministry. What would an ordinary woman of her era had to say about the following he attracted, and the events surrounding his execution?  As embodied by Elena Martinez-Vidal in a moving and provocative portrayal, Mary is far from ordinary, and resolute in asserting her unique perspective on events that sparked a spiritual revolution.  The Testament of Mary, presented by Trustus Theatre off-site at the Columbia Museum of Art, is a stark and painfully realistic retelling of these events as seen, often from a distance, by his mother. While never anachronistic, Mary's account raises questions and touches on themes of more relevance to a modern literary or theatrical audience than to traditional adherents of Christianity. Puzzling, sad, and sometimes even disturbing, Colm Tóibín's play challenges what we think we know, while never endorsing nor completely denying aspects of Christian faith. "I. Remember. Everything." Mary declares with repressed bitterness, and all bets are off as to where her memories will take us.

Tóibín's script presents challenges for the indefatigable Martinez-Vidal.  Best known as the author of novels - including Brooklyn, recently adapted for the screen with Saoirse Ronan - Tóibín originally composed this work as a dramatic monologue for the 2011 Dublin Theatre Festival, then later expanded the material into a 95-page novella which retained the first-person narrative.  This most recent revision ran on Broadway in 2013 with Fiona Shaw in the lead, and was nominated for a Tony for Best Play.  The piece is presented here with an intermission between two short acts, for a total run time of just over 90 minutes, with Martinez-Vidal alone on stage for the entirety.  Mary, a few years or perhaps decades after her son's crucifixion, relates her experiences to the audience, nevertheless realizing that the future authors of the Gospels have determined already the story they will tell. 

While the playwright's language is filled with lyricism and feeling, the tone suggested in his words is primarily reflective and detached. Thankfully, Martinez-Vidal is capable of finding emotional depth within nuances of phrasing and imagery, and she captivates the audience throughout.  One-character plays often incorporate letters, books, or diaries from which the protagonist reads, allowing the actor to cheat if necessary with carefully hidden cues or outlines of what comes next. Martinez-Vidal has no such luxury, and rocks the material old-school, moving seamlessly from one memory to the next with no hesitation.

 Director Paul Kaufman did his own one-actor show a few years ago, performing in I Am My Own Wife at both Workshop and Trustus Theatres, making him the ideal choice to helm this production. His scenic design depicts the cramped interior of a simple dwelling; a table, a bench, a chair, a few vessels, and the suggestion of earthen walls, wooden shutters, and a few support beams provide the backdrop for Mary to bare her soul. Ambient music chosen by Kaufman plays in soft accompaniment, adding a dreamlike touch. The performance area - an unused, yet-to-be-developed space off the main galleries on the Museum's second floor - is tiny, yet lighting by Barry Sparks subtly shifts when Martinez-Vidal makes even the slightest of changes in posture or position. This is the sort of production that might normally be seen in the Side Door Theatre at Trustus, i.e. the intimate black box venue adjoining their main stage; here, some 80 folding chairs are arranged in a semi-circle, allowing for easier sight lines as well as more elbow room. (A brief tour of images of Mary from the Museum’s permanent collection of Renaissance paintings and sculptures takes place a half hour before curtain.) 

I remain unsure of the playwright’s intent. There are certainly feminist allusions. as Mary observes how her son is able to speak to women as equals, unlike most of his male followers, whom she sees as misfits and malcontents.  His disciples, who first protect her, then later presume to tell her the accepted account of how she gave birth, could be metaphors for modern male hierarchy within organized religion. Yet my sense is that Tóibín’s greater goal is not spiritual at all, but rather to portray the forgotten humanity of a mother who saw her son taken from her, then brutally executed before her eyes. Being told that her son was a martyr for a greater cause does nothing to assuage Mary’s grief.  That alone is likely sufficient to offend the most religious, for whom this play is probably not a good choice. Yet the opportunity to see Martinez-Vidal in a dramatic tour-de-force is an excellent incentive for theater-goers who might not otherwise be drawn to seemingly religious material.


The Testament of Mary runs for three more performances at the Columbia Museum of Art: Thursday 6/16 at 7:30 PM, and Friday 6/17 and Saturday 6/18 at 8 PM.  Visit https://trustus.org/event/the-testament-of-mary/ or call the box office at 803-254-9732 for ticket information.
 
 

 










 
 


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